It’s the connoisseur’s favourite dinner party subject: what’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? We recruited the world’s top experts to come up with the most awe-inspiring wine list you’ll ever see.
100 Wines to Try before you Die
1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild
The young artist Philippe Julian became the first in a host of artists to decorate the Mouton label (discounting Jean Carlu’s cubist label design of 1924). His ‘V’ for victory design – ‘Année de la Victoire’ – captured the celebratory mood of the year, and became an icon.
Although a wave of euphoria swept over Europe at the end of WWII, the hostilities had taken their toll on the British economy, making the idea of splashing out £1 for a bottle of a (then) second growth unfeasible for most. Michael Broadbent was convinced of its merits, however, advising his friends to buy as many as they could. Today, single bottles sell at auction for upto £2,420. A case of the 1945 fetched US$76,375 (£42,358) in America last year.
‘Without doubt, this is the greatest claret of the 20th century,’ says Broadbent. ‘Intense, concentrated, indescribable – and with years of life left.’
‘It’s not an original choice, but it’s the most complete claret ever,’ says Serena Sutcliffe MW. ‘Profound, with total, focussed intensity and a taste of blackcurrants, coffee and chocolate.’ As well as the end of the war, 1945 saw frosts, drought and excessive heat in Bordeaux. This is the very symbol of victory over adversity.
1961 Château Latour
For Bordeaux purists, Latour’s austere expression of Cabernet remains the benchmark. Always among the most consistent of châteaux, the Pauillac first growth has enjoyed a return to form in recent years, following criticism for its weaker wines of the 1980s. Connoisseurs will argue that this has coincided with its return to French propriety, after four decades of English ownership.
A 100-point Parker wine, the 1961 is ‘undoubtedly one of the wines of the last century,’ says Chris Munro of Christie’s. ‘What a pleasure. What a triumph. Almost beyond words – a pure, port-like, majestic wine with hints of mint, cedar and concentration of fruit.’
Jasper Morris of Berry Brothers remembers being introduced to it by the legendary taster Harry Waugh in 1981. ‘It was much too young but stunning nonetheless,’ he says. ‘Glorious and nearing its peak in 2001, it may still be nearing its peak in 20 years time!’ With this in mind, a 12-bottle case would be in the region of £34,000, if you’re interested.
1978 La Tâche – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Romanée-Conti’s exclusively-owned monopolie vineyard, the 6ha La Tâche, is the largest of the domaine. Yet it produces between just 1,880 cases a year. While the productions are miniscule – 20-25 hectolitres per hectare – the prices are mammoth. La Tâche DRC sells at around £15,000 per 12 bottle case, and is, in the words of Burgundy expert Anthony Hanson, ‘rarely anything other than spectacula and fascinating’.
The 1978 is ‘all about fragrance, finesse and balance,’ says Huon Hooke. ‘As close to the perfect wine as it gets.’ Robert Parker describes it as ‘among the greatest red Burgundies I have ever tasted – will continue to improve for several decades’.
1921 Château d’Yquem
The 1921 harvest took 39 days to pick and was the last vintage that Yquem owner Le Comte de Lur-Saluces sold in cask. In March this year, Christie’s sold one bottle sold for £1,375 – double the estimate.
David Peppercorn MW describes the wine as ‘one of the miracles of the last century. The 1921 hardly seems to have changed for the last 30 years. It still has great sweetness and even keeps an impression of freshness. There is the complexity and every nuance that is the signature of this extraordinary wine.’ The stuff of legends, described by Michael Broadbent as ‘a colossus’ and ‘the most staggeringly rich Yquem of all time’. On this basis, it edges out the 1983 Château d’Yquem, when ideal growing conditions and a large harvest made this one of the years for Sauternes in general. (£2,000 a case.)
1959 Richebourg – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Big, fat and ripe, Richebourg lasts a long time. That said, Burgundy guru Clive Coates MW reckons the ‘marvellous’ 1959 has reaching its zenith, so if you’ve got any of the £1,000 bottles lying around, you might want to reach for the corkscrew.
1959 was one of the great Burgundy vintages of the 20th century and marked ‘the end of an era’ according to Michael Broadbent. The only problem with selecting the Richebourg as our choice is that it was ‘a bit too predictable,’ says Gordon Ramsay sommelier Ronan Sayburn. ‘Superb Pinot Noir perfume, deep, deep fruit and rich maturity, full, powerful and mature,’ is John Radford’s verdict.
