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A return to Bordeaux
A vertical tasting last week of 12 vintages of Château Pichon Lalande - 1978, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2005 - brought back vivid memories of Bordeaux that I always associate with a very dear friend, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, then owner of the Château, and about whom I wrote 10 years ago: "The fame of Château Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande, can be attributed without any doubt to one person, Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing."
Château Pichon-Longville, Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux
The deep brown-mahogany of an old claret, a lovely surprisingly fresh aroma of perfectly ripe berry fruit with cedar, cigar-box aromas; a medium-density palate tasting of fresh sweet ripe berries, at peak of maturity with no signs of fading. A lovely wine, mature, at peak and holding unbelievably well for its age (38 years). In perfect condition. One of the best vintages of the 70s, rivalling the 1970, softer and riper than the 1975.
Medium-dark reddish brown, just a one to two mm pale rim. The familiar and similar aroma of cedar and blackcurrant fruit, an aristocratic Pauillac wine in full bloom and still at peak. Very appealing. A very good and charming vintage, full of ripe fruit, good balance and freshness.
Quite similar to the 1985 in colour and aroma but the palate showed its heritage, a little more compact, more firmness, greater density. Very long beautiful lingering finish. A Bordeaux classic. This was a vintage which took a long time (20 years) to mature, more classic in style, and less "smiling" than the 1985. A vintage which will have a longer life at peak than the 1985.
Great similarity to the 1985 in colour, aroma and palate, but less broad-shouldered, and showing a slightly more tannic edge to the palate, as expected for this vintage. Less ripe vintage, rather raw at first, took ages to settle down. Drinking well now but not in the same league as the '85 and '86. A surprisingly good drink nevertheless and not to be dismissed as shown by this bottle.
Medium-hued reddish brown, a touch lighter in density than the preceding vintages. A fresh and charming aroma of sweet ripe berries and pears. Surprisingly very good ripeness on the palate, slightly thinning during the slightly less lingering finish.
For a light vintage at 24 years of age, this was showing extremely well, very pleasant to drink.
Good mature brownish-red colour, medium-hued. A lovely aroma similar to the others. Drinking very well, medium density and freshness; good ripeness on palate, with the cigar-box and cedar aromas prominent, good balance, and finishing surprisingly well.
Medium-dark reddish brown, again the typical Pauillac aroma of Pichon Lalande, blackcurrants, cedar and cigar-box notes. Very good ripeness, concentration and balance, good long finish. All in keeping with the character of the vintage. Still at peak, and even at 21 years of age, will hold for a good few years more.
A greater vintage than the 1995, this showed in the wine as it was not fully developed, still a bit closed and tight. Good long finish. Twenty years old, good to go on for another decade.
Very similar colour and aroma, except that both showed the wine to be slightly younger - more red than brown tints, and slightly more youthful aroma. Very good ripeness of fruit, good density and freshness. Altogether a very appealing drink. And like the other 1997s of Bordeaux (and Burgundy), this belied the vintage rating given in the wine press.
Colour of this vintage showing a little more youthfulness than the preceding vintages. A very dark brownish-black red colour, accompanied a lovely aroma, with the characteristic Pauillac aromas reminiscent of cedar and cigar-boxes.
Fuller and more youthful than the preceding, displaying more clearly its cabernet sauvignon base, with lovely lingering finish.
Still a long way to go.
Very dark brownish-red, still quite youthful aroma of cedar and ripe blackcurrant fruit; palate still a youthful maturity displaying ripe blackcurrant flavours.
This vintage coming after the great 2000 suffered by comparison, rather like the ugly duckling, but now at its maturity it is proving to be a very good drinking vintage, a little more "classic" than the more opulent 2000.
Still youthful-looking dark red with brownish tints. A beautiful, typical "Pauillac" aroma - cedar and blackcurrants - of very fresh, very ripe blackcurrants, with a palate which fully lived up to the promise of the aroma. A great wine, at glorious peak, and looking good to keep at that level for a good many years more.
Without doubt, the 2005 was the wine of the whole flight, as was to be expected. But the lovely surprise was how well, at 38 years of age, the 1978 showed. This was the best vintage of the 70s, the vintage that marked the beginning in 1983 of our close acquaintance with Pichon, its wines, and later, our friendship with its gracious and generous owner, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, owner of the Château at the time. (It was May-Eliane who, on our second visit to the Château in 1986, invited us to stay at the Château the next time we visited Bordeaux: "Pichon is your second home in Bordeaux.")
And what is also without doubt, this tasting reminded us of the greatness and the timelessness of Pichon Lalande, its nobility and grace, its generosity of flavour and its haunting lingering finish.
It is the legacy of May-Eliane de Lencquesaing.