Tag Archives: Burgundy

Christian Moreau at Caviste

Rather like the the first cuckoo of the spring or the changing of leaf colour in the autumn, the IMG_0145 spring tastings of the new wines are a marker of the time of year.   Caviste’s Burgundy festival is an opportunity to taste the latest offerings, in this case from the 2008 vintage.   Eight growers, nearly all there in person, showed 37 wines in the comfort of the splendid games room at Ashe Park.  I say comfort because Caviste had taken the wise step of cancelling the marquee and sheltering from the unseasonably cold spell indoors.

In contrast to the enormous trade tasting at Lord’s which I attended in January, at this smaller sample it was the whites which really stood out. Bruno Colin’s St Aubin is an excellent value white, 100% Chardonnay like all the rest.  The Premier Cru La Charmois, at £140 per 6 bottles (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid), shows the continuing value of this appellation.  Vincent Bouzereau’s wines also shone: simple, unoaked Bourgogne Blanc shows lovely, lively and quite complex fruit with a bit of minerality at a very reasonable £78 per 6 bottles. The village level Meursault has a great balance between freshness and richness (£145), while the two Premier Cru, Les Gouttes d’Or (amazing concentration, the density of fruit currently only showing in the after taste) and Charmes, both £225 are correspondingly grander.

But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly meeting Christian Moreau himself and of Christian Moreau with Janet course tasting his great wines from Chablis.  The family firm which carries his name is now run by his son, Fabian, but Christian genially presides over the wines as though they were his own grandchildren.  His seems a happy lot. After many years of putting his name on the map, he can simultaneously take pride in the wine which continues to be of the highest quality and have the relaxed look of a man who knows that somebody else is reliably doing the hard work.

Having tasted the 2007s at the London Chablis trade tasting earlier in the year, this was a chance to check out the 2008s.  Both are very good vintages in the whites, 2008 if anything even better than 2007, certainly more approachable and so can be drunk earlier.  Four quality and price levels:

  • basic’ (but floral and mildly mineral) Chablis, £80 (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid)
  • more restrained, dense fruit in Premier Cru Vaillons, oak aged, needs time, £118
  • lemon and lime fruit, great minerality and length in Grand Cru Valmur, 40% vinified in oak barrels of which only 2% is new, £195
  • similarly Grand Cru Les Clos, more rounded, oak more evident, £195
  • and from the historic heart of Les Clos, Grand Cru Clos de Hospises, rich, exotic, floral and fruit notes on the nose, gorgeous fruit, so complex, £260
    And yes, there were some reds, but not that many.  The wine to drink now is Lignier-IMG_0151 Michelot’s Gevrey Chambertin with wonderful accessible fruit (Cuvée Bertin, £178).  And then there was the chance to taste the otherwise unreachable. Although it seems a shame to reduce the already tiny numbers of bottles of Grand Cru wines by tasting them years before they hit their prime, few are going to turn down the opportunity to try Clos de la Roche (Lignier-Michelot, superb texture, sweet ripe fruit, £450) or indeed the white, Lequin-Colin, Batard Montrachet (very closed but with an amazing rich texture, £615).   The 2008s are well and truly launched.
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Bruno Rocca – above all the land

Having finished the posts from Vinitaly, we return to our week in the Langhe, home of the famous wines of Barbaresco and Barolo.  The message at Bruno Rocca’s family winery in Barbaresco is clear.  However much they are completing an impressive new winery under   IMG_4849 the current house, the heart of the matter is the land.  It is only now after three decades that the new winery has become a priority, until then it was buying the best possible sites.  Daughter and marketing manager Luisa explains: her father of course has to sit in the office at times but always with a sense of impatience, he would always rather be in the vineyard.  Or, as the brochure says, ‘The wine which grows here is the mirror and soul of its land’  – to translate the Italian version very literally. 

