Recently, I spent 24 hours in Bordeaux, swooping in like agent Jack Bauer for my own version of the wine world’s ‘24.’ Fortunately, there were no casualties, and while no deadly fruit bombs were discovered, there were many explosive wines that we systematically defused while there through the tried and true method of consumption. Agents Desai, Grunewald and Woolls were already on the scene when I arrived, investigating three vintages of Pichon Lalande over lunch at the Chateau.
The 1996 Pichon Lalande was a classic, an ‘archetype’ as someone noted. Its finesse didn’t suffer from a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. Gildas of Pichon Lalande explained to us that the last ten or so vintages of Pichon have had a higher percentage of Cabernet in the final blend as the Cabernet has been more ripe than before over the last decade. Was this global warming, we inquired? The answer was a definitive no; it was rather that famed oenologist and Robert Parker favorite Alain? Reynaud pushed everyone to pick later. Nuts, minerals, pencil, cedar and cassis were all in harmony in the nose, and the palate was polished in that Pichon way. Its flavors were black, purple and delicious with nice nut and cassis overtones. I have always liked this wine from the moment it was released (94).
The 1982 Pichon Lalande was much more open, with hints of coffee in its nose and more gamy fruit. It was musky and husky, with hints of corn oil and sweet fruit. Signature nut and pencil were there, and the pencil really started to take over in the nose with some air. Flavors of cassis, green bean and olive were present in this tasty wine, with more pencil on its finish. It was lush, round and rich with great black fruit flavors, and its olive became blacker in style. Someone called it ‘reductive’ (96).
The 1953 Pichon Lalande had a gorgeous nose, peanutty at first. It reminded me of the 1982 in terms of the richness in its nose, although there was no green olive here. The green olive did show up a little on the palate curiously enough, and Wolf admired its ‘nice concentration for the vintage.’ It was certainly the best older Pichon Lalande that I had ever had, and its nutty and smoky palate also had hints of coffee a la the 1982. There was a bit of exotic green to the palate with its olive and even apple qualities. Its sweet fruit had honey and hints of autumn, iron, slate and ceramic, with curds and whey on its finish. A bit of exotic berry came out with a refill, and one hour later, this wine still had me licking the roof of my mouth. It was certainly outstanding, and Bipin likened 1953 to 1985. He then went on to say how 1982 was ‘not a great vintage, only twenty Chateaux are surreal, the rest are quite volatile’ (95).
It was time to taste some 2008s, so we ventured off to Lafite. After a few pleasantries with Charles Chevallier about Lafite’s popularity and how the price of the Carruades has also soared, it was interesting to see the respect that the Chateau had for Duhart Milon. Why not change the name to Duhart de Lafite? Well, Duhart Milon was a separate property recognized by the 1855 classification, and even though Lafite could also absorb Duhart into Lafite and increase production, they are committed to this property. Charles commented how he thinks, ‘Duhart is the investment wine.’
The 2008 Carruades de Lafite was a blend of 51% Cabernet and 45% Merlot, and it had a grapy, inky nose. There was pleasant musk and a sprinkle of dusty chocolate. Its fruit was fat, grapy and nutty with hints of lavender. The palate has nice richness, mostly baby fat, and its vimful finish had nice leather qualities. One could see the Merlot here, and hints of coffee grinds rounded out its finish (91).
The 2008 Duhart Milon had more reserve to it, showing only cedar and cinnamon at first. Its classic style had only a hint of that baby fat fruit in the background that a young claret usually displays nowadays. The palate was mild and elegant, not fat, possessing nice cedar flavors. Its drier tannins proved more serious than the Carruades, with real lift on the finish. Charles admired its ‘fresh fruit, good acidity and supple tannins.’ He kept going back to the word freshness (93).
The 2008 Lafite Rothschild had a distinguished nose, and a warm, oven-baked goodness to its nose, just like Mom used to make lol. There was not only cinnamon, but more really cinnamon toast with a granulated sweetness and even a hint of butter. Its deep fruit was laying low in the background, also elegant and reserved like its sibling Duhart, but more omni-present. There were blacker fruit flavors here, with lots of supporting, youthful leather. Its finish was fuller, longer, deeper and stronger than the Duhart, very dry times two with its powerful tannins. Its serious length kept going and going, and Charles commented how ‘great terroirs auto-regulate pH, acid and alcohol’ (95).
