Every month in the magazine we celebrate a different bottle of wine that we believe should be recognised as a 'wine legend', this year's selected 12 include Dom Perignon 1961, Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947 and Graham's Vintage Port 1945.

Château d’Yquem 1921 Sauternes, France

A legend because…

There are many outstanding vintages of this supreme sweet white wine, but none in the 20th century is more celebrated than the 1921. Decanter’s Michael Broadbent, in Vintage Wine, describes 1921 as ‘Unquestionably the greatest [Sauternes] vintage of the 20th century, Yquem in particular being legendary.’ The great richness of the wine reflects the vintage conditions of the year (see below).

Looking back

Yquem had 100ha (hectares) planted in 1921, compared to 113ha today. Back then, only a small amount of wine was bottled at the château, but Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, owner at the time, was a leading proponent of château bottling as a guarantee of authenticity. From the 1924 vintage, all the wine would be bottled at the château.

The people

During the First World War, Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces served as an officer, in keeping with family tradition, before taking the reins at Yquem, aged 30. He presided over the château for more than 50 years until his death in 1968, when he was succeeded by his nephew Alexandre de Lur Saluces. Today the château is owned by LVMH (Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton); main shareholders since 1999, the group appointed Pierre Lurton as managing director in 2004. Just after taking over, Lurton revealed in a Decanter masterclass that 1921 is his favourite Yquem vintage.

The vintage

1921 was the driest of 75 vintages on record, and the hottest since 1893. The unusual heat and early autumn made it difficult for red Bordeaux but perfect for Sauternes. For the first time since 1893, picking began as early as the first half of September, on the 13th. The harvest lasted six and a half weeks, with 39 days of picking. By the time it was over on 27 October, pickers had passed through the vineyard five times. Yields were not high, as sharp spring frosts had reduced the crop. The extreme dry conditions led to unparalleled richness and concentration of the grape juice. Its exceptional quality would certainly have been recognised from the outset.

The terroir

The topsoil at Yquem is warm and dry, accumulating heat thanks to the smooth, flat pebbles and coarse gravel. The clay subsoil contains good water reserves, and there are several springs on the estate. Drainage pipes were installed in the 19th century to prevent waterlogging. Plantings are split between Sémillon (80%) and Sauvignon Blanc (20%), though the proportions are more equal in the final wine due to the latter’s greater productivity.

The wine

As 1921 saw the hottest summer since the phenomenal vintage of 1893, which also produced outstanding sweet wines across Europe, the grapes reached unusually high sugar levels. This resulted in both high residual sugar and high alcohol, yet the wine remained balanced. Numerous bottlings of the 1921 vintage were made in different countries – many of the surviving bottles were bottled in Belgium by Van der Meulen – but these are inferior to the château-bottled examples.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent, in his Vintage Wine, recalls drinking the wine on more than 30 occasions. The colour is quite dark, he says, ‘at best a warm amber-gold’, and the bouquet ‘very rich, honeyed of course, peachy, barley sugar (boiled and spun sugar), intense yet fragrant, custard cream, crème brûlée yet again, but very true’. On the palate: ‘from sweet to very sweet, depending, I think, on context, unquestionably rich, powerful, even assertive, great length and intensity, and supported by life-preserving acidity. One of life’s sublime experiences.’ Bordeaux authority David Peppercorn MW concurs: ‘It is more like an essence than a wine, a unique experience.’ For US critic Robert Parker, this is a 100-point vintage of Yquem. Legendary wine writer Edmund Penning- Rowsell drank the wine in 1983, remarking that: ‘It had something of the richness of a fine old sweet Sherry without the alcoholic strength. Amazingly concentrated, perhaps the chief quality of this wine, it remained almost surprisingly drinkable.’ D “Very rich, honeyed, intense yet fragrant… One of life’s sublime experiences”

The facts

  • Number of bottles produced: No record
  • Composition of blend: No record
  • Yield (hl/ha): No record
  • Alcohol content: 12.5%
  • Residual sugar: 112g/l
  • Release price: No record
  • Current price (at auction, 2009): £2,376 (bottle)

Written by Georgina Hindle

Wine Legends of 2011: DRC Richebourg 1959

DRC Richebourg 1959 Vosne-Romanée, Burgundy, France

A legend because…

After some tricky vintages, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti rose magnificently to the occasion in 1959 to produce a set of outstanding wines from its top vineyards. The Romanée-Conti was a great wine in 1959, but so was the wine from Richebourg, its neighbour. Arguably, the relatively high proportion of clay in the Richebourg soil was of particular benefit in this hot year. DRC invariably makes a superb Richebourg, but it excelled itself in 1959, although the 1962 can come close.

Looking back

The year 1959 is also memorable in the domaine’s history because it was the first year in which the property turned a profit. Although DRC’s reputation was as high in the 1950s as it is today, there were few other estates nibbling at its heels, with the possible exception of Henri Jayer.

The people

DRC is jointly owned by two families, the Leroys and the de Villaines. From 1942 onwards Henri Leroy (father of Burgundy grower Lalou Bize-Leroy) was at the helm, though in 1959 he would have been assisted by Henri de Villaine (father of current co-owner Aubert), who was less involved because he lived in Moulins, looking after his family’s farms. The winemaker, from 1946 onwards, was André Noblet, succeeded by his son Bernard.

The vintage

The mid-1950s was not a golden period for Burgundy, and vintages were difficult – until 1959 came along. July and August were hot and dry, and the rain that eventually fell in September proved beneficial, keeping stress at bay and allowing the grapes to mature fully and evenly. The harvest began in mid-September under ideal conditions.

The terroir

Richebourg is a moderately sized grand cru in Vosne-Romanée, with just over eight hectares under vine. The DRC has long been the largest owner, with 3.5ha. The vineyard comprises two parcels, Les Véroilles (which was incorporated into Richebourg in 1936) and Les Richebourgs, the latter being the larger. Véroilles is a touch more northerly and thus slightly cooler, ripening a day or two later. Richebourg is gently sloping from 255m to 295m, and consistent in terms of its soil, which has a significant clay content. The Domaine owns 1ha within Véroilles, the rest within Les Richebourgs, and the average age of the vines today is over 45 years.

