Sat 10 May 2008
Now we’re talking! Our first great red wine from Bordeaux!
Don’t laugh. The year — 1974 — vies with ’72 and ’77 as being the worst of the decade. Robert M. Parker Jr., never one to mince words, writes, in the last edition (the fourth) of his book about the wines of Bordeaux: “Should readers still have stocks of the 1974s, my sincere condolences. He goes on, in his triadic manner: ” … most 1974s remain hard, tannic, hollow wines lacking ripeness, flesh and character.”
Well, what did we know? My note, from July 17, 1983, says that Chateau Le Gay 1974, Pomerol — the blend is typically half cabernet franc-half merlot — was “big, round, tannic and mouth-filling, and yet soft and supple. Absolutely wonderful wine.” We drank the bottle with Sunday dinner, but, uncharacteristically, I didn’t record what the meal was.
Old School wine writers and critics delight, somewhat ruefully, in tales of the dour Robin sisters, who owned the small property for decades and didn’t make much distinction between farm fowl, livestock and aging barrels, as the chai shared room with ducks, chickens and the stray goat. Very rustic and homespun. The wine was always described with such adjectives as “massive,” “unyielding” and “truculent” and the occasional concession of “classically proportioned for longevity.” As Michael Broadbent says of the 1970 version of Le Gay in The Great Vintage Wine Book, the first edition of 1982, “Not so much attractive as impressive: very deep, tough.” The estate was sold in 2003 to Catherine Péré-Vergé, who hired — who else? — Michel Rolland as consultant. Soon Le Gay will smell and taste like all the other “modern” Pomerols.
Were we wrong to be so impressed with this wine? I don’t think so. Looking at the page that holds my notes and this label, I clearly remember Le Gay 1974, against all probability, as being the best red wine I had tasted up until July 17, 1983. What struck me so notably was the combination of the brute power of dusty tannins and minerals with the irresistible suppleness and mellowness of the texture and flavors. The wine has probably been dead in the water for years, and, yes, it was assuredly a minor wine to begin with, but it certainly taught me something about the character of merlot and cabernet franc grapes and a valuable lesson about not judging a wine by the label and the year.
And I love the price: $10.99!
Here are the other wines we tried between the last entry of This Chronicle and the present post:
Chateau Larose-Tritaudon 1978, Haut-Medoc. $9.98.
Zaca Mesa Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, Santa Ynez Valley. $7.15.
Teruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia de San Gimignano 1979. $3.99.
Folonari Bardolino non-vintage? $2.99.
Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, Mendocino. $8.99.
Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages Jadot 1982. $5.99.
Mirassou Petite Sirah 1978, Monterey. $5.55.
Concannon Chenin Blanc “Noble Vinyeards-Kerman” 1981, California. $5.49.
Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 1979, Napa Valley. $8.29.
Quady Vintage Port 1977, Amador County. $10.53.
Santa Sofia Soave Classico Superiore 1979. $5.99.
Maitre d’Estournal 1978, Bordeaux. $6.99.