Tag Archives: Chianti Classico

1999 and all that

From time to time you hear a wine scribe making cheerful noises about some example of 1999 vintage Bordeaux. Not often, but you do hear it. If you are in any way perceptive you’ll recognise the sound as the whistling noise you used to make when, as a child, you had to go down a dark lane on your own (nowadays, kids call for mum to get out the MPV). The noise you made had a multiple purpose – to frighten off any evil spirits that might be lurking in the mirk and to convince yourself that you weren’t afraid and that that the world was really an okay place.
The noise these cheerful Pollyannas make can be construed another way. It’s the same optimistic brouhaha that supporters of crap Premiership teams – and I know plenty about that phenomenon – make to build morale towards the end of an even- worse-than-usual season. What’s the phrase? Ah yes, ‘Too good to go down’.
Let me say it one last time and and say it loud “THERE IS NO BOTTLE OF 1999 RED BORDEAUX I COULD POSSIBLY AFFORD THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH AS A TINCTURE OF PLEASURE!!!” There, I’ve said it. By and large the 1999s are mean, joyless, sparsely fruited , overly tannic and odds-on to remain so.
It’s a curious place, Bordeaux. A society held together by an uneasy alliance between the local aristos who made the wine but could never be bothered to sell it and the gimlet-eyed negotiants, English, Irish, Dutch or German blow-ins, the kind of people who used to be stigmatised as being ‘in trade’. The two needed each other like Stan needed Ollie and still do. I’ve previously remarked on how the neophyte wine lover who makes a first trip to the region often returns enchanted by the pristine chateaux but perturbed by the lack of picnic tables and cellar door outlets. Try Margaret River, mate.
Today of course the aristocracy, the chateau owning class is not what it was. The titular head of a cru classe is as likely to be an insurance company executive as a milord. As a matter of fact this thought was coursing through my head when I received an invitation to meet Baroness Nadine de Rothschild who had just breezed into town, accompanied by samples of her wines, Chateaux Clarke and Malmaison. I scanned her CV, actress, model, socialite, wine maker and thought “Great!”
Alas the interview did not live up to expectations. Herself was all Pat Kenny’d out and was not in a mood to answer what Lyndon Johnson used to call ‘horse piss questions’. Sample: Q. “Did the baron arrive at the stage door after a performance with two dozen red roses, a magnum of Krug and sweep you off your feet?” A. “No, we met at a dinner party.” Her books turned out to be celebrations of the lives of her friends but she declined to dish any dirt on mesdames Callas, Bouvier-Kennedy-Onassis and Schneider. I ended up commiserating with their unhappiness. She had a suit in tow to answer questions on the wine; he gave me the bland corporate overview. Of the wines themselves I found the harsh astringency I’d come to expect in Clarke and a big ‘So what?’ in the Malmaison. Ennui overtook me and my probings, trite enough to begin with became even triter, if that’s a word. Overall, it was the worst interview I’d done since the uninvited arrival of an armed burglar interrupted my grilling of a Manchester furniture tycoon back in ’79.
But I can’t leave things on this doomy-gloomy note. Forget Bordeaux for the minute. For the same money as will buy a 1999 of a moderate minor chateau you could get a bottle of Chianti Classico riserva from a good producer and let a little light into your life. In recent weeks I’ve been fortunate to taste Antinori’s wonderful 2000 Badia a Passignano on three occasions – on the premises; in a fine Florentine restaurant; and at home in Dublin – boy does it travel well! The plums and violets that are the very essence of Sangiovese with a judicious dollop of unspecified foreigners adding backbone, this is joyous, vibrant yet refined wine that sings like 33 tenors not 3.
Also let me add my voice to that of Mary Dowey who elsewhere in this issue is carolling about Clos du Papillon. Honeyed, heathery, smoky-nosed, lovely golden coloured, splendidly fragrant Chenin Blanc, Domaine du Closel Clos du Papillon 2002 from Savennieres, a small appellation on the Loire is one of the nicest white wines I’ve had this year. A great weighty mouthfeel, slightly wax’n’honey flavours – everything balanced and controlled and expressive, truly a wonderful bit of winemaking. Normally young Savennieres is crude and unpleasant – drunk fresh you have to apologise to your guests and say “Of course this should really be put away for a year or three”. Not this Clos du Papillon, opened the minute you get it home it’s only brilliant. Such a refreshing change from the Sauv B/Chard overload so prevalent today. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Mine came from James Nicholson of Crossgar. Redmonds of Ranelagh might stock it and maybe a few other serious wine merchants. Around e20 and well worth it.

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