The wine

Richebourg is among the most long-lived of the grands crus. Its wine has a distinctive power, but the greatest vintages, such as this 1959, have always shown supreme elegance as well. Virile when young, Richebourg demands a decade or more in bottle before its complexity, nuances and remarkable persistence of flavour become fully apparent. Until 1946, one third of DRC’s Richebourg vines were still ungrafted – among the very oldest pre-phylloxera vines in France – and were vinified and bottled separately. But the 1959 Richebourg would have contained a moderate proportion of younger vines following the replanting. The general policy of DRC is not to destem, and this surely would have been the case in a fully ripe year such as 1959. Fermentation would have taken place in open-top wooden vats, and the wine aged in new oak. Although DRC no longer fines its reds, the 1959 would have been fined.

The reaction

From the outset the wine was rich and flavoursome, with good depth of colour and an excellent balance of tannin and acidity. The quality was immediately recognised. Decanter’s Michael Broadbent, tasting the wine in 2002, gave the wine his top five-star rating, but was quite subdued in his response: ‘Low-keyed but ripe and correct; sweet, soft, rich, complete, with good grip.’ Burgundy expert Allen Meadows is more enthusiastic, having tasted a magnum in 2005: ‘Fully mature and wonderfully spicy, complex and fragrant earthy black fruit trimmed in plenty of sousbois followed by rich, seductive, mouth-coating and velvety medium-full flavours, all wrapped in a superbly long finish underpinned by mostly, if not completely, resolved tannins.’ He felt it was fully ready to drink. Fellow Burgundy authority Clive Coates MW concurred, and in 1989 hailed the Richebourg as ‘a marvellous wine’ ‘multi-dimensional’ with ‘real breed’. D “The greatest vintages have always shown supreme elegance”

The facts

  • Number of bottles produced: 11,000
  • Composition: 100% Pinot Noir
  • Yield (hl/ha): No record
  • Alcohol content: No record
  • Release price: No record
  • Current price: £3,300–£3,700 per bottle

Wine Legends of 2011: Domaine Huet, Le Haut Lieu 1947

Domaine Huet, Le Haut Lieu 1947 Vouvray, Loire, France

A legend because…

It has entranced so many tasters over the years. ‘It is the wine that made me fall in love with Vouvray, Chenin Blanc and the Loire,’ says Loire expert and author Jacqueline Friedrich. Vouvray comes in various styles, but its greatest, most long-lived expression is the sweet style known as ‘moelleux’. Given the northerly climate of the Loire Valley, truly great moelleux vintages are rare. Thus, between 1976 and 1985 no sweet wines were produced at Domaine Huet. By any account 1947 was exceptional, easily the best vintage since 1928.

Looking back

In 1947, the Vouvray AC had only been in existence for 11 years. Although larger today, Le Haut Lieu was then a 4-hectare site – the other single vineyards were not acquired until the 1950s. The 1947 vintage came only shortly after the winemaker, Gaston Huet (see below), had escaped from a Silesian prisoner of war camp in Calais, and walked back to find a devastated cellar and vineyard.

The people

Huet’s parents bought the estate in 1928. A revered figure, Huet was mayor of Vouvray from 1947 to 1989, and supervised well over 60 vintages at the domaine, remaining active until his death in 2002. His son, a photographer, had no interest in taking over the management of the domaine, so it passed into the hands of Huet’s son-in-law, Noël Pinguet. Pinguet had already been involved in running Domaine Huet for some years, and converted its vineyards to biodynamism in 1990.

The vintage

1947 was a very hot year, and climatic conditions in the autumn were hospitable to the development of botrytis. The harvest began on 13 October, which was relatively early. There were two pickings at Le Haut Lieu to harvest the moelleux grapes – the first on 15 and 16 October and the second on 21 and 22 October.

The terroir

Domaine Huet is composed of a few single vineyards that are almost always vinified, aged and bottled separately. They are Le Mont, Clos du Bourg and Le Haut Lieu. All three are capable of producing fine sweet wines, but Le Haut Lieu usually makes the most exquisite. The soil here is very deep clayey limestone – a rather heavy soil that generally leads to a suppleness in the wine.

The wine

After harvesting, the grapes were pressed in a vertical press, and the must fermented in 600-litre barrels in the domaine’s cellar, which is tunnelled into the limestone rock and benefits from an even temperature of 18°C. There was no malolactic fermentation and the wine was bottled in April 1948. It had an alcoholic degree of 12.4%, and 90 grams per litre of residual sugar, which is relatively low by modern standards but in 1947 would have been considered high. Huet said simply of the 1947: ‘It is the best wine I ever made.’

The reaction

There was no contemporary response to the wine since it was not offered for sale until the 1970s and even then was only presented to the domaine’s top clients. Michael Broadbent last tasted the wine in 1997, noting in Vintage Wine: ‘Medium-deep warm amber with gold highlights; a deeply honeyed bouquet, dried apricots and vanilla; still deliciously sweet, rich, like crème brûlée, excellent acidity and overall condition.’ Stephen Brook tasted the wine in 1985, recording: ‘An exceptionally beautiful wine: although rich in colour, aroma, and taste, there is nothing heavy about it, simply because the balance is impeccable.’ Retasting the wine with Huet in 1998, Brook discerned aromas of ‘caramelised oranges and tropical fruit’ but while the palate was sweet and concentrated, it ‘lacks some intensity and flair and shows some signs of maderisation’. As with all old wines, bottle variation is inevitable. Pinguet notes that the wine today is deep amber in colour with a touch of gold, and aromas of caramel, tobacco, quince jelly, and bitter oranges. For anyone lucky enough to hold a bottle, he recommends serving it with a blue cheese that is neither too mild nor too strong, such as a Fourme d’Ambert. D “By any account the 1947 was exceptional, the best since 1928”

The facts

  • Quantity produced: 4,000 bottles
  • Composition: 100% Chenin Blanc
  • Yield: 7 hectolitres per hectare
  • Alcohol level: 12.4%
  • Residual sugar: 90g/l
  • Price on release: N/A UK
  • Price today: £620

Wine Legends of 2011: Château Lafite-Rothschild 1982

Château Lafite-Rothschild 1982 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France

A legend because…

This was an headline vintage of outstanding quality throughout Bordeaux, with ripeness levels not seen for many years. The style of wines proved a terrific shot in the arm for claret, especially on the US market. Indeed, some criticised the vintage at the time for an almost Napa-like (thus atypical) opulence and predicted a short life for the wines. Such criticisms have largely proved unfounded, and the top 1982s are still going strong, establishing the vintage as the most celebrated of the last 50 years. Lafite in particular has maintained a youthful character, developing harmony as it ages.

