Tasting some oldies: 1964 Haut Bailly, 1959 Branaire and some more
I got together with some friends on SUN evening (Feb 24, 2013) to taste some older wines. We were discussing for a few months the possibility to try some older vintages (40+ years old) as none of my friends tried something similar in the past. We scheduled the session at Aquarium restaurant late in the afternoon.
I managed to uncork safely both old bottles and there was not a single piece of cork dropping in. Both corks were completely soaked but both became easy extractions after a bit of preparation. It helped a lot the fact that I cleaned up, with a wet towel, both tops of the bottles after removing the foil.
This is a very important step when you deal with old bottles. Cleaning the accumulated mold that inevitably forms under the foil over the years, it helps the cork to slip out easily. The moisture that forms at the top of the bottle creates a sort of a gliding surface. Otherwise, you’ll just get broken pieces of cork and plenty of headaches. A longer corkscrew would have been better. The corks broke because they were completely wet and my corkscrew did not manage to get through the whole cork during the extraction.
Wines were served in the following order: 1964 Chateau Haut Bailly, 1959 Chateau Branaire, 1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 and 2003 Ornellaia.
1964 Chateau Haut Bailly Pessac Leognan Bordeaux
I bought this bottle more than a year ago and got it at a better price because the external appearance was very bad. There is not much left from the label, the outside looks like it has been through hell and fire, but the fill level inside was great.
I planned to open the bottle 2-3 hours in advance, but considering that my other friends suggested that I should open the wines, I postponed the operation and did it at the restaurant. It proved to be a wise decision because the wine was ready to be enjoyed immediately after the cork was removed. Any further aeration would probably have just spoiled the wine.
The aromas of pure fruit started immediately to get out of the bottle. As bad as it looked on the outside, the wine was absolutely fantastic.
The color is a saturated ruby red, with some orange on the rim, but clean and perfect limpidity. The bouquet is drop dead gorgeous, as it preserves completely unaltered primary aromas of red fruits: fresh raspberries, strawberries and black currant, everything covered with cedar, smoke and mineral, Graves character, building a very complex nose as it breathes and opens up in the glass. With aeration, aromas of game and blood kick in. Overall a deep, profound and complex bouquet of considerable intensity. There is no way that served blind you could guess its age.
In the mouth the wine continues to deliver: it has depth, flesh, perfect balance and unaltered structure, fresh and silky, maturing but still vigorous and youthful, fully integrated tannins, showing generous red fruit, coffee bean and cedar flavors. The finish is medium to long and brings unbelievable freshness with some discreet signs of tannins that still bite your gums enough to mark their presence. The wine is liquid silk and pure joy. It can also hold further. (93-94/100)
1959 Chateau Branaire St-Julien Bordeaux
The fill level was a bit lower than the 1964 Haut Bailly, but the wine was perfectly good. The color is a saturated ruby red with a brick colored rim. Just like the previous wine, I uncorked it, felt its nice aromas from the bottle, put back a clean cork and left it for 20 minutes in a colder place to rest. When poured in the glass the wine is clean, again perfect limpidity, while the color suggests a healthy wine.
The bouquet is complex and intense, but suggests a more advanced maturity. The primary, fruity aromas are long gone. Instead, aromas of truffles and dried red bell pepper powder fill the glass and invade the nose. It does not have the complexity of Haut Bailly.
In the mouth the wine is more supple and stripped of its flesh. It feels like it had its peak and is now slowly and gradually moving downhill. There are assertive tannins and very intense flavors of truffles and coffee bean on the palate. The finish is short to medium, fresh, with black tea and cedar flavors in the aftertaste. This wine should be consumed now. (88-89/100)
1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 Rioja
I am familiar with this wine and I tasted it at least 5-6 times over the last year. It developed an interesting and intense aroma of freshly chopped dill. This is a rather unusual aroma especially when you find it for the first time in a wine, as some of my friends remarked. It is well structured and bears all the attributes of Old School Rioja that I like: balance, lively acidity, smoothness, supple and vivid spicy red fruit aromas and flavors. Long finish, with pure cinnamon, cloves and red fruit jams. (91-92/100)
This is initially very closed both on the nose and on the palate. It needs minimum 2-3 hours to open up. We did not decant it and it needs some. Up to this point we tasted elegant and supple wines. Ornellaia is from a totally different register.
It is not overly expressive on the nose and, at this point, it only suggests reserves of aromas and a hidden potential. On the palate is thick and concentrated. A friend points out this fact finding it pleasing but fatiguing compared to the previous wines. It is a wine you could certainly enjoy and like immediately, but it does not have the same easiness to drink as the Rioja or the old Bordeaux.
It is a modern wine, the new French oak still marks his presence on the nose and on the palate. It has serious flesh and rich layers of fruit. The tannins are ripe and smooth, the finish is long and the wine is still at the beginning of a long life. (93/100)
For me, this was a special moment. The richness, vigor and purity of primary aromas found in the 1964 Haut Bailly provided immense pleasure. It also fueled even more my desire to continue to explore and discover other similar old wines. The universe of wine can offer unbelievable surprises and that’s why is so interesting.