Bordeaux 1961 – a once in a lifetime tasting

This was one extraordinary tasting. Rarely in the 21st century can such an array of wines from 1961, arguably the greatest vintage of the 20th century, have been assembled in one tasting. For many wine lovers, the chance to taste one classed growth Bordeaux from this fabled year would be a dream come true, but here we were faced with 20 of them.


The tasting was organised by wine-pages regular Keith Prothero, in aid of the Pebbles charity in South Africa, of which he is a major supporter. Keith had gathered the wines together over the course of a year, buying from merchants and at auction, assembling a starry cast that included the 1961s from Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc and Trotanoy amongst others. Single bottles of a couple of these wines go for £2,000-plus. There was some sublime drinking here, and one or two of the wines join the ranks of my all-time great wine experiences. But you will also note a number of disappointments too. The fact is that 46 years on, even some of the great wines of 1961 are fading and past their best, and of course, the way they have been stored over five decades will hugely influence the condition of individual bottles. Still, what an experience…

Flight 1

Château Loudenne, Médoc (Cru Bourgeois)
Very sweet fruit here, positively jammy and ripe, with a hint of coffee. Quite simple on the palate, with the fruit sweetness continuing, though not a lot of complexity or structure to support it. Rather short too, but fruit has lasted and this is enjoyable in a modest way. 87. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Flight 2 – Margaux

Château Cantemerle, Margaux (5th growth)
From magnum. Slightly muddied and attenuated. Some herbal tones and a rather thin, weedy palate. There is a bit of length here, but not a good bottle. 86. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Giscours, Margaux (3rd growth)
Lovely sense of clarity and crispness here for the first time, with a really bright red fruit quality showing through. Some meaty and earthy notes, but also glimpses of a little Margaux perfume. Palate too is crisp, with cherry acidity keeping it quite crisp. Although not without breadth and a bit of spice and warmth, this is pretty lightweight stuff, without huge complexity or flesh on it. Lovely all the same. 89. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Lascombes, Margaux (2nd growth)
Another very nice Margaux nose here, with god red fruits, a little more solid and meaty than the Giscours, with a bit of gamy and truffly character. Palate has good fruit, with a cedary character coming through and a bit of staying power and depth through the mid palate. Structured wine this, with some firm tannins and acidity adding an edge. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux (2nd growth)
Slightly dirty, sweaty nose that’s a bit off-putting, though fruit comes through. Better on the palate, with a bit of racy, keen structure and decent fruit. Has decent length, but that aromatic profile not my favourite. 88. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Margaux, Margaux (1st growth)
A sense of composure and elegance here, with a nice Margaux perfume of red berry and cherry fruit, a little hint of plush blackcurrant and a touch of game. The palate is a touch lean, but it is composed and focused, with some layers of earthy and vegetal notes. Has a bit of depth and decent structure, though not a million miles ahead of other Margaux in this flight. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Flight 3 – Right Bank & Graves

Château La Tour du Pin Figeac, St.-Emilion (Grand Cru Classé)
Big, plush, fruity and fruitcakey wine with a flattering, full nose. Palate has plenty of oomph, though it is a touch coarse perhaps, with firm tannins and not a lot of flesh. A good wine though, and decent balance into a moderately long finish. 89. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Cheval Blanc, St.-Emilion (1er Grand Cru Classé)
Very maderised, with huge sweetness but burnt, oxidised and unpleasant notes. Very much out of condition. Not fair to score this bottle really. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Haut-Brion, Graves (1st growth)
Slightly silagey and dank, with a fairly funky character that suggests a bit of spoilage of some sort. A bit better on the palate, with glimpses of sweet fruit and a finer structure. Another fairly poor condition old bottle. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Trotanoy, Pomerol
At last in this flight a much more composed, cleaner and characterful nose, with good, ripe black fruit and some of the plummy, chocolaty depth I’d hope for. There’s a touch of brett, but it doesn’t spoil it. The palate has tight, sinewy, muscular tannins, with a certain leanness and liquoricy grip that suggests this might just need more time to be at its best. It has the fruit. Returning to this after an hour it had started to take on a much more obviously bretty, dank note, so a hard one to call. Still, 93. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Flight 4 – St.-Estèphe & Pauillac