Looking back

Baron Eric de Rothschild, the current manager, was already running Lafite in 1982. Today the vineyard is 107 hectares, but back then it was about 90ha – still larger than any other first growth. There’s no ‘winemaker’ at Lafite, but the technical director then was Jean Crété (ex-Léoville-LasCases).

The people

The debonair Baron Eric is serious about his wines. He enjoys participating in the final blending, though is willing to be overruled by his team of professionals. A year after he took over the management in 1974, he hired Professor Emile Peynaud as consultant. The cellarmaster in 1982 was Robert Revelle, who succeeded his father Georges. It was not until 1983 that Charles Chevallier became Lafite’s deputy technical director; he later became technical manager of not only Lafite but the other properties – Rieussec, Duhart-Milon and Evangile – that form part of the group.

The vintage

The unusually warm growing season resulted in grapes of perfect ripeness and enormous concentration and richness. The harvest began early, on 16 September. Some less well equipped estates had trouble controlling fermentations during the hot weather, but this was not an issue at Lafite. Some estates overcropped as the yield was generous, but dilution was rare. Acidities were fairly low, but the best wines, such as Lafite, had sufficient tannic grip and structure to ensure a long, interesting life.

The terroir

Lafite lies at the northern end of Pauillac. The soil is deep gravel on perfectly drained, gently undulating slopes. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant variety, but in some vintages Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot play a part in the blend. Lafite’s neighbours are Mouton and Cos d’Estournel, both robust and flamboyant wines, which makes it strange that Lafite is renowned for an ethereal lightness that does not stand in the way of its ageability.

The wine

Winemaking practices have changed little at Lafite. The grapes would have been picked by hand, selected in the vineyard, and brought to the winery for destemming and fermentation in large wooden vats (stainless steel tanks were only installed in 1988). The fresh wine was then aged in new barriques, produced at Lafite’s own cooperage, for almost two years before bottling. During the ageing period, the wine would have been regularly racked and then fined before bottling. But selection for the grand vin was less stringent than it would become from 1985.

The reaction

Cask tastings revealed a vintage of almost Port-like richness and weight. Perhaps spurred on by the enthusiasm of the proprietors, the press and trade mostly reacted very positively, and 1982 was soon regarded as a blue-chip vintage, confirmed by steadily rising prices for the top wines. Robert Parker compared it to the superb 1959, and detected remarkable concentration in the wine, noting that it retained elegance despite its power and unctuousness. Michael Broadbent also rated it highly from the outset, and his subsequent notes remarked on its fragrance and slow evolution. In 2001 he wrote: ‘So much on show, so much left to show.’ Clive Coates MW writing a year later, thought the wine fresh, classy and intense, adding: ‘It will get even better as it gets more decadent.’ The Chinese love affair with Lafite and the stature of the 1982 vintage has made this among the most sought-after – if not the most sought-after – wine in the country. D “Lafite is renowned for an ethereal lightness that does not stand in the way of ageability”

The facts

  • Bottles produced: No record
  • Composition: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc
  • Yield: 40 hectolitres per hectare
  • Alcohol level: 12.5%
  • Release price: 170 francs per bottle (around e17), which rose on the export market to 225Fr (e22.50)
  • Price today: between £47,000 and £54,000 per case (£3,915 to £4,500 a bottle) and rising

Wine Legends of 2011: Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia 1985

Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia 1985 Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

A legend because…

Sassicaia was already well known by the 1980s, but there was a sensation when Robert Parker awarded the 1985 vintage 100 points, saying that he often mistook it for 1986 Mouton-Rothschild. The excellence of the wine has been confirmed at tastings ever since. This was not the first time Sassicaia had wowed critics. In 1978, Decanter held a worldwide Cabernet tasting in which the 1975 Sassicaia triumphed. But its reputation has been eclipsed by that of the 1985, which now fetches prices far higher than any other Sassicaia vintage.

Looking back

Winemaking had improved in Tuscany by the mid- 1980s, and it was no longer known only for quaffable, often rustic, wines. Hampered by outdated regulations for Chianti, many producers in the Chianti zone and elsewhere began producing Bordeaux-influenced wines or Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese blends, which became known as ‘SuperTuscans’. Sassicaia was the grandfather of this movement and, from 1985 on, SuperTuscans would proliferate.

The people

Sassicaia was first made by Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta in 1943. In the mid-1960s, Mario offered his nephew, Piero Antinori, the distribution of Sassicaia which, until then, had been a wine for family consumption. At the same time, Antinori lent the services of his consultant winemaker, Giacomo Tachis, to Mario, enabling a commercially viable Sassicaia to be made from 1968 onwards. Mario died in 1983, but by then the estate – which had taken back control of Sassicaia’s marketing and sales from Antinori – was already being run by Mario’s son Nicolò. The 1985 was produced under his watch and with Tachis, who remained as consultant to the estate until 2010. (Tachis is Decanter’s 2011 Man of the Year. For the full report see the April issue).

The vintage

985 was an outstanding, consistent year. Perfect weather conditions resulted in superb wines, especially in Piedmont and Tuscany. The winter had been extremely cold in the Chianti zone and the crop was below average in size, but the coastal area where Sassicaia is located had a less extreme growing season and the grapes reached exceptional maturity.

