Every December, Bipin makes an annual pilgrimage to Bordeaux to taste its newest vintage, see some old friends, and taste some older wines, too, of course. One cannot live off of new releases alone. Bipin likes to avoid the crush of April when most people rush to Bordeaux to taste the newest vintage and also prefers to taste the wines after they have settled in the bottle a bit. During our week in Bordeaux (which actually included three nights in Paris), I was able to taste 133 wines, and I will try to share all these notes with you over the course of the next few weeks. Maybe I can actually finish telling the tale of a complete journey for once!
I have gone with Bipin each of the past three years, and every year Bipin holds a dinner at Chateau Lafite Rothschild called ‘Bipin’s Thanksgiving.’ Basically, Lafite opens up the Chateau for Bipin and his guests; there are not too many people in this world who can say that! Bipin’s entourage always includes his best friend Wolfgang, a couple of US friends (myself included), a who’s who of Bordeaux winemakers, owners and property managers, as well as a significant wine personality from a region outside of Bordeaux. Last year, it was Egon Muller, and this year it was Pablo Alvarez from Vega Sicilia. Bipin likes to ‘educate’ some of his Bordelais friends that there are, indeed, wines from other parts of the world, although it is not easy to convince the Bordelais that!
Besides Pablo, the guest list included Anthony Barton (of Leoville Barton), Herve Berland (of Mouton), Jean-Michel Cazes (of Lynch Bages), Charles Chevalier (of Lafite), Alexandre de Lur Saluces (formerly of d’Yquem), Jean-Bernard Delmas (of Montrose but formerly of Haut Brion for decades), Thierry Manoncourt (of Figeac), Jean-Francois Moueix (of the Moueix family), Paul Pontallier (of Margaux), Jean-Guillaume Prats (of Cos d’Estournel) and Christophe Salin (also of Lafite). As you can see, it was an A-list crowd, and the red carpet of Lafite had been rolled out in grand fashion for Bipin once again.
This was actually my third night of the trip, but I have chosen to start the week’s story here. While we tasted many 2006s throughout the week, this evening was more par for my course and one of the more dramatic, vintage wine affairs of the week.
After a cocktail reception of addictive cheese puffs and remarkably delicious NV Pol Roger Brut, we sat down to a first course, which was accompanied by a flight of 1967 Sauternes. I am not a big sweet wine drinker (I find the sugar too much for my body), but Bipin insisted on the foie gras/Sauternes combination for the first flight, and I was reminded how good a culinary combination that can be. By the way, I put on about ten pounds this trip; six hours of eating and drinking each day is not easy!
The first Sauternes was a 1967 Chateau Gillete CrÃ¨me de Tete. Bipin shared how the Gillete was actually ‘aged in cement, and Prats remarked how it ‘smells of a dirty, old cellar.’ Aromas of honey, honeycomb, candle wax, dates and waxy, dried peach and apricot fruit graced its complex nose. There was medium body and sweetness here, along with more candle wax flavors. It had a smooth, nutty finish and seemed mature. There were touches of secondary underarm aromas, and the wine was a bit minerally and ceramic on its finish. Delmas found that it did not have ‘the usual aromas of Sauternes.’ Barton called it ‘against the rules,’ and Chevalier commented that Gilette just bottled their ’86 recently. Prats wondered how they made their wines and whether it was a ‘solera system’ or if they just smothered it with sulfur (92).
The 1967 Rieussec was served out of magnum, a treasure from the cellars of Lafite. There was more orange blossom and a nuttier nose, but also similar candle wax aromas. The palate was richer and more honeyed, lush with a nice sparkle of acidity and bready flavors on its finish. There were secondary aromas of interior mahogany, and its acidity really stood out (94M).
The 1967 Suduiraut had a honeyed nose with aromas of bread crusts and oranges. Its palate was denser and thicker than the Rieussec’s, but its finish was a bit bitter in this brawny Sauternes. Apricot flavors emerged along with earth, nut and cement ones as well (93).
