Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 22, Bordeaux Wine Prices and the 2015 vintage – up, up and away!

You may or may not have heard, the 2015 Bordeaux vintage for classified growths is being priced now, and various properties are releasing their opening prices. The good news: a very good year for Bordeaux classified growths if you go by what Neal Martin of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate has to say. The bad news: wine prices are headed up, in some cases way up.

The Liv-Ex wine blog out of the UK does an excellent job of tracking wine prices, and they also track how responsive wine prices are to wine critic scores, and Robert Parker’s scores in particular. The most recent Liv-Ex blog on opening wine prices ex-negociant can be read by using the following link, http://www.blog.liv-ex.com/category/releases/bordeaux-2015-en-primeur. The dramatic price increases being described are averaging 30% higher, and in some cases (like Chateau Margaux), they are much higher (by 83.6%). Will the 2015 Chateau Margaux be too expensive for most people?

Let’s look at Chateau Margaux for a moment, with an opening price to the trade up a staggering 83.6% from last year. The Chateau is selling to the negociant at 384 euro per bottle, the negociant is applying his 17% markup and selling futures at 4,260 pounds sterling per case of 12. That futures price equates to $6,050.00 US or $7,750.00 CDN per case, but that is not the price you will pay, that is the price that your wine importer will pay, companies like Chateau and Estate Wines in the US or the LCBO or SAQ in Ontario and Quebec. These companies will apply their own markup, and those markups vary widely. Let’s assume you get lucky and the local markup is only 25% on the futures offering, so you will be paying $7,562.50 US or $9,687.50 CDN per case. On a per bottle basis that works out to $630 US or $807 CDN per bottle. Those are for Bordeaux futures, which means pay now and wait 18 months for your wines to be delivered, ouch!

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But there is more, if you choose to wait for the wine to be released on the store shelves before buying, the price you will pay will be higher, usually another 25% higher because the retailer will be paying more to buy the wine than the futures price, and applying his own markup accordingly. That means you can expect to find 2015 Chateau Margaux hitting retail store shelves in September 2018 at about $800 US or over $1,000 CDN. Wow, over $1,000 per bottle for wine that you will have to store no less than 10 years before you dare try to enjoy it. Are you in price shock yet? I know I certainly am.

So how good is the wine? For this price it had better be really good. Neal Martin has recently replaced Robert Parker as The Wine Advocate’s Bordeaux critic, and according to Neal the wine is rated 98-100 points from barrel samples. It is normal for the wine to be initially given a range (in this case from 98-100 points) until the wine itself is bottled a year from now. According to Neal you should “Beg for a bottle and worry about the cost later.” Clearly Neal expects the wine to fly off the order shelves and be impossible to get. It also appears that Chateau Margaux may be the top Bordeaux wine of the vintage. And if all this were not convincing enough, Margaux’s winemaker and head of operations Paul Pontallier passed away on March 27th 2016 at 60 years of age after running Chateau Margaux for 33 years. Paul will be sorely missed and 2015 will therefore be his last vintage as winemaker and head of operations, again adding to the importance and sentimental value of the 2015 Chateau Margaux.

Okay, this wine sounds pretty good, however we now have another problem. The more Neal talks about how good this wine is, the higher the price will go and the more difficult it will become to find any, especially if Chateau Margaux turns out to be the best Bordeaux wine of 2015. Neal will also be tasting and rating this wine again once it is bottled and before it is released on store shelves, so do not be surprised if the retail prices I have mentioned above turn out to be lower than the actual retail prices once the hype has moved into top gear. I would not be surprised to see 2015 Chateau Margaux at $1,000 US and $1,250 CDN on the store shelves just in time for Christmas 2018. Indeed when Neal says “beg for a bottle”, a bottle may be all you can ever hope to get, and it may also be all you can afford.

So have Bordeaux prices gone too high? How high is too high? I remember 30 years ago often being in New York City, Washington, and Buffalo on business and buying the 1982 vintage of Chateau Margaux, Lafite Rothchild, Mouton Rothchild, Latour, Haut Brion and Cheval Blanc at $40 US per bottle. That’s right, $40 US per bottle, and at the time Robert Parker was calling the 1982 vintage “the vintage of the century” and had rated all the top wines at 95 points or more.

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If the 2015 Chateau Margaux hits store shelves in the US at $1,000 US per bottle, the price will be 25 times higher than the 1982 vintage was selling for in 1986. That is crazy, and that is also too high for most people.

So is it time to say goodbye to your favorite classified Bordeaux estates? Maybe, and for those devotees reluctant to jump ship, you can resort to buying the Chateau’s second wine. In the case of Chateau Margaux that would be Pavillon Rouge, which is much cheaper, but will still end up hitting the retail shelves in 2018 at a minimum of $200 US or $260 CDN per bottle. That will be a 45% increase (certainly much more reasonable than the 83.6% increase for Chateau Margaux), and the wine itself is rated by Neal at 93 points, certainly a respectable score but not a potential 100 point wine. Still, you get five bottles for the price of one, something worth considering.

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In terms of volume of production and therefore availability, there are 200,000 bottles of Pavillon Rouge produced annually (16,667 cases) verses only 150,000 bottles (or 12,500 cases) of Chateau Margaux produced. So you will have an easier time getting Pavillon Rouge with 33% higher production, and less demand because all the action is going to focus on the “grand vin”.

What other options are available for the price conscious consumer without straying too far from Bordeaux classified growths?My first suggestion is to look for a chateau with higher annual production, this generally means staying away from most Pomerols. Look for less than perfection, so avoid 100 Parker point wines, and look for underrated value, such as a 5th growth wine producing at 2nd growth or better quality level. A good example of this is Chateau Pontet-Canet, a 5th growth from Pauillac, with annual production of 240,000 bottles or 20,000 cases.

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It is also worth keeping an eye on the estate’s 2nd wine, Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, which also produces 240,000 bottles or 20,000 cases annually.

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Neal Martin rates the 2015 Chateau Pontet-Canet at 94-96 points, pretty high quality, in fact a perfect place to be, any higher a rating would be having a much more pronounced impact on price. The estate also has an excellent quality track record, having delivered 100 point wines in both 2009 and 2010, so they are right now at the top of their game. Initial futures pricing is at 795 pounds sterling per case, which according to my calculations above for Chateau Margaux, would lead to retail prices at about $150 US and $200 CDN per bottle. So for the value oriented consumer, the 2015 Chateau Pontet-Canet is going to hit retail shelves at least 20% cheaper than Pavillon Rouge, and it is higher rated by Neal Martin (94-96 verses 93). In terms of comparison with Chateau Margaux itself, you will be able to buy at least 6 bottles of Chateau Pontet-Canet for the same price as one bottle of Chateau Margaux, at what amounts to a slightly lower score (94-96 verses 98-100).

Are Bordeaux prices out of control? Yes, for now they are, but they operate in cycles and 3 or 4 poor growing years from now prices could be a lot lower again, so don’t despair. There are lots of bargains to be found if you have a mind, and the will, to shop carefully. With lots of second wines available today for most of the major estates, there are many more ways today to find value with classified growth Bordeaux than there were 20 or 30 years ago.

So good hunting,

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 21, June 7, 2015 – Hugel Gewurztraminer 2013 rated best wine at a recent white wine tasting.

With summertime fast approaching, friends and family decided it would be smart to have a white wine tasting to give everyone some new wine ideas to enjoy in their summer leisure time.

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I was asked to put a list of wines together, available locally, priced in the $15.00 to $25.00 range (CDN) for 15 people. I also wanted to cover several different grape types, and yet give our guests good information on different expressions of the same grape from different wine regions. Not an easy task given that you would also be heavily restricted simply by what was available at the local wine shop.

There was no dinner planned with the tasting, but there were plenty of munchies and entrées, some of which were deliberately put together to compliment a specific wine. See below the wines in the order in which they were tasted along with my tasting notes and comments:

  • McWilliam’s Hanwood Riesling – 2014 / $16.10 / product number 10754607 / Australian Riesling / medium fruit, not dry, light, tart and short on the aftertaste, an honest uncomplicated new world Riesling at a reasonable price, liked by most tasters / my rating 7.5 on 10.

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  • Trimbach Riesling – 2012 / $22.80 / product number 11305547 / dry Alsace Riesling from a highly regarded producer / steely dry and mouth puckering Riesling, a very good example of classic dry Alsatian Riesling from a great year, this wine goes great with most seafood, balanced and pleasant aftertaste / my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Umberto Cesari Liano Rubicone – 2012 / $23.75 / product number 1161761 / Italian Chardonnay and Sauvignon blend / lovely full glycerine legs down the inside of the glass advertised the rich full bodied nature of the wine, a great mix and balance of the power of the Chardonnay grape with the softer more acidic Sauvignon Blanc, showed good balance, finesse, and elegance, would be delicious with chicken in a mushroom sauce / my rating 8.5 on 10.

