I changed my flights and rearranged my schedule to be at Chateau Latour on 31 March, 2011. When I received the invitation a few months ago from Latour’s Director, Frederic Engerer, I was intrigued. Twelve guests were invited and each would have access to the Chateau Latour cellar to choose one bottle each from 48 possible vintages going back to 1863. Each guest would make their selection by choosing a vintage from a box of potential vintages. This wine would only be known to the person who chose it; then the wine would be decanted alone with only the cellar master present. The selected twelve wines would be served blind. This tasting alone made the 18-hour journey to Bordeaux worthwhile.
I was in good company – the other wine writers included Jancis Robinson, Michel Bettane, Ch’ng Poh Tiong and James Suckling. We would all be tasting blind and looking foolish together. I have participated in enough blind tastings to know that the likelihood of getting the vintage right among wine professionals is really no higher than wine amateurs. The main difference is that we articulate what we like better than non-professionals and we argue better about why a bottle is an unusual one when we get it wrong.
I was initially hoping for the 1949 vintage given its significance as the year the People’s Republic of China was founded and because of the memorable 1949 bottle I had at the chateau eight years ago. I chose an even more historical vintage – a pre-phylloxera 1863! There were only 7 bottles of this vintage in the cellar and I inspected two bottles, then chose one with the higher level. Each of the guests knew only his/her own vintage and all 12 wines were then poured blind over dinner.
As expected, guesses on vintage were challenging. This is especially the case with Latour where a fifty year old wine can taste like a twenty year old and a 100 year old wine can taste like a fifty year old wine. These ex-cellar Latours are incredibly fresh and lively. When my 1863 bottle came up blind paired with the 1971 vintage, most people thought the 1863 was only a decade or two younger than the 1971, not 110 years apart! The purpose of the Latour dinner was to highlight the Christie’s auction coming up on May 27th in Hong Kong. For the second time in its history, Latour will be offering a 400-lot selection of its wines direct from the chateau.
Below is a select list of my favourite Latour vintages from the evening:
1. 1863 Château Latour The wine started out with mushroom and tobacco notes but soon expressed more and more musty, leather, aged character. Not a surprise given its age. Amazing concentration and youthfulness given the vintage. Not a great bottle though, because of a mustiness that only started to surface after the glass warmed up. When I first tasted the wine, it was fresh and lively and although it was only decanted just before serving, much of the freshness had disappeared quickly. (92)
2. 1893 Château Latour Pale ruby, like a rose from the Rhone Valley. Very aromatic wine with light colour. By sight alone, one would guess Burgundy. Even on the palate, the tannins have softened into a silky texture with only pure fruit and acidity remaining. Light bodied, soft, delicate, Burgundian – a lovely drink but fading in the glass after about an hour. To be enjoyed as soon as it is opened. (91)
3. 1909 Château Latour A medium-bodied aromatic wine that is so seductive on the nose. The lovely perfume leads to a sweet mid-palate filled with dried floral notes and subtle herbal flavours. There is incredible grace, elegance and real depth. Layers of flavours keep unfolding gently, one after another. A very impressive wine – especially at 112 years old! (97)
4. 1919 Château Latour A stylish medium bodied Latour with classic cedar and leather notes. This is traditional style winemaking – a light touch, very little extraction and moderate ripeness. It has evolved into a lovely wine with nice intensity and amazing life, considering its age. Soft, velvety in texture with a jasmine tealeaf finish. Enjoy now. (94)
5. 1945 Château Latour The 1945 tasted nearly 8 years ago at the chateau was memorable, but not as intense and complex as this bottle. This is an incredible wine with still lively fruit characters and a depth that comes from great structure, freshness and intense flavours. The long bottle aging has added depth and nuances that add to the complexity. The 1945 and the 1947 Latour are two of the best older Bordeaux that I have ever tasted. A glorious wine! (99)
6. 1947 Château Latour A Latour that I can inhale throughout the evening and be absolutely content. The nose is seductive and spicy. The wonderful bouquet of flavours carries through on the palate with amazing depth and the finish is very long. The wine beguiles by evolving and changing by the minute in the glass. A multi-dimensional beauty, one with charm as well as grace. A perfect wine. (100)
7. 1961 Château Latour I’ve had the privilege of tasting the 1961 three times in the past 12 months, twice at the chateau. I am always underwhelmed. The colour is rich and deep but the flavours are closed and not expressive. The tannins and flavours are chunky and sit on your palate rather than caress it. Many have commented that this wine is young and not open, but after 50 years, shouldn’t the wine be coming around now? This is a dense Latour but without the generosity of flavours found in other 1961s. It is an excellent Latour but not among the finest as the vintage might lead you to expect. Also tasted six months ago, and this was the better bottle. Enjoy now. (96)
8. 1971 Château Latour A vibrant Latour with lively blackberry fruit and fresh acidity. A very impressive wine given the vintage – this is one of the most successful wines from 1971. Still young and very densely packed. Tasted blind, it showed so well that everyone guessed it was from a much grander year. Wait at least another 3-5 years before enjoying it. Will keep for another decade or more. (96)
Reprinted with permission from South China Morning Post