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4th Oct 2014, Saturday
Kingsmead House, Singapore

Bordeaux Wines Before 1982

Many wine enthusiasts think that the drinking vintage of Bordeaux stops at 1982. I can tell you frankly you are very misled by some wine critics. While 1982 was a great vintage, its not the end of life for Bordeaux, 1982 was only one of the many great vintages for Bordeaux. Frankly, 1982 does not even qualify as a superb vintage. Just to name a few superb vintages here:

  • 1961 can easily qualify vintage of the century
  • 1959 wines can easily age for a century
  • 1955 wines are excellent, both left and right banks
  • 1953 certain labels are excellent
  • 1945 can easily qualify for the runner up of vintage of the century

Lo Bok Nan, are you nuts? Wines this old can be drank?

And you’re saying 1982 pales in comparison to these above mentioned vintages? Yes, you hear me right. Talking too much is a waste of time, I quickly gathered 13 of my faithful customers who have been supporting Fine Wines SG for a long time to proof that I am not alone in my view.

The sign up rate for the event was the fastest, nobody hesitated about not attending, except for a few customers who already had travel plans. In fact the sign up rate was overwhelming. I can only accommodate 12 attendees in my dining room, but due to overwhelming response, I had to squeeze in 2 more chairs, making it 14 persons witnessing this event.

I ran through my whole wine lists as to what to serve? I quickly wrap up my line up:
Lafite Rothschild 1974 (Magnum bottle)
Trotanoy 1970
l’Evangile 1964
Le Bon Pasteur 1961
La Gaffeliere Naudes 1961
Mouton Baron Philippe 1961
Lynch Bages 1959
Durfort Vivens 1959
Beychevelle 1955
La Conseillante 1955
Montrose 1953
Ducru Beaucaillou 1953 (from Original Wood Case)
Mouton d’Armailhacq 1945 (from Original Wood Case)

I do put my claims in my line up that these are excellent vintages, with the only exception of Lafite Rothschild 1974. Why? I need a first growth to benchmark my tasting. As you may know, Lafite Rothschild is exorbitantly expensive, is it worth the price comparing to some really aged and tired wines? You will find out soon.
I started working a week before the event, opening up my precious collection of Ducru Beaucaillou 1953 from a pristine Original Wood Case. You can see from the photo below the labels, capsule and fill conditions are excellent. Even I can’t wait to open and drink it!

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Next, I pulled out another case, a shocker case, Mouton d’Armailhacq 1945.This is my most respected fifth growth Bordeaux wine amongst the 18 fifth growths according to the 1855 classification (perhaps Lynch Bages would be arguably also my best fifth growth favorites). It has changed its name from Mouton d’Armailhacq (1750 to 1955), then Mouton-Baron Philippe (1956 to 1973), Mouton Baronne (1974 to 1978) and Mouton Baronne Philippe (1979 to 1988), and finally settled as Chateau d’Armailhac from 1989 till present. However, regardless of the change of name, just like Mouton Rothschild’s motto, “Second I was, first I am, Mouton never change” when they got promoted from 2nd growth to 1st growth in 1973, I swear that d’Armailhac should also adopt this motto since it’s the sibling of Mouton Rothschild, owned by the Mouton branch of the Rothschild family. More on the tasting notes later. Tighten your seat belt.

I got a big shock when I opened the case. Straws?! Where are my wines?! Phew, it didn’t go missing; it was encapsulated within the straws! Why would they do that back in those days? I have opened many old wooden cases, some are hand made wooden cases (reference: Pichon Lalande 1959, Rauzan Segla 1953), but this one shocked me most. I think there must be a few reasons I can think of:
1. To act as a shock absorber. Noticed there are no dividers in between the bottles?
2. To act as a moisture absorber (dehumidifier)? To protect its label? This one is arguably a bit too drastic from my naïve thoughts. Corks will need humidity, so this is not making any sense.

Thus I think point #1 is more valid. No matter what, after 69 years, the labels are still so pristine, the wine were so well kept, I was totally impressed with the straws they have used.

Fast forward exactly one week later, the tasting day. I have been working very hard to try to get a trusted sommelier on board for my tasting, and alas, all my reliable sommeliers are not free to help me as they already have other committed events. So, I was the stand-in sommelier, a bit over qualified, but I have a job to do, and 13 guests arriving in the afternoon! I started working since 10 am, uncorking 13 bottles all by myself. Mind you, this is not an easy job, but the superb wine opener The Durand has done me a fabulous job – not a single cork was broken! Couldn’t ask for more!

