St Emilion: the Lost Boy. In that: what does St Emilion taste like? What is the epitome? Pauillac tastes like Lynch-Bages tastes like Batailley tastes like Pauillac. Margaux tastes like Margaux tastes like Giscours tastes like Palmer. And so on. Cheval doesn’t taste like Ausone doesn’t taste like Angelus doesn’t taste like Clos Fourtet. What does St Emilion taste like? I think I’ve made my point.
Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners very kindly invited me to come and taste 25 vintages of Chateau Angelus from magnum. These are my notes:
2009: A bit of bubble gum juicy ripeness here and very 09 in style. Clearly some class underneath. Sweet. And again in the mouth, The 09 ripeness is here but the tannins back it up and this is fat, not flabby. A wine with a big coat on. Richesse. Long. Balance is here. Very good.
2008: Immediately less fat and more edge on the nose. Smells like young wine rather than a cask sample (which the 09 still seems like). Much purer on the nose if a little less content. More weight in the mouth than the nose suggests. There is some fat here and some creaminess too. Not what I expected at all and seems better-focussed than the 09. Long again.
2007: The most attractive nose so far in a rather delicate and forward fashion. Purity of fruit here. And much more developed. Lacks the weight of the 08 and 09 though the cleanliness is attractive. Pure, though you can taste the vintage (you can taste the rain…) . Ready to go now though I’d love to see where it goes with time.
2006: This is giving away very little on the nose. Very tight. A bit of minty medicine? In the mouth this is very tightly packed and has that “shell” (think Smarties) that many 06s have. Not entirely sure about this – I reckon this could just turn out to be a cracker in time – all depends where the pinch goes.
2005: This is again very tightly-packed on the nose. Something hiding underneath. I want to like it, which is a pain. And all packed very, very tight in the mouth and very 05 in that it’s pretty much flawless. The 06 does seem a little bit pinched when going back to it. The clear winner of the flight for me though the 09 runs it close if you like the style.
Yer man Neal Martin then gave his appraisal of the flight, which was pretty much spot on – the vintage was all over the wines. Indeed yer man Browett commented that you could probably have written the notes without tasting the wines, such was their correlation to the style of each vintage. Neal’s pick was the 2006, I think; I do think he has a bee in his bonnet about 06s (as I do about 05s).
2004: Much more development than I expected. Boy Wonder says: “smells mature”, which it does, and very nice to boot. A really inviting nose: come on, drink me. And in the mouth this tastes much older than it does. Very laid back, with some 04 “lift”. Soft. Balance all here. Notwithstanding the fact that this might be a bottle that is ahead of itself this is very lovely though not perfect… I can’t help but feel that another bottle might be a little tighter.
2003: Tarty and tits-out on the nose. Going back to it this is definitely 03. Rich. Choccamocha. And the same in mouth. Lots of ripeness and a tiny bit of Porty heat underneath. Very fat. Not entirely my bag. A little too “New World” (though n.b. not necessarily Californian) though good for what it is.
2002: Some development here again and I much prefer the nose to the 03. No great complexity but smells like wine. And very lean in the mouth and developed again. I rather like this if only for the style rather than technical quality. A little simple, maybe, a little one-dimensional, but nicely mature and a wine with character.
2001: A step back up. Energy on the nose. Freshness after the 02. And in the mouth this does have an air of completeness. Ready to go now, though not in the slightly tired way of the 02, and this will go further. Just on the pivot from youth to maturity. Very good.
2000: Clearly more here on the nose. More sweets, more bells and more whistles. That mintiness. And some very lovely 00 minerality in the mouth. This is rather good, I think. Nothing out of place and my wine of the flight. These all do rather taste of the vintage.
Michael Schuster then stood up with his appraisal of the flight. Which was pretty much in complete contradiction to mine. Which reminds me that I must keep my bus-driving licence current. Though to be fair he did allude to the use of oak, and its presence, on the wines, which I sort of agreed with. Hubert de Bouard bit on this issue – and talked of his times working with Denis Mortet & Dominique Lafon. The latter I would vote as the best winemaker on the planet, the former, sadly no longer with us, made what I would describe as “Angelus” Burgundy, in that it was quite, quite excellent in its fashion, though tasted more of the winemaker than of the terroir.
1999: (a very tough vintage for Angelus on account of pre-harvest hail). About 40% of what is usually produced was produced. Not a great deal going on here on the nose. And again in the mouth. Tastes like exactly what it is: a 99. A little bit simple and a little bit short. Average.
1998: A bit more here now. A bit of ripe heat? Some development, and some loose-knit fat and some mouthfeel. Rather nice. Slightly chocolatey, perhaps even oily finish and very impressive length. Quality maybe accentuated by what preceded it. Still going. Very good.
