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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
LIBRARY TASTING:  1953 CH MARGAUX,  1953 BODEGAS BILBAINAS VINA POMAL RESERVA ESPECIAL,  AND ASSESSING OLD WINE ...



The Invitation   [ to a tasting styled:  LIBRARY TASTING:  1953, 1960, 1962 & 1986 Ch MARGAUX,  1953 & 1955 RIOJA,  AND OTHERS ]  
1953 was one of the great post-war European vintages.  And in particular, it is considered the last great Ch Margaux of the previous ownership,  as the place ran down under the Ginestets,  until the takeover by the Mentzelopoulos family in 1976.  We have four vintages of Ch Margaux,  including one young one to illustrate the latterday changes.

This tasting is particularly oriented to people who love wine for itself,  and wish to explore the charms of old and in some cases frail wine.  Sixty years is quite a haul,  for any red wine.  The 1953 Rioja may be nearly as exciting as the 1953 Ch Margaux – I have never since found a Spanish wine to match it in its beauty,  when younger.  Needless to say,  it dates from the reign of tempranillo and graciano,  with no bold interlopers and no excess of oak pandering to coarse new-world tastes.  Because the key wines are older,  I have chosen wines from lighter vintages to accompany the main players.  This also helps to make the cost more reasonable.  Please check the current price for 1953 Ch. Margaux on www.winesearcher.com,  and some of the others too.  In contrast the 1986 Ch Margaux should need no help,  and thus I have included 1976 Ch Montrose as a kind of good reference bordeaux in appropriate maturity,  to calibrate the whole exercise.

This tasting will also include an example of the great 1961 Bordeaux vintage.  Some say it is the greatest Bordeaux vintage since the war.  Clos René was reliable rather than well-regarded in those days,  but any taste of a 1961 is pretty rare now.  The wines will be presented blind,  so we may assess each wine's quality objectively.

For the others,  the two Aussies are wines from perhaps the two greatest (and greatly outspoken) pioneers of genuine cabernet sauvignon / bordeaux styles in Australia,  as opposed to the horde of Aussie thumpers.  Both Max Lake and John Middleton were medicos,  both now sadly deceased.  And rather than the usual New Zealand wine I tend to put into such exercises,  let's put in a highly-regarded Chilean winery which sails under the radar in New Zealand.  And it is always nice to have a burgundy in an old claret tasting,  especially when we have some burgundian riojas.

Please note that buying into this tasting is the same as buying a rare bottle yourself.  I'm afraid you have to accept the risk that one may be corked.  I do have back-up bottles of the 1953 and 1955 riojas,  so you will taste a good 1953.  And likewise for the 1986 Ch Margaux and the 1976 Montrose.  The other French are sole bottles,  I'm afraid.  There are other bottles some French standing up,  so you will get 12 wines,  but let's hope they are the ones listed.

In ascending age,  our wines will (I hope) be:
1953 Ch Margaux, Margaux Premier Cru,  Bordeaux
1953 Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva Especial,  Rioja  
1955 Bodegas Bilbainas Vieja Reserva,  Rioja
1960 Ch Margaux, Margaux Premier Cru,  Bordeaux
1961 Close René,  Pomerol
1962 Ch Margaux,  Margaux Premier Cru,  Bordeaux
1971 Dom Gouroux Grands-Echezeaux,  Burgundy
1972 Lakes Folly Cabernet Sauvignon,  Hunter Valley,  NSW  
1976 Ch Montrose, St Estephe Deuxieme Cru,  Bordeaux
1983 Mount Mary Cabernets,  Yarra Valley,  Victoria
1985 Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Medalla Real,  Chile
1986 Ch Margaux,  Margaux Premier Cru,  Bordeaux


The Tasting – and old corks …
One of the hardest things in the wine world is presenting tastings of old wine.  There are so many variables and unpredictables.  Leaving aside the nonsense promulgated by Penfolds,  the secure life of a decent cork is 40 – 50 years.  After that time,  the risk rises by the year,  as the zone of wine penetration along the cork / glass interface creeps ever closer to the bottle mouth.  

And as the wine penetrates further and further along the cork,  so the cork softens,  and loses its integrity and physical strength.  Though you would think that wine penetration would make the cork easier to extract,  some corks seem to become 'varnished' / glued to the neck.  In pulling the cork,  the risk always is that:  (1)  the  centre of the cork will prove to be pug,  and the corkscrew will pull the crumbly centre out of the cork,  cascading frass onto the wine in the bottle-neck,  and leaving a cylinder of cork jammed in the bottle,  with insufficient meat left to use the corkscrew a second time;  or (2),  that the lowest part of the cork,  slightly wider due to neck flair than the top,  will become separated and jammed well down the neck.