For every bottle I uncorked, I filtered off the sediments using a filter and a funnel (with the exception of Lafite Rothschild 74 I did not filter nor decant). Not a normal filter – my customer D has brought this funnel from Japan for me, I was eternally grateful for it, superb filter, perhaps the gaps are measured in nanometer, so fine it filtered off all the sediments, thank you D! Another reason why I need to double decant is that don’t forget I have got no sommelier to help me in the afternoon tasting. However, I hired a waitress L to help out, she is not a sommelier, although she knows the basics of wine. L does not have to do what I have done – filter off 13 bottles and pour it back to the bottle. All she needs to do is to pour the wines into a decanter before serving, cutting down any potential mistakes for a non-sommelier. Ultimately, L did a fabulous job of serving my guests, I was impressed with her serving skills.

One more reason why I did the double decanting? I want to make sure the wines are not maderized or corked or having bad smell that’s not drinkable before serving to my guests. A little bit of cheating here, just in case if there are bad wines, I do have stand-by bottles. Guess what? I didn’t need my back ups! I opened 13 bottles, mostly older than me, without a single bottle of failure! This is not an easy record to beat. Take my word for it, provenance is everything. Montrose 53 ullage was at low shoulder level, bottle condition looked really bad, I said, this was the only bottle that I really worried about. Phew, it was alive and kicking albeit full of sediments!

We had some Bollinger NV champagne to start off with while we mingle around in the living room as not everyone knew about others. I served Bollinger for its unique character – NV but with some oxidative notes like an aged champagne, remind me a lot of Jacques Selosse NV. After all, we are tasting some aged wines this afternoon, better warm up my guests’ palette first.

We finally sat down for the real deal. My preference is to serve wines from the youngest to the oldest, and then revisit the youngest at the end drinking next to the oldest wine. That’s why the Lafite Rothschild 74 was served from a magnum to be able to serve two rounds.

Lafite Rothschild 1974, Pauillac
The nose was very perfumed, almost like a burgundy nose, I also get a lot of orange rind, orange notes. The color was very light brick red, and the wine was lively, easy, pleasant, drank a bit like orange juice. A bit dry. This is a typical Lafite Rothschild style in the 70s which they have gone through a very dark era in recent memory.

The 2nd round at the end of the tasting, Lafite opens up with more fruits and intensity. I enjoyed the final pour comparing to the initial pour.
I rated it 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Trotanoy 1970, Pomerol
Another extremely perfumed wines, with loads of fruity nose, mingled with pinewood and cedar wood, smells almost like a left bank rather than right bank wine. The color was very much darker than Lafite, very intense dark red, like a young wine, dense color. As expected, the palette has loads and loads of big fruits, tannins can still be felt and not yet integrated with the wine. The tannins and fruits imply that it can still age effortlessly for another 2-3 decades.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the feeling of a better bottle I had in the past, so based upon this tasting, I can only award it 4 out of 5 stars. In the past, I have had very good bottles before, and easily garnered 5 out of 5 stars. Trotanoy 1970 is one of the best wines produced in the 70 vintage.

l’Evangile 1964, Pomerol
1964 is a great Pomerol vintage. I pulled l’Evangile 64 out for a reason – to let audiences feel how young this label is. My drinking experience is that, l’Evangile ages very slowly, its like injecting botox to stop aging. I drank the 59, 66 and all I always walked out claiming the wine is way too young. Same here for the 64, even though the nose says its quite musty like some old mushrooms, the color will make you think the wine was in the ‘80s, very dark dense red. The palette, as expected, was way too young, a big wine, very powerful, full of life ahead. The tannins are still big, lurking around like a young wine.

I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars for l’Evangile 64.

Le Bon Pasteur 1961, Lalande de Pomerol
The property Le Bon Pasteur originally consisted of vineyards in the three communes of Pomerol, Saint-Émilion and Néac, the last one in the appellation Lalande-de-Pomerol. Originally all three wines were called Le Bon Pasteur, with the respective appellation indicated. From 1978, the wine from Saint-Émilion has been called Château Rolland-Maillet and that from Lalande-de-Pomerol called Château Bertineau Saint-Vincent. They are all produced at Le Bon Pasteur.

This wine is totally not available in the market, and when my supplier offered me 2 cases of it, I snapped it up without second thoughts. I can’t even find any tasting notes on the net, but I didn’t care, rare wines are my passion. Grab it while it was available.

The wine has the most muted nose so far amongst the line up, very faint and light, almost like light cherries. The body was light, young and creamy, almost like chocolate milk. It certainly lacks some intense fruits, it was made in a light style, which was quite a surprise for a good vintage like 1961.

