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The Millennium Tasting Challenge

by Tom Cannavan, 1999

A Wine Pages visitor, Paul Springford from England, contacted me recently to ask me for some advice for his wine-tasting group:

"There are ten of us who meet once a month to taste wines. The theme is agreed in advance, and each pair usually brings along one bottle. For our millenium tasting next January we have a much larger budget than usual with around £200 to spend. We thought we would probably go for six bottles: a sparkling wine, two white, two red, and a sweet wine. Given this budget, how would you advise us to spend it?"

I decided Paul wanted specifics on this: not just a list of interesting wines off the top of my head, but a selection that is currently available on merchants' lists, and would come within the budget. I came up with the following suggestions:

Sparkling wine:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Pol Roger Vintage Champagne 1990 - £33
Petaluma (Australia) Chardonnay 1997 - £15
Michelot (Burgundy) Meursault 1996 - £17
Yarra Yering (Australia) Number One 1995 - £20
Château Gruaud-Larose (Bordeaux) 1990 - £50
Château d'Yquem (Bordeaux) 1989 - £75 (half bottle)

I chose the Pol Roger because the only way to understand the leap in complexity from regular, non-vintage blends to a fine vintage Champagne is to taste one - and it's a great way to start a celebration! I then looked to the two classic French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a New World/Old World comparison. For the whites, Brian Croser's Petaluma is a gorgeous, very Burgundian Chardonnay made with amazingly consistent quality. Comparing it with genuine, quality Côte de Beaune from a fine year would be very interesting. The Yarra Yering is a Bordeaux blend in the Oz style: very punchy, powerful fruit and spice. Quite an interesting contrast with a maturing, blue-blooded Claret from a great vintage and amongst the best of the second growths. Finally, what can you say about Yquem? One of the finest sweet wines I've ever tasted - unbelievably complex and lingers forever. What a sublime way to end the evening - and the millennium!

Then came the challenge to Wine Pages visitors: if you had a budget of £200/$325US to spend on 6 bottles (1 sparkling, 2 white, 2 red, 1 sweet) for a special millennium tasting, how would you spend it? Your choices might be wonderful wines you know well, or bottles you've always wanted to try, or you might have a special theme to follow.

Wine Pages Visitors' Suggestions:

30/11 - Stephen Farris, Canada
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Taltarni (Australia) Brut Tache NV - $18
Cloudy Bay (NZ) Sauvignon Blanc 1998 - $21
Reinhartshausen (Rhg) Erbacher Siegelsberg Kabinett '94 - $15
Château Haut Brion (Pessac-Leognan) 1988 - $345
Lindemans (Australia) Coonawarra Limestone Ridge 1994 - $41
Marynissen (Canada) Ontario Vidal Icewine 1993 - $35
Please forgive the late entry. It is the result of a recent tasting at which I first tasted some truly great Bordeaux including a spectacular Haut Brion 1988. The plan is based on the need to get a bottle of Haut Brion and still stay under the limit of $490 CDN! I would save on the Champagne since I don't actually like it and might use it for cocktails anyways. Canadian icewine is wonderful and, relatively, a bargain so I saved there as well. (Vidal icewine is cheaper than Riesling and this particular one won an Intervin gold medal.) The others are wines I simply like and have or had in my cellar. (Must have Haut Brion ... grunt...)
OK Stephen, never too late for such a nice list: I like the idea of blowing a massive percentage of your budget on a "must have" wine. Also, I'll forgive you - just - for suggesting Champagne is only good for cocktails! - Tom :-)

22/10 - Peter Allinson, UK
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Mumm Grand Cordon Champagne 1990 - £50.00
Jaboulet (Rhône) Hermitage Chevalier Stérimberg 1988 - £16.70
Verget (Burg) Puligny-Montrachet les Enseignieres 1992 - £14.00
Jaboulet (Rhône) Hermitage la Chapelle 1978 - £32.50
C.Vienot (Burg) Vosne-Romanée 1983 - £12.00
Graham 1955 Port (Harveys own bottled) - £50.00
I'm not sure that these count but they can be purchased from my Cellar. I am a Butler in a Cambridge College and these wines are the best of my experience in the past year.The Mumm is all a Champagne should be. Stérimberg is a wonderful mouth filling wine and white Rhône is much underrated.The Puligny is an example of why white Burgundy is the best dry white wine in the world. When I first tasted la Chapelle ten years ago I thought this is for the Millennium - it must be tasted to be believed.There are no common wines in Vosnée - this one just proves the point. Graham 55 is my all time favourite Port: it just go's on and on.

