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An evening at Lien Villa: 1988/1995-96 Pichon Lalande, 1989 Lafite Rothschild & more…

October 17, 2010

The non-professorial group made good its commitment to meet on 13 September 2010 at Lien Villa, courtesy of Chris, part of a 100,000 sq feet estate belonging to the Lien family. The family name of Lien in Singapore is absolutely unique. All members of this family can trace their roots to one singular and most extraordinary immigrant from China at the turn of the last century, who went on to found a bank, and the rest is history. Our group is, indeed, lucky to count one such family member amongst us. After the passing of the great patriach, the estate at Holland Park was re-developed into 5 bungalows and a cavernous Villa ( where a GPS would not be out of place in helping one navigate its interior) without any boundaries, known as the Lien Collective. The offer of an evening of private dining accompanied by truly fine wines was too good to pass, and we duly expended our energy on the planning. Karl, who had masterminded a previous private dining session in September 2006 (on the occasion of my promotion), was called upon to plan and execute the menu, and he found the Miele-equipped kitchen entirely up to his professional standards. I hit upon the idea of a mini-vertical and, after some deliberation, the wines of Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande was decided upon. Along the way, Chris also offered a 1989 Ch Lafite Rothschild, and PS a mystery wine. And so the die was cast, with Kieron ensuring that all the reds were tasted double-blind so that none of us knew whose wine we’re drinking.

Lien Villa boasts a full-fledged bar that opens out onto the poolside, and so we kicked off the evening’s proceedings by the bar with a pair of 1999 Dom Perignon, courtesy of HPP and LW, while Karl brought out plate after plate of hors d’oeurves. Very light golden, a champagne with a light touch of young citrus and peaches and delicate fragrance without any of the usual heavy yeasty notes.  Smooth and biscuity on the palate, revealing a great deal of minerality offset by just the right degree of crisp acidity. With time, it developed a coating with notes of white chocolate, although there wasn’t much depth to the wine at this stage. An excellent start.

A mini-series had also been planned for the whites, centered around the better-known premier cru of Puligny-Montrachet from the  famous domaine of Leflaive (not Olivier). The 1997 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet “Les Combettes” 1er Cru (courtesy of Kieron), a dull golden, was served way too cold initially, resulting in a shy and reticent nose that, nevertheless, failed to mask the burnished tone – contributed, no doubt, by significant bottle age – that hinted desperately at its potential depth. Eventually though, the true colors were revealed – full of delicate fragrance on the open nose that belies a full-bodied wine stuffed with a characteristic oily texture in the middle, laden with lasting minerality that ran deep, gaining in intensity as it sat in the glass. Quite superb, better than the 2000 Les Combettes (see Aug 2009).

This was followed by the 2002 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet “Les Folatieres” 1er Cru (courtesy of David), the largest of the premier cru plots. Beautifully golden. As good as the Les Combettes was, the latter was even more engaging, hitting the correct notes right from the start. Flinty with excellent minerality, larger in body, broader and more expansive on the palate with a greater sense of cohesiveness, fairly intense with a faint hint of honey tapering to a long, complex bitter-sweet finish of pomelo and grapefruit. No doubt the outstanding vintage of 2002 helped. But the best was saved for last, as Hiok made up for arriving late with a dull yellow 1995 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet “Les Pulcelles” 1er Cru. Closed initially, but it gradually opened up after some coaxing to reveal rich, lovely flavours of nectar, fig, honey and white flowers of immense complexity, growing in depth and density, with the development continuing right till the end of dinner, amply demonstrating why Les Pulcelles is the most coveted of all Montrachet premier cru.

The reds were poured one-by-one, eventually allowing all five to be tasted simultaneously. Red #1 (courtesy of Edward) displayed an evolved red with a deep garnet core. On the nose, scents of wild flowers, sour plums, mushrooms, bramble and damp forest floor dominate. The entry revealed an obviously mature wine, rounded and soft at the edges, imbued with a fair degree of sur-maturite and balsamic character underlined by a trace of sweetness and scattered white pepper, still lively with a bit of biting intensity that became increasingly perfurmed with time, yet remaining very harmonious. What could it be? We were split down the middle between one of the Lalandes and the mystery wine. Most of us leaned towards the latter, given the earthy nose and relative masculinity.

Red #2 was quite similar in color as the first red, just a tad more transparent, but much more open on the nose, and quite different in character altogether. Highly perfumed with the Pauillac hallmark of dried leaves, pencil shavings and tobacco coming through, highly promising. It didn’t disappoint on the palate, caressing with deep, lush and velvety textures, imparting a lovely lift and glow at the finish, although it actually lacked the intensity of the former red. Slightly four-square with food, but it is definitely drinking very well. I thought it was likely to be a 1995 Ch Pichon Lalande, which I’d brought.

Red #3 (courtesy of Vic) had a bit of bottle stink that eventually blew off to display all the hallmarks of a mature Bordeaux, absolutely enticing on the nose with plenty of cedar-wood and ripe red fruits, almost Burgundian, but it was soft, mellifluous, less full on the palate and slightly short on the finish. It put on weight as it sat in the glass, becoming fuller and broader, taking its time to develop, but the balance was immaculate, the wood and alcohol having dissipated ages ago, leaving behind a seamless wine of stunning purity. I was reminded of the 1988 Ch Pichon Lalande that I had last year at La Tour d’Argent, Paris (see July 2009), and I was pretty sure I was tasting the same wine again.

When it came to Red #4 (courtesy of PS), I was pretty sure I was tasting the 1989 Lafite. How else could one explain the deep feminine bouquet coupled to a classic Pauillac signature with plenty of sur-maturite on the palate, immeasurably complex at the finish? Still somewhat tannic, though, and much darker than I’d anticipated, but having laid my cards for the other reds, I was sure this was a First Growth. Finally, we reached Red #5 (courtesy of Chris). Again very dark-red, tasting remarkably youthful, a wine of large proportions but immensely complex and layered. Solid in the middle, becoming softer and more yielding later, developing more notes of cherries, eventually becoming quite Burgundy-like. We’re unanimous in deciding that this was something outside of Bordeaux, probably the mystery wine.

So, what exactly did we drink?

Red #1: 1996 Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Red #2: 1995 Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Red #3: 1988 Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Red #4: 1985 Dominus proprietary red !!

Red #5: 1989 Ch Lafite Rothschild

Only 2 out of 5 hits…wow…that’s a real humbling experience. The ’89 Lafite is tasting so much better than the last time I had it in 2006 (at Iggy’s) and 2007 (SMA Annual Dinner), displaying so much more development and paradoxical youthfulness, whereas it had tended to fade previously after some time in the glass. And a ’85 Dominus!! I never knew it could be found in Singapore. It just shows how successful a totally different terroir could be managed under an outstanding winemaker. What a superb thematic lineup, what a fabulous dinner, and what a venue. THANK YOU.

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