It was off to Mouton to do a similar lineup, beginning with the 2008 D’Armailhac. There was nice toast and a pungent, Windex core with meaty cassis and solid minerals. Its palate was round and pleasant with nice flavors of smokehouse, cassis and coffee, but it was clearly simpler, especially after tasting the Mouton, which dropped it like a pretender (89).
The 2008 Clerc Milon gave me a similar impression that the Duhart did after tasting the Carruades. There was lots of cinnamon and more reserve here, although there was more purple floral action here. Round, soft and simple, it was very good but not as good as the Duhart (91).
The 2008 Le Petit Mouton is a relatively new wine for the Chateau, and perhaps they should relegate it back to the cellar for a few more years, as it was quite average at best. Its nose was gassy and possessed a lot of farm action, and not in a good way. I’m talking compost, animal, wet hay. The palate was aggravatingly pungent and difficult to drink, although it did get a little better with some air. Perhaps it was just this particular bottle (80?).
Thankfully, there was still the 2008 Mouton Rothschild. ‘Back to Jesus,’ I wrote. The nose was distinguished and elegant, long and foresty with lots of Asian and cinnamon spice. The palate was clearly outstanding from first sip. There was great balance yet also deft agility to its clean, long and fresh personality. There were great flavors of cedar and this hybrid of chocolate and caramel that was dry and not sweet. The nose produced a secondary hint of waterfall, and a hint of animal and fur joined the palate. The ’08 Mouton had great pitch, and was ‘fat’ per Bipin. It was definitely had more game than the Lafite, and in New York City, that would be a good thing 🙂 (95).
It was off to Margaux, where the incredibly warm and welcoming Paul Pontallier was at our service. Whenever I see Paul, I just feel like I am at home, no matter where I am. He is a true ambassador for Bordeaux and, of course, Chateau Margaux. We started with a 2008 Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux. Its nose was pretty, perfumed yet full. There were still stern minerals enveloping its backbone of fruit. Earth and minerals kept creeping out more, as did a hint of hay. The palate was fresh, light and pleasing, but still cedary and with some heat and a touch of spiciness on its finish. The palate was clean, showing mahogany flavors. Paul admired its ‘purity and aromatic complexity’ (91).
We talked a bit about the 2008 vintage for a minute with Paul. ‘The freshness of the vintage and the fact that it is easy to drink is equal to the 2004. It is not as dense and packed as ’06, but it is easier to drink. There are good levels of ripeness, balance and density, but it is softer and doesn’t pretend to be a great vintage. At the same time, Pavillon Rouge will be great to drink after 20 years. 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2008 are the key vintages for the cellar, as they are delicious and will be for at least another twenty to thirty years.’
We were told that the 2008 Margaux was almost 90% Cabernet. The nose was fine and elegant like the back of a woman’s neck. It had a hint of everything ”“ iron, spice, cedar, cinnamon, musk and purple fruits and flowers. Its aromas were so long in an elegant way, but its palate was rich and expansive. Bipin found ‘the end of mouth amazing.’ Rich and delicious, this was the tastiest of the First Growths that we had sampled on this afternoon, and while it still had backside, it was more reined in and balanced than either of the Rothschilds, aka not as powerful. Someone noted, ‘great length and nice density.’ There was a hint of field green in a great way that someone called ‘fresh mint,’ and Agent Woolls found its ripeness typical of Napa mountain fruit. It certainly was the most drinkable and charming of the Firsts (94).
We were treated to a couple of other recent vintages, beginning with the 2007 Margaux, which was bottled five months prior. The nose was quite mild compared to the 2008, with a hint of wet hay and light spice cabinet. Bipin liked its nose and perfume, and a little iron rounded out the nose. The palate was round but soft, ‘elegant and silky,’ but light in its tannins. It was pleasant and easy, but deceptively so as it kept gaining in the glass with time. I think it still had a bit of bottle shock to shake off, as it soon became excellent, giving off what I called, ‘Thanksgiving sex appeal.’ That’s when you get to baste the turkey 🙂 (93).
