I interrupt my recent trip to Hong Kong for an article I started writing before I left, one that I finally finished on my way back. I still do have one article left from HK in order to wrap things up for Book 2, Chapter 4 of Hong Kong Diaries, 2009. I will try to get to that one soon, famous last words, I know.
Before I get started, I have to make a correction relative to a previous article recently written. I had mentioned the Roumier and Ponnelle connection, and that Georges Roumier had at some time made the wines for Ponnelle in the 40s or 50s. I was corrected by a close friend of Christophe Roumier’s who told me that Georges never made the wines for Ponnelle, and that they were made by Christophe’s other grandfather as his mother is a Ponnelle.
I also have to give a little grief to the Big Ticket for hosting a great 1998 Bordeaux tasting on the same night as my Roaring Twenties dinner, and only giving everyone like three day’s notice. I would have loved to be there, big guy. I think he said the Chateau Camensac was wine of the night lol.
Ok, now to our featured program, the Wine Workshop’s recent dinner at CRU, featuring a baker’s dozen of Bordeaux from the 1920s. The food was incredible as always. As fate would have it, there were a few more wines to be had, but we’ll get to that later. When it comes to claret and the 20th century, the ‘20s can certainly lay claim to ‘top decade’”¦as could the 40s, 50s, 80s and honorable mention to the 90s, but let’s get back to the 20s.
The first flight was a pair of wines from a vintage I don’t think I have ever sampled, 1920. When planning this event, I was surprised to find out this was a highly-regarded vintage, one known for its acidity. You just never see wines from this vintage, and the two that we sourced were kind of random, the first being a 1920 Chateau Cantemerle. The nose was great, and the wine was still fresh. Cedar, horseradish, tangy citrus and dust bowls swirled around its nose. Its nose’s greatness was seconded by many, and a kiss of woodsy rainbow rounded out the aromas. The palate was round and soft, with nice citrus and wood flavors. ‘Still hangin’ on after all these years,’ I wrote. Someone observed ‘rose garden.’ DC Don then gushed, ‘this is like having sex with a 90 year-old,’ to which I replied, ‘I’ll take your word on that’ (90).
A 1920 Baret was muddier in color, but still solid. Curious George noted ‘VA on the nose,’ meaning volatile acidity. George is definitely curious, as his love for wine takes him anywhere, anyplace he can, and he would rather try something new like these pair of 20s than things he has had two dozen times. Those who need a further clue about George think Bacchus plus Commanderie plus one of the great collections in America. Back to the, um, what’s it called, right, the Baret. Ed noted ‘vegemite,’ and there was a kiss of oxidation, but the wine wasn’t oxidized; it was the VA that George observed. The nose was open, musky and gamy, and it tasted fresh due to the high acidity. There were nice lemony flavors with pleasant dust and spice. George called the pair ‘amazing for two unclassified wines.’ Holly noted ‘morels, when you hang them up to dry for a while.’ The Cantemerle was definitely the favorite of the group, but the Baret was still solid and enjoyable (88).
The 1921 Ducru Beaucaillou had this earthy, natural gas kick, almost like popcorn. George noted, ‘aluminum shavings and green olives.’ It was very toasty with a mellow palate, soft and easy, with a mercury-like flavor on the finish, along the lines of the aluminum to which George was referring. It mellowed with air and wasn’t as toasty in time. There were smooth, green olive flavors with kisses of horseradish and citrus, and then it got this great grilled endive quality (91).
The 1924 Beychevelle was unfortunately corked, but its texture was the best of the first four. The flavors behind the corked quality were great; its fruit was deeper with nice cassis and flesh, as well as great balance (93A).
We kept progressing in time, stopping two years later with a 1926 La Mission Haut Brion. Its nose was port city, like claret meets port. Ed noted ‘celery salt,’ and someone else noted ‘vegetable juice.’ It had aromas of earth, mushroom and truffle oil. The palate was round, soft and supple with a lemony squirt and beefy flavors, flirting with bouillon. The La Miss opened and gained with time, and while a couple wrote it off immediately due to its porty nature, I found it to be excellent (93).
