1970 BORDEAUX: 50+ YEARS OLD BUT STILL SOME TREASURES!

November 1st, 2021

The 1970 Bordeaux vintage is getting on in age more than half a century old. It is the vintage most tasted over the years by your scribe together with the 1982 and 1975 as close runner-ups. Fortunate to monitor so many properties from this big 1970 crop produced from rather good weather but is an underrated vintage. It was released as an optimistic beacon in what has turned out to be the darkest period of Bordeaux vintages. Many decades were assessed by Harry Waugh in his brilliant Wine Diary with quotes from his 1982-1986 one published in 1987 as follows:

1963: “a disaster”

1964: “rain during the vintage in the Medoc, but it was quite successful for the wines from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.” Love those old vines Chateau Trotanoy 1964 that mostly survived the 1956 frosts just like L’Eglise-Clinet did.

1965: ‘The less we say about 1965 the better!”

1966: “Great expectations … too much acidity for enjoyment.” IMHO there are some excellent 1966s where there was enough fruit with the acidity in balance (like Chateau Palmer) as Michael Broadbent called “the long distance runner of 1966.”

1967: “Made from unripe grapes, this is another vintage which did not come up to expectations.”

1968: “third catastrophe of this irregular decade”

1969: “indifferent vintage”

1970: “one of those golden years which occur all too seldom and which yielded a very large crop of excellent quality. It is rare for such quality to accompany a large harvest and it was not until some time later that sceptics could accept it had actually happened.”

1971: “overshadowed by 1970 – have advantage of developing faster than the more robust and tannic 1970s.” Some outstanding Pomerols including Petrus.

1972: :wretched climatic conditions during most of the summer, the grapes had no chance to ripen and the result was some of the most unattractive young wine the writer has ever had the misfortune to taste.”

1973: ‘began to rain in September, to such an extent that the grapes swelled almost to bursting point – production was a vast one mainly of rather pallid washed out wines.”

1974: ‘born under unfavourable circumstances – cannot be placed among the good years.”

1975: “I have never thought, as I believe some people did, that 1975 was a better vintage than 1970, but of course time will tell.”

As you can see from these comments on vintages 1963-1975 inclusive that it was a bleak time for collectors and 1970 was the star year with 1966 and 1975 also finding advocates. Harry Waugh attended in Vancouver on March 11,1982 for a blind tasting & dinner at The Beach House featuring 10 top Bordeaux 1970. We all thought the wines showed most impressively featuring Latour, Palmer, Ducru Beaucaillou, Lynch Bages, and Montrose all needing more bottle age. The following year October 1983 was the celebration of 50 years for IWFS held in Vancouver with a tasting conducted by Michael Broadbent of top 1970 Bordeaux and again Palmer, Lynch Bages, and Ducru Beaucaillou were stellar but no rush to consume.

Over the next nearly 30 years your scribe has been delighted to taste 1970 Bordeaux hundreds of times and monitor their development. Not expecting consumers to wait 50 years to enjoy any vintage yet there can be surprising thrilling consequences in doing so.This experience has led me to the conclusion that the 1970 Bordeaux vintage is inconsistent, some were made from unripe grapes picked too early with way too high a yield, some should have been consumed many decades ago for peak enjoyment showing maximum young fruit, some had problems like the frequent volatile acidity notes of La Gaffeliere, and La Mission Haut Brion, and some were and still are outstanding. Don’t believe these best wines get the credit they deserve probably because there is no clear banner waver for the year – like a Lafite for 1959 or a Palmer in 1961. The top 1970s led by Latour, Palmer, Lynch Bages, Ducru Beaucaillou, PIchon Lalande, Domaine de Chevalier, and others don’t get the acclamation as mature wine treasures that they richly deserve!

All these thoughts and many more came vividly back to me at a 1970 vertical of 8 examples on October 26, 2021 at Blue Water Cafe in Vancouver. Exciting Champagne 2008 Roederer Cristal got the evening off to a good start with 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Chardonnay described by them as “chalk soils which lend it velvety texture and delicate
tension energy tamed by unusually long period of bottle ageing 10 years – A first!”.

