Part I – February 8, 2011 at Spago Restaurant, Beverly Hills CA
22 Grand Cru Chablis (plus one premier cru) from the 1990 to 2000 vintages

The first installment of our sixth annual set of “Premox” Dinners was held at Spago Restaurant in Beverly Hills on Tuesday February 8, 2011. This was our first “Premox” event at Spago, and we were dazzled by the food and artistry of Chef-Owner Wolfgang Puck, and sommelier Taylor Parsons, who previously orchestrated Premox dinners for us at Campanile Restaurant.

As most of you already know, each year we normally comprehensively taste a single vintage of wines at 7.5 years of age. So this year, had we followed the normal schedule, we would have been tasting 2003 white burgundy. However, as almost none of us purchased any 2003 white burgundy and no one was anxious to conduct a comparative tasting of wines from the 2003 vintage, we decided to take the opportunity to go back and taste wines from the 1995 to 2000 vintages, now ostensibly at their maturity, to see how the wines have fared.

Our February 8 tasting was devoted exclusively to Chablis for the first time. We went back even farther than 1995 and added a couple of wines from the excellent 1990 vintage. So we covered Chablis ranging from 10.5 to 20.5 years of age. On night two, which will be held on February 23, 2011 at Fig Restaurant in Santa Monica, we will taste 25+ Cote de Beaune wines from the 1995 to 2000 vintages -- grand crus from the hyphenated Montrachet vineyards, Corton Charlemagne and major Meursaults. Our attention will be on the best wines from our prior tastings now that they are mature and, for the most part, this time we’re consciously avoiding wines we expect to be oxidized from our past tasting experiences. On our final night, March 8, 2011, we will taste “Mostly Montrachet” from the same vintages at Melisse Restaurant.

On February 8, eleven of us joined Spago sommelier Taylor Parsons to drink Chablis from Raveneau, Dauvissat, Fevre and Pinson. In attendance were: Ron Movich, Michael Zadikian, Jay Boberg, Robert Thornton, Ron Greene, Mike Fitzgerald, Paul Klevgard, Don Bogdon, Frank Martell, Thomas Landry and me (Don Cornwell).

Wolfgang Puck and his executive chef Lee Hefter did a fabulous job of coming up with multiple courses of food that married well with the flavors of the Chablis. Everyone oohed and ahed over the appetizers served with the Champagne, but the best was yet to come. My two favorite courses were the second (Black Bass) and the final one (Slow Roasted Pheasant Breast). The food was so good and matched so nicely with the wines that I briefly forgot about taking notes and simply immersed myself in the experience – so it passed the ultimate test. As usual, Taylor did a masterful job of orchestrating the wine service, including handling selective decanting of the Raveneau wines for each flight. We’re already looking forward to returning to Spago again next year. On to the wines. . . .

Hors D’ Oeuvres
1988 Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Rare (disgorged in 2008)
Medium gold color, very fine mousse; aromas of caramel, a hint of nuttiness, and citrus; this wine is on the edge – fans of older champagne will like this and those who don’t like older wines will find it slightly tired. The flavors were orange citrus with a slightly buttery/slightly nutty texture and yet good underlying acidity typical of the vintage. I have to admit I favor my Champagne with a touch more freshness and given where this wine was two years ago I’m surprised how much it moved. Two bottles both identical in character. 91

First Flight – 1990, 1995 and 1999 Chablis (served single blind)
Slow Roasted Maine Lobster with Osestra Caviar, Chardonnay Cream, Tuile of Sel de Guerande

#1-1-[1995 Raveneau Chablis Clos]
Light yellow gold color; aromas of oyster shell, white flowers and lime; a light texture, very subtle mineral elegance on the palate with an incredibly long mineral and effect finish. Group Rank: 3rd, 19pts (2/1/1/1/0) 94

#1-2 [1999 Dauvissat Chablis Clos]
Light yellow color with a faint greenish tinge; some lime and tropical fruit hints (I find this a consistent marker of Clos in Chablis); on the palate, this has lime and ripe gooseberry fruit; very light, but this is minerally and transparent. Group Rank: Tied for 11th, 5 pts (0/0/1/1/0) 92

#1-3 [1999 Raveneau Chablis Valmur]
Very light yellow color with greenish hints; aromas of white flowers, and with some faint hints of a toasty almost advanced character that later seemed to disappear; lighter style wine, lemon and less obvious minerality than the others. Group Rank: Tied for 16th, 2 pts (0/0/0/1/0) 91

#1-4 [1990 Raveneau Chablis Blanchots]
Medium gold color; light sweet white flowers aromas; light to medium weight texture, super elegant, slightly sweet lime and mineral flavors; quite long and lightly minerally/effect finish. The finish got sweeter and a little more fruity with time in the glass. Very impressive wine. 90 Blanchots? Group Rank: Tied for 11th, 5 points (1/0/0/0/0). 94

#1-5 [1999 Raveneau Chablis Blanchots]
Light white gold color; some S02 which eventually blew off, covering some lemon and quinine; a little bitter (the SO2?), some lemon and minerally elements; this smoothed out a little bit after two plus hours of in the glass (and this after the Raveneaus were flash decanted). Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 91+

