Tag Archives: Bordeaux

Something to celebrate: 1990

I suppose it is inevitable that the wine trade will live on hype about certain vintages.  It was 1982 which made Robert Parker’s name when he declared it, early and correctly, to be a great vintage. 2000 was much promoted because it was IMG_4485 the millennium and fortunately turned out pretty well  and 2005 was hailed as for being the vintage of the decade, or at least until we are offered  the 2009s next year!  And then very occasionally you will have something to celebrate which coincides with a great vintage such as 1990.   The very first case of wine that Janet and I bought together was a mixed case of 1990 Burgundy reds including two bottles of Santenay-Gravieres, a fairly modest ‘village’ level wine aimed at the private consumer who had the patience to wait for its drinking window of 2000-10.  This formed a centre piece for a 1990 dinner (OK, a 1990ish dinner) with some very fine bottles. 

It helps if you are a bit of a hoarder and have enough in the cellar (under the stairs?) to ‘lose’ a few bottles.  Some wines are stored because they really need time before they are ready to drink, some because they are special enough that they have to wait for an occasion.  This is not just about quality level, as long as it meets your own threshold, it could also be that the bottle was bought on a special occasion or location. 

To start with we tasted the Grand Cru champagne from Roger Brun, a small producer in Ay, his Cuvée des Sires.  It’s not a vintage wine, though according to its maker this particular bottle was a mixture of IMG_4482-11995 and 96, Champagne making use of its permission to keep quality high by mixing across vintages.  This has lasted in the wine store because it is the penultimate bottle of a tiny cache we bought back with us on a memorable trip to Burgundy.  People can be snooty about coach travel but for the wine traveller it has one huge advantage – those cases you can stash away in the luggage compartment which travel back with you.  So this bottle was a memento of a stop off in Champagne on the way home – is there a better way of sweetening the business of having to come back from holiday?  A little bottle age has smoothed all the edges of this wine, with a nose of brioches and apples moderately pronounced. Smooth and sophisticated. 

IMG_4501 IMG_4504 Well out of keeping with the 1990s theme but otherwise very impressive was a 2003 white Burgundy: Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru ‘Les Folatieres’ (Ch. de Puligny-Montrachet) – it’s there on the table with a yellow neck label!  This is a wine you can admire from afar – the minute you pour it, its golden-yellow colour announces a grander wine on which lots of lovely new oak has been lavished.  Actually, it could have done with a few more years yet.  While it was beautiful, a few more years and that fruit and the oak would be yet more harmonious – a wine for a long term relationship? 

The main event however was a trio of 1990s or near 1990s.  This was a fascinating comparison between the Santenay already mentioned and two clarets. So on the one hand you had Burgundy (Pinot Noir) v. Bordeaux (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and then between two levels, and indeed near vintages, in Bordeaux. 

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The Santenay and the Ch. d’Angludet are a fair comparison.  The former is a village wine, ie the level between Bourgogne Rouge and the named vineyards of premier and grand cru. The claret similarly is a cru bourgeois, rather than a classed growth.  The Burgundy is a pale brick colour with some ruby left, but pale and interesting in comparison to the much deeper red of the claret.  Similarly, the Burgundy is now mainly old farmyard smells and a little bit of raspberry and strawberry fruit, while the claret is smooth and integrated, no one flavour dominating, the fine wine version of easy drinking. 

By comparison, the Pauillac, Ch. Pichon Longueville is much grander wine, a second growth in Bordeaux’s (or rather Médoc’s) premier league of 1855.  In the picture above, note the crest in the glass of the bottle.  It is also from a great vintage, the first of the three that run from 1988 to 1990 – Bordeaux certainly had something to celebrate in that run of years.   This is a much bigger, more structured wine, the blackcurrant fruit still evident along with the effects of ageing, now mellow and powerful at the same time. 

As you can see from the pictures, the evening wasn’t all serious wine but a great evening with friends.  But then what better setting is there for sharing fine bottles than with friends who will appreciate them?  The final bottle was a Sauternes with some

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bottle age – Ch. Filhot 1994.  I think I picked this up in a Waitrose end-of-line sale and stashed it away.  At this sort of age, the zip of young acids have begun to fade and the marmalade/cooked fruit comes to the fore.  I thought that this was a bit short on the palate but nonetheless a decent bottle from a difficult year in which there was rain during the crucial September period. 

So 1990 really was something to celebrate.  My only regret was that it is far more difficult to source older Italian bottles, or indeed anything other than Bordeaux or perhaps Burgundy, for mature wine.  It’s fine if you are buying right at the top of the market or by the case – a few specialist businesses can meet that need.  But apart from that it usually is Bordeaux.  Nonetheless, it’s great to have an occasion to try some high quality wines which have survived and developed over the past couple of decades.  


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Recent vintages of Langoa Barton

IMG_4451 There is something very satisfying about a proper case of wine.  At one level it’s only a wooden box as opposed to the usual cardboard container but it spells promise – hopefully great wines and a bit of protection against life’s knocks.  But above all it sends a signal – this is something special. 

This case was just that, a selection of fairly recent but drinkable vintages of Château Langoa Barton, a much loved property in St Julien in Bordeaux, the heart of claret country.   The property has connections with these islands as the ‘Barton’ in the title is of an Irish family who have lived in the château for nearly 200 years.  That means that they were the owners of the property back in 1855 when the classification of the Médoc put Langoa Barton as a third growth and the related Léoville-Barton one class above.  The current owner, Mr Anthony Barton, has been at the property since 1951 and in charge since 1983.  All this speaks of continuity and a long term sense of purpose. 

