Bordeaux: the 1961 Vintage
Le Colombier, London
1st June 2007
This was a rare opportunity to taste and drink a remarkable collection of wines from the fabled 1961 vintage. The bottles had been assembled from various sources by wine enthusiast Keith Prothero on behalf of the South African charity, Pebbles, to which all proceeds from the evening went.
As always with old bottles, each bottle has to be treated in isolation and not regarded as necessarily representative of the chateau in the year. In any other tasting, any one of most of these bottles would have been the star of the tasting, but put all together, it was a bit of an embarrassment of riches, and one becomes more critical of the individual wines. Overall, the standard of the wines was a little disappointing, with many seeming a bit over the hill, though I have a feeling that in most cases this was as much down to the provenance of the individual bottle as it was to the inherent character of the vintage from each chateau. Given these circumstances, rating the wines is pointless.
Loudenne, Médoc Cru Bourgeois
This is a dark, mature colour, though still with a hint of ruby amid the oldness. On the nose there is some sweet blackberry fruit with a life, and some truffley damp forest floor scents. The immediate impression on the palate is of a sweet old claret, with no great depth or complexity left. But it is very drinkable. There are some soft tannins on the finish.
Fifteen minutes of evolution in the glass brings some very clear coffee grounds to the fore on the nose; the fruit has faded and the soft, evolved tannins dominate more. After about an hour, it had gone over completely.
1961 Chateau Cantemerle, Margaux 3ème Cru Classé,
served en magnum
An unpromising murky, polished mahogany colour. The nose is rather murky and has a dirty feel, with a touch of stink and furniture polish. This is almost dead, but you can see that there was some good stuff in there once. It is, however, just still drinkable, and tastes a lot better than the nose would suggest. It has a sweet sandy texture with some decent length.
Returning to the glass about an hour later, there was much more volatile lift on the nose, together with an overwhelming feel of death. It is, however, still much more drinkable than the nose suggests. The tannins are coming more to the fore, but it’s still drinkable. Definitely faded though.
1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux 3ème Cru Classé
Looking at the colour, this still has plenty of life in it: it’s a bright, clean, mature ruby. There is sweetish cherry fruit on the nose. It’s rather light on the palate, quite fresh with a notably high acidity. If tasted blind, I don’t know that I would have immediately put it as claret, and it has a more Italianate feel to it. The big acidity gives a somewhat false impression of freshness.
Coming back to it later, there were more air freshener notes on the nose, and the Italianate feel becomes more focussed: it definitely starts to feel like old nebbiolo to me.
Lascombes, Margaux 2ème Cru Classé
A mature, light colour. Lovely integrated nose; the best so far. There is some sweet black fruit on the nose with some savoury, almost Bovril notes, but then there are some elegant floral notes. On the palate, the first impression is that this is rather nice: it has a good, mature claret feel. Quite wide on the palate with a soft-grained tannic structure still. This is still fully open for business and an impressive wine.
After an hour or so, the nose was still really good and there was some sweetish red fruit on the palate. Still impressive.
Brane-Cantenac, Margaux 2ème Cru Classé
This looks fully mature. Initially there are some sandalwood notes on the nose, then some high tones. The palate is open, and nice and clean with some acidity lending a freshness, but nowhere near that of the Giscours. It’s a tiny bit dried out, but there is still some good black fruit in there on the palate.
Returning to this later, it was becoming very secondary and faded on both the nose and the palate.
Margaux 1er Cru Classé
A slightly murky, mature mahogany-ruby colour. It’s quite lifted on the nose with some marshmallow notes and also some river bank notes. There is some open red fruit on the palate, with some ripeness. It feels nicely balanced, though there’s a bit of an earthy edge.
Around an hour later, there are sweet biscuits and honeycomb on the nose and it’s still drinking well.
du Pin Figeac, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé
There are fresh button mushrooms on the nose, though with some aeration and time some sweet cassis fruit comes through. The palate has some quite sweet fruit: this is quite together and fairly enjoyable, with some purity and elegance.
Blanc, St Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classé, English
This has a very dark colour and a musty, porty nose, that feels very maderised. This bottle is completely spoiled and shot: I assume it’s been slowly cooking in poor conditions over the years. A shame.