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  • Conundrum California – 2013 / $25.05 / product number 10921073 / California blend of 25% each of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Voignier / this wine works very well with each grape contributing to the finished product in a noticeable way, the wine is full fruit and nicely balanced with the Chardonnay delivering the fruit, the Muscat and Voignier delivering the smoke, spice and body, with the Sauvignon Blanc delivering the crispness and acidity needed to balance the fruit, overall a very pleasant blend, perfect for summertime tasting by the lake or pool / my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Sonoma – 2014 / $20.05 / product number 897215 / medium Chardonnay fruit, refined, no overkill, shows finesse and balance, not a fruit bomb or an over achiever, an established producer making a predictable, agreeable lighter and stylist Chardonnay / my rating 8.25 on 10.

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  • Coppola Diamond Chardonnay – 2014 / $23.25 / product number 10312382 / great legs indicating high viscosity and glycerine content, good medium Chardonnay nose, not over oaked, a little off balance on the aftertaste, I was expecting more fruit than we got / my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Pinot Gris Waimea Nelson – 2015 / $19.75 / product number 11662018 / New Zealand Pinot Gris / the wine is very young and only recently bottled and it showed, but there is very good fruit on the palate, good smoky spice flavours, nicely balanced, worked very well with a shrimp cocktail sauce, lots of potential but needs more time in the bottle / my rating 8.5 on 10.

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  • Bolla Retro Pinot Grigio – 2015 / $16.95 / product number 12494714 / this wine was loose and watery and that cannot be blamed on the very young vintage, we also tasted this in the wrong order as we should have tasted it before the New Zealand Pinot Gris above, there was not much nose, disappointing on the palate and sharp on the aftertaste, my rating 6.5 on 10.

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  • Preiss-Zimmer Pinot Gris Reserve – 2013 / $23.50 / product number 967414 / Alsace Pinot Gris / this was softer and fruitier than expected, very good smoke and spice on the nose that is lost and not present on the palate as there is too much sweetness on the palate, if this had been vinified a little drier it would have been more of a success, my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Hugel Gewurztraminer – 2013 / $21.00 / product number 00329235 / great legs in the glass indicating high glycerine content, very pure expressive fruit showing lychees and rose petals on the nose and palate, crisp and lasting aftertaste, by far the most expressive wine of the evening, goes great with any spicy or curry dish / my rating 9 on 10.

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  • Langlois Vieilles Vignes – 2009 / $27.55 / product number 856674 / Loire Valley Chenin Blanc / a dry chenin blanc, good pure fruit expression, very fragrant nose, thick viscous legs indicating a high glycerine content, beguiling, old vine quality shines through, wished it was sweeter / my rating 8.75 on 10.

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As you can see from the list and my notes I wanted to get several different grapes in front of our tasters, so we got Riesling (in 2 wines), Chardonnay (in 2 wines), Pinot Gris or Grigio (in 3 wines), Gewurztraminer (in 1 wine), Chenin Blanc (in 1 wine), and two blends that also gave us exposure to Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and Viognier. I also wanted to show different styles from different regions, allowing the tasters to compare Australian Riesling with Alsatian Riesling, New Zealand Pinot Gris to Alsace and Italian, etc.

Overall the Hugel Gewurztraminer was the best wine of the evening as everyone agreed, rated 9 on 10, followed by the Langlois Chenin Blanc, rated at 8.75 on 10, then two wines at 8.5 on 10 each, the Umberto Cesari Liano Rubicone and the Pinot Gris Waimea Nelson.

The overall quality of the wines tasted was very good, the blends were great, very pleasant crowd pleasers. Everyone remarked that they enjoyed almost every wine in the lineup. There were some obvious food matches, such as the Gewurztraminer with curry and spicy dishes, or the Pinot Gris Waimea Nelson with shrimps and cocktail sauce. The blends (the Conundrum and the Liano) were also very smooth, well balanced, showing great versatility with several different food types.

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A very successful summer tasting of mid priced white wines, capped off by the birthday of one of our tasters, allowing us to throw a chocolate cake into the mix for good measure.

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Good wine, good friends and family, equals a great time and lots of good memories.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 20, May 31, 2016, Birthyear and Anniversary Wines

One of the main reasons to have a wine collection is to have a bottle of something special to celebrate special occasions, such as wedding anniversaries and birthdays. When I first became interested in collecting fine wine in the early 1980’s the first thing I did was start purchasing 1979 first growth Bordeaux to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Because 1979 was not recognized as a resounding success in Bordeaux, I decided it would make sense to purchase several different wines including Chateau Margaux, Latour, Lafite Rothchild, and Haut Brion. That way, I would have a good variety and could hold onto Latour longer if it showed better aging potential than the others (which indeed turned out to be the case).

 

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The Lafite is rated at 90 points and currently priced at $860, the Latour is rated at 91 points and priced at $560, the Haut Brion is rated at 92 points and priced at $510, and the Margaux is rated at 94 points and priced at $585. I have tasted all four more than once and in my opinion the best wine of the four is the Haut Brion, while the weakest is the Lafite. The last time I tasted the Margaux a couple of years ago I thought it was tiring fast and a mere shadow of what it used to be. The Latour looks to be the longest aging of the bunch (and Latour is noted for this characteristic) and looks capable of surviving nicely for another 10 years. The Lafite, which I described in detail recently in my blog post #18, is also losing steam and fading away, although it is still a very nice wine. Only the Haut Brion appears to be holding onto most of its fruit flavors and aromas while the other three all show signs of decline. It is also interesting to note that the weakest wine of the four (the Lafite) is also currently the most expensive, and by a wide margin. At $860 the Lafite is 55% more expensive than the average price of the other three, no doubt this is the “Chinese effect” in action, which will be the subject of a future Reg’s Wine Blog post.

I was born in 1954 and my wife in 1955. 1954 was a disaster for wine throughout Europe so literally nothing survives today, except for one or two vintage Madeira wines that are rare, expensive, and hard to find. So I am out of luck finding anything from my birth year. 1955 was a much better year, and we still have a couple of bottles left from that year, one Lafite and one Latour.

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Those wines are long since past their prime and may no longer be suitable for opening to celebrate anything. Opening them may be more of a gamble and experiment than anything else. (take note: an old wine to celebrate an event can kill the event if it has turned to vinegar, so be prepared with a backup plan). In any event the wines are both rated 94 points on www.winesearcher.com and valued at roughly $2,000 per bottle, both are still drinkable, but soft and fading, so plan to drink them soon.

We have four children born in the years 1983, 1985, 1987, and 1991. My wife and I decided we would buy a case of fine wine for each child from their birth year and give it to them on their 18th birthday to keep for birthday celebrations as long as the wine would last. Naturally the wine would need to be purchased early (for best prices and availability), cellared for many years, and opened once or twice over its first 20 years of life to ensure it was maturing properly.

1983 was an above average year in Bordeaux, and an excellent year for dessert wines in Alsace and Germany. For my eldest I opted for the 1983 Chateau Margaux, which at the time was rated the top wine of the year in Bordeaux. Chateau Margaux had also undergone a change of ownership in 1976 when it was bought by the Felix Potin company, headed by Greek industrialist Andre Mentzelopoulos, and had been upgraded and improved in quality under this new management to the point that both the 1978 and 1979 vintages of Chateau Margaux were considered a major success and major improvement over a string of bad efforts over the previous 20 years. Today Chateau Margaux remains the best Bordeaux wine of the vintage and a good choice. Rated at 95 points and valued at $780 per bottle CDN the wine displays cocoa, chocolate mint, truffles, cassis, tobacco and cedar on both the nose and the palate, and is easily good for another 10 years.

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1985 was considered a very forward, fruity, and somewhat lighter vintage in Bordeaux, and good for Vintage Port. The challenge here was to select a wine that would not lose its fruit in 20 years. After considerable research I opted for the 1985 Chateau Mouton Rothchild, viewed by most of the critics as the top first growth Bordeaux of the vintage. I also picked up a few Vintage Ports as a hedge for the future in case the Bordeaux wine dried out and lost its fruit. So far so good, the fruit remains intact and the wine, like my son, is 31 years of age and aging gracefully. The wine is rated at 93 points and valued at $565 CDN per bottle, and described as fully mature, displaying tobacco, cigar box, cedar, cherry and cassis aromas with a medium body and an elegant classy feel to it, drinking perfectly now and will continue to do so for another 10 years.

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1987 was not a good year for wine in Europe. There are some Vintage Ports, which I picked up, but otherwise my search led me to California where 1987 was actually a pretty good vintage. After careful consideration I opted for the 1987 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The main concern anyone would have is trying to determine if the wine would still be worth cellaring beyond 25 years of age. At the time California reds were known for their “fruit bomb” robust fruit forward flavors, great to drink immediately, but not much experience was in the public domain as to how well they would age. Even the world’s foremost wine critic on California wines, Robert Parker, was not projecting great long lifespans beyond 15-20 years, so selecting a California red at that time was considered risky. But there was not much choice with Europe being a write off. We have kept an eye on this wine over the last 10 years as it is now 29 years of age, and even though the wine is tired and showing its age, it is still in fine shape, a little less fruit today than 10 years ago, but still a classy wine. Rated at 92 points and worth $200 CDN per bottle, the wine displays black cherry fruit, some tar, and is both elegant and balanced, with a slight tannic edge to it that disappears after about 2 hours of decanting. In time the tannins will disappear and this wine should survive another 10 years as well.

