The Whirlwind at Domaine Stephane Ogier: Tasting Cote Rotie lieu-dits

Stéphane Ogier is something of a whirlwind. He greeted us when we arrived at the winery, while simultaneously sending out a delivery of a few cases, and saying goodbye to a large group who had just had lunch and a tasting. Originally his parents had a winery in the village, but Stéphane built a striking winery in contemporary style on the main road between Ampuis and Condrieu 2013. The ground floor includes a spacious tasting room, and there’s a vast winery underneath.

The new winery has a striking design.

Stéphane spent five years studying viticulture and oenology in Burgundy, and then returned home to join the domain in 1997. “That is why great Burgundy, along with Rhônes, are my preferred red wines,” he says. Michel Ogier had sold his grapes to Chapoutier and Guigal until 1983, when he started to bottle his own wine from his tiny 3 ha vineyard in Côte Rôtie. One of Stéphane’s main objectives was to increase the estate to a more economic size, and he added vineyards in several lieu-dits in Côte Rôtie, now totaling 11 ha, and at La Rosine just above Côte Rôtie, as well as planting Syrah farther up the river at Seyssuel, and acquiring a hectare in Condrieu.

Tasting here is an extended process, as the focus is on barrel samples from Stéphane’s many different lieu-dits in Côte Rôtie, all of which are vinified and aged separately. It’s the way par excellence to understand the different terroirs and the basis for making individual wines versus blends. You really get a sense of the variety within Côte Rôtie. At the end, you feel you are almost ready to start blending…

IGP La Rosine comes from the plateau above Côte Rôtie; rich and plush, it offers a foretaste of the Côte Rôtie. IGP L’Âme de Soeur comes from Seyssuel and is more mineral. The Côte Rôtie Reserve is a blend from 10 lieu-dits. There are four single-vineyard wines. “There are no Grand Crus in Côte Rôtie, but I have mine—they are the cuvées of Belle Hélène, Lancement, and Côte Blonde,” Stéphane says. Viallière has also been a single-vineyard release since 2015. Other lieu-dits may be bottled separately depending on the year.

Lots are variously destemmed or fermented as whole bunches. Viallière is elegant, Côte Blonde is rounder with slightly lifted aromatics (it includes 5% Viognier), Lancement is broader and may age longer, and Belle Hélène, from 80-year old vines, is the most complete and subtle. All wines age in barriques, with 1-year to 6-year old barriques for the Côte Rôties, but the only cuvée showing obvious oak is Belle Hélène. The approach is modern, showcasing elegance and purity of black fruits. “Elegant” appears often in my tasting notes.

The wines mature slowly. When you taste the 2010 and can still see the tannins, you think the current vintages must be brutal, but not atall. Tannins seem, for example, to be quite similar in their impression on the finish in 2015 and 2010. Stéphane says it is best to wait 10 years to start, and 15 years for a great vintage.

2018 barrel samples from Côte Rôtie lieu-dits

Besset: nice aromatic lift with chocolaty impressions on nose. Very fine on palate, quite precise, greater precision and breed than La Rosine. Very fine, silky tannins, very elegant, sense of purity to the black fruits enhancing the sense of precision. All destemmed.

Mont Lys: very fine, precise, linear, not quite the breed of Besset, relatively lighter, more sense of linearity, not so profound. This is a wine to blend.

Montmain: chocolaty impression to nose, fine but rounder than Besset or Mont Lys, chocolaty at first, but then a sense of minerality grips the palate. Whole bunch.

Côte Boudin: comes from the lower slopes, all destemmed. More coffee than chocolate on nose, soft impression on palate, furry tannins, showing a touch of bitterness at end. Moving towards floral impressions although whole bunch.

Fonjeant: chocolaty nose moves to become slightly tart and then palate shows faintly acid edge. Partially destemmed, this will bring freshness to the blend.

Champon: always the last parcel to harvest. Very fine impression here points to potential delicacy. Quite tight, tannins fine but a little bitter, Very good acidity. This will really bring freshness.