Brion, Graves 1er Cru Classé
Again a deep colour. The nose is murky and somewhat musty, feeling a bit cooked. It is (perhaps with some imagination) possible to detect a hint of the wine’s former elegance, but now this is bottle is shot.
In the glass, this is a deep, dark garnet and polished old oak colour. Deep and slightly brooding on the nose with some torrefaction, coffee and brambley fruits. In contrast to the last two, this is still very much open for business. Very deep on the palate with some leathery complexity. There’s a bit tannic style, with an elegant fruit backbone. Superb stuff. It could easily age some more. Excellent.
d’Estournel, St.-Estèphe 2ème Cru
Classé, English bottled by Justerini
A very mature ruby with some teak hints. Leafy and earthy nose with some black fruits behind, and also some mintiness. This is quite impressive initially. There are lots of red fruit on the palate and it’s actually quite fleshy. Very attractive. Very Good Indeed.
Batailley, Pauillac 5ème Cru Classé
A mature even ruby with a deep teak-coloured edge. Quite flat on the nose: leafy with some quite curranty fruit. On the palate, it’s high-toned and feeling very thing and short. This bottle is going over.
Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5ème Cru Classé
A lovely colour – this could be 10-20 years younger to judge from the colour. Very perfumed nose with a mint and lavender fragrance. This is nice and pleasant on the palate with quite forward sweetish fruit, yet also light and elegant. There are some nice spicy tannins on the finish, followed up by super length. Very Good Indeed. It holds up very well in the glass with time.
Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac 2ème Cru Classé
This doesn’t look at all over mature. It has a deep, almost brooding nose. The palate is light and fragrant with some very elegant fruit coming through in layers. This could definitely be 10 years younger on the palate. Lovely. With time, it takes on some roast coffee notes on the nose, and the palate continues to hold up well.
Pauillac 1er Cru Classé
A dark mulberry colour. A bit closed on the nose: I find some cinnamon notes, though others are talking about coconut, which I can’t find. On the palate, this is showing its class in spades. Deep, elegant and wondering why on earth we’ve woken it up so soon in its life. Excellent.
Poyferré, St. Julien 2ème Cru Classé
A mature, browning red. There is some deep, sweetish hedgerow fruit on the nose along with some big cassis notes. It ha a nice round palate with a certain meaty fleshiness and some rather direct fruit. It is just about showing its age, but it’s by no means to its detriment. Enormous length. Excellent.
Barton, St Julien 2ème Cru Classé
A very attractive mature colour. The nose has deep black fruits. Very attraction on the palate, this has a lovely open, full feel. There are some slightly lifted high tones, but here they serve to make it more attractive. It has nothing like the length of the Poyferré and is actually a touch short. Very Good Indeed.
Barton, St Julien 2ème Cru Classé
This has an Avery’s label, but was chateau-bottled. It has a clear appearance, looking more mature with more of a polished oak colour than the first Léoville Barton. It feels a bit corked on the nose, and is definitely so on the palate.
Las Cases, St Julien 2ème Cru Classé
A very nice colour – mature, but not overly so. There is some attractive black fruit on the nose with some subtle mintiness. Very good on the palate, this is open and quite fresh without being high toned. There are some quite firm tannins, especially on the finish. Very Good Indeed+.
1961 Chateau Gruaud Larose, St Julien 2ème Cru Classé
A notably mature colour. Superb nose: fresh black fruits with some mint and eucalyptus. Very attractive on the palate: this is clean and fruity, with quite forward fruit. It’s ready to drink now, but isn’t really showing its age. Excellent. After a while, a touch of cough medicine on the nose.
A deepish orangey gold. Very refined nose with apricots and marjoram. Quite big on the palate and a touch rough and ready, though that adds to its interest. This is clearly a bottle that’s in very good condition. There’s lovely balance and a very fine acidity noticeable on the finish. This is a nice wine, notably alive, but a touch simple.
This has the appearance of old polished oak – very much a 40 year-old tawny appearance. The nose is nutty and raisiny with dried figs, initially with some alcohol, but that blows off to reveal some medicinal notes. A bit coarse on the palate. This would have benefited from being opened longer. Good/Very Good. 86/100
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Last updated: 9 January 2008