Mouton, La Chapelle and more: French classics

bottles I recently conducted a tutored wine tasting for a group of executives from the Scottish brewing industry, where the brief was to present a selection of wines that would be “amazing” and “unforgettable”. There was a nice budget to work with in choosing the five wines for the event, but still the challenge to make them “amazing” and “unforgettable” was on. I decided on a classic French theme, and here’s the line-up we ended up with:

The wines

Zind-Humbrecht, Gewürztraminer Herrenweg 2004, Alsace
Lovely golden hue to this wine, and a gorgeous nose combining lots of spices and smokiness with lychee and waxy mango-skin notes. On the palate the high alcohol (15% ABV) gives it a slippery, full texture, and an innate fruit ripeness and sweetness is immediately matched by a swathe of grapefruity acidity. Tremendously long and shimmering with flavour and acidity, the tropical fruit buts against the lime and pithy citrus, that note of spice again, in a gorgeous wine. 92/100. See all stockists on

Paul Jaboulet, Hermitage La Chapelle 1996, Rhône Valley
Decanted for one hour. The colour is deep ruby with a hint of brick. On the nose, leather and iron, quite deep and animal scents, and a slightly dank character that is not especially attractive. Glimpses of a floral fragrance flit in and out. On the palate the solidity of the wine surprises slightly. There’s a big, meaty density here, spicy on the lips and with a dark, earthy plum and cherry-skin grippiness. The texture is quite full, and the edge of acidity adds more to the solid feel of this wine. It might be a slight gamble as to how the fruit will hold against the structure over coming years. 90/100. See all stockists on

Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac 1er Cru 1989, Bordeaux
The wine was decanted, only to take it off its sediment. The colour is browning a little, with a red oxide overall hue but some ruby at the core. On the nose there is a gorgeously deep, truffle and game perfume, withal rich berry fruit and subtle Sandalwood notes. There’s a suggestion of real intensity. On the palate the wine has plenty of authority. It has a core of spicy tannin and lean, sinewy tannin and acidity, but there’s a richness to both texture and fruit flavour too. Spiced plums, tobacco and lots of concentration. A lovely Mouton, with seemingly time ahead of it too. 95/100. See all stockists on

Château La Tour-Blanche, Sauternes 1er Cru 1989, Bordeaux
The colour is a lovely burnished gold, but no sign of browning. Quite closed at first, the nose needs a little coaxing but begins to reveal lovely Botrytis character with a little earthy note, dried apricot, some fig and tobacco richness coming through. On the palate the wine is luxuriously full-bodied and voluminous, a rich glycerine coating the mouth and masses of pithy lemon and grapefruit adding a formidable core of structure. The weight of Botrytis and honeyed fruit is immense, in a wine that I suspect is a decade or more off its best. Outstanding stuff. 95/100. See all stockists on

Veuve-Clicquot, La Grande Dame 1998, Champagne
The evolution of this wine since I last tasted it on release a few years ago has been glacial. It has a pale golden colour, and pours with very fine bubbles. It is fine on the nose too, with gentle baked apple notes, some nuances of yeastiness and a lemony, youthful clarity. On the palate it is delicious: focused and pure, there are just hints of honey and creamy substance, but the fine mousse and citrus and apple freshness are what the wine is currently all about. There is good ripeness here and the copious acidity does not jar because of the quality of fruit and hints of more broad-based richness. No hurry to drink this. 93/100. See all stockists on

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