Very old wines are always inconsistent because of bottle variation. However here one group was simpler and seen better days: ANGELUS dry, one dimensional, no oak used in maturation, still best bottle in decades; PAVIE: more open but rustic and musty, loose cork; DURFORT VIVIENS: lightest brown colour, simple, acidic. CHATEAU MARGAUX (Menu lists Latour but saved for an upcoming vertical) was in the middle with a couple of us thinking it may even get better as each bottle shows improved bouquet complexity. Yet it suffers from less concentrated unripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes finishing short even though the terroir is so special. However, 4 wines really sang brilliantly as excellent mature classic Bordeaux: DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER always needs time for the tannins and fruit to cohere and is lovely drinking presently with tobacco notes; DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU has terrific gravelly terroir resulting in classic St. Julien style so beautifully elegant; PICHON LALANDE before May de Lencquesaing’s time but well stored Pauillac cedar cigar box dramatic bouquet and lots of smooth fruit left. Underrated. plus PALMER with 16% Petit Verdot (44M 31CS & 9CF) perhaps not as stunning as 1966 or 1961 but still outstanding
with no rush to drink up and purchased for a steal in 1975 for $11.50 a bottle.

Try a great 1970 Bordeaux to learn why the region is so deservedly celebrated for the delights from long aging red wines. A rare treat!


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Ask Sid: 2021 BC Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards

October 27th, 2021
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Question: I know you just judged the 2021 British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards and wondered what your thoughts were on the results?

Answer: Well the results speak for themselves. Your scribe has many positive thoughts about the organization of the judging and the results but perhaps 3 main ones would be:

  1. The overall quality of BC wines is much improved. So many deserve your consideration. Liked the change this year to eliminate Bronze medals and just award only the very best wines from 90 wineries with Silver, Gold and Platinum.
  2. Impressed with Wine of the Year 2018 Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling. Congrats. If given a list of the 800+ wines in the competition beforehand and asked to pick the winner just from knowledge and reputation without a blind tasting this always outstanding wine would have been right there. IMHO this choice is also recognition for improving BC Rieslings as well as the excellent tasting abilities of the 14 judges (yours truly excluded).
  3. A popular successful variety with many entries was Pinot Noir with the most Platinum awards of three. Amazing that all went to Spearhead Winery for their 2019 Cuvee, Golden Retreat, and Saddle Block bottlings. What a fantastic endorsement for Winemaker Grant Stanley and his whole Spearhead team for such quality consistency across vineyards with this variety.

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DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER & SMITH HAUT LAFITTE EXCEL WITH BOTH WHITE + RED WINE

October 25th, 2021

Two respected Grand Cru Classe De Graves in Bordeaux are Domaine de Chevalier (DC) and Smith Haut Lafitte (SHL). Both have some similarities yet with important differences. They are both in Pessac-Leognan, both successful with their whites as well as the reds, and family focused showing even on their bottle labels respectively as “Famille Bernard” and “Daniel et Florence Cathiard”. However some major differences too which include the terroir and the history. DC is hidden in a pine forest hard to locate in SW Leognan with deep clay mostly gravel soils with good drainage above a 3-4 metre water table sometimes subject to hail and frost. SHL is on a plateau in Martillac with deep gravel mixed with glacial sands. DC has been making outstanding underrated wines for a long time starting in 1942 for a 40 year successful reign by Claude Ricard before Olivier Bernard took ownership in 1983. SHL has a shorter history of fine wines though managed by negociant Eschenauer for decades before the Cathiards took over in 1991. Your scribe has visited both properties on numerous occasions and is always impressed by their conscientious current attention to every detail in the vineyard and cellar for producing high quality Bordeaux wines. The Cathiards have produced miracles with their hard work, passion, and dedication over 30 years to raise SHL to this outstanding level. Congrats.

