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Not the professorial dinner: Bordeaux 1995, 1996, 1989 & 1994 Haut Brion

July 7, 2010

Sick of the repetitive old jokes, ill-mannered humor, the growing danger of being fossilised amongst dinosaurs and, worst of all, having to put up with self-important fatasses who don’t play the wine theme fairly, a breakaway faction decided to burn the bridges and wine and dine amongst ourselves instead. So, after a significant interval, we met again at Jade Palace on 22 June 2010 to enjoy some good food, great company and great wines. It also turned out to be Hiok’s 46th, and a First Growth had been promised.

We started with an oddity, the 1994 Ch Gruaud Larose (courtesy of KP), showing a rusty evolving red, rather soft, quite intense and plummy, still harboring a significant degree of minerality leading to a stern finish. Fairly complex, but devoid of opulence and aromatics and, ultimately, lacking in real distinction.

A pair of 1995s took us straight to more serious business. The  1995 Ch Troplong Mondot (courtesy of Chris), dark red with a lighter rim, displayed lovely perfumed aromatics of predominantly red fruits. Soft on the palate, revealing great concentration and intensity betraying its higher extraction, veering towards a rather stern finish. It fleshed out later in the glass, but this is still a rather youthful wine, barely developing secondary characteristics. An atypical ’95 and a very modern St-Emilion, but excellent.

The 1995 Ch Clerc Milon (courtesy of PS), deep red with an evolving rim, was lighter in texture than the Troplong Mondot. Typically Pauillac in character with plenty of  smoke, cigar, ash, and secondary aromatics, soft on the palate, yet grippy, displaying excellent depth and transparency, coming across as being very “correct”. The cabernet of Clerc-Milon typically takes ages to mature, but this one has clearly mellowed, fleshing out further n the glass, becoming quite lush with time. Excellent, just lacking in ultimate opulence.

The next pairing amply demonstrates the great impact of terroir on Bordeaux wines and how much the differences may turn out to be even between adjacent communes on the Left Bank within the same vintage. The 1996 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste (courtesy of Vic), deep garnet red with vermillion rim, has greater density and concentration than the ’95 Clerc-Milon, yet supple. Rather restrained on the nose, but the suggestion of Pauillac is unmistakable, being more open and layered on mid-palate with ripeness of fruit that eluded the 1995s. A wine of great potential, barely entering its secondary development, beautifully balanced and elegant. This bottle seemed tighter than a bottle tasted in mid-2008 (at a most memorable lunch at Les Amis with Gary Boom, director of Bordeaux Index) as well as another in the presence of the chateau owner Xavier Borie at Iggy’s in Dec 2008, while a third bottle at the last year’s SMA Dinner was also showing beautifully. Perhaps it hadn’t been aired sufficiently. No matter. I think it’s simply wasteful to open any more of this wine. Better to save it till 2026. In contrast, the 1996 Ch Calon Segur (courtesy of Li Wei) was soft and noticeably warmer in tone, with  lifted aromas and great purity of fruit and expression of its northerly terroir, reflecting the minerality of the clay soils. More mature than most other Left Bank ’96s, rounded, seamless and absolutely harmonious, consistent with my first experience last year (see Aug 2009).

The final flight consisted of two classic examples of Pessac-Leognan. The 1989 Domaine de Chevalier rouge, one of only two wines to be decanted, displayed a beautifully evolved red with an open on the nose. Not exuberant, but there’s a very controlled expression of fruit and terroir, the suggestion of gravel and earth coming through with fine intensity. Quite lush, with great transparency and depth, persistent on the finish. The nose faded somewhat with time, but the wonderful balance remained without calling attention to itself. Lovely. Truly a connoiseur’s red. Drunk alongside, the 1994 Ch Haut Brion (courtesy of the birthday boy), a darker dusty red, was more expansive than the Domaine de Chevalier with a fruity plummy core, still quite intense on the nose. Medium full, very even and broad on the palate, absolutely harmonious and seamless, deeply layered. Lacking in opulence of the great vintages, but it still impresses with a certain rightness and ripeness of fruit that belies the vintage. Compares very well with my first experience of a ’94 Haut Brion in May 2006 at the inaugural Bacchus dinner (at the now-defunct Blue Lobster at Frankel). A seriously under-rated wine, as evidenced by how well it held up against a starry line-up of 1986 Margaux, 1982 Latour, 1989 Mouton Rothschild & 1989 Angelus on board the super-yacht White Rabbit back in Aug 2008.

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