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Cellar Raid: June 2024

Friday, 5th July 2024 by Thomas Parker MW

For a brief, shining moment at the end of June, England finally saw the sun. A good excuse to open some bottles that had been squirelled away in the Farr cellar on a balmy, sunlit evening hosted in our chairman Stephen Browett's garden with a barbecue. We worked our way through a number of wines in quickfire blind format - giving us a chance to analyse the wines briefly, both for identification and quality, before continuing to drink them after their identities were revealed.  We meandered our way mostly through France, tracing through vintages from 2020 back to 1982. There were a few disapointments but some real stars, at starkly different price points, and one wine that will almost certainly be worthy of a perfect score in the future.

The evening began with the only interloper, a beautifully delineated Riesling that would be a contender for white wine of the night. Egon Muller invariably impresses in the glass, and this 1999 Scharzhofberger Auslese was superb, age swallowing the sugars to create a sumptuous yet mineral, harmonious wine that can be served as an apéritif at 25 years old. The length, persistent fruit and freshness in this wine are admirable at this age; when combined with the residual sugar it is clear well-stored bottles will continue to age for decades.

On to France, we stationed ourselves in Burgundy for the remaining whites. Bottles of 2001 and 2002 Puligny Montrachet Les Truffières 1er cru from Bernard Moreau left a little to be desired, not so much premoxed as simply past their best and tiring in the middle. They were clearly outshone by a bottle of Verget's 2002 Chablis Fourchaume 1er cru. This wine was £150 per dozen on release but, at over two decades old was still full of life, with the steely clean white fruit, bright acidity and mellow fragrance synonymous with Chablis. Much younger but just as impressive was Droin's 2014 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru. A powerful but tightly coiled and initially shy wine, it unfurled in the glass to reveal layered fruit and savoury spices, always lined with the piercing acids that are 2014's hallmark. A very impressive wine for the money.

A bottle of 2008 Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er cru from Marc Morey followed. Smack bang in the middle of the danger years for white Burgundy, this bottle was a triumph. Showcasing everything you could want from a mature premier cru, it had a smoky, lightly nutty nose but equally dense dried citrus and stone fruit. Full of energy on the palate, this became increasingly broad and complex with time in the glass over several hours, with the last sip from the bottle the best. Every time we drink a bottle like this, it is a reminder of just how good mature white Burgundy can be, despite the need to navigate a minefield of potential issues through the 90s and 00s. Next to it was a bottle of Bonneau du Martray's 2010 Corton Charlemagne. This tasted almost a decade younger, with shy fruit on the nose that meant a cream soda-like profile from expensive new wood came through. It was pristine and clearly well made, with a deep and precise structure, but it didn't quite reveal its full potential yet.

We stayed in Burgundy for the switch to reds, though unfortunately a 1982 Clos de Vougeot from Mongeard-Mugneret was not a good bottle. Next to it, the 2005 Grivot Nuits St Georges Les Boudots 1er cru gave much of 2005's structure and pointed to the winemaking style here at the time; this was a sturdy rather than ethereal Pinot, though it did start to yield a little with air. Following this we had a pair of 1982 clarets, though these too fell short of our expectations. Calon Ségur was not at the top of its game in this period and so it proved here, a mature and earthy wine that wasn't entirely clean. Recent vintages have much more precision and depth. Grand Puy Lacoste is normally a brilliant 1982, but unfortunately this bottle was out of condition, such are the perils of opening bottles of this age. With good storage and fill levels this is still an outstanding wine, despite its nearly 40 years of bottle age - several of us have had superb bottles in recent months. We discussed whether 1982s are as good as they once were. At their best, they certainly still reach the heights, but there is no getting around the fact that this is now a fully mature vintage that will throw up more variation from bottle to bottle.

