Sometimes there are things in this world that are so amazing for so long that we forget how great they are. When I lived in Africa and had nothing but blue sky days and starry nights, I rarely took the time to just bathe in the beauty and enjoy. Yet when I lived in China I was obsessed with waiting for that one day in the month when the sky was blue and can recall staring longingly into the night sky amazed at the beauty of the one star that was able to shine through the urban sprawl.
Lately I had been making the same mistake with Bordeaux. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Bordeaux and in my heart I never truly strayed away. After all it was a bottle of 1982 Pichon Lalande that first opened my eyes to fine wine and started a decade long journey to this point. One bottle that truly changed my life. Yet in some ways I had begun to take Bordeaux for granted. I didn’t stop drinking it, but some of the mystique wore off a bit as I chased my way through Burgundy and the Rhone and Napa and Australia to Italy and Spain and back again searching for greatness. And of course, there is greatness in abundance throughout each one of those regions. Yet for all that can be found there, nothing can ever take away from the king of wine growing regions, the gold standard around the world for centuries past and centuries to come: Bordeaux.
I was thinking about all of this in a brief moment of introspection towards the end of a 1982 Bordeaux dinner HDH held in Hong Kong last month. In front of me sat a royal lineup of Bordeaux from one of the greatest vintages of all time: Cheval Blanc, Margaux, Haut Brion, Pichon Lalande, Gruaud Larose and Trotanoy.
The table talked back and forth trying to crown a champion of the evening. I was pulled towards the Pichon Lalande for it’s incredibly soft tannins and the nearly infinite amounts of fresh fruit it was still offering on the nose and the palate. But was I being biased? Was my history with the wine leading me there? The Cheval was also exemplary: it was slightly herbaceous with a lot of mint and cedar. Margaux and Haut Brion were amazing as well, such perfectly integrated tannins and fruit so fresh everything still felt on the ascent. The bottles were in stunningly perfect condition and I wondered if I had been offered these blind if I would have even come close to pegging their age at 32 years old? Then the Trotanoy and the Gruaud…absolutely beautiful wines in their own right and in no way sitting in second place to anything else that had been poured that night but maybe (and unfairly) slightly outshined by the lineage of everything else around us.
Drinking them was like jumping into the pensieve from the Harry Potter movies…as I sipped on the wine I was transported back to another moment in time. I could think back to the first time I tried each wine, where I was, who I was with, what we were eating…these wines were repositories of happiness from years past.
And as I pondered my own history with the Chateaux on the table, I thought of all those who have come before me in history who have done the same thing. How happy was Thomas Jefferson to take delivery of his beloved Bordeaux back in the 1700s? What would George Saintsbury have thought of our 1982 Lineup? What was the first vintage of Haut Brion Clarence Dillon drank, presumably long before he ever entertained the idea of purchasing the Chateaux?
How could I have ever let Bordeaux slip to the periphery? The only answer I could think was because it never faltered and somehow its unending perfection made it seem a touch mundane. Sure some vintages have out shown others, and I assume that will always be the case. But the body of work, not judged over years or decades but centuries is absolutely astounding. What else that we have on this earth today can claim such a distinguished lineage? And even as the world speeds up, as information reaches every corner of the globe and almost anyone can access anything from anywhere, there are bottles of wine from a small town in Southwest France that continue to entertain, to please and to amaze us. Just as they have for centuries past. Just as they will for centuries to come.