Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stoopid Bordeaux

The only thing "Stoopid" about last night's Bordeaux tasting was the cover charge. At our last tasting, some of the gang decided that we should go whole hog and raid our cellars for our best bottles. With a focus on the Left Bank, the group delivered an unbelievable flight of Bordeaux for a blind review of six amazing wines:

1985 Château Margaux (Margaux, Premier Grand Cru)
1989 Château Margaux (Margaux, Premier Grand Cru)
1995 Château Palmer (Margaux, Third Growth)
1999 Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan, Premier Grand Cru)
2001 Château Kirwan (Margaux, Third Growth)
2003 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac, Second Growth)

I am going to break with tradition here a little bit and review the wines by age, elders first. Usually, after one of our grand tastings a winner is declared (before unblinding) and I discuss the wines in rank order. But facing the best flight of wines we have ever poured, the judges were constantly changing their scores and rankings, and some protested at having to rank order such beautiful wines. I think we can safely say: (1) these were all amazing wines, and 2) our indecisiveness makes the ranking less meaningful. On to the wines...

If I had a vision for a two decade old First Growth, the 1985 Chateau Margaux was everything I expected. Slightly musty right out of the bottle, the nose started with cooked fruit, later developing a pronounced chocolate, truffles, mint and roses. But the taste was the real highlight - despite nearly 22 years inside a decrepit bottle (see picture above), the wine was barely showing its age. Dry, medium- to full-bodied, and extremely elegant, this aging (but still powerful) wine is in its prime. When forced to choose, the panel rated this #1 (Joe #3).
12.5% alcohol
JoeScore: 18.5/20 (RP94, WS90)

The 1989 Chateau Margaux also had an impact on the group, ranking second only to its older sibling. This makes my notes less relelvant, as I ranked this one dead last - the only one in the group to do so. From my perspective, I found the nose less compelling - very spicy, later softening to reveal some berries and pencil shavings. On the palate I found this wine lighter-bodied and slightly off balance, with sharp tannins and lively acidity making this a very different wine from the 1985. A never-ending finish, I suspect it needs more time to pull together.
12.5% alcohol
JoeScore: 17.5/20
(RP89, WS96)

The 1995 Chateau Palmer was my contribution. I have always wanted to try a Palmer and the employee at Binny's suggested this vintage based on his recent tasting of the wine. The nose on this wine was amongst the best of the evening. Constantly evolving, it smelled very young at first, later opening up to show violets, musk, leather, cloves, pepper, coffee and summer berries. Very nice, but the palate was more modest - lighter-bodied than I was expecting and thinner than many of the others. Drinking very well now, it could probably benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Ranked fourth by me and the group.
12.5% alcohol
JoeScore: 18/20
(RP90, WS94)

The 1999 Haut Brion generated a lot of buzz, with everyone constantly talking about "contestant number four". The nose was spectacular - violets and roses, musk and leather, cocoa, truffle, mint, oak and wet stones. Rich, beautiful velvety tannins, it was balanced but not yet fully together. An extremely long finish, this wine is soooo not ready, vinuous infanticide. My second favourite and third favourite of the panel.
13% alcohol
JoeScore: 18.5/20 (RP93, WS91)

The 2001 Kirwan was a competent wine. Alone, it would have garnered raves, but in the company of three first growths and a second growth it seemed rather ordinary. Oh, but to keep such company and still retain your composure! The nose started off very nicely, with everyone at the table complimenting this wine. Violets, roses, dark berries, and some wilder notes - meaty, earthy, and oaky. But the palate did not deliver, with a ligher-bodied wine and harsher tannins that threw the whole thing slightly off balance vs. its peers. A nice wine, but this needs more time in the cellar. Ranked last by the group, but my fifth place.
13% alcohol
JoeScore: 17.5/20 (RP90, WS90)

