It’s been another enthralling week of fine wine tastings at AWC Wine Academy. On Tuesday, we enjoyed some breathtaking Grand Cru Burgundies. On Thursday, it was the very finest of Bordeaux, where we compared the likes of Pétrus, Latour, Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc. As the saying goes, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
Our primary interest was in conducting a head-to-head tasting of the best estates from the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux. The plan was to do this with eight wines, in four vintage pairs, followed by a final mystery wine. For this event, we were delighted to welcome several of our top clients alongside a number of American Express International Currency Card and Centurion cardholders. The knowledge of the attendees and the quality of the wines being served promised to make this our most impressive tasting yet.
In addition, we were delighted to welcome back wine writer (and co-founder of the International Wine Challenge), Charles Metcalfe as our host. Charles had already proved his mettle by hosting our magnificent 1990 Bordeaux retrospective a few weeks prior. On this occasion however, Charles wasn’t the only wine writer in attendance. I was particularly pleased that Robert Parker’s UK colleague Neal Martin was also able to join us. I’m a great admirer of Neal’s writing and his palate is top notch. I’m certainly looking forward to reading his new book on Pomerol, which he has just completed, when it is published in September 2012.
Above: Journalist Neal Martin and Account Manger Lucy McMillan discuss the upcoming wines.
One of my definitions of truly fine wine is that it doesn’t just engage and intrigue our palates; it must also engage our intellect. This process of engagement is something we strive for at all Wine Academy tastings as we find it is integral to both understanding and enjoyment. It is important that wine tasting be both fun and interactive so that people leave with smiles on their faces, having been entertained just as much as they have been informed.
Our primary technique for getting people involved is to put them into teams and to encourage them to taste the wines blind. We taste wines blind for a number of reasons. First and foremost, not knowing what the wine is in advance removes any pre-existing prejudices that could easily influence the way we regard and rate particular wines. Additionally, because tasting wines blind is more challenging, it is also much more fun!
Above: Purchasing Manager Berenger Piras pours the wines.
Moreover, putting people into competitive teams adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the evening and is something people invariably enjoy. This promotes inclusiveness and, as a result, tasters tend to ask more questions and become more involved. As a result, they often learn more too – almost without even realising they’re absorbing the information.
Charles began with a short, insider’s guide to the key differences between the Left and Right Banks and how those differences influence both the flavour and structure of the wines. On the Left Bank, the wines are generally dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the prevalence of gravelly soils in the region which allow the variety to thrive. On the Right Bank however, Merlot is more common and it tends to do well on the heavier, clay-based soils.
However, as Charles pointed out – there are always exceptions. In Saint-Émilion for example, there is still quite a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in its cooler soils. Additionally, at the likes of Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc, significant quantities of Cabernet Franc make it into the final blend.
Above: Charles prepares for his lecture.
The first two wines set the standard for the evening. Wine one was a stellar 2004 Château Margaux from the Left Bank, which was both magnificent and completely true to its trademark, elegant style. As Charles pointed out, the First Growth was, “perfumed, graceful and classical; everything good Margaux should be all about.” I noted lovely cassis fruit, finely tuned acidity and supple tannins from this underrated vintage. 93 Points.
The Right Bank counterpart (wine number two in this pair) was the 2004 Château Angelus. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this was darker and deeper in colour than the Margaux, with more tannin and grip on the palate to match - which is perhaps why some tasters mistook this for the Left Bank wine of the pair. Whilst I enjoyed Hubert de Bouard’s 2004 Angelus and rated it 91 points, personally, I think it needs a bit more time in bottle.
I wasn’t the only one who preferred the Margaux over the Angelus. When we took a vote on which of these wines people preferred, Margaux was the favourite by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. In total, 19 tasters chose it versus just 10 for the Angelus. At this early stage of the competition, Team Latour (perhaps aided and abetted by Senior Client Relationship Manager, James Woodhead), had swept into an early lead by correctly identifying both the vintage and the respective origins of both wines.
