As fate would have it, I’m hobnobbing again in the realm of the rich and famous. Two weeks ago, I was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, only a few doors down from Bijan’s garishly yellow Rolls Royce, sampling high-end Cabernets. Then, last Friday, I’m rubbing elbows with the 0.0001% at the exclusive and swanky The Beverly Hills Hotel, where a Superior Bungalow Suite goes for $3,000/night. (Stayed two nights – charged it to The Signal.)
The Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, tasting the 2015 Vintage, drew me back to BH. Every year, almost two hundred of the more than 7,000 wineries in Bordeaux travel the USA and the world to premiere the vintage that is being released that year.
Just like Napa and Sonoma, Bordeaux is broken into numerous appellations. The best known are Pauillac, St. Julien, St. Estephe, Margaux, Pomerol, St. Emilion, Pessac Leognan, and Graves. Chateaux from all of these and others were present.
I’m not certain why, but the perception that a particular vintage is the “Best of the Century” seems to be happening more frequently than before. First, 1982 was the finest in decades, then came 2000 with rave reviews, followed by 2005 with similar accolades, then back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010 were the best ever. Now, folks are saying 2015 could approach the lofty prestige of 2009/2010.
These perceptions drive market price for the wine. Wine from prestige estates, like Haut Brion, can fluctuate by hundreds of dollars per bottle simply because of the vintage’s and the winery’s reputation. For example, in January of this year, at K&L Wines (a retailer with an active web-based auction program), a bottle of the 1999 Haut Brion (a 93 from Parker) sold for $360, while the 1989 (a Parker 100) went for $1,500 only a week later.
First, let me tell you the Sauternes and Barsac stickies (that’s what those in the trade call these world-famous dessert wines) shone, especially those from Guiraud and Suduiraut. Well made Sauterne wine is not in-your-face sweet. Rather they are balanced with acidity to present a treat that resembles a ripe apricot. Texture, viscosity, flavor, and aroma make for a delight, just like a fresh picked, tree ripened stone fruit. And these evolve over time in the bottle, where the light liquid morphs into caramel-toned and the sweetness drops back to allow the fruit to shine.
We started with the whites from Pessac-Leognan. Generally, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, Chateau Pape Clement adds in Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle. Pape Clement is always one of the stand-outs in this category. 2015 is no exception. Viscous (it layers the glass), the nose is tropical, with tastes of pear, citrus, and tart apple.
Domaine de Chevalier also offers a remarkable white, amazing and aromatic. Smells of baking spices with tastes of peach and honey, it’s a delight. Chevalier is always reliable. Two years ago when we tasted the 2013 vintage, my favorite was Chevalier.
Rounding out the finest white being poured (outside of Sauternes) was Ch. Smith-Haut-Lafitte. Very strong aromas, some tropical. This showed more stone and slate in the tastes, along with stone fruits. Expect any of these to run $100 or more. Great investment for drinking in fifteen years.
I was disappointed to find that Ch. Lynch Bages (one of the stars of the Pauillac region) was not pouring its white. Maybe next time.
In my next column, I’ll discuss the reds. Evaluating red Bordeaux challenges most critics. Tasting a wine so full of tannins with less than a year of bottle age, it’s tough to get behind the overwhelming impact of the wine dehydrating your mouth to discern the hidden structure to make great or mediocre wine.