#1-6 [1999 Raveneau Chablis Clos]
Very light white gold color with hints of green; aromas of citrus, SO2 and a hint of cardboard – lightly corked?; Whether this was corked was controversial, most tasters this was lightly corked and a couple of others felt strongly it wasn’t but had a slight aromatic flaw; the aromas seemed to disappear as the wine sat but swirling brought them back. My take was that the wine was slightly corked but had very nice underlying material. Group Rank: 14th, 4 pts (0/1/0/0/0) DQ-corked

#1-7 [1990 Dauvissat-Camus Chablis Clos]
Medium gold color; oyster shell and white flowers aromas with a hint of meyer lemon; round in the mouth with almost tropical hints (Clos again); long sweet citrus and pineapple flavors over absolutely incredible minerality that just surges out of the finish. Very impressive. Group Rank: 4th, 18 pts (1/2/0/2/1). My fourth overall favorite of the night. 95

Second Flight – 2000 Chablis from Preuses, Valmur and Blanchots (served single blind) Rye Crusted Wild Maine Black Bass with Butter-Poached Oysters and Watercress Emulsion

#2-1 [2000 Fevre Chablis Preuses]
Very light yellow color; light citrus/green apple aromas; fairly light, bright key lime and green apple flavors with a lot of minerality; very charming, sweet finish which is quite long and has light minerality which pops through the fruit on occasion. Preuses? Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last) 0 points 93

#2-2 [2000 Fevre Chablis Valmur]
Very light white gold color; slightly sweet white flowers and fresh sea scallop scents; more concentrated than 2-1; lemon custard flavors with lots of minerals. This is really nice and the finish is expansive and long. The richness is more reminiscent of Cote de Beaune wine than Chablis, but I like it. Group Rank: Tied for 16th, 2 pts (0/0/0/1/0) 94.

#2-3 [2000 Raveneau Chablis Blanchots]
Very light white gold color – the lightest of the first three in the flight; very minerally aromas with a subtle citrus undertone; the flavors are quite light citrus and subtle minerality; this is very subtle; the finish is minerally and long. But overall, the wine is by far the lightest of the flight. Group Rank: 18th, 1 pt (0/0/0/0/1) 92

#2-4 [2000 Dauvissat Chablis Preuses]
Light gold color; lime zest and white flowers aromas; quite bright with acidity and a slightly phenolic bitterness will need more time to smooth out; lemon pudding or custard on the palate and this is quite long and minerally on the finish. Group Rank: 8th, 10 pts (1/0/1/1/0) 94

#2-5 [2000 Raveneau Chablis Valmur]
Light yellow-green color; aromas of an herb—sweet basil I think over some light background citrus; this has great intensity and grip on the palate (excellent acidity); citrus, oyster shell and almost a whiplash of minerality. This has truly amazing length on the finish that distinguishes it from everything else in the flight. Destined for a long life. Group Rank: 9th, 9 pts (0/0/1/2/2). My sixth favorite overall, but we’re splitting hairs here. 95

Third Flight – 2000 Chablis from Clos and Cote Bouguerots (served single blind) Dungeness Crab Stuffed Skate Wing with Carmelized Cauliflower, Golden Raisins and Toasted Almonds

#3-1 [2000 Raveneau Chablis Clos]
Light yellow color with greenish tones, but massively corked. On this one we unanimously agreed. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (Last), 0 pts DQ-corked. 94

#3-2 [2000 Fevre Chablis Bougros Cote Bouguerots]
Very light white gold color; forward key lime aromas and tropical Hawaiian flower aromas; concentrated lemon pastry flavors but definitely bitter on the finish, which doesn’t seem to fit. Group Rank: 10th, 8 pts (1/0/1/0/0) 90?

#3-3 [2000 Dauvissat Chablis Clos]
Light yellow color; aromas of lemon custard and hints of white flowers and sweet basil; very powerful, concentrated lemon custard and minerals flavors. 2000 Fevre Cote Bouguerots? Group Rank: Tied for 11th, 5 pts (0/1/0/0/1). My seventh favorite wine overall. 95

#3-4 [2000 Fevre Chablis Clos]
Very light yellow gold color; perfumed green apple and key lime aromas; this is a more dense wine with greater extraction and fabulous acidity; key lime and green apple flavors and awesome concentration, crystalline minerality and amazing length. Dauvissat Clos? Group Rank: 7th, 12 pts (0/2/1/0/1) My second place wine overall. 96

Fourth Flight – 1996 Chablis (served single blind)
Slow roasted pheasant breast with French black truffles, chardonnay reduction, Yukonpotato gratin and Baby Salsify

#4-1 [1996 Pinson Chablis Clos]
Light to medium gold; some S02 and lemon citrus; lemon extract flavors but very light and understated wine with some modest minerality. [N.B. I very much prefer the 2002 Pinson Clos which is a much better wine than this.] Group Rank: Tied for 14th, 4 pts (0/0/1/0/1). 90

#4-2 [1996 Raveneau Chablis Montee de Tonnerre]
Light yellow-gold color; some fresh dill, light S02 and green apple aromas; this is quite tight, bright and concentrated—meyer lemon and minerality. Initially the finish was only fruit terminating in an effect-type finish. Over the course of two hours the fruit faded and an amazing minerality developed on the finish. This needs time. Group Rank: 2nd, 21 points (1/3/0/1/2). I thought this was a lovely young wine, but it didn’t crack my top seven wines. 94

