Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

Recent tastings

January 2013. Nobody on earth – not the most brilliant scientist, not the richest billionaire – can instantly turn a young immature wine into a fully mature one. Only time can bring about this transformation. Sometimes the process can take an age (a good 60 years in the case of the obdurate, but ultimately great, 1926s!).


The following bottles were purchased by me many years ago, within two or three years of the vintage in question, and then simply left to mature in my own 18th-century cellars or in Britain’s finest bonded warehouse, Octavian. All have been tasted within the last few months, to see if that long wait was justified…

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1985 VOLNAY 1ER CRU “CAILLERETS” (Domaine Marquis d’Angerville) ****(*)

The very look of this is a feast for the eye. Not because it’s spectacularly deep but because of its lustre and glow. It is visibly viscous, as if made from bevelled ruby-coloured crystal and it shades from glowing scarlet at the centre to a nuanced saffron-purple at the rim. The nose is glorious and of great complexity: wild strawberry, raspberry, smoke, caramel, and saffron. An entrancing bouquet of startling purity and distinction. Like all great wines, it has a quality of uniqueness, of being inimitable.

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On the palate, a delectable flavour that’s a composite of raspberry, cinnamon, raspberry, and cherry compote. Velvety of texture, as fresh as ripe raspberries plucked directly from the bush, it has a haunting aftertaste of tingling freshness. Though voluminous it feels almost weightless on the palate, yet contrives to fill the mouth with noble Pinot Noir fruit.

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The ideal dish? Maybe milk-fed lamb from the Pyrénées – the best lamb I’ve ever eaten (this was years ago, at Alain Dutournier’s when he was at his prime as a chef). Not having such a product to hand I chose instead steamed turbot, caught only hours before, with a delicate sauce to which a tiny touch of good red Burgundy had been added.

 

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1978 CHÂTEAU MARGAUX ****

Deep black cherry colour with scarcely any browning. Looks 18-20 years old rather than 35. Extremely smooth, close-textured aroma, redolent of bilberry, blackcurrant, violet. Suave bouquet, very focused in the Peynaud manner. Of velvety texture, the flavour – still very closed – veers towards damson and blackberry (for me, the latter berry is the most typical of Margaux scents), soon expanding to include sloe too. A subtle stoniness, verging on the slatey, soon makes itself felt. The perfect acidity is like that found in the ripest of plums.

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Going back to the bouquet, this is increasingly refined and complex, with violet, blackcurrant, and bilberry still more in evidence. By now the wine has a sweetness reminiscent of Pomerol, with an inner core of ripe succulence. The tannins are wholly ripe and the wine is strikingly homogeneous, with a typical Margaux finesse allied to great tensile strength. It’s not too old at 35 years – it’s too young! Still needs a decade to mature fully. No hint whatever of the greenness that flaws so many 1978 clarets.

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There’s a fascinating bit of wine history behind this vintage of Château Margaux.

 

For literally decades up to 1978 Château Margaux had been vinified badly. Year after year, with very few exceptions, the wine was dilute, lacking in harmony, and often browned very soon. The Merlot grape – which ripens earlier than the more tannic Cabernet-Sauvignon – was relied on to give an initially attractive, early-maturing wine, so that the wine rarely showed the tremendous structure and depth that is a central trait of this great property. “Château Margaux, while in the commune of Margaux, is really a Pauillac in structure.” These words were spoken to me by Emile Peynaud, the man who revolutionized wine-making all over the world.

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In 1978 Peynaud was given the daunting task of restoring Château Margaux to former glory. When he heard the news of this appointment, Philippe de Rothschild, late owner of Mouton-Rothschild, immediately predicted to Peynaud that it would take at least 10 years to turn things around. “We did it in only one!” declared Peynaud triumphantly. “We came up with the best wine of the vintage.” He was right.