I didn’t score highly on this one, giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

 

La Gaffeliere Naudes 1961
This Bordeaux wine was from Saint Emilion with the name renamed from La Gaffeliere-Naudes to Chateau La Gaffeliere, ranked as Premiers grands crus classes B in the classification of Saint Emilion wine.
This wine really touched me palette after 4 bottles of wines. The nose is intense, with a lot of nice fragrant notes, and it was really intensely fruity, with loads of dark currant and blackberry concentrated fruits. Surprisingly, the palette was huge with loads of fruits, thus far, it has the most intense fruits of the wines served. It is a big and powerful wine, which is a bit out of my expectation, as the previous bottle I drank I didn’t get such big powerful fruits, perhaps bottle variation. But I was immensely satisfied with this wine.

It was my wine of the day up till now, obviously I have to give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Mouton Baron Philippe 1961
We have introduced the history of this label earlier, and one of my all-time favorites. Will this bottle disappoint?

Nose is with intense smoke with very mild fruits, no surprise here. But the palette, my oh my, if you blind me the label and let me know that its 1961 vintage, I will think this is a Lafite Rothschild 1961 without hesitation! The wine possesses all the Lafite Rothschild 1961 characters; extreme elegance, very pleasant and extremely balanced on the palette, it was so in harmony that I would happily drink this day in, day out.
Since I bumped into this label, I have been falling in love with it, particularly this 1961 vintage. Every bottle I have opened, never failed to impress me.

I scored it almost a perfect wine of the day. Most of the audiences concurred with my vote too. I will publish the results at the end of the article.

Lynch Bages 1959
This is another highly respected Pauillac fifth growth which needs no introduction. I have drank very interesting vintages of Lynch Bages before, thus, I think Lynch Bages shines in the 50s, 60s and 80s, shines so well that it performs almost like a first growth.

This 1959 obviously didn’t disappoint either, especially for a vintage that is as good as 1961, is worth every sip of it. I get a lot of pinewood, cedarwood, and specifically perfumed wood, as well as deep rich leather and aged mushrooms. The palette has loads of dark fruits, intense and leathery like, very rich, very concentrated.
This wine is close to 5 stars for me, my heart will award it 5 stars, but the scale does not accommodate for it, so I’ll have to settle for 4.5 stars out of 5.

Durfort Vivens 1959
Your first reaction is probably an exclamation that I bothered to serve this “run down” wine label! Hold your breath, it was still a 2nd growth classification up to this day. If it didn’t do well back in 1855, it wouldn’t have been classified as 2nd growth. Let’s not use today’s standard to judge a label that was 55 years ago. As I have drank many bottles of this, I know it does not fail. And look at the label, it was so pristine, does it look like a 55 year old bottle? Not at all, the secret? It came from an original wood case, pristine conditions.
The nose is beautiful, being a Margaux, it has the advantage of perfumed nose, this one is no different. Good perfume, very heavy dark leather nose, by no way this could still be Durfort Vivens that anybody nowadays still thinks this is a worthwhile 2nd growth. It is a pleasure to drink it as well, rich, leathery, good fruits, good balance.

I scored it the same as Lynch Bages 59, 4.5 stars.

La Conseillante 1955
For you guys who has read my article on “7 Decades of La Conseillante” tasting notes, you should have known that La Conseillante 1955 is a serious wine, and it’s almost my wine of the year (actual WOTY is Latour 1955, also another 55).

After my “7 Decades of La Conseillante” tastings, I sold out on this wine completely (more like everyone who tasted it did not hesitate to grab a couple of bottles), and obviously I was short of stock. I snapped up everything my supplier can find for me (bear in mind that these aged wines do not have unlimited supplies as they were consumed over the years, thus I have to pay a premium over the last batch and I maintained my selling price without making my customers cough up more). Thus, the new batch only arrived via air just a day before this tasting event. Customers who know me well knows that I do not like to fly my wines in (this is a separate topic), instead I always sail my wines in via ocean freight, not for cost saving reason, but to minimize bottle shock for aged wines. If you’re not aware, flying wines in for aged wines are very risky, due to air pressure, the cork may expand or contract, so it’s a big no-no to fly wines in. But I needed some wines in this batch in a hurry, so I have no choice but to take the risk. Another biggest problem with air lift is that, it will cause bottle shock, and aged wines are particularly sensitive to bottle shock!

This batch of La Conseillante 1955 only arrived the day before the tasting! So you can imagine how stressful the wines were. No doubt it was in bottle shock. However, it still tasted very well during the tasting, and was voted #2 wine of the day. Imagine how good this will taste if it was in its best condition without bottle shock? Would have been easily wine of the day.

Beychevelle 1955
Beychevelle is age-worthy, that’s one important lesson I have learned after drinking many old vintages of this wine. Please don’t forget the 1855 classification of Bordeaux only take into consideration of price for the ranking, and not whether the wines can age well or not, so when it comes to whether a label is age worthy or not, it all boils down to drinking experience.