#4-3 [1996 Ravneau Chablis Clos]
Light yellow gold color; some light earth tones, oyster shell and lemon; very tight – strong lemon drop candy flavors, with high acidity and truly amazing minerality which just explodes on the palate and carries through to the finish. This is a baby, but it is truly awesome wine. Wow. Group Rank: 1st, 22 pts (3/1/1/0/0). My number one wine of the night. 97

#4-4 [1996 Dauvissat Chablis Clos]
Very deep gold color; strong sherry and chemical aromas –terrible and completely oxidized. [NB This bottle was a European labeled bottle imported from Seckford back in 2006. The other bottles have been fabulous, but there have been oxidized Dauvissat-Clos bottles from the UK.] Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 points. DQ –oxidized

#4-5 [1996 Raveneau Chablis Valmur]
Between light and medium gold color; light star anise and sweet green apple aromas. A powerful, concentrated wine. This had intense sappy green apple flavors with great acidity; amazingly long and wide minerality on the finish. A really impressive wine in a powerful concentrated style. Group Rank: 5th, 17 pts (2/0/20/1) My third overall favorite. 95+

#4-6 [1996 Dauvissat Chablis Preuses]
Light yellow gold color; powerful lemon crème and aromas of minerality/salinity; very powerful, concentrated lemon crème pie flavors with excellent acidity and some distinct layering and lattice work on the minerality on this wine; long bright lemon/lime flavors with sweetness and minerality that goes on and on. Really impressive wine. Group Rank: 6th, 16 pts (0/1/2/2/2). My fifth favorite overall. 95

#4-7 [1996 Raveneau Chablis Blanchots]
Between light and medium gold color; light citrus aromas – this is more like ripe grapefruit than lemon or lime; this is obviously bigger than the normal Blanchots. It has some concentration and greater density on the mid-palate than the other Blanchots we tasted – lemon extract, with lots of minerality and good acidity on the finish, but its still slightly disjointed. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts. 92+?

Dessert Course—Pastry Chef Sherry Yard’s “Dessert by Inspiration”

2001 Wegeler Geisenheimer Rothenberg Eiswein
Medium gold color; strong botrytised peach aromas; some moderate intensity buttery peach pastry and botrytis flavors with great acidity and amazing length on the finish -- well over a minute. Really impressive. 95

Postscript statistics and comments:

Corked: 2/23 (9%)
Oxidized: 1/23 (4%)
Advanced: 0/23 (0%)
Total Oxidized + Advanced: 1/23 (4%)

These (mostly) grand cru Chablis continued to demonstrate that the overall incidence of premature oxidation among Chablis from the 1990 to 2000 vintages is much lower than the incidence of premature oxidation among the 1995 to 2000 Cote de Beaune wines. But a couple of noteworthy caveats: Twelve of the 23 wines came from Raveneau, who is well known to be among the half dozen producers who have no greater incidence of premature oxidation after 1993 than they did before. That alone means the oxidation statistics from this tasting must be viewed differently than our typical tastings.

The one oxidized wine we did have – 1996 Dauvissat Chablis Clos – was consistent with the trend documented on the wiki site and elsewhere that the Dauvissat 1996 vintage – particularly for Clos and Forest – has a relatively high but random incidence of premature oxidation. This particular bottle had a Euro label, metal capsule and was purchased in the UK in 2006. Thusfar, all of the bottles from this lot had been problem free, while another solid case of the 1996 Dauvissat-Camus Chablis Clos, purchased in London in 2007, ranged from somewhat advanced to totally oxidized.

The 2000 Fevre wines showed very well and exhibited no oxidation. I would however caution against drawing any broad conclusions about Fevre’s oxidation performance from this particular tasting. Unfortunately, I’ve already run into a considerable amount of premature oxidation with the 2004 Fevre wines bottled in 375 ml bottles and have experienced a couple of bottles of oxidized 2002 Fevre grand crus as well.

There was a wide divergence in our rankings on this year’s wines. Most of that resulted from the fact that there were a great number of really stellar Chablis, and as my notes reflect, forcing people to pick their top five Chablis under these circumstances really meant splitting hairs. I personally had seven wines that I rated at 95 points or better and only five of those could be selected. The divergence in our results I think also reflects the groups’ varying stylistic preferences. Some people definitely preferred the lighter styled and more ready to drink 1995 and 1999 wines to their more powerful cousins from 1996 and 2000. The one thing I came away with is that if you own any of the wines we included in this tasting, I suspect you’re going to be very pleased with them.


Part II – February 23, 2011 at Fig Restaurant, Santa Monica, CA
27 bottles of Hyphenated Montrachets, Major Meursaults and Corton Charlemagne

The second installment of sixth annual set of “Premox” Dinners was held at Fig Restaurant (in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel) in Santa Monica on Wednesday, February 23, 2011. In lieu of tasting the 2003 vintage, we opted to taste wines from the 1995 to 2000 vintages, now ostensibly at their maturity, to see how the wines have fared.

On February 23, fourteen of us joined Fig’s sommelier Aloys Scheer, to taste grand crus from Batard, Bienvenues and Chevalier Montrachet along with some of the top Meursaults and a handful of top Corton Charlemagnes (excluding Coche-Dury which will be included in our final dinner, the “Mostly Montrachet” dinner on March 8.) In attendance were: Ron Movich, Michael Zadikian, Jay Boberg, John Brincko, Joel Deutsch, Ron Greene, Paul Klevgard, Don Bogdon, Alan Weinberg, Terry Taketa, Brian Devine, John Tilson, Maureen Downey and me (Don Cornwell).

