Berns Burgs

Last night we explored some old Burgundies at Berns Steakhouse in Tampa, with our friends Ron and Bev Siegel.

Our tasting began before we even arrived. Our driver Angelica picked us up at 4:45 pm and we met up with Ron and Bev at Champion’s Gate, where we transferred to Caesar’s van for the trip to Tampa.

On the way we enjoyed a Krug Champagne from Ron’s cellar. It was toasty, and seemed food friendly, but not nearly as complex as the “wine of the night 1996 Krug we had a couple of weeks ago.

We arrived at Berns at 6:30, just as Drew–Ron & Bev’s favorite server–came on. Drew kept us well stocked in all the Berns staples throughout the evening, as we dined on caviar, soup samplers, Caesar salad, and steak (or in my case big eye tuna).

Brad Dixon acted as sommelier throughout the evening. The night was a bit more challenging than usual, as in early December David Laxer, owner of Berns, had raised the price of many of the old Burgundies, in a lot of cases doubling them. So it took some hunting to find the best prospects on the list.

We began with 2005 Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses Clotilde Davenne. It offered lemon, minerals, and butter, but at $130 I didn’t feel it was as good a value as Les Clos. 92 points.

1961 Echezeaux Pierre Ponnelle was a beautiful garnet, drinking very young, with a nose of meat, iron, smoke, and fat; sweet cherry on the palate, finishing with Asian spices, mushrooms, soy sauce, curry, and a lingering herbal character. At $400, it proved to be the wine of the night (a bit unfortunate since it was the first red, and we could never top it!) 97 points.

1953 Corton Clos du Roo Domaine Ponnelle should have been the best wine of the evening, but it struggled to overcome a closed nose. Garnet brown, its nose was iron, minerals, and earth, somewhat herbal, with some red fruit on the palate and a chocolate caramel finish. Probably not worth $600. 93 points.

1961 Vosne Romanee Les Beaumonts Charles Noellat was a lovely youthful wine, but it nose of leather, mint, bacon, and cinnamon, and its sour cherry mouth didn’t come close to the complexity of the other two Burgs. Still, a good deal at $230. 91 points.

We also opened a 1918 Vougeot and a 1964 Drouhin that were not drinkable, and were rejected by Brad on nose alone. Too bad about the 1918, which eventually developed a very intriguing nose, but was mysteriously turbid, top to bottom.

1953 was a great year in Burgundy, but 1961 was not the stellar year that it was in Bordeaux, so I had experienced few of these wines before, but I think I will return to this vintage, as the wines were very youthful.

With the main course we shifted from Burgundy to Bordeaux when Ron spotted a 1945 Ch Grand Puy Lacoste on the list for about $600. This was the year of the century in Bordeaux, and the bottle was in pristine condition. Lacoste is a Pauillac, and sometimes drinks like Lafite. This one was deep dark ruby, tannic on the palate, with a traditional dusty nose. There were also meat and vegetables, and the characteristic candle wax. A lovely wine, not a first growth, but very food friendly. 92 points.

After dinner we adjourned to the upstairs dessert rooms for some Madieras from the early 19th century. I particularly enjoyed my 1839 Verdelho, which was served from a brand new bottle. Verdelho is off-dry, so you want to drink it before, not with dessert. I’d never had a Madiera at Berns from a freshly opened bottle, and the fresh citrus in the nose was lovely. This is pricey at $44 a half ounce, but through a mix up my pour was about three times that, making it a deal.

As usual, Ron and Bev closed the place, and we found ourselves alone in the lobby at 1:30 am. Having brought pillows, we dozed on the drive back, arriving home at 3am on the dot. Quite an excursion to celebrate the end of 2011!