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FICOFI: Palais des Grands Crus 2017

December 25, 2017

At the end of each year, FICOFI hosts a grand party – Le Palais des Grands Crus – where practically all the estates and domaines associated with FICOFI from around the world assemble in Paris for a massive wine tasting-cum-gala dinner, plus a full programme of fringe activities that include luncheons at various wine estates or private visits to bespoke luxury brands (Cartier and Louis Vuitton feature this year). Members from all around the world fly in specially just to attend the week-long festivities, culminating in the grand Gala that took place this year on 11 December 2017 at Le Petit Palais museum near the Place de Concorde, followed by dinner at the 3-Michelin-starred Ledoyen within the Champs-des-Elysees.

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With each passing year, the Palais des Grands Crus gets bigger and bigger and the present 23rd edition is the biggest ever, attended by more than 300 members and their guests while more than 250 different top growths in large (no…make that huge) formats were waiting to be drunk. The front hall of the museum was lined on both sides with all the big names from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Spain, Italy and USA along with their respective owners or representatives and, everywhere, double magnums, jeroboams and 5-litre formats abound. If you’re imagining this to be some kind of an oenophilic mass orgy, you’re spot on. FICOFI usually compiles a full listing to allow members to plan ahead some sort of tasting strategy, for it would be well impossible to sample everything within the space of 150 minutes and I was also lucky enough to have obtained a distilled recommended list compiled by the famous writer and reviewer Eric Riewer who still remembered me from his recent masterclasses in Singapore.

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Pierre-Henry Gagey of Domaine Louis Jadot makes a point

I arrived at 1745h to find that the tasting promenade had already begun. Aubert de Villaine and Jean-Charles Cuvelier (both from Domaine de la Romanee Conti) were there while Thibault Pontallier (Chateau Margaux) and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) were spotted as well. It was also good again to catch up with Pierre-Henry Gagey (Louis Jadot), Yannick Champ (Prieure-Roch), Pierre Damoy, Jean-Paul Dumond (Joseph Drouhin), Gregory Gouges (Henri Gouges) and Jacques Devauges (Clos de Tart), amongst many others. With so much mouth-watering wines to taste before they run out of supply, I headed straight for the deep end of the long hall, where Domaine de la Romanee-Conti was stationed with two huge methuselahs. The 1979 D.R.C. Romanee-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru was well evolved in colour with lifted tones of aged plums and red fruits, still imbued with so much fruit and acidity, rounded and gentle, displaying remarkable fullness and linearity, highly graceful, suggesting it still has a long life ahead in spite of its full maturity. Quite superb. Next to it, the 1992 D.R.C. La Tache Grand Cru, also well evolved in appearance, exuded more complex characters with great lift, more marked in cinnamon and cedar in addition to aged plums and tangerines, revealing great detail, acidity and tension, finishing with good length. Thereafter, as the crowd swelled, I had to throw my tasting strategy out of the window as I allowed myself to be swept up by the great line-up of wines within easy reach, simply tasting whatever caught my eye as I slowly worked my way back to the entrance:

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2009 Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bourgogne Cote de Chalonnaise La Digoine. Poured from magnum. Dusty red, proffering a most interesting nose of preserved fruit, cinnamon and red fruits, highly perfumed, most succulent with excellent fullness, acidity and length. Excellent.

1995 Ch Palmer. Deep colour, exuding notes of dry mushrooms and forest floor with an earthy pungency. Medium-bodied and fleshy, displaying excellent tone with very finely grained tannins amidst dryish textures, rounded and distinctly feminine. Superb.

2005 Ch Palmer, poured from double magnum. Deep dark crimson with, again, the consistent notes of dry mushrooms and dark fruits with a slight herbal trace, showing lovely ripeness, great acidity and presence, yet never overwhelming. Excellent now, but will be outstanding in time to come.

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1998 Harlan Estate, poured from double magnum. Very dark, exuding an amazing bouquet of complex dark fruits and blackberries with lifted tones of ripe plums, tangerines and dry mushrooms. Equally lovely on the palate where it has mellowed into an open medium-full proposition, layered with superb acidity and a deeper streak of dark fruits, highly elegant in every way. Outstanding.

2006 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru. Glorious bouquet of perfumed red fruits and cherries, exuding rosy fragrance, its soft feminine character reinforced by seamless acidity and superb gentle balance. Highly elegant, where beauty conceals understated power beneath. Quite outstanding.

2012 Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1er. Well developed with a truly glorious bouquet of red fruits, rose petals and bright cherries, exuding amazing fragrance. Quite full and seamless with excellent acidity. Not quite as detailed on the palate though its proportion and balance is faultless. Delicate enough with good power. Superb.

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2012 Domaine Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche Grand Cru. Deep colour. Again quite glorious on the nose with notes of raspberries and gentle red fruits. Full-bodied, displaying excellent concentration and acidity with a slight rasping intensity that I’ve found to be quite typical of this particular plot of grand cru, finishing with a minty flourish.

