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From young Boillot to old Giscours, La Mission Haut Brion, and Montrose


Drinking old Bordeaux from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s is a complex game for you cannot predict the quality of the wine based on vintage and chateau alone.  This period saw not only significant changes in technology but estates also changed ownership with vineyards subsequently reconstructed and replanted.  As a result, I find reading about the history of these wines adds depth to the experience of drinking them.  It also extends the period during which I think about the wines.  Before I could think about Bordeaux, Lou and I tucked into a pair of white wines.  Even after being open for three days, the 2012 Henri Boillot, Meursault proved it needs a few more years in the cellar.  I found the oak supportive of the tart, grippy lemon flavors.  On the other hand, the 1998 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley shows gobs of oak without enough interesting flavors.

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2012 Henri Boillot, Meursault –
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay that was aged for 18 months in oak barrels.  Alcohol ?%.  The aromas already bore complexity and were supported by oak.  In the mouth the wine was fresh, tart and grippy with spot-on lemon flavors, good acidity, and some raciness.  The structure is clearly supportive for development.  *** 2014-2022.

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1998 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley –
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was fermented and aged in oak.  Alcohol ?%  The nose was a bit stinky with sweet and heavy aromas of oak.  The flavors were soft and creamy with just enough acidity to prevent flabbiness.  With an eye towards mouthfeel, the matching tropical flavors eventually leaned towards fresher, weighty lemons.  With notes of wood and old wine, this was ultimately a survivor.  Not my type of wine. * Now.

I expected the 1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux to be dead and despite Mark Wessel’s (MacArthur Beverages) warnings of volatility, I still expected the 1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves to be drinkable.  Lou selected the as 1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe a backup bottle which I prejudged as an apt replacement for the Giscours.  The corks for the Giscours and La Mission Haut Brion were in fine form and of good aroma.  A quick sniff of the Giscours surprisingly revealed sweet fruit, “jammy” as Lou described, that was attractive and indicated the wine was very much in good shape.  On the other hand, the La Mission Haut Brion was volatile and as reflected in Lou’s facial expressions, not worth drinking.  Up came the Montrose from the cellar and out came the cork.  There was somewhat troubling mold encased down the top sides of the cork but the bottom smelled fine.  Lou poured the Montrose and we both immediately commented on the relatively youthful, and certainly dark color of the wine.

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Bottles of 1970 La Mission Haut Brion, and indeed the vintages surrounding it, are known to be marked by volatile acidity.  The explanation lies within Clive Coates’ Grands Vins (1995).  Frederic Woltner bought the estate in 1919 and upon his death, his son Henri Woltner took over running things.  The Woltner’s were remarkably progressive, having installed stainless steel tanks in the 1920s and 1950s (from a brewery none the less).  This enthusiasm for the wine seems to have faded during Henri Woltner’s final years before his death in 1974.  It is this period, particularly from 1967 to 1974 that Clive Coates details as one of a “lack of supervision” with the wines suffering from “an excess of volatile acidity.”  The famed oenologist Professor Emile Peynaud was brought in as a consultant in 1974 and the wines subsequently improved.  Needless to write, our bottle of the 1970 vintage, represented this slump in full force.  As a replacement we drank a lovely bottle of 1964 Chateau Montrose.  You may read about the history of this youthful wine in my post “Picked before the rain”: the 1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe.

While the 1970 La Mission Haut Brion lived up to its reputation I think the 1961 Giscours somewhat exceeded it.  Once described by Michael Broadbent as “Not highly recommended”, notes of this wine by the major writers are noticeably absent from such books as David Peppercorn’s Bordeaux (1991).  Chateau Giscours was acquired by Nicolas Tari in 1954.  Nicolas Tari was an experienced winemaker from Algeria who set about reconstructing and replanting the vineyards.  When he started purchasing the estate in 1947, only 7 of the 80 hectares were planted with vines.  Thus the 1961 vintage was produced from young vines.  The most recent significant note on this wine comes from Clive Coates.  From a tasting in 2003, he describes the “Rich, aromatic, quite concentrated nose” as well as “no great complexity or distinction” in flavor.  As far as our bottle relates, he is spot on!

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1961 Chateau Giscours, Margaux –
Unknown shipper and importer.  The attractive nose bore sweaty, low-lying aromas of sweet and dark fruit.  At first, the wine shows weight that matches the nose but after an hour it starts to thin out by the finish.  The initial flavors of tart red fruit and hints of dark, earthy flavors take on older flavors that echo in the mouth.  As leather notes develop there is a bit of a grip at the back of the mouth and even some tart, strawberry flavors in the end.  *** for the nose alone but overall ** Now.

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1970 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Graves –
Unknown shipper and importer. Top-shoulder fill.  Old and foxy on the nose and certainly not worth drinking.  With air the wine developed sweet fruit flavors that could not overpower the volatility.  Not Rated.

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1964 Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe –
Shipped by Pierre Cartier & Fils. Imported by Monsieur Henri Wines. Alcohol 12%.  Mid-shoulder fill.  A beautiful wine in the glass with a dark and youthful core of color.  Both the nose and the mouth exhibit firm, cherry red fruit, and hard, watering acidity.  The wine is not terribly complex, instead it offers pure fruit flavors that are both beautiful and elegant.  *** Now 2030.

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