Fourteen hours, 48 wines. The lessons of my longest tasting
On March 23, 27 wine professionals received the following message:
On behalf of Prince Robert of Luxembourg, we are delighted to invite you to a very special tasting organized by Domaine Clarence Dillon at Oswald’s Club in London on May 31, 2022. We apologize for the late invitation which is unfortunately due to the current situation. health situation and the uncertainties associated with it.
The attachment revealed that we were due to arrive at Robin Birley’s Wine Temple at 8.30am and that the day’s tasting would not end until 10.30pm. In my 46 and over writing about wine, I have never been involved in such an extended event. I was probably not the only guest to assume that the “work” of this long day would be devoted to the most famous of Prince Robert’s estates, the Bordeaux Premier Cru Classé Ch Haut-Brion and perhaps its estimable sister estate, Ch Mission Haut-Brion, across the road in Pessac. I knew how superior the setting, food, and service would be at Oswald’s, so I was confident the day wouldn’t be too taxing.
As it happened, we all arrived more or less on time, having used the Covid-19 tests sent to us. Prince Robert had flown in from Boston. Among his guests were Bordeaux writer Jeff Leve, who had been flown in from Los Angeles and, like others, lodged at the Connaught; Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine based in Hong Kong; Jamie Ritchie of Sotheby’s, based in New York; and the German writer Stuart Pigott.
There was a large contingent from Bordeaux: Mathieu Chardronnier from the merchant CVBG; wine writer Jane Anson; young Chinese wine teacher Alexandre Ma; and Prince Robert’s right-hand man, third-generation winemaker Jean-Philippe Delmas and commercial director Guillaume-Alexandre Marx. There were also representatives from almost every major fine wine merchant based in London. I shared a table with Laure Gasparotto, Wine of the World writer, Neal Martin of Vinous.com and my fellow Master of Wine, Tom Parker of fine wine merchant Farr Vintners.
More exceptionally, Prince Robert had taken over the whole club for the day. Organizing the inner workings of this event, the Farr team was the only ones who knew what we were going to taste before our host announced the theme.
Say it was a shock would be an understatement. In 2011, Domaine Clarence Dillon, holding company of the Prince Robert family’s wineries, bought Ch Tertre Daugay, an underperforming domain in St-Emilion, and extended it two years later by adding its neighbor Ch l’Arrosée , naming the brand -new entity Ch Quintus. (This wholesale absorption of one chateau into another, with a rebranding operation, is not uncommon in Bordeaux.) Last year, a third St-Emilion property, the non-contiguous Ch Grand Pontet, was added to the portfolio, reaching a total of 45 hectares and making the Dillon family one of the largest vineyard owners in this vast appellation. The Dillons are accustomed to fetching exorbitant prices for their wines and Quintus sold for around £90 a bottle, far more than Tertre Daugay or l’Arrosée, a fact not lost on fine wine merchants.
The aim of our tasting marathon was to compare Quintus with the most famous wines of St-Emilion – Chx Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Ausone, Pavie and Angélus. Eight flights were lined up on the six St-Emilions, from the 2011 to 2018 vintages inclusive, and the wines were mixed and served blind. No doubt the hope was that Quintus would bear comparison with those wines which fetch even higher prices, several hundred pounds a bottle. “You will respect our new baby,” was the underlying message.
We were all told to use the 100-point scale – quite a trial run for those of us who are more accustomed to scoring out of 20 – and hand our scores over to Ben Browett of Farr Vintners, whose job it was to compile them. add. Needless to say, we were eager to find out how Quintus fared. From my personal point of view, he acquitted himself quite honourably.
Once all my scores were added up, my top three were Figeac, then Angelus, then Cheval Blanc. On the next three, Quintus actually scored a little more than Ausone or Pavia. I have to say that the room in general was much more impressed than me by Ausone, which is not only superbly located on the outskirts of town, but also impeccably run by Alain Vauthier and his daughter Pauline, who have taken over the responsibilities of winemaker in 2005. Ausone is produced in tiny quantities and is by far the most expensive St-Emilion.
Pavie, which is also superbly located, was, as always, a controversial wine. After acquiring it in 1998, owner Gérard Perse pursued for many years a policy of making the most concentrated, full-bodied and exaggerated wine possible. I was notoriously critical of the 2003 vintage. However, the winds of change have blown. Concentration is no longer seen as an asset in St-Emilion, and to my palate there has been a gradual stylistic change here, so I have enjoyed some recent vintages. The 2011 stood out like a sore thumb for its heavy tannin load that will surely always overpower the rather weak fruit, but I enjoyed the 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Figeac, poles apart from Pavia in terms of style, location and soil type, made the finest wine of 2016, my favorite of the day. For me, Figeac has always had great results outside of the 2011 vintage in which its equally subtle neighbour, Cheval Blanc, triumphed.
There was a big stylistic difference between Figeac and Cheval, both of which are at the western end of the appellation, partly on the gravel, and have significant proportions of Cabernet as well as the more usual Merlot, and the other four wines, which tended to be sweeter overall.
It was the first time in many years that I tasted a sequence of Angelus vintages at the same time and I was impressed.
The 2013 vintage was weak, as it was for all of these properties (though not as disastrous as I expected), but all of the other Angelus vintages had something to recommend.
All in all, Prince Robert and his team had to console themselves by noting that on average for all tasters, Quintus was the fourth favorite out of six of the eight vintages, particularly performing in 2015, when he was second. only in Ausone, and only coming last in 2012.
I wonder if the assembled fine wine merchants will find Quintus an easier sell after this tasting?
Favorite St-Emilions, 2011-2018
In descending order
€390.47 Vinatis France
White Horse 2016
£695 Mumbles Fine Wine
$219 Wine, Los Angeles
$225 Cellaraiders, New York
£740 per dozen Albany Vintners
132 € Friend Jac
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