Best Wines of 2020

Despite my really having only two-and-a-half months of typical social drinking in 2020, I managed to cram in quite a few legendary wines in 2020. It was Acker’s 200th Bicentennial Anniversary, after all, so there was no hesitation in pulling any and every cork that got in my way for the first couple months. Of course, in typical JK fashion, I have misplaced the notes for a few evenings even in a year where there were fewer nights out, so in going back looking at pictures and places, I noticed evenings like thirty vintages of Rousseau that never made it on these charts, because I am not sure where those notes are. There could have been an extra three or more Rousseaus here, as an example of the imprecise nature of my recap. There is an anal, perfectionist side of me that in years past would work on this article for days until every wine was captured and recorded, even relaying a list of those 97/97+ point wines. I think I got close to 200 97+ point wines tasted in 2018, and this very same nature is why I never got this article out in 2019. This year, I am not letting that happen twice, so I am giving you a 90th percentile perception of my year in wine. It was 2020, you know, so there had to be some degree of fuhgeddaboudit to it.

Let’s start my recap with nine, very fine wines that scored 98 points or more that I didn’t officially write up:

1961 Latour (98+)
1980 DRC Romanee Conti (98+)
1990 Dujac Clos St. Denis (98+)
1955 La Mission Haut Brion (98)
1971 DRC Richebourg (98)
1985 Dujac Clos de la Roche (98)
1990 Cheval Blanc (98)
1993 Dujac Clos de la Roche (98)
2002 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne (98)

Not a bad nonet, no? I think that’s the first time I ever used that word, I love it when that happens. Moving right along, there were fifteen other wines that scored 98 or 98+ points that I did write up, then another ten that scored 99 or more. Actually, make that sixteen. It will all be clear in the end, I promise.

Let’s start with a white, and a 1978 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet that showed great floral qualities immediately with lots of acacia and honeysuckle. It was very tropical, exotically so, and its palate was rich, creamy and luscious. Secondary flavors of vanilla and caramel emerged in this perfectly aged bottle of white Burgundy. Lord Byron Jr. hailed it as ‘oily’ and ‘unctuous.’ Each sip made me appreciate this profound wine even more. It got some pretty high scores from some distinguished tasters; Jetski was in 99-point territory and the Curious Gourmet gave it 98. Jetski quickly backpedaled, but both of them – and the wine – pulled me up a point in the end (98).

Another most noteworthy white wine was a Domaine Leflaive Montrachet. The 1996 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet had a fabulous nose with creamed corn and butter fresh off the farm aromas. There was sweet yellow fruit and a great icecap on its nose. There were underlying minerals and tension beneath its sensual olfactory stimulation. The palate was rich, creamy and round with such signature smoky sexiness. There were secondary butterscotch aromas and flavors in this divine wine (98).

There was a superlative magnum of 1988 Salon, which was pretty much perfect in every which way. It had a rich nose full of vanilla aromas that Big Boy quickly gave 98 points. It was long and scintillating with a nice sweetness and powdered goodness to it. This was rock star stuff with great acidity and still on the upswing. In the end, I agreed with Big Boy, which is always highly recommended (98M)!

I drink a lot of Chave, and the 1990 “regular” delivered 98 point bliss on two occasions: one night we began a flight with the headline act also known as the 1990 J.L. Chave Hermitage. I’d recently tasted two magnums of this in January that remained at the forefront of my brain, but that didn’t take away from the thrill of this bottle. There was great minerality, and it was consistent with my most recent, previous tastings. The Chave was like a full meal with its vegetable, animal and mineral components — WOW. It was long, fine and meaty, with flavors of iron, bacon and violet. This wine pretty much had it all. A second bottle was another evening’s last call: one final wine arrived, a mystery wine that Big Boy deemed ‘somewhere between strong and extremely strong,’ which was quite accurate. It had great bacon and mint aromas, with the perfect ‘zippy zip’ I wanted at the end of the night. It wound up being one of the best bottles of 1990 Chave Hermitage that I have ever had, firing away on all cylinders in all its rich and decadent glory (98).

Speaking of Rhone, a 1978 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline was deep and meaty with menthol, violet and bacon – that superior signature of La Mouline. It was chocolatey on the palate, but the cheese kind of stripped it a bit; don’t serve cheese with your red wine! It regained its footing after the cheese went away and kept getting better and better. This was another superlative bottle on what was clearly a superlative night (98).

