Over the years, I have been fortunate to come to know jazz pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and her partner, saxophonist Lew Tabackin. They travel the world playing their music, but keep a deep wine cellar at their Manhattan home. Recently, they invited a few friends over for a “Margaux dinner.”
We warmed up with Dom Pérignon Rosé 1983. The beef stew was accompanied by a Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 in magnum. The encore was Toshiko’s favorite wine, Château d’Yquem, this time the 1967. But the evening’s heart was a three-vintage vertical of Château Margaux: 1961, 1945 and 1929, all acquired at auction in Chicago in the early 1980s and resting in their cool cellar since.
The 1961 was magnificent: vibrant ruby color; expressive aromas of cherries, spice, tobacco and licorice; smooth but energetic on the palate, clean and fresh, complex and long. The 1945 was even more powerful, with noticeable tannins and a balsamic note that suggested a touch of volatile acidity; it was intriguing and pleasurable, but lacked focus, seemed somewhat out of tune. But ah! The 1929 …
Over time, great estates develop deep, consistent characters that are embodied in their wines. You can say this unique expression derives from the terroir, or the mix of grape varieties, or the inclinations, beliefs and habits of the people who make the wines or own the châteaus. But when this character persists over centuries, it’s hard to deny that somehow, it is creating itself from some more spiritual element.
From the tastings I have researched, the 1929 is not considered a “great” vintage for Margaux. I had never had it, but for me, this bottle perfectly expressed what I think of as the character of Château Margaux. It was silky, nearly weightless on the palate, but still had spark and energy. The flavors were faded, but still pure and graceful, lacy notes of roses, dried cherry, sandalwood and sunshine. The finish was long and harmonious. Pure elegance in a glass.
The 1929 was still very much alive. So, too, Toshiko, born not long after the wine was made, continues to create new music and perform it with Lew and her big band. You can catch them at Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center next April 13 and 14, 2012. I expect it will be just as distinctive, complex and rewarding as a great vintage of Margaux.
WineSpectator.com members: Get scores and tasting notes for Château Margaux vintages as far back as 1771.