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1991 was again a poor year in Bordeaux, so once again I found myself opting for a California red, this time opting for the 1991 Dominus. Fortunately, 1991 is also a very good year for Vintage Ports, so I added a few of those as insurance in case the Dominus dried out. The 1991 Dominus is rated at 94 points and worth $420 CDN per bottle, the wine displays lots of fruit and power. Perhaps the best tasting description I have read on line about this wine comes from Natalie Maclean, click on the following link to read her full article from November 26, 2014: www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/dominus-wine-napa-tasting-napanook. Natalie describes the wine as mind blowing, stunning, sensational, with great length, and aromas of leather, mushrooms and spices.

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The kids all wanted us to continue to store their wine for them, which is fine but it does take up cellar space. Being the custodian of their birthyear wines also brings the responsibility of storing it, checking them periodically to ensure no leakage or seepage, and discouraging them from wanting to sell the wine to pay for a car or a credit card bill. Spouses also have little or no attachment to the sentimental family value the birthyear wine represents, so this is another reason to want to cellar the wine out of sight and out of mind with Mum and Dad.

I have often wondered if I were doing this all over again today what would I do differently in terms of selection strategy. First of all, price for first growth Bordeaux is now a major problem, putting that option out of reach for most young families. I still maintain that early purchase of the wines is better than later when prices have already started to climb. But buying a case of 2015 Chateau Margaux or Chateau Mouton Rothchild will not come cheaply, certainly not less than about $700 per bottle or $8,400 CDN per case. If the critics rate the wine highly in a good year, that price could be 30-40% higher. So my best recommendation would be to gravitate to a Vintage Port or Madeira where the price range is going to be much less, in the $150 per bottle range.  An added advantage is that the Vintage Port should probably outlive the first growth Bordeaux in most cases. In our case, good Vintage Port was made in all four years, 1983, 1985, 1987, and 1991.

Another point to bear in mind besides purchase price is price appreciation. If you buy a wine at $100 per bottle for long term storage and 30 years later it is worth $400, you and your family are more likely to open and drink a bottle than if that same wine has appreciated to $1,500. At $1,500 you have a tendency to want to save it, or sell it, but not drink it. It becomes too tempting to your young son of 30 years of age to want to sell his $18,000 worth of wine to buy that new car, or put a down payment on his first house purchase.

So if you are ever in the market to purchase special occasion wines for birthyears or anniversaries, think carefully about your objectives and consider the following questions:

  • How long do I intend to store this wine. The longer you intend to keep the wine the more you should gravitate to fortified wines like Vintage Port.
  • Do I have adequate reliable long term cellar capability. If you expect to be downsizing and selling the family home then storage that is not a problem today may become a problem in future. 30 year old wine that is starting to dry out and lose its fruit needs to be stored under the best of cellar conditions to maximize the years of life it has left.
  • Be prepared to try the wine, certainly from age 20 onwards. There is nothing wrong with your son or daughter having only 9 or 10 bottles of their birthyear wine left by the time they reach 30, as long as those first 2 or 3 bottles have been consumed at birthday celebrations. If your child waits until 40 years of age to try the wine and it turns out to be disappointing, then all the good intentions and careful cellaring will have been for nothing.

Once again, as I have said before, special occasion wines are meant to be consumed, so make a point of planning a suitable event where you and those special people in your life can all enjoy the wine and the cherished company of loved ones. Good wine plus good company equals good memories, and those cannot be taken away from you, those memories will stay with you always, wherever you may be.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 19, May 24, 2016 – The “Parker Effect”, great for speculators, not so good for consumers!

I read an article recently from Liv-Ex, a UK publication that tracks fine wine prices, the article really left me feeling quite frustrated. The article was all about how Robert Parker’s wine scores move market prices. For those of you not familiar with Robert Parker, he is probably the most influential wine critic in the world, an American whose opinion and wine score is revered by consumers and winemakers alike.

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The article, published in a Liv-Ex blog dated April 19, 2016 and titled “Five times that Robert Parker moved the Bordeaux market”, cited five recent examples of how wine prices bolted upwards immediately upon receiving an upgraded rating by Robert Parker. You can read the full article through the following link: http://www.blog.liv-ex.com/2016/04/five-times-robert-parker-moved-bordeaux-market.html

When I first started collecting fine wine in the early 1980’s one of the first things I did was subscribe to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate magazine. That was 35 years ago and I subscribed to the magazine for about 15 years. In those early years Robert Parker’s opinion was already sought after, but it influenced mainly consumer buying behavior, not so much wine prices. Parker’s wine reviews and scores were great (and still are) for “discovering” new gems, first rate wines at bargain prices that would rival the big names in quality. His reviews were also essential reading to understand which wineries were the “up and coming” superstars of tomorrow, and which wineries were overrated and in decline or making only mediocre wines.

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In addition, Parker fancied himself a bit of a crusader and consumer advocate by encouraging (through his articles and reviews) local winemakers to upgrade their facilities and wine making practices. By tasting blind and giving honest opinions Parker was able to flag and label poor product, particularly if it was overpriced compared to its peers. Conversely he was also able to draw attention to those wineries and producers making superior wines at bargain prices. So the hunt was on, as so many wine collectors would be guided by his advice in seeking out those unknown and rare gems. But in those early days the emphasis was not on wine scores, if Parker gave the wine a rating of 90 points or more it was considered great, and worth seeking out and buying if reasonably priced. Also, in those early days Parker did not hand out 99 and 100 points with the frequency that he does today. The best argument that Parker has today for the multitude of wines scoring those points is the fact that so many winemakers have taken his advice and upgraded facilities and wine making practices, improved vineyard pruning practices, etc.

A lot has changed since those early days in the mid 1980’s, today the market drools over each and every Parker comment and hint of an upgraded score. When I read the Liv-Ex article above, I was astonished to see that the market today reacts instantaneously to Parker’s comments.

In the case of Chateau Haut Bailly 2009, Parker initially scored the wine at 96-98+ in November 2011 prior to first release with the wine trading at roughly $110 US (or $147 CDN) per bottle. In November 2014, some 3 years later, Parker revised his rating upwards to 100 points, and the wine price shot up 45% in 3 days from $94 US ($126 CDN) to $137 US ($184 CDN). Today some 18 months later that wine is now $192 US ($253 CDN) per bottle. It is also important to note that these international auction prices do not include import duties, transport, or government taxes. It seems like Parker points are worth 20-25% per point at the upper end of the scale. Ouch!

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The Liv-Ex article also cites as examples how the Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 2005 increased in value by 48% over the 6 months prior to its Parker upgrade from 98+ points to 100, and the Chateau Montrose 2010 that increased in price by 50% in one day when Parker raised his point score of that wine to 100 points. Yikes, watch out, this guy really does move markets and influence wine prices.

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The most astonishing example of all has to be the Chateau Haut Brion 1989 which Parker has evaluated at 100 points on no less than 6 separate reviews. The price of this wine is currently about $1,642 US ($2,205 CDN) per bottle, and Parker has described the wine as “one of the immortal wines and one of the greatest young Bordeaux wines of the last half-century”. Parker has also commented that “life is too short not to drink this wine as many times as possible”. Strong praise indeed from the wine guru himself.

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But the truly amazing point to all this lies in the fact that Parker himself has also rated several other recent vintages of Chateau Haut Brion at 100 points: the 2010, the 2009, and the 2005. Those vintages, which all carry the same 100 point Parker rating, sell at $670 US ($900 CDN), $632 US ($850 CDN), and $670 US ($900 CDN) per bottle respectively. So those perfect vintages from the same Chateau sell no less than $972 US per bottle less than the 1989. That is one huge price difference between the 1989 and the others, all bearing perfect 100 point ratings. Why you might ask? Maybe they have yet to get 6 separate reviews from Parker, maybe he just does not shower them with as much praise, maybe they are just younger. Whatever the reason, this is proof positive that both Parker points and Parker praise moves wine prices, and very significantly at that.
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So is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well if you are a wine speculator, someone who buys and sells wine futures, or a regular trader at wine auctions, you must welcome Parker’s input as the largest single factor in boosting your profits. Parker is more influential on wine prices than Warren Buffet is on financial markets, and that is a pretty scary thought. On the other hand if you are a wine consumer then the “Parker effect” can be very depressing as you watch wine prices soar through the roof for your favorite wines. When you see your favorite low cost 5th growth Bordeaux that you used to buy at $25 per bottle soar to $150 per bottle you quickly realize that this wine is no longer affordable. If you are lucky enough to have bought some of that wine before the “Parker effect” took hold, then your wine has appreciated nicely in value, but forget about buying any more of it now, it is too late and too expensive.

