Six Sociando Mallet vintages, delicious food, great company in Strasbourg
October 19, 2013
By Panos Kakaviatos
After having started an informal club of wine lovers in Strasbourg, France this past summer, it was great to organise a bona fide “dîner-dégustation” with Château Sociando Mallet on Friday 18 October at the Vino Strada Stub at 1 Rue du Temple Neuf.
Many thanks to Isabelle Kraemer and her excellent staff for providing speedy and friendly service – and excellent food – to go with six vintages from a château in Bordeaux that offers both high quality and wallet-friendly prices (not something always easy to find these days).
And three cheers to Pascal Roby of Sociando Mallet, who flew in to Strasbourg to guide us through this lovely tasting dinner.
Among the 25 guests, some already knew the estate well, explaining their “Sociando Mallet” moment. Older guests recalled discovering the 1982, an evidently great vintage. Another told us of having an epiphany with the 1989, which was served over the dinner. For me, it was the 1999. 1999 is an underrated vintage from Bordeaux.
The weather in 1999 was not great and yet the result – for better estates like Sociando – is wine that always has been suave and smooth, and not lacking in substance. I first tried it shortly after release, in 2002. It was delicious then, and it was delicious this October evening 11 years later.
In most vintages, the wine is made of about 60 percent Cabernet and 40 percent Merlot, from vines grown on ‘prime Bordeaux real estate’ – a mound of gravel over clay close to the Gironde: this is not too different from the terroir of, say, second growth Château Montrose. But Sociando was never included in the famous 1855 Classification of wines from the Medoc and Sauternes. As the saying goes: if you want to visit Bordeaux today, would you use a guide from the 19th century or a guide from 2013? If the dinner tasting served any purpose, it was to prove – yet again – that Sociando Mallet, as American critic Robert Parker has written, continues to make a mockery of that classification.
Missed for one reason or another in 1855, Sociando Mallet easily compares to many classified growths, surpassing more than a few in quality. Depending on the vintage, I would challenge anyone to put it up against a group of classified growths from the northern Medoc in a blind tasting – and I would bet that most people would be very surprised with the outcome.
The wines and the foods – a lovely combo for all concerned.
As an international group of guests arrived – from Finland, from Slovenia, from Austria, from the UK, from the US and many from France of course – we started things off with delicious glasses of Henriot Esprit Champagne, with 70 per cent Pinot Noir, giving it at once backbone and perfume. I was getting pears and raspberry. The fine bubbles tickled the attack leading to a substantial and dry mid palate, ending with an impression of fine dryness, albeit with a touch of rich softness on the finish. Coming from magnum a real pleasure.
The first serving was a delectable foie gras served with fig and flavored with cinnamon and ginger and accompanied by devilishly delicious toasted bread. It is not always easy to have dry red wine with foie gras, but this time it worked perfectly – as the 2003 Sociando brought forth a sumptuous spiciness that echoed some of the flavors from the food. A lovely pairing!
The second plat was a substantial pièce de boeuf served on a bed of green sliced cabbage and flavorful girolles mushrooms and other vegetables. An utter pleasure, as it had such varied flavors and was made of simple yet fresh ingredients. The wine pairing worked very well. Both the 1999 and 1995 shined. For some, the 1995 had a more substantial “virile” aspect, with tannin still coming more the to the fore.
Perhaps I enjoyed the 1995 more, before we started eating this second course. By contrast, the 1999 was very smooth and suave, almost silky. While the meaty juices found an echo in the slight animal of the 1995, the overall finesse of the meal matched better the finesse of the 1999. In any case, it was a lovely pairing that guests visited and revisited over the course of the meal.
The next to last dish pairing was somewhat curious, but Pascal thought it would be interesting to compare the two “bookends” of the vertical: 1989 and 2005, served with a rather neutral cheese plate (always a good idea for red wine pairing). Both vintages are “great” but at different phases and coming from different eras and harvest types. The 1989 may reflect what the 2003 will be like 12 years from now. It also came from a very hot vintage – and was harvested at the earliest time ever at Sociando, just at the beginning of September.
Suffice it to say that the 1989 was indeed à point, meaning that the tannins were nicely softened with time in bottle, one encountered subtle tertiary notes of cedar, underbrush, slightly dried fruit, and – what makes Sociando so consistent – a freshness throughout. Perhaps this vintage is not quite as deep as the 1990, but it is thoroughly tasty and refined. Now, the 2005 was altogether different. We had poured it in a carafe four hours before it was served, and such contact with air was needed. The 2005 has lots of stuffing and ripe tannin and – while very good today – will only get better with at least five years in your cellar. I liked its primary fruit, the ripe tannin and the full body without ever being heavy, indeed conveying vibrancy.
Finally, a spicy pot de crème (desserts not so easy to pair with red wines) somehow went gangbusters good with the smooth and thirst quenching 2004, a vintage that – as Jancis Robinson wrote in the 19 October Financial Times column – people can start to appreciate today. Sociando is no exception. Many 2004s from Bordeaux are just delicious.
So, thanks to Vino Strada Stub for preparing an excellent setting and meal and thanks to Sociando Mallet for the generous donation of the wines. And thanks to all who came. I think we had a good time and that this sort of tasting dinner should be repeated in Strasbourg.