My lukewarmness toward new world cabs is rather publicly stated. An inspiring example now and then keeps the faith alive, but serve me a Bordeaux 1st growth, and now we are talking! Hundreds of $$ a bottle a rare treat, but more than that - it's a Margaux, the most feminine of the Cabernet-based left-bank appellations in Bordeaux, and feminine is my kinda wine!
The tasting started at 7:30. I came late, very late, 9. I was glad to be late. Ross accommodated, more than enough left in the bottle waiting for me - I love the "Bott crowd" - quirky always, grumpy sometimes, but always a caring bunch of geeks. I didn't want to do the blind tasting and ranking like the usual. I was there to take my time with Miss Margaux 1984, to give her my respects.
For all the truthfulness and fairness of blind tastings, I do not like them. While scientifically interesting, I've grown to think of blind tastings in the same way I imagine picking a date from a speed-dating meetup. When it comes to wine of stature, no I don't want to be objective. I want to know what I am dealing with. I want to anticipate or be put off by my prior knowledge of it, whatever baggage may come. I want the wine either to fulfill or to overcome the preconceived notion. And most of all, I want to take my time with it, have a date with it, smell it, taste it, caress it, look at it, and then do it all over again. It cannot be a ménage à trois or worse - an orgy. No, it is a tango, me-and-her, to the bliss or to the dumpster. And if that is wrong, I don't want to be right!
So what did I expect from the 1984 Chateau Margaux coming in? A grand wine from a weak vintage. A great chateau will make a good wine even in bad year - in fact it could be a great value. The pedigree could come through with age, leanness turned to character, harshness to smoothness.
Chateau-Margaux.com penned it beautifully:
"Beyond its reputation, people's considered opinions about it, and the sensations it provides, a great vintage stands out in our memories above all for its fantastic capacity to move us. Château Margaux 1953, 1961, 1982 and 1990, to mention just a few, appear to touch our hearts before, or at the same time as, they overwhelm our senses. While a very good wine impresses us, a great wine moves us. A difference which is ridiculous, elusive and considerable, all at the same time.
And what about the lesser vintages? Harvested in tricky conditions and aged with indifference, they are forgotten as they mature, until the day when, a bit by chance or out of curiosity, we finally decide to drink them. Of course, we should not expect miracles; we are neither overwhelmed with emotion nor deeply impressed. Most often, however, a straightforward pleasure without frills awaits us. It is all the greater because it is completely unexpected.
« Lesser » vintages are greatly appreciated by shrewd wine enthusiasts. The advantage they have over great vintages is that they develop more quickly, and after ten or fifteen years, display, in the absence of power, that subtlety which is the hallmark of great terroirs. Most of them are by no means « lesser », but the reputation they have been given sticks with them. Technical advances and strict selection, helped by a certain refusal to let fate decide matters, now enable us to produce a very good, good or ..... no vintage. One day, perhaps, we will no longer remember the unexpected, subtle charm of discovering a lesser vintage."
Well, 1984 was a mediocre vintage in Bordeaux at best. But it's Chateau Margaux after all, one of the five greatest growths, a pillar of France's wine reputation for over two centuries! So I tasted. For an hour, no less, not allowing the other 7 wines including the bright and plummy 1984 Opus One, to distract me. I was still there when the rest had left, contemplating my date of the night, perhaps trying too hard. Tannin still strong, even after two hours after opening. Not much on the nose. Typical Bordeaux on the palate - tobacco, little fruit, restrained, balanced, firm. With the 2005 Chateau Margaux going for north of $800, the 1984 may seem like a bargain for $200+. But to be honest, it tasted like a $30 Bordeaux to me... not bad... but... well... uninspiring.
I think there is an aura and regalness about older wines. We give them respect like veterans, and because truly majestic examples haunt us. But we forget that most old wine is just that - old wine. God bless the 1984 Chateau Margaux, certainly not a bad wine in my estimation, and not something I would turn away. It reminded me why vintages, especially older vintages, are so incredibly relevant in the wine world, and are not just pretentious invention of the wine snob. Sometimes an awkward wine will come around with age, but more often than not - stars need to align perfectly to produce a wine that will dazzle in its elder years. For long-term aging - great producer, great vintage, great terroir, great storage are those stars. Don't bet against them (sorry, Miss 1984).