Best tasting of my life?

Tuesday, 9 July, 2013
Roland Peens
Roland Peens, Director of Wine Cellar, recently attended Vinexpo in Bordeaux. He offers a window into the extravagant dinners and tastings held annually in the world's most famous wine region.
Vinexpo hosts the largest collection of wine people on the planet and, unsurprisingly, it is held in the most important wine region, Bordeaux. With so many buyers, critics and consumers present, there is palpable competition between suppliers and châteaux to entertain their customers in the most extravagant ways. A dinner at Larrivet Haut Brion featured a real circus that was set up on the property’s beautiful grounds. Phélan Ségur’s regular Vinexpo dinner hosted 500 guests in a massive marquis with wonderful food and wine, finishing with an upbeat band that had guests dancing until 3am. The most extravagant, however, was the most important. “Fête de la Fleur” at Château Lagrange on the final evening was an inauguration into the Commanderie of Bordeaux. Lagrange hosted 1,500 guests who dined in their barrel cellar, were served world-class food and, incredibly, magnums of Château Lafite 1990 for the cheese course. Fireworks over the St-Julien vineyards concluded an amazing evening, which apparently cost €500 per head. That’s a R10 million dinner! 

But the most memorable evening was hosted by one of the important négociants, who distribute Bordeaux wines throughout the world. Seventy guests were given a blind tasting, served alongside a two-Michelin-starred menu in a cocktail-style dining room. We weren’t told the vintage nor the order, but when I saw the line-up included first growths and dreamy Pétrus, I knew we were in for a treat. 

It is important to note that these bottles never left Bordeaux’s cellars and they were in immaculate condition. My scores are indicated in brackets. 

Ygrec, Sauternes Sec 2011 (91)
Ygrec, the dry white of Château d’Yquem, has changed over the last decade. It is now finer with less oak and more Sauvignon Blanc influence than before. A lean and mineral white showing black currants, lime and green melon. Already quite soft and easy going, it should open up, fatten and gain complexity over the next decade. 

Lynch Bages, Pauillac 1982 (95)
Utterly pure, unmistakable Pauillac. We nailed it, but thought it was possibly the great ‘89 or ‘85. Having found out it was the benchmark 1982, we couldn’t believe its freshness. Layers of tobacco, cassis, old textbooks and floral notes dazzle the nose. A plush and exotic mid-palate shows lots of class, leading to a rich, broad finish which is still coated in velvety tannins. Delicious! 

Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Pauillac 1982 (94)
Far more delicate than the Lynch Bages and not showing off much Pauillac character. Teasing, elegant and fine, it shows lots of sweet berries and spice. The palate is a little diffuse and stewed, however, and the finish is sweet, soft and gentle. A real old lady and far off the legendary 100/100 perfection awarded by Robert Parker on many occasions. Probably just an iffy bottle.

Ducru Beaucaillou, St-Julien 1982 (92)

The first bottle was horribly corked – not a surprise as the château was going through cork taint problems at the time. A really dark wine, showing black fruit, mint, chocolate and dried herbs. Manly and a little aggressive compared to the daintier Pichon. Not typically St-Julien either but still powerful and really enjoyable. The richness and structure should allow it to age for another three decades, but it is unlikely to improve. 

Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac 1982 (96)
This wine showed the most evolution on the nose as well as a brownish edge. At first a little oxidative, the nose opens to soy sauce, spice, sweet red fruits and a moreish umami depth. Utterly compelling and profound, although not really reminiscent of the Médoc. Of course, it’s the ripe, beguiling and exotic Mouton 82! I should have spotted it as I’d tasted it at the Mouton six decade vertical (hosted by Wine Cellar) a few months before. The palate is completely in tune and delicious with huge richness that only fades after a few minutes. The soft tannins shouldn’t fool us into thinking it’s on the way down; this wine should sit in this happy state for another 40 years. 

