YOU KNOW THAT FEELING OF ANTICIPATION RIGHT BEFORE SOMETHING REALLY GOOD IS GOING TO HAPPEN? That buzzing energy in your stomach, at the tip of your tongue and between your ears, the eagerness for that thing or event to come to pass. You move meetings, re-allocate funds make excuses just to be there. A great concert, a date, a fight, a meal and yes, a special bottle of wine. That is how I feel whenever I know someone is bringing a bottle of First Growth Bordeaux.
The First Growths of Bordeaux hold a reverence, devotion and wide spread association with greatness unmatched in the wine world. They are the wines that all other Cabernets are compared to. They some of the most valuable, pedigreed, mythical wines on the planet. Every connoisseur, collector, sommelier and wine merchant has been touched by the contagion of “First Growth envy.” These wines are the blue chip, the “too big to fail” names in the market, the barometer of quality in all the wine business. And they have been that way for centuries.
Even prior to Napolean III’s direc- tion to classify the Bordeaux region just before the 1855 Exhibition of Paris, the names of these Châteaux were already world-renown. Château Lafite-Roths- child, Château Latour, Château Margaux and Château Haut-Brion are the original four First Growths from 1855. Château Mouton-Rothschild being elevated to First Growth status in 1973. And every time a single bottle of these is opened, it is a special occasion.
Let us be frank, they are status symbols and for good reason. These wines are purchased and consumed by the top 1% of the top 1%. With average prices, easily more than $1,000 per bottle, it is not an everyday bottle of wine. And it is easy to think they are overrated. But they are not. When you have a great bottle, it evokes emotion, complexity, immortality and greatness.
Generalities in the flavor and style of the different Châteaux are numerous. Here I share my most recent tasting note from each of the five estates beginning with 2000 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. This is a “modern” expression of Mouton, with tons of ripe fruit of the black and deep red color. There is a hefty wet coffee ground and cocoa nib note on the nose for added complexity. The palate is rich with nothing out of place. It is seamless going from sweet plums to vanilla and a finish of bitter chocolate and wet gravel stones. It is regal in its weight and
structure and even at 18 years old (last year) it still seems youthful. Absolutely delicious. Château Latour from 1981 which was not a highly acclaimed vintage and yet this wine showed every bit of its first growth pedigree. Floral bouquet with essence of dried plums and cassis. Wet stone and tea waft from the lightly colored glass. The tannin is so soft now, it feels like velvet. And although it may not have the power of riper vintages, this mature masterpiece has every bit of the earth and energy of Pauillac. Even in lesser vintages, the cream rises to the top. 1999 Château Lafite-Rothschild is truly impressive with the purity of fruit and the vibrancy of the flavors. Plums, cranberries, cassis, leather, vanilla, chocolate, mocha, flowers, unbelievable complexity. Yet on the palate, it never seems heavy. It carries itself more like a triathlete rather than a body builder. Everything is in place; the wine has a certain Zen about it, and it will surely age for another generation to come. 1986 Château Haut-Brion a legendary wine for sure and proves it with this bottle. Kaleidoscopic aromatics, waves of flavors wash over the palate. I can smell something different every time I put my nose in the glass from fruit, wood, flowers, earth, spices, truffles, cocoa beans—unreal. And on the palate, there is this tide of flavors with such a silky tannic structure, almost akin to Pinot Noir. The flavors last forever on the palate and I can remember it even now. Amazing! 2003 Château Margaux from what I coined “the California vintage” is far from the overripe and alcoholic monster some might expect. In fact, it has loads of freshness and crunchy black and red fruit. There is excellent framing of vanilla and spices here with a sleek and sultry texture. It feels like it caresses the palate; seducing the senses. It will leave you wanting more.
Everyone has a favorite. They vow their undying love and palate to only one. That is until they try a great vintage from one of the other four. And it is with baited breath that I wait until my next experience with one of the five First Growths of Bordeaux. Even if these bottles will last for ages, the wait for me is too long.
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