It was the ultimate wine game on Tuesday night at Château Latour, the famous first growth. The château’s president, Frederic Engerer, invited a few close friends, wine merchants and critics to the estate for an amazing tasting that I will talk about until I leave this earth … maybe later, I hope!
He also spoke about his wines, his goals as a winemaker and his prices, but I already wrote about that last time.
Anyway, Engerer has a wicked streak in his personality when it comes to wine tastings, and he enjoys making his guests work for their supper. Last Tuesday was no different. Before the dinner began, there was a small vertical of recent vintages including 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2000. No surprises there. Just as I remember. But the 2000 was finally opening a little after being tight as a drum for a long time. I found that with the dozen or so 2000s I tasted this trip in Bordeaux.
After the tasting, we went to the small jewel box château and Engerer served a Champagne blind from decanters. It was hard to tell what year it was because it wasn’t very bubbly. At first, I thought it was quite old. Maybe the 1970s or 1960s, but then I started to think of the 1980s due to the fresh acidity and bright fruit. But I didn’t say anything, and we walked back to the winery for dinner.
Engerer explained at the winery that he had organized a tasting of eight wines and all the wines were from vintages that ended with the same digit. The Champagne also had the same digit. So it ended in 0 to 9. I started to think about the Champagne. That was obviously the key. What were the top vintages of the 1980s for Champagne, I thought to myself – 1989, 1988, 1985 and 1982. Mmmm?
He also said that the reds would be served in pairs (they were obviously all from Latour). Two of the pairs were wines of the same vintage. And two pairs were wines from different vintages. The matching pairs were wines from different cellars – one from the château’s cellar and one from the cellars of the ancient owners of Latour, the Segur family.
Engerer had been contacted earlier in the year by one of the Segurs who was in need of cash and he sold him a packet of wines from the 18th century up to 1961. Wish he had called me!
Anyway, the wines had been stored in an ancient and deep cellar near the Loire Valley city of Tours. The château apparently looked like something out of Harry Potter. The wines had been stored in this damp, cold cellar ever since being bottled and had their original corks. The temperatures of the cellar were in the 40s F all year round. What a story!!!
Engerer also said that he would ask someone to comment on each wine, and the vintages would be revealed at the end of the comments. He put a number of the wine inside the place card of various guests. I was given wine No. 6. I was a little nervous, to say the least.
The first two wines were served and poor David Ellswood of Christie’s had to comment on the No. 1. He was being very English and managed to be polite and say very little about the wine. I don’t blame him. Michel Bettane, the French wine critic, commented on the next wine and said it most likely came from the 1930s and was a little green. I thought the same.
The next wines were served and I honestly don’t remember who commented on them both. I think my buddy Paolo Pong, a Hong Kong wine merchant, winged it through on No. 3. I was a little lost on these two. I thought the 1950s. May be 1952 or something.
I still couldn’t get a hold of the last digit in my mind. And I was getting worried. But it dawned on me when the next two wines were served. My wine, No. 6, was a wine I had had before in the last two or three years. It was an old wine and a fabulous wine. It was 100 points for me. I started thinking to myself.
“It has to be something from the 1920s,” I thought. “It has a lot of age but a lot of depth, complexity, freshness and class. Moreover, it is concentrated yet balanced.”
Okay. It must be 1929. And the Champagne must be 1989. "That makes sense,” I said to myself.
NK Young, the veteran wine collector from Singapore, had to comment on the wine No. 5. And he said some thoughtful comments and said that wine reminded him of the 1949.
"Wrong,” I thought to myself. "But a good guess, mon ami.”
So I stood up and I explained my thoughts about the No. 6. I basically said what I had thought about to myself, and I added that I thought that it might be the 1928 as well, but the wine had darker color and better balance. The 1928 is a bit more garnet and dry, and the volatile acidity is higher.
“No. 6, in my opinion, is the 1929,” I said to the group. “And No. 5 is not the 1949 as NK says, but the 1899.”
I looked at people’s faces. And some looked impressed. (To be honest, I was too – blind tastings like that are not my strength.) Others looked at me as if I had forgotten my trousers back at the hotel and I was standing in my underpants! I sat down and smiled to myself.
The last two wines were obviously the same wine but from different cellars. They were the 1959 without a doubt in my mind. Plus, Stephen Browett, an owner of London wine merchant’s Farr Vintners, was asked to comment on the last wine. And I know that Stephen’s birth year is 1959. And we have drunk the ’59 Latour many times over the last 20 years together. (Engerer was too clever here!)
The excitement had grown to nerve-racking levels by the end of Stephen’s accurate estimate of the last two wines being 1959. So Engerer unveiled the wines.
I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much. But yes, I did get the wines right. Maybe it was that moment of glory for me after so many inaccurate attempts to find the right wine over the years! BUT I WAS PRETTY HAPPY TO SAY THE LEAST. And wines No. 5 and No. 6 were indeed the 1929. The No. 1 was 1909 and No. 2 1919 while No. 3 and No. 4 were 1949.
I thought the wines from the ancient Segur cellar had a slightly fresher and younger character to them. In fact, I believe the wines from Latour had been recorked. And I am not a great fan of recorking, but that is another column.
I felt blessed, nonetheless, to drink such amazing wines, particularly the 1929 and the 1959 – 100 point wines. And the 1899, a magical and precise wine with just about everything in the right place.
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — June 22, 2007 8:40am ET
Brian Greenglass — Toronto, Canada — June 22, 2007 9:59am ET
Joseph Byrne — Gardiner NY — June 22, 2007 10:43am ET
Craig Wilson — Ben Lomond, CA — June 22, 2007 12:27pm ET
David Nerland — Scottsdale — June 22, 2007 12:40pm ET
Joseph Romualdi — Canada — June 22, 2007 1:40pm ET
Joseph Romualdi — Canada — June 22, 2007 1:40pm ET
Gavin Torres — June 22, 2007 4:51pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — June 22, 2007 7:42pm ET
Stewart Hopper — phoenix, az — June 22, 2007 9:10pm ET
Colin Haggerty — La Jolla, California — June 22, 2007 9:15pm ET
James Suckling — — June 23, 2007 11:31am ET
Miodrag Novakovic — Bermuda — June 23, 2007 12:24pm ET
Clifford Brantley Smith — Portland — June 24, 2007 10:23am ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — June 24, 2007 7:51pm ET
Alex Bernardo — Millbrae, CA — June 25, 2007 12:07pm ET
Gary M Lewis — Beverly Hills Ca — June 25, 2007 2:21pm ET
Jason Fernandez — Boston, MA — June 25, 2007 3:07pm ET
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