Michael Broadbent column

  • Thursday 15 February 2007

Compare and Contrast

Compare and Contrast

Having dipped my toe into the supermarket sea of wine, I intend to pursue this, hoping to find light at the end of the tunnel. However, this month I propose to comment on a remarkable dinner I nominally hosted at Christie’s.

Before starting I must give full marks to an erudite friend, Linden Wilkie, of The Fine Wine Experience, for sourcing the wines I am about to describe.

It was a good start: magnums of Krug of the magnificent 1988 vintage. Still pale for its age, with a discreet stream of uncalibratable pinprick bubbles, subtle – which means difficult to describe – bouquet, inimitably but indefinably Krug, with ‘refined straw’ bottle age; a composition in the mouth to make a basically dry Champagne fascinating, its hallmark being crisp acidity, refinement and length.

The Krug was followed by a sequence of three brilliantly contrasting pairs. The whites, both of the 1992 vintage, the first Domaine Raveneau’s Chablis, premier cru Montée de Tonnerre. Still fairly pale for its age – Raveneau has always insisted that his Chablis should not be drunk too young; its bouquet reminding me of old oak (arbre not bois); by no means bone dry, a touch of leanness and a trace of lemon and marzipan. Definitely not a ‘quickie’; exquisite foreplay.

Unsurprisingly, its companion, Amiot’s grand cru Montrachet, could not have been more of a contrast. Prior to some homework I had suspected that this was a négociant’s wine. I was wrong. Of the Montrachet’s roughly 10 hectares the Amiots, an extensive family, possess 0.09ha (though figures vary). A deeper yellow than the Chablis and completely different in style and taste: older, nutty nose; full-bodied, rich, fully mature flavour, and good length. However, as luck would have it the second bottle was corked. To make matters worse, some of our unfinished glasses were topped up with the corked wine; careless and quite unforgivable. Honour was salved by opening a back-up and pouring it into fresh glasses. An expensive procedure. Lesson: never top up any glasses without first tasting the second, third, or subsequent bottle.

We were on safer ground with the red pair, both of one of my favourite Bordeaux vintages, 1985. Again, a brilliant contrast in style. ‘The First of the Firsts’, Lafite, versus, from Pomerol, the highly regarded L’Eglise-Clinet. Both wines – two bottles of each – had been double decanted around 6pm. I had the Lafite poured about 8pm to allow time for it to open up further in the glass. Fairly deep; bouquet a slow starter but, as the evening progressed, patience was rewarded. It unravelled and, like the dance of seven veils, subtly revealed extra nuances. On the palate perfect weight, alcohol about 12.5%, displaying an array of flavours, finesse and great length. In short the perfect beverage!

The 1985 Eglise-Clinet could not have provided a greater contrast. Deeper, with an opaque core and dense, full-of-fruit nose and palate. More upfront, unquestionably impressive but – and this is what I have against most top Pomerols – little or no development. Statuesque, beautiful, but relatively static. It just sat smugly in the glass until called to duty.

The final pair, each of the excellent 1983 vintage, were the Châteaux Climens and d’Yquem. Another complete contrast in weight and style, a copybook premier cru Barsac challenging the premier grand cru Sauternes. A sort of David and Goliath. The Climens was paler, the colour and sheen of Tutankhamun gold; bouquet floral, entrancing; sweet of course, with perfect weight, exquisite flavour, balance, acidity and length. The Yquem expressed its seniority and seriousness, a burnished old-gold colour, deeper than I expected, but Yquem’s colour is sometimes variable. For example, the appearance of the much-lauded 1967 can range from palish yellow to fairly deep bronze. The 1983, which I have always admired, has a rich, honeyed, ripe apricot-skin bouquet; a weightier sweetness and body than the Climens, hefty, more concentrated, mouthfilling. Over quarter of a century old, it will reach its half-century effortlessly. I envy younger (and wealthier) readers.

To wind up the evening, Linden Wilkie had found a bottle of old Madeira that I think he had intended, both imaginatively and mischievously, to serve blind. An unfortunately named rare Bastardo grape of my own vintage, 1927. A warm, amber brown with yellow rim; rich, chocolatey nose and flavour, of a style I associate with d’Oliveira. Conventionally, a Madeira like this would have matured in cask then, before the wood became too intrusive, it would be transferred into demi-johns. This wine, I was told, had spent its entire life in cask and had been recently bottled though, I suspect, topped up from time to time to make up for evaporation and to maintain its vigour. Whatever: it had been successfully handled, and rounded off an unforgettable evening.

Michael Broadbent, a director of Christie’s, has more than 50 years’ experience in the wine world.

What Michael's Been Drinking This Month

Sweet White Wines

Nivole, our favourite Moscato d’Asti, a wine to be drunk young (it was from a recent consignment of Michele Chiarlo’s 2006 vintage) and chilled. A delicate touch of sweetness, grapey, light as a feather, its alcohol (5%) low enough for even the grandchildren to sip with birthday cake. And a dry, mature yet creamy Godminster Cheddar with Domaine Weinbach’s 2002 Schlossberg Riesling Grand Cru, Vendange Tardive; medium sweet, fresh acidity, surprisingly modest alcohol (10.5%). Delectable.

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