Bursting with flavours
YOU are your own best judge. This has been said often enough by more than one wine authority. It took a while for me to see the truth in this simple statement at the beginning of my own journey, but I am finally getting around to it.
When I began to study wine, it was about understanding the essential attributes and qualities to look for, the criteria needed to master and to use as benchmarks, fine-tuning the palate and mastering the language of wine.
The first thing I did was to look for the yardsticks - or gold standards - by which you judge the attributes of wine. This meant searching the wine literature for universally acknowledged "great" wines and since only you could understand and learn what the gold standards were, it meant you had to drink or at least get a taste of them.
A very agreeable task, but further research showed that it would not be as simple as one first thought, as those benchmark wines were scarce and, not to mention, very expensive.
Opportunely, in the early 80s, Robert Parker's wine journal Wine Advocate hit the newsstands and it became everyone's authoritative wine judge. Its 100-point system of scoring was easy to understand as it reminded readers of school examinations.
Along the way, one begins to find one's own feet, or own palate, as it were, especially when becoming more familiar with other wine writers' assessments.
Slowly, one's assessments become more in line with certain wine writers than others. By developing one's own standards and benchmarks, eventually, one learns to trust his own assessments and judgments.
It is important to be able to feel confident enough to rely on one's own judgements, which indeed can sometimes be almost instinctive. Each of us has our own background, history of understanding and memories of the taste of any food or beverage, built up on a foundation of past experiences.
And this is the most important thing to remember; no one else has the same. We almost subconsciously build up our own memory bank of aromas and tastes. It is against this power bank of remembered gustatory experiences that we instinctively assess any wine we taste and drink.
One very important thing to keep in mind: where we live and what food and drink we consume on a daily basis. Our memory bank of tastes and flavours is different from those brought up on European or American food and drink.
Asian food, especially fruit, influences our memory bank, often fairly heavily, as do spicy, more exotic flavours.
So don't be afraid to trust your own judgment, even to accept that you do not like this wine or that this wine is "over the hill", no matter the "oohs and ahs" from others around the table. Pronounce that whatever the wine rating, you do not like the wine and it does not taste that good, even if the wine has a five-star rating or bears an iconic name. (Of course, you should keep this to yourself so as not to upset the owner of the wine or anyone else around the table.)
CHATEAU CALON SEGUR 1982
At dinner in Hong Kong on Oct 16
Brown-mahogany colour, medium density. Very mature aroma, which is classic cabernet sauvignon character; blackcurrant and cedarwood. On the palate, also very classic blackcurrant and cedar-like flavours, good ripe fruit but beginning to fade, like a once-attractive lady just past her prime.
Fortunately, my host was himself an experienced wine-lover and old friend, and I was able to gently suggest to him that if he had any more bottles of this wine, perhaps he should get round to drinking them up in the near future.
VIEUX CHATEAU CERTAN 1996
At the same dinner in Hong Kong
A medium-hued brownish-mahogany colour, with an aroma of rich ripe fruit and a touch of cedar, but mostly of lush merlot fruit. A mature wine with an interesting palate, in which you could discern the soft ripe merlot fruit being somewhat dominated by the cabernet sauvignon, making for an intriguing and complex blend of flavours. It had a medium-length finish and was at its peak, but seemed to be showing signs of drying out. Just a suspicion.
One of my favourite estates in Pomerol, Vieux Chateau Certan is owned by the Thienpont family, who also owns Le Pin. Alexandre Thienpont is the manager and winemaker of both Vieux Chateau Certan and Le Pin, a laconic and sharp man, but a most gracious host. A visit to VCC (as I call it) is a great treat as it always ends up with a visit to Le Pin, just around the corner. A fascinating barrel tasting in Bordeaux.
VIEUX CHATEAU CERTAN 2014
Cask sample tasted in the chateau's cellar with Mr Thienpont on Sept 11
Very attractive deep ruby-red colour with a fragrant aroma dominated by merlot fruit. The cabernet sauvignon at this stage is faintly discernible and somewhat subdued; on the palate, it is a gracious well-balanced wine, very charming and finishing very, very long. A wine to look out for.
CHATEAU LE PIN 2014
Cask sample at the chateau with Mr Thienpont on Sept 11
A dense ruby-red colour with ripe fruit aroma, in which the great freshness stands out. Great depth of flavour, intensely concentrated wine that shows a light touch of oak. An impressive, big wine that will need long ageing.
(Mr Thienpont's comment: In the first year, the palate always shows the wood flavour, but this is gone by the second year in cask; a 100 per cent new-wood ageing.)
Both the 2014s as well as others tasted during a three-day visit to Bordeaux in mid-September confirmed for me that 2014 is a very good vintage not to be missed for one's favourite chateau.
Prices at the en primeur campaign in May this year were reasonable, though not as far down as was hoped. But some lovely wines at affordable prices were had.
One last word: Vieux Chateau Certain is always very reasonably priced and one of my favourite en primeur buys.
THE BUSINESS TIMES