2006 Domaine Roulot Meursault-Charmes, poured from jeroboam. Great bouquet of lifted minerals and delicate creme in equal measure. Medium-full, layered with sublime acidity and finishing with white floral tones, highly poised throughout its length, showing plenty of refined balance, elegance and weight. Excellent.

2007 Domaine Roulot Meursault Le Mon Plaisir. Lifted buttery tones lead to a generous palate, open with a subtle minerally base, displaying superb acidity, concentration, tone and tension that build inexorably towards a tremendous finish. Absolutely delicious, seamlessly combining elegance and power. Outstanding.

2000 Domaine du Clos de Tart Clos de Tart Grand Cru. Poured from jeroboam, exuding lifted minty tones with a suggestion of deep complex red fruits beneath, displaying bright herries with plenty of body and lovely freshness, quite racy, finishing well with sublime acidity and balance. Excellent.

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2006 Ch Ausone. Deep impenetrable darkness, big and tannic though undoubtedly rich in dark currants, grapefruit and dark cherries with a high-toned earthy minerality, slightly peppery, finishing with medicinal traces. Needs many more years to unravel its enormous potential.

1959 Ch Ducru Beaucaillou. Very pronounced tone of dry mushrooms and tobacco snuff, exuding a hallowed glow of distant red fruits and currants, still remarkably fresh and holding up very well with abundant body, flavour and feminine fragrance. Excellent, and what a privilege to have had this!

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1996 Domaine Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, poured from jeroboam. Sharp bouquet of rich creme de la creme with a most delectable earthy pungency. Medium-bodied, rounded with gorgeous minerally tone and acidity. For those who like their Corton-Charlemagne done in robust fashion with bold strokes.

1989 Ch Cheval Blanc, poured from double magnum. Good color. Aromas and textures of dry mushrooms and forest floor dominate with an attractive earthy pungency, highly supple with a lovely glow of aged red fruits and currants swathed in excellent acidity, its tannins having melted over time, resulting in the emergence of a true cabernet franc character of excellent purity, just a shade darker. Excellent.

1996 Ch La Mission Haut-Brion, poured from double magnum. Lifted with rich earthy tones and evolved red fruits, exuding an aged feel, medium-bodied with good presence, displaying subtle intensity of aged plums, turning a bit spicy towards the finish.

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1988 Ch Haut Brion, poured from a 5-litre bottle. Dark earthy pungency on the nose with pronounced graphite minerals, dryish feel with dusty textures recalling mushrooms and forest floor with dry herbal characters, seamless with good acidity though not profound.

2014 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Vaucrains 1er, poured from jeroboam. Good purity, full on the palate with bright red fruits, gorgeous acidity and subtle minerals, displaying excellent presence. Great stuff.

20171211_184752.jpg2003 Ch Margaux, poured from 5-litre format. Barely evolved in colour, proffering a great attractive earthy pungency on a full palate layered with prominent deep streak of ripe dark fruit, lifted with great acidity and verve on a backdrop of mild ferrous minerality, finishing with a trace of dusty tannins without any sign of that vintage’s heat stress. Highly consistent with a previous ex-chateau bottle tasted at FICOFI’s Margaux event in Bali in May 2017. Excellent.

2014 Bouchard Pere et Fils Le Corton Grand Cru, poured from jeroboam. Great color and purity, imbued with substantial red fruits, layered with rich oily textures yet superbly delicate in spite of its fullness, never too heavy. Excellent.

2000 Ch Leoville Las-Cases, poured from double magnum. Deep tone of ripe black fruits and dark currants with some bright spots, displaying characteristic dryness and subtle tones of cigar box, excellent in concentration and weight with  seamless acidity. Still youthful. Excellent, truly for the long haul.

1997 Colgin Cellars, poured from double magnum. Deep dark tones, almost forbidding, delivering generous loads of fresh red and black berries with dark currants, creating huge tension across the palate with its cutting acidity, framed by bold but supple tannins. Crafted with great sophistication but still far from ready.

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That is 1996 Ch Lafite Rothschild

1996 Ch Lafite Rothschild, poured from double magnum. Deep bouquet expressing great earthiness with a mild attractive pungency, almost tarry. The palate is imbued with a great tone of dark currants and black fruits supported by a highly minerally base with sublime acidity that imparts brilliant intensity, attack and precision, though turning stern again as the lengthy finish returns to its minerally roots. Fairly consistent with a previous tasting within the famous circular cellars of Chateau Lafite Rothschild in 2008 but it has fleshed out over time with superb detail and power. Outstanding but far from ready.

2001 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru. Excellent tone of crème de la crème and chalky minerals, medium-bodied, very well proportioned and open, displaying good transparency with subtle nuances, finishing with a floral flourish.

