An out of ordinary dinner in Bordeaux: 1925, 1955 and more
Last year I spent a whole week in Bordeaux between September 29th and October the 2nd. Every day I visited 4-5 wineries and I ended the week with a very special and unusual dinner organized by Olivier Bernard and his wife, the owners of Domaine de Chevalier from Pessac-Leognan and several other properties in Bordeaux, at their residence which coincides to be the actual winery of Domaine de Chevalier.
I was told in advance by the person who invited me there, how things would go: there are no more than 10-11 people that attend, mainly wine critics and people from the wine business, and the event happens only once per year. The uniqueness of this dinner is that, Olivier Bernard chooses and serves all wines blind, only the very first wine is shown what it is. From that moment on, all wines served should have only one thing in common: the last digit of the first wine’s vintage will remain the same for the whole line-up of wines. Otherwise, sky is the limit in terms of region, appellations, countries of origin and span of the vintages.
Before dinner there was obviously a pre tasting of different wines (about 15-20) made by Olivier in several appellations of Bordeaux and a visit of the whole Domaine de Chevalier winery. I noticed the most unusual one single barrel of fermenting juice and grapes made by Domaine de la Solitude (same ownership) from a tiny, very old parcel of 200 years old vines that has a life and reputation of its own. Only 1 single barrel made of this very special wine.
Dinner brought together several British wine critics, an American negociant with a reputation in Bordeaux and Internationally as big as the Statue of Liberty, the two Bernard’s and some lost Romanians that made it together with me at the event. I hope my friends will not take any offense. 🙂
Dinner started in their living room with small finger food appetizers and a Magnum of 1975 Champagne Veuve Clicquot Carte d’Or Brut which at that moment in time was the highest quality level Champagne of Veuve Cliquot. La Grande Dame came into existence a few years later, around 1980. This was a surprisingly vibrant sparkling that naturally shade most of its bubbles by now, but filled with live acidity and a rich toffee caramel like nose and dense taste. Simply stunning. (94/100)
From this moment on, we were on thin ice. Olivier takes great joy from putting wine specialists and people from the trade into hot seats. I’m saying this in the most candid possible way as I have great sympathy and respect for this Gentleman.
We took our seats at the impeccably arranged table in a separate room and first flight of wines was served: two whites, similar color, completely different aromatic profiles. One was vivid and reminded of a well aged Riesling with a very clean nose of stone fruit, the other showed a more pronounced aging, a citrus dominated nose and not as clean or generous. The American negociant nailed what I believed to be a Riesling: it was a superb 1985 Puligny-Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive, a time when Domaine Leflaive was the pioneer of quality in white Burgundy. Outstanding quality at that village level. Second was Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1985, still alive but more of an aged man.
First red wine of the night was a first for me. The oldest wine I have ever tasted. Its color was not showing it, because there was still some medium ruby red next to the brick rim, while the nose was full of tertiary aromas. On the palate there was just a tiny, discreet pale of some dried red currant. Not necessarily something that you would enjoy as a whole bottle, but for what it was, it transcended time: 1925 Chateau Cos d’Estournel. It is not a wine I would recommend for acquisition, but if you would get the chance to find it at a good price, you should try it. Of course, it is more of a gamble as provenance is crucial, so if you feel adventurous follow your urge.
The second red served of the same flight showed a more intense presence of red fruit, but somehow didn’t seem to hold much better that the 1925. The 1955 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste was not the wine that other people reminded to be from other tastings as I was told. At this point nobody had any clues about these two wines.
New flight consisted of three wines and had several things in common, but for us being offered blind the most important was the vintage. As a start. Then came the origin and the actual wine producer itself.
Now I have to confess that I take great pride in being able to surprise the audience and, more importantly, the host the this lovely dinner that started to see me with different eyes from that moment on, when I nailed the best wine of the flight and probably the red of the dinner.
I do have to share with you the circumstances of this impressive – even for me – achievement. The first thing that I noticed was the color: having a 1955 before and knowing that 1965 was not a good vintage in Bordeaux – well I knew these wines were Bordeaux from their nose – I saw that based on the color and intensity of nose it was older than a 1985, and knowing we have only 5 ending vintage wines, it has to be a 1975. I got that confirmation from Olivier.
We eliminated the Right Bank as the originating appellations. So we were left with the Left Bank. Now there are several outstanding wines made in 1975 and we took out Pauillac as being one of the appellation of these wines. So the fact that I had some Leoville Las Cases several times in the past, gave me the upper hand to make a good impression for Romania: nailed the 1975 Chateau Leoville Las Cases. That felt good indeed.
1975 Chateau Leoville Las Cases is just a great wine. Still going strong on red fruit, it has cedar and pencil shavings freshness, very smooth and appealing on the palate. The other two wines were 1975 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge – it was the vintage when Olivier Bernard took over Domaine de Chevalier and it was the last vintage produced by the previous manager – and 1975 Chateau Cos d’Estournel. Cos d’Estournel showed more intensity and grip, while the Chevalier Rouge was just a pale shadow of once good wine.
Dessert came paired with two sweet wines. I did guess the vintage but not the appellation, nor the producers. Chateau Guiraud 1975 and 1975 Chateau Gilette ‘Creme de Tete’ – I said Barsac but they were both from Sauternes – were both nice, but Guiraud showed a fresher vibrant acidity and cleaner defined sweet caramel, saffron, orange and quince marmalade aromas. It was simply delicious.
This was an absolutely unique experience where everybody paid really close attention to wine for the whole dinner and the stirred discussions were the best case study you can do into the history of Bordeaux.
We were extremely fortunate to experience all these great wines because history shows that most successful vintages in Bordeaux ended in a 5. Rumor is this year’s dinner will be all about 6.