Best Wines of 2020

Putting together The Trinity Collection catalog was a little more effort than usual thanks to the incredible amount of rare Champagne. The goal was simple: only offer the best bottles, and we went through the entire collection three or four times making the ultimate selection. I personally looked at almost every bottle of Champagne 1971 and older, for my own edification. The opportunity to see any of these older bottles of Champagne is extremely rare, let alone this many. I was talking to Truly about the number of great Champagnes I’ve had from this collection over the years, and that we should put together a greatest hits of tasting notes. Truly said that would be nice and added a big “IF” we could do it, due to time constraints and having to launch the sale ASAP. He then added that he thought it would be much better if I took bottles that we were offering right now and wrote some new notes. I made a quick call, and I got a quick answer. “Whatever you want.”

It just so happened that this weekend saw both a small and large gathering, and both gatherings saw a lot of Champagne bottles opened. Eighteen, to be exact, and seventeen other wines tasted. I will get to the entire weekend in due course, but this article is just about the six bottles and magnum that I literally pulled out of this auction to drink this past weekend.

Two of the bottles I had Saturday night at Marea, the first being a 1966 Salon. You know, just your everyday 55-year-old bottle of Salon that has come up three times in the market in the last five years, and those three times were all single bottle lots. It didn’t disappoint. The Secretary of Defense was loving it right away, and I could not blame him. It had a very nutty nose, and it even smelled oily and viscous. Its palate was rich and creamy, with toasty and nutty flavors. This was like a great white Burgundy; while there was just a trace of fizz left, there was still tremendous acidity lifting its finish. Its finished lingered with kisses of herbs and woodsy goodness, flexing like a mature Montrachet. You may notice my score for a previous bottle was 98+. It’s a good example of how results for older bottles vary, the ‘Any Given Sunday’ theory. I’ll take a range of 96-98+ any day (96)!

A brief sidebar about Champagne and bubbles. Original releases of older Champagne tend to have less bubbles after forty years of age and become very wine-like. Many Champagne houses recently disgorge older bottles, which gives them a much fresher and bubbly personality. The only problem with recently disgorged bottles are that they are often drunk way too soon. They really need at least ten years on the cork, post-disgorgement, for the mature flavors to come out again. Otherwise, it’s all fizz and no flavor! It’s tough to say what is the ideal time to drink; it’s a matter of personal taste. All I can say is the mature flavors of an original bottle in good condition are thrilling, but not always as bubbly.

Back to my Saturday night, then there was a 1969 Krug. This bottle was so fresh and vibrant, it danced on my palate. Again, there was finesse here to the wine. There was a bit more mousse to the Krug than the Salon, but the Krug was also still very wine-like. There was less vanilla than I often get in Krugs, but it had perfect balance and freshness. Long, delicate, fine and smooth, it was another stunning bottle (96).

Two for two, we were off to a good start. There were eight bottles of Champagne served on this night. One was corked, and one was oxidized by the way, but I will discuss that more later. The next day saw us also at Marea, and a 1928 Louis Roederer came out first. This was a rich wine, the greatness of ’28 coming through with the power of a thunderbolt. I do recall the owner of this Champagne collection once calling 1928 ‘the greatest Champagne vintage of all-time.’ The Roederer reminded me of that statement, in a back-to-back future kind of way. It sung with apple cider vinegar flavors and character, and that’s in the good vinegar way, not the wine is cooked kind of way. It had almost searing acidity, again not in a bad way, in a somewhere between strong and extremely strong way. Its acidity hit the high notes, like a perfect bottle of 1996 Montrachet. Are you starting to see a connection (96).

Next up was a magnum of 1964 Veuve Clicquot Brut, one with a gold label, not sure if that makes it a reserve or not. This was a super sweet Champagne. Bad Boy dropped some of his extensive Champagne knowledge, “All old Clicquots are in good shape because they are loaded with sugar.” He didn’t say great, he said good, and that’s exactly what this VC was. Sweet, soft and a vinous version of a sugar factory, the Clicquot pleased, but you weren’t running to get seconds (92M).

A 1961 Taittinger Brut, not the Comtes de Champagne, was full of caramel aromas and flavors. It was a bit more mature in style, but still tasty and drinkable, albeit almost dessert-like in its personality. That signature, sweet, butterscotch style of old “Tatt” came through, with nice honey flavors and “sweet walnuts” per Truly. At least I think he was talking about the wine (93).

The next wine, I mean Champagne, was the wine of the day and one of the wines of the weekend. It was a 1953 Krug Private Cuvee Extra Sec. Breathtaking stuff. ‘Awesome’ was the first thing I wrote. There was still some spritz, but this was all wine. The best acidity of the day, and the previous night for that matter. There was a combination of toffee and half n half flavors with vanilla kisses and a citrusy finish that lit up my palate. Electric! You will notice a “NO LOT” in the catalog, sorry. Don’t worry, there are four more single-bottle lots (98).

There was actually one more bottle, but it was oxidized and undrinkable. It doesn’t matter what it was. It literally was the last of the seven. That happens when you open up lots of bottles of older wines, or Champagnes. Let’s not forget that Champagne by definition is a sparkling wine! I mentioned the first night, where we opened eight bottles, and one was corked and one was oxidized. And the oxidized bottle had outstanding color! The other six were so good, no one cared. The same thing happened with all the Champagnes we opened from this collection this weekend. The first six were so good, no one cared about the fact that the seventh was bad. The point is that if you cannot handle the minority of off bottles when drinking older wines, there are plenty of other things to try. For Champagne, I recommend 1979 or younger. Tough to find an off bottle in this category. But if you want to touch the sun, make sure you are mentally prepared.

It was a very spontaneous and special selection of Champagnes sampled this Saturday and Sunday. I hope you enjoy this catalog and these three special collections as much as I have over the years!


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