Amazing tasting of wines 1929-1979 (Huet, L Latour, 70s BDX horiz ++)

I was fortunate to be invited to a special wine dinner with nine very experienced tasters last night. The dinner was hosted by one good friend of mine, who provided all the wines from his collection. It was doubly a great experience, because I got to benefit from the incredibly extensive experience and knowledge of the other tasters, several of whom had tasted many wines from these vintages, and several of whom had extensive knowledge of the producers and vineyards and methods.

Drappier Brut Carte D’Or 1979. We opened the night with the youngest wine of the evening. This was tasty starting out, with a strong flavor of apple cider, a bit of ginger, and lively bubbles. Good, but rather simple. After about 10 minutes in the glass, this became much more balanced and interesting, with some bleu cheese, mushroom, tea and earth appearing as the strong initial flavors backed off.

Huet Demi-Sec Flight. Everyone was astonished by this flight. The wines were so fresh, lively and intense, yet with the fruit and sweetness having stepped back to show the great character and terroir. The finishes were so long, I almost felt as though I could still taste them all evening long.

Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec 1953. The nose is somewhat muted, but the flavors really pop: green apple skin, tart pineapple, salted butter, hazelnut and slate. There is still fruit and a bit of sweetness, but they play in great balance with the savory notes. This was my favorite of the night, and I think the favorite of the majority of the group, as I think it offered the most complete wine experience of the three, despite or because of the fruit being less flashy and prominent.

Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec 1961. This was another excellent wine, but it was a bit overshadowed by the other two in the flight. Apple, bitter papaya, pineapple. Neither the flashiness of the 1971’s fruit nor (yet) the complexity and character of the 1953.

Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec 1971. This one had much more of a nose than the first two, though it was not much of fruit, but more of like some dry desert bushes and a bit of petrol. That may not sound nice, but it rather was. This wine still had powerful fruit flavors of grilled pineapple, apricot, and hints of coconut and banana. Like the other two wines, it ends with an intensely acidic and long finish.

Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Reserva flight. The accompanying dish (Berkshire pork polpetini and octopus, with sauce of tomato, cinnamon and potato) arrived a bit late and after the wines were first served, and the wines clearly went up a few levels once paired with the dish.

1967 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Reserva. Tart cherry, hard red candy, very high in acid. This had no oxidation at all and tastes incredibly young – if I tried this blind, I would guess it was from a vintage in the 2000s. The flipside of that is that the wine had not developed the “old Rioja” magic, either – not that much complexity, spice or earthiness.

1976 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Reserva. While the other two bottles were very fresh, one was somewhat browning, and the group had disagreements over whether it was heavily oxidized, slightly oxidized, or perhaps just an overripe vintage that wasn’t aging as well. It improved slightly over the evening, leading me to believe it may not have been oxidation, but this was not a very good bottle anyways.

1978 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Monte Real Reserva. Red Jolly Rancher, red cherry, high acid, tastes very young. In other words, very similar to the 1967, though a bit younger still. This was a great accompaniment to the food, but as far as the wine itself, it was a good wine though not a thrilling experience.

1970s Bordeaux Horizontal. The vintages of the 1970s were little loved for many decades for being lean, very high in tannin and acid, and offering little pleasure. But some of them, particularly 1970 and 1975, are finally starting to turn the corner into being very nice wines, albeit more old-school and classic style rather than flamboyant. These three all turned out to be quite excellent last night.

1970 Chateau Cheval Blanc. Very much in the Cheval Blanc style, with a hint of burnt sugar, giving way to sweet plum, cassis, and flowers. Lively tannin and acid still remain. Not powerful or big, but with that classic gorgeous texture and purity of the estate, a wine that seems to float weightlessly in the mouth.

1970 Chateau Figeac. A classic example of a mature, traditional Bordeaux. Sweet tobacco, earth, roasted meat, herbs, sweet red fruit. Complex and earthy, yet quite clean tasting as well. This was my favorite of the flight, by just a hair over the Cheval Blanc, though the two are just quite different wines.

