I was privileged to attend the Domaines Barons de Rothschild vertical tasting held in London recently. Organised by The Institute of Masters of Wine and hosted by my good friend Charles Chevallier, Wine Director of Château Lafite-Rothschild, on the agenda were 6 vintages of Lafite-Rothschild, along with additional vintages of Carruades de Lafite and Château Duhart-Milon for good measure.
Moderated by Master of Wine Mark Bingley and with an enlightening introduction by fellow Master of Wine John Salvi (who has served as AWC’s consultant in Bordeaux for the past 20 years), the tasting provided some superb insight into the history, viticulture and winemaking practices of Château Lafite-Rothschild and various Bordeaux estates under the management of Domaines Barons de Rothschild. It is difficult to express just how exquisite these wines always prove themselves to be – concentration, structure, fruit and tannin, all in perfect harmony - and this occasion was certainly no different.
Above: Our moderators. (l-r) John Salvi, MW, Charles Chevallier, Mark Bingley, MW
Key discussion points covered by Mark and Charles during the introduction and opening remarks:
- During the harvest, the pickers do no selection whatsoever. They pick absolutely everything and the fruit is then triaged by hand in the chai just before it is crushed. Optical sorters have been experimented with in the past but they have not been implemented thus far as they remain somewhat cost-prohibitive. If necessary, green harvesting is conducted in July, however it is not done to reduce the crop size (this is achieved through careful pruning during the winter months) or for the purposes of increasing concentration, but is instead relied upon to increase intra-row aeration and to adjust sun exposure. Today, all of the fruit for Lafite-Rothschild, Carruades de Lafite and Duhart-Milon can be processed in as few as 8 days, a remarkable feat. Up until the early 1990s, harvest was a 3-week long, non-stop operation.- All of the red wines are fined in the traditional manner, by hand, with fresh egg whites. Filtration prior to bottling is utilised, but only to, as Charles noted with a wink, “Remove the mosquitoes.” - Following success of certain estates and the fact that the trend is growing globally, Lafite-Rothschild has already experimented with both organic and biodynamic practices. Charles stated however, that, at the end of the day, the goal is, “Not just to have a ‘bio label’. We want to help the vineyards be protected, but we want to do it with minimal intervention and with the minimum quantity of chemicals necessary.”
- Between the Grand Vin, Carruades de Lafite and Duhart-Milon, there is almost no technical difference in production techniques, with the exception of the oak treatment and the ageing processes. Lafite-Rothschild receives 100% new oak in each vintage, whereas Carruades de Lafite is held in 10% new oak and 90% second year/used barrels which are recycled from the Grand Vin. Duhart-Milon receives 50% new wood and 50% second or third year barrels from both Lafite and Carruades. Starting from the 2011 vintage, some pyramidal, concrete vats will be used for certain Merlot parcels. These vats are fairly small in size and their use is purely experimental at this point.
- Domaines Barons de Rothschild owns and operates their own cooperage with 5, full time coopers who build, toast and maintain all of the barrels that the various estates use. Interestingly, when the discussion turned to the barrels, Charles commented that they have been conducting extensive research on the toast levels for each property and have come to some clear-cut conclusions. Rieussec’s barrels, for example, are toasted at low temperatures for a long period of time, whilst L’Evangile’s barrels are toasted at the exact opposite end of the spectrum – briefly, but with very high heat.
- As a rule, Carruades de Lafite is ready to drink several years earlier than Lafite-Rothschild. On average, 30% of the vineyard production from the Carruades plateau makes it into the Grand Vin and 50% is deemed of a high enough quality for production as Carruades de Lafite on its own. The remainder of the production is sold off in bulk to various (unnamed) negociants. In the many decades since its purchase, in 1845, the terroir of the Carruades vineyard has been found to be less well suited to growing Cabernet Sauvignon. So, there is now always a greater percentage of Merlot in the Carruades de Lafite blend, versus the Grand Vin of Lafite-Rothschild.
