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.