Thirty years ago the previous generation were selling wines in demijohns and now the new winery nears completion.  Such is the speed of change when you get the basics right.   And Bruno Rocca has been happy to learn from from others including a period in Burgundy.  Not only is the Cote d’Or not that far away (give or take IMG_4841the odd range of Alps) but the similarities are very obvious: many, small family wineries; a smallish wine zone with seemingly infinite if miniscule variations of terroir; passion for the local and the particular; red wines of subtlety and elegance.  The recent conference in Alba which focused on Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo was on to something.  If they had added Sangiovese, some of us would have been in wine heaven! 

Bruno Rocca has a full range of wines – no less than IMG_4835 IMG_4831 four Barbaresco, a red blend, two Barbera, a Dolcetto and – perhaps with a nod to Burgundy again – a Chardonnay.  We chose to go the red route.  It is always interesting to taste the Dolcetto because it tells you about wine making standards.  All the attention in the Langhe is on the wines made from Nebbiolo and after that Barbera.  The Dolcetto, made for drinking young, is a lovely purply red, with quite a dark cherry nose, quite complex, very drinkable indeed. It carries its vineyard name, Trifolé, truffle in the local dialect. 

The second red, Langhe DOC Rabajolo,  is a blend and contains – shock, horror – Cabernet Sauvignon!  50% of the Bordelaise foreigner, plus 25% each of Nebbiolo

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and Barbera.  Bruno Rocca himself appears just in time to explain that he thinks the Cabernet ripens well here and loses its greenness.  Certainly, after the deep ruby red colour, the aroma is of ripe fruit, not typically mint and blackcurrant.  The wine has spent 16 months in barriques in their first and second years of use.  The Barbera makes a big contribution to this wine, which does have that characteristic Italian edge of bitterness.

The final wine has to be Barbaresco of course, in this case the cru Rabajà 2007 – this seems right given we IMG_4832have been driving up and down the Rabajà road to reach the various wineries. The 2007 had just been released and like all Nebbiolo is pale ruby red with a characteristic orange tinge, even in relative youth.   It has spend 18 months in barriques and a further 12 at least in the bottle.   The maturation in the future will be in the fine, traditional  brick built cellar with its wonderful barrel roof.  After IMG_4853some clove and spice notes, the fine red fruit is prominent, very rounded and already well integrated, but also some hazel nut and butteriness.  Very refined, complex, a fitting climax to the visit. 

But we must return to the land.  Others can give a technical explanation of why it is so suited to fine red wine production.  We can enjoy meeting the people, tasting the wines and being surrounded by a very beautiful landscape. 

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Many thanks to Bruno and Luisa Rocca.  The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines.

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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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Burgundy at the home of cricket

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English cricket and the wines of Burgundy – especially the somewhat elusive reds – do share some things in common.  After a summer of England beating Australia and taking a leading position after three winter Tests against South Africa, it was entirely in character that this Burgundy trade tasting should take place at the home of cricket when England were having a disastrous first morning in the decisive final Test of the series in South Africa.  All that talk, before the final game, of a historic victory over South Africa away from home, evaporated in a morning of poor batting.  In a similar way red Burgundy can be the most exciting and complex wine in the world but there are also many disappointing bottles, some of them quite expensive. 

The tasting Terroirs & Signatures de Bourgogne 2010 took place in the Nursery Pavilion at Lords, overseen by the somewhat IMG_4327improbably futuristic outline of the Lord’s Media Centre.  The immaculate green turf of Lords was under snow.  One grower asked me if this was an important stadium for the city … and I replied that it was the most important cricket ground in the world, but, of course very few countries actually played cricket so that wasn’t a very strong competition.  Similarly, the wines of Burgundy, despite their hundreds of years of history,  are relatively under appreciated in world of wine dominated by by big flavours and heavy weight bottles. 

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96 growers and over 500 wines – of which it was only possible to taste a fraction – certainly allowed an appreciation of the styles of Burgundy.  The basic grape varieties are simple.  The great majority of the whites are made from 100% Chardonnay and may or may not be matured in oak barrels.  Equally, most reds are Pinot Noir, usually given some oak.   Below this generalisation, there is an explosion of complications – IMG_4326appellations famous and obscure, double barrelled village names, thousands of vineyard names, variation of quality within individual vineyards because of changes of soil, climate or aspect, sizeable or subtle differences between vintages and, of course, the myriad small differences brought about by the choices made by individual growers and wine makers.  Burgundy is fascinating because of its complexity. 

