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.