1990 started on a Monday. I was eighteen as the year turned. I have little recollection of the year itself, either on account of my age then or my age now. Nelson Mandela was freed; Sammy Davis Junior died. Mario Balotelli was born. All I can remember of 1990 with any accuracy was the FA Cup Final and its replay between Crystal Palace and Manchester United, and watching us beat Liverpool 4-3 on the way which, incidentally, is possibly the best football match that any Palace fan has ever seen.
1990 was also a rather good year for Bordeaux. Many wines are a little on the ripe side for some (this is a reasonably easy vintage to call blind) though this is pedantry. And at twenty plus, nearly all of the top wines are drinking. So: lunch at Zucca with a couple of blind wines and, despite this lunch being in the name of business, a couple of mates.
My friend Boy Wonder is quite possibly the sharpest tool in the entire wine trade toolbox. A man who can not only see a margin in a deal in the same way that the Rain Man can count matches dropped on the floor, but also a man who really, really knows his kit. On top of that he’s a lovely bloke, and is armed with a bottle that is just for me. I, in turn, am armed with a bottle for him and The Third Man. Less thought has gone into my bottle: I’ve just taken what I reckon will be nice from the Eurocave. Though I do know that Boy Wonder and The Third Man are familiar with the chateau.
Zucca is a quite perfect restaurant, particularly if you know how to order, which is: multiple shared starters and then some pasta. Simple rule and unfailing in success. The food is of outstanding quality (the starters and the pasta in particular), the surroundings unpretentious yet classy, the service attentive, efficient and polite. The wine list is very strong – there is no need to BYO unless, like me, you’re a poncey wine merchant type. But, reverting to type, we brought our own, which we did blind:
1999 Volnay 1er cru, Clos du Chateau des Ducs, Lafarge
Boy Wonder brought this knowing that I love Burgundy, love Volnay and love Lafarge. More later on this domaine – I could go on and on – but, briefly: impeccable, old-fashioned, impossibly precise wine that needs time.
So: region? We all got this pretty quickly. Avoid the 2003 vintage and Burgundy is fairly easy to nail.
Vintage? I didn’t admit it at the time but I was on 2005, in that it was clearly a serious year. The wine was, technically, faultless, though very, very young in terms of its development. I then got lost but we arrived at 1999 on account of the quality and a bit of guessing. Lafarge makes wines for the long term and this is still very young in terms of maturity rather than years.
Wot is it? The Third Man got Volnay and then it was easy. This was clearly from something that was at the top of the premiers crus, so Caillerets, Clos des Chenes or, as it was, Clos du Ch. des Ducs.
Summary: this is serious wine, it just wants another twenty years.
1990 Ch. Rauzan-Segla, Margaux
This is how good Boy Wonder is: having confirmed that it was a Margaux, and that it wasn’t Palmer, he nailed it. The vintage was easy enough but nailing anything blind is no mean feat. This is why I call him Boy Wonder.
The wine itself glides easily into my top five of the year. The mintiness, and the precise character of mintiness, that is particular to mature claret. The character that a wine has at maturity; the layers; the ease of the fruit. And: the real test, the real endorsement: I could easily have done a couple of bottles of this. If the Lafarge was the schoolwork (you had to work out the sum rather than just come up with the answer) this was the reward. This was the enjoyment, the satisfaction. This was a bottle that reminded me why I do what I do. Impeccable. Boy Wonder has moved the market on this one since but you should be able to buy it for £150 a bottle or so all in – quite the bargain if you ask me.
Summary: buy this if you see it.