These are notes from another fascinating tasting arranged by Vancouver wine aficionado Albert Givton, from wines collected by him over they years. The venue was the Blue Water Café in Vancouver. The theme was a review of the 20th century, with one wine from each decade of that century, and it was a wonderful retrospective, with many excellent wines and very little disappointment.
The first wine was a uniquely suitable starter. It was a Sherry created for the year 2000, with only 2000 bottles sold, blended from wines from each decade. In this case the sherries used in the blend were from 1902, 1917, 1932, 1935, 1946, 1957, 1962, 1977, 1983 and 1992.
Gonzalez Byass Millenium Oloroso Sherry – yellow colour with an interesting pink tinge. Warm nose of almonds, and very subtle hints of apple and oranges, layered and quite complex – I spent several minutes just nosing before I tasted this. Long dry finish. Excellent.
The next wine was served with foie gras tourchon with apricot honey verjus reduction
1996 Ch. Grillet – this Condrieu has always been very small production and often hard to find. I’ve enjoyed several older mature vintages but had not had any this young, and I was a little disappointed in the lightness compared to the old style. There was some very good tropical fruit in this nose, and an overlay of peach, and it was crisp and had reasonable intensity in midpalate. It was lighter than the older style and I doubt that it will last nearly as long, but it was nonetheless pleasant.
With cold poached sockeye salmon with quinoa vegetable salad and watercress sauce (excellent)
1983 Dom. de Chevalier blanc – always a favourite white Bordeaux producer, these two vintages showed quite differently. This one was still a fairly light colour, and a lovely mature nose, soft entry, supple middle, and fairly good length with excellent acidity. I judged this to be the better wine of the pair with a longer life ahead. No rush.
1988 Dom. de Chevalier blanc – the nose on this wine was fresher with more youthful fruit, but it also showed a slightly darker colour and more acidity, less well balanced with fruit. Nice, but nearing the end of its useful life while the other wine will keep on going awhile yet. Don’t hold.
Served with five spice rubbed duck breast
1979 Chave Hermitage – it had been several years since I last tasted this and it has become lighter in colour, and had a lovely leathery Rhone nose and aside from that could have easily been a Burgundy, as it followed up with mellow fruit and a lengthy slightly acidic finish. I feel this is now declining, while the same vintage of Jaboulet La Chapelle is holding nicely. While I prefer Jaboulet in this vintage, the better comparison was the 1978, where both houses produced monumental wines that seem to make me switch allegiance at every other (sadly widely separated) tasting of them.
1980 Chave Hermitage – served blind alongside the previous wine, this showed remarkably well considering the vintage. It was similar in colour, had very little happening in the nose, but was pleasant on palate, finishing with slightly better fruit levels, and sweeter at the end. Good showing.
1990 Thierry Vigot Battault Vosne Romanee 1er Cru ‘Les Gaudichots' – not exactly a familiar name as they made only 25 cases of this and little made it out of France. Warm slightly spicy nose with some dark cherry coming into play after a few minutes of airing, medium light colour, crisp acidity and good length. Some seemed to think this a tad hard, but I quite enjoyed it, and any hardness was nicely muted by the food. They made only one barrel (25 cases) of this wine.
Spring Mountain ‘Lot H LN’ – this takes some explanation. In the late 1960s Joe Heitz sold some wine unblended to Spring Mountain for cash flow purposes. He sold four lots a 1968 Napa and Marthas, and a 1969 of each. The 68 had received Limousin oak while the 69 got Nevers, hence the ‘LN’ in the label. Spring Mountain blended the wines and sold them as a nonvintage blend, now exceptionally rare, I should think. It didn’t impress me at all initially, as it had an odd vinyl kids swimming pool sort of nose with some volatile acidity and was excessively acidic in the mouth, initially without fruit to balance it out, but I noticed that with time in the glass it somehow managed to dredge up some fruit that did improve it. Nonetheless a nice sip of California history.
With veal tenderloin with chanterelles, peas, gnocchi, and veal jus:
1926 Ch. Olivier (Graves, Danish bottled) – this minor producer had never consciously crossed my path before, but the wine was impressive. It had a lighter Burgundian colour and a nose with mature wood, tons of acidity, some soft tannins still left and overall a good showing. Must have been a brute when young.
1916 Ch. Calon Segur (St. Estephe) St. Etephe is a good bet for longevity and Calon has shown exceptional durability in many vintages. This was a very good bottle with a slightly musty at first but decent nose with mature cedar and dark fruit notes, remarkable at the age of 96 years (born in the middle of WW 1 and bottled before the surrender). It was amazingly rich and lively in the mouth with a very good smooth finish marked be significant remaining tannins. Another old style huge tannic wine when young, no doubt. Great showing!
We had wisely had these served without food and I tasted and drank mine before staring on the food as wines of this age are prone to fade out on you quite suddenly. Indeed, the 26 began to do so after only about 10 minutes in the glass and the wisest course is not to wait.
With lamb chops:
1949 Ch. Nenin – this Pomerol showed a slightly browning colour with pale edge, a mineral nose with faint fruit, immediate up front acidity on palate and some spice at the end. Now getting a bit past it.
1952 Ch. Pontet Canet (Pauillac) - this was a Cruze bottling that showed pretty good colour, much less browning and cedar and plum in the nose. Juicy acidity and fruit with the acidity slightly aggressive until you had food at which point it settled down and became very decent. Not bad at all.
1964 Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac) – colour now pale and the nose a very nice smoky cassis fruit driven one, this wine slid smoothly across the palate and ended with lingering clean acidity and soft tannin. For me, best of the flight.
We now progressed into legend – wines almost unobtainable these days, and/or very expensive (the German was $800 and the Tokay $1000 a bottle). I ignored the dessert course and the final biscuits and concentrated on these wines as food would have damaged my ability top appreciate them.
1937 Forster Langenacker Riesling Beerenauslese Reichsrat von Buhl (Reinpfalz) – colour was a decided brown with greenish margins. The wine was quite viscous with a ripe sweet nose, and on palate, still carrying amazing residual sugar (these really old Rieslings can tend to dry out a bit with time), and absolutely spot on acidity – impeccable balance. Lovely honeyed wine only slightly raisiny and it should be all but immortal – I can’t see it changing very quickly at this point.
1904 Tokay Special Vintage Ausbruch O-Kuloneges, Tokajhegaljai Bortermelok-Pincesovetkezete – I’ll leave the Hungarian translation for those able to deal with that and confine myself to commenting on the wine, which was utterly fantastic. Light brown colour, like an old oloroso sherry with a slightly maderized nose that included elements of orange peel. Sweet in the mouth, but not overly so, with very good acidity, it had a very long finish slowly tailing off over a minute or so.
Needless to say a very memorable tasting – this would be very hard to top!