As I said above, in the early years the “Parker effect” was all good because the impact on price was much less pronounced. I’m sure Robert Parker himself is often distressed to see that his positive opinion and ratings of wines is rendering them unaffordable for the average wine consumer. Keep in mind it is not the great guru himself, Robert Parker, to blame for the “Parker effect”, but rather the herd mentality of consumers combined with the speculators taking maximum advantage of every positive word that Parker and his team voice. Maybe lower ratings (ie: not so many 100 point perfect scores handed out) might be a good thing! I wonder if the maximum score Parker’s team were to hand out for a wine were limited to 97 points, would wine prices for those top Bordeaux chateaux reduce by 50%? That would be nice, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

The moral to this story is simply this: wine is a beverage, meant to be consumed and enjoyed in a social setting. There is so much selection in wine that there will always be something new to try, some new discovery to call your own new personal favorite. You do not need to follow the herd, or feed the speculators. If your favorite wine becomes the latest target of ridiculous price increases, then it is time to move on, go find something else. You may just find that avoiding Parker’s favorite wines will be easier on your wallet, and keep you trying new wines and searching for those next hidden gems and stars of the future.

Good hunting!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 18 – May 17, 2016, Happy Anniversary with 1979 Chateau Lafite Rothchild

As a wine collector there are certain special events in your life worth celebrating, mostly birthdays and wedding anniversaries. My wife and I married in 1979 so I took it upon myself to pick up a healthy supply of 1979 first growth Bordeaux reds in the early 1980’s. Over the years we have celebrated many anniversaries with a nice dinner and some fine wine. This year was no exception.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Chateau-Lafite-Rothschild post 18

1979 was not a great year for Bordeaux first growth reds, certainly not as good as 1978 or 1982, but all considered the year was slightly above average. When I first decided to purchase the best 1979 Bordeaux reds I could for long term storage, I opted to purchase Chateau Lafite (rated 90 points), Chateau Latour (rated 91 points), Chateau Haut Brion (rated 92 points), and Chateau Margaux (rated 94 points). Last year we tried the 1979 Latour which was marvellous, this year I decided it was time to try the 1979 Lafite again as my last notes from 3 years ago indicated I needed to keep a close watch on how much longer this wine will last.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Chateau-Lafite-Rothschild-1979

So I planned out dinner for two, first course consisting of a shrimp appetizer in a garlic butter sauce with a smoked gouda cheese and crackers, paired with the 2010 Chateau de Haute- Serre (which I have previously reviewed under blog post # 12 on April 5th). For the main course with the 1979 Chateau Lafite I had steamed lobster in a butter sauce with vegetables, and for dessert I served a strawberry/chocolate mousse cake in the shape of a heart with a 500 ml bottle of 1989 Tokay Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles by J.B. Adam from Alsace.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-1

I knew from previous experience that the 1979 Lafite could be sliding downhill, so in anticipation of a weak showing by the Lafite, I went with the 2010 Chateau de Haute-Serre to start. I knew this wine would be in great shape, having just tasted the wine a month earlier and rated it at 92 points just as the Wine Spectator magazine had done.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-7

I also wanted a dessert wine to go with the rather rich strawberry/chocolate mousse cake, and the 1989 J.B. Adam Tokay Pinot Gris SGN seemed perfect, it also happened to be the right size at 500 ml, larger than a half bottle but smaller than a full bottle.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-8

The appetizer was perfectly matched with the wine, the smoked gouda cheese was very nicely accentuated by the hickory wood smoke taste in the Chateau de Haute-Serre. The wine, as per my previous blog notes, performed just as well as it had last month, showing consistency. It also paired very well with the food, showing enough body and flavour without overpowering either the shrimps or the cheese.

The 1979 Lafite turned out to be a pleasant surprise, it was not weak at all, it was delicate and tender, but by no means weak. And the Lafite therefore paired very nicely with the lobster, neither one out of synch with the other, both rather light and delicate in style.

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I did not decant the Lafite for longer than about 15 minutes before serving because I did not want it falling apart before we were ready to try it. There was not much sediment in the bottle, and in the decanter the wine did not show much age, the colour of the wine around the rim of the decanter was only slightly browned, again in good shape with no signs of any orange rim. There were no glycerin tears or legs down the sides of the decanter, indicating the wine was more astringent and not rich in fruit.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-9

Once in the glass, our wine was subdued on the nose, not giving much away, in fact the nose did improve after another 20 minutes in the decanter and with some swirling in the glass. To me this means that the wine once again is not weak, just reserved and delicate. In future I would decant this wine at least 45 minutes before serving to catch it at its peak. On the nose we had that traditional cedar pencil aroma, leather, cigar smoke, and light fruit delicately balanced. On the palate more of the same, medium body, very soft fruit with gentle balance, reserved but not backward or out of tune in any way. For the year 1979, this wine has held together quite well. The aftertaste was again light, delicate and maybe a little thin, but nicely balanced.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-10

I have one bottle of 1979 Lafite remaining in my cellar, I may not drink that last bottle next May on our next anniversary, but I certainly would not advise waiting longer that 2 years from now to drink up. There is no doubt that the Lafite is not as strong as Latour, Haut Brion and Margaux in the 1979 vintage, so drink up any remaining Lafite first.

For dessert the 1989 J.B. Adam Tokay Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles was also quite pleasant, not great but certainly pretty good. The fruit in this wine was huge, on its own this wine could actually be quite overpowering. Thick glycerin tears rolled down the glass, the wine colour a dark yellow to orange. The wine texture was fat and chewy, in fact the lighter apricot and pineapple fruit was almost out of place with the thick cloying mouth feel you tasted on the palate. The wine was very good, in fact it was perfect for our dessert, and was richer than the dessert itself. In many ways this wine resembled and reminded me of a rich Sauterne and not an Alsace SGN. To me the missing component was not enough acidity in the wine to balance the sugar and fruit. However it is worth noting that this wine is already 27 years old and still showing very well.

Jean Baptiste Adam is the 14th generation winemaker in his family, who have been making wine in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr for over 400 years, since 1614. Every winemaker with that type of experience and history has evolved his own style of wine, and the Adam late harvest dessert wines are clearly made in a Sauterne type style. Again, this wine paired perfectly with our rich chocolate mousse dessert.

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of planning and hosting a special occasion dinner with the one you love is getting the right wines paired with the right foods. So much can go wrong, and sometimes it does. The wines might be too old, a little too dry (or fruity) for your food selection, maybe not decanted long enough, maybe too long. The pairing with food might not work because of a wrong sauce selection, an off flavoured herb or spice that clashes with the wine. When it all works together the sum total is another memorable shared experience for the happy couple. This was one such evening for the two of us. Every component came together as it should. To me this is what collecting fine wine is all about, planning and sharing a fine dining and tasting experience with friends or family.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-12

The 2010 Chateau de Haute-Serre retails for $25.95 in Quebec, and is rated by both Reg and the Wine Spectator at 92 points, the 1979 Lafite is rated 90 points by Wine-Searcher.com and sells for an average price of approx. $850.00 CDN, and I would give it only an 89 rating, I think the days of being rated 90 points are starting to fade. Obviously you do not want to be buying this wine any longer, it just does not have much time left on it, and buying such a delicate wine it may already be gone. I cannot find tasting notes or a rating for the 1989 J.B. Adam Tokay Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles anywhere online, but I would rate the wine at 90 points and it is probably good for another 5-10 years before that massive fruit bomb starts to dry out. The 1989 vintage is no longer available for purchase anywhere, the oldest vintage available for purchase appears to be the 2005, which retails at approx. $50.00 US or $65.00 CDN. If you could find the 1989 vintage anywhere it would cost no less than $100.00.

So all together, we celebrated in style, consuming about $975.00 worth of wine (please don’t think I paid anywhere near that amount, when I bought the Lafite in 1984 I paid about $30.00). Is my dear wife worth it? You bet she is, one look at her smile tells me she is worth every penny and then some.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 17-4

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg's Wine Blog photo wedding anniv 2

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 17, May 10, 2016 A tribute to Etienne and Jean Hugel, gone but not forgotten

When I wrote and published my blog post # 6 on February 19, 2016 I indicated in that post, which was a review of the New Years tasting we did of Hugel’s 1976 Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive SGN, that I would write an upcoming future post about our 1986 visit with Jean Hugel as it would tell a wonderful personal story about Jean Hugel, who passed away in June 2009. Little did I know at the time that this post would also be a tribute to his nephew Etienne, who passed away suddenly at age 57 just 4 weeks ago on April 9th, 2016.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 5

Jean Hugel lived a life full of passion for his wine. He was both an ambassador for Alsace wines around the globe, and a tireless promoter of his beloved Hugel wines. Under Jean’s capable management Hugel wines grew to become internationally known and acclaimed. When our family visited Hugel’s winery in September 1986, it was harvest time and predictably the busiest time of the year for every winemaker.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel 2

We were a family of seven, and we had booked an appointment to meet with Jean at the winery weeks in advance. My Dad was an executive of Hilton Canada, so being in the hospitality trade, and the food and beverage industry, it certainly helped getting those hard to book appointments with Hugel and others at their busiest time of year.

