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Invited review: Kieron Lim writes on Chateau Margaux at The American Club

May 7, 2010

This review marks a fresh initiative where knowledgeable and experienced oenophiles in this region are invited to submit reviews of notable wine experiences exclusively for RWJ. For the inaugural guest editorial, RWJ is proud to present Dr Kieron Lim, whose astute palate and impeccable taste is held in high esteem by winemakers across the globe from Moss Wood, to Chateau Margaux, to Peter Michael. Here, Dr Lim gets a chance to re-visit Ch Margaux, albeit at The American Club…

When Chateau Margaux comes to town, you clear your schedule pronto and be prepared to be blown away.  That was exactly what I did.  I knew instantly that it would be a memorable night even before laying eyes on the menu and wine list.  I had great faith in the F&B team at The Club.  It is, after all, the only private member’s club with enough kudos to host HRH Robert Parker Jr during his whistle-stop tour of Singapore. 

Armed with my Smythson notebook, we arrived punctually at the club at 7.00 pm for a champagne reception.  Freshly shucked oysters, grilled scallops, blinis topped with dollops of caviar were served alongside the aperitif: 2000 Dom Perignon.  I have tasted this wine at least half a dozen times in the past 6 months and it never fails to put a smile on my face.  Aromas of brioche, freshly baked cookies, citrus and toast greet you as you put your nose in the glass.  Not as creamy and fat as I remembered it to be on the palate.  Medium bodied, poised and elegant.  Vibrant acidity keeps it fresh and inviting; making you yearn for the next sip.  I find it more enjoyable than the 2 preceding vintages. While the 2000 is not in the same league as the ’85, ’90, ’95 & ’96, it is certainly not far behind.

Gracing this event was Thibault Pontallier, son of general manager and chief winemaker, Paul Pontallier.  He is the Asian representative for Ch Margaux and is based in Hong Kong.  Pontallier Jr had insisted that all the wines served tonight were to be ex-chateau, so he had them specially flown in and generously included a “mystery Margaux” for us.  What a champion!

As guests were being shown to their tables, there was a buzz of excitement and chatter coming from the other side of the restaurant.  We soon realized what it was about.  The most influential wine critic in the world was among us.  Robert Parker, who had just concluded a Masterclass for 130 people, decided to do quick walk around the Presidential Room to say hello to his loyal fans.  It was a nice touch for someone who was obviously jet lagged and sporting a rather painful limp.  The doctors among us were trying to make spot diagnoses (there were equal votes for osteoarthritis and gout!). 

Dinner began with an amuse bouche of sea-urchin ravioli followed by my favourite dish of the night : superbly executed white asparagus with a sinfully rich bernaise sauce, topped with an egg with a runny yolk.  Simple yet decadent.  The first wine of the night, 2004 Pavillion Blanc, was the perfect match. Pale golden.  Impressively open nose of lemons, orange peel, grass (?), on a background steely minerality.  Almost burgundian but with more density.  Full on the attack with an impressive mouthfeel.  Expansive mid-palate.  It has the oilyness of a grand white burg.  Finishes a little short and disjointed after the very promising bouquet and entry.  Perhaps we should give it more time before we uncork the next bottle.  While very good in its own right, it does not have the complexity and length of the other Premiere Grand Cru Classe white Haut Brion Blanc, which I feel is the benchmark white bordeaux against which all other dry whites are measured. 

Next came the reds in 2 flights. The 1998 Pavillion Rouge had a rather odd nose of plums with a musky, damp quality which reminded me of “old socks”!  Medium and dry on the entry.  Hollow mid-palate, with fruit that is drying out and fading.  Insipid finish not worthy of its pedigree.  A rather uninspiring start to the reds, but perhaps an accurate reflection of the quality of the cabernet in the left bank in 1998 and the result of “declassifying” the lesser grapes deemed unfit to make the grand vin.  It is almost the complete opposite to the fabulously rich and concentrated ’98s from the right bank.  Drink up if you have any ’98 Pavillion Rouge in your cellar!

The 2003 Pavillion Rouge was deep purple to the rim with exuberant ripe dark fruits that leapt from the glass.  A tower of tannins and structure were softened and balanced by an abundance of fruit and well integrated oak.  Good concentration with an impressive mid palate (a quality that I find is the hallmark of a good wine).  Chocolate and blackcurrents on the palate. Tightly wound.  Head and shoulders above the 1998.  Very impressive for a second wine.  It would be interesting to compare this against the Les Forts and Carruades.

The second flight began with 1999 Ch Margaux. A developed nose with secondary aromas emanate from the glass : violets, red berries with a hint of smoke and old leather(?!).  Superbly elegant.  Great balance and poise.  Sweet velvety tannins counters the fruit perfectly.  Great concentration on the mid palate without an ounce of heaviness or excess.  Impressive length.  This is drinking beautifully now.  This wine brought back fond memories.  We were served this wine at the chateau when I paid homage to this mecca in 2001.  The 1999 will always live in the shadow of the 2000, but my wallet is not complaining. 

 The 1995 Ch Margaux that followed had lifted aromas of blackberries, white pepper, summer flowers and game that soar from the glass.  For me, the most flamboyant wine of the night.  It has an extra dimension compared to the 99.  Medium to full.  Dense and concentrated.  Rich without being over the top. Tannins are still prominent.  Expansive mid palate that keeps growing in the mouth. I get a slight rustic element in the finish.  Can be enjoyed now with extended decanting.  But will continue to develop and improve for decades to come.  I remember vividly committing infanticide when I foolishly uncorked this wine at a New Year’s Eve dinner to usher in 2005.  Even with 3 hours of decanting the wine was closed.  It will be fun to track the evolution of the ’95 and ’96 Margaux!

And how about the Mystery Red (en magnum)? Slight browning at the rim.  Pure, singular expression of Margaux.  This is a classic.   A multi-dimensional, kleidoscopic aromatic profile greets you when you put your nose in the glass.   Violets, cedar, soy, game play tricks on your olfactory nerve.   On the palate, it was sensational.  It had the vigour of youth but the balance and elegance of a grand dame. Medium bodied.  Good concentration, with a broad mid-palate. Refined tannins but still providing enough structure to see it through at least another decade.  Long lingering finish.  Intoxicating and aristocratic. My bet was on Margaux ’90 or a ’96.  We were floored when it was revealed as the 1983.  We had tasted this wine at a Bacchus event at Iggy’s some 4 years ago.  Amazingly, it was drinking like it was a good decade younger tonight.  Is this the effect of perfect provenance and bottle maturity en magnum? Possibly.  Is this why ex-chateau bottles command a premium?  Probably.  Is it humbling to taste wines blind?  Definitely.  Thibault Pontallier says that he prefers this wine to the 1982; and not only because it was his father’s first vintage as winemaker!

Finally, a very generous and luxurious end to the evening, the 1997 Ch d’ Yquem.  This long-legged gleamingly golden beauty was sheer opulence.  Caramel, honey, candied tropical fruits married with enough acidity to keep things in check and not send your pancreas into overdrive just by taking a whiff. Open and accessible.  Lush yet serious on the palate.  Apricots and candy to the fore.  Still very primary.  An infant.  Forget about it for another 10 years.  It had been a wonderful evening of great food and superb wines.  Certainly worth writing home (or to RWJ) about. Salut!

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