We expected 2006 to be next but were treated to the 2005 Margaux instead! At first, the ’05 seemed very shut down. While there was cedar and dust there, I was shocked to find that Paul had already decanted the 2005 for two hours! It was still closed. Hints of black fruits tapped at the surface, almost begging to come out but unable to climb past the glass walls that encased them. The palate, however, was very concentrated, almost jammy because it was so rich. Hints of coffee and tree flirted with my palate, and Paul admired ‘the volume.’ It was a great wine ”“ elegant and silky inside with a big body in which to house it all (96+).
Unfortunately, there was no time to dilly dally, as dinner back at Chateau Lafite was in less than thirty minutes. We would see Paul again there soon.
Every year, Bipin holds ‘Bipin’s Thanksgiving’ at Chateau Lafite in the month of December. This happened to be Bipin’s 25th Anniversary of said holiday feast. As the French would say, ‘incroyable!’ He always invites a great winemaker and some of their wines from another significant region, such as Egon Muller and Monsieur Perrin in previous years that I have attended. This year we would pay homage to the wines of Comte de Vogue, represented by Jean-Luc Pepin. The guest list was a who’s who of the Bordeaux world such as Anthony Barton, Herve Berland, Hubert de Bouard, Jean-Michel Cazes, Charles Chevallier, Jean-Bernard and Jean-Philippe Delmas, John Kolasa, Thierry Manoncourt, Paul Pontallier, Jean-Guillaume Prats and Christophe Salin amongst others. Before the night was over, we would sample at least twenty wines from a combination of the cellars of Vogue and the 1989 vintage in Bordeaux. Let the games begin.
Everyone arrived over some 1999 Jacques Selosses Vintage Champagne. The vintage Selosses is incredibly rare, as he made only approximately 2000 bottles of the 1999! I recently did a massive Selsosses tasting, so I will get more into him at a later date, but this ’99 was fantastic. Wolfgang was loving it, which is always a good sign for a domaine that it has done something right. He called it ‘super, a little toasty, but it stays in my mouth for minutes.’ It was long and clearly the best 1999 that I have had so far. It was quite big for a 100% Blanc de Blancs (all chardonnay grapes), very full and forward as well. Its gritty and grainy finish was well-defined, and its palate packed big and bready flavors. If only Selosses focused more on making vintage wines as opposed to solera, multi-vintage cuvees, he would already be on everyone’s top ten list in Champagne (95).
Jean-Luc gave us a brief introduction about Vogue, reminding us how it was still family owned, dating back to the 15th century. George Vogue had a daughter who died in 2002 and left it to her two daughters. 1993 was the last vintage of Musigny Blanc, as they replanted the vineyard with young vines and now call it Bourgogne Blanc. When the vines are old enough again, we will have Musigny Blanc again, although technically it is still Musigny Blanc now. I believe he also said that any fruit that comes from vines less than 25 years of age will not go into the standard Musigny Rouge. I also learned later on that the Domaine has no records of ever making two different Musignys. This was in regard to a question about the fact that sometimes there are older bottles of Vogue that just say Musigny as opposed to ‘Vieilles Vignes.’ Since Vogue worked with about a half-dozen different suppliers, to whom they sold barrels and provided labels, some requested that it just said Musigny. So, any Vogue Musigny should be the same as a Vogue Musigny ‘Vieilles Vignes.’ Interesting stuff.
We began with some Bourgogne, the 2004 Comte de Vogue Bourgogne Blanc, to be exact. It had a smoky nose and was typical 2004 with its clean fruit, touch of sweet citrus, hints of waterfall and dust. The palate was smooth, long and pretty, solid stuff. There was hidden acidity here, like a big backside masked in a flattering dress. There were great smoky flavors with twists of lime. John Kolasa noted ‘flint stone’ (93).
