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07.08.2006

Wine Dinner of The Century or a Waste of Great Wine?

There's an extravagance that's hard to avoid among wine lovers. The more experience people get with wine, and the deeper they fall for it, the more they tend to spend per bottle and the more wine they tend to amass. Some wine lovers, of whom you know or at least have heard, spend staggering amounts of money on their passion (or habit). For some of these folks, there is no wine that is too expensive, no bottle too rare, no wine list that is too overpriced.

Many of these folks exercise their habit and their pocketbooks at lavish wine dinners which they throw themselves, or which are thrown for them by fancy restaurants, wine auctioneers, wine magazines, and other elements of the industry. As someone who keeps his eye out for goings on of this sort, I've seen some menus for pretty amazing (and pretty expensive) dinners.

But I've never seen anything like this one.

Over the course of three October nights, a wine broker called Acker Merrall & Condit will be hosting an adult version of those progressive parties we all had when we went to college, which they are billing as The Wines of The Century Dinner. Held in Manhattan, the first night is at Per Se, the second at Daniel, the third at Cru.

The price of the three-night dinner?: $17,500.

And here's what you'd be drinking over the course of the three nights:

1976 Salon Champagne out of magnums
1996, 1995, 1992, 1990 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne, Burgundy
1993, 1990, 1985 Meo-Camuzet Richebourg, Burgundy
1969, 1966, 1964, 1962 Rousseau Chambertin, Burgundy
1949, 1947, 1945 Calon Segur Bordeaux all out of magnum
1929 Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Latour, Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux
1971, 1969, 1966 La Mouline, Rhone
1969, 1967, 1966, 1963 Penfolds Grange, Australia
1921 Huet Vouvray, Loire

1947 Pommery out of Jeroboam
1985, 1982, 1978, 1970 Domaine Romanee Conti Montrachet, Burgundy
1993 Drouhin, Mugnier, Roumier and Vogue Musignys, , Burgundy
1949 Clos des Lambrays, Domaine Romanee Conti La Tache (magnum), Rousseau Chambertin (magnum), Vogue Musigny (magnum), Burgundy
1928 Latour, Montrose, Mouton Rothschild, Palmer Bordeaux
1959, 1955, 1953, 1952 La Mission Bordeaux all out of magnum
1994, 1970, 1968 Vega Sicilia Unico, Spain
1998, 1995, 1990 Chave Cuvee Cathelin (Hermitage), Rhone
1945 Graham's Port out of magnum

1959 Dom Perignon 'Oenoetheque' Champage
1996, 1990, 1989, 1985 Raveneau 'Les Clos', Burgundy
1999, 1996, 1993, 1990 Domaine Romanee Conti La Tache, Burgundy
1959, 1955, 1953, 1952 Domaine Romanee Conti "Romanee Conti," Burgundy
1949, 1948, 1947 Vieux Chateau Certan, Bordeaux
1921 Cheval Blanc, L'Eglise Clinet, Lafleur, Petrus Bordeaux all out of magnum
1966, 1964, 1959, 1952 Jaboulet 'La Chapelle,' Rhone
1958, 1952, 1947, 1945 G. Conterno 'Monfortino Riserva' Barolo, Italy
1959 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes

In case you're not up on the world's most expensive wines and the best vintages of them in the last 100 years, the above list is pretty much it. I'm sure some people would quibble about this or that, but if you were putting together a list of the 85 (yes, there are 85 of them there) most collectible wines out there, these would all be near the top.

OK. So why am I telling you about this (apart from the generous public service announcement that there may in fact still be a few seats available should you have the means and the desire to attend)?

Because I'm not sure whether this dinner would be the chance of a lifetime or a complete and utter waste of good wine. And really, I'm leaning towards the latter.

Sure, it's an amazing opportunity to try wines that only a few thousand people have in their cellars. But on the other hand, how in the world can it be possible to actually ENJOY even one of these wines. Even for the wine lovers I know who have wines like these in their cellars, one of these bottles would make, and take, an entire evening's drinking.

Frankly these are the sorts of wines you want to savor, to caress, to come as close as you ever come as a wine connoisseur to making love to your glass. They are monumental wines, whose enjoyment is not only in their flavors, but in how they evolve in your mouth, in the glass, with the various dishes of dinner, and in the quiet contemplative moments after dinner.

And that sort of enjoyment seems nearly impossible to get when you've got 30 of such wines to sample in the course of a 5 hour dinner, with only a single, small pour of each to sip, swish, and swallow before moving on to the next for fear of running out of time.

Tasting all these wines, even over three nights, doesn't sound like fun, it sounds like work -- no different from the big tastings I go to where I'm focused on learning about a lot of wines in a small time period.

But, for some, I guess this is the equivalent of getting three nights in a hotel with the Swedish Bikini Team. And for folks who like that sort of thing, I guess no price is too high. It just seems like an embarrassment of riches.

If you are interested in attending this dinner, you can call John Acker at 877-225-3747.

Comments (9)

Alder wrote:
07.08.06 at 9:43 PM

There has been some discussion of this already on Robert Parker's Bulletin Boards.

Some people think its the greatest thing since sliced bread. Others want to puke.

Terry Hughes wrote:
07.09.06 at 5:23 AM

Your objections are all justified, IMO, and I'm inclined to opt for the puke side. After drinking and not spitting about 9-10 wines, how the hell are you going to tell the difference between one of these storied wines and some decent but less exalted vintage?

