My first thought was, where's my tie? I do have one, specifically for occasions like this: an invite to the French Embassy, to taste all the classified-growth Bordeaux of the 1855 classification. The command came on a very stiff card, black embossed print, gold edging. Quite correct. Gold. This is Bordeaux. They mine liquid gold there. So. How the hell do I tie this thing?
It is a bit tough tasting at the French Embassy. They don't really understand the concept. There were no tasting sheets, and the bottles were randomly strewn along the grand tables. The vintages went from 2001 to 2006 according to the whim of the proprietor, and were proffered according to the whim of the charming and elegant flunkies. No one seemed to be spitting. But the chance to taste all the 1855 classification was enough for me to wheedle my way to the front of the throng.
It was a matter of tasting whatever I could lay my hands on, and by the end I'd done the lot. Only Léoville Las Cases wasn't there. They never turn up. So I never taste their wine. I'm told it's good.
Anyway, I've put together a few thoughts on each appellation, and in the end I rather enjoyed the wildly fluctuating differences between vintage styles, often tasting the 2001, '02, '03 and '04 vintage of four different properties right next to each other. So this is a snapshot of how things looked in London at the start of this very chilly winter.
Haut-Médoc showed pretty well. The big surprise was a positively classic Camensac 2002. When was the last time the words "classic" and "Camensac" were used in the same sentence? It also showed that we underrate 2002 at our peril. Belgrave 2004 was its usual satisfyingly beefy self.
Margaux is a crazy appellation, but I do have a soft spot for it, because of the sheer delight its scented beauties give me when they get it right. And seeing the whole bunch ranged across vintages 2001 to 2005 was a buzz. The best wine wasn't Château Margaux 2001—mellow, yet hardly memorable—but Malescot-St.-Exupéry 2001, showing all the heady perfume of the appellation married to the soothing texture of the 2001 vintage. Suave, waxy Palmer 2001 wasn't far behind, while powerful Kirwan and plummy Desmirail banged the drum for 2004. Giscours and Marquis de Terme made a case for the rather rapidly maturing 2003 vintage.
St.-Julien was great fun. Tremendous Langoa-Barton 2001 and Léoville-Barton 2004: These were the two vintages that shone again and again. Branaire 2004 needs 10 years to be classic, just like Lagrange 2004.
In Pauillac, not for the first time, the fragrant Lafite 2001 and the mighty Latour 2002 lorded it over the unexciting Mouton 2001. Pichon-Baron 2001 is still gruff but will be majestic in five to 10 years, while Pichon-Lalande 2003 is so lush and creamy, surely it can't age well? But it will; it always does. Pontet-Canet signalled its return to the big time in 2004, and it just gets better and better. At the lower end, Grand-Puy-Ducasse 2004 has a beautiful, classic Pauillac personality; d'Armailhac 2003, Duhart-Milon 2004, Croizet-Bages 2004 and Pedesclaux 2005 don't.
The welcome surprise in St.-Estèphe was that Cos-d'Estournel 2003 really is as good as the hype. Some of the 2003s are starting to show wear and tear; Cos is a beautiful beast in snarling form. Cos Labory 2003 was also ripe and balanced, while Lafon-Rochet 2001 was cedary and scented and as good as I can remember.
So, a smashing evening, if slightly chaotic. And it reminded me once again that you don't have to kneel before the starriest vintages to gain the ultimate pleasure from Bordeaux. 2009? Invest in it. 2001 and 2004? Buy 'em, keep 'em and drink 'em.
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 11, 2011 5:28pm ET
Jim Holliman — San Diego — January 11, 2011 10:03pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — January 12, 2011 1:35pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — January 12, 2011 10:48pm ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 13, 2011 5:50pm ET
Michael Myette — Sacramento, CA USA — January 15, 2011 1:22pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — January 15, 2011 3:36pm ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 15, 2011 3:51pm ET
Iain Liston-brown — Lichfield, UK — January 15, 2011 6:08pm ET
Michael Myette — Sacramento, CA USA — January 15, 2011 7:43pm ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 16, 2011 11:13am ET
Michael Myette — Sacramento, CA USA — January 16, 2011 4:09pm ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 18, 2011 5:22pm ET
Michael Myette — Sacramento, CA USA — January 20, 2011 6:22pm ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 22, 2011 5:32pm ET
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