Manzanos 1961 Rioja (Take 2)

I wrote last year about an extremely rare parcel of 1961 wine available exclusively through Laithwaites as part of a heritage programme with the Spanish producer Manzanos. Incredibly, as part of their ongoing cellar clearance, they have been able to offer a further few bottles.

I’ve re-tasted this next cache and can confirm they are every bit as good as the first. Please find below my original notes on the cellar and wonderful rare wine which I heartily recommend you should snap up before they once again becomes history!

Vinous dreams come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trying a revered vintage, getting a fantastic bottle at a bargain price, or perhaps even simply getting a night on your own without the kids to enjoy the bottle in question.

Thanks to the UK’s leading online wine merchant Laithwaites you can now sort two out of three dreams straight away, just leaving you to just find the babysitter.

1961 Banner

1961 was (and is) a well lauded vintage in France – Could this Rioja keep up the pace?  JFK had just become the US President, the space-race was in its infancy and the Beatles were still trying to decide on a band name.  We’re talking seriously old-school.

Commercially viable volumes of very old bottlings such as this are increasingly unheard of, and it is only thanks to the extremely close relationship between Laithwaites head buyer Beth Willard and 5th generation winemaker Victor Manzanos, that such a rare gem has made it to the UK market.

Building a strong relationship both professional and personal, Beth was on hand to support Victor through the tough times following the sudden death of his father.  Maintaining almost daily contact as the London based Victor returned to Spain to take over the family business at just 19 years old, Beth was top of the list when Victor unearthed a fantastically old cache of bottles.

Beth takes up the story: “Until around 10 years ago Manzanos were a medium sized producer focused on the area around Azagra and Calahorra in Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). They are now one of the biggest producers of wine in Rioja and Navarra, owning several bodegas and lots of vineyards throughout the whole region.”

“Their extended family has been a big holder of vineyards dating back to the late 1800’s and (because of the large expansion) only now has Victor had a chance to dig around to see what they actually hold. In Azagra, close to where the principle bodega is located, some of his relatives’ own tunnels are full of old bottles of wine.”

The great news for wine lovers is that these older wines are now being assessed with a view to offering further archive releases in the future.

Following the discovery, the hand-harvested 1961 (mechanical picking was still in its infancy then) was rebottled, recorked and relabelled as the original packaging wasn’t up to today’s commercial standards.  The wine, however, was perfect, spending 3 years in French oak and then having laid perfectly untouched since being bottled in the mid-1960’s.  I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

1961 Bottle

Manzanos 1961, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo based blend, 12.5%, £40

Some older wines can disintegrate a bit when left to decant for several hours but I decanted, and wasn’t disappointed.  The wine evolved significantly over several hours.

Still retaining a glossy ruby colour, there were hints of garnet colouring to the core, and a light water-white rim.

Shortly after opening, the nose began with a Burgundian barnyard tone, but this developed to include figs, mushroom, roasted nuts and sweet tobacco.  Further developed fruit came in the form of herbaceous wild black cherry, a touch of red cherry, and a whole load of green bell pepper.

Pronounced in character with a real sense of density from the off, the wonderfully fragrant nose only got better as time went on, adding liquorice, bitter black chocolate and treacle/caramel.

The palate, as expected, was extremely evolved with the tertiary notes of roasted black coffee.  Chewy, dense, with an almost oily thick texture it was still rich and broth-like, but retained a refreshing zing of acidity to balance it out and keep it fresh.

Further black cherry fruit came to the fore over time, along with pepper spice, liquorice and a light vanilla relief.  Light chalky tannins were still evident.

The finish is in the 1-minute range, carried by the acidity, black cherry and caramel.  If I was being super-critical, it’s a shame that the finish didn’t last longer, but it was still more-ish enough to have me reaching for the next glass.

Quite austere on its own (but still medium plus in weight, so not heavy in any way) this would stand up very well to most well roasted meats.  Sadly I tried it on its own and can only imagine how it would have drunk alongside a beef joint.