It was an amazing group of wines and everyone enjoyed the experience despite some controversy about the fish course with the fourth flight of wines and the quantity of the food served. We also had a surprisingly contentious battle about whether one of the wines was oxidized or not. On to the wines….

First Flight —Corton Charlemagne-(served single blind with the appetizers)
Duck Tartare
Lightly Curried Chicken Oyster with Apple and Watercress
Oysters with Chablis Gelee and Osetra Caviar

# 1 [2000 Bouchard Corton Charlemagne]
Light yellow gold color; slightly sweet white flowers and green apple aromas; sweet green apple and pear flavors; good acidity and very nice minerality; long green apple and mineral finish. A really nice wine with some upside left. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 94+

#2 [2000 Boillot Corton Charlemagne]
Light yellow gold color, virtually identical to #1; some SO2 here and leesy character over a little green apple; tight green apple fruit, very bright acidity, but the SO2 has this so locked up it is hard to judge. After about 90 minutes of air this really opened up. Green apple aromas with background lees; green apple and pear flavors in layers with amazing minerality and good acidity. At the end , my clear favorite of the flight. Group Rank: 10th (0/2/0/1/0) 93+ initially, 95 at the end

#3 [2000 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne]
Light yellow gold color; very light white flower aromas; this had light meyer lemon character with bright acidity, apparent structure and very notable minerality on the mid-palate and finish. Lots of class, but quite a contrast in style to the sweeter, sappy styles of the first two wines. A Corton for Meursault fans. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 94

#4 [1999 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne]
Between light and medium gold color; some white flowers aromas with hints of toasted almonds; on the palate this wine had some honey and green apple flavors and some light toast elements over notable acidity; the slightly sweet finish showed notable acidity. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 92

Second Flight—Batard and Bienvenues (served single blind)
Shaved Foie Gras with Sauternes and Kishu Tangerine

# 5 [2000 Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; light honeysuckle and sweet basil aromas mark this as Bienvenues; very bright citrus, tight wine with good acidity and surprising structure for Bienvenues; tight, very minerally citrus finish. Seems quite young and I think this has some upside. 2000 Leflaive BBM? Group Rank: 2nd, 23 pts (3/1/1/0/1) 94+

#6 [1999 Carillon Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; some very forward white flowers aromas and some fresh lime; tight , bright citrus and pear flavors with softer and elegant finish. Very classy. Carillon?. Group Rank: Tied for 15th, 4 pts (0/0/0/2/0) 94

#7 [1995 Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color; some apple and citrus aromas; another wine which is tight on the palate with good acidity; citrus and some almost chalky minerality. But the finish is a bit dry. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 93

#8 [1996 Sauzet Batard Montrachet]
Full gold color; aromas of honey and butterscotch candy; very mature butterscotch and honeyed flavors. Obviously advanced, but certainly drinkable if you don’t mind the style (which isn’t my favorite). This wines was VERY controversial . Four of the fourteen tasters felt strongly this wine oxidized. The remaining ten (me included) disagreed, finding that the wine was fully mature and perhaps advanced, but that it didn’t exhibit any of the normal sherry-like aromas or flavors. Group Rank: tied for 17th, 1 pt (0/0/0/0/1) 90 (advanced)

#9 [2000 Ramonet Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color; aromas of light mint, basil and citrus; a very tight wine with good acidity. This seems very youthful, a 1996 perhaps? Bright lemony citrus with a buttery texture which screams Batard and the mint and citrus say Ramonet. Group Rank: Tied for 12th , 5 pts (1/0/0/0/0) 93+

#10 [1999 Leflaive Batard Montrachet]
Light gold color; some strong reduction (SO2 and diesel fuel) aromas; on the palate, this had an extremely elegant texture, light lemon custard flavors and a light but awesome minerality and great length. The reduction aromas seemed to keep hanging around. They lessened a good bit, but never completely went away. This was a potentially awesome wine I’m positive many marked down because of the reduction issue. Tied for 12th , 5 pts (1/0/0/0/0) 94

Third Flight—Meursault (served single blind)
Lasagna of Escargot, Truffled Sunchoke and Brown Butter

#11 [1996 Coche-Dury Meursault Rougets]
Medium gold color; very light SO2 aromas which faded out to show some hazelnut and sweet floral aromas; some soft, almost sweet citrus flavors and very minerally on the mid-palate and the finish. The finish also has character I could only describe as soft or feminine. Group Rank: 9th, 13 pts (0/1/2/1/1) 93

#12 [1996 Matrot Meursault Perrieres]
A couple of stops short of medium gold color; some nutty aromas and a touch of oatmeal; this was fairly rich on the palate – some lemon custard with a very creamy texture and it had considerable length on the palate but not the minerality of many of the others. Group Rank: Tied for 15th , 4 points (0/0/0/2/0) 93

#13 [1995 Roulot Meursault Perrieres]
Between medium gold and full gold color; sweet orange and almost mango aromas; quite viscous on the palate; moderately mature orange marmalade and hazelnut and sweet butterscotch flavors. Seems obviously advanced for a top 1995 at this stage, but drinkable. Three people felt this wine was oxidized, but the rest of us disagreed because it didn’t show the classic markers of oxidation. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 90? (advanced)

