Cleaning Out the Cupboard: Bordeaux 1943-2020


I taste a lot of wine. Some bottles are old, covered in a thick layer of dust, and others are infants or gawky adolescents. Many tasting notes are neatly corralled into verticals for standalone pieces, offering deep dives into a producer. Sometimes they share a birth year and enlighten us on how a vintage is developing: Who are the standouts, and who is falling off the pace? Bottles are poured at dinners, fodder for Vinous Tables. Some memorable bottles are singled out for the Cellar Favorites column. Every bottle has a tale to tell, and often, the older the bottle, the longer the story.

Many bottles appear randomly or are simply drunk at home. There is a misconception that we professional wine writers do not buy wine or crack open a bottle to share with family and friends. I cannot think of any professional who does not enjoy wine socially, like anyone else. The passion that begat a career never wanes, however well-known or influential you might become. While I have cut down consumption, there’s always a bottle (or two) on the go in my household, as my overflowing recycling bin proves. It’s a wonder that the bin-men have not notified alcoholic anonymous.

Since long before I became a wine writer, I have diligently chronicled practically every wine, as anyone who has witnessed me scribbling throughout dinner will attest. These notes accrete on a spreadsheet, and as weeks and months go by, the list gets larger and larger, save for a handful that might slot into verticals. After a while, I end up with a gallimaufry of tasting notes that begin protesting exactly when they will see the light of day. It’s just a question of finding time to tackle the backlog.

So, here we are. These tasting notes are linked only by region and taster, a majority over the last 18 months. They stretch from wartime veterans to recently bottled, from legendary First Growths to obscure minnows. This esoterica embraces bottles that flirt with perfection to others that rapidly fill the spittoon. Nothing demonstrates this “beauty and the beast” scenario more than when I cheekily proffered a 1965 Poujeaux that I found rummaging around the best region to forage old claret…Burgundy. Paradoxically, you hardly ever see the 1965 vintage because the season was so awful; ergo, any wines were drunk or poured down the sink in disgust. Anyway, the dinner’s theme was wines beginning with “P”, so why not mix it up and have some fun? I didn’t expect that it was poured blind against a pristine 1959 Lafite-Rothschild direct from the château. The pairing left an entire table flummoxed, two bottles at either end of the qualitative spectrum. The Poujeaux wasn’t undrinkable…but two or three sips were enough to sate curiosity.

Beauty and the beast. Not because of the châteaux in question, but rather, how the chips fell in the 1959 and 1965 vintages.

Some bottles come out of nowhere. I was just about to go to bed after a long and thoroughly enjoyable Burgundy-themed dinner at La Pyramide when the sommelier disappeared into their famous cellar and returned with a bottle of 1943 Domaine de Chevalier. Suffice it to say, my head touched the pillow an hour later than planned. What I like the most are left-field bottles, unfamiliar names, pertinent reminders that longevity is not the reserve of aristocratic Grand Cru Classés or revered vintages. How about the magnum 1971 Saint Bonnet that lit up a dinner table in Beaune or the 1980 Moulin de Carruades, the erstwhile moniker for Lafite-Rothschild’s second wine? Neither would cost much money. Both were timeworn yet vivacious wines that put a smile on your face. That’s the forgotten strength of Bordeaux: You can wander back through the years willy-nilly and stub your toe against hidden gems. No other region in the world touches Bordeaux in that respect, not even the Côte d’Or. More recently, the 1985 L’Evangile encapsulated everything I adore about Pomerol, while the half-bottle of 1994 Haut-Bailly, to quote my own note, deserved a polite round of applause. If you desire something young and fruity, then why not one of the delicious 2018 Ségla or 2019 Deyrem Valentin?

Publishing these notes fills in a few gaps in the database or updates existing ones. More importantly you could feasibly find many of these clarets, even the oldest ones, if you look hard enough on merchants’ lists and especially in mixed lots that appear in auctions. Wine lovers are waking up to the fact that as Burgundy prices rise beyond many's purses, much of Bordeaux has become a comparative bargain, including multiple wines in this report.

I’m packing another mature Poujeaux with at least half a century on the clock for a dinner tonight. I cannot guarantee where the note will be published.

Maybe, a Poujeaux vertical?

A Vinous Table?

Perhaps the next time I get around to cleaning out the cupboard? 

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