The terroir

There are three vineyards on the estate. The original vineyard, Castiglioncello, just 1.5 hectares, is at an elevation of 340m. At 80m, Sassicaia di Sotto is 13ha on gravelly clay soils (these vines would have been about 10 years old for
the 1985). Slightly higher, Aianova has 16ha of well-drained soil, with vines of a similar age. About 70% of the vines were Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder Cabernet Franc. The estate believes it is the Cabernet Franc that gives the wine finesse and longevity. In the late 1990s, the unique character and quality of Sassicaia was recognised when it was given its own appellation: Bolgheri-Sassicaia. It is the only single estate in Italy with its own DOC.

The wine

Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a claret lover, initially wanted Cabernet-based wines for family consumption that would satisfy his Francophile tastes. For the 1985 vintage, grapes from the estate’s three vineyards would have been crushed and fermented separately in steel tanks at 30˚C for about two weeks and then blended before being aged for 22 months in 30% new barrels, of which 60% were French and 40% Slavonian. Today all the barrels are French oak, but with the same proportion of new wood.

The reaction

Robert Parker enthused over the wine from the outset, remarking on its ‘surreal’ quality. In 1989, James Suckling of The Wine Spectator compared it to the 1985 Mouton-Rothschild, finding it ‘of first-growth quality… packed with fruit while maintaining an excellent balance of tannins and acidity. It is a complete wine.’ Also in 1989, Harry Eyres in Wine noted: ‘Very dense and concentrated with great soft tannic buffer behind it. More Pomerol than Graves.’ In 1992, Michael Broadbent noted: ‘very deep, sweet, full, chewy’, but by 1994 he was slightly less enthusiastic: ‘a bit raw and edgy’. More recent comments, however, suggest the 1985 is by no means tiring. D For more on SuperTuscans, see James Suckling’s report on p38 “Robert Parker awarded it 100 points, saying he often mistook it for 1986 Mouton-Rothschild”

The facts

  • Bottles produced: 62,500
  • Composition: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc
  • Yield: 35 hectolitres per hectare
  • Alcohol level: 13%
  • Release price: 18,000 Lire (at today’s rates, about £8)
  • Price today: £1,434 to £1,869 per bottle

Wine Legends of 2011: Penfolds, Grange 1955

Penfolds, Grange 1955 South Australia

A legend because…

From its first experimental vintage in 1951, Grange was always intended by its creator Max Schubert (1915–1994) to be an icon that would epitomise all that was finest about Australian Shiraz. It was made to be capable of ageing for decades, and many vintages, including this, have fulfilled that promise. The 1955 Grange is listed as a ‘heritage wine’ by the Australian National Trust, and has won more medals (12 trophies and 52 golds) than any other Grange vintage. In 2000, The Wine Spectator hailed the 1955 as one of the top 12 wines of the century.

Looking back

The 1950s was not a time when consumers had very high expectations of Australian wines. Schubert, in crafting Grange, was looking for fruit of exceptional ripeness, which is why he had no qualms about blending wines from different sources. This became standard Australian practice, but Schubert was aiming for a specific style, not just a multi-regional blend that would be commercially appealing. He gave Grange a stylistic consistency that was surprising given the range of vineyards used to make it. Ageing in new US oak contributed to the wine’s distinctive signature.

The people

Max Schubert joined Penfolds aged 15, and remained there, except for military service during World War II. A trip to Europe in 1950 made him aware of technical innovations in Bordeaux and Germany, and he brought these ideas back to South Australia. While travelling he had already resolved to create an Australian red that could rival Europe’s greatest wines. He created a small team of winemakers who remained very loyal, especially when his bosses at Penfolds voiced their disapproval of Grange. The significance of Grange in an global context was recognised when Decanter named Schubert Man of the Year in 1988.

The terroir

This does not really apply to Grange, as it has never been a single-vineyard wine. Schubert wanted only the finest, ripest fruit, and chose grapes that met his criteria from a number of South Australian vineyards, notably Kalimna in the Barossa Valley, and, after 1961, Coonawarra. The 1955 was composed of fruit from Magill Estate and Morphett Vale (both Adelaide), Kalimna and McLaren Vale.

The vintage

1955 was a mild year but the growing season was interrupted by substantial, above-average rain (due to the La Niña weather system) before warm, dry weather returned. The spring was mild, with normal flowering, but the early summer was dry, windy and hot. Then conditions returned to normal, with moderate heat and occasional rainfall, bringing the grapes to perfect ripeness.

The wine

The grapes were fermented using the submerged cap technique, which kept the cap in constant contact with the juice. Schubert used rudimentary temperature control that reduced risks of bacterial spoilage and helped to extract tannin and colour. Before the wine had fermented to dryness, he would rack it into 300-litre US oak barrels to complete fermentation, a tricky technique and one that he pioneered in Australia. Grange usually remains in new oak for 18 months, although the 1955 only spent nine months in barrel.

The reaction

To Schubert’s dismay, many of his colleagues at Penfolds were critical of the style of the 1955 and preceding vintages, especially their high volatile acidity. He was ordered to cease production, and made the Granges of the late 1950s in secret, hence there was no access to new oak, and the wines did not age as well as the 1953 or 1955. Another in-house tasting in 1960 led to Grange’s rehabilitation; volumes, initially tiny, began to increase. In 1962, the 1955 was acclaimed at the Royal Sydney Wine Show and continued to win praise in international competitions. In 1985 Michael Broadbent judged it ‘remarkably like a mature Bordeaux’. By 1994 ‘it was showing its age but harmonious and somewhat chocolatey’. By 1999 it showed a ‘caramelly nose; still very sweet, soft textured’. Today it is fully ready to drink. In 2008, Andrew Caillard MW of Langton’s Australia, described it as ‘a fleshy, supple, smooth wine with mature, meaty, gamey mocha flavours and satin-textured tannins with a long fruit sweet finish.’ D “It has won more medals (12 trophies and 52 golds) than any other Grange vintage”

The facts

  • Bottles produced: 3,600
  • Composition: 90% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Yield (hl/ha): No record
  • Alcohol level: 12.6%
  • Release price: No record; shelf price in 1970s, AU$55
  • Current price: £2,700–£3,000

Wine Legends of 2011: Château Mouton Rothschild 1945

Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France

A legend because…

All the first growths excelled in 1945, yet it is widely recognised that Mouton, then a lowly second growth, was the wine of the vintage. Moreover, for many years the 1945 fetched higher prices at auction than the first growths. This boosted Baron Philippe’s campaign for Mouton’s promotion to first growth, which only succeeded in 1973. The 1945 vintage was produced shortly after the end of World War II. As a Jew, Baron Philippe de Rothschild had fled to Britain after escaping from prison, but once the war was over he returned to supervise the harvest at Mouton. Despite the fact that he had been unable to manage the estate for some years, it produced something quite extraordinary.

