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Conseillante's Subtle Seduction

Posted: Apr 25, 2007 11:51am ET

I am breathing Pomerol at the moment. I went to a dinner and tasting of La Conseillante last night in London put on by wine merchants Farr Vintners, and I was really impressed. I have to say that I have always liked La Conseillante, but it has never really turned me on that much. It’s nearly always of outstanding quality when I taste the wine from barrel and later in bottle, but it always seems a little understated, almost coy.

Well, last night changed my mind. I have a much better appreciation for what La Conseillante has to offer. There’s something enticing about its refined, subtle and fresh style, and it’s a wine that ages extremely well and gives great pleasure at all stages of its evolution. It makes you want to drink it, especially with food.

We tasted nine vintages during the meal: 2005, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1990, 1989, and 1982. La Conseillante’s winemaker, Jean-Michel Laporte, was also there.

La Conseillante has been the same size since the 1870s, encompassing about 30 acres of vineyards. It is planted to about 80 percent Merlot and the rest in Cabernet Franc. And the vineyards are situated in an amazing position on the famous clay knoll of Pomerol, with such neighbors as Pétrus, Vieux-Château-Certan, and L’Evangile. St.-Emilion’s Cheval-Blanc is a stone throw away.

I often think of the wines of La Conseillante as a hybrid of Pomerol and St.-Emilion. They show the aromatic opulence of flowers and crushed berries of the former, and the racy tannins and bright acidity of the latter. Perhaps this is why I find it a little underwhelming when I taste it with its peers, especially some of the more flamboyant ones. It’s sort of like comparing a world-class ballerina to a Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast. You get the idea ...

Three wines stole the show: 2005, 1998, and 1989. The 2005 was a barrel sample, and showed why the vintage is already so legendary. It was big, soft and velvety with opulent fruit through and through. Sure it was a bit raw but what was in the glass was glorious. When I blind taste it in bottle, it might move up from my original rating of 92-94 points.The 1998 – as I blogged yesterday about the vintage – showed why I think this a great year for Pomerol. The finish was amazing. It just kicked in like a turbocharger, with wonderful bright and ripe fruit and a long, long fresh finish. “What a wine!” I wrote on my menu. 94 points, non-blind. The 1989 was a surprise for many at the dinner. Most in the room thought the 1990 would be better but it didn’t hold a candle to it. The 1989 was so solid and fresh with layers of ripe fruit that turned to ceps and light earth on the nose and palate. The rich tannins were in perfect harmony. The wine has a long and bright future ahead of it. 95 points. I under-rated this originally.

In fact, the 100 or so people at the tasting were asked to vote on their favorite wine between the 1990 and the 1989, and the former was the hands-down winner. I happened to drink the 1990 at my house last week and it was exactly the same – a subtle wine with complexity, but ready to drink.

Here are my tasting notes for the wines at the dinner:

2005: This is soft and velvety with lots of character from crushed blackberries to raspberry. It is so long and beautiful yet with a powerful texture of ripe tannins. Better than I remember. Almost classic quality. 92-94

2004: Shows very well already. Hard not to drink now. It delivers aromas of dried flowers and crushed berries. Subtle. Medium to full-bodied, with fine tannins and a fresh mushroom undertone. Very long and caressing. Better with age but why wait? 92

2001: What a treat to drink. Aromas of blackberries, minerals and dried flowers follow through to a medium to full body, with very silky and caressing tannins and a long, beautiful finish. Delicious now but will improve with age. 91

2000: I like this better than I remember. Shows more opulence. A big and rich Conseillante with lots of blackberry and spice character. Full and velvety. Long and caressing. Give this another five years at least. 93

1999: The weak sister of the tasting but enjoyable. Slightly simple. Medium body, with a soft texture and a fruity palate with berries and fresh mushroom character. Drink it. 88