- Duhart-Milon is expected to mature even earlier than Carruades. However, due to the terroir, it must be produced in a style that can seem almost stern in the first few years of its life. Charles likened the tannic seriousness of Duhart-Milon to “a young officer candidate, fresh out of the military academy, who doesn't yet know how to smile.” He also noted that, despite this youthful austerity, there are very few vintages of Duhart-Milon which will keep for more than 20 years. The fermentation temperatures for Duhart-Milon are kept purposefully lower and the number of pump-overs is reduced to prevent over-extraction and allow the wine to open up. Shockingly, prior to 2001, Duhart-Milon was a vineyard that the picking crews and Domaines Rothschild staff picked on an ad hoc, “when they had time” basis, nearly as an afterthought to Carruades and Lafite-Rothschild! Now it is a much more focused effort and has a specific team dedicated to its production. - Château Rieussec, which was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild in 1985, operates under a completely different philosophy than the other estates, embracing and cohabitating with botrytis. Charles chuckled at the thought of how difficult it was for him to adapt to this alternate way of thinking when he first showed up to manage the property. Ultimately, quality control in the vineyard and the success of the wine each year is simply down to monitoring the evolution of the botrytis through the vineyards and reacting accordingly and at the appropriate times. A very specific and unique product, fermentation is done in small casks and ageing is conducted in 50-60% new oak barrels for 24 months. Charles commented that, although the estate has experimented with cryo-extraction (freezing the grapes prior to crushing), they do not believe it allows the wine to express itself in the best fashion, so cryo-extraction is never utilised with the Grand Vin.
Above: Charles discourses on the vintages of the past decade.
- Of the various, recent Lafite-Rothschild vintages, Charles noted that, “2005 is probably a ‘100 year’ wine. It is very closed down at the moment but I’m sure it will last almost indefinitely. 2004 is much more open and it is ready to drink already. It is a classic vintage. 2009 has phenomenal potential, but there is the possibility that it may head in the same direction as the 2003 in terms of its evolutionary timeline. The 1990 is very similar to what I expect the development of 2009 to resemble, actually. The exoticism that the 2009 displayed at En Primeur is now changing back to something a bit more classic. 2010 is still difficult to grasp at the moment and I cannot predict where it will head in its evolution. It is certainly a great vintage, with classic fruit flavours. The acid levels, as measured in the laboratory are exactly identical to the 2009, yet it tastes completely different. This leads me to believe that the 2010 will probably last longer.”
- On the advancements in technology, Charles further commented that, “There are no bad vintages now. The truly great vintages are the same as the great vintages of the past but new technologies in production mean there are no more bad years. 1968 was the last, truly disastrous year and it is a perfect example of what can go horribly wrong.”
- To fight counterfeiting and forgeries, Lafite-Rothschild is now using Prooftag as an additional security measure. Starting from the 2009 vintage, all new bottles of Lafite-Rothschild and Carruades de Lafite which leave the winery will be fitted with Prooftag Bubble Seals on the capsules. Each Prooftag Bubble Seal is a unique, three-dimensional, proof of authenticity which is irreproducible. Château Palmer and Domaine Ponsot are two other notable estates which are already utilising Prooftags. At Lafite-Rothschild, these seals will also now be fitted on all older bottles that are sourced and supplied directly from the vintage library.
Above: Intense concentration when tasting.
Tasting Notes and Comments –
2006 Carruades de Lafite
Dark purple colour with slight rim variance. A soft perfume. Subtle tobacco smoke and cedar aromas on the nose. This is a lighter bodied wine, which, while quite nice, is not particularly powerful. A reminiscence of incomplete lignification is overridden by pleasing cranberry and raspberry fruit. Medium acidity. Lasts on the palate. A solidly made wine, but from a vintage that was marred by heavy spring frosts. 90 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Bright purple core turning to ruby at the edges. Clean, bright, fresh nose of red fruit. Delicate and open in the mouth. A relatively light wine that is already developing well. Ready to drink at this point but will continue to last another 5 to 10 years. Plenty of fresh acidity and integrated tannins. A gracious and charming vintage rather than a powerful one.”
2006 Duhart-MilonBrighter red and with less purple at the core when held next to the Carruades – perhaps maturing a bit more rapidly. Similarly, the nose is a bit more open and expressive but has fewer nuances to it. Darker plum and black raspberry fruits in cohesion. Broad and mild in the mouth, with noticeably lower acidity than the Carruades but more primary fruit flavours. Charming. 91 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Colour a bit more mature than the Carruades, still bright and vivid though and perhaps a bit deeper. Nose is very gentle. Creamy red and black fruit aromas. Plenty of vigour on the palate with fresh, spicy acidity and firm, strong tannins. Again indicative of the vintages charm. Will last, but it is certainly approachable already.”
