From the archive: Steven Spurrier – My top 10 Bordeaux wines of all time

Chateau Haut Bailly, Pessac Leognan CC 2009.

On the cover of Decanter’s June 2010 issue which covered 2009 Bordeaux En Primeur, I quoted: “The best vintage of your lifetime”. The ripeness of the Cabernets allowed them to be blended with earthier Merlots for wines that were elegant and vibrant.

Haut-Bailly claret is my favorite, and not just because of the charm of its owners. First Daniel Sanders, his son Jean, and then his granddaughter Veronique Sanders. She is the current CEO, under Robert G Wilmers. I remember the Haut-Bailly in Paris and London in the 1970s, and the 1955 in London during the 1960s.

The Dorset cellar contains bottles from 2012 through to 1998. This 2009 was the third-best wine in Pessac-Leognan’s en primeur, after Haut-Brion, La Mission and La Mission. I praised its ‘undeniable class and beauty’.

Château d’Yquem, Sauternes 1CS 1988 in jeroboam

The lunch was held in 2011 to celebrate the opening of the magnificent new Cheval Blanc cellar, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, 1994 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner. As we entered, Dom Perignon was flowing and red wines such as the 2000 and 1990 Cheval blanc were also available.

I didn’t drink a second glass of Yquem, despite the fact that it was perfect. Instead, after a cup of coffee, I got in my car and drove to Bordeaux. The police stopped me without any reason and asked me if I had been drinking. The breathalyzer showed that I was over 50mg/l. They took me to the Libourne Police Station for an official test which revealed 54mg/l. As long as I did not exceed the 10% allowed, it was okay to leave.

The next evening, I went to a dinner in Haut-Brion. I was confident that a great wine is enough and you don’t need another glass.

Domaine de Chevalier, Graves 1941*

Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier served this at a lunch. He didn’t realize that 1941 was my birthday, and he gave me a rare treat, as it was almost as bad as the 1946 vintage of my wife.

Bernard said that the wine was one of a group of bottles acquired by a cousin of an estate’s former owner. They were all re-corked in the chateau back in 1994.

It was still quite fresh, with no oxidation on the nose or palate. I also remember that it had a good balance and length, despite the high acidity. Bernard’s belief in this poor vintage was what I remembered most. He re-conditioned it and presented it to me (and the wine) in my 60th year.

Château Margaux, Margaux 1GCC 1985

This is the best claret that I’ve had in the last few years. It was served in magnums at the Chateau Margaux 2015 opening of the new chair designed by Lord Foster.

The 1982s, which launched Bordeaux in the modern world, are still excellent. But 1985 was almost just as good (though less acclaimed). I’ve never had a bad bottle of wine from across the Gironde.

The memory of Chateau Margaux is the grandeur and beauty of the chateau, its vineyards and the old and the new chais. It also includes vintages like 1953 and 1961.

From 1977, the Mentzelopoulous Family dedication through three generations – Andre’s wife Laure and Corinne, her daughter, were Decanter Women of the year in 1985 – and the talents and charm of the late Paul Pontallier who was head winemaker between 1985 and 2015. Chateau Margaux is the place to go if wine is art.

Château Léoville Barton, St-Julien 2CC 1989

I cannot separate Bordeaux from the Barton Family. Langoa, Leoville Barton, and Mouton Rothschild are the last chateaux of the 1855 Classification that remain under the family.

I visited vintage time many times in the 1970s, under Ronald Barton. I have also been there many more times under Anthony, his nephew, and I will continue to visit with Lilian, Anthony’s daughter, for many years to come.

Leoville Barton, a benchmark St-Julien, is not enough. It is the expression of the family’s vineyards through thick and thin since 1826. The 1989 was served to 40 guests at a dinner in March 2004, celebrating 40 years of wine trading.

Anthony Barton recommended the 1989 vintage, which was the heatwave year. I already had the 1988 and 1986 in my cellar. He chose the 1989, the year of the heatwave. It was a wine which warmed hearts back then and continues to do so today.

Château Figeac, St-Emilion 1GCC 1970

Figeac, Haut-Bailly, and Leoville Barton are my favourite Bordeaux chateaux. They’re all beautiful buildings – Langoa’s 18th-century classic chartreuse; Figeac’s 18th-century Manoir, and Haut-Bailly’s 19th-century gentleman’s residence – and they’re all owned by a family, the Manoncourts.