We had a couple of backup bottles on hand, just in case, so I felt like breaking one out to make up for the corked Beychevelle in the second flight. I can’t help myself when it comes to extra unopened bottles lying around, you know. We happened to have a 1924, too, a 1924 Sarget de Gruaud Larose. This was the second label of Gruaud, but it showed like the first. The label was scratched out and illegible, so maybe it was the Gruaud, after all. It came from the Graham Lyons cellar, and the neck tag insisted Sarget, so we will trust his impeccable records. Holly noted ‘nice structure,’ and the Curious one ‘pure definition.’ It had a classic nose full of cedar, cassis, leather and dust, and its palate was classic as well. Its palate was smooth, so elegant and refined, but it still had vim and zip, buttressed by cedar flavors. The Sarget was very stylish, like Brooke Astor with the memory (93).
The 1928 Brane Cantenac was our first reconditioned bottle of the evening, but still had a complex nose with hints of anise, cassis and nut, an almond with the skin thing. Someone noted, ‘diaper.’ It was a touch metallic in the mouth at first, with some dirty water flavors, but it still came across fresh. The nose opened to the pruney side, like raisins soaking in a jar. The palate stayed (91).
The 1928 Cos d’Estournel had a dirty nose with a touch of vegetable at first. Then it blossomed into a nice peanut character with hints of wax. Its flavors were the best of the night so far; great and classic in every way. Nut, interior, stone wall, caramel, ‘quince and persimmon’ (had to be George) were all there, and someone found it ‘fleshy like a marbled steak.’ This is what one expects out of a ’28; rich, balanced and long, it had all the components. This was one situation where ‘fat’ and ‘gains weight’ were compliments for this lingering and superb Cos (95).
Someone found the 1928 Montrose to ‘smell like Venice.’ It was earthy and full of hay, but also perfumed, reticent compared to the others. DC Don noted, ‘fonde duc, those Moroccan courtyards where they have the tanneries and hash.’ That must have been where he met that 90 year-old lol. Mike noted ‘cigar box,’ and its structure came out more with time, as did its fruit, revealing nice red cherry flavors along with great dust and length. The minerally, edgy finish had definition and true grit to it, but this was not the best bottle of this wine that I have ever had. It did continue to grow on me, however (94+).
When comparing the two St. Estephes, Holly noted that the Montrose spilled off the side of your tongue while the Cos was more upfront with its spicy and fleshy character.
The 1928 Clos Fourtet was also reconditioned, and it had forward red fruit oil aromas along with band-aids, chocolate and earth. The palate was rich and lush, hearty and with lots of acid; the motor was definitely ‘souped up.’ Someone else noted the new motor thing happening, and added ‘with the grease seepin’ out.’ Flavors of wintergreen and nice earth were present on its finish, and the sweetness in its nose became more concentrated. This was long and sexy juice, a good job on the con, I mean recon 🙂 (93).
A rare 1928 L’Evangile had everyone serious for a Seoul second. George noted ‘liquid chocolate’ right away. This was forward, sexy stuff, super sticky, gamy, edgy and oily. The palate was rich and gamy with this rusty edge that somehow lacked rust. I noted tangy taffy flavors, Hilt did ‘brown sugar and peach cobblers,’ and the Scruffy Neurologist added ‘cinnamon butter toast.’ There was a lot going on, and a lot of sweet, complex fruit in this Evangile. Rich, long and leathery, I liked its vim but found it ultimately short of outstanding (94).
The 1928 Cheval Blanc was my favorite nose of the evening by far. Mike noted, ‘burnt rubber,’ while George ‘roasted coffee.’ George pulled the Jedi Wine trick as everyone was repeating roasted coffee almost immediately. He is a jedi, of course, so that makes that ok. The Cheval was rich and delicious with nutty and caramel flavors that lasted longly, longingly and longestly. Holly hailed it as ‘NAMMERS,’ aka indescribably delicious. It’s a down south thing, I think. George had ‘melted silk’ in his mouth, and those were not panties, I swear. He continued how the Cheval ‘clinged to all the nooks and crannies in your mouth.’ Bill hailed it as ‘a warm embrace, not a taste but a feeling.’ I gently asked him to take his head off my shoulders, and quickly moved on to find great definition; it was so long and so balanced, yet light on its feet, but rich in its flavors and still endless on its finish. George officially felt encouraged after such a special bottle (97).
