The more wine tastings I attend, the more I need to keep an open mind. I was especially intrigued by one being set up by Roberson Wine with wines from the mystical 1961 vintage with no blockbusters in attendance but with heavy representation from the Right Bank (i.e. St Emilion).
The 1961 vintage is mentioned in the same breath as the 1945 and makes most wine connoisseurs eyes moisten and lower lip quiver. The 1961 crop was a tiny one with most of the Right Bank still recovering from the 1956 frost that had destroyed most of the vineyards. Furthermore, after a wet winter and positive spring, frost destroyed most of the Merlot across Bordeaux in May but a canicule summer followed producing thick-skinned grapes with little rot. Given the small crop and the quality of the vintage this one was an expensive year for the buyers and proved to be a financial disaster for the Chateaux.
The background the ten bottles served is also an interesting one: Roberson found them raiding the cellars a certain Hugo Dunn-Meynell, who is a member of Food Writer’s Guild, the former President of the Food and Wine Society in the UK and former Chairman of the International Food and Wine Society. Also known as ‘HDM’, he was an avid wine collector and very good friend of Hugh Johnson (who wrote a foreword in one of his books) and Michael Broadbent, wine critics who made their name in the ‘60s and 70s. With such pedigree, I suspected that the wines would be in tip-top condition having spent at least 48 years in HDM’s cellar in South West London. Provenance, as you probably know, is the key to successful wine buying and tasting, especially when for 50 year bottles!!
Out the ten wines in the line up, only two did not pass muster, the Chateau Kirwan was Dead on Arrival and the Lafon Rochet, which was bought by Guy Tesseron of Pontet Canet Fame in 1959, tasted of Jaegermeister and was very murky and opaque. One had a whiff of corked THC chemicals but performed ok a for an ordinary Haut Medoc. It was the Maucaillou, which smelt and tasted of dusty chalk, plum and cherry with a medicinal after taste, not great, but still looking clean and healthy after all those years.
The only Left Bank wine in good enough state to be drunk was the Du Tertre and it did Margaux proud: it is one of those wines that just makes you happy! Still youthful in colour, with a tobacco and boiled sweets nose evolving towards lavender and chocolate, a nearly creamy taste.
The final five wines were all Saint Emilion apart from the Clos St Martin, were interrelated: Beausejour split across a road in 1869 from Beausejour-Duffau-Lagarosse and the Valette family owned Pavie and Troplong Mondot simultaneously until 1998 when Gerard Perse bought Pavie. At sight, all did not give away any clues of their age, bright red in the middle with a tiny orange outer edge for most of them. One looked particularly youthful and it was the Pavie, you could easily think it was a 1990 or 1995.
The Clos St Martin comes from a tiny 1.3Ha estate and is a Parker favourite today. It had great structure, a Burgundy like nose, a mix of cherries and strawberries, which added Xmas cake and cedar/cigar box aromas at a later stage. Although the Beausejour was definitely more stuctured and had a lovely pomerol nose I was far attracted by the Beausejour-Duffau-Lagarosse. It had the classy Merlot, gamey, vibrant nosey that reminded me of Jamon Iberico with Marsipan thrown in. It was less structured and missed tannic grip. I turned out to be in a minority, my co-tasters preferred the Beausejour tout cours.
We finally arrived to what I really came for the Troplong Mondot and Pavie! A quick note on the latter one, this Pavie was English bottled by Cockburn’s so spent less time in the barrel than the Chateau bottled ones which might explain its youthfulness. I got a bitter chocolate and framboise nose evolving in to cherry and red meat later. This glass just ‘did what it says on the tin’ – just a great glass of wine. The Troplong Mondot was great as well, it carried a great vibrant nose with clear cassis and cherry aromas which evolved to cedar, bacon, marzipan and some dark chocolate bitterness. It was still amazingly young with a good structure and balance.
The biggest outlier of the evening was Chateau Segonzac from lowly Cote de Blay. Like the Pavie, an English bottled sample, it was fresh, clean, had a belle robe and looked younger than its age. I loved the sweet fig jam nose and the mint and eucalyptus palate. Rereading my notes I can only decipher ‘ I quite like this’ and ‘morish’. It was the first wine of the evening and felt like we got our money’s worth there and then.