Aside from the lack of discernment and true appreciation that this Neronian excess implies, it does cause dark broodings about the distribution of wealth in these neo-Robber Baron days. To paraphrase the one about youth, "Wealth is wasted on the wealthy."

brett wrote:
07.09.06 at 6:53 AM

I lean very much towards the puke side, but having never attended something like this I suppose my opinion doesn't mean much.

I guess we just need someone to slip in a bottle of two-buck-chuck about halfway through a meal and record the attendees' comments. That should settle whether these things allow folks to appreciate the wines or not.

Anonymous wrote:
07.09.06 at 7:58 PM

Speaking of Parker, he's had a couple of ridiculous wine dinners as of late. In the back of the latest WA is more material to make your jaw drop ... or puke.

Don Strickler wrote:
07.10.06 at 3:05 PM

85 bottles of wine and dinner, or three nights in a hotel with the Swedish Bikini Team. hmmmm. I'm thinking the first is excess, the second is not.

HB Herr wrote:
07.12.06 at 10:41 AM

From a dialogue within our distinguished NYC based wine group -
_________________________________________________
The REALLY scary part about this is that they also did one for TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS - and - yes - THEY SOLD IT OUT -

Rest assured - they will sell this one out also -

For me - I'd rather drink a few lucky strikes with friends -

HBH

moral of the story - the rich really are different than you and I -

scott wrote:
07.16.06 at 8:30 PM

alder.

haven't posted before,

but, there were some of the greatest tastings ever
in the bay area.

way back I got to go to some tastings in the bay area,
one of which included a '21 d"yqem at a chez pannise
tasting that steve singer and dennis lapuyade organized.

John, lauren and hector from premier cru also did some
of the greatest tastings ever in the 80s including one which
did my favorite burgandy, the '47 Musigny Vielle Vigne, Comte de Vogue.

Still, the best tastings started with someone special up
there: Raymond Fong from Wine Impression. Over twenty
years and at all hours of the day or night, the people who
know about what we all tasted together have no way to
understand the extent of our friendship and knowledge
of wine.

As one of Raymond's friends used to tell us: "the wine
speaks to you. "

but, for some us, our appreciation started with Raymond
Fong

Rajiv wrote:
04.02.08 at 10:10 AM

I'm on the "puking" side. The only large tasting I've ever attended was Gary Vaynerchuk's Vayniac party last weekend, and while it was an incredible experience, I think I made a good decision in only tasting ~15 wines throughout the evening. I was able to take good notes on each one, and for a relatively new palate, that took some time. I did miss a Turley Zin, some old Bdx, and a penfolds bin 707, but I'm happy overall.

The star of the evening for me was a 1982 Calon-Segur out of double magnum, which was being poured at the Wine Library into plastic cups (horrors!). Luckily I brought my own glass and was able to retreat to a vacant corner and savor the two mouthfulls, noting my impressions. Even so the experience left me wondering what further complexities the wine might reveal had I been able to taste it over several hours. Dealing with that longing, times 30 wines, is too painful to contemplate.

Another reason I see this as abhorrent is the likelihood of palate fatigue. I'm assuming people are not spitting. You would have to tie me to a chair to PREVENT me from spitting those wines, knowing that every mouthful I swallowed would make the subsequent wines less distinct.

At the WL afterparty, though I spit the wines religiously, I reached a point where every wine tasted oxidized - I suppose I'd tried one too many oxidized wines, and the acetaldehyde just refused to leave my palate. It was sheer torture sitting there, looking at all the wines being poured, knowing they would all taste the same. To arrive at that state WILLINGLY seems like madness.

Parker has written scathingly about such stories of excess, especially Rodenstock's tastings, where spitting is forbidden. It seems like some of his own dinners approach such proportions, yet he appears to recall in quite excellent detail the wines he had. I would say that if you, like parker, can write a paragraph on each wine, from memory, then the event might not be a waste for you. I doubt most of the tasters at that dinner could perform such a feat.

It disgusts me.

Rajiv wrote:
04.02.08 at 10:20 AM

I'm on the "puking" side. The only large tasting I've ever attended was Gary Vaynerchuk's Vayniac party last weekend, and while it was an incredible experience, I think I made a good decision in only tasting ~15 wines throughout the evening. I was able to take good notes on each one, and for a relatively new palate, that took some time. I did miss a Turley Zin, some old Bdx, and a penfolds bin 707, but I'm happy overall.

The star of the evening for me was a 1982 Calon-Segur out of double magnum, which was being poured at the Wine Library into plastic cups (horrors!). Luckily I brought my own glass and was able to retreat to a vacant corner and savor the two mouthfulls, noting my impressions. Even so the experience left me wondering what further complexities the wine might reveal had I been able to taste it over several hours. Dealing with that longing, times 30 wines, is too painful to contemplate.

Another reason I see this as abhorrent is the likelihood of palate fatigue. I'm assuming people are not spitting. You would have to tie me to a chair to PREVENT me from spitting those wines, knowing that every mouthful I swallowed would make the subsequent wines less distinct.

At the WL afterparty, though I spit the wines religiously, I reached a point where every wine tasted oxidized - I suppose I'd tried one too many oxidized wines, and the acetaldehyde just refused to leave my palate. It was sheer torture sitting there, looking at all the wines being poured, knowing they would all taste the same. To arrive at that state WILLINGLY seems like madness.

Parker has written scathingly about such stories of excess, especially Rodenstock's tastings, where spitting is forbidden. It seems like some of his own dinners approach such proportions, yet he appears to recall in quite excellent detail the wines he had. I would say that if you, like parker, can write a paragraph on each wine, from memory, then the event might not be a waste for you. I doubt most of the tasters at that dinner could perform such a feat.

It disgusts me.

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