1957 ! October 13th, 2017

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The idea has been brewing for a while… my birth vintage, 1957, is not a great year anywhere in France, but the high acid wines of this very cold year have often survived surprisingly well. Accordingly a group of us of whom at least three were genuine ‘57ers and the others plausible candidates or at least agreeable lunching companions gathered last Tuesday, 10th October, at Berry Bros.

After a welcome aperitif of United Kindom Cuvee champagne, the first pair of wines, to accompany shellfish minestrone, was a doubleton of Domaine Gaston Huet’s Vouvray – a demi-sec Clos du Bourg and a moëlleux Le Mont. Well, in all honesty they were very difficult to tell apart, and one certainly did not seem to be any sweeter than the other.

Then the reds flowed through two by two. The first and second pairings had a characteristic in common: one light authentic wine and one denser version which was less likely to be pure pinot from 1957. In the former category came first Chambolle-Musigny Les Fremières from Louis Remy then an ageing Clos de la Roche from Armand Rousseau. Most of the colour had precipitated out of the Chambolle but there remained a chiffon of rose petals in both bouquet and palate, which showed no signs of dying away.

The other side of the coin was shown by a magnum of Gevrey-Chambertin Petite Chapelle from Maison Audiffred, which was dense and youthful in colour, showed some pinot aromatics but was clearly bolstered by some bonesetting juice from somewhere south, and by Lignier-Magnien’s Clos de la Roche which was a little more evolved and flowed in and out of authenticity with alternate sips.

The third pairing was a mixed bag but while Moillard’s Chambertin Clos de Bèze was somewhat sweet and soupy, Rodet’s Richebourg was authentic and brilliantly precise. This wine began the series of true excitement which the following pairing lived up to. First up was a Berry Bros bottling of Bonnes Mares, a wine I have tried on two previous occasions – each time it has provided a fabulous bottle of dense, mature pinot, with no feeling of additional material. There was a wild side to this bottle alongside the relatively plush fruit, in contrast to the more restrained, fine-boned and unquestionably authentic Faiveley Musigny.

Then came a pair of DRC wines: Grands-Echezeaux and La Tâche were on the menu but the latter was oxidised. Fortunately another guest had brought a bottle of La Romanée Conti itself! This had probably not been perfectly stored all its life and the colour was somewhat muddied. However the wine was clearly genuine, still with an attractive sweeteness of fruit, myriad rose petal notes, and a little salinity. Fascinating and in part very fine – but for me the star of the show was the Grands-Echezeaux which was as close to pristine as imaginable: a palish colour, light rose at the rim, a little darker in the centre. The perfume was there from the start, invoking the e word – ethereal. This was more exciting than the two or three occasions in the past when I have drunk the theoretically grander La Tâche ’57. The epitome of poise, class and grace.

Others waxed equally lyrical over Rousseau’s Chambertin. I had the first serving of this bottle and could not quite see the magic which it undoubtedly delivered elsewhere round the table. Unusually for me I wasn’t assertive enough to grab a second helping, so I missed out on some of the joy here.

Those wines could easily have completed a near perfect meal, especially as head chef Stewart Turner had exceeded even his own high standards with a flawless mutton and turnip dish. But there were three Bordeaux first growths to come, each of which were exemplars of their terroirs, without bearing the full weight and majesty of a great vintage. All three though had eaten up the excess acidity which has rather marred this vintage in Bordeaux. Complex touches of coffee and blood orange demonstrated the iron rich soil of Haut Brion, silky grace the magnum of Lafite, and a fresh, youthful concentration of fruit the better bottle of Latour (the other being slightly tainted by a whiff of cork). Three lovely wines without quite unearthing the emotion of the finest of the Burgundies.

I had not contributed any of the wines above, but had produced instead a bottle of Yquem. 1957 obviously is not a luxuriant vintage for the sweet wines of Bordeaux but this was quite delicious in a fine boned style. The fill level was good and the colour a pale clear amber. The fruit on the nose was more marmalade than fresh oranges, while the palate was pure, clean, and indeed elegant. But it was a bit late in the day for detailed notes as I am sure you will understand…

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