Looking back

Mouton was considerably smaller in 1945, with 51 hectares under vine compared with 82ha today. Although the property had been confiscated by the Germans during the war, it was well run by their appointed weinführer whose job it had been to keep the Bordeaux wine trade functional. The château became a military headquarters and wine was produced more or less normally.

The people

Baron Philippe was flamboyant and artistically inclined and had taken over the management of the family property in 1923 at the age of 20. In 1945 he began to commission the famous ‘artist’s labels’, one for each vintage, and in the 1960s he opened a Museum of Wine in Art. The 1945 label, designed by Philippe Jullian, defiantly displayed the words ‘Année de la Victoire’. The legendary Raoul Blondin, Mouton’s cellarmaster for over 50 years, supervised the wine’s production.

The vintage

Heavy frosts on 2 May – an unusually late date – severely reduced the crop in the Médoc. Thereafter the climate was superb, with a hot, dry summer that led to an early and uncomplicated harvest. The grapes were super-ripe, with some batches apparently reaching an alcohol level of 15%. Quantities were considerably reduced and this was the smallest vintage since 1915.

The terroir

Most of the grapes used for the grand vin come from the Grand Plateau, a parcel lying west of the winery. Here the soil is classic Pauillac: a layer of gravel up to 8m deep, lying over a subsoil of larger stones, clay and marl. The estate’s other main sector, the Carruades, lies on a plateau shared with its neighbour (and rival) Lafite. This gives a slightly more rugged expression of Cabernet Sauvignon than the more powerful but elegant Grand Plateau.

The wine

Although Mouton had continued to produce wine during the war, the property would have suffered from the absence of Baron Philippe’s exacting gaze. The vineyard had not been renovated for some years, although this was probably an advantage, since it increased the proportion of old vines in the 1945. The wine would have been fermented in large wooden vats, but there would have been few, if any, new oak barrels in the cellar.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent, reporting on the wine over 20 times between the 1950s and 1990, notes that it is ‘simply unmistakable’. Moreover it has been exceedingly slow to mature, so that characteristics noted in its youth still seem to apply today. Broadbent notes the very deep colour, and an extraordinary bouquet: ‘The power and spiciness surge out of the glass like a sudden eruption of Mount Etna: cinnamon, eucalyptus, ginger… Impossible to describe but inimitable, incomparable… Its fragrance is reflected on the palate. Still lovely, still vivacious.’ The French critic Michel Dovaz also commented on the nose: ‘Baroque, spicy, luxuriant, almost uncontrolled’. Edmund Penning-Rowsell, tasting the wine in 1970, noted: ‘It did not taste like a typical Médoc; but then Mouton seldom does.’ Robert Parker hails it as ‘one of the immortal wines of the century’ and concurs with Broadbent that it is ‘easily identifiable because of its remarkably exotic, overripe, sweet nose of black fruits, coffee, mocha and Asian spices.’ Like Broadbent, he believes it has decades of life ahead of it. D “ Robert Parker called it one of the immortal wines of the century, with decades to go ”

The facts

  • Bottles produced: 74,422, plus 1475 magnums and 24 jeroboams
  • Composition: No record
  • Yield (hl/ha): about 10 hl/ha
  • Alcohol level: No record
  • Release price: No record
  • Current price: £10,000 per bottle

Wine Legends of 2011: Dom Pérignon 1961

Dom Pérignon 1961

A legend because…

No one knows Dom Pérignon better than its experienced winemaker Richard Geoffroy, whose current assessment of the wine is that it’s ‘a superlative and most sought-after vintage – a classic wine that’s the quintessence of style at Dom Pérignon’. The wine also acquired secondary fame as the wine chosen for the toast at the wedding breakfast on 29 July 1981 of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, who was born in 1961. Some 600 magnums were shipped to London for the occasion.

Looking back

The first vintage of Dom Pérignon as a prestige cuvée was the 1921, launched in 1936 by Moët et Chandon; only 1,200 bottles were produced. Roederer’s Cristal predates it as a luxury Champagne, but it was not released commercially until 1945. It was astute, from a marketing point of view, to name the wine after the region’s most legendary figure, thus giving the Champagne an instant allure. However, the name began as an unused trademark of Champagne Mercier, which presented it to Moët after a Mercier married a Chandon in 1927.

The people

Champagne blending is a team effort, but this wine was blended under the supervision of then chef de cave René Philipponnat, who held this position for 30 years until 1979.

The vintage

After a cool spring, warm weather returned in June and flowering took place slowly but without difficulty. Thereafter conditions were warm but not torrid, allowing the grapes to ripen fully. The harvest began on 20 September and continued in excellent condition, resulting in healthy grapes of very good quality.

The terroir

Like most Champagnes, Dom Pérignon is a blend of sites. However, almost all the vineyards used for this cuvée form part of the historic sites owned by the Abbey of Hautvillers when Dom Pérignon was alive. They had been purchased by Moët in the 1820s. The leading villages where these vineyards are located are Aÿ, Bouzy, Cramant, Le Mesnil, and Verzenay, as well as the vineyards of Hautvillers itself.