2003 Duhart-MilonAfter a very hot August, this was an incredibly difficult vintage to manage. Many vines suffered from excessive heat stress which retarded both their production of sugars and their complete phenolic evolution. The resulting wine was quite high in alcohol and the tannins remain unusually disjointed in their presentation on the palate. Nearly a decade on, the wine is now quite uniform in its ruby colouration, with lots of remaining particulate – the use of minimal filtration is readily apparent. Roasted fruits, baking spices, and mild Christmas cake aromas all swirl in the glass. This presents as having great width in the mouth with broad, soft tannins. For better or worse, along with the remaining cassis flavours, this has the subtle taste of roast Arabica coffee beans. Soft and round, with understated yet integrated fruit. Begin drinking it now. 93 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Young, bright colour which does not appear appreciably different than the 2006. Core has slightly more depth. Nose is full of power and youth. Restrained and spicy. This is a deeply concentrated and solidly constructed wine, yet is almost austere at present. Needs time still but is developing at a rapid pace. Surprisingly well balanced given the vintage’s heat.”
Picked 5 days before the Duhart-Milon. Interestingly, and despite the severe heat, Charles noted that the fruit from the Grand Vin blocks was quite regular and required less triage than the berries from either Duhart-Milon or the Carruades plain. He chalked this up to the fact that the Grand Vin vines have roots which penetrate nearly 7m into the gravel subsoil. Additionally, as they are older vines, they are prone to fewer problems and the heat has markedly less effect on them. This has a similar colour but darker core when held up next to the Duhart-Milon. Softer and somewhat tighter on the nose as well. Smells quite ‘smart’. Whiff of pine grove and cedar, hint of charcoal dust, and slight baking spice aromas. You can sense the hidden, explosive power in this. Toes the line in terms of balance, yet just holds back. Impressive. Expansive. A really lovely wine but one which is developing rapidly. Lasting, lasting, lasting in mouth. 97 Points
John Salvi, MW - “The ‘jump-up’ out of the glass on this is impressive. The 2003 Duhart-Milon pales next to it. There is just more of everything here and it is clearly at an entirely different (and much higher) level. Colour is still young with traces of purple around the edges. Nose is powerful, intense and resplendent with black fruits. Perfume is exotic and clearly has further development ahead of it. Palate follows the nose, with concentration and intensity. Spicy tannins. Needs to sit for a few more years, but will last for some time still. Skilful winemaking was definitely vital here in order to counteract the effects of the vintage. This has retained a fine level of acidity and will live on into a graceful maturity. The grand terroir of Lafite is undeniable!”
2000 Lafite-RothschildUpon tasting this, Charles commented that, “In 2000, the weather was really great. Maturity was complete. It is a real pleasure to enjoy this today and I expect that it will be nearly impossible to destroy this wine. This is an indestructible wine that people can keep in their cellars for many, many, many years.” The wine is a dark, consistent, reddish-purple colour. The nose is pure. Black cassis in spades. An absolute beauty. Fruit aromas are still presenting themselves as being quite young. On the palate, the fruit, tannins, and medium acidity are all in perfect balance. This is so hard to achieve. An incredibly difficult and applause-worthy performance. Truly exceptional. Tannins are unbelievably fine and you can really taste the primary essence of the Cabernet Sauvignon skins, in a fantastic and pure expression. Alcohol is nominal and completely unapparent. 98 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Colour still hinting at youth – ruby and surprisingly fine and bright. Generous, ripe and heavily fruited. Now this is really beginning to show what it’s made of. Tannins are powerful and quite severe. Palate remains less developed than the nose and the tannins need further time to soften. Eventually these will blend with the remaining fruit and all the fine flavours will be revealed. This still needs time in spite of its ripeness and superior phenolic maturity. A very complex and complete wine.”
