Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward


March 2019. Another dinner, with accompanying wines, with our friends Keith and Claire. The food: a tasty soufflé-cum-vol au vent, duck breast in rich gravy, cheeses, and a sweet tart to finish.


All of the wines were tasted blind. A note on blind tasting: a French vigneron once said to me, “blind tasting is often a lesson in humility.” “Yes,” I replied, “and sometimes a lesson in humiliation!”. He laughed uproariously.


The aperitif, a 2012 Furmint from Hungary, smelled and tasted like a blend of grapefruit and cashew nut, with a special minerality derived from volcanic soil. It had a character very much its own. It closed up after a while but later continued to reveal further nuances in the course of the evening (I kept the glass by me for several hours). The next wine was a rare white from Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits: 2007 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru Monts Luisants Blanc from Domaine Dujac. Crisp, still slightly aggressive, it exhibited a special kind of sinew, and was incisive and very firm. No oxidation at 11 + years.


One doesn’t expect the first of a series of reds to be a Grand Cru Burgundy but that’s what it was; 1998 Chambertin from Domaine Trapet. The tannins being a bit scratchy, I initially took it for an Italian wine. I was miles off, I was told. I quickly reverted to the Cote d’Or and guessed it to be either a Nuits Saint Georges or a Gevrey Chambertin (those two communes often exhibit a kind of bristliness in youth, and a distinctly ferruginous character). Keith confirmed that it was from one of those two communes. I plumped for Gevrey, adding that it seemed to be in the style of Domaine Trapet and could well be the ’98.


Next, one of the wines of the evening: 2000 Bandol from Domaine Tempier. This was simply splendid. “About twenty years old?” I ventured. It had a vivid blue-purple colour and a strikingly harmonious aroma that was like a meld of damson, fig, and liquorice. Very long, superbly balanced, it was sheer delight to drink – a rare case of a fine wine showing everything it had to give, at full stretch and without reserve.


Now a wine that was not only very dark but with a distinctly blackish tinge. Almost always that latter trait signals the presence of Cabernet-Sauvignon and this was confirmed. Given the wine’s fullness of body and depth of flavour I at first guessed it to be (1) Bordeaux and (2) Pauillac. “No,” said Keith. adding that it wasn’t even French. Thinks…The only place that gives such convincing doppelgangers to claret was, it seemed to me, California. “Is it Opus One?” I ventured. No, it transpired; but it was in fact from one of that famous wine’s joint producers, Robert Mondavi. It proved to be their 1988 Cabernet-Sauvignon. “This was prior to the creation of Opus One, “Keith explained, “but it was definitely the forerunner of Opus One.”


The next red bristled with character (and bristled is the mot juste). Very dark and richly aromatic, it hurled out rich Cabernet scents, albeit with underlying hints of future subtlety. It possessed the massive structure of what was unmistakeably a top claret in mid-life. Again I went for Pauillac but there, again, I was wrong. Though not very. I thought of, but rejected, Saint Estèphe, though it was not unlike one in structure; but plumped instead for Saint Julien. “Yes,” said Keith, to my relief (these differences can be minute). All of a sudden I simply knew it was not just Saint Julien but specifically Léoville Barton – and also felt sure, because of its forceful tannic structure, that it was the ’86 (a Médoc vintage with a very pronounced character of its own). And that’s what it was. 1986 is one of the firmest and most tannic of all post-war claret vintages and Léoville Barton, with its own very special stamp, is one of the firmest and most tannic of Saint Juliens. Still far short of full maturity at thirty-three years, it clearly needs another 12-15 years to peak– at which point it will surely be sensational.


The biggest surprise of the evening was the 1975 Forts de Latour that came next. It tasted like no other 1975 that has come my way, being silky, lusciously fruity, and a delight to drink. I guessed it to be an ’85 (only ten years out!). One thing seemed certain: it was surely from one of the most extrovert and delicious claret vintages of recent decades. But no, it was a ’75, one of the most obdurate of years! That vintage gave a host of witheringly dry, resolutely tannic wines, most of which are either still closed up or dried out. One can only imagine that at Latour, grasping the true nature of the vintage early on, they’d wisely opted to vinify the Forts very lightly indeed, stopping the fermentation an instant before the tannins could overwhelm the fruit.


The dessert wine – a 1990 Vouvray Vieilles Vignes from Fouquet – brought the evening to an enjoyable conclusion. A rich amber-gold, it smelled like honeycomb, with a beguiling smokiness, and managed to be both rich and delicate at one and the same time.


© Frank Ward 2019

One Response to “CHEZ KEITH & CLAIRE III”

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