Knowing that there will only be so many bottles available for a relatively short time, and at a very agreeable price, I have several more cellaring, so I’ll hopefully be able to find out in time.  I fully recommend that you grab yourself a bottle (you can purchase it here) whilst you still can to give it a try for yourself.

Drink to 2026.

Which Wine for a Wedding?

There’s roughly 260,000 weddings in the UK every year and so, despite how planning the perfect personalised wedding can sometimes feel unachievable, there’s a wealth of advice to help things go as smoothly as possible, whatever your requirements.

Compared to ‘focus’ items such as the venue, bridesmaid dresses or the music choices, wine can feel somewhat further down the planning scale.  It’s just Champagne for the toast and then a choice between red and white, right?

With an average of 96 guests invited to your big day, each with their own expectations, the food and drink deserves more than a passing thought.  According to research you’ll be spending roughly 20% of your budget on it, so it’s a key thing to get right.

In terms of drinks, as well as catering for those not drinking alcohol for whatever reason, a good rule of thumb per person is a welcome drink, half a bottle for the main meal, and finally something fizzy for the toast.  To ensure a happy crowd it’s probably better to over-cater than under-cater, and you can usually get a refund on any unused bottles.

Don’t feel that the toast and welcome drink needs to be budget-blowing expensive Champagne.  Cheaper doesn’t equal cheap, but if Prosecco or Cava don’t have the grandeur for your special occasion, my top tip is to go for Cremant.  Although you many not be familiar with it, it’s another French sparkling wine made in exactly the same way as Champagne, just not in the Champagne region.  You’ll save yourself a lot of money and most guests would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

For the main course, a good rule of thumb is to plan for the white vs. red on a 40/60 split.  To ensure you please as many palates as possible keep your choices simple and classic, and check that they compliment your food choices (e.g. avoid powerful reds with lighter meats such as chicken).  It also adds a nice touch if there is a story behind the wine too, such as serving one that you both tried whilst on holiday.

As with all aspects of your preparations, mention the word ‘wedding’ and prices immediately shoot upwards.  Sourcing the wine yourself rather than going with the limited options from your venue can mean a little extra detective work but could also save you money.  Don’t forget to check whether your venue applies a corkage fee.

Another good thing to check is that the venue is providing adequate serving staff for your expected number of guests.  You want people to focus on enjoying themselves rather than wondering when the next drink will turn up!  Putting a set number of bottles on each table may seem like you’re giving people the opportunity for a free-for-all, but research shows that people actually drink slower if they can go at their own pace, rather than downing a drink each time they see the lesser-spotted server. 

Donald Trump UK State Visit (June 19)

Whether you’re a fan or not, the recent state visit from US president Donald Trump was a talking point for many reasons, not least the hospitality he enjoyed throughout his stay.  Chief of these was the state banquet thrown in his honour by the Queen. 

Being 6 months in preparation it took palace staff 4 days just to lay the table!  By the end of the night over 1,020 glasses of wine had been served to 170 VIP’s (a thirst-slaking 6 glasses per guest on average).  Joining Donald and his wife Melania were the Queen, 15 other members of the royal family, Theresa May and numerous others with cultural, diplomatic or economic ties to the US.

The wine list for events such as this need to be fully considered lest they make a political faux pas by snubbing the efforts of the visiting nation.  Safe in the knowledge that Trump wouldn’t be partaking of any vinous delights (he’s famously teetotal) they were able to quite rightly focus on the talents of our own homegrown producers alongside some classic French examples. 

Proceedings began with a speech by the Queen using the 2014 vintage of her own sparkling wine Windsor Great Park to toast the President and “the continued friendship between our two nations” as well as “the health, prosperity and happiness of the people of the United States”.

A starter of steamed halibut with watercress mousse and asparagus spears in a chervil sauce kicked off the 3-course menu.  Just like the meticulous planning of the event all courses were served with military precision over exactly 1 hour and 15 minutes.

A notoriously brisk eater, guests are also forbidden to continue eating after the Queen has finished, so in no time at all it was straight on to the main; saddle of new season Windsor lamb with herb stuffing, spring vegetables and a Port sauce.  Both courses were paired with either a white wine from Burgundy (Loius Jadot’s Domaine Duc de Magenta 1er Cru Morgeot Chassagne-Montrachet 2014) or a red from Bordeaux (Château Lafite Rothschild 1990).