Lancement: one parcel here goes to the separate cuvée, the others go into the general Côte Rôtie. All destemmed. Tight impression to nose, follows to palate, delicate impression, but less floral than Boudin. Precise impression, the most Burgundian, the most lingering finish, moving in a savory direction.

Côte Blonde: faintly chocolaty, faintly acidic, very fine, a chocolate edge, sense of coffee at the end, more evident aromatic lift. This will be fragrant as it ages. This has 5% Viognier, which explains the aromatic lift.

Belle Hélène: gives the most complete impression on the nose, with some delicate aromas of vanillin, hints of coffee and spice, very fine granular texture. This will be very elegant. Solely Syrah but 80 years old, planted by Stéphane’s grandfather.

 

 

 

 

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Playing Russian Roulette with the First Growths

At a wine dinner with Bordeaux first growths from 1985 to 1996, the big surprise was not the quality of the wines, but the huge variation between different bottles of the same wine. Although in each case the wines had been acquired from the same source and stored together, there was not a single instance in which two bottles of the same wine tasted the same.

The 1985 Haut Brion was the greatest puzzle. The first bottle showed a funky, quasi-medicinal nose, which seemed to suggest the possibility of Brett (unlikely though that might seem for this château), although the palate cleared a bit in the glass. It was actually subtle enough that I quite liked it. The second bottle went completely in the opposite direction, showing elegant fruits, but a squeaky-clean character with  that came close to eviscerating the character of Haut Brion.

Next came Angelus 2003. (Yes, I know this was not a first growth at the time, but the organizers evidently took a broad view of the term. Anyway, you wouldn’t balk at including Mouton Rothschild pre-1973 in a first growth tasting.) First bottle was fairly restrained, with rather flat aromatics, and the character of Cabernet Franc pushed a bit into the background. It never came to life. A second bottle showed more aromatic lift with a greater sense of structure at the end. A third bottle showed a more exotic impression, more sense of the precision of Cabernet Franc, with heightened sense of elegance; the very antithesis of any thought that the heat of 2003 might have given a jammy wine, it was one of the more elegant wines of the evening, while the first bottle was one of the most disappointing.On to Mission Haut Brion 1990, where the first bottle was absolutely true to the typicity of the chateau and appellation, with elegant fruits and faint sense of cigar box in the background. The next bottle showed flattened aromatics to the point at which all the life seemed to go out of the wine. While the first bottle was fabulous, the second was merely ordinary.

We went into high gear with Ausone 1996, where the aromatics of the first bottle seemed to point more to the elegance of the left bank than the richness of the right bank. Beautifully integrated, with a sense of seamless layers of flavor, the wine showed something of the ethereal quality of a great vintage of Lafite. A second bottle had a slightly sweaty nose, a faint sense of gunflint, and gave an overall impression of reduction. A third bottle was between the first two, with a flattened profile but not obviously reduced, and a fourth was almost as good as the first.

The first bottle of Lafite 1986 was a bit flat aromatically; although showing the precision and elegance of Lafite, a sense of austerity on the finish made it seem almost stern. I took the sense of a somewhat hard edge to the wine to be the character of the vintage and was uncertain whether it would dissipate with further aging. But a second example showed that this was the character of the bottle rather than the vintage: it really sung, with that ethereal quality of Lafite showing as a seamless impression of precise, elegant fruits, all lightness of being.

With Mouton Rothschild 1989 there was another sort of surprise. The first pour (from a decanter) showed the plush power of Pauillac, very much Cabernet-driven, with black, plumy fruits. A second pour (from another decanter) showed just a little more aromatic lift. The difference between these two was much slighter than between any of the preceding pairs. Here’s the rub: the Mouton came from a single Imperial. The fact that there was any difference at all is surprising, although I have had this experience before, when some pours from an Imperial seemed to be corked while others were pure (I Want My Glass From the Bottom of the Imperial). Interestingly this was also from a Mouton 1989.

