An unforgettable dinner in Chateau de Beaune with 5 wines before 1870

As many doubts about old wines were expressed in a recent discussion, I was sad because I was wondering : did they make the good experiments, did they approach the wines as they should be approached?

To cure my sadness I have translated a text of 2010 about one of the most unbelievable dinners that I have lived. It is extremely refreshing for me when I can experience the eternity of wine.

This dinner has been developed with and by the leaders of maison Bouchard Père & Fils. The day included various recent wine tastings at the Domaine de la Romanée Conti and at the Liger-Belair estate, a lunch with Louis Michel Liger-Belair and will feature another tasting of Bouchard wines after the opening of the dinner wines.

At 5 pm precisely, I am ready to open the bottles which are all present in the back kitchen of the castle of Beaune.

A Swiss friend wants to photograph the bottles before they are opened. He came with a small polystyrene tabernacle to make accurate photographs by managing the lighting. I admire this refinement, but my pictures have a definition of points divided by fifty between the picture I take and the one I put on my blog because they have to be reduced. Does the extra precision have so much interest?

My Swiss friend opens the two bottles that he brought with his Swiss friend, and he plays on velvet because the Lafite 1844 and Lafite 1858 were recorked at the castle in 1983. Their perfumes, very close, are promising. My job is harder, because I have to deal with much older corks. The original Margaux 1929 cork is of a magnificent quality. It is flexible, but it did not stick to the glass, which explains a drop in level to the shoulder that I considered acceptable. The friend who brought it has a reserve bottle. In spite of a slightly roasted nose, it seemed useless to open the wine of rescue.

The part is complicated to open the cork of the La Tour Blanche 1869 that I brought. Due to the heat, the wine has a little oozing and surrounded the circumference of the bottle with a fatty liquid. But the level in the bottle is exceptional for a bottle with the original cork: it is at the base of the neck. The cork breaks into many pieces. Stéphane Follin-Arbelet would like to help me, but I prefer to finish without help. All the broken pieces come out and the smell that invades the room is extraordinary. One feels the citrus fruits that will be freed. The wine looks perfect. I am happy. I then open the tiny bottle of Cyprus wine 1841 and the cork is completely glued to the neck of glass. So, when I pull the corkscrew, I only remove a small cylinder from the torn center, and I have to separate the cork from the neck by cutting with a sharp tip of very small pieces. Inevitably crumbs fall into the wine, which I will remove at the time of the service with a spoon directly in the glasses. The perfume of this wine is to be damned. I’ve never smelt anything so heady and peppery.

Stéphane urges us to go to the cellar of the castle to make a vertical tasting of the Chevalier Montrachet La Cabotte Bouchard Père & Fils.

After this tasting, we go back with our glasses of Cabotte 1992 on the beautiful terrace which overlooks the gardens implanted in ancient moats of the city fortress. Joseph Henriot joins us, all smiles, and gratified each one with kind compliments. In our group, from the house of Bouchard, Stéphane managing director and Philippe the man who makes and knows all wines at his fingertips, two Swiss friends, great collectors, one of the main customers of the house Bouchard who sells the wines on a large scale but also organizes great tastings in the four corners of the planet. There is also Allen Meadows, the man who knows best the wines of Burgundy, who has just released a book on the wines of Vosne Romanée. Two journalists will film some moments of our meal, for the archives of the house Bouchard.

On the terrace, we drink a champagne Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs magnum 1959, wine that I appreciate at the highest point. A big fear takes us, because there is in the mouth but not in the nose, a small beginning of cork. Fortunately this small defect disappears and the richness of this champagne butter and lemon, fleshy and charming, delights me. This champagne is first a wine. Joseph Henriot is exciting because he tells us his questions about strategic choices and we are proud to be in the confidence, but he also takes advantage of it to insist on our responsibility to develop the love of quality wines.

