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Sleeping Beauties?

Tuesday, 14th June 2011 by Jo Purcell

Around a year ago we met with The Hong Kong Jockey Club and a challenge was taken on – to assist them with a wine event, but a wine event with a difference...

Hong Kong seems to have an over-supply of endless wine dinners, each trying to out-do the other. So what would really entice Hong Kong Jockey Club members to attend another wine function? It had to be something totally unique, not to mention memorable. With a few thoughts in mind we approached renowned, and internationally respected, wine critic James Suckling, who was enthused by the idea. Thus, the seed was sown for “Hear it from the Grapevine – Tutored Tasting and Wine Dinner with James Suckling” – a tutored tasting of 2005 super seconds, followed by a dinner serving older vintages from the same chateaux to show how their wines have evolved over time. There were also to be two additional surprises, in the form of Melanie Tesseron, from Château Pontet Canet, and Jean-Charles Cazes, from Château Lynch Bages, both of whom flew in especially for the event.

Preparing the wines

At the time of release 2005 was heralded as one of the best, if not the best vintage of all time, as well as being consistent across the board. As Jean-Charles Cazes remarked, whenever you see chateau owners, wine makers and vineyard workers grinning from ear to ear at harvest time, you know it is going to be good – and in 2005 Bordeaux was positively awash with happy, smiley faces. There were no problems during flowering and budding, summer was perfect with beautiful warm days (but not too hot) and cool evenings allowing grapes to gain added concentration. Although there was a drought (around 50% less rainfall than usual in a year), this did not damage the vines, merely making them struggle more, which in turn, led to better quality fruit. By all accounts, the harvest was a breeze, without any weather concerns, and chateaux made rich, full, tannic wines with the most amazing and fresh acidity which were sure to need time to age (sound familiar….. 2010 do I hear you say?). 2005 was Melanie Tesseron’s first vintage at Pontet Canet and she recalls their consultant Michel Rolland saying what a fantastic time for her to join the chateau - this was the greatest he had ever seen and to enjoy every moment because after this it would be “all downhill from here”…..little did anyone know!

When the 2005s were released en primeur their prices were the most expensive of all time. This was coupled with the fact that both Sterling and the Euro were incredibly strong. Despite this, demand was without question strong, and wines were snapped up.

Since then a lot has happened in the wine world. We have had a global financial crisis, the impact of a major new market entering the scene, not to mention two more “greatest vintage of all time” – a phrase even the bordelais are becoming a bit embarrassed to use!

The sumptuous venue

The 2005 vintage has looked expensive when compared to older vintages (as well as having rather disappointing Robert Parker scores). Consequently shrewd investors, and wine lovers, have been selecting better buys leaving 05 prices to remain relatively flat. Today though, the 2005s are starting to look the right price in the market, especially when compared with the prices of 2009 (and potential prices for 2010).

So why did we pick the super seconds to taste? The prices of the first growths have now reached record levels – if you take the 05 firsts versus the super seconds you are in general talking about a price difference of 7-8 times. There is no doubt that the quality of the first growths is amazing, but are they really 7-8 times better then the super seconds?

James Suckling and Melanie Tesseron

For the tasting, the wines would need plenty of air to make them approachable. The wines were opened 3 hours prior to the start of the tasting and “double double” decanted before pouring into glasses half an hour prior to kick off. Below are tasting notes, but in summary they were elegant and at the same time powerful, with classic fresh, ripe fruit and firm but balanced tannins and wonderful, refreshing acidity. Each and every wine we tasted had an amazing length of flavour which, as James explained, gives an indication of quality as well as an indication of what to expect when the wines become mature.

05 Rauzan Segla – ripe red and black fruits, slightly floral with violets as well as vanilla aromas. On the palate chocolate, ripe fruits, minerals and flint, beautifully balanced tannin with lovelyl fresh acidity, Very elegant and chic.

05 Léoville Barton – deep dark black berries, herbaceous and licorice on the nose. On the palate blackberry fruits, brambles and licorice, firm tannins but with lovely fresh acidity. A classic well made claret.

05 Ducru Beaucaillou – a little closed on the nose but offering up aromas of earth, minerals as well as dark ripe fruit. On the palate lovely dark fruits, mineral, pepper and a good sprinkle of spice. A big wine but still retains it’s freshness. Wonderful length of flavour and great complexity.

05 Lynch Bages – raspberries and back cherry fruits with licorice, but still being rather reserved. On the palate the wine is also tight, but has lots of spice, black ripe fruits, fresh mint. Again lovely balance of firm tannins with fresh acidity. Excellent length of finish.

05 Pontet Canet – on the nose lots of spice, cloves and camphore – really is a spice box coated with very deep dark black fruits. On the palate this is a big wine, clean dark fruits, spice and cedar with licorice. Long clean length on the finish

05 Montrose – slightly closed on the nose, dark fruits and vanilla pods. The palate explodes with lots of licorice and cream, vanilla pods with dark concentrated cassis and spice. Lots behind this wine but still needs time

05 Cos D’Estournel – the classic asian spice character Cos is so reknowned for, Chinese medicinal shop smell. On the palate lovely cassis fruit, vanilla, spice, again another big wine. The finish is amazing , very refined with mocha coffee notes.

Melanie Tesseron, Jean-Charles Cazes and James Suckling

With the tasting completed it was time to move on to dinner. Chef Eyck Zimmer produced an amazing menu which paired with all the wines superbly (the wagyu beef cheek really did just melt in the mouth)! Dinner wines served were:

  • 05 Carbonnieux Blanc – fresh, clean aciditly displaying more Semillon characters than Sauvignon Blanc.
  • 03 Pontet Canet – forward with licorice, vanilla and casis on the nose. On the palate rich full dark fruit, cassis and marochino cherries with a touch of earthiness. Excellent length.
  • 03 Ducru Beaucaillou – dark fruits, forest floor, funghi and truffles. Firm tannins with chic dark rip fruits, a of earthiness with a fine finish.
  • 03 Montrose – ripe nose of dark fruits and dark ripe plums. Well structured with cocao, dark cherries and berries, earthy and foresty. Lovely balance on the finish.
  • 03 Cos D’Estournel – Lots of asian spice, cassis on the nose. On the palate rich. Truffles, sprice, minerals, Chinese medicine shop with amazing length.
  • 00 Rauzan Segla – slightly floral and perfumed nose combines with the dark fruits. Mediu, bodied, elegant with violets and berry fruits. Classy and Classic.
  • 90 Léoville Barton – more slightly stalky, earthy and cooked meats on the nose with ripe fruits. Medium bodied, very balance tannins combining with the round mature fruit, leather and slightly smokey character.
  • 89 Lynch Bages – mint, dark fruits, cedar, earthy, a very complex nose. Soft tannins integrate with the dark fruits, vegetal character and smoked meaty character. The length and finish were gorgeous.
  • 85 Lynch Bages – Beef jerky nose with lots of chocolate laced with a sprinkle of earthiness. On the palate smokey and vegetal, milk chocolate, roasted coffee beans. At its prime and delicious to drink now.
James Suckling

The Hong Kong Jockey Club certainly succeeded in offering it’s members a truly unique and special wine event, and their staff were superb and extremely professional. Without their support and the great enthusiasm and knowledge of James Suckling, it would not have been possible – thank you all! And a thanks also to Jean-Charles and Melanie for flying over to make the occasion even more special.

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