#14 [1996 Roulot Meursault Perrieres]
Light to medium gold color; slightly sweet green apple aromas with a hint of vanilla (oak?); very rich lemon custard fruit and some acidity too. I found this layered and nuanced.Try translating French to English when drinking a truly wonderful wine and my No. 4 wine of the night. Group Rank: Tied for 12th, 5 points (0/0/1/1/0) 95

#15 [2000 Henri Boillot Meursault Perrieres]
Light gold color; some lemon blossom and hazelnut aromas; this has beautiful balance and very good acidity; rich lemon pudding flavors. A very nice wine. Group Rank: tied for 17th, 1 pt (0/0/0/0/1) 94

#16 [2000 Roulot Meursault Perrieres]
Deep gold color; very obvious sherry aromas; on the palate it had sherry, sharp acidity and a chlorine-like character. Obviously oxidized (12 of us agreed on that). Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts DQ-oxidized

#17 [No wine—a bottle of 1996 Lafon Meursault Charmes left behind]

#18 [1999 Roulot Meursault Perrieres]
Light gold color; white flowers and citrus aromas; very bright and concentrated citrus flavors with minerality in spades. The minerality level here was off the charts. It also has a very long, lemon crème and minerals finish. Incredibly good. My No. 2 wine of the night overall. Group Rank: 7th, 15 points (1/2/0/1/0) 96

#19 [1996 Lafon Meursault Perrieres]
Medium full gold color; some light honey and citrus aromas; very bright, lemony mid-palate; this is extremely long and has a lattice work of minerality on the mid-plate and the finish. Another extremely impressive Meursault. My No. 3 wine of the night overall. Group Rank: Tied for 5th,
19 pts (1/0/4/0/2) 96

Fourth Flight-Chevalier Montrachet (served single blind)
Loup de Mer with Proscuitto Americano and Pea Vines

#20 [1995 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Demoiselles]
Very dark orangey brown color; really badly oxidized. We agreed unanimously on this one. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts DQ-oxidized

#21 [2000 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet]
Light yellow gold color; white flowers and pear aromas; pear and citrus flavors with some minerality layered in; very good acidity and structure here, this is a wine with a definite upside. This is a wine that just kept improving in the glass the whole evening. At the time we voted, I thought this was my number six wine and just a nose length behind the 1999 Jadot Demoiselles. But by the time we left (after the voting was done), I was thinking that it might have cracked my top five after all. Group Rank: 8th, 14 pts (1/1/0/1/3) 94+ initially/95+ later

#22 [1996 Georges Deleger Chevalier]
Medium gold color; forward, mature pear and green apple aromas; very bright citrus flavors and good acidity and minerality, but with a bit of toasty character; this finished just a little bit short. Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 93

#23 [2000 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium full gold color; some peachy, advanced aromas; rich, sweet honey and minerals flavors. This is obviously advanced and a bit mature, and doesn’t taste much like Chevalier, but it is okay. [N.B. After this was revealed, it became obvious that this was even more advanced than I realized. A disappointing wine. Drink up soon.] Group Rank: Tied for 19th (last), 0 pts 91? (advanced)

#24 [1999 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Demoiselles]
Medium yellow gold color; aromas of white flowers and citrus; tight, beautifully layered citrus and pear that seems to blossom and expand on the mid palate; very nice fruit and minerals finish. Beautiful balance in this wine. My No. 5 wine overall (with the caveat for 2000 Leflaive Chevy noted above). Group Rank 1st place, 24 pts (1/2/2/2/1) 95

#25 [1999 Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet Cabotte]
Medium yellow gold color; key lime and lemon crème pie aromas; on the palate again its key lime and lemon crème with very bright acidity and layered minerality; an incredibly elegant and sexy wine. Wow. My number one wine of the night. Group Rank: Group Rank: Tied for 5th, 19 pts (2/2/0/0/1) 96

#26 [1999 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; some light reduction aromas which eventually faded; later lemon citrus and beeswax; lemon oil, citrus and a light touch of toast; some modest minerality on the finish. Group Rank: 11th, 6 pts (0/1/0/1/0) 93 [N.B. I’ve had 3 bottles of this over the last three years, one six months ago, and all showed better than this one.]

#27 [1999 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet]
Light gold color; some slight reduction (SO2) aromas which lessened to show citrus and a hint of white flowers; relatively high acid level; this showed concentrated, slightly hard (consistent with the reduction) , meyer lemon flavors but I also found this just a touch toasty and on the back end. This obviously seems to be a Leflaive Chevy, but given the hardness and the toast, I can’t help wondering if the bottle is slightly off. Group Rank: 4th, 20 pts (1/0/3/2/2) 93? [N.B. It seems obvious that others had less misgivings about this bottle than I did. This is one of my all time favorite Leflaive Chevys. Six prior amazingly consistent notes and ratings of 95 or 96] Going to French school is probably the easiest way to learn French.

