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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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Dom Pérignon; Phew…..what a scorcher

Part 9 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

Whilst sales of Champagne may have been widely slumping, James Bond was still enjoying the finer things in life and the December 1974 premiere of the film ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ contained a typically glamorous scene where Bond is offered the Dom 1964, only to retort “I prefer the ’62 myself”.  Little did he know that he wouldn’t be drinking Dom for much longer…

Weather conditions in the early part of 1975 had been unpredictable, with the winter being damp and snow falling in March.  This seriously delayed the bud break of the vines, but temperatures improved towards the end of April and flowering was achieved as planned.  August saw stormy weather set in, but otherwise the summer was sunny and warm and continued until the harvest commenced on the 29th of September.  From a fair weather start the weather quickly deteriorated, delaying picking until the start of October, and forcing it to be completed quickly.

The resulting yield was smaller than usual but the wines were nothing short of fantastic and widely lauded as one of the Champagne vintages of the century.   Extremely fresh acidity balanced the fruit filled palate and complex creamy blending.  Alongside the characteristic toast, brioche and hazelnut of a Dom, red fruits, vanilla and gingerbread rounded out the fleshy palate.  An extremely long length signalled a vintage wine with the ability to age for many years to come.

The 1975 Rosé, like the previous few vintages, was extremely dark in colour, in this instance giving a sweet confectionate nose of flowers and peach. A low acidity allowed the full fruit palate to come to the fore, with wildly varying notes of strawberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant and plum.  A full and rich feeling in the mouth supported the long finish carried by concentrated sweet fruit.

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The vintages would reach the market in 1983 and 1985 respectively and were, like the 1973 vintage, presented in revamped packaging to stimulate the flagging market.  The green hinged boxes that stood out on shelves and kept the wine protected would continue to be used (with variations) up until the 2002 vintage.  Two variations were still in use at this time (pictured above and below) – the first a card gift box with simple red interior, and the second the classic hinged box with beige interior and neck brace to secure the bottle.  Whilst the shield logo sticker securing the box would refer to the vintage within, the actual boxes didn’t contain any reference.  This meant that they could be used over multiple years, and it wasn’t until the 1983 vintage that the box itself provided the vintage year.

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1976 represented the 40th anniversary since Dom Pérignon had been launched commercially.  After a cold spring the weather changed completely and the sun came out and stayed until October.  The memorable long hot summer resulted in an extremely ripe and extremely early harvest.  Traditionally the gap between flowering and harvesting is 100 days, but the process was completed in just 84 days, commencing on the 1st of September.

The pale straw yellow colour of the wine hinted at the wealth of aromas on the nose which, alongside honey and butterscotch, added darker hints of raisin, mushroom, new leather and blond tobacco.  The palate was full, deep and warming, beginning with bitter orange and melting away to toast, nutmeg, walnut, and some light spice.  Due to the warmth of the weather throughout the growing season the well ripened grapes lacked acidity and the 1976 will be remembered as powerful and austere with a great length.

The super-ripe grapes weren’t deemed fitting enough for a Rosé vintage, and so the normal vintage was the only expression of the year.  After 8 years maturing in the cellars, it was released in 1984 to a market beginning to surge with the Champagne excesses of the 1980’s.

Following two years of triumph came a year of damp and dismal weather.  Not only would 1977 be a write-off in terms of wine production, it would also mark the end of the on-screen association with James Bond.  The July release of “The Spy Who Loved Me” marked the final time the two brands were seen together on film (they did partner together again in 2008 to mark the centenary of Ian Flemings birth).  Breaking with tradition, Bond didn’t drink the latest vintage available, instead opting for the 1952.  This was the earliest vintage that Bond had expressed a preference for (excluding the false 1946 vintage tasted in the Moonraker novel).  His switch to a preference for Bollinger Champagne was never fully explained, but it was reported at the time that there had been a falling out with film producer Cubby Broccoli.  As the switch from one brand to another came at the same time as product placements in films began to take off, it’s more likely that Bollinger were willing to pay for the privilege of association.  Certainly Bollinger take out print adverts for each new collaboration, which is not something that Dom Pérignon ever played upon.  If Bond was after the finest Champagne he naturally gravitated to Dom Pérignon.

The vintage of 1978 nearly went the same way as 1977, only to be saved at the last minute by a warm September.  Harvesting commenced on the 9th of October for the Pinot Noir and the 11th for the Chardonnay.  Due to damp and cool weather for the majority of the growing season, uneven flowering, rot and under-developed grapes were all an issue, resulting in strict grape selection and a low overall yield (at the time of writing, still the smallest of the post-war years).  As an additional note, the yield was so small that, many years later when Dom were releasing back vintages for their Oenothéque range, they had to skip the 1978 as there simply wasn’t enough.

Upon release the vintage was characterised by both high acidity and higher alcohol Pinot Noir grapes.  Champagne expert Tom Stevenson described the vintage as “luscious, silky soft (with) creamy vanilla fruit”.  Both the high acid and distinct Pinot notes also characterised the 1978 Rosé adding to the powerful and concentrated fruits.

The busiest decade for the brand so far ended on a quiet note.  The start of 1979 had been extremely cold, and was followed by a spring plagued with frosts.  During summer the temperatures perked up and some short lived, but respectable vintage wines were crafted by a small number of Champagne houses.  Dom Pérignon wasn’t among them.

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