We are very fortunate that one of our guests at last week’s tasting and dinner (who shall remain nameless but is a great collector and connoisseur of exceptional wines) has allowed us to reproduce his (potentially controversial) thoughts on the evening.
Presented by Thomas Dô Chi Nam, winemaker at the chateau since the mid 1990s. The presentation was engaging and enthusiastic, but it is always something of a problem with presentations and tutored tastings conducted by people closely associated with the winery or the grower that they are relentlessly positive about every wine on show! In at least two cases, I really could not agree with the uncritical eulogy with which Thomas greeted his wine (although it may be that the bottle of 1986 served to our table was flawed). Nevertheless, this was a great opportunity to taste many very good wines from a fine chateau, and a thoroughly well-enjoyed evening. The food from Hibiscus was really excellent, most particularly the scallop with pork pie sauce and the iced chestnut parfait. Well done and thank you to the Goedhuis team! The notes which follow include in some cases Thomas’s comments as well as my own.
2007 Réserve de la Comtesse – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Initially very alcoholic on nose. Then some fruit, composed, perhaps ready. But on palate sharp, unformed, no length. Second tasting: some sweet fruit on front of palate. But tannic & sharp. Quite acidic, still no length. (84 pts.)
2006 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
On nose richness, fruit, lanolin, really good. Very tannic, lots of fruit on palate. Very unresolved as yet. But long, and very good potential. Forget this for 10 years. [Thomas Do Chi Nam: lots of tannin, strong vintage, uncut diamond, 20-30 year wine, very classical, still all fruit.] (92 pts.)
2003 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Really drinking quite well tonight. Good fruit, no acidity. Not complex. Two dimensional wine. Enjoyable now. Thomas Do Chi Nam says it won’t be ready for another 5 years, and will last for 20-25 years after that. But will it? I am doubtful. (89 pts.)
2001 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Very clean nose. Wine is fully resolved but only at the start of its drinking life. Beautiful fruit, including peaches as Thomas Do Chi Nam suggests. Delicious. Long. Satisfying. Curiously persistent. Initially seems not particularly long, but it is. It lingers and grows. More tears on the sides of the glass than with the 2003 or the 2006 — but the alcohol is not obvious on the nose or the palate. [Thomas: A great vintage, a forgotten vintage. 14% Petit Verdot (unusually high for Pichon Lalande), 50% Cab Sauv, 36% Merlot. “Flowers, peaches, violets.”] (94 pts.)
2004 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanLovely. Melon & peaches. Quite sweet, but not at all cloying. Very easy to drink. Served with a huge hand-dived scallop, pork pie sauce (yes! massively reduced, very strong flavour, and perfectly in harmony with both the scallop and the wine), pink grapefruit & wood sorrel. The wine was triumphantly successful with this dish. (92 pts.)
1996 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, PauillacThis wine is in an awkward phase. It was so delicious 5 years ago that I bought 4 cases after a tasting; at that time it seemed likely to be ready within just a few years. But tonight it still seems to need quite a bit more time. The nose is relatively dumb, a little cedar & lead pencil, but not much. Sharp on the palate, definitely not open for business. Not particularly long. When last tasted in March 2006 there was a preponderance of fruit, but not tonight. Then tasted tonight a second time with food (simple roast halibut) — very much better, the fruit is there but in hiding, the tannins and acidity more in evidence. It reverted to dumbness afterwards. Leave for at least another two years, probably longer, but I am confident it will turn out very well in the end. [Thomas Do Chi Nam: unusual blend — normally we use around 30% Merlot, but not in 1996. This wine is 75% Cab Sauv, only 15% Merlot. So it is predominantly cigar box & more classical. “Silky, tense, tight.”] (93 pts.)
1995 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Dark in colour, even inky. Persistently dumb nose. Lead pencils on the palate; still a lot of tannin. Not disappointing, but not really very expressive. Elderberry on back of palate, but not as long as expected. On the second tasting, again better with food, like the 1996. Opened up, but (unlike the ’96) did not revert to dumbness afterwards. [Thomas Do Chi Nam: 15% Cabernet Franc, which is exceptional for Pichon Lalande. “White flower flavour, velvety.”] (91 pts.)
1986 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, PauillacVery dumb on the nose, a real struggle to get anything at all. Slightly thin & light on the palate, and still very tannic. Persistent, but currently quite faint, hint of caramel — ?becoming old winey already. Suggests this may decline without ever really delivering its potential, or shedding its tannins. Maybe the bottle from which our table was served was flawed? [Thomas Do Chi Nam: 1986 was the then winemaker’s favourite vintage. Mainly Cab Sauv. “Cherry, violets, and a little mocha.”] (89 pts.)
1982 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
First magnum: Red fruits on the nose, raspberries and strawberries. Colour somewhat opaque, even cloudy. Some alcohol to the taste, lead pencil & cigar in the background, but subdued. A lot going on here. But in the end a little bitter. Not wholly a pleasant wine. (88-90)
Second magnum: No red fruits. Very much more serious. Intense colour, and brighter. Quite a lot of alcohol on nose. This wine is in a different league. Much richer. Quite thrilling. (95 for this magnum)
[Thomas Do Chi Nam: A very famous Pichon Lalande Vintage, a Parker 100 point wine.] (95 pts.)
With both wines from the Eighties, there appears to have been substantial bottle variation. In response to a question, Thomas was strongly supportive of the continuing relevance of the 1855 classification. On the strength of this vertical tasting, Pichon Lalande does seem to be appropriately classed as a second growth. However, on such a well-mannered occasion, no-one was likely to ask the awkward question why the 1990 and 2005 vintages of Pichon Lalande were relative failures, and no-one did! But the question is worth asking at some more suitable time, and deserves an answer.