22/10 - Jean Fisch, Belgium
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Paul Bara Brut Réserve Champagne - BEF 675
J. Hofstätter Barthenau Alto Adige Pinot Bianco 1998 - BEF 450
Domaine Chantemerle Chablis 1996 - BEF 385
Château Roudier Montagne St-Emilion 1990 - BEF 375
Coche-Dury Bourgogne Pinot Noir 1997 - BEF 500
Château Septy Monbazillac 1995 - BEF 350
Instead of going for the Splash - "let's impress all my friends" - I propose a "budget" millenium wine party for a total of BEF 2,700 (£45/$75), with great bottles, enjoyable now. The Champagne is my house wine. Typical Bouzy (pinot noir), it is simply gorgeous. The whites are my "discoveries of the year" and the reds are the greatest values one can find in Belgium today. The Monbazillac is very good and a steal at the price. Enjoy it!

07/10 - Giovanni Galfano, Italy
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:

Sweet:
Bollinger Champagne Vintage 1990 - 140.000 lire
Lis Neris (Friuli - Italy) Gris Pinot Grigio 1996 - 22.500 lire
Planeta (Sicily - Italy) Chardonnay 1996 - 20.000 lire
Tasca d'Almerita (Sicily) Rosso del Conte 1994 - 30.000 lire
Castello di Ama (Tuscany) Chianti Classico vigneto Bellavista 1990 - 90.000 lire
Bukkuram/Marco De Bartoli (Sicily) Moscato passito di Pantelleria - 53.000 lire (37.5cl)
This fabulous vintage from Bollinger was a fantastic experience! The Gris from Lis Neris is perfectly balanced although full-bodied at an incredible price. The 1996 Planeta is a very rich and complex chardonnay. Just as Cameron Clark (below), I also tried 1997 but I think that at the moment 1996 is better, because less heavily oaked. The Rosso del Conte is a full-bodied, powerful red made from Nero d'Avola and other Sicilian grapes. I simply adore this wine! Vigneto Bellavista is the best Chianti cru of Castello di Ama. An outstanding wine, 100% Sangiovese and a great, mighty vintage! De Bartoli's Passito di Pantelleria is probably the best sweet wine of Southern Italy. Rich, vivid fig aroma and a great persistence. Drink it with Stilton: a wonderful marriage!

04/10 - Pierre Brigade, France
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Comte de Champagne de Taittinger 1988
Château Beaucastel blanc (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) 1990
Chateau de Fieuzal blanc (Pessac Leognan) 1992
Sassicaïa (Italy, Tuscany) 1985
Chateau Figeac (St Emilion) 1989, 1er Grand Cru Classé B
Jo Pithon (Loire) Coteaux du Layon St Lambert 1995
Just my choice. I am Pierre, my wine tasting club is "Les Oeno-sapiens". Have fun!

09/09 - Caspar Auchterlonie, UK
Sparkling:
White1:

White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Duval-Leroy Fleur 1990 Champagne - £30
Dr Loosen (Germany) Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese Gold Capsule 1996 - £25 per half
Kistler (California) Durrel Vineyard Chardonnay 1989 - £19
Rosemount (Australia) Balmoral Syrah 1994 - £25
Château Lynch-Bages (Bordeaux) 1985 - £65
Huet (Loire) Vouvray Moelleux 1990 - £27
The Champagne from a lesser known house beat all comers including Krug, Salon et al in a fairly recent showdown. It is rich and complex with a super soft finish. Ernie Loosen's nectar of the Gods is one of natures wonders - sumptuous apples and honey with balancing lime acidity. Kistler, the greatest Chardonnay outside of Burgundy, complex nutty and minerally with creamy vanilla and citrus acidity. Paid a pittance for this in one of my local winemerchants- now sadly finished except for the few bottles in my cellar. Balmoral is the best syrah/shiraz I've ever tasted including La Turque 90 and Grange 82. Lynch-Bages is now showing the best of Bordeaux, depth, weight and structure. The Loire's sweet whites have been sadly neglected (good if you're in the know) and this is one of the great sweet wines I have tasted. Great fun though!