The wine

It is one of the features of Dom Pérignon that the blend is made up of roughly equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, thus making it an ideal expression of the region’s two leading varieties. In 1961, the blend was exactly half of each. The wine always goes through full malolactic fermentation, and then spends seven years on the yeasts before disgorgement, although some bottles are given far longer ageing before their late disgorgement and release as part of the company’s Oenothèque programme. As always with Dom Pérignon, Moët refuses to disclose production figures. In 1988, Nicholas Faith estimated production as 1.5 million bottles, though the production of 1961 would almost certainly have been lower. Current estimates suggest a production of up to 5 million bottles.

The reaction

Tom Stevenson, the UK’s foremost expert on Champagne, and Decanter World Wine Awards Champagne Regional Chair, declares 1961 to be ‘the best Dom Pérignon I have ever tasted’, praising the ‘fabulous length and depth of such a relatively light-bodied wine, with wonderfully mellow aromas of coffee, toast, macaroons, and peaches. Great complexity but even greater finesse’. Richard Juhlin, a Champagne expert based in Sweden, rates it highly, though slightly less highly than other vintages such as 1964 and 1966. For Decanter’s Michael Broadbent, DP 1961 was, in the 1980s, even greater than the 1928 Krug, which he had previously rated best. However, by the 2000s he considered the 1961 to be in decline, and had downgraded his ecstatic six-star rating to a mere four. D “ Moët & Chandon was astute, naming the wine after the region’s most legendary figure, thus giving the Champagne an instant allure”

The facts

  • Bottles produced: N/A
  • Composition: 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir
  • Yield: 7,800 kg of grapes per hectare
  • Alcohol content: 12.5%
  • Release price: N/A
  • Price today: £650–£700 (Christie’s and Zachys auction price last year). Magnums of the late-disgorged wedding cuvée fetch considerably more, especially if in the original

    carton. In March 2011 Bonham’s sold one for £3,680

Wine Legends of 2011: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1973

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 Napa Valley, California USA

A legend because…

This was the wine that trumped various Bordeaux first growths at Steven Spurrier’s ‘Judgment of Paris’ tasting in 1976. Apart from damaging Gallic pride, the result astonished observers as the wine had been made from vines that were only planted in 1970. When the event was replicated in London and Napa in 2006, this wine took second place, behind Ridge’s Monte Bello 1971. (Ironically, at a 1986 rematch in New York, also organised by Spurrier, a bottle of the Monte Bello was considered past its best.) Indeed, in 2006 the five top places were taken by Californian wines. In 2011, Warren Winiarski, the then owner, said: ‘The 1973 still embodies a lovely, living, fleshly reminder of the fruit we harvested with so much hope and joy 35 years ago.’ A bottle is in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Looking back

Winiarski, a political scientist from Chicago, bought and planted land in what would become the Stags Leap District AVA in 1970. The first vintage from his Stag’s Leap Vineyard (note the vineyard and cellar names have apostrophes but the AVA does not) was 1972. In 1986, he bought the adjoining Fay Vineyard. The first vintage of his celebrated barrel selection Cask 23 was in 1974. In 2007, the property was jointly bought by Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle and Italy’s Piero Antinori, a long-time friend.

The people

Winiarski persuaded the renowned Russianborn winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff to act as a consultant. His advice proved helpful in determining the harvest date and the final blend, but these crucial decisions were nonetheless taken by Winiarski alone.

The terroir

The Stags Leap District AVA lies on the eastern side of Napa Valley in an area once thought too cool for Cabernet Sauvignon. Winiarski commissioned a soil analysis after he bought the land in 1970 and this revealed it was a mix of volcanic and alluvial material. He eventually planted 14ha: Cabernet Sauvignon on the most gravelly parcels and Merlot on rockier soils. He selected a row orientation that would prevent excessive exposure to the heat generated during the afternoon by the cliff-like palisades close to the vineyard. The Stags Leap District has since become renowned for the silky texture and elegance of its best Cabernets.

The vintage

Napa Valley enjoyed an excellent growing season in 1973, with many dry warm days interrupted by brief heat spikes in June and July. August was cooler but warm enough for continued ripening. Harvest was between 23 September and 3 October for both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with Winiarski’s friends doing most of the picking. Tchelistcheff, when trying the fruit just before harvest, said it tasted ‘like honey, divine honey’.

The wine

The must was fermented in stainless steel tanks designed by Winiarski, using those of Château Latour as a model. Yeast was added, and temperature-controlled fermentation took just six days on the skins. Malolactic fermentation took place over the autumn. In March, the Cabernet was moved into new, lightly toasted Nevers barriques, while the Merlot was aged for a year in 500-litre Nevers oak puncheons. Tchelistcheff assisted Winiarski with assembling the final blend. The wine was fined, bottled by hand and released in July 1975.

The reaction

Tasting the wine at 25 years old, Michael Broadbent recorded ‘a very fragrant spicy bouquet; [the wine] was sweet though the tannins were still raw. For its age, it was still pretty good.’ By 1999, Wine Spectator critic James Laube applauded its ‘complex aromas and spicy cherry, cedar, toast and chocolate flavours’. Jancis Robinson MW, at the 2006 re-enactment in London, thought: ‘Very subtle but not especially intense. Hint of oyster shells. Lovely lift. Really racy. No tannin management here but great integrity and life. Could be Bordeaux.’ D ‘Really racy. Great integrity and life. Could be Bordeaux’

The facts

  • Bottles produced: 21,600
  • Composition: 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot
  • Yield (hl/ha): No record
  • Alcohol level: 13%
  • Release price: $6
  • Price today: $500-$700 at auction

Wine Legends of 2011: Château Cheval Blanc 1947

Château Cheval Blanc 1947 St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

A legend because…

Experienced tasters often maintain that this is not only the finest Cheval Blanc of the 20th century but one of the finest clarets of that century. Yet it’s a wine that doesn’t conform to the model of fine Bordeaux: it is rich and Porty, high in alcohol and volatile acidity. This weight and opulence may have been atypical of Cheval Blanc, but few tasters have been able to resist its lush texture and voluptuous flavours. Yet its success was in a sense freakish, as no modern winemaker would set out to live so dangerously as to produce a wine in this style. As French wine writer Michel Dovaz remarked: ‘1947 Cheval Blanc defies the laws of modern oenology.’