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On the day of our visit, Jean greeted us with open arms, much as he would greet long time friends. He personally toured us through the winery itself, telling stories all the while. He was a walking history book about all matters Hugel. His detailed description of his beloved Fut 27, the 8,800 liter cask pictured in the photos below, explained in great detail the 350 history of both the cask and the winery.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 7

You can see both his passion and devotion for all things Hugel captured in these photos as he captivates us with his stories and his passion. Even those of us among our family group who were not as passionate about wine as I was, were enthralled by his personality and charisma. He was a “tour de force” and someone you could not help but admire.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel's Fut 28 Jean makes a point Sept 1986

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel's Fut 28 Jean gives a tour Sept 1986

As we went to the tasting room, Jean opened up bottle after bottle to sample, starting with the simplest wines and building to his late harvest Vendange Tardive wines, and his specialty dessert wines, the Selection de Grains Nobles. When we tasted his SGN wines at the end, I told Jean these were what I had come to taste more than anything else. I already owned a couple of bottles of the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN but had never tasted the wine.

Jean not only served us the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN, but also the Riesling and the Pinot Gris, both of which I did not know even existed. These wines were absolutely stunning, and by Jean’s own words the 1976 vintage of all three varieties were the best SGN wines of the century at that point, and would all last another 50 years in the bottle. That means according to Jean Hugel those wines should still be good in the year 2036. On January 1, 2016 when last tasted, I rated the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN at 94 points and forecast that the wine should still be good in 2030. So Jean was right, probably the wines of the century for Hugel.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel 11

As our tasting at Hugel’s drew to a close I asked Jean if I could buy a couple of each of the three 1976 SGN wines from him to take home with us. Much to my surprise and dismay, Jean said no he could not sell me the wines. I was very surprised, but being very passionate about collecting those wines, I got into a prolonged discussion with him about why he could not sell me the wines.

Jean could tell by my enthusiasm and persistence that I was just as passionate about owning those wines as he was about making them and selling them. Jean told me his wine sales direct from the winery were strictly regulated and audited, and restricted to only promotional samples to wine wholesalers (negotiants) or others directly in the trade. After much question and answer, sparring back and forth, that must have gone on for 10 minutes or longer, it became obvious to me that the answer was a firm “no”, and that I was not going to be allowed to buy these magnificent wines. By now 5 of our 7 family members had left the room, not wanting to watch this debate drag out any longer. My expression changed to disappointment as I reluctantly accepted the fact that I was not going to be able to buy these wines. There was nothing more to do at this point but to thank Jean for his hospitality and the chance to taste such wonderful wines. In the presence of my Dad, we shook hands and I thanked Jean, but my disappointment still showed.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Hugel 12

As he was shaking my hand, Jean said to me “I am not allowed to sell you these wines, but nothing prevents me from giving them to you. So I am pleased to give you two bottles each of the three 1976 SGN wines (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris) as my gift to you.”  I was shocked at first, and after a couple of awkward moments trying to process what had just happened, the smile of pure joy that came across my face must have said it all, and given Jean a strong sense of satisfaction. Jean also gave my Dad a couple of bottles of the Riesling Vendange Tardive wine that he particularly liked. After another 10 minutes of conversation and expressions of profound thanks and appreciation, we left. To this day I have never forgotten that event. Jean did not have to gift anything to us, but he did, and as far as I could tell he did so because he was passionate about his wine, and because he could see that I too was passionate about his wine.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 8

Jean was right again of course, I will never forget that gesture of generosity on his part. I never would have guessed at the time in 1986 that 30 years later I would start a wine blog to write about my favourite hobby, so it gives me great pleasure to be able to devote a blog post to Jean and the entire Hugel family. In some small way to be able to give back or recognize their passion and devotion to the wine industry is the least I can do.

For those of you who do not know, Jean Hugel was responsible for the introduction of INAO regulations governing Vendange Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles Alsacian wines. The law was drafted and proposed in 1977, and finally passed into law in 1984. This law, aimed at maintaining quality standards for these late harvest wines, requires a blind tasting test be passed before any such wine can legally be sold.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 9 Jean 2008

When I was researching Hugel’s website (www.hugel.com) before writing my February Post # 6, it was not long before I had questions and entered into email correspondence with Etienne Hugel. Etienne responded to me immediately, he was very informative, cooperative, and hospitable. He issued me a written and standing invitation to visit Hugel’s winery again to revisit those marvellous Hugel SGN wines. I could tell instantly that Etienne shared that same passion and love for their Hugel wines as Jean had for so many years. Etienne joined the Hugel team in 1982 at 23 years of age, and worked tirelessly for 34 years until his untimely and tragic passing last month. Etienne was in charge of international sales and marketing, so he traveled widely and often. Hugel wines are now exported to over 100 countries around the world. Although the family has not disclosed what caused Etienne to pass away suddenly on April 9th at 57 years of age, I suspect it may have had something to do with his difficult travel schedule.

Reg's Wine Blog photo hugel 10 Etienne 2012

The Hugel family have been producing wine in Alsace since 1639, so 13 generations of the Hugel family have been making great wine for 377 years. Their passion and dedication to the family business is clearly evident. They are also admired and respected for their contributions to the industry itself as  ambassadors, leaders and trend setters of the future.

To Jean and Etienne Hugel, bravo and well done, gone but not forgotten.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 16 May 3, 2016, Tasting Graham’s 1985 Vintage Port at 31 years of age

My eldest son recently turned 31 years of age, so at his birthday celebration dinner I thought it would be fitting to cap off the evening with a bottle of Graham’s 1985 Vintage Port. Would the wine be in better shape than my boy? The 1985 Graham’s was supposed to be the best of the 1985 Vintage Ports, and we were about to find out.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 5

Expecting the wine would have substantial sediment, I poured the open bottle into my trusty decanter and caught my first glimpse of the wine’s colour and texture. Blood red, thick and viscous as it swirled and coated the inside of my decanter, not a lot of sediment either, very clean. Not a lot of fragrance on the nose from the decanter. On pouring the wine into the glass, there was no evidence of any browning in colour around the edges, and the tremendous viscosity of the wine was evident from the long legs dripping down the inside of the glass. Once in the glass the nose was more aromatic than it was in the decanter, but it was still quite subdued. There were floral aromas there, but more subtle than one might expect from a reputed blockbuster port.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 8

On the palate the wine continued to be very soft and delicate, displaying very smooth smoke and dark red fruit, plums, figs, dates. The wine was “hot but not”, meaning that it had that typical port like full bodied robust rush to it that we all love, but there was no longer any bite or kick to it that we normally associate with a less than fully mature port, instead it came across as a soft, warm caress. Definitely a fully mature port, in fact some might observe that the wine was losing its fruit, because you could clearly taste the brandy backbone in this wine. But this was not a bad thing, the overall effect imparted a light but smooth, elegant finish both on the palate and the nose upon exhaling. On further tasting you began to get aromas of lush sweetness and nuts, licorice and prunes all tightly knitted together into one smooth harmonious blend.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 7

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 2

The port was very successful on this evening. Even though fully mature, this wine remains in full harmony, well structured, with just enough fruit to dazzle your taste buds with different fruit and nut combinations. Those flavors are very subtle and very entertaining, as your palate searches for and finds more complex aromas with each new taste. One could happily sit alone by a warm fire tasting this port on a cold winter’s night and get pleasantly lost or distracted in the tasting experience.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Graham-Lodge

No kick, no bite, nothing out of place, it is all there, soft, delicate and very sophisticated. I would not rate this port at 100 points, but certainly a solid 92. In terms of evolution, at 31 this port is fully mature and may even be a little past its prime, but having said that this port will probably still be drinking very nicely 10 years from now. If you currently own the 1985 Graham’s, you should be drinking it now, or any time over the next 5 years. This wine will keep longer than 5 years, but I would advise keeping track of how well the fruit holds into the future by tasting it every couple of years if you have more than one bottle left in your cellar.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Garham's 1985 - 1

When I went to research this wine and its rating history on the internet I found quite a few disconnects that consumers will find contradictory. Robert Parker rated this wine at 96 points when he tasted it in 1989, saying it would peak and be fully mature in 1993, and continue to drink well for 20 years until 2013. WineSearcher.com gave the wine a score of only 84 points, based on the average of three scores, being 98 points from Decanter, 93 points from CellarTracker, and only 17.5 points (on 20) from Jancis Robinson. Well I am no mathematician, but I cannot figure out how three scores of 98, 93, and 17.5/20 (or 87.5) average out at 84. By my math, that averages out to 93, which is consistent with what we tasted on this night, and certainly not 84 points.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Grahams 1985 - 2

WineSearcher.com also advises to drink up, the wine according to them being good until 2016 only. Conversely, on the Fortheloveofport.com website Roy Hersh wrote an article covering a vertical tasting of Graham’s Vintage Ports in August 2011 where he described the 1985 Graham’s as “A port for the ages. I look forward to seeing how well this will drink in 25 more years.” That means Roy expects this wine to still be going strong in the year 2036, 20 years from now.

