Last week I was fortunate to get a last-minute invitation to Sigel’s Fête du Bordeaux Dinner in the ballroom at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Nearly 100 wine lovers showed up for a sampling of Dallas’ initiation to the 2009 vintage wines from Bordeaux, year called “magical” by Robert Parker. Special guests from the Bordeaux region included Jean-Charles Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages and Château Les Ormes-de-Pez; Anthony Barton of Château Léoville-Barton and Château Langoa-Barton; and Melissa Bouygues of Château Montrose and Château Tronquoy-Lalande. Nicolas Glumineau, winemaker of Château Montrose (and aspiring singer of Carmen), also attended. Guests enjoyed a five-course meal prepared by the Mansion chefs, under the direction of executive chef Bruno Davaillon, while they tasted wines from the 2009 vintage and, for comparison purposes, the same wines from older vintages.
This was a very important and special dinner in the Dallas. All of the wines are especially air-shipped from Bordeaux for the tasting. The 2009’s were opened precisely at 3PM and the 1996s at 6:30PM to allow them to properly breathe. Despite having to serve food and navigate 14 wine glasses at each place setting, the Mansion staff was faultless. Guests started with a Champagne reception featuring the underrated and subtle Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Brut accompanied by hors d’oeuvres of foie gras and salmon. Once seated, a white wine, the 2009 Blanc de Lynch-Bages was served with the first course – an ethereal sliced scallop carpaccio. The latter was ‘salted’ with crushed quinoa, a masterstroke of texture and flavor contrasts that involved sweet and earthy notes and crisp and sinewy structure.
At that point we were on to the main act of the evening – the reds from 2009. The anticipation in the room ran high as 2009 has been highly touted by wine critics. The world’s most influential critic, Robert Parker, said “2009 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux..a magical vintage.” He scored it 99/100.
I was struck by how true-to-type the six 2009 wines were. I felt that I was attending a master class in Bordeaux terroir. The three wines from the village of St. Estèphe were typical in their hard tannins and relatively inaccessible fruit. I expect the Montrose to be the longest lived of all these six wines. The wines from the village of St. Julien were also straight from the hymn book. The Langoa-Barton was the most enjoyable to drink now. Typical of the commune, it exhibited open and fragrant fruit of cassis and a bouquet of moderate cedar. The tannins are firm enough to give this wine structure without making it too astringent. Its counterpart, Léoville-Barton, needs more time. Finally, the Lynch-Bages, from Pauillac, continued the style that this wine has enjoyed at least since Jean-Charles’ father (and UT graduate!), Jean-Michel Cazes made the wine famous in the modern era. It is open, opulent, stylish. Bundles of concentrated cassis and cedar fill the mouth. The new French oak lends it a laminate of silky smoothness. In a year of very good wines, this one stands out.
Bear in mind that critics’ scores are no substitute for personal experience with these wines. The scorers try to hammer a wine into a set of common criteria in order to a position it in their ladder. The winemaker was trying to create a particular house style. Thus, Langoa-Barton scored ‘only’ 93 points with The Wine Spectator but its stable mate, Léoville -Barton, scored 95 (with Robert Parker). One isn’t a second wine of the other. The vineyards are separate, and each is made in a different style.
The 2009 wines are all keepers. To get an idea of how they might develop, we tasted some older vintages of the same wines. Three from 2001 and three from 1996. Working a vertical of these wines is like pointing a telephoto lens into past vintages. At release, the 2001 was overshadowed by the stellar 2000 vintage and has continued to receive less attention than it deserves. The 2001 Lynch-Bages should be drunk now. It may actually be on the downhill slope of losing its fruit. The 2001 Léoville-Barton is the best of the three to drink right now. It is at or near its peak and it still has enough grip to command respect with steak or game. The Montrose is still evolving. It is earthy and full of mushroom notes. It will keep another five years if necessary. This wine is what people mean when they talk about classic St. Estèphe.
Our final flight of reds were three examples from the 1996 vintage. It was fitting that these wines had been given a decade and a half to mature as this was a tannic year. Tannin softens with time and these wines tasted the best that I can remember them. The 1996 Langoa-Barton, the same winery that had made a wine that seemed so fresh and approachable in 2009, was still lively and bright after 15 years of age. The Lynch-Bages, likewise, showed great longevity. In fact neither of these wines tasted older than their 2001 counterparts. The final 1996, the Montrose, of all of the wines tasted in the evening, best represents classic aged Bordeaux. One taste and you could not confuse this wine with Cabernet-based wines from anywhere else in the world. If you can get some from Sigel’s it is well worth buying for a special meal in the coming holiday season, and is likely to have a relatively modest price because 1996 is not a marquee vintage. Remember the two-hour breathing time mentioned above.
All of these reds were served with Bruno Davaillon’s Sweetbread and Foie Gras Agnolotti, Fall Root Brunoise, Black Truffle Purée with Aged Parmigiano, then Roasted Venison Loin, Porcini-Bacon Tart, Caramelized Pear and “Grand Veneur” Sauce and the cheese course of Der Scharfe Maxx (Swiss cow’s milk cheese), Saint Angel (French triple cream cow’s milk cheese) and Morbier (French raw cow’s milk cheese from the Jura region). I did an informal survey of the guest speakers as to how the food stacked up. They are visiting only six cities in the US on this trip including New York, Chicago, Houston and Miami (our inclusion is indicative of the importance of the Dallas market for Bordeaux sales). We were the penultimate stop and they described the meal here with phrases like ‘one of the best’.
A magical evening ended too soon. Chef Bruno Davaillon’s cuisine was as stellar as the wine. Nice to have a real fine dining experience.
These wines are coming in now. Older vintages are also available. Email for availability.
[Ed. note: Special thanks to the folks at Sigel's for extending an invitation to fill the last seat at the table.]