1970s Claret – old friends reunited

IMG_1381_2Saturday night’s Andover Wine Friends’ Fine Wine supper was remarkable by any standard, the main act being eight wines from Bordeaux from four vintages in the 1970s.  The first thing to celebrate was the friendship and generosity of those who love wine.  The eight wines all came from the cellar of one of our number who happily shared them with the rest of us.  This was no small gift – among the eight there were two second growths, three third growths, a ‘super 5th’ from the Medoc and a Premier Grand Cru Classé from Saint-Emilion.  At today’s prices – if you could find the wines at all – they were together worth a four figure amount but were shared with us at their original prices.  One still had a price label on it from the year after decimalisation – £5.91.  They had spent the past thirty plus years mainly in one cellar before being moved to Hampshire in the last few years. It was a great act of generosity and, let’s face it, a sharing of an experience that no of us are ever likely to have again. 

The second reason for celebration was that all eight bottles – and a 1982 which another member shared with us from his cellar – IMG_1415were in good condition.  Nine wines in drinkable condition between 30 and 42 years old were a testimony to the longevity of wine itself. It represented a triumph of the wine maker’s art, made possible by impermeable glass and high quality cork.  Those who remember the 1970s will know that it was a poor decade but that there were some half decent and better vintages represented here. The warming of the climate since then has meant that the lottery of the weather is no longer the feature it was, especially for the production of ripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, a late ripening variety which is the backbone of the Médoc.   One feature was clear enough in these examples – while most had Cabernet Sauvignon as the principal grape variety, the amount of Merlot has increased at the expense of Cabernet Franc in particular.  Young wines are no doubt more approachable now than then – for this reason, combined with warmer weather and better work in vineyard and cellar. But we of course were tasting seriously old wines. 

IMG_1410While all eight 1970s were still alive and well, there was quite a range within them.   Two of the three 1970s shone – the oldest wines of them all – while a 1978 from a very famous chateau also sang.  But some famous names in relatively good years did not. 

Best of the ‘70s

Top wine of the evening, with 5 out of 15 tasters voting for it, was second growth Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou 1970.  The Ducru led with classic cedar box and perfumed bouquet and still had beautiful sweet fruit and a mildly tannic finish.  Not many of these wines showed that balance, and where they were grippy it was in a drying out way, not still lively tannins. Interestingly, Michael Broadbent many years ago stated that aside from Latour and Cheval Blanc, this was the best bottling of the 1970 vintage.  From the same vintage but rather less prestigious in terms of rankings, Ch. La Lagune also showed really well – a deep colour, most youthful of the bouquets of all these wines, excellent red fruit character.  The other, rather more predictable, star wine was Ch. Palmer 1978, well known third growth with a very imposing label.  We did not taste these wines blind so we will never know how much reputation swayed people’s judgments.   The Palmer was certainly very fine:  capsicum, balsamic and lavender notes on the nose, much more fruit than its 1978 partner and still a fine refreshing finish.  Last up in the top half of the table was another prestigious wine, second growth Ch. Brane Cantenac 1970, which was positively farmyardy and could just about have passed for old Burgundy, with a superb texture, which was a feature of so many of these wines. 

Texture, now there is subject in its own right.  The great thing about fine old wines is the evolution of bouquet and flavour, followed by the mouth feel.  The forceful flavours of young fruit have long gone, the acidity is somewhat attenuated and the tannins have got longer and suppler.  Even some of the less good wines in this line up still showed a remarkable subtlety in the mouth.  Apart from sheer curiosity about longevity, this is a quality which makes it positively worth keeping good or excellent wines for decades to witness how they will develop. 

The ‘we’re still here from the 70s’ wines

Our one wine from the Graves, ie south of the city of Bordeaux, put up a good show in this company: it certainly got the most original tasting note of the evening.  Ch. Malartic-Lagraviere 1978, was a humble Graves then, but has since been promoted to AC Pessac-Léognan.  Notes of green pepper, cattle hair (sic), grass and leather, not much fruit, but that super subtle texture which has been commented on.  Ch. Malescot St Exupery 1976 had some fading plum fruit but was drying out, while that old British favourite Ch. Lynch Bages 1975 still had some cedar and blackcurrant notes and that sinewy, perfectly knit together palate with some freshness.   Our only representative from the right bank (ie from predominantly clay soils rather than gravel) Ch. Trotte Vieille 1975, showed some balsam perfume and old fruit, but was also drying out, from an originally tannic vintage. 

This was a superb evening, further enlivened by some other fine wines, excellent food and great company.  Of the wines, the following should get a mention, however brief:

Champagne, Pol Roger, Brut 2000: a beautiful aperitif but perhaps not quite the wow factor I was hoping for

Ch. Fonréaud, Les Cynes, Bordeaux IMG_1449blanc 2009: prominent oak, then bold lemon fruit and waxy texture (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle)

Ch. de Pez 1982: very fine fruit, tobacco and balsam, very subtle, very good Claret from the ‘Parker vintage’

Clos de Bourg, Première Trie, Moelleux, Vouvray, Domaine Huet, 1990 – a quite superb deep orange gold in colour (see picture on right), only moderately sweet, brilliant marmalade fruit, outstanding

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