Out of interest, if you fancy recreating the menu at home the Burgundy will set you back about £75 a bottle.  The Bordeaux on the other hand will cost you about £1,400 – somewhere equivalent to the average UK monthly wage.  I think I’ll stick to the red thanks, waiter!

For dessert, a strawberry sable with lemon verbena cream was served up alongside another English sparkler, Hambledon Classic Cuvée Rosé.  It was then on to the Churchill’s 1985 Vintage Port to round off the night.

As the guests left, presumably lightly giddy from the circumstance, the food and more likely the 6 glasses of wine, spare a thought for the servers.  Even now they’re probably still hand-cleaning the more than 8,000 pieces of cutlery and crockery used on the night, before they safely tuck them away one-by-one until the next time.

Wine Down The Sink (Hole)

It’s always a sad day when you have to tip some wine down the sink.  Whether it’s because the wine has become tainted, isn’t to your taste, or has been left open for too long, you inevitably arrive at the same on-the-spot decision: “Could I feasibly use this in some sort of cooking”.  Pouring wine away feels such a waste.

One can only imagine then how famed Champagne producer Pol Roger felt back in February 1900.  The bumper harvest of 1899, the first of decent size and quality in over 5 years, was safe in their underground cellars.  A new century was dawning, and hope was high despite the prolonged period of heavy winter rains. 

But as the soils became more and more waterlogged, two cellar floors (and several adjoining buildings) collapsed into each other burying an estimated 500 casks and 1.5million bottles.  That’s a lot of wine down the drain.

 A rescue operation was prepared but, when poor weather continued and a neighbouring cellar also caved in, plans were abandoned as being too risky.  Having to make the best of the losses and soldier on Pol Roger built new and improved cellars, going from strength to strength across the century and are still remembered as being the go-to Champagne of ex-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The landslide could have become a mere footnote of Pol Roger’s history; indeed, much darker times were ahead with the destruction and looting stemming from two world wars but, like in the movies, some things don’t like to stay buried forever.

In 2018, the Pol Roger family were looking to build a new packing facility on the ground above the old cellars.  Construction began, moving away layers of earth with the sort of heavy machinery that is standard practice today, but unthinkable in 1900.

The diggers came across a small cavity beneath the surface which was then widened to allow access.  As well as much broken glass they were astonished to find a still intact bottle, then 6 more, and then a further 19 bottles. 

Incredibly the corks were still in place and the amount of wine in each of the 26 bottles was as packaged.  This meant that the liquid hadn’t been evaporating and the bottles remained airtight.  There was every chance that they were still drinkable!

The family were now very excited to push on, but in a cruel mirroring of the original rescue plan, two months of heavy rain once again saturated the soils and made further rescue attempts impossible.

Not being defeated though, Pol Roger have now announced that they will be continuing the rescue operation with a remotely controlled robot guided through small discovery tunnels to see what’s left to discover.  A far cry from the shovels originally used to try and dig the wine out.

How incredible would it be for them to raise a commercially viable number of bottles so that everyone could taste a 120-year-old Champagne?

Climate Change – A Silver Lining?

Climate change is a subject that’s been high on the public agenda over the last few months, especially if you’ve been trying to navigate around London during the protests.

According to NASA we’ve seen 17 of the warmest 18 years on record since 2001.  Following the unseasonably warm weather in April and May I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy at the prospect of a long hot summer, but in all seriousness, things are really heating up.

Alongside industries such as energy, fishing and even skiing, the production of agricultural crops, including the grapes destined to be turned in to wine, is poised to change dramatically, potentially to the point where we need to re-write the book.

Vines thrive the world-over where the climate meets their individual varietal characteristics.  A good example of the scale of change can be found in the revered French wine region of Burgundy. 

