I recently woke up in Vegas and flew back to New York for dinner, before leaving shortly thereafter for Europe, all in one day. Only a dinner of significant magnitude could make me adhere to such a schedule, and it was a special one, a vertical of Cos d’Estournel back to 1893, including almost all of its most significant vintages. All the more special was the fact that Jean-Guillaume Prats of Cos joined us personally for this dinner; in fact, we had moved the original date to January in order to coordinate with Jean-Guillaume’s schedule.
There is probably only one man in the wine industry who could empathize with the day of which I was in the midst, and that would be Jean-Guillaume. We must be distant cousins, as my middle name is also William. He is a true ambassador for Bordeaux, dare I say ‘the’ ambassador. He knows every country, every city, every market for Bordeaux and has been to them all on multiple occasions. A typical itinerary might be Johannisberg to Dubai to Mumbai to Bangkok in five or six days or something extreme of the sorts. No one is out there like him, seemingly carrying all of Bordeaux on his shoulders.
He has also made significant investments and improvements in his Chateau, which I recently visited in December. It is one of the most breathtaking visits in all of Bordeaux today, a marriage of custom and innovation, impressive being an understatement. He is truly one helping lead Bordeaux into the 21st Century. In case you haven’t noticed, I admire him a lot.
I also admire his wines, speaking of which, the vertical. The first flight was comprised of ‘lesser’ yet fascinating vintages, many of which were far from lesser. We started with the 1933. It had a great nose of lovely, old, mature fruit with aromas of carob, cassis, sweet dust and spice. Its flavors were tender and old, and Bob admired its ‘cedar still coming through.’ Sweet rust flavors lingered lightly on its finish. While its nose was better than the palate, it was quite delightful and still (90) points, by a nose heh heh.
The 1937 was oxidized, even though I could respect the architecture (DQ). All the wines came from one cellar from Northern Europe, a most reliable source of great wines. When wines are old, these things happen, and the only thing to do is move on.
We moved on to the 1942, which Jean-Guillaume found ‘very tannic,’ in a positive way. Bob also admired its ‘structure,’ and its deep, dark fruit got a ‘superb’ as well. There were great nut aromas along with some fresh greens. The palate was rich, medium-bodied and possessed great balance. It was impressive, all the more so considering what was going on in France at the time. It flirted with 95 points (94+).
The 1943 was equally as impressive, ‘similar to the ’42’ as Don observed, but seemingly taking it up a notch with its big, rich personality. I loved its coffee nose, which also had secondary rye aromas. There were great chocolate flavors on its big, rich palate, but as time went on, the ’42 was clearly the ‘43’s equal, if not better. Interestingly enough, the ’43 was preferred by all guests at a 2 to 1 margin, as did I, at first (94).
The 1948 was another excellent nose, more wheaty with some underlying caramel. Old wood exerted itself aromatically. While leaner than the last two, the ’48 was still excellent, also wheaty on its palate. One found it ‘the best with food’ (93).
Jean-Guillaume shared some of his wisdom and perspective about this first flight. ‘The beauty about this flight is that it has nothing to do with how the wines are made today. These were not made by winemakers; they were made by farmers. Many estates were very poorly run, and wine was often a secondary source of income. (The two war vintages) needed time to come around. There was no oak then, only old wood. No one could afford it like today.”
The next flight had five wines, but only three were consumed. Alas, the 1893 and 1926 were oxidized (DQ). With 23 wines on tap, and some special showings already, no one was worried. Ironically, I had had the 1926 almost a year ago exactly from the very same cellar and gave it a respectable (94). It’s old wine, you never know. There’s quite a bit I drink that you never hear about, you know 😉
The 1898 was toasty and elegant, suffering from a bit of sulfur at first, possibly reconditioned. There was lots of popcorn with a touch of honey there, and its palate was medium-bodied, honeyed in a light way, possessing flavors of old red fruits and books. Graceful and gorgeous, it was a setting sun of a wine (92).
The 1911 had a fabulous nose, modest yet stylish. ‘Green tea’ and ‘vegetal’ components were noted, and I found light, dry weeds, cedar, fresh field and a touch of manure, in a good way. The wine was flat out delicious, and while its elegant personality might have been dwarfed a bit by its two bigger bookends, this was the wine of the flight of which I would want to drink a whole bottle first (93).
The 1919 had an oaky nose full of wood, dominated by it. I wondered if this was left in the vat a bit too long, being just after World War I and such. It had good texture, but its flavors came across sickly to me, but it was ‘rich and full.’ There were a lot of 1919 fans over time, however, as it really integrated in the glass and put on weight, developing chocolate flavors and a smoky finish. It stayed woody at its core, though (92).
Jean-Guillaume remarked how 1893 was the earliest harvest ever (in August!) , and then went on to comment how Bordeaux has always been marked by eras of prosperity, followed by the exact opposite. From 1725-1855, Bordeaux struggled to make its way, but after the 1855 classification up until 1870, helped in part by the Paris Expo, Bordeaux became the great wine of the world. From 1870 until 1982, there were two World Wars, and decades such as the 1930s, 1970s and perhaps one or two more where there were no great vintages. From 1982 onwards, ‘great wines were made every year,’ and with 1982 began the age of America, led by the ascension of Robert Parker to the top of the wine critic world, beginning another age of prosperity. That prosperity has continued on until today, except beginning in 2005, the age of China began. It was a fascinating perspective.