The 1999 Comte de Vogue Bourgogne Blanc unfortunately suffered from some premature oxidation. It wasn’t intolerable, but it was there. A hint of banana peel slipped its way through, as did sawdust, but the wine was forward and gamy. The palate was big but full of tutti-frutti flavors, a sure sign of premox. There was so much muscle to the palate, typical of 1999 which is a brawny vintage, but unfortunately, I could not form a complete picture of the wine. Thierry Manoncourt said something funny in French, but I can’t read my own writing now. Man, it’s early for that (92+A).
The 1992 Vogue Musigny Blanc was very forward in that 1992 style. Its nose possessed aromas of rainwater and dirty back alley, along with orange blossoms heading south for the winter. It reminded me of a wine that would be drunk in Sin City, as in the movie. The palate was round and with a hint of metal without being metallic. Its white fruit flavors were starting to turn. Drink up (89).
We marched on to the reds, beginning with a 1985 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes out of magnum. Its nose was open and minty, full of damp earth and crushed mint leaves. Its fruit was definitely in the background, and there was a hint of beef. The palate, however, was full of red fruits, vitamins, stems and stalks, much more powerful than I expected, perhaps aided by the magnum format. There was nice, taut ripeness and a flash of game, along with nice definition on its finish. It got more wild in the glass, and for some reason I thought of ‘The Fly.’ This was tasty and excellent (94M).
The 1993 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes elicited a ‘hello Dolly’ from me. There was a big frame here, encasing deep, subtle and inviting fruit. The wine was far from obvious, and its earth, vitamin shavings, dark chocolate and forest floor reminded me of why 1993 is such a great vintage. It will be one of the years Burgundy lovers will continue to seek out for decades. There was a lot going on in this wine. The palate was big yet sensual, long yet fine with a great mix of fruit and finish. It was flat out great, still young but approachable. Its skin has been shed, but this snake still has bite and plenty of venom left! It was big yet agile in a kick your ass kind of way. The acidity lingered for over a minute after it went down down down down down (96).
The 1999 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes was much shier than the 1993, more masked in its personality. It showed more nut in the nose with pinches of stems and gas. It came across brawny after the swift and cut 1993. Kosala found it ‘elegant but not as complex.’ There was this hint of New World, like Pinot in a beefy, California way. The palate had traces of fig, beef and game, but this was not exactly the home run I was looking for, given the home run that this vintage is in Burgundy. More acidity came out with some food, but I was disappointed, I must admit (93).
The 2006 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes was pure and transparent; what you smelled is what you got. Aromas of red cherry, vitamins and stems were bright yet thick. The palate was a lot richer than the nose, also thick. It felt big despite still possessing some baby fat. The ’06 took it step by step, as if it knew it could roar, but decided against it until it was really ready to let it rip. I am a fan of this vintage, and I look forward to trying this wine many times over the course of its evolution (95).
Jean-Michel Cazes admired them, saying they were ‘all quite good yet all different.’ Someone asked Jean-Luc whether 2006 was similar to 1985, and he replied that there is ‘better acidity in ’06.’ He also called Musigny ‘aloof’ in its personality. The Moose can be loose, and now it can be aloof, too :).
It was on to Bordeaux and a 1989 retrospective orchestrated by the maestro known as Bipin. And why not? It was twenty years after the fact, and a perfect time to check in on this highly regarded yet controversial vintage. We would soon see why.
We started with a trio of St. Emilions, beginning with the 1989 Canon, served out of magnum. Its nose possessed nice aromas of olive, black fruits, fig confiture and a hint of winter. It was classic, smooth and tasty with flavors of black fruits, olive, wheat and leather (93M).
The 1989 Figeac was similar, with more olive and green goodness. Olive, more olives and even olive oil danced like Zorba around its nose. It was very bright and forward. The palate had lots of olives as well, but more black in flavor. Long and stylish, the palate was sexier than I thought it would be. The wine wasn’t one of the greatest Figeacs ever, but it was just delicious, a wine that didn’t have to be over-analyzed because it was just damn good to drink. Why is the oldest and most experienced man in St. Emilion, who is still going strong at age 94-ish, still its best-kept secret (94)?
