In November, Pierre-Henry Gagey, who joined Louis Jadot in 1985 and took over when his father, André, retired in 1992 after 30 years at the helm, gave a tasting for 24 tasters, including Jacques Lardière, winemaker since 1970, to celebrate the firm’s 150th anniversary. Starting with the reds, as is customary in Burgundy, he said that he had chosen one wine from each of the 15 decades of the company’s existence – not necessarily the best wine from the best vintage, but wines he and Lardière really liked – poured directly after opening with no decanting. The immediate impact followed by the fascinating development in the glass, especially for the last, oldest five wines, was breathtaking.
Bonnes-Mares 2003, vibrantly fresh and firm given the hot vintage, exhibited this grand cru’s ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ profile; Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St-Jacques 1997, showed lovely deep fruit from this charmingly ripe year; Clos des Ursules 1985 had an earthy fragrance – a beautiful wine; Musigny 1978 was all power and velvety depth, with marvellous concentration.
Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St-Jacques 1966 (‘I like the fragility of the 1966s’ said Gagey) was fragrant and pure, but much less vigorous; the Chambertin Clos de Beze 1953 that followed (with bottle variation one taster noted as ‘the feminine and masculine sides of Chambertin’) was elegantly fresh for its age, but knocked out by a very youthful Beaune Boucherottes 1949, a powerful, magical wine. Chambertin 1937, one of the rare good vintages of the 1930s, surpassed even this, being both lissom and vigorous, suave yet firm, a truly great wine.
Beaune Clos des Ursules 1929 still had remarkable rose-like fruit, a beautiful expression; Corton-Pougets 1915 with a delicate nose, but robust palate, was a perfect wine, especially from the war years; Beaune Clos des Couchereaux 1904, whose colour resembled that of a 20-year-old tawny Port, showed sweetness and spice to match its velvet texture.
Clos de Vougeot 1898, the first 100% pre-phylloxera wine, was fuller, with a beeswax nose, lifted complexity and beautiful balance; the Clos de Tart 1887 stopped us in our tracks with its massive depth of colour and concentration, which, in terms of energy and power, was almost equalled by the 1878 Pommard – both very low-yielding years.
Finally, Corton 1865 with its faded tawny colour, beautiful wild-rose nose, clear fruit, marvellous balance between delicacy and power, caused noted French wine critic Michel Bettane to remark that it was ‘a great Corton’. ‘I’m glad you liked it,’ said Gagey; ‘these were the last two bottles!’
The seven whites, from 1986 to 1885, had a hard act to follow and did not start particularly well with a 1986 Corton-Charlemagne, honey and nutty, but showing its age, which the mature, stonily firm Chablis Fourchaume was not.
The Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles 1959 had wonderful ripeness of fruit, imposingly aristocratic on its 50th birthday, while the Corton-Charlemagne 1928, pale Amontillado in colour with the fruit of a dry Sauternes, took us into another league, to be exceeded by the rich amber colour of Montrachet 1904, with a sweetness that Lardière said it had never lost – difficult to place in Burgundy, but remarkable nonetheless.
The 1898 Montrachet, however, full-amber in colour and almost figgy on the palate, resembling a dry Oloroso, was superb. Finally, the Meursault 1885, bright amber-gold, with a rich, crackling fruit, nutty, polished and pure, amazing for its age, ended this remarkable, unique tasting.
Dinner was served in the beautiful 15th-century Couvent des Jacobins, which had been the church of a powerful religious order until the French Revolution, later acquired in 1802 by an ancestor of Gagey’s and from 1960 until the opening of Jadot’s new cellars in 1997 housed the company’s labelling line.
Reconverted with soaring simplicity, it welcomed the guests to a concert of religious music by an ensemble of 12 male and 12 female vocalists. The leader said he hoped he would make the historic stones sing, reflecting the concepts of ‘verticality and horizontality, restraint and ornamentation, order and disorder, union and separation of the spiritual and the sensual’ that such music contains.
He could have been describing the wines we had tasted and those that followed. Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles 1979, the vineyard purchased by Louis Jadot and Louis Latour together in 1913, was all finesse, a little closed in on itself, yet a beautiful contrast to the more energetically structured Corton-Charlemagne 1989.
Both the reds were from magnums: Musigny 1966 (de Vogüé, bottled by Jadot), ‘worthy of a Château Margaux’ according to Bettane, rebuffed completely Gagey’s idea of 1966’s fragility with a depth of silkiness and grip. Finally Chambertin 1947, still dark red, ‘a kind of monster’ according to one taster – a huge wine, totally overwhelming in the best possible sense.
Written by Steven Spurrier