The notion there can be differences within a single (large) bottle is disturbing. I think this warrants a proper investigation. I will undertake a thorough experiment if given a supply of Imperials of first growth claret (Mouton from 1989 would be preferred). We will extract the cork and take samples from the top and bottom using a very long pipette, without stirring up the wine at all. Then we will know if proximity to the cork and oxygen on the one hand, or to the sediment on the other, makes any difference within the bottle.

It is not so surprising there should be differences between bottles. After all, if you buy a case of wine and store it for ten or twenty years, you can see at a glance that every bottle has a different level. Differences in ullage imply differences in exposure to oxygen that might well affect the flavor spectrum. But the comparisons in this tasting went well beyond minor differences, to the point at which in each flight there was one bottle that was unquestionably first growth, and one bottle that was disappointing enough to cast doubt on that status.

One moral is that if you are at a tasting where there are second pours from a different bottle, always get a fresh glass for the second pour. Another is to ask whether there is really any point at all in tasting notes, projections of aging, or recommendations, if every single bottle is going to be different. Certainly this is not what the punter expects when he buys a bottle. The culprit must be the cork (inter alia, the sommelier reported that he had never rejected so many corked bottles in preparing for a tasting, so the worst cases had already been removed).

Is there any alternative? Experience with New World wines suggests that using screwcaps might cause the wines to age more slowly and a little differently, but with greater consistency. I’m sure the argument in Bordeaux would be that it’s a bad idea to risk damaging the product of one of the most successful wine regions in the world, but is it so successful if there is no predictability after twenty years?

Why Technology Is Not the Main Issue in GMO for Grapevines

I have despaired for years of seeing a reasoned discussion of the implications of genetic engineering for grapevines or other plants. Politicization has created an atmosphere in which it becomes impossible to discuss on a rational basis the advantages and disadvantages of the technique. Of course there are dangers, but they have to be weighed against potential gains.

This was brought back to mind by an essay by Hrisha Poola, the winner of the wine writing competition on jancisrobinson.com. In his essay (available at https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/wine-gets-crispr) he focuses on the potential use of the new CRISPR technique for GMO of plants and in particular grapevines. This is a valuable exercise, but I can’t help feeling that in focusing so closely on CRISPR, this somewhat muddles the wood and the trees.

Genetic engineering of the grapevine has been possible for a couple of decades, as indeed it has for other crops. In fact, the grapevine is an outlier in the lack of GMO. CRISPR is a technical development, an important one, that makes it much easier to do genetic engineering, and which offers much greater precision than before. It’s significant enough that the authors are candidates for a Nobel prize, but it does not represent the same paradigm shift as the introduction of gene editing itself.

Concentrating on the technique, and giving the impression that it is CRISPR that has actually created the possibility for genetic engineering, distracts us from the main issues. We should be discussing the implications of loss of diversity by exacerbating the trend to use clones, that is, to risk allowing a few genetically engineered clones to replace existing genetic variation. In that context, the interesting question about CRISPR is whether, by making the process easier, CRISPR might make it possible to introduce the same change into a variety of base material and thus reduce the effect of loss of diversity.

We should be discussing how to weigh up the pros and cons of the use of sulfur and copper, necessary for organic viticulture, against the possibility of eliminating them by genetic engineering of the plant. We should be discussing whether it’s better to use steroid sprays to control fungal diseases as opposed to changing the genetic constitution of the plant. And, of course, all this should be within the context of explaining how using genetic engineering relates to conventional plant breeding, and what are its advantages and disadvantages relative to cross-breeding.

It is perhaps significant that Hrisha’s essay opens with a quotation from Mukherjee, who has had a great success with his book (The Gene: An Intimate History), but which is skeptically regarded in the scientific community for its over simplification of epigenetics. It is a sad truth that those who have the public ear tend to trivialize or politicize the issues. I don’t want to cavil, I would love to see an informed debate on the topic, but discussions need to be based not on technique and technology, but on the principles of what is involved.