1945, 1955, 1959 and 1961 are pretty good places to be if you like to drink Bordeaux, and some of those vintages slid into my Top Wines of 2020. First up is 1959 Chateau Haut Brion, which had a spectacular nose of chocolate and tobacco. There was plenty of zip left in it with some band-aid, charcoal and gravel aromas to add complexity. I could sense how long the palate was before I tasted it, and it was terrific and sensual, full of chocolatey, creamy and tasty greatness. There was lots of gravel on the finish, and Hamburger found a ‘particular freshness to it’ (98).

Next is another perfect condition bottle, a 1961 Chateau Haut Brion. It had toffee, caramel and peanut aromas with an egg cream kiss. It was rich and luscious on the palate with great, coffee and chocolate flavors alongside dark plum and cassis. This was a long and sexy wine; if flavors could be midnight, this wine was it. I wanted to take it back to my hotel room accordingly (98).

There was a 1961 Petrus which had a rich, sexy and sweet nose full of plums and chocolate. It was so complex with all the shades of all the flowers of the Royal garden in full bloom. The ’61 was incredibly expressive in the nose. Some mint crept in on the palate that was still a touch shy. It was still rich, creamy and sexy as hell. It was clearly the most complex wine so far. There were great layers to the mouth; this was was soooo good. Sweet, sexy and chocolaty, the ’61 Petrus was a veritable rap star (98).

La Tache always finds its way to the top; it could be renamed ‘La Top’ lol. We had a Rare Legends dinner, and it couldn’t be a Rare Legends dinner without a La Tache flight, so most appropriately we began one flight with a 1990 DRC La Tache. This was another rock star wine with great depth and freshness. This was fresh like the Versailles garden. It was rich, leathery and black with a touch of partridge with the buckshot still in it. It was so long and stylish, continuing to unfurl until there was regrettably nothing left in my glass (98).

Rousseau basically has its own VIP section in my 98-point club, and this doesn’t even include that night of thirty others. I hope it’s clear I love the wines from Rousseau. A Premier Cru even snuck in here thanks to a divine 1978 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques. It was a super sexy bottle that was musky, oily and tangy with a wealth of red cherry sex appeal. The finish was so long and sensual with great earth flavors and a nutty finish. It made me smack my lips, and its acid lingered in my belly like a warm fireplace on a cold night. Its gritty, long finish had me excited (98).

A 1993 Rousseau Chambertin was deep, dark, vitaminy, irony and rich. This wine was deep, deep inside. It was long and strong with a great flash of black and purple fruits. There was a fair amount of game as in ’got game,’ and everything was in the right spot. Its sweet core tickled my fancy, and it was so long in a beautifully brooding way, what a wine (98).

A 1985 A. Rousseau Chambertin was full bodied and then some. This was a ‘deep ocean’ wine as Big Boy would have said if he ever made it to Brazil. It was black like a deep cave after dark, and full of wet, dark stone mysteriousness. This wine was rich and great, in every which way, not rich and an asshole lol (98).

The red wines began with a bang thanks to a strong bottle of 1985 Rosseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. It was outstanding from the get-go, with great length and zip. It was still on the tight side and young for an ’85. It kept unfurling and lingering on the palate, with great cedar and a flash of fruit on the strawberry city side. This was an amazing wine still with a long way to go (98).

A couple more wines pushed the boundaries of 98 to 98+, making it five wines total for the year knocking on heaven’s door. The first was one of the rarest of them all, and we went straight to the penthouse with a 1999 Roumier Musigny. ‘Miraculous,’ ‘other shores’ and ‘stellar’ came from the crowd. It was deep in an inverse, mountainous way. It had deep, dark fruit and was coiled like a rattlesnake. I couldn’t stop drinking this nectar, a big-time Rocky Mountain high experience (98+)!

We moved on to a spectacular bottle of 1985 Ponsot Clos de la Roche. It was rich, decadent and super concentrated. This was a perfect bottle of this wine, and it was clearly nestled in the strike zone of Ponsot’s best vintages. It is an outer-worldly wine in the context of the 1985 vintage, a bit of a superhero amongst mere mortals, although we had two other superheroes in this flight already! There was a lot of boss to this sauce (98+).