Some of these recollections were brought to mind on October 23 spotlighting DC & SHL for dinner at Vancouver’s Boulevard Restaurant. My brief impressions:

WHITES:

2011 & 2013 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER BLANC

2011 & 2013 SMITH HAUT LAFITTE BLANC

Interesting how rather weaker red wine vintages can still be good for whites as usually picked earlier and are often helped by less ripeness and more acidity. Certainly the case here. Late September 2013 rains and uneven ripening 2011 reds in Bordeaux didn’t affect dry whites to the same extent.

Different styles with DC having more richness from 6 hectares picked by 35-40 harvesters over 2 hours at sunrise for freshness. On my last visit May 16, 2018 with owner Olivier Bernard & Director Technique Remi Edange they were so impressed with their outstanding 2017. Only making 3-4 barrels of white so manually carry the grapes (around 70% Sauvignon Blanc & 30 Semillon) and empty them not destemmed or crushed into a special air bag press at low pressure for best juice. Start fermentation with one night in a cold 5C room and then 2-3 weeks
alcoholic fermentation to retain “energy” and the “new baby is born” maturing 1 1/2 years in oak. Don’t stir the lees that much if the juice is outstanding but Olivier says “battonage is important if there is high acidity”. Beautiful refined classic style. On January 26, 2015 on this Blog there is a profile of his book “The Magic Of the 45th Parallel”. Also on this Blog on May 31, 2018 a reference about his “frustration by all the bottle variation” and his decision from 2015 all whites bottled with quality Diam 30 long cork closures. Smart move. SHL is different with more vineyards and mostly 90% SB, 5 important Sauvignon Gris, and only 5 Semillon. Remember when there was no Semillon at all in the mix. Remarkable improvement this century and white was selling for more than the red earlier on but now quite similar prices. Really like the elegant quality fresh fruit and complex minerals. 2013 vintage preferred over the 2011 for both properties with divided opinions
enthusiastically supporting both styles. All drinking beautifully but no rush.

REDS:

2008 & 2005 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER ROUGE

2005 & 1995 SMITH HAUT LAFITTE ROUGE

Vintages were all important here. 2008 an underrated rather classic year showing deep colour with lovely developing tobacco notes. Starting to drink well now as it mounts the plateau of long enjoyment with supple rounding tannins plus mid weight balance and 9% Petit Verdot interest. No rush. 1995 the oldest one here is open quite herbaceous though smoother than expected from what can be quite a tannic year. Lovely now. Two 2005 a rare treat from that magical vintage of power and richness for future stunning complex wines. Fun to compare now both properties in 2005 as they are presently reluctant superstars.

DC shows some attractive spicy plums but not jammy at all. So typical graphite floral undergrowth notes with a big black currant statement. Olivier chooses his wood carefully from where the trees grow and tells the coopers exactly what he wants for toasting and not to break the fibre of the oak. He states “I am not selecting for the taste but for the breathing ability and different types of oak work best for me. Check the bio quality of each barrel for micro bugs as one bad barrel could ruin the whole blend and only use them for 5 years.” Olivier reflects back that “the best years were always the warmest – 1929, 1945, 1982, 2009. Therefore I am optimistic with global climate change that we can protect the fruit during the hot summers, not leave too much fruit on the vines, and still wait for picking with outstanding results for 2018 and following years.” Impressive result here for 2005 but needs time to open up and develop further dimensions. Patience is required.

SHL is similar but rather closed with concentrated pure cassis with refined tannins. Seems lusher in texture and though more oak polished has beguiling nuances including chocolate. Recall jogging through the vineyards with Daniel Cathiard and his pointing out to me the highest mound where the choicest fruit grows. Suggested making a small Cathiard Cuvee out of it alone but he wisely said “it was needed in the mix to make something memorable like our outstanding 2005”. Was he ever right! Quite a trio with 2009 & 2010 all top level. Another long-term beauty to still cellar with confident optimism. More detailed profile on SHL on this Blog August 3, 2015 linked below.