Last and certainly not least in this flight was the legendary 1967 d’Yquem. Bipin remarked after one smell, ‘Yquem is Yquem.’ It had the most complex and exotic nose, honeyed of course, but also possessed marzipan, grilled nuts, crÃ¨me brulee and musk. Its long and delicious palate was full of apricot, nut and apple flavors. Bipin continued that it was ‘very round like a Pomerol.’ It was clearly ahead of the pack, seemingly mature but still possessing hidden acidity. Candle wax flavors emerged in this very fine and slinky Yquem. Charles Chevalier commented how 2007 was going to be a great Sauternes year, by the way (96).
1996 Krug was Bipin’s version of a palate cleanser, and Bipin shared how Remy told him that his father found 1996 to be similar to 1928”¦high praise, indeed. Its nose was very racy and full of complexity, possessing aromas of citrus, bright seltzer, hay, straw, even stable and yellow fruits. The palate was racy, zippy, citrusy and long. Buttery aromas developed, and its acidity really took over in the glass (96+).
It was on to the Burgundies, as Bipin always loves to make his Bordelais friends ‘endure’ a flight of Burgundies. This year’s flight was comprised of 1990s, beginning with a 1990 Roumier Bonnes Mares. The Roumier was a bit peanutty at first with a szechuan edge. There was also a touch of stems in this meaty and gamy wine. Musk, fireplace and rust slowly emerged. There was a lot of animal present, and I had flashes of Burghound 1990 ‘stew’ right before my very nose. The palate was more classic, however, rich and still possessing animal flavors but also vitamin ones. The wine did seem a touch autumnal and was soft and tender yet still meaty. Wolfgang was smitten, citing ‘no faults.’ In time, brown spices, chicken bouillon, citrus and strawberry emerged; the wine actually freshened up in the glass (95).
The 1990 Jadot Chambertin Clos de Beze had a seemingly fresher nose with lots of vitamins and a foresty complexity. There were edges of musk and pheremones, a bit of tangy in those regards, and a touch of salty iron. The palate was polished, soft and smooth, with flavors of beef, earth and even a bit of diet cola. It had an easy yet long finish, and I was surprised how polished it was, although there was still some nice grit (93).
The rare 1990 Leroy Musigny had that Leroy kink ”“ the beef, cedar, pine, bouillon, leather, band-aid and cement. Double your wood and double your pleasure lol. It was also polished, but it had a lot of spice, and the best acidity of the flight so far. Vanilla, wood and cement flavors were present. There was that cedary pop to its finish that Leroys often have, along with more menthol in time. Prats and Delmas admired the Leroy, one calling it ‘plus elegant et aromatique.’ Given the miniscule quantity and lofty price tag of this wine, I was a tad disappointed, as I have been more often than not with 1990 for Leroy (94+).
The 1990 Richebourg was a grand finale to this flight. Great stem aromas jumped out right away. Secondary aromas of iron, menthol, cedar and red, wintry fruits soon followed. The palate had the most pop and t ‘n a. Its finish was superb, its acidity clearly lasting longer than any of the others. There was no ‘1990 disease’ here, and its great, stemmy aromas carried over to the palate (96+).
Wolfgang was asked to speak of this flight and summed it up, ‘I am married to Bordeaux, but my mistress is Burgundy.’
It was time for Unico to shine, and seven decades of Unico were on tap, direct from the cellars of Vega Sicilia, where none of the wines have been reconditioned. We began with the 1974 Vega Sicilia Unico. That cream soda, caramel style of Unico immediately stood out. The nose had this chocolate sex appeal in a mocha latte way. While soft, the nose of the 1974 was still firmly upright. Its palate was tender with nice, citrusy spice and a great, leathery finish. There was a touch of that Vega (Spanish perhaps?) egg there, but in a good way, with a truffle on top. Polished, smooth and sexy, the 1974 Unico announced to the room that while we were no longer in France, we were still in the presence of greatness (93).
The 1962 Unico had a similar nose yet nuttier and more intense. Its caramel aromas seemed hand-made by David Bouley versus the ‘Kraft’ of the 1974. And I love Kraft caramels, so don’t misinterpret! There was a morning sunshine quality to the wine, this oatmeal, grits and whey thing, with a pat of butter, all drenched in more caramel. There were flavors of both chocolate and caramel and a rich mouthfeel to the ’62, which was still light on its feet. Polished like a fine jewel, there was amazing freshness and concentration to the ’62, whose acidity was still very ‘high,’ as Delmas observed. Citrus came out on its finish (95).
