Saturday, November 16, 2013

A quartet of old clarets

Over the past few weeks G and I have been drinking the occasional bottle of claret to make a change.

Of the four, this Chateau Talbot 1978 was my least favourite. I found it quite hard work. On the nose, I got soil, while it had a very bitter finish. "Interesting" say my notes, euphemistically. There was some fruit underneath the soil and before the bitterness, and it was better with food, but I wouldn't be unduly bothered if I never got to drink it again.

This Chateau de Malescot St-Exupery 1978 was more like it. It didn't look old, but glossy, and had clearly been very well kept as it wasn't remotely over the hill. It had big, manly flavours including coffee, cocoa, charcoal, tobacco, earth and black cherry. It improved after an hour in the decanter, and was definitely not a "lunchtime claret". We thought it would probably have been undrinkable when it was young, but it was definitely drinkable now.

This 1978 Chateau Gruaud Larose was fabulous. We gave it 15 minutes in the decanter before we started drinking it. It was very cabernet sauvignon, with enticing blackcurrant and mint on the nose, and was very correct, smooth and poised on the palate. I wrote that it was still going strong after 90 minutes and showing no sign of age; shortly after I'd written that, inevitably, it faded.

Finally, there was this 1967 Chateau Montrose, my favourite of the four.

I suspect everyone who is into wine can remember the first, special wine that introduced them to this world where the angel choirs sing etc.etc. In 1995, G and I stayed for a weekend at the Crown in Southwold, and one evening at dinner he spotted a 1970 Montrose on their bin-end list for £40. That was a lot of money for us poor students back in those days but was nevertheless a steal. We ordered it and after one sniff, my eyes lit up, and the rest is history. It was the day I turned 22, and I've had a sentimental attachment to Montrose ever since.

From all accounts the 1967 shouldn't have been any good so I didn't have particularly high expectations. In fact it didn't seem old or in any way over the hill. It was glossy and dark in colour, and on the nose G got mint and pencilbox while I found baked fruit. The texture was lovely and silky-smooth, medium weight, and the finish was great. All in all, it was excellent old claret.

Most wine writers appear to have written off these old clarets, but our experience has been that they do have remarkable longevity and if they have been kept well, can still give great pleasure. That's a big if, though. Buying at auction is risky but G is very careful to look out for bottles with good levels, as that seems to be the best indicator that the wine is still ok. Thanks G for sharing these with me!

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