Finished dinner with 1988 Chateau Raymond-Lafon Sauternes from the Meslier Family, the first of an outstanding trio with the best acidity. Botrytis and balance working together. Delicious. Memories back to tasting with Olivier & Remi at DC in 2018 the remains of a wonderful Imperial of 2008 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes they had just served at an event. Olivier strongly recommends “drinking your Sauternes before the dessert arrives as it is too late with dessert.” Your scribe followed this smart tip and it worked marvellously for the rich wine before the strawberry cheesecake!


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Ask Sid: Who is the best sommelier in Canada?

October 20th, 2021
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Question: Who is the best sommelier in Canada?

Answer: So many talented knowledgeable sommeliers working in Canada – and around the world! Difficult times for them presently with the continuing pandemic issues affecting hospitality. Impossible to give you a definitive answer. However, your question is most topical because the two day competition (including tests and service skills)
by Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) and Wine Growers British Columbia (WGBC) for Best Sommelier of Canada was just held this week in Penticton BC. The declared winner last night was Pier-Alexis Souliere, MS from Quebec City. Congrats to him and all the amazing candidates from across the country. Pier-Alexis Souliere will represent Canada in February 2022 at the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) in Chile for Best Sommelier of the Americas. He previously ranked 9th out of the Top 50 at the last World Competition
held in Antwerp, Belgium in 2019 won by Marc Almert from Germany (16th person to hold that title). Good luck for 2023.


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SUMMER REFLECTION: SEASONAL FOODS – HEIRLOOM TOMATOES!

October 18th, 2021

On reflection during these continuing most difficult Covid times looking back positively on some of my food joys of Summer 2021. SEASONAL. What a glorious word and worthy concept – “depending on, or varying with the season”. Sustainable, organic, biodynamic, and all the other current buzz words are important too but don’t forget to take advantage of what is fresh and currently available in your marketplace by the seasons. Tried to pick a Top 5 out of so many foods that we enjoyed this Summer and early Fall. Here’s a brief overview:

5. LETTUCES: Growing your own is fun and productive. Fav was Arugula.

4. VEGETABLES: So many enjoyed but favs were thin green beans, red beets, fennel, and sweet corn on the cob freshly picked!

3. FRUITS: Most Summer fruits are a special treat. Picking and consuming wild blackberries topped our list but was closely followed by blueberries, cherries, and succulent juicy peaches. Local Strawberries are our usual chart topper but seemed less successful this year under the more trying weather conditions.

2. SEAFOOD: Cherish the wild salmon catch every year with Chinook, Sockeye and Coho slightly more available than lately. Halibut and Brill (or Petrale) Sole are wonderful.

1. HEIRLOOM TOMATOES: Clear winner for us. Longer season this year with the last crop of smaller sizes just purchased yesterday at the Sunday Kits Farmer’s Market. Still love those deep red delicious Black Krim ones. Wrote here more than 7 years ago now in September 2014 about these and other varieties. Are tomatoes really a fruit? Yes apparently so because they contain seeds and grow from the flower of the tomato plant. Almost sweet and juicy enough to qualify as well. However your scribe continues to use them as a vegetable for a starter course salad. Perfect on their own but even better with a complement of ripe avocado, best burrata, green Castelvetrano olives and high quality fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil. So good.

Excited to turn the page to later Fall produce and already buying and enjoying so many different seasonal goodies. The highlights are of course studying the different fresh apples (reported to be 7500 varieties around the world) from sweeter Fuji to quite tart sour Granny Smith. Always so many to taste from best early on Ambrosia to
better lasting Honeycrisp. Another joy is the many types of Winter Squash (there are Summer Squashes too) with our fav still being bell shaped Butternut (pale outside and orange inside not to be confused
with dark green outer skin Buttercup). Explore.

What were some of the seasonal Summer foods near your home that brought you some culinary joy in 2021?


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