1962 Penfolds Bin 60A
Made by Grange pioneer Max Schubert, this legendary wine is considered by many to be the finest Australian wine ever made. Andre Tchelistcheff, the founding father of Californian wine, instructed a room of Napa Valley to ‘stand in the presence of this wine’.
It is a blend of one-third Coonawarra Cabernet and two-thirds Barossa Shiraz. Aussie guru James Halliday describes it as a ‘glorious, wonderful wine with potent cedar, blackcurrant, espresso aromas. The palate has magnificant texture, structure and length – a finely woven tapestry of innumerable flavours.’ Not only had Schubert created ‘Australia’s greatest red wine,’ says Halliday, ‘he laid the ground for the revolution in Australian red winemaking’. In the recent Rewards of Patience tasting, Joanna Simon described the 60A as ‘lovely, complex and sweet-fruited’.
The early bin Penfolds wines are very rare. Occasional auction appearances put the price per bottle at around £500. Worth every penny.
1978 Montrachet – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
At last, a white wine. And a Chardonnay at that. But not just any Chardonnay. ‘Le Montrachet is Chardonnay at its most perfect – the slowest to mature, the longest lived,’ says Coates. Montrachet can be an immensely frustrating wine, however.’ Usually it is drunk too young, or the wine is a disappointment,’ says David Peppercorn MW. When it’s good, though, it embodies everything one can hope for, and more besides, from the greatest white Burgundy.
The haven is split evenly between Puligny- and Chassagne-Montrachet, with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti owning vines in the Chassagne section. Its 1978 is a ‘fabulous textbook white Burgundy with gunflint, crisp Chardonnay notes, and enormous perfume which lasts in the empty glass for hours,’ says John Radford. Just nudges out the 1991, itself ‘a sublime experience,’ according to Peppercorn.
1947 Château Cheval-Blanc
A controversial choice, and not without resonance when set against the debate over the typicity of today’s Bordeaux wines. The 1947 summer was very hot and harvesting was ‘tropical’. Producers walked a tightrope during harvest time – those unable to control the temperature of hot grapes were left with residual sugar and stratospheric levels of volatile acidity. Successful winemakers produced what Robert Parker calls ‘the richest, most opulent reds Bordeaux produced in the 20th century.’
The Cheval-Blanc is very rich, overripe and concentrated, and could be said to be the precursor of today’s Right Bank, Pomerol blockbusters. One bottle was sold at Christie’s this year and fetched £1,250 – well over the estimate. Surprisingly, given her criticism of Bordeaux 2003’s ‘port-like’ wines, it is a favourite of Jancis Robinson MW, who describes it in an interview with Square Meal as her ‘last chosen wine on earth’. Even this comes with the qualification, however, that it be a particular magnum Robinson enjoyed 10 years ago. Broadbent notes a good deal of development over the years, and some volatility, yet still rates it as ‘undoubtedly one of the finest wines ever made.’ Marginally more stunning than the 1982 Cheval Blanc.
1982 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
In the 1970s, a family dispute saw the owner of Pichon-Lalande, William Alain Miailhe, charged by his sisters with mismanagement. Shareholders brought in outsiders (from Chasse-Spleen and Léoville-Les-Cases) to take over during a six-year standoff, before, in 1978, the Miailhe family agreed, via lawyers, to draw lots to dictate who would take sole ownership of the prime vineyard.
Although classified as a Preuillac, one third of the Pichon vineyard is actually in St-Julien. Its 1982 is not a classic Bordeaux, but it has an over-ripe, exotic quality which David Peppercorn finds ‘irrestistable’.
This was the first case of “serious” wine Andrew Jefford ever bought, using £250 which his great-aunt left him. ‘It cost about £90 in 1984,’ he says. ‘Needless to say. it was an extremely lucky hit. I still remember this soft, ripe, tongue-caressing, velvet-lined Pauillac with nostalgic passion.’ Today, it can be snapped up at auction for around £2,000 a case. ‘Well-upholstered, delectable sweetness and fruit,’ says Broadbent.