A pair of ‘29s marked the last flight, beginning with the 1929 La Lagune, a bottle that was reconditioned in November of 2008. ‘Minty’ and ‘strawberry’ came from the crowd. It was a little horsey, a little gamy and a little zippy. There was a little candy store in this rich wine. There was this exotic, woodsy edge, almost like gingerbread meets teriyaki. The wine was very good, but it was a bit ‘clinical,’ as one put it, a la hospital, a function of its doctored nature, of course (92).
The last wine of our official program was a glorious bottle of 1929 Margaux, a bottle that would leave us thankful for curiosity, and continue to condition us to love those things original. David observed ‘French polish’ of antique furniture in the nose, and it was there along with mint, caraway, julep and wild field full of dandelion. The wine was incredibly sensual, caressing in its personality and fresh in its nature. George commented, ‘so Margaux, with its hint of violets.’ It was lush with great, tender fruit, and a tea-like complexity developed. It was only fitting that the one bottle from George’s cellar rounded out the night in fine fashion (95).
But the night was not over yet”¦
Upstairs, Big Mike had gathered with a small group of friends and family celebrating his run for governor in 2010. Either that, or he got a new puppy, I can’t remember exactly, but it was cause for celebration, and Big Boy, Airplane Eddie, Neal Diamonds, Sir Robert Bohr and others were present already, and I slipped upstairs with a bottle of 1928 Pichon Lalande, my extra backup bottle even though there was no need for it downstairs. I passed out Pichon with political fervor, making sure everyone I knew got a taste and then some. The Pichon was in a perfect spot, beautiful and graceful, timeless yet coming into its time both at once. Elegance and style married like its cassis and pencil, and its tender, sweet finish left me yearning for more (95).
Dueling jeros were next; jeros of 1971 Grands Echezeaux and 1971 Richebourg. Like whoaaaaa. They were both fantastic bottles, and on this night, I gave the slightest of edges to the Grands Echezeaux, and Air Jordan, the Duchess of Bohr, agreed with me. They both were long and rich; both full of tar, rose and leather; both menthol on skates”¦but the Grands Ech had more power and stuffing. Obviously, this is not a universal occurrence when these two are served together, especially jeros, which probably have been served together maybe once, twice, three times a lady in the course of history? Who knows, could it have been the first time ever? History check, please. Airplane Eddie found the Richebourg ‘cleaner.’ I found it (95J)>/b> and the Grands Ech (96J).
There were two magnums of 1999 Roulot Meursault Perrieres served, and I got to try from both. The first was decanted two hours prior and was quite clean with yellow fruits and light toast (93M), while the second one, opened much more recently, had more character. It was richer, larger and a butter bomb in that elegant Burgundy way. I guess time doesn’t always do a white Burgundy good (94M).
A jero of 1988 Bollinger RD was very good; lemony, bready, yeasty, zesty, zippy and clean, it was nice but a touch simple as RD’s can be (92J).
There was some Giacosa wine served at the end, and it was outstanding stuff, but I didn’t quite write down the right stuff enough. I will dig further, and save those notes for when I can identify the Unidentifiable Giacosa Object. For now, it goes into the bucket with the hundreds of other nights, the ‘never got written’ bin, the ‘put me in coach’ basin, the ‘if only writing this stuff created income’ box lol.
The great thing about Bordeaux is its age-ability and the fact that it is about the only thing left from the ‘20s that can still roar. This night was a true testament to the ‘tough as nails’ x-factor that makes Bordeaux so great, and cheers to Big Mike for providing the hammer to close out this magical evening in the finest of fashions.
In Vino Veritas,