Minor variations

The minor grape varieties are always worth looking out for.  A wine made from the Aligoté grape variety was shown by Jaffelin, though they don’t market it as such but give it the name ‘Bouzeron’.   The grape variety accounts for only 6% of grapes grown in the region, is pretty neutral in character but some interest is created in the wine by barrel fermentation and stirring of the lees, the layer of dying yeast in the vat. The 2006, finished with glass stopper for freshness, quite a novelty in conservative France, is a worthwhile curiosity.  Sauvignon is restricted to the St Bris area in the north, next door to Chablis. 

There were also a handful of Cremant de Bourgogne, sparkling wines made with either the range of local grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté, Gamay) or as Blanc de Blanc, just from Chardonnay.  Two main styles were on show: Bailly Lapierre’s Reserve Brut was distinctly yeasty and toasty, even the hint of mushrooms, with some good fruit, a decent sparkler.  Meanwhile Paul Chollet’s Blanc de Blanc has a fruit-led nose, rather more refined with a good sharp profile, clearly a cool climate wine.  It reminds you that Burgundy is not that far south of the Champagne area.  A tiny amount of Pinot Blanc is also grown, represented here by Desertaux-Ferrand. 

Like the England cricket team on a good day, what is good Burgundy about?  It’s not consistency or simple good value.  You can buy a bottle and be rather underwhelmed.  But you need some good examples to get the bug, so let’s start with some.

IMG_4349 It’s quite clear from its complicated name – Domaine A-F. Gros & François Parent – that this winery is not leading on its marketing.  It is a husband and wife team, presenting their take on the red wine that has been made here for hundreds of years.  In the brochure they are keen to tell us that they come from winemaking families.  But above all, they produce terrific wines and, as you can see, a lot of lines, which probably means that they have a lot of parcels of land, some of which can be quite small or even tiny.   But from the first sip of the basic Bourgogne Haut-Côtes de Nuits 2008 you can tell they have something special – it’s fresh and full of red fruit flavours, strawberry and cherry, with a simple but evocative fragrance. 

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Francois Parent

 

The leap in interest to the so-called ‘village’ wines is marked. Chambolle-Musigny 2008 is pale to mid red with purple edges, with gorgeous ripe fruit and a  wonderful acidic edge.  Pommard, from the single vineyard, Les Epenottes, also 2008, has dense fruit of dark cherries, more powerful.  You begin to see that flowery wine-speak is beckoning here.  IMG_4350Apart from simple comparisons how can you describe the subtle graduations which  mark the quality ladder in Burgundy?   The three Grand Cru, Echézeaux, Clos de Vougeot and Richebourg, follow in quick and grand procession – all very young, tight, dense wines which will unfurl with age, though the Richebourg is already gorgeously perfumed, rich, with a magnificently satiny texture. 

If the red wines are difficult to get your mind around, so is the structure of the trade.  Talking to representatives it quickly became clear that sometimes you were talking to the wine maker, but often to people whose business was part growing, part making and part handling others’ wines.  Jean-Pierre Nié’s Compagnie des Vins d’Autrefois offers the wines of 100 different growers with an average of 10 wines each – rather different from the small family companies also present at the tasting.  He also trades as Pierre Ponnelle.  An advantage is having the reach to cover all Burgundy’s major areas.  By contrast in some domaines, the family members have to be grower, wine maker, marketing, admin and sales, front of house. 