08/09 - Luis Antunes, Portugal
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Vertice Super Reserva Bruto (Douro) 1994 - pte 2500
Vinha Antiga, Alvarinho (Vinhos Verdes) 1997 - pte 2000
Quinta dos Carvalhais, Encruzado (Dão) 1997 - pte 2000
Esporão Reserva (Alentejo) 1995 - pte 3500
Barca Velha (Douro) 1985 - pte 20000
Croft Vintage Port 1970 - pte 9000
This is a selection of Portuguese wines, since in Portugal there's not great availability of foreign wines. I am far from spending all of the budget, pte39000 amounts to £130. I could have easily spent more if I went for more fashionable wines, not necessarily better. Or for a better Port: I realise the price of that Croft is rather unusual, but that's the only one I have already decide that goes down this new year's eve. As for the rest, I tried to stick to wines I've tasted and liked, and tried to go through most of the country. Take this as a kind of road map to Portuguese wine.

02/09 - Michael Lyons, France
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Caves de Bailly Crémant de Bourgogne Chardonnay 1990 - 140ff
R+V Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru la Forét 1993 - 100ff
Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne 1991 - 350ff
Jayer-Gilles Echézeaux 1994 - 400ff
Hubert de Montille Volnay Taillepieds 1992 - 160ff
Guillemot-Michel Mâcon-Clessé SdG Cendrés 1992 - 120ff
Can you spot the theme? :-) I completely ignored your stipulation about the wines being available in my area - some of these are certainly not available. They are all in my cellar however. I hope you will forgive this terrible self-indulgence. The prices are what I paid for the wines (mostly bought over the last 3 years or so) - they come well within the 2000ff limit. For the two whites and the two reds I tried to pick quite contrasting wines. An excellent minerally Chablis against a sumptuous Corton-Charlemagne; a wonderfully refined and pure Volnay against the Jayer Gilles Echézeaux. The Mâcon-Clessé is made (not every year I think) from botrytised grapes and the 1992, last tasted a couple of years ago, was wonderful, delicate and fresh. I hope it's still as good. Now I just need to decide what to eat with all that - since I cheated so badly, I don't mind if you refuse this entry - I had fun compiling it anyway.
As if I'd be so petty! Rules are made to be broken :-) - Tom

30/08 - Cameron Clark, Holland
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Fox Creek (Oz) Vixen Cabernet-Shiraz 1998 - 45G/£13.50
Planeta (Italy) Chardonnay 1997 - 35G/£10.50
Hamilton Russell (South Africa) Chardonnay 1998 - 35G/£10.50
Harlan Estate (California) 1995 - 429G/£128
Rosemount Estate (Oz) Balmoral Shiraz 1994 - 70G/£21
Albert Mann (Alsace) Gewurtztraminer SdGN 1994 - 60G/£18
I've never been a lover of sparkling wines, and the big, thick Australian reds are the only ones I really enjoy. Drank the Planeta this weekend for the first time, and I now know what all the fuss is about. So like a great big expensive white Burgundy, but a quarter of the price. The Hamilton Russell is a good wine and a good match for the Planeta, but a bit outclassed. The Balmoral has been a favourite for a few years, and the 94 is a great wine. Can't quite believe the price I can get it for as the merchant sells the 95 & 96 for 30 guilders more. Got to splash out on something and this time it's the Harlan. Tried the 93 recently and although it was years away from its peak it had a velvety, creamy, smoothness and a concentration that could hardly be reconciled with the incredible lightness in the mouth. I can't believe they can make wine like this in Bordeaux (if they do please tell me where!). Mann's SdGNs are great and the 1994 just fits into the budget.

26/08 - David More, Australia
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Petaluma Croser 1996 - $A35
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 1998 - $A28
Giaconda Chardonnay 1997 - $A60
Penfolds Grange Bin 95 1990 - $A250 (release price)
Wynns Coonawarra Estate "John Riddoch" Cab Sauv 1993 - $A80
de Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 1994 - $A22
This seems to add up to about $A475. It will provide the taste of Australia in the best way possible and provide a wonderful support for the planned Millennial Party. All the wines listed are suitable for 2000 drinking - and are the preferred wines for the 'big day'. My working assumption is a well-stocked cellar for the reds. If purchasing today the reds may be a bit more costly, so might need to be substituted for younger wines. Happy New Millennium!