So when you navigate your way through all the conflicting information available on line, here are my conclusions. First, someone needs to send WineSearcher.com a calculator, or they need to hire someone who knows how to use one. Second, Robert Parker was right, the wine did mature early, but it will continue to drink very nicely well past his projection of 2013. Third, Roy Hersh should not wait until 2036 to try this wine again. In fact if Roy were to try the wine today he might be surprised at how much this wine has softened since his tasting in 2011. All this to say open a bottle and drink it now, this wine is at or slightly past its prime and will begin its decline sooner than you might think, but my guess is that it will hold in its current state another 5 years.

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So who is aging better, my son or the 1985 Graham’s Vintage Port? Well the good news is that I expect my son will live much longer than the port will, he should be around at least another 50 years plus. The port on the other hand will be lucky to survive another 25 years. However, right now the port is better behaved and is smooth and reliable. To my son’s credit, the port is not that good with chores around the house, car repairs, and solving computer problems. So it was a close call, but I think my son is a keeper, and the port is a drinker. No doubt I will have lots of help from my son consuming the rest of my 1985 ports.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 9

 

Cheers,

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 15 April 26, 2016, To Decant or Not to Decant, that is the question.

What is decanting and why should you do it before drinking your wine. Here are my thoughts on this subject.

Most people are happy to just open their bottle of wine and pour a glass for immediate consumption. The process of decanting a wine involves pouring your opened wine bottle into a glass decanter, carafe, or jug, and allowing the wine to “breathe” for a while in your decanter before drinking it. Plain and simple, allowing the wine to breathe for a while means you are allowing the wine to oxygenate, which changes (and should improve) the taste of the wine. You should find that the oxygenation of your wine has softened any rough edges, it should allow a tight closed wine to open up, for fruit that initially is not found in the wine when first opened to express itself after being exposed to the air for a few hours.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanting-wine

Most liquor and wine stores sell very young wines, often the most recent vintage released, and usually having been bottled within the last 12 months. The very young wine is often “not ready to drink”, meaning the wine in the bottle is tight, closed, raw and harsh in taste, shows very little fragrance on the nose, may taste out of balance as either the fruit is not showing, or the harsh acidity has yet to settle down and mellow out or integrate with the fruit in the bottle. You the consumer now have only two choices available to you: either you cellar the wine for several years to allow the wine to evolve naturally over time in the bottle, or you find some way to speed up the aging process, and that means aging your wine as it sits open oxygenating in your decanter before drinking it.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 1

So the most important reason for decanting is to age your young raw wine before drinking it. This works fine at home, but not very well in a restaurant. Aging a young wine in a decanter at your restaurant table over the course of a one or two hour meal is not going to make much of a difference. It might help a little, but not much. That young wine is still going to taste harsh and rough around the edges.

How long you should open and decant a young wine before drinking it will vary from as little as an hour to as much as a day or two. In my opinion, decanting a young wine to drink with your meal should be done on average about 3 hours before dinner in most cases.

How long to decant an older wine is a completely different story. In my post # 9 on the 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases I observed that the wine, even at 30 years of age, was still very tight and closed, and clearly would have benefited from substantial decanting, probably a good 6 hours longer than the one hour I had decanted. On the other hand, in my post # 13 on tasting the 1965 Chateau Lafite, the wine was so delicate and fragile that any decanting at all would have destroyed the wine. In my opinion, the length of time you decant an older wine involves more research or tasting experience with the wine and vintage involved. I was right not to decant the 1965 Lafite, but I was wrong to decant the 1986 Leoville Las Cases for only one hour. A little more research on line would have alerted me to the fact that this wine still required a lot of decanting, a characteristic of several top 1986 Bordeaux wines.

The amount of oxidation or aging your wine will undergo in the decanter is also a function of the surface area of the wine that is exposed to the air in the decanter. So using a decanter that is shaped like a carafe or milk bottle will not be as effective as using a decanter with a wider base to it.

Reg's Wine blog - photo decanter 5

My favorite decanter below is a good example of a wide based decanter that maximizes the surface area exposed to air.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 11

 

Another reason to decant a wine is to remove sediment. Older wines, and many dessert wines such as port, madeira, and others throw substantial deposits, so unless you want to serve that half inch of mud at the bottom of the bottle, or risk clouding your wine as you stir up the sediment while pouring individual glasses, you should decant those wines before serving. Many vintage ports (Grahams for example) have instructions on the back label advising the consumer to decant the wine before serving to remove the sediment. When decanting an older bottle with sediment on the bottom, you generally want to leave the sediment in the bottle by pouring slowly into the decanter, and stop pouring when the wine flowing into the decanter becomes cloudy with sediment. If there is a lot of sediment you can also try filtering the wine through a cheesecloth or a very fine strainer as you pour the wine into the decanter. In most cases a careful pour will leave about 90% of the sediment in the bottle, and the 10% that does get into your decanter will itself settle to the bottom of the decanter, meaning that most of that can be left behind in the decanter by leaving the last half ounce in the decanter.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 85 Graham's 6

There is also a third reason to have a decanter standing by, and that is in case of emergencies. Imagine you are opening a rare and expensive Bordeaux red with your meal to celebrate a special occasion. The cork is dry and flakes apart, leaving bits of cork floating in the bottle once you finally get what is left of the cork out of the bottle. Or the cork is too loose and tears as you remove it, part comes out and another part gets pushed into the bottle and is now floating in the bottle. Good luck serving this wine to your guests without a decanter. And no, it is not polite to have everyone use their fingers in their wine glass to corral the cork bits and pull them out up the inside of the glass. In these situations you must have a decanter and a strainer or cheesecloth handy to rescue both wine and embarrassed host.

Using a fancy designer decanter like the examples shown below will not get your wine aged as fast because there is very little wine surface area actually exposed to the air. They may look interesting, but they are not functional:

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 9

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 10

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 8

If you are decanting an old vintage Port or Madeira, or even an old Bordeaux, you may want to use a decanter that has a stopper that can be used to stop any further oxidizing once the desired air exposure has been reached. This is particularly important with fortified wines that you may wish to keep in the decanter for consumption over several weeks. See some examples below:

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 7

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 2

 

Not difficult, not rocket science, guaranteed to improve the tasting experience of both young wines, and older wines with sediment in the bottle. Also absolutely essential if you want to keep an opened fortified wine on hand to drink over a longer period of time. There are several different types of decanters that you can buy in the marketplace ranging from inexpensive simple glass carafe types (pictured above, 3rd photo) to my favorite (first picture below, approx $65) to luxury crystal decanters at huge prices over $500 (second picture below).

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 6

Reg's Wine Blog - photo decanter 4

 

Unless you do a lot of high profile entertaining where nothing but the best will do, I would suggest you let functionality be your guide and look for a decanter that maximizes surface area exposure. If you need one with a stopper for keeping old Port, Madeira, Sherry or Scotch then get a second decanter equipped with a stopper. Every serious wine drinker should have a decanter, but don’t break the bank on a fancy crystal one unless money is no object. Save that money for more wine!

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 14, April 19, 2016 – all about Moulin Touchais dessert wines

In the wonderful world of dessert wines, there are plenty of favorites including Vintage Port, Vintage Madeira, Sauternes (including those from the Barsac and Cadillac regions), German Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein, Vendange Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles from Alsace, Icewines  and fortified wines from North America and Australia, and others. Then there is also Moulin Touchais from the Loire Valley Anjou district, made from the chenin blanc grape. The wine lies somewhere between a Sauterne and an Alsace Selection de Grains Nobles in terms of style, and it is unique in many ways.

Eight generations of the Touchais family have produced Moulin Touchais wines since 1787. Jean Marie Touchais is the current wine producer of the family, having taken over full responsibility from his father Joseph Touchais in 1990. The Touchais family have 150 hectares of land producing wine, of which 35 are dedicated to the production of chenin blanc for their Moulin Touchais flagship wine.

There are several very unique features to the family’s production techniques that are worth mentioning. 20% of the chenin blanc crop is picked early (within 80 days of flowering) when the grapes are still unripe and very acidic, while the remaining 80% are picked late (within 120 days of flowering) when the grapes are fully mature, even overripe. The grapes are picked by hand and not by machine, and several different passes are made by pickers through the vineyard over several weeks before the entire crop is harvested. The acidity from the unripe early harvested grapes in the final wine balances out with the late harvested fully ripened grapes, producing a wine that has full, ripe fruit balanced with a strong enough acidity to keep the wine youthful for decades, often well over 100 years in top vintages.

The young wine is bottled early, usually the following Spring within 5-6 months of harvest. However, instead of being released for sale immediately, the wine is aged for 10 years by the Touchais family in their extensive underground cellars in the village of Doué-La-Fontaine, where the family have up to 2 million bottles stored in underground tunnel like cellars spanning 15 kilometers.

