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All that matters is equilibrium
EQUILIBRIUM. Balance. These two words, different but having the same connotations, could be said to sum up the fundamental principles underpinning human bodily systems and functions. The human body functions best when all its systems are functioning properly. The human body's physiology is designed so that all its systems are equipped with mechanisms which are designed to maintain and, when necessary, restore to the optimum state, so that the body can function at its optimal level.
Thus, for instance, if there is a fluid overload, the body responds by secreting more urine to get rid of the excess fluid so that the tissues are not water-logged and the circulatory system is not overburdened by the sudden increase in volume of fluid in the body.
And so it is that we find that one most important hallmark of a good wine is that all its components - the fruit, and its degree of ripeness, the acidity, and the tannins are in the proper balance and in harmony with one another.
This was brought to mind a few evenings ago when I was drinking a glass of Château L'Eglise Clinet 2004. For a 12-year-old wine from a not-particularly-distinguished vintage, it was a joy to drink.
This opaque, very dark red wine with tints of brown at the edges, had a light aroma of ripe berry fruit, a satisfying concentration and density. It tasted of healthy well-ripened berry fruit, and finished with a lingering caress of ripe fruit on the palate which left one thirsting for the next mouthful. The pleasure it gave was the greater because it was not expected.
What the wine brought home again was an age-old dictum handed down to me ages ago and which I have followed and have also tried to share. Follow the grower. Follow the winemaker. Avoid the verbosely hyped wines. And do not worry about points - especially 100-pointers.
Take this L'Eglise Clinet 2004 as an example. Château L'Eglise Clinet is in Pomerol, owned by one of Bordeaux's most respected oenologists, Denis Dubordieu, and his wife. The vineyards and winery are located near the cemetery and the church in Pomerol and there are two types of soil, clay and gravel. Clay gives the wine its power, and gravel the finesse. It is not a big property, its production averaging 20,000 bottles a year.
Its wine commands great respect and has a big following, prices are high but not too expensive for its quality. It is not regularly available on the open market because of its small production so the best way is to try and obtain it soon after it is released to the retail trade here or abroad.
As a vintage, 2004 was sandwiched between 2003, with its very hot dry summer, and 2005, a possible candidate for the accolade of vintage of the century. Both of these vintages have naturally overshadowed it. Which is to the advantage of wine-lovers who know better than to be overwhelmed by 100-pointers and by big broad-shouldered wines.
Smart buying involves knowing which wineries, Châteaux, Domaines, and winemakers to follow. This is not difficult, it does involve some following of the wine press, but these are mostly enjoyable reading - bed-time or over a glass of good wine!
One heavyweight recently encountered follows.
Chambertin 1978 Grand Cru, Domaine Armand Rousseau
Drunk June 24, 2016, courtesy of a good friend, at dinner in Gunther's.
Very dark brown-red, slightly cloudy. Lovely rich and fresh (Pinot Noir) aroma of ripe strawberries. In very good condition, but sadly the fruit showed signs of beginning to dry out. Still hugely enjoyable.
This is one of the monumental peaks of red burgundy. Chambertin, the most famous and the grandest of the Grands Crus, 1978, one of the most heralded vintages of the 20th Century, and Domaine Armand Rousseau, the most famous Domaine in Gevrey-Chambertin, whose Chambertin is one of Burgundies most sought-after wines. They do not come any higher than this wine.
At 38 years' age, still very enjoyable although it showed signs that it was beginning to lose a bit of its opulence and ripeness. At that age, it does not surprise, though a little disappointing, as I have seen other 1978 red and white burgundies at a similar age holding their own quite well. Burgundies, on the whole though, tend to hold less well than Bordeaux of the same age and same class.
Again, we come up against the same subject, provenance.
The best way of ensuring that your wines are still as fresh in aroma and on the palate as at their height is to buy them when they are first released from the Domaines, the Châteaux, the Maisons, etc. Store them yourself at 10 degrees Centigrade, in a wine fridge or a proper cellar, and leave them to mature slowly.
Finally, what are the qualities in a wine which ensure longevity. Good fruit ripeness, good acidity and ripe tannins, good vintages, and good wine-making. And price is not an important determinant.
And on the basis of the experience of the 2004 L'Eglise Clinet, even in average and poorer vintages, good winemakers will still be able to salvage from the vines a wine that is enjoyable to drink, and still shows sufficiently recognisable grape and terroir character.