Go on, describe love. Describe something that is so unique and so personal with words, and I will bet you can’t. You may come up with phrases like ‘cannot live without’, or ‘everything I could ever need’ but these are just words that describe views that you have. You can’t actually describe love. A similar experience happened to me in Edinburgh last week, when I tried to describe some of the wines from Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé.
Much like love, these wines generated such a lot of complex feelings, memories and emotions in me, they were bordering on impossible to describe, and if I tried, they sound ridiculous from a punter’s point of view! I know that wine appreciation should be personal, and I frequently describe claret as an old, dusty library, as it reminds me of my friend’s library in his own house, but each of these wines made me think of scenarios or people which are exceptionally personal. I needed help to analyse these wines, and to be honest, educate me. Fortunately, I was sitting with Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow and Jean-Luc Pepin of de Vogüé, and without their guidance, I may have still been languishing in confusion in the Michelin star restaurant, Number One in Edinburgh. Actually, I can think of worse places to be languishing….
I was there for a dinner with the great and the good of Scottish wine, retailers, sommeliers and restaurateurs were gathered with some of C&B’s private clients. I was presented with seven wines from this legendary producer, but they weren’t current release wines. Here were a group of older wines, some from good years, other from ‘challenging’ vintages, yet all – no exceptions – were phenomenal.
We started off with a pair of whites. The 1999 Bourgogne Blanc and the 1992 Musigny Blanc, of which Comte Georges de Vogüé are the only producer. Now these two wines are from the same vineyard, but where the Musigny was produced of fruit from vines planted just after the Second World War, the Bourgogne Blanc is from younger plantings from the late 1980’s, which are viewed as too young to go into their unique Musigny. In time these grapes will go over to the Musigny, but at the moment they declassify them and pop them into the Bourgogne Blanc.
And this 1999 wine was fantastic. It reminded me of my bed in winter. You get into bed and it is very unforgiving, cold and not what you want it to be. Then with time, it warms up and becomes a cosy, delightful experience, and this wine was exactly the same. Despite this wine’s initial silky aroma, soft hints of vanilla oak, floral too with herbal elements, it wasn’t showing the depth and warmth from the fruit that I wanted. An initial hint of alcohol, caressed with oak, and a very soft, pithy tropical fruit element made it a nice drink but not outstanding. With time in the glass and a bit of warmth, it developed a stunning rich honey aroma, with more oak coming out, and a pineapple and lime element. A lovely velvety texture came on the palate, with more sweet thyme and a gorgeous minerality. It really is a wine to get lost in, much like a nice warm bed, as you see it evolve more and more throughout an evening. A fantastic wine. 9/10
The 1992 Musigny is that warm bed from the start! It had a rich, marmalade aroma, with mango and old champagne leaping out of the glass. There was some pine resin, some rosemary and muted oregano coming out too. The palate was a stunning melody of fruit and a mouthful of elegant old flavours just mingling around one another, that made it difficult to pull them apart to describe. I managed to get pineapple peel, some citrus but mainly with a gorgeous savoury element and a wonderful slight tannin that surprised but was welcomed. At room temperature, it transformed to a honey texture with a warm prickle of alcohol that just reminds you that although this is an old wine, it is still youthful and has a bit (not a lot though) to go. This wine is so delightful, you just don’t want it to end, in the same way as come the morning, you really don’t want to get out of bed! 10/10
With the next course, we started with a 1990 Chambolle Musigny, a wonderful old wine, reminding me of a hug from a wrinkly old granny! A floral aroma coming off it (much like your granny) with old leather, coffee and a little menthol. The palate has an oriental spice and green chilli, with coffee bean and violets too and so perfectly balanced. 10/10 Much in the same way as there are secrets about your granny that you rarely discover (like she was a sleeper spy against the Nazi’s or something equally exciting), this wine has a secret. It is made with fruit from Musigny vines that are under 25 years old, but are declassified as they aren’t up to the standard of the Grand Cru wine.
The 2001 vintage of this wine is simply a younger version of the old granny! It shows the quality and the embracing nature of the older wine, just a bit more youthful. Lots of strawberry and raspberry fruit, spearmint and summer flower aromas, all leading onto a silky palate, light elements of leather and with nuances of tomato. An equally wonderful wine that just loses out to the 1990 because of its youth. 9/10
I get frustrated with the Bordeaux classification system (stay with me, dear reader, you will see where I’m going in a minute), not because it is massively out of date, but because people ‘boost up’ wines. I refer of course to the ‘super seconds’, the likes of Leoville las Cases and Ducru Beaucaillou that are considered better than their fellow second growths and have been dubbed the ‘B+’ category of Bordeaux. They may well be better than their contemporaries, but anyone who knows about wine will be aware of this fact, and the term ‘super seconds’, which sounds like a factory clearance shop, is, in my mind, a bit surplus to requirements.
However, when this next wine was described as “Super Premiere Cru”, I had to agree, in that the 1991 Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses does hit the Grand Cru level of quality. It starts off quite muted, but then it opens up into a melody of mint, cherries, raspberry and chocolate. A chunky palate, with spice and leather coming to the fore and then backed up by stone fruit and veggie flavours – definite green beans! It was a bigger, more powerful wine that showed qualities that are leagues above similarly rated wines, so the ‘super premiere cru’ rating is entirely just. 9/10
The next wine on the list was my favourite. Not because it was the most elegant, or the best, but because it was totally open, honest and allowed you to explore it, and get all the rewards from it. The 1990 Bonnes Mares Grand Cru was quite chunky, with lots of ripe berries, brambles and yet, an aroma of black tea and mint. It was, to quote Jean-Luc Pepin, and “extrovert” of a wine, quite showy, but after over analyzing the previous wines, a simple one to digest the merits of was exactly what I needed. The palate had lovely warm fruit, a touch of alcohol coming through, but lots of tannin and flavours that included coffee, stone fruit, bramble stalk and a tiny bit of chocolate. It was a very chewable wine, a thick texture, and the finish was sitting in your mouth for an age. A massive, generous wine. 9/10
Finally, as with most high end red Burgundy tastings, along came the Musigny. This Musigny was the 1999 Vieilles Vignes. Vogüé own 7.2 hectares of the 10.1 hectares that make up Musigny, and the 1999 was, by their admission, “a phenomenal year”. It was a super pretty wine, with a beautiful flower aroma, so pure, elegant and simple. But then the power comes through, dark berries, a stunning spice element, but even though it is powerful, it is delivered with a finesse so you don’t notice it, and reminded me of a vintage port being drunk at the perfect moment for this reason. At this point, I was having trouble analyzing this wine, so I just gave up and enjoyed perfection.
I know these wines are above most people’s price range, they certainly are mine! I also know that I’m privileged to be able to not only sample these wines, but do so free of charge, and, if we were to believe Robert Parker, my opinion would therefore be tarnished by the fact that I would feel obliged to score these wines highly as I’d been wined and dined by Corney & Barrow.
I know this not to be the case, as I’ve slated plenty of freebies in the past, but in situations like this, when you are presented with a range of outstanding wines, it is difficult to sound impartial and objective. I had a great night, with great company – that is what I am obliged to Corney & Barrow for.
My views on the wines, however, are not bias as they would have been legendary if I’d drunk them with chicken nuggets.