Monday, January 28, 2008

Bordeaux on the Hudson

I was lucky enough to again be at the Bordeaux table at the 3rd Annual Peter Pratt's Lugeresque extravaganza in Yorktown, NY.  The event, organized by a member of the Wine Advocate Message Board, was a wild indulgence into two of my favorite:  steak and mature Bordeaux.  My two wines showed on opposite ends.  The 1998 La Mission Haut-Brion was wonderful, but the 1990 Figeac underperformed.

The Year was 1982...
...and the wines were excellent. Ah, the beauty of mature Bordeaux. The GL, a generous gift of our sick friend Mark Golodetz, had a lot of fans at the table and was quite a well-made wine. My distaste for GL being well-documented, let's just say that there were plenty of people that would happily pick up the slack in drinking that wine. The LP was probably the favorite of the table, but I had a big spot in my heart for that La Conseillante. All in, a fantastic flight and probably the most consistent.
  • 1982 Château Gruaud Larose (St. Julien) - A very nice Gruaud Larose, if that's your thing. The nose started out with some tomato notes that I find common to GL and has really prevented me from embracing this producer. The nose is quite complex with charred wood, slightly stewed black fruit, leather and earth. It was pretty substantial in the mouth with some fine grippy tannins and tart acidity framing smoky cassis. It faded a bit in the end although not significantly. Overall, a very good wine that will have its fans, but it did nothing to make me love GL any more than past bottles.
  • 1982 Château La Conseillante (Pomerol) - This is a wonderful wine for lovers of mature Bordeaux. A complex and evolving nose of earth, leather, gunflint and licorice. It also possesses a pretty herbal quality. The palate is gentle and the sweet cherry fruit rolls on a balancing acidity past the skeletons of resolved tannins. It just got better and better.
  • 1982 Château Léoville Poyferré (St. Julien) - Sorry, boys, the secret is out on this wine, which showed even better than the bottle we had last year. The nose is all delicate beauty and finesse with some light cherry fruit intermingled with cedar and eucalyptus. The real magic is on the palate though where one finds the marriage of power and elegance. The delicacy of the nose shifts as the fruit turns darker, more tarry and, ultimately, more savory. The ample fruit is wonderfully framed by great structural acidity and fine tannins. This bottle showed broader and more complex than the previous one and I'd recommend holding it for a while; this wine will last forever. A superb, effortless wine.
A Wide Variety
The wine that stands out here is the '98 LMHB, so let me explain why it was in there in the first place. Rich, Bill and Paul (and the absent Mark Golodetz) had to suffer through a corked bottle that I brought to our LMHB vertical, so this was to make amends. The wines were so disparate that I don't think its fair to say there was a favorite.
  • 1989 Château Palmer (Margaux) - Here is another repeat performer from last year's lunch and, unlike the '82 LP, this was a much poorer showing. To quote Wilfred, there was nothing wrong with this wine, but nothing particularly right either. Nothing really stood out about this wine other than an edgy steeliness. The nose was reticent with some slight floral notes and graphite. The fruit was so delicate as to be an afterthought and so all you were left with were the structural shell. Still, it wasn't a bad wine, just perhaps a slightly off or under-decanted bottle, and I certainly wouldn't panic if I owned any. It just was outclassed today by some great wines.
  • 1985 Château La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) - A classic Claret in an old school Graves style. LMHB seems to have different faces which show from vintage to vintage, but always with a certain style and remarkably consistent. This version displayed the elegant side of LMHB. A wine of finesse with an intriguing nose of dark cherry fruit, herbs and earth. The fruit turns redder on the palate although delicacy remains from the nose and carries all the way through to the finish. A wine that stays within itself and maintains impeccable balance and charm. I wonder if they still make wines like this.
  • 1998 Château La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) - A young buck of a LMBH with lots of potential. A bit out of place with its older neighbors, it nonetheless showed tons of personality and was quite wide open and expressive. The fruit is really quiet primary, but is beginning to show some classic Graves elements as it jumps from the glass with opulent black fruit, tar, wet earth and charred wood. It is quite substantial in the mouth, although not heavy, with plush, luxurious black fruit buffeted by silky sweet tannins. The finish is pretty much fruit driven at this point with the ample fruit overwhelming the structure. Overall a bit simple today, but I'd say on revisiting in 5 to 10 years, one will find a profound LMHB.
A Visit to the Right Bank
The Angelus' were stupendous and head and shoulders above the Figeac (which I think just tasted like Figeac but others thought it corked). 
  • 1989 Château Angélus (St. Émilion) - Every once in a while, a wine just buckles your knees. While the sheer powerful joy of the nose on this wine is the attention grabber, it is the wonderful balance displayed that keeps you coming back. A complex intermingling of sweet black fruit, spices and smoke meet you on the way to the glass. In the mouth is shows wonderful weight and concentration with an undercurrent of acidity and strong tannic backbone that keep the fruit in focus. A nice reminder that power does not have to mean over-the-top. The best is yet to come for this wine.
  • 1990 Château Angélus (St. Émilion) - Not much to not like about this wine. A three dimensional wine with the alluring richness of its vintage. A compelling and exotically fragrant nose of dark fruit, spice, chocolate and smoke. Soft and sexy smooth from start to finish it has a decent structure that frames rather than dominates the fruit. Don't be mistaken, this is a fruit story and the story is long and complex as the fruit spreads out over the palate. A bit more acidity would have brought this pretty close to perfect.
  • 1990 Château Figeac (St. Émilion) - Again this wine shows controversially. There were numerous cried of corked, but I think that people are thrown off by the Cabernet Franc dominated herbal dustiness on the nose. As it is, I find a delicate perfume with dry cherries, herbs galore and leather. The palate is similarly gentle with a refreshingly high level of acidity. This is a counterpoint to the open and generous wines of the Right Bank in 1990. A wine in a minor key that clearly didn't appeal to many at the table.
A Couple of LLC's to Finish
These wines suffered for being the last flight in terms of attention, but not in terms of quality. Clearly, the 1985 was the better wine today.
  • 1985 Château Léoville Las Cases (St. Julien) - This is a wine they don't make much any more. It had a quietness to it that I don't usually associate with LLC reflecting the finesse-driven 1985 vintage. The nose seduces rather than wows with concentrated cassis, anise and graphite. Silky in the mouth, I loved the striking acidity which carried the remarkably fresh and vivid fruit along through the finish. A classic.
  • 1989 Château Léoville Las Cases (St. Julien) - Not without some charm, this wine is years away from being ready. A wine of similar weight to the '85 LLC, it lacks that wine's calm presence. There is a quiet anger lurking underneath the placid exterior. Still, it is a wine of distinction with pure compact cassis at its core and a nice fleshy mouthfeel all of which is somewhat obscured at the moment by its own impressive architecture. The wine today has an unrelenting steeliness and I don't think it wants to be that wine. I'd expect that some time down the road those tannins will integrate and the fruity core will explode and we will have a truly compelling wine.

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