At a northerly latitude once deemed to be at the top end for successful grape production, the cool inland climate allows the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to perfectly ripen throughout the long warm summers without being scorched.  Even though the French don’t tend to varietally label their wines, it’s well known that the Pinot Noir grape is the heart and soul of the world-famous Burgundy.

What though if the climate gets too hot for this delicate grape?  Suddenly the entire profile of the wine would change as the vines were pulled up.  Hardier grapes from the warmer south of France would potentially need to be moved northwards as the temperature rises.  Could we be seeing Burgundy made from the spicier Grenache or Syrah varieties in the future?  It seems unbelievable, but that’s what some experts have said may happen in as little as 20 years time.

Alongside the warmer temperatures we are also seeing more and more evidence of volatile weather conditions hitting the vineyards.  The US has suffered devastating wildfires, sudden hailstorms have decimated the years-worth of work in minutes across France, Germany and Italy, whilst South Africa and Australia have suffered from severe droughts.

As something of a silver lining to the doom and gloom, we’re now seeing new wine regions appear in the land where it was once too cold to successfully produce well-ripened grapes.  The most obvious of these is our own home-grown wine industry which, thanks to rising temperatures, has turned from little more than a hobbyist activity to a serious world contender in roughly 25 years.

English wines have been served to royalty and heads of state, have taken off in the US, and go from strength to strength in wine competitions year after year.  If our world leaders continue to stall on addressing and tackling the seriousness of climate change, given that we now successfully compete with the quality of the Champagne region some 250 miles south of London, how long will it be before the south of England becomes the new Burgundy?

This article was originally published in the June 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

The UK’s smallest commercial vineyard?

English sparkling wine is on the up – there’s no doubt about that. It’s been served at many prestigious events, ranging from the Oscars to the marriage of Kate and Wills.

Laying claim as one of the smallest vineyards in the UK, certainly one of the smallest commercial vineyards, was that of Laithwaites; the UK mail order wine empire founded by Tony Laithwaite. This year the company celebrates 50 years of bringing quality wines to you, direct from the cellar door.

Being a Windsor native Tony was keen to keep his local roots, but when the business had outgrown their humble railway arch premises, he was looking for suitable land to grow the business.

In a south facing site located just off the M4 in the Berkshire town of Theale, he found enough space for the office and, in the barren land in the back where the builders were storing their machinery and redundant materials, the space to plant a vineyard.

Tony in the Vines

In 1998, under the supervision of Champagne doyen Thierry Lesne, 704 Chardonnay vines were planted over a mere 0.14 of a hectare. In addition to being a commercial venture and marketing tool for customers, the vines doubled as both a staff labour of love (each vine was tagged with one of their names) and for training exercises. The first vintage was the 2002.

Trains Opposite

Situated directly across from road from Theale train station, the shelter and heat of the surrounding estate buildings were enablers to coaxing out the full maturity of the grapes. Even with the most meticulous of hand harvesting, grape picking took just a couple of hours.

With no vinification facilities on site Tony consulted his address book, roping in the late Mike Roberts of English Sparkling legends Ridgeview to produce the final cuvée. With the 2003 giving 756 bottles, the bumper crop of 2004 giving 1,274 and the much smaller 2011 giving 600 bottles, the average yearly yield for the site was around just 750 bottles per year.

When Laithwaites decided to relocate their HQ a few years later the landlord requested that the vineyard be removed at the same time, and 2015 saw the last grape harvest from the Theale site.

It was impossible though to consider that the vines should simply be ripped up. Uprooting any well-established plant is usually folly, but doing it 704 times would be unthinkable. Wouldn’t it?

Using industrial machinery, the removal of the vines commenced in March 2016 and, against the odds, they were successfully transported over 100 miles away to Devon where they now thrive once again.

Safe in Devon

Sadly, and such is the nature of progress, the Theale vineyard land is now the flat, grey and uninspiring dispatch area for online giant Amazon.

Now v2

The recently released, but increasingly rare 2012 is now available. The next couple of years will see the arrival of the ‘13, ’14 and ‘15. The last vintages from a vineyard that no longer exists. Rare wine indeed.