#28 [2000 Henri Boillot Chevalier Montrachet]
Light yellow gold color; some light SO2 and citrus; sharply focused lemon citrus and minerals; very good acidity and obvious structure here; fairly tight wine (especially for being the last wine in a long flight); a lot minerality in the finish on this one. Very impressive young wine. At the end of the evening when I went back to this it was really starting to blossom. Initially my number seven wine of the night (yes, I’m splitting hairs here), but by the end of the night this was another wine that was really screaming for top five consideration. Group Rank: 3rd, 22 pts (2/2/1/0/1) 94+ initially, 95+ later

Dessert Course
Brown Butter Torte with Lee Mandarin and Saba

1971 Steinberger Eiswein Auslese
Dark brown color; rich molasses and botrytis and apricot aromas; very rich brown sugar and a hint of candied apricot; very concentrated in the manner of balsamic vinegar and quite viscous on the palate. An extremely impressive dessert wine. 96

Postscript statistics and comments:

Corked: 0/27 (0%)
Oxidized: 2/27 (7%)
Advanced: 3/27 (11%)
Total Oxidized + Advanced: 5/27 (19%)

Cumulative Results for nights one and two:
Corked: 2/50 (4%)
Oxidized: 3/50 (6%)
Advanced: 3/50 (6%)
Total Oxidized + Advanced: 6/50 (12%)

We continued to experience a very low oxidation rate for the second portion this year’s premox dinners. Here again, our results are not going to be representative of randomly selected bottles from the 1995, 1996 and 1999 vintages (although the 2000 vintage continues to be the least oxidized vintage by far since 1994). This was mostly due to deliberate avoidance of wines with a past history of oxidation problems as well as the fact that we were aiming for some of the top producers and top wines of the 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2000 vintages.

I deliberately included some wines from producers who have a history of oxidation problems but who are known to have little or no oxidation in certain vintages (e.g. 1996 Matrot Meursault Perrieres, 1999 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles, 1996 Lafon Meursault Perrieres). Once again these wines demonstrated that even producers with suspect reputations from an oxidation perspective have been able to make wines in certain vintages that aren’t oxidized – which only compounds the controversy about why they fail so consistently in other vintages.

We once again took pains to distinguish between whether the wines had objective evidence of oxidation (e.g. sherry-like aromas and flavors) as opposed to evidence of mature or advanced character (e.g. aromas and flavors of honey and butterscotch.) While it is true that 19% of the wines we tasted showed either advanced character or oxidation, and thus some evidence of premature aging, only two wines – the 1995 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles and the 2000 Roulot Meursault Perrieres – showed objective evidence of oxidation. The 2000 Roulot was a real shocker.

Overall, I thought this was a tremendously good group of wines. As with night one, there was a wide divergence in our voting ranking this year’s top five wines. Despite having 14 voters, only one wine got more than two first place votes (2000 Leflaive Bienvenues Batard), and only two others got two first place votes (1999 Bouchard Chevy Cabotte and 2000 Boillot Chevy).

The one producer whose wines really stood out to me was Boillot. All three of the 2000 Boillot wines in the tasting were of absolute top quality and quite youthful. While Boillot has some issues with fragility and oxidation in 2001 and 2002, this set of 2000’s (as well as every other bottle of 2000 Boillot I’ve had to date) was extraordinary. It does make me pause and wonder whether Boillot did anything differently after the 2000 vintage.

Part III-March 8, 2011 at Melisse Restaurant
16 bottles of "Mostly Montrachet"

The third and final installment of the sixth annual set of “Premox” Dinners was held at Melisse Restaurant in Santa Monica on Tuesday, March 8, 2011. This dinner is traditionally held at Melisse and is limited to a maximum of ten people. The atmosphere is usually celebratory and the expectations high given that we are drinking multiple Montrachets and some of the ultra-expensive rarities like Coche-Dury and Leroy whites. This year, by covering the 1995 to 2000 vintages in a retrospective look at mature vintages, we had the opportunity for some side by side comparisons on some of those illustrious labels.

Nine of us joined Melisse’s sommelier Brian Kalliel, to taste grand ten bottles of Montrachet, four bottles of Coche-Dury and a Leroy Corton and Niellon Chevalier Montrachet. In attendance were: Ron Movich, Michael Zadikian, Jay Boberg, John Brincko, Ron Greene, Alan Weinberg, Gordon Lee, Dan Rhodes and me (Don Cornwell).

Josiah Citrin, the chef and owner of Melisse, did a phenomenal job with the meal and nicely matched the courses nicely to ascending scale of richness on the wines. The Santa Barbara Spot Prawns (served with the second flight of wines) and the Hay Baked Truffle Chicken were spectacular dishes. Among the many memorable meals I’ve had at Melisse, this may very well have been the single best. Bravo Josiah! On to the wines…

Champagne and Appetizers
Smoked Salmon “Benedict”
Hokkaido Scallop Tartar, Citrus Cone
Kummomoto Oysters, Fingerlimes, chives, Fleur de Sel

1985 Alain Robert Les Mesnil Tradition Champagne (Magnum)
Light gold color—amazingly youthful for 1985; very fine mousse but in modest volume; aromas of meyer lemon and brioche; very fresh, youthful citrus flavors and an intense minerality with a light touch of toast at the end; the finish is concentrated lemon citrus and amazingly broad and deep minerality. Truly awesome. Like a champagne made from Chevalier Montrachet or Meursault Perrieres. The best champagne I’ve ever had. 97

Flight One—Meursault Perrieres and Chevalier Montrachet (served single blind)
Warm Potatoes and Navet, Blue Fin Funa, Shaved Foie Gras, Truffle-Walnut Vinaigrette