1947 Le Haut Lieu Moelleux, Vouvray, Huet SA
As well as being a seminal year in Bordeaux, 1947 is generally credited as being the Loire’s best post-war vintage. Coincidentally, it was the year in which the late Gaston Huet, that most venerated of Loire winemakers, became mayor of Vouvray.
It is ‘an extraordinary vintage,’ says Jim Budd. ‘Now in its early middle age, the 1947 is wonderfully complex and is likely to still be drinkable in 2104.’ John Livingstone-Learmonth credits is as ‘the wine that started me off on the wine trail when I tasted it in 1973. Still today a cornucopia of scents, flavours, memories. It has wonderful artistic presence – history, music, bright colours.’
Le Haut Lieu gets a nod in the preface to Sir Walter Scott’s tale of 15th century romance and rivalry in France, Quentin Durward. The 1947 will cost you £800 for a magnum, up to £3,500 for a 12-bottle case. Expect to be able to cut through that foie grass with ease and a dash of honey, apricot and vanilla.
Chateau Ausone 1952
‘Perfectly balanced claret,’ says Monty Waldin, ‘with unshowy, digestible old-vine fruit from the greatest vineyard site in Bordeaux in the most elegant vintage there in half a century.’ £500
Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947
Controversial. 1947 was very hot and harvesting was tropical but successful wine-makers produced what Robert Parker calls ‘the richest, most opulent red Bordeaux of the 20th century’. The 1947 Cheval Blanc is a precursor of today’s Right Bank blockbusters, and, as such, outdoes the 1982.
Chateau Climens 1949
Considered by many to be the most consistent and reliable Sauternes-Barsac château, its 1949 is ‘still superb’, says Michael Broadbent.
Chateau Haut-Brion 1959
‘There is no wine that can deliver the complexity, depth and balance from its aromatics to the flavours on the palate better than a great Haut-Brion and the 1959 has everything going for it,’ says Nikos Antonakeas. ‘Ethereal.’ £1,300
Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc 1996
The only white Bordeaux on the list, but alas demand is so high, and supply so low, that it’s nigh-on impossible to get hold of a bottle. £900 (case 12)
Chateau Lafite 1959
Sarah Kemp ‘I will never forget the first taste of this wine – sweet, glorious claret dancing round my palate, elegance vinified. As good as it gets.’
Chateau Latour 1949
Of all the great Bordeaux names, it was Latour which received the most nominations. The epitome of consistency, its wines are renowned for their forbidding tannins in youth, which give way to rich, velvety masculinity as they age. The 1949 ‘flirts with perfection’ says Parker, on the back of ‘a rare opulence, a voluptuous texture and a succulent finish’. £260
Also highly rated: 1959, 1990 Château Latour
Chateau Leoville-Barton 1986
One of the more affordable Bordeaux wines on the list, at £500 a case.
Chateau Lynch-Bages 1961
Along with 1945 and 1982, 1961 ranks as one of the best years for 20th-century Bordeaux. Fifth-growth Lynch-Bages is a relative bargain, making around £2,000 a case at auction, and pips 1961 Château Figeac.
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 1982
Few wines from this, the first modern vintage, combine the charm of the year with such concentration. ‘Complex tobacco and oriental spices, many-layered textures and huge depth’, says David Peppercorn MW. £2,500 (case 12)
Chateau Margaux 1990
‘The 1990 vintage in Bordeaux won me over early on’, recalls Norm Roby. The 1990 Margaux edges out the 1985 for its ‘sublimely feminine, velvety, fragrant and seductive tone’. Wins out over the 1990 Latour, Cheval Blanc and Pétrus. £3,000 (case 12)
Also highly rated: 1985 Château Margaux
Chateau Petrus 1998
Perhaps the most individual wine in the world, we could have chosen umpteen vintages of Pétrus (1982, 1989, 1990) but we plumped for the embryonic miracle of fascination that is the 1998. ‘Enormous, exotic depth of flavour that never goes away,’ says Serena Sutcliffe MW. ‘May I die drinking it.’ £7,000 (case 12)
Clos l’Eglise, Pomerol 1998
After a long undistinguished period, some great wines are emerging from this Pomerol château. The 1999 has ‘elegant plum and cedar aromas mixed with dark chocolate, and superb finesse,’ says top sommelier, Ronan Sayburn. £300 (case 12)