The menu composed by Stéphane and directed by Marie Christine is - I think - the most successful of all the dinners I have been invited to in the Orangerie du Château de Beaune. The menu is: Gougères / monkfish medallion with Bresse curry / poultry with morels and wild rice / veal grenadin, cooking juices and vegetables / Cîteaux and Comté / choco- passion. It was very elegant.

The Corton Charlemagne Bouchard Père et Fils 1961 is a sure bet. It has a lemon nose. In the mouth, it’s magic because the candied fruits and the lemon mix. The end of this wine is extreme, with lemon confit. Curry goes well with wine. This Corton Charlemagne overflows with pepper. What is astonishing is the marriage of delicacy and great power.

The Château Margaux 1929 presents itself with a rather tired nose. But we feel that it will improve. Next to him, the Fleurie Château de Poncié 1929 has a very fresh nose. I was astonished that this domain had kept the 1929, but the explanation exists: this estate belonged to the Bouchard house which had a strategy of preserving a “library” of vintages of its wines. It is therefore normal that they kept the 1929. The castle of Poncié left the Bouchard group and Joseph Henriot bought it recently to integrate it again to his group.

On the palate the Margaux is very pretty and velvety. It has a very feminine charm. And his small weaknesses miraculously disappear with morels. The Poncié has menthol aspects. It is very pretty, old wood, with great charm due to its length. There is wood and coffee. This remarkably preserved wine is an example of the interest of Beaujolais de garde. The bitterness is compensated by the beautiful density.

When we are served side by side the Château Lafite Rothschild 1844 and the Château Lafite Rothschild 1858, we become aware that we are entering a world that is the grail of any wine lover. I observed the bottles my friend opened. The original bottles are very old. Recent labels show nothing special, except the vintage and there is a counter label which indicates that the wines were reconditioned at the castle in 1983. Everything appeared to me authentic.

The color of the wines is unreal, because there is not a gram of tile. There is ruby on the edges. The nose is elegant. The wines are very acid, but really elegant. Their youth is confounding. I find the 1844 much more brilliant, with a richness that evokes me Lafite 1961. It has a crazy structure, an incredible density. I find that crazy. We swim in the unreal, with incredible structures and rare aromatic power. The nose of 1858 is delicate. Some prefer the 1858 and I tell them that it is because he is the most bourguignon of the two. The 1844 has the breed and power of a great 1961 and the 1858 flourishes better and is progressively more elegant. But the 1844 conquered me. While I taste, my senses are alert to try to track a possible addition to these wines. But in my opinion it would be impossible to have these balances with wines that would not be completely homogeneous.

Joseph Henriot is an agronomist, so he wonders what would explain a specificity of prephylloxeric wines that would give them this longevity. I am not an expert on this issue, but my Swiss friends and I drank a lot of prephylloxeric wines and it is undeniable that there is a spectacular aging potential in them. Is it because they have been present for a millennium, these varieties felt well in those geological layers that suited them? This idea would please me.

The time has come for the Beaune Greves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 1865. Joseph Henriot and Stéphane recall the story of the young Carmelite who had predicted that Anne of Austria would have a child and whose congregation was rewarded from this piece of land called Enfant Jésus. The nose of the wine is extremely bourguignon, with a confusing charm. What strikes me is the perfect balance of this wine with so unreal youth. I think this sublime wine is not the best of the three that I have drunk from this year for this wine. But we are at the top of what Burgundy has given in this historically grandiose year.

All my friends are almost K.O. seated so much the Chateau la Tour Blanche 1869 is of infinite perfection. The perfume is of rare power. On the palate, the wine is of an unheard-of charm. Despite its black color, there is almost no caramel and citrus fruits dominate. We often speak of sauternes who eat their sugar and I remember a Filhot 1858 drunk in this same place that had lost its sugar. This wine of 1869 has kept all its sugar and it is so powerful that it looks like a great Yquem and it evokes me a little the 1861 that I adored and for my Swiss friend it is the Yquem 1869 that he has already drunk three times. He thinks the two are alike. In my opinion this wine is “the” sauternes perfect, with an incomparable enjoyment in mouth. The fat of this wine on a sweet and citrus background is unique.