2012 Vintage

Tony Laithwaite’s book ‘Direct’, detailing the history behind the rise of his current empire, is now available via various book retailers including Amazon.

 

 

Will Orange Wine ever hit the mainstream?

Orange may be the new black in the criminal fraternity, but in the wine world, orange is the new red, white or rosé.

Orange Wine

Although based on an ancient style of wine-making, orange wine (also known as amber wine) is a style that has re-emerged over the last few years and, although still something of a rarity, the trend continues to bubble just below the surface waiting to hit the mainstream.  Despite renowned wine authority Hugh Johnson once describing it as “a sideshow, a waste of time”, such is the building of the movement, the latter part of 2018 saw the publication of a book (‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J. Woolf) completely devoted to the style.

Unlike red and white wine, where neither are actually coloured red or white, orange wine is specifically named because of its colouring.  It doesn’t, as some may fear, actually taste of oranges.  The making of orange wine is something of a hybrid, taking the red wine process of allowing the pressed grape juice to spend time with the dark grape skins absorbing the colour, and applying that to the white wine grapes, which would usually be separated in order that the juice remains clear.

The resulting wine retains the florality and freshness of a white wine, but with the body, structure and style of a red.  The skin contact, which can last for a few days all the way up to over a year, allows the resulting wine to develop further, picking up tannins along the way.  The longer the wine stays in touch with the grape skins, the more complex and intense it becomes.

The merging of the red and white production methods also brings together aspects of each wine in to the taste, resulting in a versatile style that straddles both.  As such, white wine fans who like a nuttier and honeyed style will enjoy it, and red wine fans who enjoy the lighter more floral style will also be rewarded.

Orange wines are also good news for those that like to match their food to their wines.  Wine expert Amelia Singer (The Wine Show) praises the versatility and suggests pairing them with dishes from India, Morocco, Ethiopia and Persia.  The acidity and nuttiness are also good matches to a well-stocked cheese board, as well as the light tannins lending themselves to charcuterie plates.

Orange Wine 2

Although Marks & Spencer have long been advocates and include an orange wine within their range, getting your hands on a bottle is still a little tricky outside of specific wine merchants.  The fact that they pair well with diverse foods is potentially a bonus as it may lead to more restaurants adding them to their lists. 

As more and more people seek them out and the passion continues to grow, this is when the supermarkets will want to get involved.  So keep an eye out, especially as summer draws in and people go searching for a medium-style alternative to rosé.

This article was originally published in the April 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Holy Smoke – Cannabis Wine is Coming!

Two words: Cannabis Wine.  It might sound like something invented by Willa Wonka, and yet, it is a real thing.  It’s coming.

Cannabis Leaf

In fact it’s been around for several years but, due to the differing possession laws from country to country, it’s been very hard and very costly to get your hands on a bottle.  The tail end of last year saw Canada follow the likes of Spain, Uruguay and various US States by legalizing the recreational use of Cannabis and, with another large world market opening up, the potential for infused drinks has moved a sizeable step forward. 

With many other countries allowing Cannabis possession for personal use, experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before more and more change their stance and get onboard with full legalisation.

Whilst Cannabis wine isn’t likely to replace the aesthetic pleasure of reaching, for example, for a Chilean Cabernet, low/no alcohol alternatives are very much in fashion, and there is already evidence that the latest generation of drinkers are shunning alcohol, such is the rising concern about what we put in to our bodies. 

Many wine drinkers would surely love to be able to get the same relaxed pleasure of taking a glass without the risk of a hangover, at a fraction of the calories and without ingesting alcohol.  And Cannabis users would surely love not to be risking their lungs each time they smoke it?

Cannabis Wine

So how does it work?  Avoiding any serious mind-altering implications, only the non-psychoactive stress-busting compounds of the Cannabis plant, such as CBD, are used.  The natural flavour profile of the leaf plays a dominant part to the taste and each producer will work to tease out the intricacies, in much the way standard wine is blended.

Whilst alcohol is a proven antiseptic and disinfectant, it has no health benefit to the body, but Cannabis has a long-proven track record of doing good, providing chronic pain relief, relieving stress disorders and treating epilepsy.  Being able to freely access a safe dosage, in a legal way, would be a benefit to users both existing and new.