1997: More open and clearly more developed on the nose. Something here. Lacks the richesse of the 98 – maybe a little slight – but what is here is rather attractive, if a little simple. I could drink rather a lot of this. Pleasantly surprising.
1996: Immediately more serious on the nose. Much more here. And again in the mouth there is more weight, more structure, more everything. Very complete, if maybe a little raw. This is actually rather good.
1995. More subdued on the nose. There is a definite character to all of these… they do taste of Angelus. And I sort of take Schuster’s point on the oak. There is a very dry finish to all of them. This is more laid back than the 96 and easily my wine of the flight. Really rather lovely, and just settling down.
Stephen Brook then appraised this flight, again in (almost) complete contrast to what I thought. I’ve sent my licence back to DVLA.
At the top of my notes reads: “I’ve just worked out how Rodenstock did the fakes”. A small eureka moment. It’s to do with spittoons. And a very, very tricky flight. Making good Bordeaux in the early 1990s was like, well, I’m thinking fogged up windscreens, no heater, no wipers, bald tyres and the M25 on a dark morning.
1994: Lots here. Flashy. All open and something here. The lights are on. And again in the mouth. This has some lift and energy. Maybe a little simple in the finish but this wine is having its day right here right now. Showing very well, if maybe lacking a little depth. Good.
1993; Back to the vintage. A long time since I’ve had a 93 but this is it (in that the memory comes back very quickly). Something slightly damp on the nose. Though surprisingly pleasing and clean in the mouth. The lack of complexity compensated by maturity though a little pinched at the end. Really not very nice in the finish and perhaps even slightly dirty.
1992: Development but not much underneath. A tiny bit of bounce in the mouth. Some life and a hint of freshness, though pretty simple. Decent enough for what it is; still that tuppence piece taste lingering, though that could be the 93…
1991: Nothing here. Garden shed on the nose. Not entirely sure I want to put it in my mouth. Some fruit, though a pinch all over it. Questionable. (Palate fatigue had well and truly set in by this stage).
1990: Back to something on the nose. Back to some weight and richesse in the mouth. This is nicely ripe. Not sure if it will go much further. Definitely some complexity here. Better going back to it. Still not entirely sure, though. This would have shown better in a more appropriate flight.
Jancis summed this flight up very well, if in a slightly non-committal fashion (i.e. she was polite). Her genius comment on the 1991 was that it “smells like a struggle”. This is more of a compliment than it sounds, and was spot on.
To quote Tone Loc: 88 was great but 89 is mine. These wines were made whilst I was in my teens. This is part of the beauty of the whole shebang.
1989: Back to something very appealing. Nicely ripe on the nose. Some sweetness. And again in the mouth and more poise than the 90. More edge, and I prefer it. “Extremely fine” says Boy Wonder and I agree. This is rather serious hooch. Boy Wonder correct. Getting better. Length, delicacy, and a great deal here. Easily the wine of the day.
1988: A cool freshness on the nose. Pure. Not as seductive in the mouth as the 89, indeed a little austere, but this is really very good, “proper”, St Emilion and very much to my taste.
1987: Clearly very light. Slightly funky on the nose. Not unpleasant but something a little weird (a couple of tasters far better than me spotted the chaptalisation). Very light and simple in the mouth but a hint of fruit trying to shine through. Good for what it is and my pick of the tricky vintages.
1986: Not getting much here. A little bit of dirt? Fatigue setting in again. Some initial lift and a bit of gamey ripeness. Even a sense of youth? But fairly simple though this does go on some in the finish. Light and lifted. More serious going back to it. And some depth. I don’t think I’ve been fair on this.
1985: More here. Galloway’s on the nose (remember that?). Wide open. And complete and lots of layers but I think there’s a tiny bit of taint in the mouth. Getting better but I still don’t think it’s quite right. Getting better and this is rather good – laid back. All here and really ready to go. Slightly confused by a touch of (perceived, on my part) taint.
Steven Spurrier gave his appraisal on these, which was thankfully in confluence with mine. For my “proper” on the 88, Spurrier said “Figeac-like”. Different lingo but same thought.
Publishing or sharing your notes is a little like taking your clothes off, and I salute anybody who does so even if I disagree with the comments themselves. Going back to mine, I liked these wines more than I thought.
A 25 vintage vertical is hard work. Blind would have been harder, but I would have loved to have done it this way.
And Angelus, whilst occasionally tasting like St Emilion, tastes more like Angelus than anything else.
Thank you Mr Browett. 2-0 to the Palace rounded the evening off nicely.