 

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais wines in storage in their cellar

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais the 15 km long cellar

The Touchais family insist on not selling the latest vintage until the wine has reached an acceptable level of maturity (usually after 10 years). The bottles lying in their cellar are not labeled, and they are restored or reconditioned before sale by re corking the bottle, topping up the wine at the same time, applying the protective foil over the cork, and finally applying the label. As a result of that practice, it is not unusual to lose track of some portions of a particular year’s production in some obscure corner of the cellar.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais cellars

Annual production of Moulin Touchais can vary considerably in size, ranging from 6,000 bottles to 200,000 bottles, depending on grape quality and quantity. A Moulin Touchais wine is not necessarily produced in every year. In modern times it was thought that no wine was made in 1983 and 2008. However, once again a small number of bottles (approximately 5,000) of the 1983 vintage were recently “found” and released for sale. The family has, within those extensive cellars, older vintages dating back up to 140 years to the 1875 era. In top vintages the wine can and does age effortlessly for upwards of 100 years. This makes the wine a collectible as a birthday wine with which to celebrate your 50th, your 65th, even your 100th birthday.

I first got introduced to Moulin Touchais wines in the early to mid 1980’s. Living in Montreal, I noticed one day the SAQ (Quebec Liquor Board) was having a sale on Moulin Touchais wines at their Maison de Vins specialty store downtown on President Kennedy Ave. I bought a bottle of the 1971 vintage and tasted it that weekend. It was wonderful and so I went back for more. In fact, over the following three months I think I bought up half the old stock that was on sale. The SAQ had reduced prices by 40%, maybe some uninformed store manager thought these older vintages needed to be cleaned out before any of them went bad. So I bought Moulin Touchais wine from the 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1969, and 1971 vintages, all discounted by 40%. What an incredible find, and I could tell from the remaining stock on hand how few bottles were being bought, so I was able to buy the wine gradually over a 3 month period. Strangely enough, in 1985 I was paying about $40.00 CDN per bottle for the 1971 vintage, and today you can buy the very good 1996 vintage from the SAQ for $46.75. So here we are over 30 years later and you can buy a very good vintage of 20 year old Moulin Touchais for less than 17% more than it cost 30 years ago. Now that is good value for your money.

So there is huge value in the current price level of Moulin Touchais compared to other dessert wines. Sauternes and Ports have easily doubled and tripled in price over the last 30 years. If you do go to buy Moulin Touchais wines, my best advice is to shop carefully. There is considerable variation between vintages, and there is also considerable bottle variation within the same year, mostly because of seepage and loose corks. Shop carefully for the best vintages, these include 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1971, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003, and 2005. Before you buy a bottle compare the available bottles for their fill levels, do not buy a bottled that shows a lower fill or any signs of seepage from the cork. You are buying a wine to possibly keep for 25 plus years, so you don’t want it all leaking out onto your cellar floor or oxidizing and spoiling prematurely.

Currently the SAQ is selling 2 vintages of Moulin Touchais as follows:

  • The 1996 vintage at $46.75, product # 00708628, my first choice.
  • The 1999 vintage at $49.50, product # 00739318, my second choice.

If you are new to this wine, buy a bottle of the 1996 and open it for dessert after a fine meal to try it. There is not much difference between the 1996 and 1999 vintage both in terms of age and quality. Although I have tasted neither one myself yet, the reviews I have read give the edge to the 1996.

I currently have Moulin Touchais wines from the 1959, 1985, 1988, and 1990 vintages in my cellar.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais Reg's cellar selections

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1990

Reg's Wine Blog photo 1988 Moulin Touchais

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1985Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1959 my cellar

I also intend to add the 1996 and 1999 vintages currently available. I have also had the privilege to own and drink the 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1964, 1969, 1971, and 1975 vintages. We must have tasted and consumed at least 30 bottles of Moulin Touchais from these vintages over the last 30 years, and every bottle was superb, not one was bad. Even a lesser vintage like the 1955 was still great, more delicate and less robust, but still with that classic chenin blanc grape nicely balanced by acidity. The 1947 was bottled in hand blown glass wine bottles, being thicker and heavier, that made the bottle itself a collectible.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Touchais, Jean-Marie’s father, at the annual Salon des Vins wine show/tasting exhibition held in November in Montreal and sponsored by the SAQ. The year was 1987 or 1988, it was late in the day on the Saturday and the show had already been going Thursday, Friday and most of the day Saturday before I arrived. I happened upon the Moulin Touchais booth just as a couple of young women were trying the 1975 Moulin Tochais, poured for them by Joseph himself. The girls recoiled in horror after one taste, telling Joseph how awful the wine tasted, being too sweet, tasting something like Kool-Aid, and not at all to their liking. As they stormed off, the look on Joseph’s face told me he was tired, frustrated, and visibly upset with the multitude of uninformed and unsophisticated palates he had been serving throughout the show. I saddled up to the booth and asked Joseph to pour me a glass of the 1975.

Joseph glared at me, then he said to me in an angry and impatient tone “I will not serve you my wine if you know nothing about my wine. This is a dessert wine, a work of art to be treasured and appreciated, not some cheap, dry lifeless excuse for a wine.” With that he poured me a very tiny little shot, much less than the 3 ounce shot I was paying for. Tasting the wine, I paused for a moment to savour the wine, I looked carefully at the legs on the wine in my glass, the bright orange gold colour in the glass, the floral nose, and the fabulous array of fruits on the palate, with a long lasting aftertaste. Gathering my thoughts, I finally replied to Joseph with the following:

“Mr. Touchais, your wine is fabulous. I have tasted the 1975 before, it has yet to disappoint me. However, I must admit that my favorite is the 1959, followed by the 1971, the 1964, the 1975, and the 1969 in that order. I also like the 1955 and the 1953, especially with the smoothness provided by that extra 10-20 years of bottle age. And I also admit to having a soft spot for the 1949, and the 1947 in the hand blown glass bottles, something you just do not see any more.”

Well the look on his face was something I will never forget. He went from anger to elation within seconds of hearing my comments, I thought he was going to cry. At that moment we were alone at his booth and he told me he was so tired of serving his wine to people who had no appreciation of his product or the labor of love that goes into making it. On the other hand, he was so happy to finally meet someone at the show who actually knew his wines, and knew them well. From the mini fridge under the counter he got out a bottle of the 1971 and poured us each a healthy glass. I stayed with him for almost the entire length of the remaining hour of the show, trying three more vintages he had with him, including the 1964,  and left with a mixed case of 1969, 1971, and 1975. I was thrilled to have met him, to have spent about an hour talking with him, and to have obviously made his day. There is no doubt he was very satisfied to have been able to engage in an intelligent conversation with a consumer who knew and appreciated his wine, in fact I think he was relieved. I am not sure how many times Joseph visited the Montreal wine show before or after. I looked for him again in following years, but he and his wines were not there, and based on what I witnessed and heard from him, I cannot blame him. His son Jean Marie has been doing the circuit since 1990, but not every year.

Jean Marie Touchais and Moulin Touchais wines do not have a website address to promote their business or communicate with their customers. If you go to visit them at the winery and cellars in the village of Doué-La-Fontaine, you will have a hard time finding them. There is no sign at the entrance to their facility, which is not on any main road but tucked away behind a smaller building that itself bears no civic address. It would appear the Touchais family like to be low profile.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais front door no sign

You can buy wine at the winery itself, but I would be careful to research that carefully before buying. You will want to buy the oldest vintage you can because you cannot find the older vintages anywhere else other than at auction. The older vintages should be in pristine condition having never left the winery, but you will have to be sure the wine has been recently reconditioned (topped up, re corked and labeled) before you buy it. I am also not sure the winery will sell you their much older vintages. What a treat that would be to buy a mixed case of two bottles each of the 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, and 1959!

The SAQ used to have the 1985 Moulin Touchais in stock at $67.25 per bottle under product number 12481171. According to their website it is sold out, if you ever happen to find one left somewhere, buy it. The last time I tasted the 1985 Moulin Touchais was two years ago, my tasting notes read as follows: “Tasted November 2013, another great showing for the 1985, rich, smooth, silky on the palate, great balance and a long pleasant aftertaste. Aromas, tastes and aftertastes of orange peel, peach and apricots, caramel and butterscotch. The acidity prevents the sweetness of the fruit from overpowering the wine, leaving a sense of harmony even though you can taste the power and longevity in this wine. Deep golden colour and great viscosity leaving long legs on the side of the glass. Easily good for another 20 years, and will continue to improve over the next 10 years.” I would rate the 1985 at 93 points.

Reg's Wine Blog photo glass of 1975 Moulin Touchais

As Moulin Touchais wines age the flavours and aromas they emit seem to change. Unlike many other dessert wines from Sauternes, Alsace or Germany where the fruit just dries up and your dessert wine begins to resemble an tired, old, unbalanced Chardonnay, an aging Moulin Touchais wine sees its fruit change from oranges, peaches and apricots to lemons, limes and a roasted nutty saltiness, all kept in perfect balance by the ever present acidity. I have watched this happen with interest to the 1959 vintage. I have tasted that wine at least 6 times over a 20 year period, and I have observed a very graceful and refined evolution where the full bodied orange, peach and apricot fruits are now slightly diminished and gradually the more subtle lemon and floral tones have become more pronounced.

If the 1959 vintage, now 57 years of age, is just now evolving ever so slowly and just beginning to show the changes in fruit, you can rest assured it will be around at least the next 25 years if stored properly.