And now, drumroll please…time to cross over into 99-point territory and the best wines I tasted in 2020. First, I must pay tribute to the four wines I gave 99 points that didn’t make the official countdown; ie, they have no tasting note. Apologies in advance. Chalk this one up to the fugghedaboudit pile that wasn’t completely forgotten. Where would they be inserted in the official countdown? If you really care, send me an email, I need more human contact anyway lol.

1992 Ramonet Montrachet (99M)
1991 Rousseau Chambertin (99)
1971 DRC La Tache (99)
1959 La Mission Haut Brion (99)

(10) In tenth place is the perennial Top Tenner, The 1989 Petrus. It is tough to see any vintage of this wine since 1961 ever eclipsing the 1989. It is always as good as it gets, and still ascending. One night it came out, and immediately it was, ‘now we were talking!’ I was all about the coconut kisses amidst its deep purple and black fruits. It was thick as a brick and rich with great length and zip. This was the ‘BEST,’ I wrote. Some things never change (99).

(9) Viva Italia! Any one who thinks Italy can’t make some of the world’s greatest wines should start with some 1978 Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva, or many other vintages of Monfortino, for that matter. One bottle was full of ‘cinnamon.’ It was long and dry but lifted like the take-off of an under-control rocket. This was clearly a great wine with great acidity and a zippy personality. The usual tar and leather were joined by black roses and Grandma’s secret spices. Mamma mia (99)!

(8) 1978 is a good segue to the first Red Burgundy in my Top Ten, a 1978 Roumier Bonnes Mares, which once again delivered an immaculate experience. It had a smoky nose full of deep, dark purple fruits. This oily red was a 99-point wine from the get-go with its smorgasbord of delicious fruits. It still felt so young but was so open, with great length and grit. This wine had impeccable concentration and zip, and it lingered on my palate effortlessly and endlessly (99).

(7) I might drink more white wine than red wine on a yearly, everyday basis, even though the best wines are dominated by red. I was glad a 1996 DRC Montrachet gave me more and then some, cracking that 99-point code. It was all about its richness and smoky intensity. The acidity was even more intense; its length and zip made it a real powerhouse. The Ambassador thought the ‘acidity endless,’ and he was right. This wine wasn’t even on its plateau yet and was as good as Chardonnay gets (99).

(6) A spectacular lunch closed out with a 1990 J.L. Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin. I brought it. I mean, a ’71 RC magnum was opened, and I’m a gentleman! I just realize that I may have had this wine in late 2019, but I never released by ‘Best of 2019’ article, so just deal with it lol. As previously indicated, I have been drinking as much Chave as possible; it is generally a good habit. The Cathelin had an amazing nose with an insane blend of menthol, violet and bacon. It was so white smoky and so sexy with enough oil to get a racecar going. The palate was superb; this was another long and sexy wine that left my mouth open and wanting more. Its creamy, honeyed personality and elegant, endless finish had me in the promised land again. Just wow (99).

(5) The best wine of Acker’s 200th Anniversary Gala that I tried was a 1991 J.L. Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin. This wine always achieves 99 points; I have written this wine up on this level before and will refer to the last time I wrote it up properly: While by no means mature, the additional nuances and style of the 1991 Cathelin obviously showed more development than the 2003, but it still felt like a very young wine. What amazed me about the 1991 was its silky personality. This was not a bomb like the 2003, and I could see even more Jean-Louis’ insistence that Cathelin was a different wine and expression of a given vintage. Its fruit was again on the black side, with more purple and light ink edges. Smoked meats and fireplace crackles of the God of War mixed with violets and wildflowers from the Goddess of Love. It had a long, sensual finish, unfurling slowly, surely and sexily. It was creamy but not heavy; there was a grace and elegance to the 1991, and it danced like a ballerina on my palate. It also was dripping with diamonds, sparkling in every which (and rich) way. I just realized I totally forgot about this wine in my Top Wines of the Year article in 2017! Those auction tasters are impossible for me to keep track…but I won’t forget it again (99).

(4) The 1978 DRC La Tache proved on two occasions to be another ‘wow’ wine. It was packed with menthol, rose, white smoke and light game, as in just right light. There were leather and slate flavors on its muscular and unfurling finish. This bottle of LT had it all. Lord Byron Jr. was hesitant to give it the elusive 99 points, but while the ink in his pen dried up, most of us had no doubt. Tasted twice, both 99 points, and the second time was also as good as it gets. It resided in menthol city with any and every fruit readily apparent in an amazing, smorgasbord fashion. It was a kaleidoscope of colors: red, purple, blue and even more. There was great earth and leather, too, accompanying the spectacular mint notes. It was in the perfect spot at age 42 (99).

