About ten years ago a friend of mine inherited a country pile from a misanthropic great uncle. The place was a bit neglected so he planned to sell off some of the accumulated loot in order to pay for renovations. Sadly the chap from Christie’s was not impressed: the paintings were minor works and all the good wine had been drunk.
This weekend we decided to prove Christie’s wrong. The collection reminded me a little of my grandfather’s cellar (see post on Frasier’s sherry): there was a magnum of Liebfraumilch 1985, two bottles of Manzanilla sherry too dirty to read the label and a bottle of supermarket non-vintage Soave. There was also a few bottles of Chateau Lascombes 1963, a bottle of Chateau La Grand Maye, Cotes de Castillon, 1975 , four bottles of Malartic-Lagravière 1961 bottled by Herbert Fender of London W1 and a wine with no label in a Moselle green flute.
Seeing as 1961 is a famous vintage we decided to open the Malartic first. First signs were promising. The level in the bottle was high and the cork came out whole. I poured the wine through some cheesecloth into a jug. There was surprisingly little deposit. Gingerly I took a little sniff expecting a waft of vinegar or worse. Instead I got wine. ‘It’s still wine’ I cried ‘and look at the colour!’ It was a deep dark red only slightly browning at the edges. I poured a little into a glass and inhaled: the nose was earthy, a little vegetal with a bit of damp wood. Next a little sip. Initially the tannins were unyielding; this was still a muscular wine. What must it have been like when young? After about 20 minutes it relaxed and became savoury, refreshing and extremely moreish. It wasn’t hedonistic or particularly long. Instead it reminded me of a quote from Hugh Johnson ‘freshness is the touchstone of any great Bordeaux.’ This 49 year old wine tasted young and alive.
After such a treat the other two clarets were inevitably a disappointment. The Cotes de Castillon was orange with a vague watery sweetness. The Lascombes though well past its best had some charm and complexity. Later in the spirit of drunken experimentation, I mixed half a glass of the Lascombes with a little Bodegas Palacio Rioja Reserva 2005 from Morrison’s. It may have been the late hour or my inebriated state, but the two seemed to meld seamlessly together to become greater than the sum of their parts. I felt like the master blender at Gonzalez-Byass.
Finally the Moselle. I was hoping that it might be an auslese from a top vintage like 1976. Sadly the stench of rot and vinegar on opening it suggested that it must have been something closer to Liebfraumilch.
Bodegas Palacio Rioja Reserva 2005 available from Morrison’s It was reduced to £7.49. Excellent as it is or even better mixed with an old Lascombes.
1961 Malartic-Lagravière will be harder to get hold of. If you can find any, I imagine that it would cost about £250 a bottle. My friend’s are not for sale.