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Executive editor Thomas Matthews joined Wine Spectator in 1988. His tasting beat is Spain.
Thomas Matthews

Silk and Roses

Château Margaux Margaux 1929

Thomas Matthews
Posted: October 25, 2011

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.

Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  October 26, 2011 2:08pm ET

Thanks for sharing your notes on these great old vintages! I must admit, I always view notes on really old bottles with a bit of envy, since it is unlikely that I'll ever taste them myself. Still, tasting such things is a rare privilege for almost everyone, so sharing your notes provides a vicarious thrill that is appreciated.

I did get a chance to share a bottle of the '59 Margaux with some friends many years ago, the experience remains fresh in my mind to this day. It struck me as one of the most perfectly balanced wines I could ever imagine, with fully developed fruit in perfect harmony with completely rounded tannins, something only possible with 1st class wine and decades of cellaring in optimum conditions. That bottle still stands high on my personal top-ten list!

David Clark
for The Wine Connection

Thomas Matthews
New York City —  October 26, 2011 4:23pm ET

Your 1959 sounds like a sibling to my 1929. It's amazing when a wine can display such a consistent character.

I actually don't drink that much old, rare wine, and tend to agree with you that sharing those notes can verge on bragging. But these Margaux were so beautiful I couldn't help myself.


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