While virtually all Burgundy’s whites are Chardonnay, they come in perceptibly different styles.  In the North, closer to Paris than to Beaune is the Chablis area, whose wines I comment on in more detail in an earlier post. Here Chardonnay is famously taut, mineral and edgy.   Ponnelle has Domaine Chatelain’s Chablis 2008 which shows a good balance, sharp apple flavours and some minerality.  Skipping lightly over the Côte d’Or, there were two good whites from the south of Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 (nice floral nose, good acidity but now complemented by more exotic fruit, apricot, very good) and Pouilly-Vinzelles from the cooler 2007 IMG_4338 vintage (a lighter and drier style).  Then it’s back to the heart of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, to taste two grand whites.   The mid-weight Puligny-Montrachet from Domaine Henri Clere is from old vines.  It has excellent attack on the palate, but still very drinkable, with noticeable use of oak.  The fruit is characteristically in the apple and pear range.  Finally, there was Château de la Maltroye’s Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet, ‘Morgeot Vigne Blanche’ 2007.  The biggest differences here are in weight and mouth feel – this is a big, mouth filling wine, the oak is less obvious, but with the structure to last for some decades. 

Burgundy’s fragmentation – of ownership, of vineyards – makes it fascinating for the real enthusiast but also presents huge problems in marketing.  A causal survey of the 500 wines here show that the locals have stuck to traditional labels and of course there wasn’t a screw top to be seen. One exception on the labelling was Maison Louis Max, with its quirky but still very French style. 

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Full marks on the styling – they really stand out. 

The joy of minor appellations

One of the problems facing Burgundy lovers is the price of famous appellations, especially when they are doubled or triple in restaurants.  So most of us won’t be drinking Chassagne-Montrachet or Vosne-Romanée except on special occasions.  But there are many little appellations which can make up for this.  Desertaux-Ferrand had red wine from Ladoix 2007, with an excellent IMG_4343 fragrant nose, in a light and elegant style.  Ladoix – to save you reaching for the wine atlas – is on the Côtes de Beaune, next door to Aloxe-Corton.  Equally close by, if tucked on the other side of the Corton hill, is Pernand-Vergelesses, a great source of good value wines, here represented, for example, by Jaffelin with its Premier Cru ‘En Caradeux’ 2007.  It is made from 60-80 year old vines and leads with lovely strawberry fruit and freshness.  For whites, you might try Rully (Jaffelin again, partially barrel fermented, nice fruit, lively), Santenay or Saint-Aubin, the last two either side of the prestigious Montrachet vineyards.  The IMG_4355sixth generation of Legros, now fronting Bachey-Legros, produce a good Santenay, Sous la Roche 2008, with some quite tropical flavours and dense fruit.  They pride themselves on their old vines, including the 60 year olds which produce the fruit for their Premier Cru Morgeot, Chassagne-Montrachet 2008.   A big nose, more pronounced than their Meursault and certainly the Santenay, luscious fruit with a good mineral streak – but we do seem to have wandered off from good value, lesser known wines –  as of course the Burgundy lover does! 

In the end people are gripped by Burgundy because of the great structured whites and the complex, hedonistic reds.   These can be great and glorious, like the England cricket team on a very good day.  From this tasting the Gros-Parent Grand Crus stood out – as so they should – and the occasional wine which had the advantage of a bit of bottle age:  Antonin Guyon’s Corton Grand Cru, les Bressandes, 2005, rich seductive nose, excellent red fruits, good acidity for the long haul, very good to excellent.  As with the cricket, we put up with a lot of disappointments and dull days, for those few glorious, unrepeatable moments.

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How old is old?

Aged wines are something of an acquired taste.  They set up all sorts of conflicts.  Unless you are very fortunate or rich, laying down wines for the future is only for the patient.  Buying something that will be at its peak in 10, 20 or more years is extremely counter cultural.  Then of course there is the big decision on when to drink the wine – unless you have bought a case, it’s all or nothing.  Finally, there is the matter of taste – do you actually prefer young fruit-led wines or the bready aromas of aged champagne, the distinctly farmyard smells of old Pinot Noir or oxidized styles of old sherries and Vin Santo? 

A few recent bottles illustrates some of these dilemmas. 