1999 Lafite-Rothschild“This is a great expression of a [still] young, drinkable Lafite,” commented Charles. This had slight bricking near the edges - a similar colour to the 2003, in fact. Sublime nose, yet a bit shy. Cigar box, but you have to work at finding it. Silky, delicate and seductive. Has a confidence and certainty to it that is enviable. Very fresh in the mouth, it dances across the palate. Incredibly difficult to spit out! Lasts and lasts and lasts. The additional Merlot in this particular cuvée is readily apparent. Drinking now. 98 PointsJohn Salvi, MW - “Maturing, with a ruby/browning edge. Unsurprisingly, more developed and less concentrated than the 2000 on both the nose and palate. However, the nose remains showy and delightful, fresh and fragrant, with lots of pure fruit aromas. Open and juicy in the mouth, the tannins are totally integrated. This is wonderfully expressive and attractive.”
1990 Lafite-RothschildHigh temperatures in this vintage resulted in the final assemblage being nearly all Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 3% Merlot made it into this cuvée due to the heat damage the vines suffered. Much more bricking than the 1999, although the colour is still uniform. Powerful nose. Wild herbs and a bits of dried bramble coming out, along with dust and tea leaves. Tertiary aromas and flavours really coming out now. A true older Bordeaux that is really starting to expressing itself. Wow. Exceptional stuff. Has now aged enough to be really interesting. Sweeter than expected. Bruised plum flesh. A fabulous winner. 99 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Magnificent. Bright, classic maturity. A fragrant, elegant nose of first class cassis fruit and loads of spice. Palate is wonderfully pure. Mouth-filling dark berry flavours and sublime acidity. Long. This is now a wonder to behold and an honour to drink. Will still keep for many more years due to the fine, silky tannins. A lovely and finely bred Lafite of great beauty, opulence and expression.”
1989 Lafite-RothschildNoticeably lighter colour than the 1990. Very brick. Really quite focused and Cabernet Sauvignon-centric on the nose. A sweet, kind, gentle wine. Pleasant pepper aromas and on the finish. An exceptional Cabernet expression. Nuanced. Medium acidity still. Lasting. Tannins still present but absolutely at their finest. “This is definitely what you expect in a great Pauillac,” said Charles. 96 Points
John Salvi, MW - “A visibly denser wine than the 1990, however the colour around the rim is a little more evolved. Truly a perfect example of what a Lafite is and can be. A great wine. Fruit-driven fragrance that is rich but also classical and restrained. Palate is deep, structured, lengthy, powerful, and complete. Breeding and elegance. This wine can be kept for many, many more years and is still far from its best or its peak. This will outlast the 1990 and reach great heights.”
1988 Lafite-RothschildSimilar colour to the 1989. Subtle, attractive, complex perfume. Soft and drinkable. Medium high acid and certainly more present than in the 1989. Tension continues across the palate. Another good expression of ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon, but somewhat less interesting than the 1989. 94 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Not quite the same power or body as the 1989, yet it is a pure, classical Pauillac at its very finest. Perfect balance and structure but less opulence or richness when set against the prior two wines. Wonderfully pure fruit on the nose with a delicious spicy fragrance. Expressive, bright acidity on the palate. A wine of great beauty, elegance, finesse and harmony. Will last as long as the 1989, but longer than the 1990.”
The tasting concluded with a selection from what is, undoubtedly, the top Sauternes vintage of the past 20+ years, the supremely elegant 2001.
2001 RieussecThis is the only possible threat to Chateau d’Yquem’s reign over the 2001s. Absolutely leaps from glass. A religious experience. Spicy, botrytis nose. Just cut button mushrooms and chopped sultanas. Fresh. Beautiful. Brings a tear to your eye. Candied apricots for days and days on the palate. Long, long, long. Hint of an espresso crème tinge on the finish brings the whole package together. Lovely acid and sugar in complete balance. 99 PointsJohn Salvi, MW - “Brilliant golden hue. Pure, bright and crisp. Powerful demerera sugar, pungent botrytis and lemon pith bouquet. Toasty and opulent. Very long and mouth-filling. Lingers beautifully in the aftertaste. Liqueur-esq nectar. Sweet and sultry yet spectacularly fresh and airy due to the acidity. A superlative Sauternes of unmatched grace and style.”
On their global brand strength and the legendary history of their flagship estate, the properties and wines of Domaines Barons de Rothschild remain incomparable in the fine wine world. What a pleasure it was to enjoy these fabulous examples and reflect on the remarkable capacity of great Bordeaux to age, develop and evolve.
