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After a three-year hiatus due to Hong Kong’s incredibly strict regulations, the host of Bring a Special Bottle Night finally made his triumphant return to the city. A group of 17 friends found themselves yet again at Crown Wine Cellars for the 14th BASBN. The rules of the evening of simple: Bring either two bottles or a magnum of something exceptional in your cellar and see if it’s a winner. All wines are served single blind, meaning the guests know what is in the flight, but need to figure out which is which.

Champagne Flight: The Warm Up

Once we arrive, we are handed a glass of 1998 Krug Vintage from magnum to whet our palates. It had unexpectedly tertiary notes of brioche, nuts, and caramel with a strong spine, yet with a lot of freshness. Drink or continue to hold as you please! Our second Champagne was firm Goedhuis favourite, 2007 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs in bottle. This is a wine I never find disappoints, fresh, mineral, hints of brioche and elegant. A winner through and through. The vote was tough as some guests missed the Krug, but the Comtes came out the victor in this battle of the bubbles.

White Flight Number 1: ABC, Anything BUT Chardonnay

In this anything but Chardonnay flight, four glasses were served, three classic white wine stems and one notable Chardonnay glass. Our first two wines were a duo of Alsatian Rieslings 17 years apart. 1994 Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brandt vs 2011 Charles Sparr Riesling Schoenenbourg. The Charles Sparr was very classic, classy and well balanced with floral and lemon zest aromas. The Brand was on another level of its evolution, golden caramel in colour, with preserved mandarin peel, peaches and a hint of residual sugar to round it out. Lovely. Wine 3, in the Chardonnay glass was a 2013 Sine Qua Non White Résisté, a majority Roussanne Rhone blend with just a touch of Chardonnay. As expected, this was voluptuous, with honey and succulent stone fruits bursting from the glass. Now the question, “is the odd glass out the SQN?” I along with the owner of the bottle knew it was the SQN but it did manage to fool some. As a group we did however feel that it did not perform as well as hoped following the 1994 Zind, but such is wine. Our final glass is a lone bottle of the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc from Saumur in the Loire, Clos Rougeard’s Saumur Blanc Brézé from 2009. Leaning more secondary notes than primary, this was still a young puppy with miles to go, lemon, viscous yet bone dry.

Winner? The 1994 Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brand by a landslide.

White Flight Number 2: Classic Chardonnay

We beginning with wine A, a magnum of 2013 Jean-Noel Gagnard Batard Montrachet. Concerns were mumbled due to the cork being slightly raised, but they were quickly put to rest. Mineral, bold, full bodied and just the right amount of oomph to match the oak. A rock star. Wine B, two bottles of 2002 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet, I felt this to be a very spicy example of BBM, with notes of fennel and liquorice mingled with lemon butter and a fresh kick of sophisticated power. Wine C had was a WOW wine, from Sonoma county, a 2014 Aubert Larry Hyde Vineyard. Divine, delicate, you name it, this was wine had everything. Our resident California lover first thought wine A was the California but the upon asking for a sneaky second pour, discovered he had not turned his coat and was still a firm lover of all things California. To round out our flight of Chardonnays, Wine D, a 2019 Shy Susan from Tasmania. Youthful with notes of peach, lively acidity, custard apple and a spice focused finish.

Winner? To the surprise of all, the 2014 Aubert Larry Hyde narrowly beat out the 2013 Jean Noel Gagnard Batard Montrachet.

A Burgundian Palate Cleanser

The special guest was our lone RED Burgundy of the evening that we felt would be overshadowed against the Bordeaux in the following flight, an incredibly generous contribution of 2001 Leroy Clos de la Roche. This was certainly hors categorie! Stunning, lively, still youthful, delicious, one could go on... in short, a showstopper!

