Cazes “Château Haut-Bages Averous” 2004 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Deep, dark fruit…really more black cherries and blackberries than anything in the currant family…with layers of satiny texture. There is, blessedly, a feuilleté of tobacco and cedar floating around in there somewhere. I can say this is recognizably Bordeaux and really very good, but the current state thereof has to be considered for context; I’m not sure this is what fans of the ultra-traditional are looking for. I think, though, that it’s got as good a chance as many modern wines to approach that state at some point in the future. Or maybe I’m wrong about that. Either way, it’s an impressive, muscular, but not overtly steroidal wine at the moment, and even if that’s all it ever achieves, it’s not so bad. I can say this with more equanimity because I have no idea what this costs, and would probably prefer to not find out. (11/10)
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1988 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Tobacco ash and gravel with a light dusting of pepper and the scent of dried roses. Still quite structured, of course, but showing really fine balance and just enough suggestions of maturity that it’s worth an experimental sampling. (5/10)
Rothschild “Clerc Milon” 1992 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – A beautiful, though somewhat restrained, nose of tobacco and brown earth rolls from the glass, promising more than the palate can honestly deliver. The wine is definitely hanging on to the end of its maturity curve with a certain conviction, but other than (mostly)-resolved structure, the palate adds little not already delivered by the nose. This is a great pleasure to drink, certainly, but it’s not the sort of thing Bordeaux lovers will be talking about on their death bed. (1/08)
(The original version is here.)
26 March 2006 – Thionville, Illange & Uckange, France
Frédèrique & Jean-Marie Burger’s house – Lunch with the relatives. Always casual. Always fun. Today, it’s pot au feu, and we soon join the family in deciding that potatoes swimming in broth are the best part of the meal. Ah, the cuisine légère of Lorraine…
Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Yes, it’s non-vintage. Light, crisp red cherry with lots of acid and minerals at the foundation. This functions more like a white wine with red fruit aromas than it does an actual red or rosé. It’s only just OK, but it’s probably better than the vast majority of Alsace pinot noirs that result from significantly more effort.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – As is typical whenever I bring a domestic wine to France, the weight and heat are commented upon (negatively) by the natives. And maybe it’s the setting or the context, but this does come off just a touch hotter than usual: there’s strong leather, blueberry, black pepper, and a touch of sweet Scotch lounging in Sherry wood. It’s rather forceful, sure, but there’s good acid and a succulent juiciness that keep it tasty. I also note that, despite their reservations, my family guzzles it down.
We follow lunch with a walk around the old German fortifications on the small hill that crowns Illange.
Gaston & Claude Schwender’s house – Drinks with the relatives. More formal, more “classic” French. And also tinged with sadness, because these relatives are older and can’t really host meals anymore…which is a particular shame, as a lot of my formative French experiences were at this family’s table. Perhaps more relevantly, many of my most revelatory wine experiences were from Gaston’s cellar. Now, he can’t drink much (doctor’s orders), she can’t drink at all (ditto), and matters have reached the point of slow but inexorable decay. Loss is always with us, isn’t it?
Roederer 1997 Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne) – Intensely fresh lemon, ripe apple and yeast with sharp acidity and pulses of greater complexity and weight around a spherical, icy core. Striking.
Patricia & Bruno Fratini’s house – Dinner with friends (and relatives, who’ve been invited to join us). More great food, more wine. But I’ve reached the point where the smoke wears on me, and thus I start losing interest in the French that surrounds me; an interest I need to follow well enough to participate. Thankfully, there’s more music on the overhead projection screen; this time, a mix of seventies Americana (mostly the Eagles) and the always-entertaining Alain Bashung.
Louis Violland 1999 Pommard “La Pierre du Roy” (Burgundy) – Rough, sweaty and slightly athletic, with wild cherry, blackberry and light earth. It brightens with aggressive swirling. Nonetheless, it remains a somewhat surly wine, with its rough edges unfiled.
Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1997 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Cedar chest and fresh cassia with pine. It smells like Christmas. It’s also fairly tight, but swirling brings out some aromatics and more complexity, and the wine is probably just about to re-emerge in a burst of blackcurrant fruit. The finish is a bit of a sine wave that one must catch at zenith. This is a pretty good effort from a difficult vintage.
Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Take two. And in this company, much stranger and less appealing than before: fish and crushed minerality with skin bitterness and a flat finish. Moral: drink it first, then move on to better things.