Contact us to enquire about our current availability of Château Lafite-Rothschild, Carruades de Lafite, Château Duhart-Milon, and Château Rieussec.
Tags: Lafite Rothschild, lafite, Master of Wine, John Salvi, Sauternes, tasting, duhart, Chateau Duhart-Milon, Carruades de Lafite, Rieussec, Chateau Rieussec, Mark Bingley, d'Yquem, Pauillac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
We never do things by halves at AWC Wine Academy. So, it only made sense that, for our first Cheese & Wine matching event, we asked well-known wine writer and presenter Susy Atkins to be our hostess.
Above: Susy prepares for the matching.
As many of you will know, Susy writes for the Sunday Telegraph and is a regular presenter on the BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. She was thrilled to present on one of her favourite food and wine themes at our unique tasting facility. Over the course of the incredibly enjoyable and informative evening, Susy walked us through a series of fine wines, paired with various, equally impressive fromages.
According to Susy, pairing wine and cheese is enjoying an upswing in popularity at the moment. However, people are now paying much more attention to what they are actually matching. ‘The fact of the matter is that a lot of cheeses simply don’t go with certain wines,’ she told us, ‘so it pays to understand what works and what doesn’t. For instance, a big tannic red simply doesn’t go with a soft, creamy cheese. The balance and texture is all wrong. Successful cheese and wine matching is all about balance,’ she re-iterated. ‘It is not about contrast.’
‘Furthermore,’ she continued, ‘these days, people are finally discovering that white wines generally tend to provide better, more versatile matches than reds.’The first pairing of the night was something of a classic – a striking, 2010 Comte Lafond Sancerre with a Chabichou goat’s cheese from Poitou. Both come from the same, Loire Valley region of France and have a naturally affinity for one other. Goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc just seem to go together – the acidity of the wine cuts through the texture of the creamy cheese perfectly. However, Susy did warn us that not all Sauvignon Blancs work as well as this. ‘Minerally Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres are ideal, but many New Zealand and Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are just too fruity and can easily overwhelm the delicate cheese flavours.’
Above: Tasters evaluate the Sancerre and Chabichou match.
While the following pairing was a certainly a hit, it was undoubtedly a bit more daring. The 2009 JJ Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett from the Mosel region in Germany, matched with a hard Parmigiano Reggiano from Reggio Emilia in Italy was both unexpected and delightful.
The light-bodied, delicate Kabinett, with its piercing acidity and touch of sweetness, clearly wasn’t the most obvious match for the Parmesan, yet, as Susy pointed out – ‘Riesling is an extraordinary grape variety in that it has the ability to pair with all sorts of dishes.’ Having just come back from a trip to the Mosel, Susy said she had drunk Riesling with venison, wild boar and pork – and a lot of cheeses – all with great success. Everyone in attendance was quite enthusiastic about this match after trying it, as the slight sweetness of the wine perfectly enhanced the intense and savoury nuttiness of the unpasteurised Parmesan.
The third pairing was a luscious 2007 Hugel Jubilee Gewurztraminer from Alsace and an intensely savoury Mignon Maroilles from the Pas de Calais region. The soft texture and pungent aroma of the cheese was in perfect harmony with the natural sweetness and rosewater perfume of the Gewurztraminer. Interestingly, some tasters actually preferred this cheese with the previous wine (the Riesling). The touch of charming sweetness in both wines was able to lift and enhance the flavours of this strong-smelling, washed rind cheese.
Next up was a 1998 Gran Reserva Rioja from none other than the brilliant La Rioja Alta winery in Haro, Spain. The delicate, aged red wine was a joy to drink, with subtle, almost Pinot Noir-like notes and hints of leather, tobacco and strawberry fruit.According to Susy, ‘most red wines simply don’t go with cheeses, particularly if they are big and tannic. So, if you are going to serve a red wine, choose it carefully. For me, the best red wines are those which are more mellow and mature. Younger, New World wines with too much fruit and tannin simply walk all over cheeses and can really subdue their flavours. However, wines like Gran Reserva Riojas, which have already had a minimum of five years ageing in barrel and bottle, are often just the ticket.’
Above: Thoroughly enjoying the Rioja.