Looking back

The present-day vineyards of Cheval Blanc once formed part of Figeac, but two substantial parcels were sold in the 1830s to the Ducasse family. A Ducasse daughter married Jean Laussac Fourcaud in 1852, and the family (their name evolved over the decades into Fourcaud-Laussac) owned and managed Cheval Blanc until its sale in 1998 (see below). The wines were always respected but only began to fetch prices comparable to the Médoc first growths in the 1960s.

The people

In 1947 Cheval Blanc was in the hands of the Fourcaud-Laussac family that had owned the property since the early 19th century. Their ownership would continue until 1998, when it was acquired by the present owners Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury goods group LVMH, and Belgian tycoon Baron Albert Frère. In 1947 the manager was Jacques Fourcaud-Laussac.

The vintage

The summer was exceptionally hot, with unblemished weather from early April to October. the harvest at Cheval Blanc began on 15 September, when temperatures were still above 35˚C, and would have been completed quite rapidly. These torrid conditions meant that Bordeaux wines, especially on the Right Bank, achieved atypically high natural sugar levels, resulting in opulent wines that in some cases lacked stability. The crop was generous.

The terroir

For a property with only 37 hectares of vines, the soils are diverse and perhaps more typical of Pomerol, which Cheval Blanc borders, than of St-Emilion. There are three soils types: gravel over clay (40%), deep gravel (40%), and sand over clay (20%). The clay soils tend to give the highest sugars but can result in low acidity wines. Vines planted are 58% Cabernet Franc, 42% Merlot.

The wine

Although the hot weather had delivered grapes very high in sugar with some raisining, this was a mixed blessing in 1947, as most châteaux had difficulty controlling the fermentation. In an era before mechanised temperature control, the only method – practised at Figeac as well as Cheval Blanc – was to cool the must by adding ice to the vats. No doubt this prevented a fermentation meltdown, but even with the addition of ice the final wine was (in an era when 11.5% or 12% were the norm) very high in alcohol. Moreover, the wine did not ferment to complete dryness, leaving a little residual sugar, which accounts for the impression of portiness that many tasters have remarked on. Until 1952 much of the wine was sold in cask and bottled by purchasers, so there may well have been bottle variation.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent opines in Vintage Wine that the 1947 ‘is one of the greatest wines of all time’. Tasted in the mid-sixties, he found that it ‘knocked Lafite and Margaux out of court’. By the 1980s the wine, he says, was at its peak, with fabulous concentration’ yet lacked charm. By 2000, he noted: ‘faultless yet – dare I say it – unexciting’. David Peppercorn MW in 1986 also commented on the wine’s ‘Port-like’ character, admitting that it was ‘almost a freak’. Robert Parker has more positive notes on more recent tastings from magnum, though not all will be inspired by his comparison of the texture to motor oil. ‘The unctuous texture and richness of sweet fruit are amazing,’ Parker writes. Jancis Robinson MW admits: ‘I honestly don’t expect ever to taste a wine better than this.’ Present-day director of Cheval Blanc Pierre Lurton concedes, however, that the 1947 is ‘an accident of nature’. “ Present-day director Pierre Lurton concedes that the 1947 is an ‘accident of nature’ ”

The facts

  • Number of bottles produced: 110,000
  • Composition of blend: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Merlot
  • Yield (hl/ha): 37.4
  • Alcohol content: 14.4%
  • Release price: 15-50 ‘old’ francs
  • Auction price today: £3,500–£7,300 (source: Liv-ex)

Wine Legends of 2011: Graham’s Vintage Port 1945

Graham’s Vintage Port 1945 Douro, Portugal

A legend because…

Although other shippers produced fine vintage Ports in 1945, Graham’s was exceptional. As Richard Mayson, the Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Port, notes, it is ‘among the finest vintage Ports declared this [20th] century’. Decanter’s veteran columnist Michael Broadbent declared in 1989 that it was ‘outstandingly the loveliest’ of the 1945 vintage Ports. Looking back In the first half of the 20th century, it was customary to ship much vintage Port to Britain to be bottled and released directly by importers. But the 1945 had to be bottled entirely in Portugal as there was a serious glass shortage in England in the aftermath of World War II. It was shipped in 1948, but a strict quota system imposed by the British government meant that only limited quantities of Port could be shipped each year. This was the consequence of the near bankruptcy of the UK after the war. Current MD of Symington’s (which owns Graham’s) Paul Symington says: ‘My father Michael recalls vividly the agony of choosing which wines to ship under our quota.’

The people

Graham’s was a family-run business from its founding in 1820 until 1970, when it was bought by the Symington family. The Grahams were major textile manufacturers as well as wine producers. Gerard Graham was the member of the family responsible for making the wine, assisted in the vineyards and winery by Leonard Flower and Charlie Guimaraens. Its principal quinta, Quinta dos Malvedos, was not acquired with the business in 1970, although the Symingtons changed their minds and bought it in 1982.

The vintage

As in France, this was a superb year, with a model growing season. Rain in late August was welcome rather than problematic. But the harvest took place from 6 September onwards under very hot conditions, making fermentation hard to control. All the major Port shippers except Cockburn declared the vintage, which has stood the test of time. The crop was far from enormous but neither was it as small as some have claimed.

The terroir

As is almost always the case with vintage Port, the grapes from which the final blend is composed are rarely the produce of a single quinta. This would certainly have been true of the 1945 Graham’s. According to Johnny Graham of the founding family, the bulk of the fruit would have come from Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto valley, which had long been selling grapes to Graham’s and is renowned for its tannic wines. Although the 70-hectare Quinta dos Malvedos, on the north side of the Douro River just west of Tua, was the family’s best known vineyard, Johnny Graham is certain it played no part in the blend of the 1945.

