I suppose it is inevitable that the wine trade will live on the hype about certain vintages. It was 1982 which made Robert Parker’s name when he declared it, early and correctly, to be a great vintage. 2000 was much promoted because it was the millennium and fortunately turned out pretty well and 2005 was hailed as for being the vintage of the decade, or at least until we are offered the 2009s next year! And then very occasionally you will have something to celebrate which coincides with a great vintage such as 1990. The very first case of wine that Janet and I bought together was a mixed case of 1990 Burgundy reds including two bottles of Santenay-Gravieres, a fairly modest ‘village’ level wine aimed at the private consumer who had the patience to wait for its drinking window of 2000-10. This formed a centrepiece for a 1990 dinner (OK, a 1990ish dinner) with some very fine bottles.
It helps if you are a bit of a hoarder and have enough in the cellar (under the stairs?) to ‘lose’ a few bottles. Some wines are stored because they really need time before they are ready to drink, some because they are special enough that they have to wait for an occasion. This is not just about quality level, as long as it meets your own threshold, it could also be that the bottle was bought on a special occasion or location.
To start with we tasted the Grand Cru champagne from Roger Brun, a small producer in Ay, his Cuvée des Sires. It’s not a vintage wine, though according to its maker this particular bottle was a mixture of 1995 and 96, Champagne making use of its permission to keep quality high by mixing across vintages. This has lasted in the wine store because it is the penultimate bottle of a tiny cache we bought back with us on a memorable trip to Burgundy. People can be snooty about coach travel but for the wine traveller it has one huge advantage – those cases you can stash away in the luggage compartment which travel back with you. So this bottle was a memento of a stop off in Champagne on the way home – is there a better way of sweetening the business of having to come back from holiday? A little bottle age has smoothed all the edges of this wine, with a nose of brioches and apples moderately pronounced. Smooth and sophisticated.
Well out of keeping with the 1990s theme but otherwise very impressive was a 2003 white Burgundy: Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru ‘Les Folatieres’ (Ch. de Puligny-Montrachet) – it’s there on the table with a yellow neck label! This is a wine you can admire from afar – the minute you pour it, its golden-yellow colour announces a grander wine on which lots of lovely new oak has been lavished. Actually, it could have done with a few more years yet. While it was beautiful, a few more years and that fruit and the oak would be yet more harmonious – a wine for a long term relationship?
The main event, however, was a trio of 1990s or near 1990s. This was a fascinating comparison between the Santenay already mentioned and two clarets. So, on the one hand, you had Burgundy (Pinot Noir) v. Bordeaux (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and then between two levels, and indeed near vintages, in Bordeaux.
The Santenay and the Ch. d’Angludet are a fair comparison. The former is a village wine, ie the level between Bourgogne Rouge and the named vineyards of premier and grand cru. The claret similarly is a cru bourgeois, rather than a classed growth. The Burgundy is a pale brick colour with some ruby left, but pale and interesting in comparison to the much deeper red of the claret. Similarly, the Burgundy is now mainly old farmyard smells and a little bit of raspberry and strawberry fruit, while the claret is smooth and integrated, no one flavour dominating, the fine wine version of easy drinking.
By comparison, the Pauillac, Ch. Pichon Longueville is much grander wine, a second growth in Bordeaux’s (or rather Médoc’s) premier league of 1855. In the picture above, note the crest in the glass of the bottle. It is also from a great vintage, the first of the three that run from 1988 to 1990 – Bordeaux certainly had something to celebrate in that run of years. This is a much bigger, more structured wine, the blackcurrant fruit still evident along with the effects of ageing, now mellow and powerful at the same time.
As you can see from the pictures, the evening wasn’t all serious wine but a great evening with friends. But then what better setting is there for sharing fine bottles than with friends who will appreciate them? The final bottle was a Sauternes with some bottle age – Ch. Filhot 1994. I think I picked this up in a Waitrose end-of-line sale and stashed it away. At this sort of age, the zip of young acids have begun to fade and the marmalade/cooked fruit comes to the fore. I thought that this was a bit short on the palate but nonetheless a decent bottle from a difficult year in which there was rain during the crucial September period.
So 1990 really was something to celebrate. My only regret was that it is far more difficult to source older Italian bottles, or indeed anything other than Bordeaux or perhaps Burgundy, for mature wine. It’s fine if you are buying right at the top of the market or by the case – a few specialist businesses can meet that need. But apart from that it usually is Bordeaux. Nonetheless, it’s great to have an occasion to try some high-quality wines which have survived and developed over the past couple of decades.
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