The 1953 Unico has always been one of my favorite Unicos, and this bottle was no different. It was again a sex bomb of chocolate-covered espresso beans, as it always has been for me. There was also a touch of cherry cola and the appeal of a high-class stable with hay, wood and animal all in the best of ways. Complex and sexy, it had great milkshake flavors along with dust, citrus and sour (in a good way) cherry. This was a beautiful wine, also with superb acidity, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised to see this wine last another fifty years; it even outlasted the ’62 and continued to flex and squeeze by the end of the evening (97).
The 1942 Unico showed us how the level of complexity increases with age for Unico. Each of the first four Unicos were so similar that this flight was like watching a flower blossom over the course of an entire Spring season. In the ’42, the coffee qualities took a decadent, liqueur-like edge, and it had rich, toffee-like qualities. Delmas preferred the younger pair in this first flight, finding the older pair a bit dry. I couldn’t help but wonder if those that make (and review) wines are more partial to younger wines since circumstance dictates that that is with what they are most familiar. The flavors were more coffee, and garden joined the party, and again the sweetness and acidity stood out. Cracked white pepper emerged with time in this also stellar Unico (96).
I was asked to speak about this flight, and besides briefly sharing the above notes with the esteemed crowd, I made a point of reminding everyone how fresh these wines were despite the fact that they had never been reconditioned, and I urged everyone (who has not already) to stop the practice. Whether or not my words fell on deaf ears, I cannot answer, but at least I tried to share my own personal philosophy with this ‘who’s who’ of Bordeaux.
The second flight of Unicos actually began with the yet-to-be-released 2004 Vega Sicilia Valbuena, which was quite tough to drink after those great, old Unicos. It was very Burgundian in style; in fact, I probably would have guessed Burgundy if served it blind! Pablo was adamant about pointing out that this wasn’t a second wine but rather another style from Vega Sicilia (90+).
The also yet-to-be-released 2000 Unico was very black peppery in the nose, possessing great t ‘n a as well as touches of chocolate. It reminded me of a Guigal single-vineyard Cote Rotie with its dense purple fruit, kisses of bacon and white and black pepper. This was actually the first public tasting of this wine, which is ‘not for sale until 2010!’ Pablo exclaimed. There was indubitably great raw material here; its acidity and minerality were exquisite. Curiously, I guess I must have been feeling frisky, I wrote, ‘I will not rate this wine since it is three years prior to release, and I don’t want to get arrested lol.’
The 1994 Unico, a wine that has been heating up at auction recently, had an amazing nose. It had a summit-like quality of Burgundy, Spain and Bordeaux coming together for some sort of agreement about universal greatness in wine. Its violety and vitaminy fruit had great pitch; there was sexy musk and a touch of nut as well. This wine was a veritable ‘Purple Rain,’ complete with Apollonia, of course. The palate was taut and so young, so Burgundian in style. There were touches of cigar around its edges. Drinking this wine still seemed like taking a teenager on a date, so again thoughts of imprisonment for drinking a wine at too early an age crossed my mind :). The 1994 did have great verve and pitch and will be sure to climb my point ladder in time, but for now it remains at its best in the cellar, aging slowly and surely (95+).
Our final decade of Unico was represented by the 1989 Unico. The nose was peppery again, but there was more of a leathery kink here, and one could finally start to see again more of the classic typicity of Unico. Though dominated by pepper, the wine still had that caramel flesh and was just starting to show itself. ‘Fitting that the wine would be eighteen years old,’ I playfully wrote. Prats found ‘a touch too much oak’ in the ’89, but there was still nice spice, citrus and acidity here (93).
The Bordelais grilled Pablo at the end of this second flight, and he held hisground admirably, sharing many facts about his proud Bodega. Some left impressed, but I could tell that others were not certain this wine should be mentioned in the same breath as some of Bordeaux’s greatest clarets. To me, there is no doubt that it is as good a wine as there is in the world once it has reached a certain maturity level.
There were a couple of Tokays at the end, from Hungary, actually owned by Vega Sicilia. I had had enough sweet wines for the night, so I will end on a comment from the legendary Jean Delmas, who remarked how everything is getting sweeter; wine, food, everything, and that was not good for our health! A spoonful of sugar does not always help the medicine go down.
In Vino Veritas,