Unfortunately we live in a culture where the media do not take science seriously, or perhaps to be more accurate, where they do not regard it as a topic that should be treated seriously. I remember years ago when we published a significant paper on the common cold virus in Cell, it made the concluding item on the evening news in the form of a report showing clips from Charlie Chaplin movies where the actor was ridden with cold. Very funny, but not going to help public understanding of science. Sadly, nothing has changed in thirty years. Only last week, a report that alcohol might cause cancer by leading to the production of acetaldehyde was trivialized on Reuters by video clips of drunken revelry. It’s never going to be possible to have serious debate against that background, so kudos to Jancis for publishing a serious essay: but let’s move on from the technology to the philosophy. Now that would be something!

I Want My Glass From the Bottom of the Imperial

I was at a wine dinner last night which served three first growths from 1989 all from Imperial. The Margaux was surprisingly earthy, the Latour was the standout–it may become ethereal if we live long enough to see it–but the Mouton was variable. I tried three glasses: the first was definitely corked, the second was on the edge, and the third seemed fine at first, but showed signs of cork taint an hour later. A normal enough experience, you might say, especially since 1989 was a period when cork taint was perhaps at its peak–but I believe all three glasses came from the same Imperial (equivalent to 8 bottles). Bottle variation is common enough, but how can there be variation within a bottle?

This set me wondering about the diffusion of TCA from the cork into the wine. I’ve never regarded a corked bottle as being anything other than simply corked, by which I mean that the wine is spoiled, and that’s the end of it. But if the bottle is large enough, is it possible that the top has a greater concentration of TCA, and that the contaminant might not have diffused to the bottom? The idea is rather at odds with the usual analogy used to explain the power of cork taint: a couple of teaspoonfuls is enough to contaminate a swimming pool. It’s never been suggested that the deep end would be less affected than the shallow end.

Certainly I’ve never been able to detect cork taint by sniffing the cork, which I assume is the purpose of the exercise when it’s presented to you at a restaurant, even when it’s obvious in the wine: I suppose it needs to be dissolved in the liquid to be effective. But suppose a bottle has been lying down ever since release, with some TCA in the cork. It’s going to diffuse into the wine, and the nature of diffusion is that its concentration will be greatest nearest the source, that is, the cork. If the bottle is very large, perhaps the difference might be great enough to detect in the glass. (How much time is needed for diffusion: would such an effect be more marked when the wine is young?) On the other hand, the moment the wine is poured, the liquid will be stirred up, and the TCA should become generally distributed. (And moving the bottle around would certainly have a homogenizing effect.)

So I’m mystified. It’s difficult to see how there could be significant variation in cork taint between one end of the bottle and the other, but the fact is that three glasses were all different. Logic or no logic, as a precaution I think in future I will try to have my pours from the bottom of the Imperial rather than the top.

Bibi Graetz: Wine in the Hills of Fiesole

Bibi Graetz has a penchant for making wine in unusual places—high up in the hills of Fiesole, overlooking Florence, and on Giglio, a steep and rocky island off the coast of Maremma. Well outside the famous areas, the winery in Fiesole is there because “I was born here. My grandfather bought the house and land, did some farming and made some wine that was sold in bulk. My father planted a 2 ha vineyard here in the 1960s, after talking to the local farmers.” Bibi started making wine in 2000, but “when I started it was not a business, it was all very casual. I remember people coming to the house to buy wine in demi-johns. I threw myself into winemaking and since then it has been my life.”

The medieval castle of Vinciaglata is at a high point overlooking the vineyards. Now empty, it would make a splendid winery.

Bibi sources grapes from vineyards all over the area. Besides the small plot in Fiesole, which has expanded to 4.5 ha and is just across the road from the winery, there are vineyards all over the Chianti area, “like a stripe running through the whole area of Chianti,” Bibi says.