We moved to this century with a pair of 2005s from Saint Emilion, with two names that are now at the very top of their game. 2005 is perhaps the last vintage of the old school in Bordeaux, wines that were tannic and inapproachable in their youth, but with such great ageing potential. Both wines still showed some bite, but at nearly 20 years old almost all 2005s are now open for business, the tannins gently melting into their fruit, turning savoury and mature. 2005 Figeac is a wine that displays the vintage's quality over its own distinct personality - Frederic Faye has certainly taken the wines to a new level in recent years and the modern vintages are certainly more worthy of their "A" status. 2005 Canon was the clear winner of this pair, managing a suppleness and elegance that the Figeac could not. There is a sheen to the fruit here, a youthful vibrancy that promises more to come yet a velveteen texture to the tannins that makes it delicious now. It is a superb wine, one of the early markers of the great potential revealed under Chanel's ownership of this property since its purchase in 1996.

We took a brief detour east to one of the undoubtable value picks of the night. Domaine Jamet has already cemented a place in my heart and this bottle immediately took the table there blind. A few called this as their Côte-Rôtie but it was in fact the 2020 Côtes du Rhône Equivoque. A seductive and delicious wine, it has perhaps slightly darker fruit, a hint more wood spice and a more open-knit and less driven palate, but it soars with notes of rosemary, black pepper and purple olives. A moreish wine that is full of character, we polished the bottle off ahead of many more famous (and expensive) wines on the night.

Returning to Bordeaux, we finished with a very fine pair from the same stable. 2010 Les Cruzelles continues to punch well above its weight - a layered, dense yet harmonious wine that is an absolute joy to drink now. Smoky, damson-tinged fruit coats the vintage's once chalky and chewy tannins. A brilliant wine for the money. Next to it we had my clear wine of the night. Eglise Clinet 2010 has resonated with me since I first tasted it from barrel in 2011. Now 14 years old, it continues to be one of the greatest wines of this brilliant vintage. It is still a pup, but the oily, dense fruit and rich structure are in perfect balance. You could age this wine for decades, but it is the deft equilibrium of all of the elements of this magnificent Pomerol which make it profound. You can, and we did, drink this now. Black truffle, forest fruits, liquorice; it is a brooding powerhouse that somehow always feels fleet-footed, moreish and is easy to enjoy. We finished the bottle quickly and with gusto, everyone looking for an extra glass. One of Denis Durantou's best in a career studded with great wines.

We ended the night with an experiment. Sauternes can have kaleidoscopic colours when mature, ranging from translucent gold to deep, almost opaque mahogany within the same case. The colours to not equate to faulty bottles but the science behind this variation is complex and not fully understood. With that in mind, we opened three half bottles of de Fargues 2001 with very different colours. The pale bottle was vibrant, youthful and fruit-led with confit citrus, and showed its sweetness the most of the three bottles. The darkest-coloured wine was smoky with notes of roasted nuts, caramel and fig, the sweetness less prominent with the acidity still bright. The middling bottle showed elements of both, with better integrated sugars, complex layers of youthful fruit, saffron and caramel. For me it was the "goldilocks" bottle, though there were people who preferred both the pale and the dark examples. The experiment yielded little in terms of concrete evidence, and I would love to re-run it with black glasses so our eyes could not inform our palates, but what is clear is that the difference yielded stylistic differences rather than qualitative ones, and it was a matter of preference as to which wine came out on top.

Running through so many wines in quick succession can often lead to a blurring of the wines by the end of the evening, but on this occasion there were a few clear moments that resonated with me. First, L'Eglise Clinet 2010 is just a magnificent wine, and in combination with the frankly brilliant 2010 Les Cruzelles it reconfirmed two things: Denis Durantou was a genius, and 2010 is a great vintage that is starting to hit its drinking window. Second, I should drink more great Riesling, but it was ever thus and Chardonnay's allure and availability still leads it to dominate most people's cellars despite the clear inconsistency of aging we can see above. But, when bottles like the 2002 Verget and 2008 Morey Pucelles deliver, it is easy to see why. Lastly, it is that we don't need to wait decades any more to drink the best wines. The 1982s were regrettably out of condition, but such is the risk when opening wines that are 40+ years old. Most of the best wines we opened were under 25 years old, and one of my absolute highlights was Jamet's 2020 Equivoque. The English in particular have a mentality that older is better when it comes to wine. Old curiosities are obviously fun to drink, and when you land on a great bottle it is clearly immensely rewarding. But there is so much joy to be had in vibrancy and fruit and, when paired with winemaking's changes to promote accessibility, even with top wines, we should all be pulling more corks before we, and the wines, get too old.

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