Flight 3: A Battle for Glory: Bordeaux versus California

As we turn our attention to the reds, we are faced with the familiar aromas of classic Bordeaux blends to pair with our mains. First up a duo of 2013 Opus One, obviously Napa for some, not so obvious for others. Black fruit, noticeable eucalyptus and gun powder dominated this youthful wine. Next onto two bottles of 1974 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, a whole year before Francis Ford Coppola bought the winery. Unfortunately one sadly was off, but the bottle that was on, was singing with all you can love from aged Napa Cab: Eucalyptus, cassis, cedar, tobacco and smooth, polished tannins. YUM. Many thanks were given to those who so kindly shared their pours with those who received the off bottle. Our next wine screamed Classic Claret right out of the gates, and indeed it was a 2006 Ch Lynch Bages in magnum. The first vintage made by Jean-Charles Cazes after taking over the reigns from father Jean-Michel, it is a full-bodied fleshy Pauillac with gentle grippy tannins, and tell-tale cassis, spice box notes. My first tasting note of Wine 4 was “perfectly mature,” and indeed one would call a 1986 Ch Cheval Blanc perfectly mature! This was simply outstanding with the aromatics cohesive, complex, and very Cabernet Franc dominated, still. Tannins were supple, the black fruits blending seamlessly with the leather, Cheval Blanc really knocked this out of the park. Our final Bordeaux for evening was a 1953 Ch Cos d’Estournel, the winner of BASBN 2014. As in 2014, it was youthful, floral with delicate tannins, and could easily have been mistaken for something in the 80s.

Winner: In a landslide, the 1986 Cheval Blanc.

Flight 5: Soaring Sauternes

In between the mains & dessert / cheese course we decided to serve the sweets before the last flight of red.

We had 5 wines in this flight, across two Chateau, d’Yquem and Rayne Vigneau, and one of these was certainly not like the others in colour. This flight saw the broadest range of age, from 1917 (! Wartime vintage, and specifically the year of the Battle of Passchendaele, if you know your history) to the humble year 2012, when the late Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. Back to the wines…it was decidedly a game of which d’Yquem was which between a mini vertical of 1986, 1988 and two halves of 1995. First, the 1986 d’Yquem – lots of honeysuckle, apricot, and spice with a hint of rubber. Then the 1917 Rayne Vigneau, colour was like burnt caramel, hints of pear and lots of caramel, but the most impressive thing with the wine was its freshness and longevity. Few can taste wines like this, so savour it we did. Wine 3, a 1988 d’Yquem, more expressive than the 1986 with notes of mango, tea, honey, ginger and pineapple marmalade. This was my wine of the flight. Wine 4, the halves of 1995 d’Yquem, crème brulee, honey, stone fruits – it was tough to tell the difference at this point. Lastly, Wine 5, a 2012 Ch Rayne Vigneau, only 95 years younger than its partner, this was youthful, happy and bursting with pineapple and apricots – drink it chilled with some cheese, a great combo.

Winner: 1988 Chateau d’Yquem

The Final Flight: Three Reds

After our jaunt to Sauternes, it was time to return to the final three reds. Wine 6, a 2004 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 en Magnum, the top of their range. Our host’s first words “best one I have had!” Dark and brooding, with notes of forest floor, game and smoked meat. Polished, but probably needs more time. Next, Wine 7, a lone bottle of Guigals’ inimitable Cote Rotie La Turque from 1999, a Mr. Parker 100-point recipient. This is hands down one of my favourite in the world, and the 1999 was outstanding, exploding with black cherries, gun powder, and exceptionally balanced oak. Still a baby, but it is so very well balanced and structured, it is hard to resist. Our final wine of the evening is a 2009 Matarrochio from Guado Al Tasso in Bolgheri. 100% Cabernet Franc, first produced in 2007, showed lots of pepper with dark fruit, spice and grippy tannins. Was it the right wine to end the night on? Definitely, as it was very much youthful and expressive.

Winner: 1999 Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque

Before we said our goodbyes it was time for the final round of voting for the best wine of BASBN 2023. The final Contenders:

2007 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne
1998 Krug Vintage
1994 Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brand
2014 Aubert Larry Hyde Chardonnay
2001 Leroy Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
1986 Ch Cheval Blanc
1999 Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque
1988 Ch d’Yquem

The ultimate winner: 2001 Leroy Clos de La Roche Grand Cru. The lone red Burgundy stood its ground and took the crown.

Many thanks to everyone for the generous donations from your cellars!