Right from the beginning there have been two wines, Testamatta and Colore, both labeled as super-Tuscans. The approach is the antithesis of the increasing worldwide focus on single vineyards; both wines are blends from multiple sources. “I was in love with old vineyards, so it didn’t make any sense to buy land and plant—I planted my first vineyard only in 2012—so I looked for old vineyards. I still don’t own vineyards, but I have long term contracts; we manage the vineyards but don’t own land. So it doesn’t make sense for us to make a single vineyard wine. Our idea is more like a super-Tuscan than a Burgundy concept.”

We tasted barrel samples of the individual vineyards from 2016. “We are going to taste the vineyards from north to south,” Bibi said. As he described the sources, it became clear that Bibi is in love not only with old vineyards, but also with vineyards at high altitudes. All except one of the vineyards are above 300m. You might say his wines are all high altitude wines. And not only was there a wide spectrum from the different vineyards, from the cool climate impressions of a plot at high elevation above Greve in Chianti, to the more powerfully structured expression of a south-facing vineyard south of Siena, but there was a remarkable difference between barrels of different ages, even though there is no new oak in Testamatta. In the early years, the wines went into 100% new oak, under the advice of an oenologist, but this changed after 2005. “I don’t work with an oenologist any more because I like to do my thing. I worked with an oenologist at first, but they didn’t like my experiments.” Today Bibi’s view is that, “for Testamatta it is important not to use new oak, we wouldn’t have the fruit coming forward. The uniqueness of Testamatta is that we don’t impose a style, you don’t have the oak, you just have the impression of the grapes coming out.” Indeed there is wide vintage variation: 2016 will be a powerful vintage, but 2015 is infinitely elegant.

The family house and small winery buildings are grouped around a courtyatrd, right on the road through Vincigliata.

Testamatta comes from seven plots and is 100% Sangiovese. Colore is a selection of the best lots, from the oldest vineyards, and is about a third each of Canaiolo, Colorino, and Sangiovese. The vineyard plots used for Testamatta are more or less the same each year; there is a little variation in the Sangiovese used for Colore as it always has the best barrels. “Colore has a little new oak, we look for the lots with more structure, so it has a bit more volume.”

Bibi also makes the white wines on the island of Giglio, just off the coast of Maremma. “It’s basically a rock in the middle of the sea, it’s a pretty arid climate—it never rains!” Bibi says, with perhaps a slight exaggeration. “Vineyards go from sea level to 300m. We are planting one at 550m. You can do a big white wine in Giglio, it’s not so easy to find a big white from Tuscany.”

White wine has always been a bit of a problem in Italy, in my view. The paucity of interesting white wines has led me to start meals in Italy by choosing a red wine, irrespective of what food we might choose. There’s a handful of exceptions, starting Valentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzi, which I love for its savory character, and there are some Chardonnay’s from the north following a more Burgundian model, but it’s hard to argue with the view that white wine is much more difficult than red.

Bibi’s whites have their own character. There is a strong emphasis on Ansonica. Scopeto (named for an area of Giglio) is the entry level, and is a blend of Vermentino and Ansonica. It has 20% fermented with skins for one week “in the old way” and has a slight impression of an orange wine. The other whites are all 100%. Ansonica. Chiozzolo really is an orange wine, fermented on skins for 7 days and aged in new barrels that come from Burgundy. Bugia is more conventional, aged 90% in stainless steel and 10% in wood. Last year Bibi produced a white Testamatta for the first time, just 700 bottles. “For Testamatta I took the best parcels, there’s no skin contact but it’s fermented and aged in 100% new oak. Here I think you go towards a big white wine.” The common feature, whether it comes from the grapes or from skin contact or oak maturation, is a sense of extract and texture to the palate, almost a sense of austerity to restrain the fruits. Powerful would be a misleading description, but these are definitely wines with a strong personality. In the white Testamatta 2016, the oak is already beautifully integrated and is (as it should be) a subtle presence in the background. I suspect it will prove to be just as successful as its famous red brother.

