Tasting older wines is sort of like stepping on a scale. With the latter you find out what you weigh. With the former, you find out what you like.
That thought crossed my mind the other night as a friend uncorked a 1961 Haut-Brion for dinner. You never know what you're going to get with a wine this age, but true to its reputation as a classic, the Haut-Brion still had it all going for it.
When wines such as the Haut-Brion age so beautifully you can be assured that when it was made it was perfectly balanced and in the interim it had to be perfectly stored. Oh, yes, and it had to have had a perfect cork, which this one did.
I found this wine as fascinating to smell as taste, which is what often happens with mature wines that are still in great condition. The aromas were sublime, with mineral, pebble, tobacco, dried currant and a loamy, earthy herbal edge that evolved into the cedar smell of a cigar box. Of note, the last time a Wine Spectator editor rated it, in 1997, it received the same rating I gave it non-blind when I tried it, 96 points.
You can break down wines this age by aroma, texture and finish, and I ended up at first savoring the aroma, then noting how smooth the texture was and then noting how long and detailed the finish lingered.
I also find it interesting that wines such as this one were made under what today would be considered primitive conditions, that is, the vines were far less supervised and thinned, there were no sorting tables and I'm sure far less fuss about how well or how long the wine would age. Turned out 1961 was one of the greatest vintages in Bordeaux's history, rated 99 points on Wine Spectator's Vintage Chart, an honor shared only by 2000, and this wine showed exactly why.
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — September 17, 2009 8:58pm ET
Morgan Dawson — Rochester, NY — September 19, 2009 10:13am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — September 21, 2009 12:27pm ET
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