I was thinking about my trip to Bordeaux last week, and how many elegant and beautiful wines I tasted as well as consumed. The latter action is the most important one for me to remember.
Sure, I was tasting three or four dozen wines a day in my tasting room at the hotel Les Sources de Caudelie in the Pessac-Leognan region. But that was just tasting, meaning I would smell, sip and spit the wines. There was no drinking. The only drinking in the process was a couple of liters of Evian water that I used to refresh my palate and keep myself hydrated. (I also visited about two dozen wineries over the course of my stay, and tasted barrel samples and other wines.)
But I did have a number of meals at the hotel with some high-level winemakers such as Pierre Lurton of Cheval-Blanc and d’Yquem, and Bernard Magrez of Pape Clément and about a dozen or so other Bordeaux châteaus. At these meals, we tasted and drank some of the samples from the day’s tastings. And the wines that really impressed me were the 1988s.
Now in their 20th year, it’s wonderful how refined and balanced they are. Their tannins are in just the right place, giving them very polished and delicate palates. I still remember tasting the wines from barrel in 1989, and I recall how their tannins were angular and tough. Many of the wines also seemed to have an herbaceous character. When I tasted them in their 10th year, very little had changed.
But now they have evolved beautifully, and even the ones that I remember as slightly aggressive, even coarse, are now really beautiful, even delicate. The ugly ducklings have turned into gorgeous swans.
What is impressive is that most of the wines are between 12 and 12.5 percent alcohol, meaning that are much less alcoholic than current top vintages of Bordeaux. Today, in the region's the top estates, grapes are harvested when much riper, which translates into high alcohol levels, usually between 13.5 and 14.5 percent. I think that these new wines are amazing, and Bordeaux has a long history for great reds with high alcohol.
For example, a dinner last week at Château Haut-Brion proved this. Owner Robert de Luxembourg laid on a comparative tasting of 1959 and 1961 Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion 1959 and 1961. They were the legends they were supposed to be – in particular the HBs. The Haut-Brions were almost like Port. I couldn’t believe the raisin and tar character in the 1961 HB, as well as its big velvety tannins and concentration of fruit. It was a perfect wine that night. 100 points, non-blind.But on a whole, it was the 1988s during the week that I remember the most. They seemed a little like red Bordeaux from a bygone era – clarets as the English call them. They were not wines that blew me away with power. They seduced me with their charm, their freshness, and their subtlety. I am not sure we see such wines from Bordeaux any more – sadly so. Those are wines that you want to take home and introduce to your mum – you know what I mean, I think!
Anyway, I gave some very high points in the blind tastings of the 1988s last week, and I urge you to try a top one if you get the chance. (The article should be out in a few months.) But I have to wonder if many of you out there would appreciate this style of Bordeaux? Maybe you only want more fruit-forward and velvety textured wines from France’s most famous wine region? Let me know.
I know in my heart that I love a great glass of mature claret as well as the modern wonders from Bordeaux.
Mark Antonio — Tokyo — September 9, 2008 8:41pm ET
Anthony Miles — Seattle, WA — September 10, 2008 1:25am ET
Takao Shigeta — Tokyo, Japan — September 10, 2008 5:26am ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — September 10, 2008 12:54pm ET
Richard A Eckert — Encinitas, CA — September 10, 2008 6:49pm ET
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — September 10, 2008 8:18pm ET
Niall Cosgrove — Ireland — September 11, 2008 6:35am ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — September 11, 2008 1:10pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — September 12, 2008 8:11am ET
Horacio Campana / Butler Me — Monterrey, Mexico — September 12, 2008 8:43am ET
Quek Li Fei — Singapore — September 16, 2008 6:56pm ET
Juan P Raigosa — Mexico — September 17, 2008 3:06pm ET
Niall Cosgrove — Ireland — September 19, 2008 2:51am ET
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