Considering the title of this blog, you might have expected a bit more action centred around the Medoc. Just as well then, that a happy dinner with family last Saturday night provided the occasion to unleash some serious clarets.
We kicked off with Chateau Lagrange 2001, a charming St. Julien from a forgotten vintage. What struck me with this bottle was the generous fruit, not something you can take for granted in a ten year old claret. The Lagrange is packed full with perfumed blackcurrant and plum, topped off with the exotic smoked flavours that we love to refer to as “cigar box”. The oak aging on this wine has been perfectly judged – it’s not obtrusive at all, but just adds the necessary backbone and interest. St. Julien is known for elegance rather than heft, something which came through nicely here.
Then to something a little older . . . A single precious bottle of Chasse Spleen 1985, snapped up recently at www.bidforwine.com (Highly recommended for the odd find like this). In the glass, an attractive garnet turning to russet brown showed the pedigree. Our first sniffs were rewarded with a whole range of rather cheesy and mushroom like smells. If that sounds unpleasant, it wasn’t – the complexity and interest on the nose was very promising. Gradually, the nose calmed down and the more familiar cedar and smoke notes came through. And indeed, on the palate this was truly great: Long, velvet textured and marvellously complex, with suggestions of vanilla, coffee, sweet spices and caramel. The tannins were barely perceptible, although still doing their job in keeping the wine upright. The plummy fruit core had a sweetness and balance, with what I think Michael Broadbent would describe as “perfect weight”. That’s to say that the wine seemed rich and full, but also fleet of foot and supple. I’m salivating just writing this!
Two things particularly struck me with these wines – firstly, how the sympathetic use of oak aging can enhance complexity and longevity without becoming at all overbearing, as is sadly so often seen in “super premium” cuvees from fashionable regions such as the Maipo Valley (Chile), Ribera del Duero and Priorat (Spain) or Mendoza (Argentina).
Secondly, you do not need to spend a lot of money in order to sample the Bordeaux magic – but foresight and patience are usually required. The 2001s were real bargains on release – The Lagrange was under £15 a bottle – and Chasse Spleen is never expensive at the outset (usually £10-£15 a bottle). Yet to purchase these wines now would cost between 3-6 times these amounts. This should inspire you to buy en primeur (ie: before the wine is bottled and ready to be delivered). With all the talk of vintages of the century, and the ever increasing release prices of the first growths, it’s easy to forget that buying en primeur lower down the scale can be a seriously good investment for your palate!