I had the 1953 with many wine connoisseurs and turned out a big surprise that it was drinking so well. This 1955 I would not claim that its another big surprise, but I still find it a pleasant surprise. The wine really opened slowly, with a very muted nose, and like a rose maturing slowly, this one is probably the slowest to open up amongst all the wines we served today. Fruits surfaced slowly on the nose as we slowly appreciates the leftover of other wines.

The palette has decent amount of fruits, pleasant to drink, but with slight blemish of slightly elevated acidity, not as balanced as the 1953. However, it was still a good effort from this chateau which is gaining a lot of respect from me nowadays.
For the effort, I still award a 4.5 stars out of 5 for this wine.

Montrose 1953
Pardon the poor looking condition of the bottle, torn labels, low shoulder fill, metal foil is half eroded through already. Nothing really pleases me on the look of the bottle. I actually have a stand by bottle, because I think this bottle may not have survived the 61 years of turmoil. However, let me tell you a story. The property investors will tell you what’s most important for property investments – locations, locations and locations. For wines, I have 3 words to advice all my wine clients – provenance, provenance and provenance. Frankly, such a bottle would have been rejected by any buyer, but lets be frank, never judge a wine by its appearance (same for human beings, the richest people I have met are all very modest people, dressed simply, slackin their appearance too). Low shoulder fill? Metal foil eroded? Label conditions poor? Nothing passed, not even in an expert eyes. But the truth was that, I uncorked the bottle myself, took a sip, and was shockingly surprised it was still alive!

Nose is filled with a lot of high grade elegant wood, extremely strong pine wood fragrance. The wine is actually very drinkable; mellow, elegant, balanced and still sweet and forward. The only blemish with the wine is that it is a bit dirty, not the wines with a lot of purity or clarity if you want the opposite view of my definition of “dirty”.

I don’t know how much the content is affected by the poor looking conditions. I still awarded the bottle with 4 out of 5 stars (note, I apply the principal of “there is no good wines, only good bottles” here, provenance is everything).

Ducru Beaucaillou 1953
As introduced earlier, this bottle was from an original wood case, label is in a perfect pristine conditions, so was the fill and cork conditions, for a wine of 61 years old. I uncorked it effortlessly with The Durand.

The style is definitive St Julien, in fact, reminiscent of a younger Ducru Beaucaillou style. Nose is of coffee and espresso, which is typical of a St Julien. It’s a pleasure to drink this wine, so fresh, big, bold and intense fruits, although slightly sharper acidity but did not bother me at all, overall it is impressive. Better than the Montrose 1953.
This gets 4.5 stars out of 5 from me.

Mouton d’Armailhacq 1945
I have introduced this label earlier, so I am not going to repeat. I jumped to the tasting notes immediately. Saving the best for last? It was quite muted upon pouring, very faint smoke, and it takes time to gradually open up on the nose. Wine at such age, 69 years old, I would think that it does not have much leg nor stamina, its probably tired and fatigue by now, given that it’s a fifth growth status. WRONG, WRONG and WRONG.

The palette was very tight! That came as a shock to me, the wine still needs air to open up! Wow, what a powerful wine! The fruits are so powerful that I can feel that I am certainly chewing on some dark berries instead of drinking wines! It has full of life ahead of itself, truly amazing. A slight blemish was that the fruits were not enough, or perhaps I only have a glass, perhaps it may benefit from more air to have the fruits surface. If it has better fruits, it would have been a perfect wine! However, for the superb stamina of the wine, I salute the effort.

I intend to keep this wine till it is 100 years old to host a grand tasting of a 100 year old fifth growth Bordeaux wine! For those who are not persuaded that fifth growth wines are not inferior, please read my separate article “Are Fifth Growth Wines Inferior?”

Summary

I normally assign 3 points to the attendee’s first choice, 2 points to second choice and 1 point to third choice. With 12 out of 14 attendees voting for their favorite wines, below are the results of it:

Wine Of The Day
Mouton Baronne Philippe 1961 – 17 points

Runners Up
La Conseillante 1955 – 11 points

Third Place
Lynch Bages 1959 – 7 points

I personally loved Mouton Baronne Philippe 61 and any vintage that comes from this vineyard, never have really big disappointments before, but this 61 is so well made, so elegant and balanced, it was better than the last bottle I had. Thus, lesson learned, the 1855 classification was wrong, Lafite 74 was quickly forgotten, and a 5th growth property was my all-time favorite! That’s why I must give credits to the Mouton d’Armailhacq 45 which is a favorite for quite a few of you but didn’t quite make it to the top 3 list with the super star line ups. Credits are given to Ducru Beaucaillou 53 too, the condition is really pristine, I guess coming out from an original wood case is just different from loose bottles. FYI, it’s extremely rare you can find wines still in original wood case in the 50s, and almost impossible for 40s.

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