Thierry Manoncourt is one of Bordeaux’s greatest heroes. He inherited his chateau in 1947, and has produced over 60 vintages. The 1970 was one of the best.

We held a comparison tasting at L’Academie du Vin of Figeac from 1966 to 1970. For me, the dense 1970 and exuberant 1971 won the palm.

Michael Broadbent describes it as a “glorious 1970”. I love Figeac, because it’s so different from the neighbouring estate (which was once the same) across the street. It is made with 35% Cabernet Franc to match the 35% Cabernet Franc that grows on the fine gravelly croupes. It’s an excellent example of subtle power, just like the chateau.

The 1970 Figeac is still my favorite, even though the 2001 is my oldest.

Château Latour, Pauillac 1CC 1964

After I started working in the wine industry that year, Latour was known to me as the English Chateau, after its 1962 sale by the de Beaumonts family to Pearson Group and Harveys of Bristol.

The President Charles de Gaulle, when asked to stop this estate from falling to Le PerfideAlbion, simply stated that “they cannot take the land with themselves”.

The much-needed replanting was started and stainless steel fermenting tanks were installed just in time for 1964. Picking began on 25 September and finished the day before rains ruined the vintage of the Pauillacs located further north.

Decanter Stephen Brook says that “no other Medoc wines can match Latour in terms of power, depth and flavour” – and we are inclined to agree.

My connection with Latour is still very strong, even if it’s not in my cellar. First, through Jean-Paul Gardere, the manager in the 1970s. Then, Hugh Johnson, as a director. David Orr, the last manager, before the estate sold to Francois Piault. The 1964 is an important monument.

Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol 1961

Two wines with personal family ties stand out when I look back at my memories. First, I chose Chateau Pape-Clement 1953 from my London cellar, to accompany the meal that my mother prepared for Bella, and myself, on our Golden Arrow train, to Paris, on the night of our marriage, before we began our life in France.

Vieux Chateau Certan, 1961. Bella’s dad, who was with us in Paris during the mid-1970s, said, “I never knew wine could taste this good”. VCC is the chateau that I’ve known for generations through the Thienpont Family. The 1961 was made by Georges Thienpont who believed that “a magnum claret would be perfect for two gentlemen to dine together, if they’ve had Champagne before”.

VCC is the Pomerol I love most. The 1998 is a standout in my Dorset wine cellar. The 1961 was a bargain from Nicolas, a dominant Parisian wine retailer, and has a lovely blend of power and elegance, just like the VCCs of today.

Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac 2CC* 1959

*until 1972, then promoted 1CC

Celio Pinto De Almeida is the most famous wine collector in Brazil. He and his wife Sonia hold annual vertical tastings of wines from the best vineyards around the world over two to three days. On 6 and 7 May 2005, I had the privilege of being his guest to taste every Art Label vintage from 1924-1926 and 1945-2002.

The Locanda della Mimosa, a former imperial country estate near Rio de Janeiro, was hosting 35 guests.

The first day included 30 vintages from 2001 to 1924. My only perfect score was the 1959, and the average group score was 100/100. 1989 was second with 97.5 and 1949, 1924 and 1983 were all at 92.5.

The second day saw vintages dating back to 1925. The famous 1945 was the top wine at 97.5. 1986, 2000, and 1953 were all tied on 95. 1985, 1996 and 1950 followed with 92.5. Michael Broadbent goes even further, describing it as’magnificence on top of magnificence’.

Château Lafite Rothschild*, Pauillac* 1806

Unclassified before 1855

**Lafite is also known as Lafite. The chateau was not purchased by Baron James Mayer Rothschild until 1868.

This wine is my answer to ‘What was the most memorable wine that you ever drank?’

In the early 1980s, I sold a large part of it at Christie’s.

The 1806 was re-corked in the chateau’s cellar in 1953. Six bottles were sold each to Darroze in Bordeaux, Le Chapon Fin at Bougival, and Le Taillevent in Paris. It was September 1969. The host was David Fromkin (a Burgundy enthusiast), and the guests were Martin Bamford MW, my wife Bella, and two other people.

This was the first red that wasn’t decanted in order to prevent oxidation. Instead, it was poured straight into the glass.

 

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