The 2003 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande was controversial from the first smell. A powerful nose of caramel and jammy fruit, with violets, mint and toast, it stood out like a sore thumb in this Margaux-heavy grouping. While the group hated the nose, I simply found it different and only slightly less appealing than some of the others. And while the gang could not get over their dislike of the nose, I found this wine to be extremely elegant and poised. Rich and nutty, with dry tannins and bright fruit, this wine had a very long finish. Surprisingly accessible now, this will probably improve over time. My first place - I was the only one on the panel to do so (overall 5th place ranking).
13% alcohol
JoeScore: 18.5/20 (RP95, WS93)


Thanks to everyone for such a tremendous set of wines. I especially want to thank the hosts, Lloyd and Clarissa, for their hospitality (and the 1985 Chateau Margaux). I especially liked the chilled strips of lightly-cooked Filet Mignon - an excellent pairing for this flight.

I have to say I find myself a bit depressed after this tasting. Not skilled in psychoanalysis, I can only speculate as to the cause. Perhaps it was the recogntion that I will never, ever, have such a wonderful flight of wines in my life? Maybe it was the haunting, ever-changing aromas that still have me second guessing my views over a day later? Or maybe it was my very non-consensus view of the flight, especially the Pichon Longueville? Whatever it was, I will not be able to get this tasting out of my mind for some time.

Would I actually buy one of these? The 1999 Haut Brion is probably the wine that stood out with having such potential I would stick a bottle away, and I would certainly love to try the Picon again in 10 years...



Dr. Debs said...

Good, good post. Thanks for rounding up such a wide range of wines, from so many vintages, and then providing such detailed notes. It was wonderful to see how the vintages differed, and the sharp distinctions between AOCs.

As for the post-tasting depression, I wonder if it's not so much about the fact you will never have such wonderful wines again (never say never!) but that when all it said and done, it's still just wine. Magical stuff, to be sure, but when it's gone, it's gone.

Anonymous said...

Joe - don't fret, though this outpouring of emotion has shown me your softer side (something you don't show inferior wines in your reviews...)
The great insight for me in this tasting is the enormous potential of the '03 Pichon-Lalande, a wine gettable for barely over $100 that could probably win this tasting 5 years from's nose is still with me 2 days later.

Joe said...

Thanks Debs. Yes, the Margaux wines had an underlying similarity. However, with only one Pauillac and one Pessac, I am not sure these were truly representative (a future tasting?). Actually, the Haut-Brion seems to be a high quality (but representative) Pessac-Leognan, but I am especially tentative on the Pichon, as this did not taste like any Pauillac I recall. Just wine?! Sacrilege! No, you are correct, although I think the greater depression was really the complexity that I cannot get out of my head.
Hi Lloyd. Soft? Perhaps it was the pink shirt ;) You and I were the oddballs, putting that Pichon and the Haut-Brion ahead of the Margaux. I also have my finger on the trigger for that Pichon...I am very curious to see how it will age.

David said...

sounds like a great tasting! I just ordered a case of 2005 Bordeaux, do I have to wait 20+ years to really enjoy?!?

Brooklynguy said...

Holy cow! your friends keep the good stuff around, eh? what a lineup. congrats to you for taking your own path - you like what you like.

Joe said...

Hi David - tell me more about what you ordered and I might offer some tips, but broadly speaking 05 was a vintage to stick away.
BKG - it was pretty cool. Needless to say I have NONE of that stuff lying around - I had to buy the Palmer just to show up. With three 18.5 scores, it was hard to pick a winner, but I was very comfortable with being away from the group. Even better that it was an 'affordable' 2nd growth ;)

Lyle Fass said...

I sold all my Kirwan. I bought in when I was young and ignorant and saw high Parker points and a cheap pricetag. All it was was an Aussie Shiraz dressed up in Margaux clothing. Great notes. Haut Brion rulea and is my favorite left bank Bordeaux!

Joe said...

Hey Lyle. I have not had other vintages of the Kirwan, but I would be hard pressed to describe the '01 as an Aussie Shiraz. The Haut-Brion was amazing, and under-appreciated because of its youth. Give it time. Cheers!

Bottle Deck said...

I tasted the 95 Palmer 3 years ago and you are right on!