That’s certainly what top drinks manufacturers are pinning their hopes on, and companies such as Diageo, AB InBev and Constellation (who collectively own top brands including Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Gordon’s, Bud and Stella) are already upping their investments in Cannabis growing companies.  One is actually selling off some of its established brand portfolio to fund the move.  With other possibilities on the table, such as infused sparkling water, even Coca-Cola are reported to be in talks.

Whilst our current legislation remains as-is, it may still be some time before we see bottles of Cannabis wine adorning the shelves of UK supermarkets, but the UK cannot afford to ignore the growing trend, especially one led by the Americas. 

If the predicted revenues touted by the Canadian government are anything to go by, in a post-Brexit world, we may actually not be able to afford to miss it.

This article was originally published in the March 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Drinking To The Limit

So that was January, a month of mixed feelings for wine lovers. Do you carry on as normal, observe ‘dry January’ to put right any festive indulgences, or maybe even just use it as a yearly detox?

Official Doctor evidence is still wonderfully confusing, with conflicting studies offering either extreme views or fence-sitting conclusions. Will sudden abstinence do more long-term damage than the short-term benefits? It seems, no one knows.

‘Dry’ campaigners will argue that if you need to take a monthly break from alcohol you’re probably drinking too much anyway. Sobering stuff! Whether you chose to ignore it or observe it, I hope you made it through OK.

Speed Limit

Most calendar months now have appropriations such as ‘Stoptober’ or ‘Movember’. There’s even ‘Veganuary’! February doesn’t seem to pair with any such affiliations: you’re simply back to getting on with your life. It’s perhaps a nice time then to reflect on an alternative viewpoint to the annual October to January ‘should-we-shouldn’t-we’.

My driving instructor once told me that road signs displayed the speed limits, not the targets. Recent research suggests that, when it comes to drinking, people not only need to observe the healthy drinking targets, they also need to exceed them! All for the sake of the Government and the good of the country.

To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that anyone should drink to excess, but there is a clear confliction of interests. The Chief Medical Officer (representing the Government) might suggest one upper limit intake figure will keep us healthy and living to a ripe old age, but the Government at large are particularly reliant on keeping the taxes pouring in.

Pennies

The study showed that if drinkers stuck to the current weekly alcohol consumption guidelines (14 units for both men and women), overall alcohol sales would fall by £13 billion per year, a revenue decline of 38%*. That’s a massive shortfall in the expected tax generation and their wider overall financial calculations. To clarify, the Government balance sheet currently factors in people vastly surpassing their own suggested health guidelines.

Furthermore, the late 2018 October budget saw duty frozen for beers and spirits, but not for wine, which saw a 7p per bottle increase (9p for sparkling). This signals that, whilst appeasing the concerns of beer enthusiasts who make up the core drinkers of our sadly diminishing pubs (go CAMRA!), it isn’t a tax holiday on general alcohol drinking, it’s a tax grab on the increasing number of home/wine-drinking austerity minded folk.

Figures for the financial year 13/14 (the latest available) show that 81%* of off-trade revenue (i.e. sales outside of pubs/clubs/restaurants) can be attributed to people drinking outside of the recommended limits. Can we expect producers and suppliers to swallow the additional tax hikes? Unlikely. We’ll simply end up paying more per bottle.

Do the Government actually want us to cut down our consumption levels to improve our health, or continue drinking to generate the taxes? It’s a ponderous question.

* Blenheimcdp

This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine vertical 1966-1975

Great bottles of wine seem to find their way out on to the market over the festive season, but this year I have been truly spoilt for choice.  UK wine merchant Laithwaites has offered up not just one, but three, magical vintages from the 20th Century.

The modern-era of winemaking is well written as starting with the 1982 vintage.  Prior to that the last three truly great years had been the 1975, 1970 and the 1966.  Imagine my surprise when all three of these Bordeaux vintages became available, and at very respectable prices too.

villemaurine logo

The well positioned sloping limestone vineyards of St. Emilion Grand Cru estate Château Cardinal-Villemaurine were, until recently, owned by the Carrille family.  The familiar story of complex French inheritance laws finally necessitated a sale.