The wine

Most of the quintas that supplied Graham’s trod their grapes by foot, and it is likely 1945 was made in the same way. It was bottled in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1947. Each of the major Port brands has its house style and Graham’s is no exception, being almost invariably the sweetest of the leading ‘British’ vintage Ports. Yet it is never cloying, thanks to the firm backbone of tannin supporting the fruit. Thus a Graham’s vintage Port can have youthful accessibility without impeding its ability to age 50 years.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent was a huge admirer of the wine, and in 1982 considered it at its peak, but far from tiring. Indeed by the late 1990s he was still responding with undiminished enthusiasm: ‘a sweet-smelling, fragrant yet powerful wine, still tannic, profound’. For US critic James Suckling, the 1945 is remarkable for its finesse and balance. In 1989 he described it as ‘ripe plum aromas, mediumbodied, with plenty of elegant, delicate plum flavours and a balance of rounded tannins on the finish.’ In 1999, Serena Sutcliffe MW, head of Sotheby’s international wine department, remarked on the wine’s ‘terribly fresh, extraordinarily rich, strong, alcoholic flavour married to sheer, petal-like glycerol’. D ‘Outstandingly the loveliest of the 1945s’ Michael Broadbent

The facts

  • Bottles produced: 80,000
  • Composition: N/A
  • Yield (hectolitres/hectare): 22hl/ha approx
  • Alcohol level: 21%
  • Release price: £40 per case [stated by James Suckling but unconfirmed by the Symingtons]
  • Price today: £660-£935 per bottle

Wine Legends of 2011: Jaboulet, La Chapelle, Hermitage 1961

Jaboulet, La Chapelle, Hermitage 1961 Northern Rhône, France

A legend because…

While Paul Jaboulet and Gérard Chave are easily the most prestigious producers from the 134-hectare Hermitage AC, no wine has enjoyed the acclaim attached to the La Chapelle 1961. Its power and harmony were apparent from the start, and for decades the wine has been a star at auction. In the 19th century, wines from Hermitage had routinely been used to beef up lacklustre vintages from Bordeaux, but in the 20th century many vineyards were neglected. The recognition given to La Chapelle 1961 helped to kickstart interest in the great granitic vineyard and its wines. US critic Robert Parker has described it a ‘one of the three or four greatest red wines I have ever tasted’.

Looking back

The Jaboulet business was deeply rooted in family. At least four members, brothers and cousins, were involved in both the winemaking and commercial side. A highly consistent négociant business, as well as being a producer from its own extensive vineyards, led to Jaboulet becoming the most visible of the great Rhône houses. In the 1980s and 1990s accidents and premature deaths seem to have robbed the house of its former dynamism and, in 2006, Jaboulet was bought by the Frey family, owners of Champagne house Billecart-Salmon and of Château La Lagune in Bordeaux.

The people

The wine was made under the supervision of Louis Jaboulet, who retired in 1976. His better-known son Gérard would only have been 19 at the time.

The vintage

The granitic hill of Hermitage is always an exceptionally hot site. In 1961, a warm spring gave the vines a head start, but rain in June severely diminished the potential crop. Thereafter, conditions were ideal until the completion of harvest. Extensive coulure (the failure of grapes to develop after flowering) led to unusually low yields.

The terroir

The Jaboulets have long been major vineyard owners on the hill of Hermitage, owning 19ha of Syrah and 5ha of Marsanne and Roussanne, yielding, in a normal vintage, about 7,500 cases. The lion’s share of the Syrah vines lie within the Le Méal sector, but with significant parcels in other prized sites such as Les Bessards. An average age of 40 years is maintained for the Hermitage vines. There is no actual parcel known as La Chapelle, however; the name refers to the small chapel perched on the hill. The wine is a Syrah blend from the different parcels.

The wine

From 1989 onwards, Jaboulet produced a second wine from Hermitage (Le Pied de la Côte) in addition to La Chapelle. In 1961 there would have been no such selection, other than a rejection of substandard fruit in the vineyard. The grapes were trodden by foot and fermented with indigenous yeasts in large, open wooden vats. Although destemming became routine in the 1980s, it is probable that about half the stalks would have been retained in 1961, contributing to the wine’s robust tannins. The finished wine would have been aged for about 18 months mainly in vats, and a very small proportion of barrels, including some made from chestnut wood. It would have been bottled without filtration.

The reaction

Decanter’s Michael Broadbent, who last tasted the wine in 1993, described it as: ‘Huge in 1967, fruit-laden in 1983, magnificent in 1990.’ UK critic Jancis Robinson MW, in 2006, found the wine ‘reminiscent of a great red Bordeaux – but with more layers’. She added that the wine still has more to give – ‘unlike most 1961 red Bordeaux’. In 2009, US wine writer Jeff Leve found the 1961 ‘massive and intensely concentrated, with layers of rich, thick, juicy, ripe black fruits and minerals. The wine perfectly melds power with elegance.’ In 2000, Robert Parker, who had long described the 1961 as ‘one of the greatest wines ever made’, called it ‘extremely unctuous, with compelling concentration and purity. This full-bodied, seamless, mouthfilling 1961 is truly immortal!’ D ‘Reminiscent of a great red Bordeaux – but with more layers’ Jancis Robinson MW

The facts

  • Bottles produced: 10,000
  • Composition: 100% Syrah
  • Yield (hectolitres/hectare): 8hl/ha
  • Alcohol level: 12.9%
  • Release price: 10 French francs per bottle
  • Price today: £9,180 per bottle (average price on Wine-Searcher.com)

  1. 1. Château d’Yquem 1921 Sauternes, France
  2. 2. Wine Legends of 2011: DRC Richebourg 1959
  3. 3. Wine Legends of 2011: Domaine Huet, Le Haut Lieu 1947
  4. 4. Wine Legends of 2011: Château Lafite-Rothschild 1982
  5. 5. Wine Legends of 2011: Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia 1985
  6. 6. Wine Legends of 2011: Penfolds, Grange 1955
  7. 7. Wine Legends of 2011: Château Mouton Rothschild 1945
  8. 8. Wine Legends of 2011: Dom Pérignon 1961
  9. 9. Wine Legends of 2011: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1973
  10. 10. Wine Legends of 2011: Château Cheval Blanc 1947
  11. 11. Wine Legends of 2011: Graham’s Vintage Port 1945
  12. 12. Wine Legends of 2011: Jaboulet, La Chapelle, Hermitage 1961
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