Selvapiana Bucerchiale Chianti Rufina riserva 1998 This bottle illustrated the adage that simply ageing a wine will not make it great.  Most wine is best drunk young.  This riserva from one of Rufina’s best IMG_4230 growers may have been one of them despite its pedigree from an excellent winery in one of Chianti’s most northerly (and usually age-worthy) areas.  But if it’s a poor year to start with, the wine may just not have the fruit to develop, and that was the problem here.  Despite several hours in a decanter during which cleaned up a slight off smell in the bottle, it never really sang.  Remaining refreshing acidity but mono-linear. Disappointing. 

As commented on in the previous post, the expensive (£120) Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes 1998 still tasted rather closed – so in this case ‘old’ probably means a twenty year weight, rather than ten.  By contrast, 1999 Pannier Egerie is now ready to drink being in that fascinating state of tension between youth and decline, freshness and bottle age.  The sharp apples of the fruit were complemented by mushroomy notes and nice weight in the mouth.  To add to these treats a very generous host recently shared Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’or 1998 with us.  Feuilatte is widely available as a entry level Champagne in supermarkets but also has prestige lines of which this is the top offering.  Quite a lot of money had gone on the packaging – special plastic outer capsule, then a honeycomb style bottle.  The wine itself showed real class in the glass with a persistent mousse of ultra fine bubbles.  On the nose it was in mid-life, pastries and yeastiness and then rounded and civilized on the palate.   Probably the right time  to drink it – limited prospect of further development. 

here for the long term? Red Burgundy certainly repays ageing, again if it is of sufficient quality to start with.  At a recent Caviste tasting a Vallet Frères Gevrey Chambertin 2000 was superb – the lovely raspberry and redcurrant fruit now accompanied by a perfect accompaniment of earthly, composty goodness … Not old but perfectly mature.  As we like to think of ourselves. 

Finally, there are a small handful of wines made for the very, very long haul – they make all the preceding wines seems like children in the nursery.  Chenin Blanc can make almost every sort of wine from supermarket shelf-filler, to fizz, to grand white to off-dry or sweet wine that will outlast most of us.  Richard Kelley, an expert on the wines of the Loire, showed a range of these marathon wines for a Caviste tasting of the wines of Domaine Huet in Vouvray, Loire, France.  The reasons for their extreme longevity is the high level of malic acid in Chenin Blanc and then the northern latitude of the Loire.  All the acidity is retained and the wines are aged for decades in bottles; most will have residual sugar to offset the acidity.  Though I didn’t get to the full tasting, Richard still had a precious few drops of:

1947 Le Haut Lieu Moëlleux – as I tasted these wines in the hurly burly of a crowded shop, I am going to quote Richard Kelley’s own tasting note to give some idea of the complexity of these old wines:

1947 Le Haut Lieu Moëlleux (original cork)
The most highly respected Loire vintage of the 20th Century and in Gaston Huet’s own words ‘The greatest vintage I ever made’. The harvest commenced on the 19th September. Polished. Complex appearance with orange bronze moving to olive green at the rim. A mature nose with some positive oxidation. Complex and smoky with aromas of brown sugar and cinnamon. Beautiful on entry, it has poise and perfect balance. It is delicate, elegant, textured with a fresh, pure apple purée nose combined with toffee apples, crème brûlée and pommeau. There is a pure, racy acidity that contributes to the incredible length and persistence. This will continue to age indefinitely. A perfect wine. (08/04)

1938 Haut Lieu Demi-Sec – it’s difficult to believe that this bottle is more than 70 years old and still going strong, but it is.  You might be relieved to hear that it is beginning to plateau! Kelley says: 

Mid-full and polished appearance. Yellow/orange. Exotic nose with dried oranges and a mineral edge. Some mushroom, but retains good fruit to the palate. Bone dry on entry and finish with severe, but not unpalatable acidity. Quite simple. Drinking now or soon. (07/06)

1990 Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1ere Trie.

By comparison, a babe in arms: easy to appreciate, lush, sweet, ripe apples, excellent acidic finish. In this company the strapping 19 year old comes over like a mere youth. 

There are many yet older wines still available – port, madeira, claret.  Michael Broadbent’s classic Vintage Wine. Fifty years of tasting over three centuries of wine is an excellent guide.  But these few bottles at least begin to  open up the complex question of how old is old – at least in terms of wine.

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