#1[1996 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet]
Light to medium gold color; exotic, almost tropical pear and pineapple, aromas with a hint of white truffle; some richness on the palate – white honey, some minerality, but not that much acidity, which makes the minerality almost sweet; very pleasant rich, borderline pineapple finish with the minerality continuing. At the end of the night, this seemed pretty nice [N.B. After this was revealed, two people expressed that they thought this somewhat advanced, but the rest of us thought it was mostly mature, particularly given it is a Niellon.] Group Rank: Tied for 11th (last), 0 pts 93 initially, 94 later


#2 [1995 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres]
Medium gold color; rich, slightly honeyed pears aromas with a touch of vanilla and smoke; fairly forward, rich pear and vanilla bean flavors with a sweet finish and not much minerality. Seems obviously to be Coche, so I’d guess the 1995. Group Rank: Tied for 7th, 3 pts (0/0/0/1/1) 94

#3 [1999 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres]
Between light and medium gold color; some people felt this was slightly corked, while others strongly disagreed – I didn’t smell corked but did think there was a touch of reduction and some citrus and vanilla and we all agreed that the wine got better as it sat (which usually doesn’t happened with corked wines); this wine was fabulous on the palate however – concentrated sweet lemon custard and a lot of minerality; the finish was quite long – lemon meringue pie with minerals. I thought this was easily the best wine of the flight and it was my No. 3 wine of the evening. The battle about whether this wine was oxidized continued most of the evening. Three of the group maintained their position that the wine was slightly corked, while ultimately five us felt that it was not and one withheld opinion. Group Rank: 6th, 7 pts (0/0/1/1/2) 95

Second Flight—1996 and 1999 Montrachet (served single blind)
Santa Barbara Spot Prawns, Ashed Salsify, Blood Oranges, Chanterelle Mushrooms

#4 [1999 Sauzet Montrachet]
Very light gold color; lightly perfumed white flowers aromas, amazingly complex, elegant and concentrated fruit (pear and white nectarine) and star anise layered in with a subtle lattice work of minerality. This was an extremely elegant wine. The acidity was good but not prominent; sufficient for near perfection to be achieved. An amazingly long and rich fruity finish with a touch of minerality. One of the two best white wines I’ve ever had. Easily the wine of the night for me. [N.B. Several people were shocked this was the Sauzet when this was revealed] Group Rank: 1st (6/1/1/1/0/0), 39 pts 98
#5 [1996 Jadot Montrchet]
Light to medium gold color; aromas of white flowers and pears; on the palate this had some pear and lemon pastry flavors with an exotic hint of white peach; lighter than #4, quite elegant and has good concentration but not as much as #6; nice sweet citrus and minerals finish. My fourth overall favorite. Group Rank: Tied for 7th, 3 pts (0/0/0/1/1) 95

#6 [1999 Ramonet Montrachet]
Two stops short of medium gold color; sweet citrus and floral aromas with another very difficult to place fruit ester; quite concentrated fruit –pear and key lime with lots of minerality and decent acidity. There is a tremendous balance to this wine which really stands out. The finish is faint key lime with fabulous minerality and great lengthy. Another really amazing wine that just kept getting better throughout the evening. Group Rank: 2nd, 29 pts (2/4/1/0/0) 97

#7 [1996 Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet]
Medium plus gold color; some SO2 and very ripe peach/apricot aromas; similarly ripe peach/apricot flavors with a lot of concentration, and okay acidity, in an almost fully mature style; rich, slightly honeyed finish. Group Rank: 5th, 11 pts (0/1/1/1/2) 94

#8 [!996 Fontaine-Gagnard Montrachet]
Completely oxidized and luckily a bonus wine. Tied for 11th (last), 0 pts DQ-oxidized

Third Flight—1999 and 2000 Montrachet (served single blind with one double-blind 1997)
New Zealand John Dory, Dungeness Crab, Petit Pois a la Francaise, Brown Butter Sauce

#9 [1999 Bouchard Montrachet]
Light yellow gold color; some white flowers and apple aromas; relatively fat, and quite full apple/pear pastry flavors, very good concentration but not quite enough acidity to help keep this really fresh and interesting; long, very fat buttery finish. [N.B. I was pretty amazed when this wine was unveiled, because I thought this wine was superb in the past, and I actually went out and bought more after a great showing in the ’99 Premox tasting, but the once seemingly vibrant acidity has largely disappeared. Another bottle from my cellar tried at home two days later produced identical results] Tied for 11th (last), 0 pts 93

#10 [2000 Fontaine-Gagnard Montrachet]
Between medium and full gold color – obviously darker than all but #12; quite rich apple, honey and light toast aromas; rich orange citrus and apple pastry flavors. A very rich but tiring wine. We all agree this is advanced. [N.B. Of the eight bottles I’ve had of this wine since July 2005, two were seriously advanced and the other six were excellent to spectacular. Four other bottles opened in the last 12 months ranged between 94 and 96 points. Drink up now.] Group Rank: Tied for 11th (last), 0 pts 91? Advanced

#11 [2000 Bouchard Montrachet]Light gold color; light pear and white flowers aromas; a rich but elegant wine—pear pastry, great viscosity and decent acidity and nice minerality. This is a very “correct” Montrachet and it is the clear class of this flight, but it was not as exciting as most of the wines in the second flight. Group Rank: Tied for 9th, 1 pt (0/0/0/0/1) 94

#12 [1999 Fontaine-Gagnard Montrachet]
Orangey-gold color; oxidized aromas –clearly sherry and chlorine and sherry on the palate. We unanimously agreed this was completely oxidized. Another bonus wine, but a small consolation given it was Montrachet. Tied for 11th (last), 0 pts DQ--Oxidized

