Yquem, Mouton, Lafite, Cheval Blanc, Grange and more

A tasting that was probably the most ambitious (and most expensive) public tasting event ever held in Glasgow. It featured all the Bordeaux first growths, superstar of St-Emilion Cheval Blanc, Penfolds Grange and their new cult wine, Bin 42, plus the glorious ’89 Yquem to finish.

Since these wines cost at least £100 (US$160) per bottle – several well over £200 – it was an occasion on which to try not to be overawed, but to stay relatively detached and receptive to what was actually in the glass not what was on the label.

Not all the wines were the greatest vintages for the particular Château, but the line-up included some truly great examples and Parker 100 point wines. On the whole, it was just a fabulous experience.

These are not “easy” wines: they are complex, powerful, often in need of time, and in need of some context in which to judge them. Of the reds, the Margaux ’96 and Grange were my favourites, a notch up on the wonderful Haut-Brion ’88 and lovely Latour ’89. The Yquem is stunning.

The Wines

Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac, 1st growth 1983 – £135.99
The colour is a very dark, solid ruby with a warm amber rim. The nose on this wine is just sensational. Big, sweet, vegetal fruit with deeply scented blackcurrant aromas emerging as well as baked plums and a background of cedar wood. The palate is just a little lean. The tannins are very, very grippy with quite high acidity too and the whole effect is very drying with fruit not showing through to give real integration and balance. Many tasters thought this too young from the grip of the tannins and the quite youthful colour. That may well be right, but I have tasted all the other 1st growth ’83s and the super-seconds and since these are without exception already mature, I just have a niggling doubt whether this will come good in the many years it still needs to shed those ferociously grippy tannins. Wonderful nose, but just a little worrying on the palate – though I could well be proved wrong.

Château Cheval Blanc, St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé 1988 – £139.99
Moderately dense ruby lightening at rim but not browning. Gloriously sweet nose with masses of cedary wood and pencil-shavings. The fruit is extremely rich on the nose with little violet scents and red berries. Lovely ripeness. The palate is quite rich and spicy, but the fruit is very sweet, even a touch jammy. There’s a mass of leafy tobacco flavour that shows towards the finish and some lean, sinewy tannins take hold. Good concentration and a lovely though not profound wine.

Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, 1st growth 1988 – £129.99
Very dark ruby red, quite intense even crimson-tinged. Nose needs more work than previous two wines but really lovely scents emerge: flowery violet notes, game and wood-smoke and a lovely streak of minerality. On the palate it is very savoury, very dense and liquoricy with fine grippy tannins and good acidity. The fruit is all there and is very concentrated and rich if rather submerged at present. There is smoke, tobacco and olives and a twist of liquorice in the long finish. Excellent and with terrific potential.

Château Latour, Pauillac, 1st growth 1989 – £164.99
Very rich, dark crimson core that is ruby at the rim. A youthful colour. Nose is ripe and meaty with a mass of dusty, olive and blackcurrant fruit. A nicely vegetal quality. Palate is quite full and the fruit is ripe with rich tannins that are sweet and deep. There is an edge of plum-skin bitterness and acidity that gives lovely balance. A nice sense of roundness too with sweet vanillin oak showing up in a long, harmonious finish. Lovely wine, though fiercely expensive.

Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, 1st growth 1990 – £159.99
Very dark crimson black, just lightening and dulling on rim. Massive charred oak and coffee-bean nose that is toasty and dark. Beneath is some good, rich blackcurrant and plum fruit and a tobacco note. It is very chewy and savoury on the palate but much of its sweet and sour appeal seems to be from oak: the fruit is actually a little dilute and the finish is just a mouthful of sweet cappucino and toast. An immensly mouth-flattering and utterly delicious wine that’s a joy to drink, but I wouldn’t like to bet on its balance in a few years time.

Château Margaux, Margaux, 1st growth 1996 – £159.99
Intense, dark, purple/black with a hint of light at rim. Beautifully sweet and concentrated, powerful nose with aromas of ripe cherry, blackcurrant and vanilla. It is rich and cedary too with earthy flavours and little notes of incense and violets. The palate is ripe, full and concentrated with bags of cinammon and clove spice, leather, tobacco and fine, ripe but grippy tannins. There are deep seams of fruit in this wine and wonderful balance and complexity finishing long and mellowed by toasty vanillin oak. A great wine and built for development – I know where my £160 would go between this and the previous wine.

Penfolds Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 – £79.99
Deep, deep purple/black. Opaque. Massive, high, lifted, pure and concentrated nose. All that eucalyptus, dusty blue/black fruit and minty super-ripe intensity is very classy Australian. A slick of spicy vanilla from generous new oak too of course. The palate is just as huge and concentrated with a tremendous density of texture and weight of blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. Tannins are very sweet and creamy and the full, long finish goes on forever. Terrific stuff.

Penfolds Grange 1983 – £180.00
Fantastically dark, dense and opaque colour for the year. Gorgeous ripe fruit on the nose with that savoury, leathery cedar-wood character this wine develops with bottle age. Very appealing. There’s still a fantastic super-ripeness of fruit – very sweet and dusty black fruits and brown sugar – and first class concentration. On the palate all elements are beautifully integrated and there’s lots of oak, blackcurrant, orange, spice and coffee. Long, focused and lovely. Plenty of time ahead of it too.

Château d’Yquem, Sauternes, Premier Cru Supérieur 1989 – £169.99
I’ve tasted this wine half a dozen times over the past 4 years or so since release. The colour is a surprisingly deep, glowing amber/gold – deeper than I recall. The dazzlingly aromatic nose seems to have clamped down a little, showing oak, fig and caramel and a little botrytis honey. A touch maderised perhaps? The palate displays much fresher flavours and a wonderful unctuous texture. Figgy fruit, very dark, very intense, with butterscotch and toffee, marmalade and honey. In the glass it really develops. Unexpected glimpses of mint, lime, peach kernel and peach. Wonderful length and purity of finish with the complex package of components persisting for minutes in the mouth. Superb.