2001 Domaine Leflaive Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru. Lifted exuberance of white flowers and creme de la crème with a pronounced minerally tone on the palate, displaying lovely fullness and balance though slightly stern. There’s plenty going for it, still yet to peak in spite of its 16 years.

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2003 Domaine Pierre Damoy Chambertin-Clos de Beze Grand Cru. Well extracted and darkish in tone, revealing great concentration of ripe dark berries and raspberries with gentle biting intensity, finishing with notes of ferrous minerals. Needs time.

2004 Dom Perignon, served from methuselah. Full-bodied, open with lifted deep tones of clear citrus and green fruits amidst crystalline minerals with a hint of tropical fruits, rounded with toasty characters, displaying great freshness. Should cellar further.

2008 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses. Dry, clean, slightly minerally with grassy and crisp cutting acidity. Lovely.

1988 Ch Lynch Bages, from double magnum. Lifted bouquet marked by the hallowed glow aged claret, displaying plummy tones with stern ferrous minerals, still retaining good concentration and acidity.

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By then, my palate was becoming jaded but the evening was far from over. As the bell rang for dinner, we took a stroll through the museum en route to Ledoyen just next to the museum, where I found myself seated between Mr & Mrs Pablo Alvarez, with Marie-Andree Mugneret of Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg on the same table as well. Naturally, more wines were to follow:

2012 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Cotes Haut de Bourgogne, specially bottled for FICOFI. Aromas of light morning dew, very clean feel on the palate, recalling white pepper and mint with gentle lean crystalline minerals, finishing with ferrous elements but on the whole rather shy and reserved.

2000 Dom Perignon P2. Powerful aromas of fresh citrus and green fruits along with a lovely yeasty pungency. Full-bodied and deep with dry cutting acidity supported by a broad base of ferrous minerals.

Krug NV, poured from magnum. Deep golden hue, exuding deep yeasty tones of aged creme and clear minerals, quite open, revealing good detail with finely grained textures, just a tad dry.

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2016 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling. Fabulous nose, showing a great deal of pungent earthiness with classic diesel tones, almost peaty, while clear tones dominate the palate with good transparency, understated sweetness and acidity. Excellent.

20171211_214521.jpg2014 Domaine Georges Noellat Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru, poured from jeroboam. Dusky with characters of grapefruit and dark red fruits amidst some intense earthiness, full-bodied but rather lean on the palate. Too young to be drunk now.

2012 Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru. Drunk in the presence of the estate owner Marie-Andree Mugneret herself. This wine is imbued with generous dark berries and raspberries of good intensity and concentration with lovely purity of fruit supported by sweet tannin structure, infinitely masculine in character (in spite of it being made by women in this family-owned estate), yielding good definition.

2011 Domaine Bruno Clair Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. Coming from holdings almost adjacent to Clos de Tart, this wine exudes dark cherries and raspberries on the nose and palate with a slight tangerine core, displaying good concentration and fullness with some saline minerality, finishing with good intensity and structure.

2000 Vega Sicilia Unico, drunk with owner Pablo Alvarez and his lovely wife Elisa Kwon de Alvarez sitting next to me.  Full-bodied with an abundance of ripe dark berries and dark currants, layered with great acidity and intensity of flavours though generally darkish tone, still very youthful. Excellent but a waste to pop now.

1986 Ch Figeac. Still remarkably dark in spite of its age, full with pronounced earthy tones and ferrous minerals, still quite intense on the palate but becoming lean, the fruit clearly drying out. Drink up.

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Dr & Mrs Sanjay Nalachadran in intimate discussion with Marie-Andree Mugneret

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1999 Vega Sicilia Unico, poured from double magnum. Opague black. Unbelievably full, big and tannic even after almost twenty years, dark in tone, imbued with layers of dark cherries, dark currants and black fruits, yet to develop secondary characteristics.

1994 Ch Petrus, poured from magnum. This is a masculine Petrus stuffed with deep currants and intense black fruits, framed by a bold structure of austere minerals and dusty tannins that produced a very lovely earthy pungency. So much for so-called off years. Excellent.

2008 Ch Ausone. Quiet on the nose, somewhat closed though the palate is dominated by strong ferrous elements with good concentration of fruit and acidity but stern in demeanour, dark in tone throughout its length. Going through an awkward stage now.

1997 Ch De Farques. Overtones of ash and incense, excellent in depth and intensity with a glossy sheen, exuding characters of nectarine and varnish.

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Wines that were still remaining from the evening’s promenade were then assembled on a large table where, after dinner, it was free-for-all for anyone to continue with their tasting. But by then, my palate had truly deserted me. It was past midnight by the time I staggered along the Champs-des-Elysees and across the Place de Concorde back to my hotel. FICOFI has done very well and the organisation has been outstanding. I’ll be back!

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