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25 August 2014 (yeah, a Monday night, what a treat!)
Buona Terra Italian Restaurant (no sommeliers, I have to DIY on uncorking the wines with The Durand)
http://scotts29.com/buonaterra/restaurant.html

I was unpacking some wines upon arrival of a new shipment, and the pristine labels of the La Conseillante 1949 and 1955 caught my attention. Immediately I text one of my good customer friend P the images because it’s his favorite house and asked him whether we should organize a La Conseillante vertical tasting? P replied immediately – can’t wait to organize it! As P is used to wine and dine, he quickly round up a few good friends for the dinner. These guys all have got great collections of La Conseillante.

Within moments, we managed to get a line up of 7 decades of La Conseillante vintages, sounds efficient?

I specifically asked for top Pomerol vintages, but none of us had a 1975 collection, so no choice we have to make do with a 1970 (please note that Pomerol has its own micro-climate, thus some excellent Pomerol vintages differ from Bordeaux vintages).


As you can tell, all the vintages are 5 star vintages except for 66 and 70. However, they are no way inferior vintages, read on for more information.
All dinner with this group of friends always have some champagne to start off. We have got 2 great champagnes lined up:
Dom Perignon Rose 96
Bollinger Grand Annee Rose 85

I need to touch on the champagne as I find it really interesting to compare both. I fell in love with the Dom Perignon Rose 96 with just one sip. The bubbles are very alive after 18 years in the bottle, amazing crispness and freshness, sharp, precision of balance, good acidity, faint cherry and loads of Pomelo on the palette. The color of the bubble is very interesting – a cooked salmon pinkish color, very refined, very attractive against the backdrop of a modern Italian restaurant in a private room.

Three of us quickly wrapped up the bottle of Dom Perignon Rose 96 and we shifted our attention to try the next bottle that I have anxiously waited – Bollinger Grand Annee Rose 85. I didn’t like to drink champagne from a flute, so this time round it’s being served in a white wine glass. Either you loved or you hated old champagnes, the nose was very oxidized, very aged. But the champagne is still very lively, bubbles are still oozing out from the wine glass; Color was lighter than Dom Perignon Rose 96, more like a light pink Salmon. Palette is predictable with creamy, with loads of tertiary flavor like dry leaves and dry tobacco. I loved aged drinks, so I’m used to such tastes, and I must claim that this champagne is really well stored after 29 years it was still drinking extremely well. At the end of the 2 tastings, we had the 2nd bottle of Dom Perignon Rose 96, and now this time I wanted a fair evaluation so both and I requested the serving from a wine glass. It’s a drastic comparison outcome – The Bollinger Grand Annee Rose 85 was a few grades above Dom Perignon Rose 96. The most obvious was the palette, for the Bollinger, it has this really muscular and concentrated fruits; it gives the palette a very rich and creamy style, whereas the Dom Perignon lacks the intensity of the fruits. I’m not sure if the ageing of the champagne gives such evolution of the fruit intensity or not as I have not had enough aged champagnes to learn the lesson, but I do like fruit driven champagne more than the precision driven Dom Perignon.

A red prawn is going to be served soon, so we moved on to some whites. I brought a bottle of Fontaine Gagnard Criots Batard Montrachet 2002. Fontaine Gagnard, a famous white burgundy maker, makes the best Criots Batard Montrachet in this gifted plot. 2002 is a relatively good vintage for white burgundy, and this Criots Batard Montrachet certainly did not disappoint. The most obvious scent on the nose is actually butter and olive oil mingled with some lemon. The palette cuts in with lemon, a sense of oiliness, multi-layer complexity, and I really loved the precision, richness and minerality. It does not overpower; an extremely balanced white burgundy, heavenly to go with a well-cooked prawn.

Next few dishes are meat dishes, so its our dear La Conseillante’s time to be showcased. I have learned my lesson in the past vertical tastings, instead of going from old to young, its better off having a tasting of young to old. So we go in pair: 05 with 98, 89 with 70, 66 with 64, 55 with 49. I will not bore you with all the detailed tasting notes here, and give you a big picture summary review of the vertical tastings, as I really find it meaningless to try to describe wine tastings in technical terms.

The walkaway experience of La Conseillante tasting – they are of excellent similarities across 7 decades. I think the effort shows that a family controlled vineyard without changing hands makes the consistency remains, unlike some vineyards being sold off or commercialized with Robert Parker influence to try to change the style to suit certain wine critics’ palette.

La Conseillante is unadulterated, pure, a great and preserving Pomerol estate. Even though from vintage to vintage, there are subtle differences with the taste of the wine, but the wine is consistently similar in style throughout 7 decades, its totally amazing.

I did not have that feeling after tasting 5 decades of Cos d’Estournel, you can refer to this article here. I quickly ran through my other favorite Pomerol properties – l’Evangile, Trotanoy, Vieux Chateau Certan, Petrus …. etc, none came close to this consistency, most properties shines at certain stage, but they have their ups and downs too. So where is La Conseillante situated in my heart? I’d dare declare it is really top label for me, I liked Trotanoy most, and La Conseillante is effortlessly ranked alongside Trotanoy. It is almost the top Pomerol estate, perhaps easily ranked alongside the great Petrus, but I have not drank enough vintages of Petrus to claim this top recognition.

Do you know why La Conseillante is amazingly great and able to achieve great provenance even vintage to vintage? A lot has to do with the dedicated team behind La Conseillante and their harvesting strategy. Ok let me tell you a story. In the 19th century, La Conseillante is sold to a gentleman called Princeteay Leperche. Ownership changed when Louise Nicholas acquired the estate in 1871 and his family has remained ownership for 5 generation till this day.