Making wines in three places,Bibi is a busy fellow. White wines are made on Giglio, Testamatta and Colore at the small winery in Fiesole, and the entry level wines, which are part of a negociant activity, under the Casamatta name, are made in rented space at a larger winery. “Our winery is not big enough to do entry level wine,” Bibi explains. It has been difficult to visit or purchase wine at the winery, because it’s basically a small group of buildings extending from the family house. But this may change as Bibi is thinking about moving into larger space, which would relieve the cramped conditions at the winery, and allow there to be a tasting room. Spending a morning with Bibi, I got the impression that it’s not just wine that ferments here: there is a constant ferment of ideas. In the air at the moment are the possibilities of introducing a single vineyard wine or a second wine to Testamatta. This must surely be one of the liveliest wineries in Tuscany.

 

What to do about Ullaged Wines?

I discovered about a dozen seriously ullaged wines when I was doing a physical inventory of my cellar, which I do every year to check on what’s really there (some bottles get consumed without recording, some get taken to events, some just disappear…) While I’m at it, I check the conditions of the bottles. Although the cellar is temperature- and humidity-controlled, some bottles do develop ullage—corks don’t last for ever, no matter what.

On a previous check, I discovered ullage in most of my bottles of Mouton Rothschild 1970. I asked Mouton what happened, and this was the reply: “In 1970, we used cork of 54 mm length and we had problem due to the size of the cork and not the quality. Today we use cork of 49 mm length and it is much better. When the cork is too long, the space between wine and cork is not enough to absorb temperature variations.” Pity they didn’t do a recall!

This year the ullaged bottles were all one-offs, with vintages ranging from 1948 to 1975. I have been trying to find a way of enjoying them. Their condition really restricts them to being tried at home, they are too unreliable to offer to guests, and the combination means it may be ambitious to have the whole bottle at one sitting.

Coravin seemed like it might be a solution. Use Coravin for the first half of the bottle, so as to protect the rest with nitrogen, and then pull the cork to enjoy the other half a day later. But the corks are too fragile. Turning the bottle up to use the Coravin, wine washes out right around the cork. Another problem is that, as the bottle is turned more towards the horizontal, the sediment gets all stirred up. So Coravin may be great to enjoy pours of young wines, but once a wine is old enough to have any substantial sediment, it creates as many problems as it solves.

Even extracting the corks without getting fragments into the wine is a problem, but assuming the cork can be got out, I have a working solution. Because of the difficulty of extracting the cork, and uncertainty as to whether the wine will be drinkable, the bottle needs to be opened a bit in advance. Once the cork is finally out, I bubble a little nitrogen into the wine to stop any deterioration before we drink it. A little later, we start on the first half of the bottle.

Assuming the wine hasn’t deteriorated in the course of dinner, I then decant the remaining half into a half bottle. This allows the sediment to be filtered out. Then I sparge the bottle with nitrogen. There have been on or two incidents when the sparging was a bit too vigorous, and we lost some wine, but basically this removes any free oxygen. Obviously it can’t reverse any oxidative changes that have occurred in the wine, but it seems to stop any further deterioration. The wine goes back in the cellar over night to keep it as cool as possible. (Yes, I am aware of Dalton’s law of physics, which means that each gas equilibrates independently in a solution, but be that as it may, so far, on the basis of an admittedly statistically insignificant sample, it works; every wine has been enjoyable the day after.) The Lafite 1961 even improved, and was even smoother and silkier the second day.

The staying power of some of these old wines, especially first growths, is remarkable. Mouton 1949 was rich, full, and opulent: every drop a first growth, even though it was only a second growth at the time. In a blind tasting, I suspect I would have mistaken it for an old Latour. Canon 1966 and La Conseillante 1966 showed unexpected precision. Some bottles were, of course, undrinkable, but I still have several more to go.