It is time to share with my friends the Cyprus Wine 1841. It is the only bottle of this year that I have and I took it by game, to offer a wine older than the 1844! The perfume of this wine is incredibly powerful. The feeling of alcohol is very strong. And what makes the charm, unique for me who is crazy about it, is that the strong alcohol is refreshed by a dominant pepper. And wine is a delicacy, mixing power, alcoholic strength with a finesse created by pepper. There is no other wine that has this infinite length.

We are all aware that we have just experienced something unique. Because the quality of all the wines was at the rendezvous. We have seen that wines can approach eternity. Not being the organizer of this dinner, I did not ask that we vote.

My vote would be: 1 - Château La Tour Blanche 1869, 2 - Château Lafite Rothschild 1844, 3 - Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 1865, 4 - wine of Cyprus 1841, 5 - Château Lafite Rothschild 1858.

If I did not put first the Beaune Greves 1865 which was perfect, it is mainly because there was no novelty that this sauternes 1869 absolute perfection offered me. And the 1844 is so much above what I expected from these Lafite that it had to be crowned in good place.

The Bouchard House has created this unique opportunity to drink some of their cherished treasures and bring together lovers of ancient wines around bottles of legend. In my life as a collector - and drinker - of ancient wines, this is perhaps the biggest dinner I have ever been to (this was written in 2010 - other events have appeared since).

Thanks to Henriot and my friends for this unforgettable event.

Thanks for sharing this again Francois. I know of no one that drinks more old wine than you. I wish I could store my 2001 La Tour Blanche and open it at age 141. Remarkable. Someday I hope to make it to one of your dinners in France.



Wonderful. Please post bottle photos if you can.

A real pleasure to read, Francois

the group of wines

the 1841 Cyprus

the 1869 La Tour Blanche with a funny wording

All I can say is WoW!!

Thank you for this wonderful tour!

Francois is there an opinion that pre-and post-philloxera vines produced wine of different quality? ie, difference in vinfiera that is own-rooted vs. rootstock?


It is very difficult to make a general answer.
But my impression - and I say impression and not certitude - is that pre-philloxeric wines are richer, more dense, and give the impression to be able to last for ever.

When you drink these wines which have been kept for more than 120 years, the fact that they are still lively gives them a balance which expresses the sentiment that they would live for ever.

I am always impressed, because the question which arises is : how is it possible that they are so accomplished and serene.

“difference in vinfiera that is own-rooted vs. rootstock”
I am not expert enough to answer to this question.

What I imagine is that vines which have lived for more than 1000 years in the same soil have certainly developed complexity which represents the complexity of the terroir more than the vines of today which have spent “only” 150 years in the earth (if I am wrong, I have no problem).

It reminds me a discussion that I had with Aubert de Villaine about the following question : “why is the decade of the 20ies so brilliant?”. And we came to the hypohesis that the 20ies was a period of full maturity and strength of the vines replanted after the phylloxera.

I will not say anything more because I am not an expert on technical aspects of wine. I drink them!

Thank you Francois.

I think old vines are less productive, and perhaps that helps too.

Francois, I have read that another Bouchard wine that ages very well is the Volnay Caillerets Cuvée Carnots. I mention this first because I have been buying this and putting this away, but also because this is still a reasonably priced Burgundy. Do you have experience with older vintages of this wine?

Agree re pre-philloxera wines, they do seem to have a thick quality to the fruit that makes them look timeless/ageless.

We had an 1865 Bouchard Père & Fils Volnay ‘Santenots’ a few years ago, an it was a special experience indeed…

Thank you so much for sharing this Francois, absolutely amazing. And fear not, no doubts about old wines here. Would love to have tried that 1869 La Tour Blanche.

Here is what I have drunk of Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot :

1929, 1933, 1959 (2), 1962 (2), 1964, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1976, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2002 (2), 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, Total (24).

I will look for some reports and will tell you. My memory is that it is an excellent wine, underrated.