The next pair presented a bit of conundrum. Wine three was revealed to be Gerard Perse’s 1998 Château Pavie, a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. The estate is a favourite of Robert Parker and he rated this wine 95 points, while predicting that it will last for at least 50 years. High praise indeed, yet not without appropriate basis - you can see exactly where he’s coming from when you taste this wine. Again, much like the 2004 Angelus, this was deep, tannic and powerfully extracted, with fabulous flavours of black cherry fruit. 94 Points.
Of course, 1998 was correctly regarded as a great Right Bank vintage. Unfortunately, that means that many Left Bank wines from the year are regularly overlooked. The magisterial 1998 Château Latour, wine number four, ideally proved the point – these 1998 Left Bank wines are not to be missed! This Latour was commanding, powerful, beautifully delineated and exquisitely balanced, with lovely fruit, cedar, minerals and a terrific amount of length. 95 Points.
As many people pointed out, the Pavie improved considerably in the glass – it clearly has a long life ahead of it. However, the overriding consensus was in favour of the Latour. It just pipped the Pavie by 11 votes to eight with the remainder of tasters undecided.
By now, all the teams were warming to their tasks as the competition heated up and the quality of the wines was increasing in kind. The next pair was simply stunning and it began with a 1996 Château Pétrus. This was a gem of a wine, with poise, power, brooding black fruit, lovely sweetness and that tell-tale spiciness that so often characterises great Pétrus. I rated it 97 points. Paired with it was the 1996 Château Haut-Brion which was a lovely contrast. The Haut-Brion was more evolved and had more smokey and savoury notes. It was also lighter in body, with finer grained tannins and flavours of liquorice root, cigar box and creamy cassis. 95 Points.
It was a tough call between these two wines. The Pétrus was just slightly preferred and it won-out with 11 votes against 10 for the Haut-Brion. Significantly, put perhaps not surprisingly, it was also voted the wine of the night, just edging out the Haut-Brion which came in second overall. Meanwhile, in the team competition, the Lafite table was challenging Latour as they correctly nailed both the vintage and the respective region of origin.
The last pair of wines hailed from the 1995 vintage and did nothing to tarnish the extraordinary levels of quality tasted thus far. First up was Pierre Lurton’s stunning Château Cheval Blanc. Beautifully crafted, with an almost unimaginable purity of fruit, this was benchmark Cheval Blanc at its elegant best. While drinking beautifully now, this will also age and improve for many years to come. 98 Points.
Paired against it was a much more intense Château Mouton Rothschild which was both rich and powerful. It brought an interesting sensation of total completeness with it. The firm and beguiling structure had notes of cured meat, Morello cherry, dark soy and black olives set atop the tannic framework. 94 Points.
So, which wine went down as the best from this final Left versus Right pair? The answer from the very enthusiastic and increasingly competitive audience was the Cheval Blanc, by a hair – just 10 votes to 9. Meanwhile, the team competition was also down to the wire and was only decided in the final round, with Team Latour sealing an impressive victory over Team Lafite.
However, neither the evening’s wines nor the competitive elements were quite done and dusted. What remained was an individual, blind tasting round of the ‘Wine Options’ game. The wine in question was revealed to be an older vintage of Château d’Yquem…but which vintage?
By process of elimination, the triumphant taster eventually emerged, to great applause from the attendees, and was rewarded with a half bottle of the wine in question - a sumptuous, honeyed, marmalade-laden, richly-textured 1983 d’Yquem which I rated 97 points.
Above: A taster admires the evening's wines.
Once again, it was quite a night at AWC Wine Academy. Great wines, great people and great fun. What more could you possibly want?
