So Thursday night a week ago I meet Wine Woman and Song for a glass or two at 28-50 Maddox Street. We drink a decent Champagne (Jacques Picard), an excellent St Aubin (2010 En Remilly, Bernard Moreau) and a 2009 Arbois. Still haven’t made my mind up about Arbois. We chew the fat, and talk about “blogs”. At some point she says, and I agree with her: “don’t write about dinners, don’t name-drop, don’t show off about what you’ve tasted. It’s boring”. As I trek from Mayfair to deepest Surrey this is what sticks. None of this bragging business. Keep it real. Yup. That’s the way forward.
Friday lunchtime my friend Mr B. calls me up and asks if I can make a dinner with Jancis Robinson plus a hand-picked selection of generally clever people that know their kit; we’ll be tasting the 2003 first growths plus Ausone, Cheval & Petrus.
So: keeping it real…
The first growths. Plus their right bank peers. The Big Eight. Collectively these are the pinnacle of Bordeaux (plus Pin and Yquem in my book). These wines retail for a minimum of £250 a bottle and, these days, a seemingly limitless maximum. This is Porsche vs Ferrari vs Rolls Royce vs Lamborghini, etc. This is the top. So, if you’re into wine, a horizontal tasting of these is something that can’t be turned down. Same tasting in pretty exalted company is the gravy.
2003 was the first vintage that I tasted seriously from barrel. I tasted a few 2000s in 2001 but it was more jolly than proper trip. Skipped 2001 & 2002. Began in 2003, not really knowing what I was doing but thankfully accompanied by a man who knows his kit better than most: Hew Blair. I wrote down everything – and I mean everything – and sucked it all in. To my considerable shame and frustration I cannot locate my tasting book.
The wines, and I, are ten years older. I am greyer and more tired, though much less of an idiot (n.b. this is relative). I know much, much more about wine (and a lot of other things). I have a son. I’ve been to two play-off finals with Mr B., and Palace won both of them 1-0.
Wot about the wines?
Northern Medoc aside, this is an average vintage. You know why they can’t make the best wines in the World in South Africa? Because it’s too hot. And in France in 2003, it was too hot. Simple.
Disappointment of the tasting was the Cheval Blanc. It just didn’t have it. Was it the bottle? Maybe. Or maybe it’s always easiest to pick on the weakest of the bunch, no matter how small the margin. Seven against one isn’t really a fair fight.
Ringer of the tasting was Mouton. Along with Latour this is “grand vin”. And I’m tempted to pick it ahead of Latour – which is a bit like me conceding that Watford/West Ham were the better team. Mouton, along with Haut-Brion, are the two 2003 first growths that are worth what you have to pay for them today if you want to drink them tonight. Petrus and Ausone are impressive but I’d rather have the cash, thanks. I have a feeling that Lafite would have shown better with time and that Margaux, like the Cheval, was having a bad day. Latour is Latour.
Notes as follows. Served blind in two flights. The three merchants amongst us (well, at least me and Mr B.) more concerned with divining the identity of each rather than rating them. I got half of them right. Which isn’t bad considering that the vintage is tattooed all over these wines.
2003 Margaux (thought this was Mouton)
Looks a little older than it is under the light. Already some fade. Touch of mint to the nose. And this is very rich and bouncy in the mouth. Ripe, fat. Sort of bulging water balloon character. Opulent. Not burnt, though not linear; no lines. Getting better and the focus in the mouth is catching up. Persistent. 93.
2003 Cheval Blanc
Again a bit of fade but this could be the light. This is almost gloopy on the nose. I can’t quite place the aroma. And fat and chocolaty and thick in the mouth. Viscous. Oleaginous. Long. Impressive weight but pure fat. And got weaker and weaker going back to it (albeit as a few of its peers were getting into their stride). 90?
This has a little more cool energy on the nose. Something poking through on the nose and the first to hint that there might be more to come. And this does have some tension in the mouth. There are some bones to hang the fat on here. This is very very good though it’s still a little too ripe for me. The most impressive so far and it’s the graphite edge that persists. 95.
2003 Mouton (thought this was Latour)
Again some freshness and lift on the nose. And again in the mouth. There is some muscle here. And some structure. And poise and length. There is something here. Serious. 96.
This whole flight seems to look darker. This is quite punchy. Rich. And some spice coming through at the end. Fading a little … though comes back. There is depth to this though it’s not a show-stopper today. Getting better and better coming back to it. 95.
2003 Petrus (thought this was Margaux)
And this is darker again. This has depth, richness and some edge. On this nose this has promise. This has an edge. Character. Stylistically I like this though it lacks the punch of its peers. 94.
Tight. There is something underneath here. Initially quite simple, then broadens out then comes back in again. And it has some buzz to it. Energy. A couple say “worked” but I think it’s that Ausone electricity. 94+.
2003 Latour (thought this was Petrus)
Rich fruit. This is fat and big. The bones are integrated into the flesh. Complete. Length. This carries on and on. Serious. And on. 96.
Excuse the style of my notes. They get shorter as we progress, plus the best wines do not need long notes.
And: sorry, Juel. I’ll keep it real next time. And thank you again to those wot know who they are.