The Grand Jury Europeen began its most recent session yesterday, tasting through 32 Sauternes in the afternoon. The first 17 wines were from vintage 2006, and the remainder were from vintage 2005. Most of us agreed that 06 is more appealing, at least now, than the 05 though of course that may well change as time marches on and longevity becomes the issue. My two top wines for both vintages were d’Yquem and Climens and for whatever reason, I rated Suiderat low for both vintages, though I was in a distinct minority. In any event, that’s not the reason for this post.
As he often does, Olivier Bernard, owner with his family of Domaine de Chevalier opened his home to us last night for a lovely dinner and old wines. Olivier is a wine enthusuast’s enthusiast. On the way home last night, a friend and fellow GJE member commented that unlike some great collectors, Olivier is never hesitant to open rarities in his cellar. Indeed, I had a direct view of the cellar door, and several of us tried to contain a gleeful smile when we saw Olivier head into the cellar, time after time, as the night wore on.
Three of us (Herwig Janssen, Kevin Shin, and I) arrived early and there was Olivier, ever ready to sit and talk. I had been tasting all day, and had planned to return to Ch. Pape Clement, where I am staying, to change clothes from the blue jeans and “tres Americain” tennis shoes I was wearing, but alas, we were told there was no time. Apologizing profusely to Olivier for the way I was dressed, he brushed it off without a thought, and the hospitality began.
When the others arrived, Olivier and his wife ushered us out to the garden, where he had a jeroboam of 1989 Grande Dame waiting. To sit outside in the lovely Bordeaux garden as the sun is beginning to set, talking with friends, and drinking this terrific champagne, is an experience that I will always remember. First, the wine was–as is almost always the case in Bordeaux–served in white wine glasses (in this case, I think either Riedel vinum white wine glasses or Spiegelau authentis–I’m not sure which) but I commented to Kevin that I always prefer great champagne out of this type of glass rather than the typical champagne flute.
The wine was youthful, but the nose had the complexity that only comes with champagne with some age on it. Someone commented that it was a bit yeasty on the nose, and on the palate, a cascade of white truffle, lillies, and a bit of brioche. I must admit, I did have my glass ready for a refill as the staff came by with the bottle. (To their credit, they carried the bottle around and poured from it, rather than pouring it into a smaller carafe first to make it easier on them). I love this champagne.
Next up, Olivier poured three whites, all from the same vintage, double blind. Our task was to guess the wines and the vintage. They were all so different! Kevin Shin, who sat across from me, got the origin correct immediately on all three, and he even nailed one blind! (Cuvee Frederic Emile). The wines were:
1989 Trimbach Frederic Emile–lots of petrol on this wine, which I loved. I thought to myself “I will never again drink a young Emile.” This wine was showing all the lovely secondary notes I like in an older riesling. It almost seemed to have more age on it than from even an 89, but it was glorious. The petrol and secondary notes were captivating.
1989 Domaine de Chevalier blanc. I have a fondness for the white wines of the Domaine, and we all pretty much guessed this was the wine from the property, as it had a very white Bordeaux characteristic. Subtle notes of hay and grass, but the wine was well rounded and inviitng.
1989 Carillon Bienvenus Batard Montrachet. My favourite of the flight, the wine was feminine, subtle and so well rounded. It had that “come to me” quality only found in a terrific white Burgundy. I’m afraid I didn’t take notes so this will have to suffice, but I found the wine captivating.
These wines were served with a Trio of Crustaceans (lobster, shrimp, scallops) with truffles.
Next up–five red wines, all double blind. Turns out they were all from 1999:
1999 Domaine de Chevalier–my second favourite of the flight. Mature, silky, showing quite nicely. Feminine and inviting–the most feminine of the 5.
1999 Chateau Haut Bailly–showing quite nicely–probably my favourite of the flight. Also fully ready to drink.
1999 Chateau Malartic–This showed a bit too much oak treatment for me. The vanilla and oak on the nose were a bit too much and I found it difficult to get past this.
1999 La Mission Haut Brion–very structured–the most regal of the 5, but the tannins were pronounced and the fruit in the background. Drinking at an awkward stage right now, I did not care for this wine last night at this stage. Maybe later it will come together, but for me, I said to someone “its like putting a tea bag on your tongue.”
1999 La Tour Haut Brion–a bit light bodied and interesting but a bit lost in the shuffle for me.
These were served with a medley of “pintadeau” (young guinea fowl) with foie gras and truffles.
With the cheese course, we had:
1969 Domaine de Chevalier en Magnum–I guessed this wine to be from the 60’s but wasn’t sure of the year. It was beautiful–graceful secondary notes and a hint of sweetness from an older Bordeau.
1949 Domaine de Chevalier en Magnum–Stunning and captivating. I’ve had the '47 of this wine, which is better, but this was pretty great. As the night wore on, I kept going back to it, and it almost became a touch port-like, but in a good way. A graceful older wine, the wine was still fully alive but again, got a touch sweeter in the glass as the night wore on, as if to say “Don’t forget me–I’ll make you want to return” and I did.
With the desserts, we had 3 sweet wines; two from Sauternes and one from Barsac:
1989 Ch. Coutet–my second favourite; Kevin’s favourite. I’m sorry–no notes and its getting late.
1989 Ch. Guiraud–my favourite. Lovely, seamless, just the perfect balance of richness, sweetness, and secondary, complex layers. Loved this wine.
1989 Ch. La Tour Blanche–my least favourite and it seemed a bit light and out of its league, at least on this night.
Then, we had the stunning double magnum of 1931 port by Niepoort. Brought by Dirk van der Niepoort (GJE member), this wine was everything one wants in a great port. The port was a wine of immense complexity and so full of richness and restraint at the same time. It reminded me of the 1900 port that Dirk had given me for my 50th birthday. No way would I have guessed the year, but it was beautiful.
It was a terrific night and we left feeling the friendship and hospitality of a generous wine enthusiast. When you’re with one, you know it. And we were surely with one last night.