À la Recherche du Temps Grand Cru

Posted by Botrytis in Wines August 19, 2015

My first experience of fine wine was a Bordeaux. I can’t have been much more than 10 years old, and my family were visiting French friends in Brittany. My enduring memories of that holiday are all taste related. Fresh crab and lobster caught from our friend’s boat was the beginning of my long standing loathing of any shellfish bigger than a prawn, and the milk on my cornflakes tasted funny. I was, in short just a typical 10 year old confronted with the flavours of a different culture, and so far as lobster is concerned, I still am.

Our French friend was also a considerable wine enthusiast and had an extensive cellar dedicated to red Bordeaux. His only concession to white wine was a small quantity of Cru Classé Sauternes. I can’t tell you exactly what the wine was that I was allowed a sip of, other than it was a (no doubt excellent) Pauillac. I remember the smell of it (10 year old me wouldn’t have used the terms bouquet or aroma) was sweet and floral and spicy, and that I liked it. But the taste didn’t do much for me at all. Too dry. Too bitter. Made my mouth feel furry. Almost as bad as the milk. (Sauternes on the other hand I got straight off - you could have put that on ten year old me’s cornflakes with no problems.)

Red Bordeaux is definitely a wine for the grown ups. It isn’t particularly easy or obvious. It doesn’t wear it’s heart on it’s sleeve like a wine from the Southern Rhône or Australia. It requires a little bit of concentration to appreciate.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been seduced by these ‘easier’ wines in recent years. Vacqueyras and Gigondas from the Rhône, blockbusters from the Mclaren Vale and Argentinian Malbecs; all have given me enormous pleasure. But just lately, I’ve been getting the urge to spend more time with Claret.

Maybe it’s an age thing, just like I find myself listening to more Radio 3 than I used to, in preference to BBC 6Music. Maybe I am becoming more refined, and seeking out the more precise and structured. Maybe I’m just becoming an old fart.

Maturity is certainly a consideration with Bordeaux (note the seamless segue), as I found with my two most recent Claret purchases:

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I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Château Tour Pibran. The estate was born in the early 20th century, too late for it to classed a Grand Cru, but it certainly boasts illustrious neighbours in Pontet-Canet and the mighty Mouton Rothschild. Merlot plays a much more significant role in its make-up than most Pauillac, making it more supple and approachable than is usual in the Commune.

On the nose, I was cast back to being ten years old again. Dark berry fruits interlaced with notes of vanilla, cedarwood and cinnamon. Still youthful (2010 is a vintage built to last),and not especially concentrated in character, but complex and poised. The palate was balanced with well integrated tannins (though 10 year old me would have no doubt felt differently). At about £28 it was an expensive bottle for me, but you could taste the class in every sip.

Château d'Escurac was unfamiliar to me, but at £19 for a 2002 Medoc Cru Bourgeois, a temptation hard to resist. 2002 was not an outstanding year for Red Bordeaux, certainly not in the same league as 2010. But a little research on the internet reassured me that d’Escurac is an over-performing Cru Bourgeois, and sticking my nose into a glass of it confirmed that the wine was still very much a going concern. The quality of wine that has spent considerable time in the bottle, is hard to define. In wine-speak, the wine takes on secondary characteristics, beyond those of a purely fruity/woody/herbaceous nature (primary notes). In the D’Escurac, this was expressed as notes of ‘new leather wallet’ and mocha, complimenting the deep plummy notes of the primary fruit. Age had also softened the wine and given it a beautiful brick red hue. All in all, very satisfying, and the general consensus of those partaking, was that it just pipped the pricier Pibran, even amongst the hardened Pauillac-philes. A surprise result, but, I suspect that the placings would be reversed given another 5 years.

Which means in the end we plumped for the softer, rounder, easier wine. Perhaps I’m not so grown up after all…


Tagged: bordeaux Botrytis French Wine Sweet Wine

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