#16 [1997 Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet]
This was an on-the-fly substitute for the oxidized Fontaine-Gagnard wines, which John Brincko was kind enough to bring. Only John and I knew what it was and it was served completely blind to the rest of the group. Nobody came close to guessing this was a 1997. Medium to full gold color; some rich apple pie aromas; another rich round wine with barely detectable acidity and nice overall balance (especially for a 1997). Group Rank: Tied for 9th, 1 pt (0/0/0/0/1) 93

Fourth Flight—Leroy and Coche Corton Charlemagne (served single blind)
Hay Baked Truffle Chicken with Slow Roasted Sunchokes and Carrots, Potato Puree

#13 [2000 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne]
Light yellow color; strong reduction aromas – SO2 and diesel oil – I found the latter particularly intense and off-putting and it took well over an hour before there was any discernable reduction in the intensity of diesel fuel aromas (the others were not nearly as bothered by this as I was); decent acidity, very strong minerality, definite mid-palate density; a powerfully fruity and mineral finish. I found the wine a lot better after an hour of air than I did when it was poured. Group Rank: 3rd, 25 pts (1/2/2/3/0) 92 initially/94 later

#14 [2000 Leroy Corton Charlemagne]
Light yellow-gold color; pear and light citrus with a “clean” sensation; good acidity and grip on the palate, green apple fruit with decent density; a fairly long green apple and mineral finish. An excellent wine, but a step short of being truly exciting. My No. 5 wine of the night. Group Rank: 4th, 16 pts (0/1/3/1/1). 94

#15 [1996 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne]
Medium gold color; some definite cardboard aromas. Sadly corked despite everyone’s tremendous expectations. Tied for 11th (last), 0 pts DQ--Corked

Dessert Course
Orange Cream Soda

1949 La Tour Blanche
Deep orange color; molasses and orange rind aromas; brown sugar, butter pastry and a hint of orange citrus on the palate; very viscous and incredibly long finish. A wonderful dessert wine. My thanks to Ron Greene who brought this wine. 95

Postscript statistics and comments:

Corked: 1/16 (6%) But some controversy about another bottle
Oxidized: 2/16 (13%)
Advanced: 1/16 (6%)
Total Oxidized + Advanced: 3/16 (19%)

Cumulative Results for all three nights:

Corked: 3/66 (5%)
Oxidized: 5/66 (8%)
Advanced: 4/66 (6%)
Total Oxidized + Advanced: 8/66 (12%)

From a statistical standpoint, we continued to do quite well with respect to oxidation and prematurely advanced wines. On this night we had two bottles oxidized and one advanced – and all three were from Fontaine-Gagnard, whose reputation is highly suspect when it comes to premature oxidation. I had deliberately included those three wines, despite the misgivings of some of the participants, because I’ve had much better luck with Fontaine-Gagnard’s Montrachets than their other wines, including some relatively recent outstanding bottles of 1999 and 2000 Montrachet. Nevertheless, I knew that including Fontaine-Gagnard was a bit like playing Russian Roulette and in this instance all three bottles turned out to be oxidized or advanced. Suffice it to say that Fontaine-Gagnard’s reputation as one of the worst producers from a premox perspective is richly deserved and I no longer purchase their wines.

Had I excluded the Fontaine-Gagnard wines from night three, much as we excluded wines with a strong history of oxidation on nights one and two, the three-night totals for oxidized wines would have been 3 out of 66 bottles (or 5%) and the total of oxidized or advanced bottles would have been 5 out of 66, or 8% -- a total lower than any of the individual vintages we’ve tried thus far.

The two things I think this series of retrospective tastings demonstrate are (1) that oxidation is clearly not a random phenomenon and (2) that the corks, while admittedly playing a role in oxidation within a single case and the occasional unexpected oxidized wine from a producer with an excellent premox reputation (e.g. the 2000 Roulot MP on night two), are clearly not explanatory of the width and breadth of the oxidation problem. As these tastings and the notes on the wiki site have repeatedly demonstrated, there is significant variation between producers in oxidation performance and, as demonstrated by some of the wines we selected for night two, even for domaines with some known oxidation problems, certain bottlings from certain vintages consistently perform well.

Six years after beginning these “Premox” tastings, the results merely reconfirm my long-held opinion that the premox problem results from deliberate choices made by winemakers in attempting to produce more forward wines that are easier to drink upon release. I think many producers rationalized to themselves that reducing SO2 use, using lighter gentler computer controlled pressing cycles resulting in “cleaner” juice, using extended open-top batonnage, more racking and other tricks to make the wines more attractive and ready to drink on release wouldn’t affect the longevity of the wines. In retrospect, that has proven to be a naïve view, but many producers will be reluctant to give up on these practices as long as they are able to sell their wines. On the other hand, those producers who had abundant demand for their wines in the early 1990’s and felt no pressure to make any changes in their winemaking style to satisfy the demands of restaurants or consumers for more “early approachable” wines, declined to make softer wines and as a result have suffered virtually no premox problems.

Next year we will return to the single vintage format with the 2004 vintage. It is the first decent vintage to be bottled after the premox problems were first recognized in 2003. But for those of you expecting there to be some improvement in oxidation rates versus the prior vintages, the early indications are not good. Stay tuned, and please keep posting notes on the wines you try on the wiki site.