Reg's Wine Blog photo Moulin Touchais 1959

This means if you buy Moulin Touchais wines you should first identify which years are the best, and plan to keep those the longest. The weaker years you should plan to drink first, there is nothing to be gained by cellaring a weaker year over a long term. As for the two Moulin Touchais vintages (the 1996 and the 1999) currently available at the SAQ, I would recommend buying both to cellar, they both appear to be rated at 90 points. Again, as recommended above, if you are new to this wine, buy and try a bottle of the 1996.

Moulin Touchais wine is widely available throughout Canada and the US and the UK, I see the 1996 vintage was selling recently at the LCBO in Ontario for $37.95 (a good price), I am not sure if it is still in stock. The best vintages to buy are the 2005, 2003, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1990, 1988, 1985, 1975, 1971, 1969, 1964, 1959, 1953, 1949, 1947, and 1945. The recent vintages will set you back about $45 CDN, the 1985 about $65, older wines at $85 to $100. This may seem like a lot of money to pay for a dessert wine, but on a relative basis compared to older Sauternes, Alsace, Germans, and Ports, the Moulin Touchais is a better buy at ½ to 1/3 the price, and will age better and longer.

Reg's Wine Blog photo 1975 Moulin Touchais

But this is just my opinion, you be the judge. Go buy a bottle, try it yourself, and let me know what you think.

Cheers, Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 13, April 12, 2016, Tasting a 1965 Chateau Lafite Rothchild 20 years ago

1965 was an absolutely terrible year in Bordeaux for wine, and Chateau Lafite Rothchild was no exception. The best rating I have ever seen for the 1965 Lafite was 81 points. On most people’s scale of desirable drinking anything below 85 points is becoming sketchy. In 1996 when we tasted this wine, it was then at 31 years of age. Rule # 1 when drinking wines from poor years is to drink them young because they are not expected to get any better with time, in fact they are expected to fall apart early.

I clearly remember the 1987 vintage in Bordeaux as being a poor vintage, one destined for early consumption. Within 10 years there were no more 1987s available in restaurants or wine stores. If you were unfortunate enough to have any 1987s in your cellar you were in a hurry to drink them up, looking for every excuse to open the last bottles before they would turn completely into vinegar. The same held true for the 1984 and 1980 vintages, and for several vintages in the 1970s, including 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1977. In the 1960s poor years included 1960, 1962, 1963, 1967, 1968, and 1969. But outshining all the above poor vintages was 1965, generally rated as one of the worst vintages of the 20th century.

So one day in 1996 when I was sorting through my Dad’s wine cellar for him, I happened upon 4 bottles of 1965 Chateau Lafite. I immediately asked him about these bottles, explaining to him that these were great wines but from an incredibly poor year, and that given they were now 31 years of age they would probably all be vinegar. My Dad explained that he did not drink red wine, and these had been given to him as a gift some 25 years earlier and he had never tried them.

So I suggested we try the wine one day with a dinner, and I volunteered to bring a substitute wine to replace the Lafite in the very likely case that the Lafite was no good. The following weekend we had a family dinner where we opened a bottle to have with our steak dinner. With a substitute standing by, I poured what I expected to be vinegar into seven wine glasses.

Since I had not been expecting the wine to be good, I had not decanted it. Instead I poured it directly into the wine glasses. There was quite a bit of sediment in the bottle so care was taken not to stir up the sediment any more than necessary. The wine was clearly old as displayed in the glass by the brown rim around the outer edge of the fill. There was no glycerine content to the wine itself as it left no “legs” on the inside of the glass, the wine did not cling to the glass. On the nose the wine was rather dull, smelling of vegetables and barnyard. On the palate the wine was thin, weak and just about gone. Frankly I was surprised that it was even that good. But then something magical happened.

I kept swirling the wine in my glass, half hoping that this might oxidize the wine enough to somehow soften the barnyard tones on the nose and the palate. Much to my amazement, the wine did open up and changed completely. All of a sudden the vegetable and barnyard tinges were melting away into that classic Lafite cedar pencil nose, and on the palate the wine opened up and blossomed into something soft, flowery, truffles mixed with bell pepper spices and enough fruit that this was now something dusty and old, but very pleasant and a total surprise. There was even a lingering aftertaste, not for long but nevertheless very agreeable.

We were all so surprised, and not knowing how long the wine would survive we did not want to chance it by lingering on the wine too long, so we drank the wine quickly with our meal. What a marvelous surprise, something completely unexpected. Furthermore, a very pleasant tasting experience when the opposite was expected.

Reg's Wine Blog 1965 Ch. Lafite

So I did more research on the 1965 Lafite and found that it was never well rated. By all the critics this wine should no longer exist, it should not be drinkable, yet it was. So we had 3 bottles left and I immediately made plans for a second dinner some 4-6 weeks later to try the second bottle, hopefully under slightly better conditions. However, there was also a risk that the bottle we had already tried was the only good bottle in the bunch, and that the remaining 3 bottles might still be bad. Prior to the 1980s bottle variation in Bordeaux classified growths was much more of a problem than it is today due to a variety of problems such as poorer vintages, poorer wine making techniques and facilities, poor bottling conditions, and poor transportation and storage. So it was entirely possible that the remaining 3 bottles would not be as good, or indeed might be no good at all.

At our next dinner some 6 weeks later, I decanted the wine to drain off the sediment, allowing the wine to breath in the decanter only ten minutes before serving, being careful to swirl the wine sufficiently in the decanter to encourage it to open up. Voila! What a success! With a little more gentle persuasion in the glass, there were no initial vegetable and barnyard aromas on the nose. Instead the wine exhibited a very delicate floral rose petal nose that quickly migrated into that classic Lafite cedar pencil nose. On the palate the wine was light, but smooth and delicate with enough bell pepper and spice to go nicely with the light cabernet fruit. And finally, there was enough of an aftertaste so as not to insult the wine by coming up short. The aftertaste did not last long, but long enough to leave one with a pleasant tasting experience. At this sitting we were only five drinking the wine, and again it did not take us long to consume the wine with dinner. Much to our surprise, we were two for two in success with our 1965 Chateau Lafite tastings. I even began to wonder to myself if the bottles were from another year and not 1965, so to be sure I checked the corks, and they too were labeled “1965”. So there was no mistaking it now, 1965 Lafite was still drinkable, in fact quite pleasant in spite of the bad reviews and bad reputation by critics.

With our two remaining bottles we had two more dinners over the following four months. Both bottles were good, and approximately the same in quality. The last bottle turned out to be a little weaker than the first three. In fact it only lasted about 30 minutes in total once opened. This bottle was different from the others in that it drank differently compared to the previous three. Using the same preparation with decanting 10 minutes prior to serving this last bottle was slower to open up in the glass, but when it did open up the wine seemed sweeter and more floral. It seemed to open up more fully and more fragrant. But with this 4th bottle the wine did not last as long in the glass as the previous three, in fact it was great for only 15 minutes, then it started losing it, and fast. The fruit started to just disappear from one sip to the next. It was as if the wine was sliding down a slippery slope, it just got notably weaker and weaker. Everyone drank up, but I kept a little in my glass to follow the decay and demise. Within about 10 minutes of beginning to break down, the wine converted into vinegar and was completely gone. It was no longer drinkable at all. Tasting this last wine was a real education, allowing us all to experience a very delicate wine open up, blossom, peak, and decline rapidly into oblivion, all within the time span of maybe 25 minutes.

So you might wonder why I bother writing about some obscure old wine from a poor vintage that nobody is going to come across and taste for themselves. Well there is a purpose to this post. First, let it be known that you can derive a lot a pleasure from drinking a good wine from a poor vintage. The 1965 Lafite falls into that category. Second, do not always take what the critics feed you as gospel truth on vintage ratings. Some very good wine has been made in some poor years. I will elaborate in future posts more about the pros and cons of wine critics and wine scores, but for now the purpose of this post was simply to show how much pleasure was derived from wine that was supposed to be poor to begin with, and was supposed to be vinegar and not drinkable long before we opened it.

How about that, kind of throws everything you thought you knew or took for granted about only buying top vintages right out the window.

By the way, if I were to assign a rating or score to the 1965 Chateau Lafite when we tasted and consumed those 4 bottles in 1996, I would give it an 88 score, but only for the pleasure delivered at the moment of of drinking, and that was not for long. Certainly a lot higher rating than the 81 it has been pegged at. While this does not eclipse the 90 point threshold that many consumers strive to limit themselves to, in terms of sheer pleasure extracted we were able to thoroughly enjoy this wine on 4 separate occasions within a 6 month period. You obviously cannot buy this wine today, nor should you if you happened upon it, because by now it has fully departed. But in 1996, some 31 years later, that Lafite was amazingly good.

Top wines from weaker vintages are often better priced, priced to sell. This means the wise consumer can and should consider buying a top wine from a weak vintage if it is attractively priced (for me that means at least 30% cheaper than normal). It should surprise you! Just don’t expect it to last too long, plan to drink it within 5-10 years.

Cheers,

Reg