1970 Chateau Palmer. This was far less evolved than the first two wines, with intense, focused cabernet fruit and some tobacco notes. This might be the better wine 10 years from now, but it’s still tannic and a bit too hard today. Still, entirely enjoyable, and maybe a longer decant might have shown more from it.

Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey Vertical. It is quite rare to get to taste wines of this age, and especially a treat to try Grand Cru Burgundy at up to 80 years old. Much of the discussion at the table revolved around Latour’s practice, continuing to this day, to flash pasteurize their red wines. One person joked about Louis Pasteur Latour, and then it turned out that Louis Latour was friends with Louis Pasteur, and they came up with the idea of pasteurizing the wines together. The tradeoff that is commonly believed from this process was in evidence in these wines. On one hand, the process greatly reduces the variability of the wines, increases the cleanliness, and results in fewer bad bottles. On the other hand, the wines may not develop the full spectrum of complexity and the fullest expression of the site. It made for an interesting discussion.

1937 Louis Latour Corton-Grancey Grand Cru. A huge nose, with big red fruit, some barnyard and some matchstick notes. This is a sweet, generous wine, with huge red cherry and rhubarb, some brown sugar, dried red flowers and sesame. The wine was light in color and had perfect clarity. As the wine stayed open, a lovely cinnamon and clove spice developed at the back end. I am guessing this doesn’t have as much complexity as other great Burgundies of this age (and one of the tasters with much experience from this era said as much), but it was a beautiful bottle anyways, and widely beloved around the table.

1945 Louis Latour Corton-Grancey Grand Cru. This wine was browning and probably mildly oxidized. A lot of plum and brown sugar flavors. This was not shot, and it did improve a bit over time, but it wasn’t a good showing overall.

1959 Louis Latour Corton-Grancey Grand Cru. This was another beautiful and happy wine. Less complex than the 1937, and without the earthy and matchstick notes, but otherwise in a similar style. Generous red cherry fruit, some warm burnt sugar and cinnamon. Very clean tasting, maybe a bit too much so? Lovely anyways.

With dessert, we had the Domaine Bachelet Maury 1929, which is a Grenache-based fortified wine from Languedoc-Rousillon. My understanding is that it is made in a Colheita style, aged for most of its life in barrels, then bottled and released in recent years. It has intensity, sweetness and spice, but without much heaviness or raisininess (is that a word?). Really nice, though I don’t think I gave it as much attention as it deserved at the end of this glorious tasting.

Thanks for reading.

“bleu cheese
apple cider
green apple skin
tart pineapple
bitter papaya
coconut and banana
Like the other two wines, it ends with an intensely acidic…
hard red candy, very high in acid
Red Jolly Rancher
high acid
hint of burnt sugar
Not powerful or big, but with that classic gorgeous texture and purity of the estate, a wine that seems to float weightlessly in the mouth
some barnyard and some matchstick notes
beautiful and happy wine”

I’m wondering how long I must wait for my palate to evolve before I grow to appreciate old world wines where 44 years is not enough time to maturity and I live for the day when I can open a bottle that includes essences of bleu cheese and burnt brown sugar. Viva la acidity… it’s the mothers milk of old world wines.

Color skeptical when I read people describe wines as “happy”. I don’t mean any disrespect, because I honestly believe you were trying to be sincere and well intentioned, but sometimes people with a passion for this hobby get far too carried away when describing the characteristics of a wine that quite frankly comes across as pompous. For example, not long ago I read a professional tasting note where the person stated the wine had the flavor a particular variety of white fish found off the coast of Norway and that was a good thing. Really, come on? We’re talking theatre of the absurd.

I think Andre Tchelistcheff had it smack on the money in the quote at the bottom of your signature. Ok, now let the arrows fly!

The adjective “happy” comes across to you as “pompous?” Odd, but to each his own. The spirit of Klapp lives on!

Sheez, 99% of us here are fun-loving, wine-loving amateurs, Dave, lighten up!