23/08 - Nick Alabaster, UK
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Bollinger Champagne Vintage 1990 - £40
Thévenet (Burg) Mâcon Clessé Dom. de la Bongran 1995 - £18
Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace) Tokay Clos Jebsal 1996 - £22
Château de Beaucastel (Rhône) CndP 1989 - £55
Château Leoville-Las-Cases (Pauillac) 2nd growth 1992 - £30
Dow's Vintage Port 1983 - £35
While I agree the Pol Roger is a great drop, the Bollinger is currently more opulent and open. The Thévenet should be a pretty impressive from the humble Mâcon appellation! The Tokay from Zind Humbrecht is an all-singing and dancing mouthful - big, sassy and impressive through and through. The Beaucastel is stunning and needs decanting, but will be pretty special. The Las-Cases? who said Bordeaux is too expensive or '92 a waste of time? The Dow's '83 is a cracker for drinking now.

20/08 - Marion Travers, UK
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Laurent Perrier Cuvée Grande Siècle Champagne - £55
Hugel (Alsace) Riesling Jubilee 1988 - £16
Colin-Deléger (Burg) Puligny-Montrachet La Truffière 1994 - £33
Montagliari (Italy) Chianti Classico Riserva 1971 - £35
La Rioja Alta (Spain) Rioja 904 1989 - £20
Léon Beyer (Alsace) Tokay-Pinot Gris SdGN 1989 - £35 (half)
Three of these I already have in my cellar, bought from the Wine Society for the millennium. The Champagne is just the ultimate hedonism - and a bottle is just perfect for two! The whites are a wonderful contrast, one each from the world's greatest grapes and regions. Then superb old Chianti and fabulous Rioja, topped off with a jewel from Alsace. And enough change for a bottle of "everyday" Veuve Clicquot!

17/08 - Dave Kay, Canada
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Veuve Clicquot Champagne La Grande Dame 1990 - CA$100
Cloudy Bay (NZ) Sauvignon Blanc 1997 - CA$30
Far Niente (USA) Chardonnay 1996 - CA$60
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Bordeaux) 1990 - CA$120
Cappezzana (Italy) Carmignano 1995 - CA$50
Pelée Island (Canada) Riesling Ice Wine 1996 - CA$60/375ml
This selection comes to CA$420 (@US$280). Veuve Clicquot NV is my favourite "house blend" so I can't wait to try their luxury edition (with Alaskan King Crab). Cloudy Bay is my newfound "perfect" white wine with impeccable balance (with fresh Oysters). Far Niente is a "crême brûlée-type" Chardonnay (with roast Grouse). G-P-L is classic Pauillac. I'd be excited to try the 1990 of my favourite (with rack of Muskox). Carmignano is also a new find (with filet of Caribou). The Pelee Ice Wine also shows impeccable balance and should finish me off nicely (with peach pie). PS. If I can still move my lips: Hennessy Paradis cognac....

13/08 - Mark Palmer, Holland
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Pol Roger Vintage Champagne 1989 - £30
M Colin (Burgundy) St Aubin En Remilly 1er Cru - £15
Château De Fieuzal Blanc (Graves) 1988 - £25 (half bottle)
Geantet-Pansiot (Burg) Charmes Chambertin GC 1992 - £45
Domaine de Chevalier (Graves) 1985 - £50
Château Doisy-Védrines (Sauternes) 1989 - £40
These are available here in Amsterdam (except for the Pol Roger for which you could substitute Bruno Paillard 1989 for the same price). Pol Roger for the same reason as you, the St Aubin for its finesse and drinkability, the De Fieuzal for complexity , the Charmes for its beauty, Domaine de Chevalier because it is everything good about the best Bordeaux and the Védrines for its sheer sheer exuberance (and because after this lot you probably won't be able to detect subtlety).

11/08 - Paul Armstrong, UK
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Pommery Brut Vintage Champagne 1990 - £28 Majestic
Soulez (Loire) Savennières Roche aux Moines 1995 - £15 Yapp
Dagueneau (Loire) Pouilly Fumé "Pur Sang" 1997 - £20 Majestic
Vieux Télégraphe (Rhône) CndP 1989 - £19 Lay & Wheeler
Château Batailley (Pauillac) 1961 - £70 Peter Wylie
Campadieu (France) "Vin de Méditation" 1952 - £50 Yapp
An amusing little diversion this! Though there's only one of these I'll actually be buying as my problem is choosing which of the many 'Millennium possibles' to pick out of the existing cellar over the New Year holiday period!