Needless to say, buyers were extremely forthcoming, and the land was eventually sold to top drawer Premier Grand Cru Classé house Château Angélus, who clearly saw the quality.  The actual buildings and stock, however, stayed with the Carille family.  Jean-Marc Sauboua, a Bordeaux native and winemaker/buyer for Laithwaites was first on the scene, and given the keys to their vaults, tasting wines back to the sterling 1947 vintage.

Picking out the most-lauded pre-1982 vintages, from a time when vineyards were tilled via horse drawn ploughs, and grapes were fully hand harvested, this is an extremely rare trilogy of Bordeaux wines to come to market.

Gravity fed cellars avoided the stress of pumping over and, post two years on oak, the maturing bottles were kept at a constant cool temperature.

villemaurine 1966

villemaurine stains

From the above images we can see that the bottles have certainly been re-labelled, but existing dirt on the bottles, which carries on under the new labels, show that the physical bottles are original.  The corks are fully branded but it is unclear as to whether they have been re-corked prior to re-release.

villemaurine corks

Each of the following three wines are Merlot based blends which, if following the pattern of the vineyard plantings, would be potentially 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet France and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The average age of their vines was 30 years old, spread over 12 hectares.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1966, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £50

Garnet in colour, with a thick sediment on decant, the nose was pungent and vegetal with stewed prune and figs.  Dark cherry and berry fruits fleshed over time in the decanter, but the overall sensation was rustic.

On the palate was faded black cherry, raisin, bitter chocolate and a touch of liquorice. Pepper spice, spent wood and a tea-like brew (following time in decanter) met with the still fresh acidity which kept everything lively and accessible.

The mid-palate carried well through to the acid and spicy and savoury characters, and the finish was respectable, carried by the acid and the dying embers of the black fruits.

Clearly a touch past its best, the sheer academic quality of drinking a good condition 1966 Bordeaux meant this was utterly worth the bottle price, and a good reminder of what mellow, but rich, wine tastes like at a modest 12.5% alcohol.

The tasting guide says drink to the end of 2022, but this feels like one to drink-up fairly soonish to me.

villemaurine 70 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1970, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £40

Raspberry red in colour with garnet tints, this gave a finer sediment than the 1966.  Buyer Jean-marc was quoted as saying “I had to buy you this 1970. Delicate maturity”.

The nose was prominent, incredibly clear and well defined, even after 48 years.  With silky tones of mature (dried) red and black cherry, rich tinned raspberry, a perfumed floral vanilla nose and hints of raisin, this felt incredibly layered and complex.

The palate had a good medium weight with a touch of stew-like quality, but extremely well rounded from the off without the need for time in the decanter.  Black cherry, redcurrant and cake spice dominate and, despite its age, the fruit felt very much alive as well as mature.

Backed up with a still-lively mouth-watering acidity, the finish was in the realms of 2 minutes long and full of the depth of the palate.  Simply divine.

Laithwaites currently have magnums available for this vintage.  I would say that this is a must purchase.  The tasting guide says to drink to the end of 2022 but this one feels like it could go a little further, such was the was the immediacy, the freshness and the vibrancy.

villemaurine 75 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1975, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £35

After a succession of dull vintages, 1975 was welcomed with open arms.  Medium ruby in colour with garnet tints, the sediment was once again fairly fine.

The nose was very clear and pronounced like the 1970, but in this case the character was overly herbaceous as opposed to fresh, with figs and prunes and a prominent mushroom tone.

The palate held a good weight, and a fresh high acid balanced against the faded blackcurrant, redcurrant and cherry.  The overall composition, whilst pleasant, seemed to drop off in the mid-palate.

The fairly short finish was saved somewhat by the acidity, but the overall savoury and herbaceous character of the wine wasn’t something that excited my palate, alive though it may be.

The notes say to drink to the end of 2025 and, for this one, it would be interesting to see which way it goes – it could do either.

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