Friday, June 13, 2014

A Rare Opportunity To Taste Some Old Bordeaux - 1978, 1982 and 1985

My father recently officiated at a wedding and was given a case of old Bordeaux as a thank you. An inventory was made and sent to me for my feedback. I began salivating immediately. As is always the case with older wines, you never quite know what you're going to get but these were impressive wines, some from epic vintages.
I typed up a lengthy response and we decided to open one or two while I was in New York City last week. It started as one but I was torn between two potential gems so we decided both would be included. Then a bit of anxiety crept in and a third bottle was added to the mix in case the others weren't very good. The more the merrier. It turns out we didn't need all three but we opened them anyway.
Read on for a rundown of some bottles with age I'm rarely lucky enough to taste anymore.

Chateau Leoville Barton 1985, Chateau Langoa Barton 1978 and Chateau Lynch Bages 1982

It was a sunny day on the deck

The sun behind the bottles makes it clear the Lynch Bages had a very low fill, not a good sign. The stain on the importer's label did not appear to have come from this bottle as the label itself was clean. Although perhaps it indicated a leaky bottle from the same case, not a good sign redux.
The Langoa Barton had a very similar, disappointing fill.

The corks were all saturated and a bit of a mess to extricate. The hardest part about opening old bottles is remembering just how much longer the corks used to be compared to what we see today.

Chateau Lynch Bages 1982 - We started here because I thought it was likely to be the liveliest of the bunch and, therefore, the only one that might benefit from some breathing time. The color was good, a red core to go with the expected brown edge. The aroma was fantastic, sweet fruit notes and baked brick aromas. Spice wafted up from the glass and maybe some fig too? It was actually nutty on the finish, but not like sherry. Some iodine came on with time in the glass, as did brown sugar.
The palate was long with a bit of a hole about 2/3 back in the mouth before it returned and lingered for what seemed like minutes. Tannin still reared its head and even dominated the fruit at first. The wine hung on nicely for more than an hour and showed a lovely sweet roundness before we got so much sediment we called it quits.

Chateau Langoa Barton 1978 - The vintage was a weird one, full of heat and sometimes grapes that more closely resembled raisins. I have been fortunate enough to taste a few Burgundies from the vintage and pretty much knew what to expect. The wine delivered the style I anticipated and showed more life than I had hoped. It was classic 1978.
The color was nearly all brown, but not quite. This one reminded me of sherry (specifically Oloroso, with more nuttiness than sugar) on the nose, with a really pronounced sweet, brown sugar note. The aroma was not the highlight of the wine. The palate delivered a juicy, jammy feel that felt lush and was surprisingly long. It was a hit for taste alone, the best of the night, although not my favorite flavor profile.

Chateau Leoville Barton 1985 - This was my most anticipated wine. I knew the '78 was not my style even if it drank well. I had only tasted one or two 1982s so I was excited to experiment but the 1985 vintage was going to be like a reunion. The vintage was still around when I got into the wine business, not in wide release, but on restaurant lists and readily available in people's cellars. And I loved them!
They displayed silky, sinuous mouthfeel with delicate but noticeable tannin and a distinct sense of place. You could really taste the subtle differences in appellation unlike the 1978s which all seemed cut from the same cloth.
I think I might have been holding my breath while working out the crumbling cork and felt a little jittery knowing it was, by far, the best fill of the night form a very good producer. The wine was filled with life, acid and tannin and fruit, but it was also tight and not showing very much. Would it open up or crash and burn?
The aroma turned out to be the star here, penetrating and loaded with wild diverse scents like meat (a butcher shop) and licorice. However, despite the lively feel in the mouth the wine was much more tired than delicious. It seemed like a woman who had danced all night and was ready to collapse but somehow still had every hair in place and the same perfect makeup as when she left the house.
It was, by far the biggest disappointment of the night, drinkable but without a compelling reason to do so except to continue to hope for a taste that never arrived.

The ideal might have had the nose of the Lynch Bages and Leoville Barton, the fruit of the Lynch Bages and length and smoothness of the Langoa Barton. I have tried this kind of blending experiment many times and it never works. What I really wanted was a better bottle of the 1985...but I was thrilled to have had some fun playing with these wines with my family, which never happens enough.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Languedoc...A Work in Progress - Organic not a Guarantee of Success

I bookmarked this post from Vinography months ago and then forgot about it. Rosé season has officially arrived and reminded me to pull it up and reread it. The Languedoc region of France, offers lots of promise and it has since it began getting a lot of wine press nearly twenty years ago. Writers saw promise in the area and some producers began working with grapes not approved for the appellation and received some impressive scores. The potential still exists but progress has been much slower than expected.
Quality has been more varied in this region, in my opinion, than any other major area over a long period of time. Overly funky aromas, volatile and over-oaked wines are the major flaws. I'm not sure where the "blame" lies. Locals make good wine and bad. International winemakers have been called in with mixed success and the individual appellations within the larger area often display very little consistent sense of place.
More producers than ever are making wines organically and biodynamically then ever before but this has not resulted in an elevation of quality either. The good news for the United States is that importers select wines to bring here and that extra layer of quality checking helps insulate us from flawed wines. However, it is not a guarantee of a tasty bottle.
As usual, the best way to explore is to taste, especially at free tastings hosted by wine shops. If you must buy a value-priced bottle without tasting and without talking to a knowledgable clerk then I recommend the reliability of Argentina (the 2014 harvest may have some issues related to some unusual weather but those won't be on the market for a little while). Don't ignore the Languedoc region, there are some excellent buys and exciting wines but I highly recommend caution.