Cheval Blanc, St-Émilion 1982 (100)

If only we could bottle this nose! Oh wait…Every now and then I try to revisit this amazing experience in my head and I still can’t believe how it stunned my senses. Explosive, compelling, enthrallingly deep, layered and complex; wild flowers, crispy bacon, herbs, perfume, black olive and fresh red berry melange. This has to be Cheval Blanc – only Cabernet Franc can give this gorgeous perfumed allure and fineness. Every drop is a different experience and a surprise of new flavours. Could you ever imagine a more perfect beverage? This is the best Cheval Blanc ‘82 I have had; it’s the best Cheval Blanc I have had; it’s the best Bordeaux I have had. Drink it now or over the next three decades with your favourite person in the world. On the sad side, I am not sure the 15% alcohol of recent vintages will allow them to turn into such beauties, but only time will tell. 

Château Margaux, Margaux 1982 (98)
Having had the wine only a month ago, it was somewhat easy to spot blind. And since we already knew half the line-up, we managed to spot all the rest. The Margaux was the most youthful of the entire tasting. It shouts classy Médoc, with crazy cassis fruit concentration, purity and a deep, succulent palate framed by serious mineralesque tannins. The sexiest and most dashing of the ‘82s, it is still sensationally primary, tight and confident. Built like a skyscraper, I can imagine this in a dream with medium-rare Karoo lamb. Will it improve or will the tannins just start melting away? I am not sure because, at 31 years, this wine is an infant. 

Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac 1982 (99)

Cheval Blanc is certainly fine and emphatic, but Lafite is the pinnacle of elegance. Not a rock-star wine and certainly not one to mix with coke, it is hedonistically sophisticated, taking you on a journey from the nose to the long, silky finish. Sheer depth of garrigue, cedar wood, cassis and cigar box, it is exquisitely balanced by refined, pure black berries, spice and a savoury finish. The tannins are barely noticeable as the wine sings a perfect tune in your glass. It’s the best side of Pauillac, the Lafite side. 

Haut Brion, Pessac-Leognan 1982 (94)
If ever one had to encapsulate the character of a typical Graves wine, this mature Haut Brion would be it. It’s the slightly earthy, gravelly edge and spicy allure that shouts Pessac-Leognan. The palate is more easy going than the other first growths, however, with softer tannins and less concentrated fruit. Let’s not be picky; it still has wonderful depth and complexity. Not as successful as the 1989, but still a compelling wine that is best consumed over the next decade. 

Pétrus, Pomerol 1982 (99)

I wonder just how many of the 30,000 odd bottles produced are actually left, especially since we consumed eight bottles on the evening. The first bottle was also badly corked, so we received another. Hah! At first a little earthy and a bit reductive, you understand why they say Pomerol is the Burgundy of Bordeaux. It opens up to the softest, most intriguing, savoury, sweet and exotic crushed red berry fruit and sous-bois notes. The red fruit is unctuous but far from thick. Imagine falling back into a swimming pool of baby powder – that’s how fine and silky the tannins are. How can Merlot create such a stage of wonder here and nowhere else?  A thrilling experience, but if you had to choose, it’s just a notch behind the perfect Cheval Blanc. At the current exchange rate, a good bottle of Pétrus 1982 will set you back R100,000. 

Yquem, Sauternes 1995 (93)

Never in my life have I been less excited about being served Yquem. There were still many bottles of the greatest ‘82s left unfinished and the finest sweet wine on earth threatened to ruin my palate. The 1995 is quite mature compared to other good vintages in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It is balanced and delicious with good botrytis concentration in its usual mineral guise.

At the end of the evening, a full glass each of the Pétrus, Lafite and Cheval Blanc lay in front of me. I was not sure I would ever get this amazing opportunity again as I mused over some of the greatest wines ever made. Not only my birth year, an incredibly expensive vintage, but a turning point for modern Bordeaux and the vintage Parker made his name by. These 1982s remain incredible at the petit château level and immortal at the top end. I can only think that 2005, or perhaps  2000, can match 1982’s perfection, consistency and balance. Only missing the legendary Latour, this has to be one of the greatest tastings ever presented. An amazing privilege and probably the best tasting of my life.

Roland Peens, Director of Wine Cellar – July 2013

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