If the Rioja Alta was one of the wines of the night, the star cheese was certainly the Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury in the West Country with which it was matched. One of the most remarkable things about this deliciously rich and savoury hard cheese was the way its flavour and intensity changed over the course of the evening – just like a great wine improves in the glass.
Again, the success of the match was due to the balance of textures and flavours. No component overpowered any other and, for most tasters, this was the best match of the night.
Of course, no tasting would be complete without one of the greatest, classical food and wine matches of all time –Sauternes and Roquefort. At AWC Wine Academy events we always want to spoil the tasters a bit. So, we poured a sublime, 2003 Château Suduiraut. It was everything a top Sauternes should be – sweet, rich and luscious, with enough acidity to prevent it from being cloying. This also had a lovely, honeyed botrytis character and intense flavours of apricot, peach and marmalade.
The Roquefort Papillon Premium from Rouergue was also on top form, with its hallmark buttery texture and salty tang. This was an ideal ying and yang match, with the sweetness offsetting the saltiness in perfect harmony. Similarly, the oily texture of the Sauternes was just right for the creamy interior of the Rocquefort.As Susy mentioned, when pairing sweet wines with blue cheeses, you don’t have to limit yourself just to Sauternes. A good Tokaji or Vendange Tardive from Alsace will work just as well. So too would a good ‘sticky’ from Germany, Austria or even Australia.
Just for good measure, we also tried the Suduiraut with some of the other cheeses. Favourite pairings were matching it with the Parmesan and the Cheddar. Susy did warn us that Sauternes doesn’t work well with everything though. Her advice was to avoid crumbly cheeses such as Cheshire and Lancashire.
The last pairing was a slight twist on another well-known classic – namely Port and Stilton. However, rather than going for a red Port, such as a Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage or Vintage, Susy decided to show a wood-aged Tawny Port instead. The wine she chose was the 30 year old Tawny from Graham’s which was delightful – notes of espresso crème, hazelnuts, raisins, spice, caramel, mocha and fruitcake. It was a brilliant partner for the intensely spicy and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton from Nottinghamshire.
Above: New friends made and matching expertise gained!
At the end of the evening we all cast our votes for match of the night. Unsurprisingly, the Grand Prize went to the Rioja/Montgomery Cheddar pairing, with the Roquefort/Sauternes combo a close second place.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening, with wonderful fine wines, great artisanal cheeses and a master-class in the process of matching them by one of the UK’s most delightful and charismatic wine experts.
As a result, we intend to repeat this event early in 2012. If you would like to attend, please contact us at your earliest convenience as it is already proving to be quite popular.
All of the evening’s cheeses were generously supplied by La Fromagerie in Marylebone.
The wines tasted are as follows. All are available on request from The Antique Wine Company:
1. 2010 Comte Lafond, Sancerre, France - £288/case of 122. 2009 JJ Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Mosel, Germany - £288/case of 123. 2007 Hugel Jubilee Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France - £336/case of 124. 1998 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, Rioja, Spain - £720/case of 125. 2003 Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, France - £696/case of 126. NV Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro Valley, Portugal - £426/case of 6We look forward to welcoming you into AWC Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another cheese and wine event, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned. To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: AWC Wine Academy, antique wine company, Sauternes, tasting, wine school, wine education, marylebone, Susy Atkins, Chateau Suduiraut, Rioja, JJ Prum, Hugel, Gewurztraminer, Port
Education | Wine tasting
Recently, many of my favourite wines have come from the stellar, 1990 Bordeaux vintage. Having opened and enjoyed a great number of 1990 bottles over the past year, there is no doubt in my mind that the vintage has now hit full stride. At the moment, these wines are providing enormous drinking pleasure.
As wonderful as they are individually, enjoying these wines alone cannot replicate the focus and feedback provided by a dedicated, horizontal overview. Tasting a wider range of wines, from both the Left and Right Banks in a single sitting, allows for a more comprehensive look at the entire vintage.
Therefore, it is no wonder that I was so looking forward to our most ambitious tasting at AWC Wine Academy yet – a 1990 Bordeaux Retrospective – hosted by writer and broadcaster Charles Metcalfe.
