A friend was hitting his sixtieth birthday and figured what better way to celebrate than to haul out some of those bottles we squirrel away never quite finding the right occasion to plunder.
We gathered at Le Gavroche in Vancouver for a great meal and some wonderful wines. Sadly, the first wine, a 2001 Margaux Pavillon Blanc was corked (didn’t bother me as I can’t recall ever drinking a Pavillon white I was very enthused about – the red is often decent), so we found a replacement from the restaurant cellar.
2001 Ch. de Fieuzal – fairly light colour, nice lemon rind nose with hints of lychee, creamy texture, good weight, some vanilla entering in part way through and a strong finish with excellent acidity and good length. Very nice bottle!
The first flight was right bank:
1988 Ch. Cheval Blanc – good colour but marred by a musty nose that we kicked around, waited and concluded it wasn’t corkiness, it was just – musty. Burgundian colour, pleasant supple middle some spice evident and a slight sweetness at the end of a medium length finish, with some light green steaminess also asserting itself. Lackluster.
1995 Ch. Cheval Blanc – a segue from traditional to new age Parker pleaser here, the wrong direction for yours truly, who values typicity over homogenized jamminess. Nice cherry and custard nose with a hint of green, soft tannins, bright in the mouth, not overly sweet, fairly tasty, but clearly not up to the level of other top wines in this vintage. In preference to this style, I’d take an 82, 83, 85…… Decent wine for an indecent price.
Next up was a trio of older wines:
1981 Ch. Palmer - RP must have had an off bottle of this, or was in a particularly bloody minded mood when he gave it 81 points and said it was basically over the hill when he tasted it 20 years ago. I wasn’t as hard on it as he was, although it is clearly a wine in serious decline now, but did show some decent cedar in the nose, a certain elegance in the middle, no tannins and a fairly quick fade in the glass. I should think it would have been at least decent 20 years ago.
1970 Ch. Palmer – I’ve enjoyed many bottles of this over the years, but have found that it has been getting spotty in the last 5-8 years, depending on cellar conditions and also simply because the wines are getting to that age where variability is par for the course. This one had a decent nose with cigar box (combining the cedar and tobacco descriptors, for those that don’t habitually plunge your noses into stogie repositories), and some cassis fruit. My first impression on taste was that the wine seemed to be drying out with low fruit in comparison to the present tannins, but with time it did seem to flesh out a bit. Slightly high terminal acidity and medium long finish. Not the best bottle of this I’ve had by any means, but a creditable performance and certainly the best I’ve had in the last five years. Rated second best wine of the first half. Had I known this was coming I’d have probably lobbied to bring a 1970 Montrose (which I think would have kicked butt, not because it was a better wine in youth – it wasn’t and it is more rustic – but because it is a longer lived wine that probably would have stood up well). But they wanted the next wine, so then I’d have had to bring both, so probably just as well.
1978 Ch. Margaux – this had originally been conceived as an exclusively Margaux event, but when some people lacked these wines we had broadened the scope to include other excellent producers. This was the first of our Margaux contingent, my wine, and both a delight and a dismay to me. I’d had a few bottles of this in my cellar for many years. Every previous tasting had revealed a wine that showed what myself and a couple of other knowledgeable tasters had figured was American oak, and we had on one occasion been unable to peg it as a claret! Well, it has finally snapped into focus, and damn it, this was my last bottle! As background, this property had languished through its Ginestet ownership from 1949, and the last great wine they made was the 1961, with unremitting garbage after that….until the 1978 vintage.
The Mentzelopoulos family bought the property in 1977, so the wine in the 1978 was based on the stewardship of the old guard, but influenced by the new staff including Pontallier. From that point on the wines were pretty much consistently back to first growth level.
This wine showed a lovely cedar and vanilla nose, all the dill and American oak from previous tastings (and I’m talking about maybe 3 different bottles over several years) having magically disappeared. Reasonably ripe fruit in the nose and some spice and moist earth, and on palate, it was quite full bodied and smooth, having mellowed the previously somewhat prominent tannins sufficiently to exhibit excellent balance and complexity. Very nice wine! Wish I had more….
We moved on to a comparison of two 1983 wines:
1983 Ch. Margaux – an outgoing sweet cassis nose, smooth entry into a rounded supple mouth feel, excellent structure and long lingering finish. I saved this to compare with later wines, specifically the 82. Excellent, and with a long life ahead.
1983 Ch. Palmer – the Palmer was a good match with the Margaux. Lighter weight nose with cedar and red fruit, a more elegant wine, but with good flavour concentration, smooth and long, long finish. I’d have to give the prize to the Margaux, but would be pleased to drink the Palmer any time.
Next up was:
1985 Ch. Margaux – cooked wine!!! Damn!
1982 Ch. Margaux – dark wine with lots of depth and complexity in the nose now mellow and smooth with very good length, notes of plum and road tar, more than oak, but the vanilla was there as an under current. We went back and forth trying to decide which we thought the better wine, the 82, which has come together wonderfully since I last tasted it, or the 83 which has slightly higher acidity and just as much flavour interest. The consensus was (finally) after much waffling, that the 1983 was probably going to last longer, and was possibly the better wine, contrary to some popular opinions I’ve seen on this subject. Either should give great pleasure, and my advice is not to drink great wines like this together as one always has to ‘lose’ and neither should!
On its own:
1986 Ch. Margaux – very dark with an intense nose of blackberry, cassis and vanilla. Typical 1986 hard tannins, but much developed from when I tasted this side by side with the 86 Mouton and they were so hard to judge because of the almost raw hard tannins present. Tarry wine, very tasty with great lingering finish. I have to laugh at some reports I’ve seen of this wine being too old. They either came from tasters with poor bottles or poor palates. This wine would rest undisturbed for another 10 years if it were in my cellar – there is lots to come here.
We finished with some pleasant infanticide:
2003 Ch. d’Yquem – a wax and grapefruit nose, absent eh often seen coconut that comes with maturity. Great depth in the nose for such a young wine. With air, elements of pear and honey crept in as well. It was unctuous on palate without being at all close to being cloying, as it had impeccable acidity, sweet but perfectly balanced. Overwhelming concatenation of flavours that will no doubt resolve and gain focus with time, but an over all purity that made drinking this wine at such a young age a pleasure rather than a regret for not having waited (of course I rarely feel any regret for drinking a wine prematurely as long as it came from someone else’s cellar….)
Very memorable event indeed.