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Haut-Brion: 1999, ’98, ’95, ’88 & 1986

June 20, 2011

The self-proclaimed group of elitist diners – better known as Bacchus – met only for the second time this year at Les Amis on 7 June 2011 (sans Danny who was away) to give Kieron a proper send-off before he leaves for sabbatical. As per our usual arrangements, being on first -name basis with the right people at the restaurant, we dined very comfortably in its private room adjacent to the kitchen (the very same room that still held memories of that wonderful lunch 3 years ago with the Directors of Bordeaux Index London – ’85 Cos & ’96 GPL, if you really must know), with a menu of customised items not to be found in the restaurant’s usual menu to match the Haut-Brion vertical that was about to unfold.

As usual, we had a white to start things off, a 1994 Domaine Leflaive Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru (courtesy Kieron). Pale, with a bouquet of stern stony minerality, peaches and a hint of apricot, somewhat light and tentative on the palate. It became more weighty with time, developing a caramelly sheen, substantially richer with more fat in the middle but still lacking the intensity, depth and concentration of Leflaive in the best years.

We drank the Haut-Brion in two flights. The first began with a 1999 Ch Haut-Brion (courtesy Vic) which excelled on the nose, where the deep purple wine gave off lovely notes of red fruits, raspberries and blueberries and a hint of medicinal aromas. However, the medium-bodied wine was clearly missing in layering and charm, even though it gained in intensity over time. Still, one can appreciate that this is a very fine wine, but the lack of dimension renders it rather four-square in character. This was tellingly shown up by the 1998 Ch Haut-Brion (courtesy Hiok), a vintage that favoured Graves. Although its bouquet was less exuberant, the 1998 was significantly richer and deeper, glowing with deep layers of intense fruit that has yet to evolve, the wine becoming more accentuated and weighty with time, framed by structured supple tannins indicating that the wine is still far from maturity. Don’t touch any of this, not for even 10 years. The 1995 Ch Haut-Brion (courtesy Kieron), a deep impenetrable red with some bricking at the rim, had, by far, the most developed nose of the night, the classic signature kumquat of this estate combined with some cinnamon and orange peel in a powerful complex. Medium-full with great concentration, quite velvety and sexy, full on the finish, mellowing beautifully over the course of dinner. Superb.

The 1988 Ch Haut-Brion (courtesy LF), on this occasion, was a lot more substantial and livelier than I remembered from a previous tasting at Iggy’s in December 2007. Bright cherry red, very lively on the nose with a forward impression of red fruits, more mellow with less intensity on the palate than promised from the bouquet, becoming appreciably richer over time, developing more layers of smoky sweet incense. Excellent. And, finally, the 1986 Ch Haut-Brion, probably the third time I’ve had this over the past 8 years but it is always such a pleasure to re-visit this wine. Still holding up very well and remarkably similar to the previous tasting in August 2006. Deep ruby with effusive earthy pungency. One appreciates that it has mellowed somewhat over the past 25 years, but this wine is still rather full-bodied, possessing great layering and concentration, slightly backward (typically of 1986s), topped by sexy lithe tannins dancing across the palate, immeasurably complex with a liquered note at the finish. Still unbelievably youthful. At current prices of about SGD600+, it may still be considered a relative bargain. Outstanding, but only one other bottle remaining in my cellar.

As this dinner goes to show, there’s no such thing as a bad or poor Haut Brion. For long, it has remained the bargain basement of the First Growths, but from the recent pricing trend, I fear no longer so. Better snap up the real bargains while they last. Oh…and lest I forget, in true Bacchus fashion, we ended dinner with a 2000 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos, a bottle specially meant for Kieron with the compliments of Les Amis!! So you see, it really pays to dine with the right people. Clear golden with rich intoxicating flavours of peaches, apricot and honey, possessing excellent depth supported by superb acidity, a hedonistic pleasure for the olfactory senses for all time, bringing dinner to a truly outstanding conclusion.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kieron Lim permalink
    June 24, 2011 23:09

    Thanks for the truly memorable evening guys! The food, wines and company were superb. Special thanks to Tim and the Les Amis team for going the extra mile to make it a 3 star dining experience. I am looking forward to the next Bacchus dinner upon my return from NYC. Till then……keep popping the 1st growths. Cheers to good wines and great friends. k.

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