The next flight was perhaps the evening’s most fascinating, beginning with the always fascinating comparison of 1928 versus 1929. The 1928 had a big, deep nose and was clearly in a league of its own. There were great, dusty aromas of vanilla and rich berry fruit. Its palate was big and rich, delicious in every which way with long, long acidity. Still young, the 1928 was outstanding stuff, classic and ‘one of the greatest wines of the vintage,’ if he did say so himself :). Comparing the two vintages, Jean-Guillaume continued and admired the ‘freshness of the 1928, but the 1929 is slightly fatter’ (97).
The 1929 was no slouch, either. Jean-Guillaume found the 1929 to be like ‘Pinot Noir,’ and that was an excellent descriptor for its silky, voluptuous style. The nose was incredibly seductive, super forward with its explosive aromatics of chocolate wafer and rosy red fruits. Bill also concurred, ‘more of a Burgundy nose.’ So was the palate! This was a delicious, special wine, round and lush with a kiss of vanilla on the finish that left me wanting more (96).
The 1934 had a minty playfulness to its nose along with sexy spice. Bob found ‘cloves.’ I have always liked ‘34s, even if they were never outstanding, and this was a perfect example. The palate was clean, elegant and fresh, and there were nice dust and earth flavors. Jean-Guillaume found it ‘quite charming with great minerality.’ It was both pleasant and pleasing, ‘good wine,’ as Bob eloquently summed up (93).
The 1947 was thankfully our last oxidized wine of the night (DQ) , and we quickly moved on to the 1952, which had an oaty nose. There was nice cassis there and big volume. The palate had good richness and flesh, and its fruit was still wound. There were excellent tannins still from this tannic vintage, ‘what it is,’ as Jean-Guillaume succinctly put it (93).
The four benchmark vintages of the post World War II era were next, beginning with the 1945, which had another great nose with lovely cherry fruit. There was a decadence to its sweetness, and purple joined the party along with baked bread. The palate was a little lighter than I expected but still nice, possessing dust, citrus and ‘a little cough syrup’ flavors. The 1945 was tasty and got better in the glass but still did not possess the density of many other ‘45s. Jean-Guillaume remarked how 1945 had very low yields due to the war (94).
The 1959 was quite gamy, with aromas of anise and black licorice. There were jammy flavors of overripe plums and fig. I wasn’t sure if this bottle was 100% perfect, and Jean-Guillaume was definitely in the ‘have had a better bottle club’ (92?).
The 1961 had what I call attic and cobweb in the nose, along with a touch of pungent, musky goodness. In the mouth, it was classic yet tender, tasty and long but not spectacular (93).
The 1982, however, was spectacular and unexpectedly stole the show in this flight. This was a great ’82. I remember about six or seven years ago when the ’82 Cos stole the show from the ’82 Mouton in a blind head-to-head, and 1982 Mouton is certainly a great, great wine. It was good to see this vintage still exceeding its so-called bar. The nose was full of smoke, nuts, cassis, wafer, chocolate, vanilla and youth. The palate was big, rich, long and lush, both weighty and heavy yet still agile. Delicious flavors of rich milk chocolate lingered in the mouth, while Jean-Guillaume noted some ‘Indian curry spiciness.’ He concurred that this was a great bottle, putting it in context by calling it ‘a new point in a new cycle’ (97).
The last flight was crowned the ‘Four Horsemen of the Last Decade’ and began, of course, with the 2000. My notes are a bit briefer for this flight, as it was that time of the night. Jean-Guillaume commented that ‘we are starting a new tasting with nothing in common with before.’ The 2000 was classic and clean, young and excellent but a bit less than the usual Cos standard, given the vintage. A bit of windex clouded its overall expression, and Jean-Guillaume conceded that it was the ‘weakest’ of the flight (93).
The 2003 was typically forward and sweet, almost Napa-esque with its sweetness and richness. Lush and delicious, this was rock n’ roll Bordeaux (95).
The 2005 was like a combination of the previous two wines and clearly the most concentrated. I loved its rich, chocolaty palate, which had the best of all words (96+).
The controversial 2009 was deep, sweeter and also chocolaty, and I could see the now famous ‘Harlan’ reference. However, this was still Bordeaux, and it won’t crack up in ten years, that’s for sure. This wine definitely has huge potential, if it can get a breast reduction naturally over time ha ha (95+).
While in general, I tend to prefer 2000 and its more classic style, as far as Cos goes, 2005 is definitely the one, and shows the greatness of that vintage. It has all the characteristics of a truly great vintage. It was ‘the hottest decade in human history,’ Jean-Guillaume noted. What about the upcoming decade? ‘2010 was the driest vintage ever, the vines were stressed from a lack of water (which usually produces great fruit, by the way). It is more 2005 than 2009; there will be extraordinary Pomerols in particular.’
Well, there you have it. It was a great evening featuring wines from a great Chateau that is led by a great man. Who’s on first?
In Vino Veritas,