The 1989 L’Angelus was deeper, nuttier and thicker than the first two wines, possessing aromas of peanut and black cherry. Its flavors were much blacker as well, invoking feelings of tar, asphalt, chocolate and black fruits. It tasted like it was on steroids compared to the first two wines. It was big, beefy and long, but not really my style, especially after the first two classics (92).
We crossed over to the Left Bank and begun with the 1989 Leoville Barton. Its nose was yeasty with traces of oatmeal. It had a lot of black fruits, with pinches of chocolate and windex. As most Leoville Bartons are, the 1989 had significant power on the palate, expressing big-time alcohol and acidity. Leave it to Bordeaux’s British ambassador to add the most oomph (93+).
Waterfall came first in the nose of the 1989 Lynch Bages, which is not that common in Bordeaux. There was a bit of stable in the nose, but not really quite that. There was some espresso, but not really quite that, either. Cola, that was there really, as was peanut J. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks ”“ sautéed string beans yum! The palate was big and rich, quite enormous and even more impressive in its power than the Leoville Barton. There was enough alcohol here for a high school prom. The ’89 was still quite young. It was big, black and dark. Did someone say something about”¦.never mind (95).
I liked the 1989 Cos d’Estournel, which was classic all the way around. There was nice balance between its t ‘n a in the nose, with aromas of peanut, cassis and black fruits. The palate was rich and long, possessing nice spice and a big character (94).
I have always preferred the 1989 Montrose to the 1990, and this bottle reminded me why. Its nose was yeasty and earthy, quite sexy in a black and blue way. Kosala found it the ‘tightest’ of the Left Bankers so far, and someone else found it ‘the most masculine.’ It was clearly special, with flavors of oil, ink and hints of animal just starting to show some skin (95).
We segued to the First Growths with a 1989 Cheval Blanc, a First Growth in its own right. The Cheval was very aromatic with its olive, black and red fruits, and oak trees covered in snow. I was under-impressed the first time I had this wine many years ago, but every time I have had it since, it keeps getting better (93+).
The 1989 Margaux had a tender nose with hints of semi-sweet fruit, both black and purple. The palate was a bit watery for lack of a better word, and its flavors were pleasant but not great (92).
The 1989 Lafite Rothschild was classic with its cedar and cassis combination, and hints of oatmeal and sugar rounded out its nose. Again, that water showed up on the palate, although the Lafite did come across a touch fuller and more balanced than the Margaux. Its acidity was still long (93).
The 1989 Mouton Rothschild had more charcoal in its smoky nose, and its palate was similar with cedar flavors as well. It was similar to the Lafite in style and personality except for the charcoal (93).
And then came the 1989 Haut Brion. The 1989 Haut Brion proceeded to just blow everything away. This was like UConn coming to town to play a game of women’s basketball against any of your female population. Dick Vitale would of course cover the game and find it ‘Awesome baby!!!!’ It again proved why it is one of the greatest wines of all-time. Its length, depth, breadth and soul are pillars of strength that will always support the argument that Bordeaux produces the best wines in the world. Easy Burghounds, I said argument! What a wine. I did find this bottle just a hair drier than usual, but it was still extraordinary juice, just a step behind the usual 99 point experience, you’ll have to forgive it (98).
How could all the Super Seconds outshine the Firsts? Haut Brion is clearly an exception to the 1989 rule, as it was a vintage where the wine gods shined brightly on Graves and Pomerol. Everyone else had a tougher time, however. It was a very hot vintage, and obviously some had difficulty managing that heat. 1990 was a much more classic vintage by Mother Nature’s standards. 1989 will always be a vintage known for two of the greatest Bordeaux ever made, Haut Brion and Petrus, but it did not produce quality across the board like a true great vintage should, and the First Growths, outside of Haut Brion, universally underperformed, even Latour (you can ask Bipin why there was no Latour served). This is why 1989 will always be controversial. We still saw that quality could be produced in the Northern part of the Left Bank, but 1989 will never receive the accolades of other great vintages due to the overall quality of the First Growths relative to other years. How did this happen? I didn’t dig deeper, sorry, it was late and approaching 5am, NY time, where I started my day the night before. What surprised me the most was how the Super Seconds were cumulatively better than the Firsts, taking Haut Brion out of the picture. 1989 must have been a blue moon vintage, or something of the sorts, as you don’t see that too often.
