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100-pointers of 1990: Margaux, Montrose & Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse

May 3, 2011

Hot on the heels of the Palmer dinner came another heady theme, masterminded by YS, featuring three Bordeaux wines from the outstanding 1990 vintage with perfect Parker scores: Ch Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse, Ch Montrose and Ch Margaux. Regular visitors to this website will understand that RWJ doesn’t score wines, preferring instead to focus on the actual tasting experience. Everyone knows what 100 (out of 100) marks mean in a math exam, because the marking criteria is standardised, applies equally to everyone, and is reproducible with 100% accuracy. But 100 points awarded to a wine hardly means anything. What is 100 compared with 98? Someone’s 100 could well be another’s 90. In the absence of objective standardisation, scoring a wine is a hopelessly flawed and subjective exercise. At best, numerical scores serve only as a guide to the overall quality of a wine. But in an increasingly dumbed-down world where more and more people need to be guided by numerical cut-offs and benchmarks (without really understanding their true meaning), it is not surprising that the number game is everywhere. Robert Parker Jr has often been blamed for starting it all, but just about every Brit and non-American has succumbed to it as well.  Now that numerical scoring has been so deeply ingrained, some thoughts come to mind: How does a 100-pointer wine taste like? Will I be able to recognise a 100-pointer wine? Interesting. And so when I received an invitation on 14 April 2011 to be part of a 100-pointer dinner that same evening at La Strada, I threw all reservations to the backburner and showed up straight from work. Although the identities of the wines were known, we followed our usual custom, giving the sommelier carte blanche to blind and arrange the order to be served.

To ease us into the tasting, Kieron and David had brought along a 1999 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, one of my favourite champagnes. A blend of 65% pinot noir and 35% chardonnay, this high-toned wine displayed a lovely smooth minerality with a layered, sweet pomelo finish. A bit reticent initially as a result of being served too cold, but it gradually warmed up with an explosion of colors, an abundance of chalk and  tropical fruits without the usual overtones of  malt and vanilla oak, ending in a rich finish. The last sip was the best, the wine finally displaying great depth and bounce to be on par with what I’d remembered of it from a tasting back in September 2009 (see post). Quite superb.

The 1990 Comte de Vogue Musigny Grand Cru that followed was originally meant to whet our appetite before the Bordeaux. Consistent with this producer, and especially of Musigny wines, this showed a heavier shade of pinot with a most lovely nose of red fruits as well as some suggestion of plum and orange peel, still youthful, complete with an excellent perception of depth. Open and seamless on the palate, where it was darker in tone, more austere and tight in the middle, rather backward. A big burg that began to open up with time, but the fruit seemed to be beginning to dry and thin out at the finish. The table was split down the middle in opinion; some felt it was evolving faster than expected while others felt it wasn’t quite ready yet. I tend to agree with the latter camp. Whatever, it is always a privilege to have the opportunity to taste a Musigny Grand Cru from the producer of Musigny Grand Cru.

The first of the 1990 wines to be poured was dull purple, exuding a powerful nose of dark ripe berries with a dash of red fruits. This wine was still remarkably fresh and youthful, possessing some density in the middle with more than a hint of soy, broadening on the palate with an expansive sweep. Very harmonious, just a slight accentuation on the mid-palate that evened out over time, tapering to a moderate finish. Very lovely. Of the three 1990 Bordeaux wines, this was drinking the best. I thought this was probably the Beausejour, where the predominant merlot component was likely to mellow earlier.

This was followed by the second 1990, displaying a vibrant dark purple that produced a powerful nose of violets, blackberries and a good deal of earth with aromas that were lifted, almost perfumed. On the palate, it was soft and rounded, full of elegance and restraint, rather feminine in character but in a dark manner. A dark beauty. But still tight, needing plenty more time. Ch Margaux?

The final 1990 displayed the deepest purple with the most balanced nose of all, coupled with a wonderful sense of black and dark berries. Full-bodied, opulent, almost lush, showing a slightly sharp accentuation that dissipated with time, laying on great concentration, depth and definition, almost hedonistic and irrepressible in the French manner where the wine remains perfectly balanced in spite of the weight and larger proportions. Still very tight. One wonders if another 20 years of cellaring will change anything at all. Given the lineup and going by elimination, I thought it most likely to be the Montrose.

We worked out the math. As there were only 3 wines, this meant there were only 6 possible permutations. And with 6 drinkers, one of us must surely hit the jackpot. And so we all declared our thoughts and called in the sommelier to unveil the order poured. To my embarrassment, it turned out we were poured the 1990 Ch Margaux, followed by the 1990 Ch Montrose and, finally, the 1990 Ch Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse. Zero hits for me, while some of us scored one hit, at most.

So, what can I surmise out of this experience? 1) To be honest, I wouldn’t have known I was tasting a 100-pointer if I hadn’t known beforehand. Mind you, these wines were all very, very lovely. I could have drunk them all night. Each of them provided a wonderful experience in its own unique way. But it simply shows up the inadequacies of the scoring system, because in no way does any kind of summary scoring reflect the character of each wine. 2) I’m really poor at blind-tasting.

My heartfelt thanks to YS for including me in this dinner-cum-tasting. Was it worth the money? Perhaps, just for a singular experience. For sure, I can’t afford to do this sort of thing on a regular basis.

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