I enjoyed that read. Actually, would have enjoyed it more had I been there. Thanks for sharing, Chris! Nice job capturing the essence of your experience. I want that Figeac…

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did you seriously just compare someone saying “happy” as a tasting note to something as stupid and pompous as a particular white fish found off the coast of Norway?

talk about a stretch.

Great notes Chris. Monte Real topped off? I’ve had a few from the 60’s that HAVE to be reconditioned. Your note on the 67 sounds like it.

Chris - great notes, sounds like a fun evening. Thanks for sharing.

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That’s not what I said… but I’ve probably said too much already.

Wine that makes you happy isn’t pompous, but that’s not what you said.

Hey Counselor, that is a whale of a meal there. At the rate you are going, with Wine Bookclub, winemaker dinners and then Playground offlines, you better have something nice teed up for that wife and her widowed patience! Dude, you are living the high life. Love it.

And, thanks for putting the notes up. Write 'em, post 'em and know it is appreciated.

He also didn’t say what you think he said.

“This was another beautiful and happy wine.”

Wow thats some old stuff Chris. Where did all of these wines come from? I have had 10-12 year old Huets/chenins but those are seriously old. Worth holding onto for that long? They made me very HAPPY at 10/12.

Nice notes, thanks for posting them.

The host must have one heck of a cellar. Very generous too.

Chris is one of the last on this Board that I’d call “pompous”, “pretentious”, or any other “p” word. Nice note on an extraordinary tasting!

Looks like a a supper dinner, Chris, with the theme largely in the wines I prefer. Many thanks for the notes.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had those Huet a number of times. That '53 is really in a beautiful place right now and has been there awhile. I actually prefer it to the '53 Moelleux, but, man, you need to get out there and start tasting rocks! It’s limestone! [wink.gif]

I consider the '71 LHL Demi-Sec a transcendental wine. When it’s showing like it should, there are few wines on this earth better. Back in '99, the store I worked for at the time got about 10 or 15 cases of it in and sold it for $36.99 a bottle. I and much of my local tasting group here loaded up on them so they made frequent showings at dinners for a time and they showed too young then. The wine really went to another level about eight years ago. Surprised you got coconut on it as the wine doesn’t see any new wood.

Love me some old Rioja and Riojanas is one of my favorite houses for older bottles. Always been a fan of the '76 and '78. Never had the '67, though I’ll take a look given it’s my birth year. Not a noted vintage and the few Rioja I’ve had from there have disappointed, but always happy to find something decent from '67.

The Cheval Blanc sounds spectacular. Thanks for the notes Chris.

Wow wow wow. Wonderful tasting notes and what an experience. Was the food burgers and fries or were meals planned around the wines. I’d roll with the former but I’m guessing it was the latter. :wink:

Nice spread, nice notes, and very nice friend!
Drappier is the most under-rated Champers out there.
Hope to live long enough for my Huet’s to have that kind of age.
I’ve been stocking up on old Riojas, but none of those; I do have a '75 Riojana MRGR, which was a nice vintage. I hope it shows well.
Thanks for posting! My Bellingham wine friends will have to raise the bar to compete with this thread!

Great notes Chris, and I appreciate the time it took to share them. They were expressive and gave me a good idea of what the wines were like which is, I suppose, the entire point.

It is unfortunate that Dave’s response was not more carefully worded. He said he meant no disrespect, and I will assume that is true, but the way the response is written strongly suggests that intent, so one can assume only that his real intent was missed. By a mile.

I think there is a germ of truth in what he says, though. After all these years of enjoying wine, I (we?) still suffer from a poverty of language in describing it. I am reminded of the quote often mis-attributed to Elvis Costello: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” We all struggle when we try to use words to convey something that is stubbornly non-verbal. And so you see notes likening an aroma to wet igneous stones on the south bank of a salt water creek. In the sun. On a Wednesday. Or to gently crushed marionberries (because that’s different than brutally crushed blueberries). And you end up with all that “tour de force” and stop-watch finish stuff. Or white fish from Norway

I don’t really see any of that in Chris’s notes, and even if I did, I surely wouldn’t come here to blast him for it. If the notes sparked a thought about the difficulty of the enterprise, I might have started a new thread .