(3) The last wine of one of Jetski’s celebratory nights was as spectacular as anything we had had so far, and one of my most spectacular wines of the year. It should have been, as it was a 1971 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. It had the citricity meets electricity that would light up anyone’s palate. The red rainbow of fruits was on full display, starting with currant and, let’s not forget, the berries, straw, cran, rasp and lingon, of course. This was a spectacular wine that would be hard to defeat no matter who the opponent (99).

(2) The 1945 Mouton Rothschild was perfection as always. I seem to be fortunate enough to have this wine at least once a year. The bottle I had in 2020 had everything it should have and dream it could have. This remains, year after year, one of the Top Ten wines I have had in my life – really Top Five. That eucalyptus edge à la 1974 Heitz Martha’s is that characteristic’s best it ever could be. The caramel, carob, cream and candlelight qualities were Captivating with Capital letters. The wine reeked capital, in fact. I will never be able to drink enough bottles of this most incredible wine. Thankfully, I’ve already had it close to twenty times (99+).

(1) Now those of you that have been reading my notes for years, you know that I don’t give out 100 points. I believe in the pursuit of perfection, but not perfection itself. So, 99+ is as high as I have ever given, and only to a handful of wines, one of which is above. However, one night in February in New York City made me think a bit differently about things, and it took four wines to combine together into a rising Phoenix of a 100-point experience, and the four wines were all DRC Romanee Conti, of course. First a bit of context. It was the week before our gala, and there were conflicting events popping up all over. I was at Per Se with Comte Liger-Belair, doing a historical retrospective of every vintage of Aux Reignots, ever, which normally would be enough of a great wine night on its own. But Big Boy was also holding Romanee Conti court at his home, back to 1937, on the same night. The Comte and I arrived late, but quickly caught up, because thankfully Sir Robert and Dapper Dave were saving us some sips. There were numerous afterthoughts like 1990, 1999 and 2002, because four mature vintages of RC hit the bellissimo bullseye, three of which were 99-point wines: 1937, 1952, and 1971, combined with the aforementioned 98+ points, the 1980. One could split hairs that the 1937 was 98 points, but at that point and that age and that circumstance, it just got that baby bump. Of course, the younger vintages were still alpha alphas, but when you have great old bottles next to the same great young wines, it is very hard for youth to prevail. I didn’t take thorough notes as it was late, and I was catching up, but I stayed until about two in the morning, sampling and sipping my way through numerous other RCs (a great magnum of 1970 was another standout), along with a trio of DRC Montrachets amongst others. To give a great tasting note of the ultimate mature RC experience, I will share with you a wine that I was going to include in this article, a note from a magnum of 1971 RC that I then realized I had in December 2019, previously mentioned in my misplaced 1990 Chave Cathelin note above: A magnum of 1971 DRC Romanee Conti came next. That’s right. In fact, this magnum was purchased at our November Hong Kong auction the month prior. The magnum was in outstanding condition, and it had outstanding provenance, so I was feeling no pressure. After one sip, I was feeling no pain. Its nose was full of that autumnal rust and spice. There were tomato, rose, bouillon and menthol aromas filling my nose to capacity. The Winemaster found the 1971 ‘more elegant than 1978’ in general, and I was in love with its great, fully mature flavors. There were brick, rust and autumn flavors here. While its palate was elegant, its finish was thick. It got more minty and (good) herbal on its finish, with almost a kiss of Chartreuse-like complexity. What a wine (99M).

100 Point Experience

So, there you have it, my first 100-point rating, although it would be fair to call it an experience, a Big Boy Experience, of course. I suppose there have been many other 100-point nights over the years, but this combination of 1937/1952/1971/1980 DRC Romanee Conti gets the first, official (100). It only took me 25 years, but 2020 was the kind of year that needed one.

Forty wines in 2020 rated 98 points or more, and a few missing soldiers, for sure. All things considered, I’ll take it. I have a feeling that my 2021 will be backfilled a bit like my 2020 was front filled. No matter what, I will still find a way to drink and share some great wines with great people. I look forward to lots of catching up in 2021!


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