The next day saw us at Haut Brion, where we tasted a horizontal of 2007s before lunch. They were not ready to show their 2008s at this time. I think they were recently bottled, or something technical of the sorts. The 2007 La Chapelle de la Mission had a nice, chocolaty style with a gravelly edge. The nose was chunky and possessed some depth. The palate was round and lush with nice dryness, cassis and charcoal flavors. Pleasant and easy, this second wine also had nice acidity (90).
2007 was the first vintage for Haut Brion’s new second wine. The 2007 Le Clarence de Haut Brion effectively replaces the Bahans Haut Brion. It had a similar nose to the La Chapelle but was a bit more elegant and regal, still a bit chocolaty but less so. The palate was brighter and more vimful, possessing sawdust and cedar flavors and hints of citrus (91).
The 2007 La Mission Haut Brion was like the La Chapelle, but more grainy in its nose. There were aromas of fresh field and stalk, coffee and lots more reserve and breed. The palate was very tight, not giving a lot, very dry and citrusy. The La Chapelle was more enjoyable at this stage, but the La Mission is clearly the better wine (92+).
They only made 8800 cases of the 2007 Haut Brion, compared to 13,000 cases in 2004. (La Mission made 4500 versus 7500 fyi). The Haut Brion had a great nose, all about the earth, and so regal at the same time. There were hints of roasted nuts, some honey and a twist of lime. The fruit was richer than the La Miss. Someone said, ‘2007 equals charm and pleasure, while 2008 is tighter and tougher in style.’ There were hints of animal to its nice, rich fruit. Its excellent finish had great balance between its tannins, alcohol and acidity. Its acidity kept extending (94).
The 2007 Laville Haut Brion was very gamy in its pungent nose with aromas of straw, hay, chicken coop and glue. The palate was lemony and melony, a bit tangy with lots of vitamin flavors on its finish. There is much more Semillon (80%) in the Laville than the Haut Brion Blanc that followed (92).
The 2007 Haut Brion Blanc is usually a 50/50 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, although there was 55% Sauvignon Blanc in 2007. Only 600 cases were made. The nose was distinct Haut Brion Blanc; there was this great core of pungent minerality and sweet honey, along with glue, limestone and a tropical kink. The palate was outstanding with great flavors of slightly sweet honeydew and guava. Bipin found it ‘amazing’ and Wolf ‘racy.’ It was lush yet taut, long, regal and stylish”¦flat out great (95).
Lunch was served, and we continued on with another couple of whites, this time with a little more age. The 2005 Laville Haut Brion was more taut than the ’07 despite being a couple years older. Classic aromas of minerals and glue oversaw its big, alcoholic palate. There were flavors of glue, straw and honeycomb. The ’95 was stony, full, long and impressive, balanced and deft despite an oversized personality (94).
A 2001 Haut Brion Blanc was a bit oxidized. It was very open and gamy, really forward and seemingly off. I couldn’t quite tell if this was just the style of the wine in 2001, or an affected bottle. Even bottles direct from the Chateau can have problems, I suppose (90?).
The 2001 La Mission Haut Brion was rich and hearty with a long finish full of acid. The fruit was a touch gamy as well with a hint of marzipan, maybe it was a 2001 thing after all. Creamy flavors of dates and chocolate were present in this saucy wine (91+).
My last wine on this trip to Bordeaux was a 1986 Haut Brion. Even though it was a new day, and this was only wine number ten of said day, I couldn’t read half my note, how fitting. The ’86 had a deep nose, coming on slowly and surely. It was big and zippy with flavors of grape, carob and light slate. I was surprised how lush and open this wine was on the palate, as ’86 is a tannic year. This ’86 was delicious and flavorful, showing quite well at the moment (93).
24 hours, 44 wines and no casualties. Mission accomplished.
In Vino Veritas,