A Fascinating Life of WineA Q&A with the author of The Advanced Oenophile
By Bill Anderson, Publisher
Denman Moody has been our wine editor since March of 2000. He has been a wine writer of national and international fame since 1978. Linda and I have often thought of the following questions to ask Denman, and just decided to do it here, so we could share the answers with our readers.
Bill: Describe a couple of memorable places you’ve been that were only possible because of your association with wine.
Denman: The first that comes to mind is one of the first major luncheons held at the Opera House in Sydney, Australia. It was the opening event of the Third Triennial Convention of the International Wine and Food Society in March of 1980, and was hosted by Sir Zelwin Cowan, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia. Our place mat had an outline of the United States with an outline of Australia superimposed over it. The two countries are approximately the same size; however, Australia’s population was 14 million and ours was over 200 million.
Next would have to be my 45th birthday dinner at Chateau Margaux with the manager, Paul Pontallier, preceded by an al fresco luncheon at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and a luncheon a day after with Bruno Prats, then owner of Chateau Cos d’Estournel.
Bill: In terms of just fabulous, once-in -a-lifetime wine tastings/dinners, which top the list for you?
Denman: The most amazing horizontal tastings were of the 1959 and 1961 vintages in Bordeaux — both referred to as among a handful of “vintages of the century.” The 1961 tasting took place in 1981 in Coral Gables, Florida, and was hosted by Dr. Lou Skinner, who had purchased 50 cases of the best Bordeaux wines produced. Michael Broadbent, the chairman of the wine department at Christie’s in London, was the master of ceremonies. I gave perfect or near-perfect scores to Petrus, Palmer Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Latour. Each wine was perfect for a different reason. For example, the Palmer was a powerhouse — uniquely huge and rich. The Margaux, on the other hand, was beautifully seductive and beguiling. The 1959 tasting was held in Chicago in 1994 by one of the only people in the world who could pull 59 1959s from his own cellar — Stephen Kaplan. Held at a luncheon and dinner on two different days at the Four Seasons and Intercontinental Hotels, and with guest chefs like Charlie Trotter, it was equally amazing.
The single greatest horizontal tasting/dinner I ever attended was orchestrated by Dr. Frank Komorowski in 1995 in Vermilion, Ohio. The 1945 vintage is a third vintage in that handful of greatest vintages of the 20th century, and Dr. Komorowski decided early on that on its and his 50th birthday, he would celebrate with all magnums and double magnums of ’45s. Just one of the wines was one of only three jeroboams — which is what a double magnum is called in Burgundy — of Romanée-Conti produced. I figured this one wine was worth around $100,000 at the time.
Bill: How about vertical tastings/dinners?
Denman: No question about that. Our town’s Bill Sharman and Lenoir Josey invited Corinne Mentzelopoulos, from the family which had purchased Chateau Margaux in 1977, to host a dinner in Houston in 1983. Corinne brought with her the renowned consultant Emile Peynaud, who was instrumental in helping regain the chateau’s glory days as a top First Growth Bordeaux. We had 38 vintages of Chateau Margaux all the way back to 1875. The perfect and near-perfect wines were the 1966, 1961, 1949, 1945, 1921, 1900 and 1899.
Next would have to be two tastings/dinners with the owners of Chateau Gruaud-Larose, hosted by Fort Worth wine maven Marvin Overton in 1990. Although we had about the same number of vintages as at the Chateau Margaux dinner, two things are worth mentioning. The first is that the owners had some 1815 and 1819 ensconced at the chateau since their “birth.” They offered the 1815, but since that would have left them only one bottle, Overton declined. The 1819 could come to Fort Worth, leaving a decent number of bottles at the chateau. Overton took them up on that! The bottles of 1819 brought over had been re-corked approximately every 30 years since 1819 with more 1819! It was unbelievably youthful, and according to Master of Wine David Peppercorn, had “astonishing preservation.” It could have easily passed for a wine 100 years younger.
The other item of interest is that the vintages of the ’20s, except for the 1921, were even better than the ones from Chateau Margaux. The ’29, ’28, ’26 and ’20 were all exceptional, and it was a reminder that the ‘20s in Bordeaux was one of the two decades of the century along with the 10-year span from 1981 to 1990.
Bill: Tell me about one of your more successful blind-tasting guesses.
Denman: I can guarantee this one because Wes Marshall was there and wrote about it in his book, What’s a Wine Lover to Do. We were at a dinner in Austin around 2006, and the hosts asked us to guess the entrée wine. Wes said he thought it was a Bordeaux, probably from the early ’80s. As one of the hosts was about to announce what it was, I said, “I believe it’s the 1982 Chateau Palmer.” I was pretty sure because I had tasted the ’82 Chateau Margaux numerous times, felt sure that this wine was from the ’82 vintage in Margaux, but not quite up to the Chateau Margaux itself, so what else could it be? Fortunately, I was right.