Of course, 1990 was the third ‘great to excellent’ vintage in a row in Bordeaux (not unlike the most recent trio of 2008, 2009 and 2010). It was also a very dry, warm year and, as Charles reminded us, July and August were extremely hot and sunny. In fact, July was the hottest it had been since 1949 and August was the sunniest since 1949.
Above: The line-up of 1990 Bordeaux.
As a result, by the end of August, some vines were so stressed from the lack of water that they started to shut down. However, necessary relief arrived with some September rains and the ripening process resumed. A further downpour on October 7th prompted some to pick sooner rather than later. However, those who waited were richly rewarded. Once again, fortune favoured the brave.
We began the evening on the Right Bank with the 1990 Château Gazin. This highly respected estate is tucked up into northeast corner of Pomerol where its nearest neighbours are none other than Château Pétrus and Château Lafleur! At 24 ha, it is also one of the biggest estates in Pomerol. For the quality it provides, it remains one of the appellation’s best values. Here the soil is predominantly clay, which is extremely useful in hot vintages like 1990 because it retains more moisture and remains cooler. Further, as this is on the Right Bank, we are firmly in Merlot territory. Gazin regularly contains as much as 90% Merlot to the final blend, with the remainder comprised of Cabernet Franc. As a testament to the quality of the terroir here, in the past, Château Pétrus actually purchased some of Gazin’s vineyards and integrated them with their own.
Arguably, the turning point in Gazin’s recent history occurred in 1988 when the present incumbent, Nicolas de Balliencourt took over management of the estate. Just in time too, as the impressive 1990 vintage was right around the corner. The 1990 Gazin was sweet, soft, plumy and savoury, with hints of tobacco leaf and some sous-bois maturity - just as one would expect. To me, this wine was evolved and drinking beautifully. Elegant, refined and possessing surprisingly good acidity, the tannins here were also notable in how deliciously soft they were. 93 Points.
Above: Charles Metcalfe was our expert tutor for the evening.
The next wine was the 1990 Château Calon-Ségur. The 3rd Growth estate sits at the far, northern edge of St-Estèphe and for many years it was run by the redoubtable Denise Capbern-Gasqueton, who was quite the character. Mme Gasqueton unfortunately passed away in September of this year. However, the estate is now managed by her two daughters and they are doing a wonderful job. Perennially known for its fabulous, long-lived wines, the individual now responsible for carrying on Calon-Ségur’s winemaking traditions is Vincent Millet, who took over chief production duties in 2006.
As many of you will know, the wines of St Estèphe have a reputation for being tough and tannic, particularly in their youth. Now at 21 years old, this perfectly-aged Calon-Ségur had shed its youthful exuberance and had become the exact opposite. Fully mature, it was sleek and sensuous with a slightly smoky character. There were still some excellent, primary black fruit flavours remaining - mainly cassis and mulberry - as well as some lovely sandalwood notes. Secondary and tertiary flavours were also coming through with hints of earth, mushrooms and undergrowth, all of which added to the impressive complexity. This wine was exquisitely balanced, with ripe tannins and a generous finish. 92 Points.
From St-Estèphe we headed south to the commune of Pauillac and another rising star of the Médoc, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, which is owned by the charming Francois-Xavier Borie. I’ve always loved GPL, as it can offer tremendous value for the quality it provides. While it has showed top form over recent vintages, the question was whether the 1990 would showcase the same level of excellence?
The answer was a resounding affirmative. In terms of pure quality to price ratio, the 1990 GPL absolutely stole the show. For a start, the colour was still impressively deep and it had an incredibly intense nose – with notes of tar, black cherries and cream. On the palate, the fruit was still redolent of blackcurrants, with firm tannins that were only just starting to yield a bit of grip. Compared to the Gazin and the Calon-Ségur, this was showing more concentration and staying power. I think this wine will continue to improve and be delicious for at least another decade. This was an astonishing effort which was well worth a score of 95+ Points.
Above: Wine Academy Assistant Valeria Rodriguez refills glasses at the Haut-Brion table.
We then took a short jump south to St-Julien and a real Left Bank legend - Château Léoville-Las Cases. Owned by Jean-Hubert Delon and managed to his exacting standards, we all had very high expectations for this superb, ‘Super Second’ estate. We certainly were not disappointed. The 1990 Las Cases continues to march on with vim and vigour. At first the nose was a bit tight, but it opened up spectacularly as the wine developed in the glass. The palate exuded class and concentration with cedar, cassis, blackberry and lead pencil shavings. The texture was plush and pure, with supremely elegant and refined tannins. The length was beyond description. This is benchmark claret from a great terroir and a great vintage. What more can you ask for? 97 Points.
