1865 Giscours


I don’t know the record for the oldest bottle in Cellar Favorites, but this must be a contender. It certainly ranks as one of the oldest bottles of Claret that I have drunk, and I should point out that it was drunk, not tasted. This note is parsed from a forthcoming article recounting the bottles that accompanied a series of dinners celebrating the publication of my book. Since it is so unique in terms of maturity, I felt it deserved time in the spotlight as a Cellar Favorite, notwithstanding that I could delve a little deeper into its background. The bottle was served blind, hence the palpable anticipation as the sommelier poured the mysterious wine for about a dozen guests.

This bottle predates phylloxera, which reared its ugly head in Bordeaux around 1878, so the vines were planted on their roots instead of grafted onto American rootstock. The 1865 vintage is esteemed as one of the pinnacles of the 19th century. Michael Broadbent advises in his Vintage Wine tome that it was an abundant crop picked early from September 6 and that the wines immediately achieved high prices. However, André Simon is more lukewarm in reception, describing it as “quite a good vintage.” In his book, Vintagewise, he opines: “The 1865s never came up to the standard of the 1864s, and Professor George Saintsbury ignores them completely, but there were some most delightful 1865s which lasted remarkably well.” This is only the second bottle I have encountered from this fabled vintage. An 1865 First Growth, tasted eons ago, will feature in an article later this year (and it wasn’t even the oldest vintage).

Giscours’ owner at that time is rather complex. Jean-Pierre Pescatore, a Luxembourg-born businessman whose family made its fortune importing tobacco, bought the estate in 1847. In 1855, Pescatore left an estimated fortune of 15 million Francs that became the subject of an inheritance dispute. As that trundled on, fortunately, he had hired renowned Polish régisseur Pierre Skawinski who ensured the winemaking did not suffer during this unsettled period. This bottle had been reconditioned at the estate in 2003, which vouchsafed its authenticity.

At first, the 1865 Giscours has noticeable volatility on the nose, quite spirituous, yet it coheres and manifests precocious red fruit laced with blood orange and fresh fig that defy antiquity. Ultimately, it ends up pure and alluring, not powerful but with ineffable transparency. The palate has a remarkable sweet core of red fruit and seamless tannins. It’s a Margaux befitting one of the great vintages of the 19th century. Lightly spiced on the elegant finish, it remarkably articulates the Margaux appellation even after all this time. My inclination is that this bottle was likely to have been topped up with a younger Giscours at the time of reconditioning, yet it remains a remarkable time-defying Margaux. 95/Drink 2023-2033.

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