A recent team dinner brought up the question of what are the greatest fine wines ever made. A money-no-object set of the best of the best reds, whites and Champagnes that we would add to our cellars, or even better, serve at a very special dinner.
Of course, there’s no right answer, but each of the below has a very strong case should you find a spare million or two down the back of the sofa.
1962 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, La Tache Grand Cru
Of the many great wines made at this most famous Burgundian domaines, 1962 La Tache is possibly the finest wine ever crafted here. It is one of just a couple of wines rated at 100 points by influential Burgundy critic Allen Meadows and has achieved this feat from both bottle and magnum. His most recent note describes it “may very well possess the greatest nose I have ever had the pleasure of trying”.
1961 and 1978 Jaboulet, Hermitage La Chapelle
We’re cheating a little here and including both the 1961 and 1978 vintages of this iconic Northern Rhone Syrah in one entry. Both are profound examples of Syrah, and with both achieving multiple 100-point scores from Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck over the years, it’s very hard to separate them. For Dunnuck, the 1961 is “such an incredible tasting experience as well as an education in what true greatness in wine is” while Parker said of the 1978 “Is it possible that this wine may turn out to resemble a hypothetical blend of the 1961 and 1990?” in 1997.
1982 Mouton Rothschild
There were many incredible wines made in what remains Bordeaux’s most famous modern vintage, 1982. Latour is sublime, and on the Right Bank, Lafleur is a legend. However, when it comes to picking just one winner, Mouton Rothschild might take the prize. First rated at 100 points by Robert Parker in 1992 and most recently in 2022 by William Kelley, it has never been adjudged to be anything other than perfect on www.robertparker.com. A remarkable achievement and a First Growth that still has plenty more to give.
A wine that almost single-handedly put Tuscany on the fine wine map. Now one of the most recognisable wine brands on the planet, the Super-Tuscan Sassicaia, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, shocked the world of wine when it achieved a 100-point score from Robert Parker. Since then, the 1985 has achieved near mythical status, possibly because most was consumed by lucky owners years ago leaving precious little on the market. It is worth the effort to find, however, as is evidenced by perfect scores from Monica Larner, Antonio Galloni and Jane Anson.
1989 Chateau Haut Brion
A justifiable candidate for finest wine made in Bordeaux in the latter half of the 20th century, 1989 Haut Brion is a profound wine that continues to perform at the very highest level. Robert Parker predicted in 1993 that “the 1989 Haut Brion appears destined to become a legend” and with 100-point scores in recent years from William Kelley and Neal Martin, he was correct.
A stunning vintage for Salon. Expert Richard Juhlin sums up the Salon mystique, calling it “the most sought-after Champagne among connoisseurs. This magnificent wine is so rare that only a few people have had the chance to taste the quintessence of Le Mesnil”. Only made in exceptional years and in small quantities, Salon is as mysterious as it is profound, with the 1996 truly exceptional. For both William Kelley and Antonio Galloni, this is worthy of 99 points, but with Salon, the score is only part of the story, it’s a Champagne that has to be tasted to be believed.
1999 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, La Romanee-Conti Grand Cru
Our second entry from this magical Domaine in Vosne Romanee is the 1999 La Romanee-Conti. Perhaps the finest red made in a magnificent year for Burgundy and potentially the best La Romanee-Conti in history, this is one of the ultimate unicorn wines. Neal Martin has rated it at 100 points each of the last three times he’s been lucky enough to have tried it and, in the most recent, called it “Heaven in a glass”. Only 6,917 bottles were made.
2008 Louis Roeder, Cristal
Cristal 2008 may not be there now but is one to keep an eye on for the future. 2008 was a tremendous vintage for Champagne, the best of the decade alongside 2002, and Cristal is one of the top cuvees of the year. While it has a reputation for being drunk with abandon in nightclubs, Cristal is a serious champagne that ages beautifully and has a complex and profound character that underlines its quality. The 2008 is young, but already attracting huge acclaim, with Antonio Galloni calling it “one of the most complete, most dazzling Champagnes I have ever tasted.” A 99-point score now, but in a few years, this might look somewhat undermarked.
Here we conclude our list. Is it the final definitive roster of the greatest wines ever made? The answer, of course, has to be no. Indeed, if we compiled this list again in a month’s time we would no doubt come up with a new set of incredible wines, all of which have strong justifications for inclusion. What is certain is that all of these are utterly profound, wines that we would rush out and buy the minute that we get that elusive first billion in the bank.
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