 

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1978 HERMITAGE “LA CHAPELLE” (Paul Jaboulet) ****(*)

(the cork crumbled into tiny fragments – the wine was then filtered through muslin into decanter)

Colour not extremely deep or intense – a Côte de Nuits style blue-purple with a purple-mauve rim. The bouquet is firm, noble, and expansive, showing great depth and structure: black cherry, liquorice, mint, blackcurrant, with an elusive hint of raspberry. The splendid flavour is all of a piece, with the emergence of elderberry and sloe alongside blackcurrant and cherry. Though the flavour is velvety, it has a firmness of structure that encloses the fruit like a suit of armour.

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Though decanted some seven hours earlier, this beautifully crafted, seamless wine improves dramatically in the glass, showing an almost Margaux-like finesse. The nose is now fabulously velvety, very together and of great profundity. The tannins are silky, no hint of harshness.

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“La Chapelle” often shows truffly aromas. There is a slight trace of this at present. In 12-15 years, though, the wine could well be very truffly indeed – it is after all only 34 years old and will improve for at least two decades. A great Hermitage.

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1993 BONNES MARES (Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé) ****

Amazingly deep (for Pinot Noir) and youthful black-purple. The nose, focused and dynamic, conjures up ripe cherry, pomegranate, dark chocolate, peony, and oriental spices. It’s a fabulous bouquet of great complexity – not unlike a really great Clos Vougeot in its noble earthiness. An impression of velvety smoothness and great youthfulness.


Full on the palate, round and luscious, it yet has a superb tannic structure with no hint of aggressivity. It slowly blossoms into an almost globular wine of flawless texture and harmony. At any moment during the 80-90 minutes it was in the glass it showed unfaltering balance and classic restraint. After another half an hour fresh nuances appear and it grows spicier in a different, earthier mode: Turkish coffee, cinnamon, cardamom. Great already, this won’t be fully mature for another 8-10 years and will surely remain at its peak for another 10 or more.


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1988 MUSIGNY VIEILLES VIGNES (Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé) ****

Vivid blue-purple “robe” with purple-mauve rim. Fine “furry” smell, plum jam, pomegranate, strawberry compote, hints of prune and orange marmalade. A broad, complex aroma, wholly fresh and beautifully balanced, which grows in scope by the minute, showing cedary spice. The excellent flavour is round and focused, with aristocratic Pinot Noir earthiness. Long, rolling aftertaste leading into subtle, balanced finish which carries a hint of saffron. No thinness – just the right degree of body to support that special Pinot Noir finesse. Can still improve.

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1988 red burgundies were on the severe side when very young and have only recently started to open up, at last revealing their hitherto hidden body and concentration.


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1997 MUSIGNY VIEILLES VIGNES (Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé) ****

Impressively deep purple colour and big, beefy nose of plum jam with stone, pomegranate, and fine clay. Homogeneous aroma, weighty and assertive. Full flavour, distinctly beefy, plum jam, liquorice, sweet prune. Solid and mouth-filling. A surprisingly voluminous wine, with a certain “bluntness”, impressive in its way but somehow ambiguous. The nose in particular lacks precision at present. It crosses my mind that it could be slightly oxidized though I don’t really think so (though it is low in acidity). I leave it for an hour and re-taste. It has expanded considerably, growing fuller, rounder, and more powerful. The aftertaste expands to include underbrush, smoke, and something slatey. This is unusually full-bodied for a Musigny; indeed, it’s more like the Domaine’s Bonnes Mares in structure (this observation is based on my having tasted both wines in infancy from some 30 vintages).

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I taste the wine again 20 hours later. As suspected, there’s no hint of oxidation: it’s just an unusually full Musigny whose lack of acidity gives the illusion of its being heavier than it really is. Could be good with roast duck!

 

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1993 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1ER CRU “LES AMOUREUSES” (Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé) ****(*)

Splendid deep “robe” as dark as classic Pinot Noir can get, still purple at rim at close on 20 years. The refined nose is assertive yet subtle, very focused and structured, with old-vine concentration and mellowness; no trace of over-extraction. It’s an aromatic meld of black cherry, lingonberry, ripe damson, and smoke – the smell of a truly great wine with many years’ improvement ahead.

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The splendid flavour is very youthful and packed with Pinot Noir fruit of the most refined, velvety kind. A bewitching spiciness creeps into the middle palate, which is of great intensity. A wonderfully balanced wine, with no hint of artifice, and utterly true to this wonderful lieu dit which is, in fact, a de facto Grand Cru. A typical trait of de Vogüé’s “Amoureuses” is a kind of solid nucleus of fine tannins within the ample fruit – like a bone one can feel inside a well-fleshed limb. Will improve for at least two decades. Great!.

 

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1996 CHINON VIEILLES VIGNES (Philippe Alliet) ***

Vivid, deepish purple-crimson with faint browning. Smooth, intense Cabernet-Franc aroma, elegant and poised: blackberry, plum, with slight gaminess (saddle of hare). Within the principal aroma, vapour trails of delicate scents. Fills out in glass, showing tremendous structure – real tannic backbone. Fig and iodine emerge on the protracted aftertaste, which is still relatively undeveloped.

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A serious wine that could well continue to improve for 18-20 years.

 

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1985 RIESLING CUVÉE FRÉDÉRIC ÉMILE ****

A rich yellow-gold with an evolved look. No hint of the coppery tinge found in oxidized whites. Fabulous bouquet, luscious and rich, suggesting orange, apricot, and chestnut honey. Amazing richness and depth without heaviness. A sudden hint of marron glacé. The rich flavour is of Auslese weight but bone-dry. The flavour is fat and intense with lots of minerality and distinct limestone chalkiness. A pure, absolutely true wine with decisive, orangey acidity giving zing. The aftertaste is richly honeyed with a touch of Brazil nut on the very finish. Now at its peak at 28 years, it should remain like this for another few years.


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1983 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU “CLOS SAINT JACQUES” (Domaine Rousseau) ****

Looking about 20 years old, this has a solid dark purple colour with only slight browning. The lovely nose suggests plum jam, pomegranate, liquorice, and orange peel, with a touch of allspice. A very fresh aroma. The flavour is solid yet buoyant, homogeneous and very round. Gently forceful, it unfolds a whole succession of nuances and is very long. The aftertaste is stippled with minerality. Weighty without heaviness, it shows great depth and persistence. A haunting wine, sure to go on improving for years.


Strange to say this wine – from one of Burgundy’s most difficult vintages – was undrinkable for many years. But as long ago as the late 1980s Charles Rousseau always insisted to me that it would turn out great: “I remember vintages like this from my parents’ days,“ he said: wines that were unattractive in youth but which developed beautifully as they aged.

 

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1991 CLOS SAINT DENIS (Domaine Dujac) ****

Solid, limpid colour with signs of evolution. Soft, mature aroma, very Clos Saint Denis (subtle, feminine), redolent of rose petals, carnation, plum jam, and cloves. It’s a magical aroma, round and velvety and extremely pure. The flavour is delectable: plum jam again, strawberry compote, clove, and a hint of saffron. The viscous flavour is long and harmonious, with fine fruity acidity. No sign of decay: could still improve for 5-8 years.


After 30 more minutes the nose has still not peaked; pent-up, incipient aromas still lurk. The tannins are very refined and the wine shows good minerality. It will grow still more scented over the next few years but may also tend to thin out.

 

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1983 CHÂTEAU FIGEAC ****

Fine black-purple colour so typical of Figeac (and nearby Cheval-Blanc), with rich vermilion highlights. Lovely graceful bouquet, quite Cheval-Blanc-like, of black cherry, truffle, violet, and liquorice. It’s a mellow, profound aroma which quickly shows further nuances: chocolate and morel mushroom. An amazing bouquet, easy to mistake for Cheval Blanc.

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The Cabernet Franc dominates on the palate, showing great precision. I think of elderberry and date as well as black cherry. The rolling aftertaste exhibits poise and great finesse and the overall impression is of a wine still able to improve for another 8-10 years or more. Like many other ‘83s, Figeac seemed clumsy and lacking in freshness for many years. However, |I recall that in the early 1980s the late owner Thierry Manoncourt told me it reminded him of his very great ’47 when it was at a similar age. One thing is sure: not a few of the best-vinified ‘83s have started to shed their heaviness in recent years, showing an unexpected freshness and balance.

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This particular bottle was given to me, many years ago, by M. Manoncourt. It was immediately transferred from one perfect cellar to another and, as a result, never exposed to the kind of stresses and strains to which so many wines are subjected over the years following shipment.

 

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1990 CHÂTEAU HAUT BRION ***(*)

The colour is not of maximum depth but does possess that special glow of wines from great vineyards. The nose is soft, subtle, and infinitely refined (not unlike the lovely ’71 tasted years ago at the château), suggestive of blackberry, fig (from very ripe Merlot grapes), sweet prune, and cigarbox. As with all great wines, this continues to evolve in the glass, turning faintly slatey. After a further 20 minutes it gives off a whiff of truffle and molasses. Only medium-bodied at present, it will, however, gain in weight as it ages and seems sure to improve for a couple of decades at least. A timely reminder that, in some years anyway, Haut-Brion can be the most elegant of all the First Growths.

 

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1990 CHÂTEAU RAYAS ****

Medium-rich, Burgundy-style purple-crimson. Mature appearance, pale orange-pink rim. Noble, round, gently spicy bouquet, a meld of plum jam, chocolate, pomegranate. In the mouth, weighty, smooth, and of unique character. Long and complex aftertaste, faintly bitter in an agreeable way, and all of a piece. The finish is really voluminous, with a baked quality, delivering quivering strands of clove, cinnamon, even saffron. Still gently tannic in that dry, woody way typical of foudre-matured wines of the south.

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As always with great wines, it continues to unfold fresh nuances over a long time. Almost delicate to begin with, it grows increasingly powerful and a certain gaminess starts to show. Now bay leaf (a taste I often find in Châteauneufs) manifests itself and this increasingly fascinating wine delivers of itself hints of rose hip and maraschino cherry. A great Rayas displays that wildness typical of traditional Châteauneufs while remaining extremely disciplined and purposeful. The very last sip is reminiscent of melting rowanberry jelly.

 

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2006 BIENVENUES BÂTARD MONTRACHET (Etienne Sauzet) **** (*)

A lustrous yellow-gold, this has a smooth and voluminous aroma of lemon peel, nectarine, honey, and chalk. The masterful flavour, if peremptory, is truly delectable and of optimal concentration, suggesting ripe white peach, apricot, and honey. The luscious flavour is harmonious and delivers an aftertaste redolent of melted butter, orange juice, and white truffle.

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Gorgeous to drink now but won’t peak in less than 3 years and should continue developing for 8-10 more.

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© Frank Ward 2013

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2 Responses to “Recent tastings”

  1. […] January 2013. Nobody on earth – not the most brilliant scientist, not the richest billionaire …The following bottles were purchased by me many years ago, within two or three years of the vintage in question, and then simply left to mature in my own 18th-century cellars or in Britain’s finest bonded warehouse, Octavian. All have been tasted within the last few months, to see if that long wait was justified… fresh tasting notes on fabled wines, 3 great vintages of musigny vieilles vignes […]

  2. […] June 2013. It was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced at a blind tasting. True, I’d been given one piece of vital information just before sampling the wine, namely the vintage: 1870. A wine that was 143 years’ old. But that wasn’t much help. I’d never sampled a wine of quite that age before and didn’t really know what to look for. In addition, no clue had been given as to the region, or even country of origin (though one could be pretty sure it was French, our host being a great fan of that ucontry’s wines). fresh tasting notes on fabled wines, 3 great vintages of musigny vieilles vignes […]

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