At the end of this remarkable evening we took a vote on which were the top wines of the night. Here are the results: [Please note that all of these wines are available on request from The Antique Wine Company]
- 1st Place -1996 Château Pétrus – Enquire for pricing- 2nd Place -1996 Château Haut-Brion - Enquire for pricing- 3rd Place -1995 Château Cheval Blanc - Enquire for pricing- 4th Place -1998 Château Latour - Enquire for pricing
For each paring, here is how the voting tallied up:Pair 1 – 2004 Château Margaux: 19, 2004 Château Angelus (Enquire for pricing): 10
Pair 2 - 1998 Château Pavie (Enquire for pricing): 8, 1998 Château Latour: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 3 - 1996 Château Haut-Brion: 10, 1996 Château Pétrus: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 4 - 1995 Château Cheval Blanc: 10, 1995 Château Mouton Rothschild (Enquire for pricing): 9, Undecided: 10
We look forward to welcoming you into the Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another exceptional night of Bordeaux, 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: wine school, wine tasting, yquem, wine academy, vintage, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Pierre Lurton, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Grand Cru, d'Yquem, Fine Wine, Cheval Blanc, Chateau Petrus, Chateau Pavie, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Mouton, Chateau Cheval Blanc
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
Above: Old meets new at Château Cheval Blanc
Earlier this week, whilst visiting Bordeaux with an American client, I enjoyed the opportunity to return to Château Cheval Blanc and watch the inaugural vintage going into the newly constructed, state-of-the-art winery that is adjacent to the historic Château buildings.
This was my first trip back to the Château since their celebratory Grand Opening of the new winery during Vinexpo some three months ago.
The sight of the newly-installed cement tanks – with their distinctive pod shape - now full of fermenting grape juice is both memorable and impressive. One cannot help but notice the immense attention paid to absolute cleanliness here. The entire new facility resembles something between a clinical operating theatre, an opera house and a food processing plant.
During our tour, I also observed a number of small but important new details. For instance, not only does each vat now display the relevant reference information about the specific parcel from which the grapes contained within were harvested, it also shows the age of the vines from the relevant plot, often dating back between 50 and 100 years. It is clear that the ability to carefully track each individual plot has become absolutely vital to producing a successful modern vintage.
The 2011 growth cycle in this area of France has been one of continual challenges. Incredibly however, after months of inclement weather, during our particular week in Bordeaux (as was the case across much of Europe), a wonderful Indian summer had arrived.
I have no doubt that my friend Pierre Lurton, who spreads his talents between here and Château d’Yquem, will be especially excited about the prospect of another magnificent vintage. Thus far, it certainly looks to be something very special for the sweet wines of Sauternes.
However, here at Cheval Blanc, I couldn’t help but notice that the Cabernet Franc and Merlot berries coming into the winery required the strictest of selections during triage – a process that the many St. Emilion Mesdames and Messieurs on hand were approaching with both concentration and vigor. This harsh selection was necessary even though a significant part of the crop had already been dropped earlier in the summer during what is known as the green harvest, when unripe fruit is taken off the vines after a poor or uneven flowering period.
As I head back to London, my reflections are that, despite such a massive investment by LVMH, ultimately it is nature that still plays the leading role in making great wine. Surely my worst fear of further rising prices due to low yields (reduced from 35hl to 25hl per hectare) will not materialize this year!
By happenstance, en route back to the airport, I noticed Jacques Thienpont (Le Pin) and Alexandre Thienpont (Vieux Château Certan) messing about with a few final bunches in one of their roadside vineyards. I pulled the car over and we spent a few minutes casually talking about the past En Primeur sales campaign and the prospects for the next one. Candidly, Jacques explained that, “the little thing that holds children money in it, the savings, it is broken. The piggy bank,” he said, “it’s broken.” Jacques is a smart guy!
It seemed to me that this marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the marketing!
Tags: 2010 pricing, antique wine company, Pierre Lurton, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2010, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Le Pin, Cheval Blanc, Le Pin, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan, yquem, Chateau d'Yquem, Jacques Thienpont
Travel | Wine tasting
Tags: yquem, acker, christies, antique, wine, williams, liquid, gold
Tags: primeur, futures, chateau, yquem, 1989, 2009, pierre, lurton, ygrec, cabernet, merlot, franc, sauvignon
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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