Though after World War 2, several Pomerol estate such as Petrus and Vieux Chateau Certan produced excellent wine that’s well respected till this day, La Conseillante seems to step out of its fame. In the 1953, that’s where Louise and his brother, it’s fourth generation took the baton to fully set their heart to improve the vineyard.

Starting 2004, when the family introduce Jean Michel Laporte to manage the property, La Conseillante future took even a brighter turn. Jean Michel Laporte became the ambassador of La Conseillante and is famous as Pomerol “good guys”, granting him as a most sophisticated Bordeaux winemakers. He has loads of vision and has deep passion for La Conseillante, knowledgeable beyond his years with respect to the Bordeaux as a whole.

Being a good natured winemaker, he take each vintage as it comes, diligently promoting the wine wherever they are sold. Jean Michel Laporte, together with Nicholas family, they manage the estate with pride, symbolizing the long lasting attachment of this family to a great wine. These new guy are changing Pomerol, making Pomerol a wonderful name in 1950s and 1960s. La Conseillante 1949 and 1953 are vigorous, full bodied, masculine and demonstrate a higher proportion of Cabernet franc. Impressive but compare to 1945, the latter exude more delicacy.

Located in an outstanding territory in the heart of Pomerol, La Conseillante enjoys a highly symbolic wine growing area. Because 80% of the vines grows in soils that made up mostly of clay, are of Merlot variety, this advantage enables them to produce wine that’s smooth and deep. The remaining 20% grow in gravel soils are Cabernet Franc which lends structure and freshness to the blend.

When it comes to harvesting strategy, Nicholas family and Jean Michel Laporte invest in state of art modern technology including a brand new vathouse with enough tanks to produce wine to fill up La Conseillante 12 hectare vineyard. To produce good wine, it takes delicate care and love, La Conseillante wine maker understands that well. With relentless hard work; from going to vineyard to inspect berries, checking on the intensity of color, taste of berry, acidity in sugar to chewing on the seeds to check if they are ready, it’s all laborious work and lots of hands on.

That’s why when you drink La Conseillante; you will notice it has a style unlike other. Most vintage features bright red wine however La Conseillante develops a complex blend of licorice, red berries and mauve. The wine is complex yet it stands out for its elegance, harmonious and smooth palette

Now, I’d like to touch a bit on the individual vintages

2005 – Very floral, I think I must have smelled summer flowers like lavender and violet, strong alcohol, very fruity. Palette is a bit graphite, but excellent balance with fruits masking acidity which makes one feel that there’s a lack of acidity (which is not true). Wine was decanted for 2+ hours.

1998 – A great right bank vintage, but didn’t show very well here. I get some dried cupboard, even the paper and glue nose, mixed with some dried herbal and Chinese medicine nose. Palette consists of loads of fruits, dark berries. The wine was decanted for 1.5 hours, but strangely the wine cannot last, its fading fast throughout the dinner.

1989 – One sip and this vintage sends shiver down my spine. It was so great, an extremely balanced wine with the right maturity period to drink it. It does not hide itself, not shy of showing off, a big, bold and extremely beautifully made vintage. It was so far my number 1 wine, until a shocker came later.

1970 – Even though its only a 4 star vintage, La Conseillante 70 stood up tall with the big guys. Surprisingly well made in my opinion. The aged tertiary flavor is starting to show up, with dried lavender, dried potpourri, but a really beautiful nose. Palette is turning into red fruits and prune, which is surprising because 1998 was still in dark berry stage.

1966– A 3 star vintage, it really could not stand up against the big guys. Nose has the same character of other vintages, but palette you can tell it’s a bit diluted, a bit less intense in the fruits. The only disappointing La Conseillante so far.

1964– This is a really strange vintage. I lately had a bottle of legendary Cheval Blanc 64, and I swear I didn’t like it because the nose and the palette was very American style, and I much prefer classic Bordeaux style. And La Conseillante 64 was not spared by this Yankee influence for some reason (Cheval Blanc is 39 km south of La Conseillante). I cannot believe what I found out from the nose, the same style of American wines, almost port like nose. Palette is much younger than the 66 and 70. I drank with puzzled mind, must have been the vintage influencing the style.

1955 – If 89’s sip was sending shiver down my spine, this one must have been a Mohammed Ali’s upper jab, totally knocked me out. You will never believe how “young” this wine is! At 59 years old, if you blind me the 89 and 55, I can almost swear by it that they are produced in the same vintage, perhaps storage problem or bottle variation caused the 1955 to be more matured. Seriously, the 55 is truly amazing, one of the greatest Pomerol I have ever drank, and alongside the 1989, its like “original copy, or copy original?”. The 55 and 89 bottles have already made my night! Everyone agreed with me, and I had 11 bottles left from a case, as a testimony of how good it was, everyone on the dining table snatched up the remaining 11 bottles, each priced at $750, without hesitation. I promised to hunt for more of this gem even though its definitely not going to be an easy feat to locate more of such old wines.

 

1949 The nose was slightly maderized, port-like, entangled with dark coffee. But the palette is still superb; rich, matured, leather, mushrooms and if you have ever drank enough tea, this is like the Chinese Pu-Er tea, the older the better.

We concluded the night with a bottle of Climens 1989, not a 5 star Sauternes/Barsac vintage, but it still went well with a creamy birthday cake for our friend K. Nose is loaded with pineapple and apricot. Palette is rich, lush, this Barsac is almost like a Sauternes, surprisingly sweet (normally I liked Climens for its less sweetness).

What a Monday night! I am still recovering from my slight hang over right now the next day afternoon while I write this article with speed and furiosity! I just have the urge to share this wonderful experience with all wine lovers. Cheers!

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