1998: What a wine. Classic-style Pomerol. Lots of violets and berries on the nose and palate. Broad shouldered in structure, with ripe tannins and a finish that goes on for minutes. It starts off slowly as you taste it and then vroom. Super finish. Best after 2012. 94

1990: This is the second time in a week that I have had this, and it seems read to go. Mature aromas of spice, animal, berry and earth follow through to a medium to full body with soft tannins and a medium finish. Slightly dry at the finish but it’s an outstanding bottle 90

1989: Wow. Solid and packed with fruit. I love the aromatic richness of the wine with crushed berries and fresh flowers. And the palate is full, rich and fresh. Very long. Gorgeous. Give it another five years. But so good already. 95

1982: I thought that it might have been a little over-decanted. But it was soft, open and very ready. Full body, with lots of spice, chocolate, coffee and blackberry character. At first, I thought it was a little forward but then it seemed to develop on the finish with beautiful fresh fruit. A pretty wine now with a long life ahead. 92

All in all, it was a wonderful evening of beautiful wines ... a dinner of classy Pomerols that are bought not for speculation, but for drinking. “That’s what we like,” said Laporte. “Our wines are bought and consumed. That’s what we make it for.”

I was sitting next to the former president of Mexico, Carlos Salinas, and he seemed to sum up it up another way: “Life is so complex already, so you need a wine like this to drink and make it all seem a little less so,” he said.


Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  April 25, 2007 2:58pm ET
I tried the 2004 La Conseillante at a tasting back in January with friends and we all found the wine to be very enjoyable. Looking forward to drinking it.
Loren Lingerfelter
Danville, CA —  April 25, 2007 8:34pm ET
James, sorry to be a little off topic but I was wondering if you could recommend a few good legit cigar shops and also a good wine tour guide (group tour ok) of Tuscany in Italy. I will be traveling for the second time to Italy later this summer for my honeymoon and would like to enjoy the things I missed when I visted the first time right after college.
Timothy Feather
April 25, 2007 11:53pm ET
Hi JamesThis is Tim from Macau.This is unrelated to your post, just wanted some advice. I'm going to be opening tonight for some customers, a few bottles of Casanova di Neri, Brunello di Montalcino, Cerretalto 2001 which you awarded 100 points.Would this wine benefit from a decanting or opening a few hours prior to meal?Thanks
Guest Guest
New York —  April 26, 2007 9:25am ET
Tim. I hope you haven't had the dinner yet. I got stuck at Heathrow. Terrible security. Anyway, I would decant that wine two or three hours before serving. Hope all is well in Macau and thanks for showing me around a few months ago!
Guest Guest
New York —  April 26, 2007 9:26am ET
Tim. I hope you haven't had the dinner yet. I got stuck at Heathrow. Terrible security. Anyway, I would decant that wine two or three hours before serving. Hope all is well in Macau and thanks for showing me around a few months ago! James
Timothy Feather
April 26, 2007 11:06am ET
I am just tasting a glass 3 - 4 hours after opening and it has really evolved since the cork was pulled. What an awesome wine!Look forward to your next visit to Macau!
David A Zajac
April 27, 2007 8:58am ET
I love a great vintage of Conseillante and my personal favorite has always been the 1989, its simply loaded, almost explosive on the palate. Can't really figure out why the 1990 sells for probably $100 more per bottle, I guess thats ok with me though. Have only had the 1998 once, it too stood out but that has been several years now, maybe not the 1989 but outstanding. It was probably too young when I had it and I only have two more bottles, so will wait a while longer.
Peter Chang
Hong Kong —  April 28, 2007 10:49am ET
James, a few of us went to a Conseillante dinner in mid-March here in HK (Paulo crashed at the tail end). We didn't get to have the '90 (it was served the night before and heard it was a disappointment) but we had the 2004, 2001, 2000, 1995, 1989 and 1982. The 1989 was definitely the hands down winner of the night.As I didn't sit at the head table, I never got a chance to taste the barrel samples of the 2005...But it was a great showcase for the wines of this chateau.

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