Dear Francois , what a great tasting . I also had the luck of being invited by the most generous Bouchard team and to drink their fabulous 19th century wines . Our wine of that night was the Clos de Vougeot 1865 , still pure and delicate , with the distinct smell of rozes .
Last year , we had the Yquem 1869 and the wine is very much like what you wrote about the Tour Blanche . You drink pure history . My bottle came from the cellars of an old Belgian castle near where I live , which is very much part of the fun and romantics when you drink such a " tresor " . It’s not the most delicious Yquem I ever had ( that remains the 1945 ) but it was the most amazing .

Here are some texts :

The Volnay Caillerets old Cuvée Carnot Bouchard Père & Fils 1929 is an unbelievable surprise. Its color is unreal. The nose is very young and animal. A neighbor of table evokes the after-eight, chocolate and mint. I rather see coffee there. This wine is a surprise by its fiery petulance.

Volnay Caillerets old Cuvée Carnot Bouchard Père et Fils 1959. The color is a slightly brown red, very light. The nose is absolutely Burgundian, with bitterness. In the mouth the bitterness is also sensitive, this beautiful Burgundian characteristic. The wine is very fresh, with notes of leather and smoke. It is characterized by its harmony, its finesse and its subtlety.

The Volnay Caillerets Old Cuvée Carnot Premier Cru Bouchard Père & Fils 1959 would resist any criticism or any hesitation. Because we are in the presence of a wonderful wine, intensely racy, lively, scathing, which shows that it is far from having reached its apogee. He has a brilliant future ahead of him. It is a noble burgundy, which does not seek to seduce and convinces by its bitterness and the richness of a balance that gives it the age and the exceptional vintage. I think it would be impossible in a private cellar to have such a lively wine. Bernard Burtschy and Michel Bettane think the opposite because their cellars are at 10 ° permanently. Despite their expert opinion, the vivacity of 1959 of this day seems to me above what would be obtained in a private cellar.
Maison Bouchard Père & Fils has a range of dazzling wines. And its library of ancient wines is unique. In a very friendly atmosphere, we had the chance to taste a memorable 1959.

I hope it gives you a positive view on this great wine.

In 2004 I made a small verticale of Volnay Caillerets Vieille Cuvée carnot.
Here is my ranking :

1964 – 1999 – 2003 – 1990 – 2002 – 1995

It is the oldest which was the best, of course according to my palate.

Herwig, friendly greetings, I hope we can meet to drink very great wines.

Here is my report on the Clos de Vougeot 1865 :

The strongest astonishment was to come from the Clos Vougeot 1865. There is no more possible marker because one wonders how this wine is able to be as young. If we were not in this place where rigor prevails, we would refuse this wine by saying: it can not be a wine of that age. And when you forget this shift, you have a splendid wine, full, intense, and with an aromatic persistence that only the great ancient burgundies can give. I was baffled by this ideal wine, so perfect was its perfection. This perfect 1865 is diabolical youth.

A we talk about 1865 and as I am in vacation I do not resist to talk about the greatest white wine of my life, drunk at the same moment with the Clos de Vougeot 1865 in 2004 :

The ]Montrachet Bouchard 1865 (read well the century) has a dense golden color like a Sauternes of the same period. We must imagine that in this glass, it is a grape that has matured 139 years ago. The nose is powerful. It has smoke, candied fruit. It is a lively, lively and vibrant wine that can not be approached without a deep respect. It is the absolute rarity, the perfect example of a slice of history with surrealist evocations. We are in Paradise, at the right hand of the Father. Yann gave me a royal gift by giving me a glass from the bottom of the bottle and I had then one of those moments that justify my quest: I had, on a sip, a moment of eternity. I had in my mouth, communicated to my brain, one of those manifestations of absolute perfection. It is as if a light was lit in all my senses to say: "That’s it. That is the ultimate goal. It’s the perfect taste. " The impression lasted half a minute. It was like an apparition. I was really tetanized for a moment. Nothing around me existed but this gustatory shock of perfection. This wine joins my Pantheon.