Haut Brion press dinner
June 21, 2011
Every Vinexpo, the Grand Cru Council of the Medoc and Graves organizes a press dinner and this year it was held at none other than Chateau Haut Brion on Sunday, June 19. What an honor it was to meet the Prince Robert of Luxembourg and his lovely American wife Princess Julie. And what a coincidence to hear that she works with many human rights causes, including with Human Rights Watch.
So when I return to the Council of Europe next month, I will reach out to her for some possible projects. The evening was perfect and so was the setting. Almost like in a fairly tale as you can see from the pictures here. It was great to see such a fine set up, which reminded me a bit of the Chateau Yquem 2005 dinner, which was particularly special as it celebrated 150 years of the 1855 Classification. In any case, we were 250 journalists and sommeliers from over 33 countries.
When I arrived at 7 pm, the customary group photo was being taken: the owners and/or representatives from the 1855 classified wines of the Medoc and Sauternes – plus Haut Brion, of course: the only non Medoc red to be included in the historic classification, at premier cru level no less… Here more information on that classification.
I finally figured out the probable reason why they like to serve Sauternes at the beginning. Yes, perhaps to promote this wine which is not selling nearly as well as it should… but mainly because no dry white Bordeaux were actually classified in 1855! Anyway, I sampled several and came away with the reinforced feeling that 2005, while excellent, is not quite as good as 2007, which seems to have greater freshness in the balance. My favorite among the pre-dinner wines turned out to be, no real surprise here, a fresh, iodine-like Chateau Climens 2008. Once again, this estate continues to impress me with its combination of Barsac richness, botrytis spice and brisk freshness. Bravo!
Among the hors d’oeuvres, my favorite was the green bean (haricot) sushi with white peach and almond and a touch of mint: perfect for the rather warm early evening.
During the pre dinner chatting, we were enchanted by a pair of ballet dancers whose backdrop could not be more theatrical/elegant… as you can see above. The large tent under which beautiful table settings awaited us also featured a classical podium with all the 1855 classified wines in magnum.
At this point, amid all the pomp and circumstance to enter the tent, there was also much excitement to take photos and fellow blogger Jeff Leve told me to get up on the podium. Against my better judgment… Worse, I did not realize that the mic was on, so I started talking and everyone could hear me…. Here is the result!
These formal dinners often are made on who sits at your table. What luck I had to be at the same table as Julien de Beaumarchais and Philippe Dhalluin of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, John Kolasa of Chateau Rauzan Segla, Andreas Larrson, 2007’s best sommelier in the world, Christian Martray, chef sommelier at a top restaurant in Chamonix Mont Blanc, Fiona Morrison MW and Gavin Quinny, journalist and blogger.
The food and wine were excellent, but some of the wine-food pairings proved somewhat challenging… Depending on which table one sat, the wines varied.
Being with Kolasa and Dhalluin, we enjoyed both Mouton Rothschild 1989 and Rauzan Segla 2003 and 1986, and Clerc Milon 2003. All guests enjoyed Chateau Haut Brion 1975 from double magnum bottles and Chateau d’Yquem 1990. As you can see, the setting was truly lovely.
Onto the notes (wines in bold, I likedin particular ; wines in red and bold, even more; underlined, the best!)
After the Sauternes and Barsac at the reception, we enjoyed food prepared by three top chefs: Anne-Sophie Pic, Alain Passard and Yannick Alleno, who had also prepared the hors d’oeuvres.
Rauzan Segla 2003. This was never a great vintage for Margaux and, as Kolasa acknowledged, this is a wine to drink in its adolescence. The aromas were musk and spice, a bit of roti as one gets from the hot vintage. The palate was suave and easy, albeit a bit warm on the palate. It seemed to match better the first course: Alain Passard’s unusual serving of beets in a honeyed lightly chocolate infused sauce that also included sweet and sour vinaigrette. All of us agreed that that was a tough match for any wine, but I suppose the sweeter, warmer Rauzan Segla matched this serving best.
Clerc Milon 2003. Here we have a wine that handled the heat of 2003 better, as most northern Medoc wines did. I was happy to try Clerc Milon which has only improved since Philippe Dhalluin started directing operations with the 2003 vintage (his first harvest however was 2004). Indeed, this week, Clerc Milon celebrates the opening of a new cellar space and vat room to accommodate the more precise parcel selection Dhalluin has instigated. The wine exhibited some cedar notes, but mainly black fruit, not quite jammy, but what most impressed was its palate verve and vivacity, which was not always easy in 2003.
Rauzan Segla 1986. Here we have a very impressive nose that is not quite followed through on the palate, but the wine is clearly superior to both preceding bottles. I really liked the cedar freshness with just a hint of truffle on the nose. The palate started brightly, with a fulsome mid palate, but the finish was marked by somewhat edgy tannins. I recall enjoying the 1983 a couple of years ago, and it seemed to be the smoother wine. But overall, very fine.
Sadly, the tannin of the wine clashed completely with the otherwise delicious roasted blue lobster tail and claw, served with a lobster reduction sauce and, rather daringly, raspberries and strawberries, which, again, clashed with the wine. A Montrachet would have been put to better use for Chef Anne-Sophie Pic’s delectable dish.
Mouton Rothschild 1989. I had recently written an article on Philippe Dhalluin, HERE, and yet again, he shows how humble and down to earth he is. After dinner, we discussed this wine, and I told him that I liked its intensity, as it certainly featured breed in the echoes of flavor that one enjoyed. I caught an initial whiff of musk but that blew away and I then enjoyed a chocolate aspect on the aroma, but most of all, depth and richness on the palate. I told Philippe that it perhaps lacked some finesse on the finish, and what was his reply? ‘I would be more critical than you, because I feel that the dry heat of the vintage led to some stress and incomplete ripeness with some slight green aspects.’ We agreed that those green aspects were not raw green pepper, but perhaps roasted pepper … but I stressed that I thought it added some complexity to the wine’s overall richness. And he said, ‘I hope that I can achieve this level of wine while I am at Mouton.’ Having tasted the wines Philippe has managed, all I can say is that he will surpass that level.
Haut Brion 1975 from double magnum. I recall enjoying this wine more at the 2005 Yquem dinner. I liked the tobacco aspect on the nose – very Graves indeed – but it seemed to have increased its overall rustic aspect six years later. The 1975 vintage is often overrated because it followed three very poor vintages in 1972, 1973 and 1974. So when a decent vintage finally came around, people seemed to praise it to high heaven. As Kolasa remarked, it was probably better on the Right Bank. Still, the wine was fine. It had a mature Graves like flavor, but the edgy tannins seemed to dominate.
However this time, the wine-food pairing worked much better, and I found myself happily having a second glass. The richness of Chef Yannick Aleno’s roasted veal shank perfectly balanced the tannin of the Haut Brion to make the experience pleasing.
Yquem 1990. The color is quite evolved and this shows me again that a vintage like 1988 is superior to 1990, at least for my taste. But let us not quibble: this is a great bottle of Sauternes. Or, at least the second bottle was great. A French journalist at our table whose name escapes me now noted that the first bottle was a bit oxidized so we had it replaced with a second bottle… which exuded white peach and apricot aromas and flavors in a very deep manner. The wine was both richly juicy and fresh, with a very long finish. I just remember that the 1988, which I had enjoyed a few years back, seemed less evidently viscous, more elegant.
All in all, a very memorable evening. Many thanks to the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés and Chateau Haut Brion.