Château Cos d’Estournel, St.-Estèphe (2nd growth)
Lovely wine, with really classic, classy claret nose of black fruit, cedar and a nice earthiness. A touch of minerality too in a very attractive profile. On the palate this is structured and racy, with good fruit and quite supple tannins. Perhaps a touch drying and lean, but has quality and length still. 93. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Batailley, Pauillac (5th growth)
Slightly dank and weedy, with a sickly aroma spoiling the nose and a flat, dull palate There’s a decent wine in there, but not a good showing. 86. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac (5th growth)
Very sweet, almost minty cassis fruit with cedar and a bloody earthiness. Very forward and attractive, but also bright and clear. On the palate the fruit quality doesn’t quite follow through, but this has decent structure, fruit and nice lean but supple tannins, which, with a crisp acidity, makes for very good drinking. Bags of fruit sweetness right through to the finish. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Pichon-Longueville, Baron, Pauillac (2nd growth)
Haunting, classic pencil shaving, black fruit and slightly bloody character. Lovely finesse and classic dimensions here. On the palate quite lean and sinewy, with a strict core of tannin and acidity hung on a fairly austere framework, but all very nicely framed and a wine drinking very nicely indeed. Very proper stuff. 92. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Latour, Pauillac (1st growth)
Real presence on the nose here, with all sorts of layered nuances of coffee, meat and game over very nice black fruits. There is a cedary, polished old wood quality, but this has life and a sense of vivid life about it that some others have lost. The palate stays just as harmonious, with really solid fruit and a mouthfilling presence. Again, a wine that perhaps has life ahead of it, with really good balance, and a core of tannin and acids that supports clean, pristine fruit. Not perhaps the layered complexity I would have ultimately hoped for from this legendary wine, but an outstanding experience and wine of the tasting so far. 96. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Flight 5- St.-Julien

Château Léoville-Poyferré, St.-Julien (2nd growth)
Big, forward, flattering fruit on the nose with plenty of cassis and pencil shaving, and a real sense of ripeness. Very nice wine this, very forward and alluring. On the palate it doesn’t quite follow through on the promise. Although there is good fruit and a sense of elegance, it lacks a bit of flesh and plumpness now, but has balance and is a satisfying wine. Not disappointing. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Léoville-Barton, St.-Julien (2nd growth)
At first this seemed quite backward and reticent compared to Léoville Poyferré, but a classic structure starts to emerge, with fruit and cedary oak and a sense of minerality coming through. The palate is fine too, with a polished appeal of black fruits, cherryish, quite bright acidity, and very nice, fine tannin structure. A lot more austere and “correct” than the Poyferré, though lacking a little of its charm. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Gruaud-Larose, St.-Julien (2nd growth)
A touch of typical Gruaud perfume, with blood and game and a touch of a bretty, animal note. Good black fruit too, and a real sense of sweetness to the fruit here once you start to work the glass a little. On the palate no fireworks, but I do like the fruit here, and the polished tannins and that earthy, warming, quite coffeeish background fills in. Good acid structure, in a very polished wine. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Château Léoville-Las-Cases, St.-Julien (2nd growth)
Reticent at first, with classic tones of ripe, polished blackcurrant fruit and a nice earthy, truffly background, There is clarity here, and polish, with some pencil shaving and a sense of mineral elegance. On the palate this wine revealed itself slowly over the course of an hour, getting better each time as the fruit seemed to solidify on the mid-palate, giving it flesh and charm to add to its obvious structure. 92. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Flight 5 – Sauternes

Château Climens, Sauternes (1er Cru)
Elegant, light, floral touches with lemon and lime zest notes and some really good Botrytis with honey and a touch of barely sugar. On the palate fairly light, but has good sweetness and quite a lot of elegance, despite the alcohol being quite prominent. Balanced and fairly lightweight maybe, but lots of charm here and a very nice wine indeed. Delightful. 91. Find stockists on wine-searcher

Several thousand pounds was raised by Keith Prothero and the attendees at this unique event, all of it going to the Pebbles charity. A huge vote of thanks to Keith and all involved.

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