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fine wines of the 1966 vintage

by Tom Cannavan, 06/99
This tasting was organised as part of Vinexpo 1999 by Christie's auction house.

I was one of the very lucky 100 people invited to taste a range of wines from 1966, the year Christie's wine department was founded by Michael Broadbent MW, who also conducted the tasting. 1966 was a very good to excellent vintage in almost all of the great wine regions. This tasting encompassed the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as Champagne and Alsace, Germany, Rioja and Port. The New World was represented by Australia, in the form of the '66 Grange Hermitage.

Just as well Michael Broadbent is his utterly unflappable self: the tasting hall was a veritable sea of some of the wine world's most famous faces: sitting further along my row were Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Etienne Hugel and James Halliday. This really was a unique event. To have gathered together such an array of fabulous and expensive wines from a vintage that is by now quite rare was a mammoth task for Christie's, who pulled in favours with producers, collectors and merchants alike. I really did feel priviliged to be included. The experience truly was unforgettable. I took fairly copious notes, which I hope will speak for themselves. Prices not known - let's just say I saw one of the wines on the list of Paris's top merchant at over £600 ($1,000) per bottle...

You can view a list of currently available 1966s on wine-searcher.com.

Krug 1966 (from the Krug collection)
Surprisingly pale light-gold colour. Minuscule bubbles. Lightly honeyed nose with amazingly complex nose: green beans, caramel, figs and ripe pear and pear skins. Lovely creamy autolytic notes. Absolutely lovely balance in the mouth. Still softly pétillant with a terrific streak of lime acidity and an explosively sweet top-note that is quickly consumed by a fine array of pear, melon and apple fruit flavours. This goes on and on. Really terrific length and a wonderfully medium-bodied, creamy, delicious nutty character but still with vivid fruit - like a great old white Burgundy. Extremely good.

Schloss Reinhartshausen (Rheingau) Erbacher Brühl Riesling Spätlese 1966
This has a nice pale lemony colour with a definite tinge of green. The nose has crisp, citrussy fruit with some perfumed, flowery nuances, a touch of honey, lime and high petrolly notes. On the palate it is just off-dry with very delicate, dry stony flavours. The fruit is low-key, flavours are of nettles and minerals with a fresh, moderately long and spicy finish. A wine of ever-changing nuance.

CVNE (Rioja) Gran Imperial Reserva 1966
Brown, gravy colour with a broad, pale tawny rim. Amazingly animal nose of merde, with complex, oxidised and volatile notes, but then lovely highlights of brambles and dank undergrowth, beef-blood, musty, soft and lush vegetation, bell peppers and cloves. There is a mouthful of sweetly edged, peppery mulberry fruit. It is medium bodied with still quite firm tannins, loads of spicy oak, slightly charred, caramel fruit yet the finish is long and wonderfully clean. Quite Burgundy-like and utterly delicious.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (Burgundy) Echézeaux Grand Cru 1966
Very even, very pale, soft ochre/brown. Absolutely gorgeous nose. Perfumed and animal, with a bouquet of violets and brown sugar and little herbaceous, beetrooty notes. A beautiful mouthful; silky and medium-bodied. There are terrifically sweet, ripe aromatic fruit flavours and gripping tannins. It is superbly integrated with concentrated spice and lemon-tinged acidity in the finish. Very long, sweet, savoury and clean. Absolutely gorgeous, possibly my favourite wine for drinking on the day.
See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Penfolds (Australia) Grange Hermitage 1966
These were bottles "reconditioned" by Penfolds, that is any ullage topped up with reserved wine (of the same vintage I wonder?) and re-corked.
Very dark ruby/brown. Still quite dense with a tawny rim. The nose is very cedary and claret-like, with pencil-shavings and meaty, slightly bloody notes. The wine is very thickly textured and intense. It has an extraordinary sweetness of fruit and body almost like Port. There are still big drying tannins and loads of extract. A concentration of spice and, though low in acidity, the tannins do just enough to leave it quite fresh and grippy. To me this wine is a little cloying and lacks the finesse of the previous wines.
See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

I wonder if this slightly artificial sweetness was a product of the "reconditioning" process? I also wonder what is the point artificially prolonging the life of such a wine by topping-up? I'd love to taste an unadulterated example to compare.

Château Latour (Bordeaux, Pauillac) 1st growth 1966
This was supplied straight from the Château's library. Very deep ruby, amazingly so, with just some browning. A nose of beef-blood and deep vegetal aromas. Lovely, sweet cassis fruit still and classic cedary, pencil-shaving complexity. On the palate a gorgeous sweetness of alcohol and ripe, ripe fruit. Wonderfully authoritative tannic structure without any severity. Magnificent structure and complexity with clove and mineral nuances, bitter cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Extremely long, fleshy and supple, balanced and pure. Just superb.
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Hugel (Alsace) Riesling Vendange Tardive 1966
The grapes from this wine came from the now Grand Cru vineyard at Schoenenberg. It is a pale to medium golden yellow. Arresting Riesling nose of honey, paraffin and wax with sweet nettle and leafy notes. Palate is still very broad and generous, gripped by powerful grapefruit acidity. Quite full-bodied and alcoholic, there is no botrytis, but suggested sweetness from ripe grapes and alcohol. Once over that impression, the palate really is bone-dry. The fruit is towards limes and lemon. Very steely, really quite austere but tremendously long. A food wine with all that acidity. Very, very pure but I found it quite challenging.

Taylor's (Portugal) Vintage 1966
Extremely pale, old colour. Gorgeous nose (I know I've over-used that phrase, but....). Lush and brambly, with demerara sugar and little spicy nuances. Superb integration on the palate, a whole raft of super-sweet red fruits, airy and ethereal character, but somehow a chocolate and spice-box depth, all underpinned by good acidity. Tannins almost gone, it finishes clean and medium-bodied. Very good.
See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

I guess I don't have to tell you that I enjoyed this event? Oh to be a millionaire! Thank you to Christie's for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity....