Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward


AND NOW, a few tasting notes of some recently uncorked bottles:

1999 MONTRACHET (Domaine Leflaive)

Photo: Duncan Richford

The wine has a perfect appearance: lustrous white-gold with a green nuance.  The nose, of optimal concentration, suggests apricot, greengage, and honey, with a hint of melon too. In the mouth, a flavour of great richness and amplitude, with pronounced terroir traits and fine minerality.

Highly viscous, but not to excess, it coats the mouth with fully mature Chardonnay fruit imbued with power and richness. The aftertaste is extremely long and many-facettted but still not at full stretch – you can sense additional, pent-up nuances still waiting to reveal themselves. Just as you’d have known Michelangelo’s ‘David’ was a masterpiece even at an early stage, you know that this great and immensely complex wine will be a vinous monument when time has chiselled in all of the details. 

I shipped this bottle directly from the Domaine in 2001, leaving it 20 years before sampling it a few months ago with my friend Duncan Richford, a great taster and Burgundophile. The long wait was worth it. By then it commanded a price of some £8,000; but for me it was a point of honour to ensure that such a great wine would be enjoyed without thought of monetary value. Yearly production of Leflaive’s Montrachet amounts to a mere 300 or so bottles.

The beautiful name ‘Montrachet’ has a rather down-to-earth origin. ‘Mont’ of course means’ hill’ and ‘Rachet’ is an old Burgundy word for ‘bald’. Thus ‘Bald Hill’ or ‘Hill Without Trees’.

2002 MUSIGNY VIEILLES VIGNES (Domaine de Vogüe)

The colour is a solid cherry-purple, while the focused nose suggests plum jam, cinnamon, and carnation with the promise of a weightiness more typical of a Bonnes Mares. Contact with the air, however, brings out the wine’s incipient finesse, buttressed by underlying tensile strength. Only moments later, there comes a glorious sweep of concentrated Pinot Noir fruit of great intensity and precision. Opening up in the glass,  tasting like a fusion of red and black fruits, it takes on more and more complexity, showing an awesome fusion of  voluptuousness and classical rigour, with a tantalising hint of oriental spices on the finish. Clearly a great wine, yet still only showing about 30% of its full potential. Needs another 15 or so years to peak (the ‘64 was still glorious when tasted some 8 years ago).

1995 CHAMBERTIN  (Domaine Rousseau)

Solid Pinot Noir look, about two-thirds deep. The aroma, though weighty, is buoyant, suggestive of a meld of cherry, raspberry, plum, and blackcurrant – scents that can be picked out individually yet also interlock.The flavour is lovely, soft yet intense, with a hint of pomegranate entering into the picture. One is struck by the wine’s exceptional purity. The tannins are still just a bit unresolved, but seem sure to round out over the coming 5-8 years, at which point full maturity should arrive. There’s a thrilling quality to this wine, which possesses a finesse close to that of a Musigny. Still young, it will continue to evolve for 15 years or more.

1996 CÔTE RÔTIE “LA VIAILLERE (Dervieux-Thaize)

The colour is intense but not extremely deep (looks a bit like a Pinot Noir), with a touch of brown at the rim. The enticing bouquet is soft and restrained but of contained power, conjuring up plum, truffle, cinnamon, and chocolate. Very elegant scents (it actually reminds me of a 1970 Colares Chitas from  pre-phylloxera vines – see below). It’s a lovely wine, subtle and harmonious with no hint of greenness. Burgundian in structure but very Cote-Rotie in style.

1970 COLARES CHITAS (Adegas Beira Mar)

This is one of the world’s most remarkable wines, made from pre-phylloxera vines in sandy soils near Lisbon. Its plum-purple colour, gingery at the rim,  reminds me of a Barolo. The nose is fascinating, redolent of ginger, plum jam, and cinnamon, with hints of clove and menthol, its noble fruit showing a special kind of complexity unique to prephylloxera wines.  The flavour is round, vigorous, with a ferruginous feel, and soon takes on a chocolaty tone. In style, something between a top Gevrey and Barca Velha, that great Douro red.  A wine with a haunting quality – a singular deliciousness that makes you want to re-taste it the instant the last drop has disappeared.


This wine performed a couple of amazing pirouettes in the glass. When first poured its colour, at first a medium deep brown-purple, suddenly grew deeper and more lustrous, turning almost black. The nose, too, originally elegant and medium full, abruptly became denser and more intense, emitting luscious scents suggestive of black cherries and violets. In the mouth, a wonderful velvety texture and, while not massive, it possessed all the volume you could wish for. It stayed in that state for about fifteen minutes before its exuberance diminished slightly, and it began to show more of its age. At the same time the colour lightened somewhat, the flavour lost some of its richness, but  the 43-year-old wine, from a lightish vintage, remained extremely elegant and satisfyingly long. A truly wonderful bottle.

© Frank Ward 2021

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