IMG_4453 For the claret drinker, as opposed to the investor, the purpose is entirely commendable: to make high quality, classic red Bordeaux at a reasonable price.  Perhaps that should be, ‘at a reasonable price by the standards of the speculation-fuelled levels of top quality Bordeaux’.  The recent vintages have been £50-60 a bottle, the older ones a good value £30 plus per bottle.  This tasting showed that – with the benefit of the generally good vintages of the last decade and a half – the Bartons have been producing consistently good results. 

Of the six vintages in the half-case specially packed for the Wine Society four were good years, one was exceptional and was OK if nothing special.   Normally in a ‘vertical’ tasting, you simply work your way from the youngest to the oldest wine, but we skipped the youngest to start with, as it was the exceptional year, 2005.  Thus, we tasted through the good years 2004, 2002, IMG_4457 2001 (perhaps slightly flattered in this company) and 1998.  These wines showed amazing consistency, just the natural progression of ageing. In these good years, while there were always anxious periods, in the end good wine was made.  In 2004, for example, a cool but dry September made up for a rather luke warm July and a wet August.  The youngest of the good years, the 2004, was a nice bright ruby red with a good cassis and oak nose.  The palate showed good fruit, predominantly blackcurrant – the wines are made from 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc – but still quite aggressive acid and tannin, puckering the mouth. So the five and a half year old wine is not yet at its peak, though it would be fine with robust food.

A couple more years of ageing showed a marked difference.  All the wines have spent two years in oak barriques, 50% of which are new each year, and then time in the bottle.  The 2002, the product of a cool, dry summer and a spectacularly good September, still shows a good deep colour and has a gorgeous, complex nose, with the fruit now matched by the classic cigar box smell of well judged oak.  Most markedly, the balance is now right – good levels of lively acid and smoother tannins but in balance with the fruit.  2001, while being overshadowed by the much better 2000 (not tasted), still turned in a decent wine, if one that was noticeably less fruity and less showy than 2002.  Finally, in this run of good vintages, 1998, showed the beneficial effects of time in the bottle, ten years in addition to the two spent in casks. The colour is still good but with a little orange-brown tinge at the rim, but the nose is now all forest floor and cedar, with the fruit secondary, at least on the nose.  But in the mouth the fruit reasserts itself.   All in all, an excellent series from the basically good years. 

IMG_4463  That just leaves the bottom and the top of the class.  The oldest wine in this tasting, 1997, was the product of a difficult year: early flowering, a cold and damp May, intermittent rain in June, followed by a very hot period which in turn was broken up by storms at the end of August.  Though still a perfectly decent wine it led with a sort of green pepper nose, very different.  But in the mouth it is soft and silky.  Even in a difficult year, you can make a good wine, if you have the patience to mature it.  Finally, the 2005, despite being the baby of the  bunch showed its great class.  The year was exceptionally dry, to the point of drought in some places, and hot, but with the blessing of cool nights in July and August. This produced a crop of fully mature grapes with small berries.  As nearlyIMG_4476 all the flavour and potential of red wine is in the skins, this is a great combination, even if the wine maker would like more volume to sell. But the resultant wine is amazing, leading now in its youth with gorgeous fruit, big enough to do a fair job of dominating the excellent acidity and tannin, which in turn will give it great ageing potential – if you can resist drinking it now, that is. 

Overall, this was a memorable tasting.  For those of us who are not primarily lovers of red Bordeaux (see the numerous posts on Italy, on Burgundy and other French regions on this blog), it was a reminder of the very good wines that still come from this the largest fine wine area in the world.  But it also showed that you have to pitch it right – at the right price-for-quality ratio for you and your friends and at perhaps above all, that good claret needs time in the bottle.  And some discerning friends to enjoy it with. 

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Thanks to Berry Bros for the summaries of the weather conditions in their excellent vintage charts. 

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Bordeaux Masterclass (1)

One of the best reasons to start a wine group is to taste wine you would not normally choose or way beyond your normal price level.  So for Andover IMG_3840Wine Friends’ second birthday party there  were no candles but a major treat, a tour around Bordeaux with Martin Hudson, MW.   When not racing motorbikes, Martin works for Berry Bros & Rudd from where these wines came.

Bordeaux’s whites are slightly out of fashion – ratherIMG_3823 ‘proper’, with little new world immediate impact.  First up was Berry’s  Good Ordinary White, a name which tells you that  Berry’s is big on traditional wines from Bordeaux. This one however owes something to New Zealand, with its forward gooseberry and leafy nose, now a recognisable style. 

More challenging to appreciate, with a big jump up in  price (£20), was Domaine de la Solitude 2006, again the name being a great selling point.  From top white IMG_3821appellation, Pessac-Leognan, this balances Sauvignon Blanc with the weightier Semillon for a more restrained nose, with some spicy, creamy notes from it ageing in oak barrels.  Really a food wine.  I would be interested to know what others thought about this wine in relation to the more immediate ‘ordinary white’ …


IMG_3826 When just one glass won’t do …

At the end of the evening – having tasted the glorious reds, see next post – we tasted the other great style of Bordeaux, sweet white.  I can’t really improve on BBR’s comments on this wine, Château Petit Védrines 2001 (£16), on their website:

“A glorious nose of marmalade with just a hint of smokiness leaps from the glass. The palate is equally enticing and has just the right level of viscocity. A light to medium bodied Sauternes from a legendary vintage, this wine offers ripe botrytis and oranges galore. At this quality and price, I defy you not to drink it now, and lots of it!” 

What’s the answer to the ‘problem’ of needing to buy a whole bottle of sweet wine.  Martin offers up a host of tips:

  • buy half bottles (and they mature earlier)
  • be more adventurous with your food and wine tastings: not just with desserts, but also foie gras or salty cheeses, or even with fusion cooking (duck with plum sauce sprang to mind)
  • and he could have added: invite some friends around

An excellent end to a perfect 2nd birthday party.


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