In the final of a two-part tasting, I get to experience a 43-year old wine that is, remarkably, still showing its grace.
Including this wine, the two oldest wines I’ve ever had the opportunity to taste have both been from Bordeaux and, interestingly enough, both been second growths from the left bank. The first was a 1978 Chateau Pichon-Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville from Pauillac tasted last year at the ripe age of 39 years, now trumped by this wine.
And where that Pichon was starting to feel a little tired, this was still bursting with energy.
At some point, I will write a primer on Bordeaux and its rather confusing classification system, but the expurgated version is there are five classifications of ‘growths’ based on a classification from 1855, the left bank tends to produce Cabernet-dominant blends, the right bank Merlot-dominant, and the classification system for the right bank is different to the 1855 classification for the left bank described above. As I said, it’s all rather confusing.
For the purposes of this tasting, you just need to know that this wine is from an 1855 classified second growth estate, from the Margeaux region on the left bank, and is Cabernet Sauvignon based. Oh, and it’s old.
The technical stuff: 12-ish % alcohol and a typical Margeaux blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot – but I can’t find much, or any, information around the percentages of each grape. I’d suggest the last three grapes are minor components and that Cabernet Sauvignon is the overwhelming majority, but that’s purely on feel.
So how did it taste?
Pretty phenomenal, in a phrase.
A deep brick-red colour, garnet on the edges. It has an aged look to it, but not overwhelmingly so. To judge it just on colour I’d have thought it somewhere around 20 or so years of age.
Good intensity to the nose of dark black fruits, some meat/game qualities into a slight oak influence and then those tertiary aromas – leather, liquorice, and dried herbs and leaf. The aged qualities are not overwhelming the fruit here, it’s a good mixture of freshness and bottle age – something completely unexpected from a 43 year old wine.
Balance is the first thing I thought of when I tasted it. Firmly medium bodied with great tannin and acidity, despite its age, and everything in balance. Like the nose, the primary fruit characters still persist on the palate – blackcurrant, cherries and plums. Some smoke and charred wood from the oak lingers, and then some dried berry fruits. More aged qualities find their way in the finish that lasts just long enough. Think tobacco, meat, earth and you get the picture.
I constantly have to remind myself that this is a 43-year old bottle of wine, such is the persistence of the fresher flavours.
Having the opportunity to taste wines like this, under the tutelage of a Master of Wine was, I will readily admit, one of the attractions of coming the Hunter Valley and working at Glenguin. And whilst I fantasised about it, I never actually thought it would happen. It is one of the true perks of the job, one of many if truth be told.
This is the last tasting note for the next week or so, time to concentrate on food, but what a wine to sign off with. Phenomenal stuff.