How do you top a wine like the 1990 Las Cases? With a classical First Growth like Château Haut-Brion, that’s how! While the 1989 Haut-Brion is undoubtedly a legend (repeatedly rated a perfect, 100 points), on the strength of this tasting, so is its younger sibling. The 1990 is now approaching its prime and it is providing enormous drinking pleasure. The colour and freshness belied its age, suggesting the wine has plenty of stuffing left to last it for the long haul. Polished and pure, with dark black fruits, cassis, sous-bois, cigar box, meat, minerals and wet stones, it was an absolutely sumptuous wine. The finish, balance and texture of this wine are extraordinary. 98 Points.
Fortunately, we still had one red wine remaining in the line up and so we crossed back over to the Right Bank for the 1990 Château Cheval Blanc. This happens to be one of my favourite wines of all time. Interestingly, it has also garnered magnificent scores from both Parker and Robinson over the years – a testament to its quality, as they don’t often see eye-to-eye.
True to form, this proved to be the most popular wine of the night, just edging the Haut-Brion in the final attendee vote. To me, this represented everything that a Cheval Blanc should be. The greatest Chevals are never over-done or unnecessarily extracted and this was a quintessential example - both fresh and elegant. The perfume of this wine absolutely leapt from the glass and the colour was still so dark that it gave almost no concession whatsoever to age. In the mouth it was lively and vivid, with a good attack of mid-palate acidity and the world’s most luscious, cashmere-like tannins. It continued to grow ever more expansively in the glass – with layer upon layer of exotic scents and flavours revealing themselves. I picked up leather, coffee, red fruits, plums, violets, graphite, pencil shavings and cedar. This was utterly magnificent and it is now flirting with perfection. 99+ Points.
The last wine from the 1990 vintage was another liquid legend – Château d’Yquem. It was the perfect ending to a perfect tasting. Rich, honeyed and powerful, this wine offered everything that makes d’Yquem so special- an incredible sweetness, a luxurious texture, en pointe acidity and a spectacular sense of balance. On the palate, botrytis-infused flavours of coconut, apricots, honey and brioche explode in succession. It is no wonder that Parker gave the 1990 d’Yquem a 99 point rating or that he predicted it could last for more than a century! 99+ Points.
Above: Tasters listen carefully to the rules of 'Wine Options' before the final, secret wine is poured.
The final wine of the night was a last minute, unannounced addition. We often like to introduce a challenge of sorts to our tastings for a bit of competitive fun and this evening was no exception. The final wine was poured and guests were told it was, in fact, another vintage of d’Yquem, poured as a thank you to everyone for attending. Tasters then had to try and figure out which exact vintage the wine was from.
The colour was much darker than the 1990 and the nose was noticeably more developed. The fragrance was reminiscent of stepping outside just after the air has been cleaned by the rain. Fresh, enticing and beguiling - with loads of butter toffee and caramel - this was a fabulous, older bottle of d’Yquem. Eventually the vintage was revealed to be the spectacular 1959. While this wine was more than 50 years old, it was clear that it had many more decades of life left in it. The winner of the ‘options’ game ended up taking home a bottle of the 1990 Cheval Blanc for his efforts. Just goes to show - you never know what kind of wonderful luck may find you at an AWC Wine Academy tasting! 94 Points.
Ultimately, this tasting reconfirmed just how epic the 1990 Bordeaux vintage has proved itself to be over time. As these wines were all perfectly stored, they have all aged extremely well. Most importantly, they are now providing the optimum amount of drinking pleasure and they are great value options compared to many more recent vintages. Stock up on these stellar 1990s soon as they are simply amazing.
We look forward to welcoming you into AWC Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another Bordeaux tasting, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned. To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: AWC Wine Academy, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau d'Yquem, chateau haut brion, Chateau Haut-Brion, Haut-Brion, Leoville Las Cases, petrus, Sauternes, gazin, calon-segur, calon segur, chateau leoville-las cases, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, vintage, Wine Tasting, wine school, yquem
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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