Mini vertical of Chateau Lagrange St-Julien: 1994 and 1995
Had dinner last night at a friend’s house involved in the wine business and I was surprised by his statement that the vast majority of Romanian wine drinkers do not like older wines and prefer young and fruit driven ones. It is a pity that people do not try to discover the complexities of an aged wine. It is true that one can have bad surprises with wines when they seldom past their best, but it is equally true that a well aged one can bring a lot of emotions. The best strategy when choosing an older bottle of wine is to do some research online and see what other people that recently had that wine are saying. After all, money does not grow in trees and one has to pay when purchasing such an older bottle.
We had this conversation in the context of serving two older vintages from a classic Saint Julien producer. 1994 was the first vintage in the early ’90s considered to bring back optimism after 3 consecutive disastrous vintages: 1991, 1992 and 1993.
In 1994 conditions looked highly promising by early September, and then from September 7 the rain began and continued for most of the month. Fortunately temperatures were fairly cool and there was little rot, but the wet weather did cause some dilution. Growers did not delay the harvest, as the grapes, especially Merlot, were as ripe as they were going to get, and there was nothing to be gained by waiting. The red wines turned out to be dark, quite rich and tannic.
Then came the glorious 1995 that confirmed the quality.
Some critics declared themselves unimpressed by 1995, but with time it has become clear that this is easily the best vintage since 1990, and the best wines are evolving slowly but impressively. They will be long-lived.
Chateau Lagrange is owned by the Japanese Suntory group together with Chateau Beychevelle.
Both bottles had healthy and long corks with very limited soaking, so there is really no rush to open these wines from this perspective. The uncorking was easy and there were no unpleasant surprises struggling to take them out in one piece. How are the two Lagrange wines tonight ?
1995 Chateau Lagrange St-Julien
Youthful dark red garnet color with really no signs of aging. Shy and closed on the nose when initially opened, this wine expands its aromatics by the minute, being fully opened after 1-2 hours. Well developed and maturing nose, intense, with generous aromas of smoke, dried red paprika, coffee bean, cedar, gamey undertones and still plenty of cranberries and black currant fruit. It successfully preserves a sweet and spicy nose. Full bodied and supple on the palate, this is classic aged St-Julien. Well structured and balanced, with smooth and ripe tannins, the wine shows red fruit mixed with coffee and pencil shavings on the palate. After 2 hours, the Cabernet Sauvignon typical aromas of black currant and green bell pepper dominate the stage. Medium plus finish with good freshness and an espresso like flavor. 12.5% alc (90-91/100)
1994 Chateau Lagrange St-Julien
Dark ruby red color with a certain brick tone at the rim. Completely closed,charmless and thin on the palate initially. I was actually fearing that the wine is dead when I tasted it just after uncorking. After 1-2 hours the wine changed dramatically. The nose is fully mature, with very little red fruit left and dominated by aromas of coffee bean, tobacco, forest floor and cedar. Medium bodied and rather watery on the palate, it certainly lacks the density and the charm of the 1995. The tannins are rather aggressive, especially on the finish, while the maturing flavors and the very little red fruit that it is still left on the palate is not able to harmoniously balance the abrasive tannins structure. Medium and drying finish. 12.5% (86-87/100)
The 1994 requires very fat food in order for those tannins to feel smoother. I guess tonight the pair of wines was like Two Face.