Please Don’t Change La Conseillante, M. Rolland

Perhaps because it is on the area of the graves right at the border with St. Emilion—one third of the vineyards even extend into over the border—La Conseillante has always been one of my favorite Pomerols. While I sometimes find the openly lush quality of Pomerol to be a bit too rich for my palate, La Conseillante strikes a more restrained note, partly due to a higher proportion of Cabernet Franc.

The secret to restraint is not simply a function of the grape varieties, however, because along the same lines, Château Magdelaine was always one of my favorite St. Emilions. Although in its day it actually had one of the highest proportions of Merlot, it always had a beautiful restraint, in fact, in some vintages I found myself thinking more about the left bank than the right bank in terms of comparisons. It was for me a sad day when Moueix decided to stop producing it as an independent château and combined it with Château Belair-Monange. It never achieved great success in the marketplace, perhaps because of its restraint, which brings me back to the theme of La Conseillante.

La Conseillante has had its ups and downs. It had a great reputation in the fifties and sixties, declined in the seventies, and then came back in the eighties. Until the 1990s, the vineyards were planted with 45% each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and 10% Malbec. Then in the modern trend, Merlot came to the fore, reaching 65% by the nineties, and 80% by the 2000s. The proportion of Merlot in the grand vin in recent vintages has varied from 81% to 89%.

When I visited La Conseillante a few years ago, winemaker Jean-Michel Laporte summarized the unique character of the property: “La Conseillante is not entirely typical of Pomerol, which is known for power and richness; we are known for elegance and silky tannins. We can mix in one bottle the roundness of Pomerol and Merlot with the elegance of Cabernet Franc. We don’t want to compete for the biggest wine of the vintage, we want to preserve our elegance, and the silky tannins. That’s why we are not considered to be a Parker wine.”

But things are changing. Marielle Cazaux became the estate manager in 2015, and Michel Rolland has been consulting winemaker since 2013. Does this mark a move in a direction of greater plushness to more of an international style? There haven’t been any noticeable changes in winemaking so far, although the tradition at La Conseillante has been to perform malolactic fermentation in the concrete vats, and Michel Rolland is known to be an advocate for MLF in barrique. That would probably bring a softer, lusher impression to reinforce a move to a slightly richer style anyway in recent years, although of course that’s common all over Bordeaux.

At a recent tasting, the 2000 was the standout vintage: just at that tipping point when primary fruits have gone and there are slight signs of development. For me, it is perfection now, partly because it adds intimations of the left bank, with that faintly savory quality, to counterpoise the richness of Pomerol. It’s the perfect moment to see the true character of the wine. The 1990 was an illustration of why I have reservations about hot vintages and rich styles: just a bit too overt for my palate, more of a rustic impression, blurring the palate, compared to the laser-focus of 2000. The 1985 was a bit of a disappointment, with the fruits drying out, leaving a somewhat herbaceous impression with medicinal notes that recalled old Bordeaux. But on a rough count, opinion seemed more or less equally split as to which vintage was preferred, so something for everyone here.

Going back to the previous era, or perhaps more accurately to the beginning of the modern era, the 1982 (tasted later a day later) is very much in the lineage of the 2000, but seems if anything even fresher: that sense of Medocian restraint is there, but the fruits are lusher, smooth and silky, with a fainter herbal counterpoise. To be fair, the 1982 is now a little variable: a previous bottle earlier this year seemed a little tired and would not have compared so favorably with the 2000.

Although somehat ullaged, a bottle of 1966 was something else: incredibly youthful, rich, round, and ripe on opening, and then slowly converging in style with the 1982 and 2000 as a faint herbal counterpoise develops in the glass. I’m not sure that it would be easy to identify as the oldest wine in a blind tasting. Once again, there’s some variation between bottles, as the previous bottle, a few years ago, seemed distinctly more claret-like, where this one seems the most Pomerol-ish of all.

La Conseillante was really doing something absolutely right to produce wines like the 1966, 1982, and 2000: so please don’t change it, M. Rolland.