09/08 - Bernard Leak, UK
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Bollinger Champagne "Grande Année" 1990 - Connolly's £38.50
Dom. de l'Arlot (Burg) NSG Clos de l'Arlot 1993 - Selfridges £38
J.-L. Chave (Rhône) Hermitage Blanc 1993 - WS £29
Aldo Conterno (Piedmont) Barolo Bussia Soprana 1995 - WS £35
Faiveley (Burgundy) Mazis-Chambertin 1992 - HH&C £36.70
Henriques & Henriques (Madeira) 15 y.o. Malmsey - Noel Young £22.50
The Bollinger is the most ambitious sparkler I thought the budget allowed. Bubbles with gravitas! A light Vs. heavy contest between the two whites. The classic Barolo seems like an unexpected bargain, and I loved the '85 Mazis-Chambertin from Faiveley so the '92 should just about be coming round. Finally, how could I resist the Malmsey? Have some Madeira, m'dear...

08/08 - Graham Simpson, UK
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Billecart-Salmon Champagne Demi-Sec NV - Oddbins £20
Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montmain 1997 - Oddbins £12
Jackson Estate (N.Z) Sauvignon Blanc 1998 - Oddbins £9
Bouchard (Burg) Pommard Clos du Pavillon 1990 - Costco £22
Château Angelus (St-Emilion) 1988 - Amivin £116
Château Filhot (Sauternes) 1990 - Oddbins £23
The Billecart-Salmon is simply to die for! If you're not particularly fussed with Brut Champers, then this is the one for you. The Chablis will get better over the next couple of years, but is still excellent drinking now for those who don't like over-oaked Oz chardonnay. The Jackson Estate Sauvignon is quite simply one of the best Sauvignons I've tried. Alcoholic grapefruit juice! The Pommard is from a good year, good producer and QPR I feel. The Angelus? Well, I just love St-Emilion and I feel is well worth forking out the majority of the budget on. To finish with, a Sauternes such as Château Filhot would bring the evening to a lovely conclusion.

07/08 - Craig Thomson, New Zealand
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne 1988 - $NZ190
Cloudy Bay (NZ) Sauvignon Blanc 1996 - $NZ24
Dry River (NZ) Gerwürtztraminer 1996 - $NZ26
Esk Valley Terraces (NZ) Merlot/Malbec/CF 1995 - $NZ59
Penfolds (Australia) Grange 1992 - $NZ220
Ngatawara Alwyn (NZ) Noble Riesling 1994 - $NZ51
US $325=NZ $600 so under budget too. A bit biased to down-under but, hey you have to be when it comes to the whites section don't you.... Unfortunately no room for a Chardonnay, but it would be 97 Neudorf Moutere from NZ ($35) if there was!

06/08 - Bart van Wijngaarden, Netherlands
Sparkling:
White1:
White2:
Red1:
Red2:
Sweet:
Piper Heidsieck Champagne Brut NV - £34
de Ladoucette (Loire) Pouilly-Fumé 1996 - £12.50
Beringer (California) Sauvignon Blanc 1997 - £7
Paul Bruno (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1994 - £10.50
Luigi Bosca (Leoncio Arizu) (Argentina) Malbec 1988 - £8
Rudolf Martin (Germany) Ensheimer Kachelberg Huxelrebe Trockenbeerenauslese 1994 - £10 (half)
Although I am Dutch, I live in Finland at the moment. Here, the state monopoly Alko is the only wine retailer. Rather than coming up with some expensive bottles I fancy, these wines are some of the best I have tasted here. They should make up for an interesting tasting and I highly recommend them! The Piper Heidsieck is subtle with a rich backbone. Ladoucette's 1996 is one of the best Sauvignons I have ever tasted. The Beringer is impressive, with a style reminiscent of Viognier - though not on a par with Ladoucette's. Paul Bruno's Cabernet is a Médoc style wine. As for the Malbec, this is a beautiful, mature wine. Finally, the stunning Huxelrebe is very complex and wonderfully unctuous, offset by fine acidity. Combine it with strong cheese!