Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A night of ancient wines

Hoo boy, someone woke up this morning with the taste of a 1949 Corton lingering on her palate.

Yesterday, a warm and cloudy day, I crossed the Place Vendôme and headed down toward the Tuileries gardens to the Rue de Rivoli. I had the immense good fortune of being invited to attend an evening of the Académie des Vins Anciens, which is a group of some thirty to forty revelers who come together to taste wines from the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s (with a few interlopers such as a ’61 or a ’79 champagne...) under the benificent leadership of the charismatic collector François Audouze.

NV Champagne Bellefon Brut (c. 1992) - The evening started off with an apéritif in a bar-type salon, with flutes of non-vintage Bellefon champagne, which nonetheless had some fifteen years of cellaring on it. My first impression was that it was somewhat marked by its dosage, but later, after I was re-served some, following two other champagnes, it seemed more round and elegant.

1996 Champagne Napoléon - This champagne, from a small house I had not tasted before, played the card of tact. A nice way to switch from the somewhat obvious Bellefon to what would come after. Tastes of yeast and brioche.

1979 Champagne Mumm cuvée René Lalou, magnum - A strange, dark-brown, durian-shaped bottle (fortunately, it was only shaped like a durian). What a nose! I stood there with my nose in the glass, nodding at what my conversation mate was saying. It was like a great white Burgundy, profound and savory, with toasty notes and long-smoothed oak. In the mouth, it was also long and changing, with a distinct flinty note in the mid-palate (as François observed, just as it was hitting me). A sumptuous wine.

Afterward, we went to the next room and were seated at tables of six.

1982 Champagne Napoléon - Round, smooth, with notes of hazelnut and toast. With the same discretion I had noticed before in the 1996. An interesting expression. Fine bubbles.

1980 Champagne Grand Blanc Philipponat - Sensual. A body that feels round and satiny in the mouth. The finest, lightest, tiniest bubbles; a sense of silk sliding across your tongue. Some of the same aged Burgundy tastes as in the 1979 Mumm Lalou. Delicious, delicious and sensual.

MV Krug Grande Cuvée (c. 1985) - This, for me was an interesting point of contrast. It was somewhat angular, you could feel it in pointed peaks and valleys on the tongue. Something more robust that had not rounded out, didn’t want to round out. Lots of matter and density, but for me, after the elegance of the Mumm and Philipponat, less seductive.

1962 Sylvaner Trimbach - I was surprised a Sylvaner could hold the fort so long. But it was a very nice wine, tasting almost like an older chenin with some petrol and wax.

1928 Meursault maison Bichot - There was Meursault on the nose, and hidden somewhere in the back leaves of this old parchment volume of Meursault...

1961 Château Petit Faurie de Soutard - Now, on to red Bordeaux. This is a Saint-Emilion, and was still bright and with good fruit, though it was somewhat basic and not the most complex of wines.

1955 Larrivet Haut-Brion rouge - Tannic, gravelly, and very dark, with a kind of saddle-leather aspect.

1959 Château Pontet St-Emilion - Similar in style to the Petit Faurie de Soutard, but more tannic.

c. late 1930s Château Phélan Ségur - Wow, an excellent wine. I had recently had a young Phélan Ségur, which I found very pleasing to the palate. This had some of the same tastes, only with more depth. Dark, absolutely smooth and with lots of complexity - tobacco, leather, cedar, and some stewed fruits. One of my favorite wines of the evening.

1929 Château Petit Gravet - François’s little gem. And it was a gem! Light, ethereal, and fruity, with raspberry and crushed strawberries, this was almost like a young Burgundy. It was hard for me to reconcile the idea that this was almost an 80-year-old wine with its pure, fresh fruit. It was just singing. A pure delight.

1955 Cos d'Estournel - My first Cos. In perfect, smooth, classy condition. Lighter fruits than I would have imagined (gooseberries rather than cassis, raspberries rather than blueberries), but a very elegant structure.

1958 Chinon Couly - I was curious to taste this Chinon, because I love Chinon, and because I’ve had interesting and tasty experiences with Chinons that have some age (1985, 1986...), but never so much age. Sadly, this one could not come out to play. Thin, pale, and trembling. It was like red water with a note of stewed leeks. Sigh.

1959 Santenay Clos de Tavanne - As a huge Burgundy fan, I was also excited to shift over to the Burg part of the evening. This first outing, though, was a weirdo. Like drinking a prune. Prune, prune, all about prune. We mused about what food might go well with it; I suggested a rabbit with prunes, without the prunes - a kind of gestural dish. François had the more apposite idea of something strong like lamb that would tame the pruny beast.

1952 Mercurey Caves de la Reine Pédauque - Slightly corked. The first nose told me so, and it was there too on the palate. But this wine was worthy of interest, because it had some weird, woodsy things going on in it. I would not have thought those kinds of bramble and dried wood could be so interesting; it was like drinking wild raspberries and blackberries and chewing on the bramble with them... marred, however, by the cork on top.

1949 Corton Clos du Roi Prince de Mérode Joseph Drouhin - Another of François’s gems, and one that stayed with me through the night and until my morning coffee washed away the dreams of its velvety, smooth, long dreaminess. Oh, lord, delicious stuff. All the things that make the Côte de Beaune so irresistible.

1934 Château Doisy Daëne - This was dark brown, far past amber, and my eyebrow rose when the bottle came around. But in the mouth... A sumptuous Sauternes with all the sticky youthfulness rounded out into a voluminous, lingering liquor. No fan of sweet wine, I was absolutely charmed. Eaten with stilton, it was heaven. So I alternated tastes: stilton and alone. Mm.

1924 Vouvray le Haut Lieu moelleux Domaine Huet - A recent bottling. Somewhat disconcerting wine. A kind of green vine streak running through the mid-palate, with wacko spices jumping out at the start (clove, aniseed) and then settling into something more nutty and honeyed at the end. Curious.

And so, as midnight struck and I risked having my horses turn into mice and my coach into a pumpkin, I said my adieus and whisked away into the night, with many thanks of course to Mr. Audouze for this unequalled experience...

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