Over the years I have built up a small armoury of tools essential to opening old bottles.  The two most useful are a strong right-angle hook to retrieve hollow cylinders of cork,  and a small scoop / scraper shaped to the internal radius of a bottleneck,  to retrieve cork fragments from the neck and surface of the wine,  without disturbing the wine – for example by sieving.  But lately I have added an Ah-So to the kit.  It is said to be the ultimate answer for old soggy corks,  but with 55 mm corks one can still lose the last 5 mm.  I suspect it's best use is to first carefully use it to break any cork / glass glueing,  then use a long widely-spaced helix such as the ScrewPull,  to aid the chances of extracting the cork in one piece.  The there is to the opposite problem,  the loose cork,  miraculously staying in place and sealing the wine only through inertia,  which the instant you touch it with the corkscrew or Ah-So,  it retreats down the neck.  The answer there is a needle (dentists'  probes are good) inserted at 45° first.  

The Tasting – sequencing the wines …
All this by way of preface to this blind tasting (28 Nov. 2013,  Regional Wines & Spirits,  Wellington),  where I presented 12 wines,  the youngest 1986,  the oldest two different 1953s.  Getting the corks out,  with the wines unlittered with frass,  was a tense and protracted affair.  Then follows the very pleasant exercise of pre-tasting the wines,  and arranging the 12 into a logical sequence where each wine is so placed as to allow its neighbour to show to best advantage.  In setting up a sequence,  I like the first wines to introduce the theme(s) of the evening,  the next wines to 'get-rid' of any lesser wines,  excessively tannic wines and so on,  then via a bridging wine to normalise the nose and mouth,  a final sequence which will include my estimation of the best or most important wines.  It is sensible to not regularly have the best wine at #12,  so that tasters are obliged to check carefully all the way through.

The Tasting – thoughts on 'faults' in old wines …
In presenting the tasting,  I was reminded that leaving aside those who quietly keep their views completely unknown,  there are two main kinds of tasters:  the virtue-seekers,  and the fault-finders.  The former are very important to the success of a tasting,  and particularly in tastings of old wines,  simply because they bring a good vibe with them,  they are keenly looking forward to the whole experience.  And sometimes the romance of the occasion does need emphasising – since old wines may show frailties.  The latter can be disruptive to group appreciation of wine,  for many have this urgent need to announce any 'fault' they may find to the group as a whole.  Thus everybody else's objective assessment of that wine is immediately swayed / impaired,  if not wrecked.  The favourite hobby-horses of these people are cork taint,  and brett.  In conducting tastings,  I normally ask people specifically to refrain from commenting on faults real or imagined,  until the formal assessment / discussion takes place.  In this way,  the virtue-seekers can more fully establish their own evaluation of each wine,  and the wine can more easily be seen as a whole.  Unfortunately fault-finding can become endemic in isolated groups of tasters:  it is a kind of inverted (or perverted) wine snobbery.

The key issue here is,  each person's individual threshold to perception of TCA,  brett,  H2S and more complex sulphides,  and VA,  to name the commonest issues,  is completely (and measurably – given equipment) different.  What is offensive to one wine-taster may be unnoticeable or merely incidental complexity to another.  There are even perverse tasters unconcerned with the factual / objective side of wine evaluation,  who mark up this or that fault.  Further,  the skilled taster should be able to note a defect,  but still evaluate other technical components of the wine,  without immediately dismissing the wine.

The older the wine,  the greater the likelihood of impairments shall we say,  faults if you will.  How these components respond to the shock of disentombment from the bottle the liquid has been sealed in for 30, 40, or 50 years is wildly unpredictable.  A presenter would need the wisdom of Solomon,  and the experience of Michael Broadbent,  to correctly optimise / 'treat' each wine,  on opening.  The danger is,  if you aerate a wine to dissipate one character,  some other component may change too – and sometimes irretrievably.  In this tasting,  some of the wines changed dramatically.  Please note therefore that this review tries to take a more detached view,  all the while assessing the wines both aesthetically and technically:  once at the moment of opening;  then at the formal tasting;  and again 24 hours later.  Throughout this process,  for 'faulty' bottles I also have in mind what an unimpaired bottle might be like.  The key issue for this tasting was,  24 hours later,  some wines were totally different.  Scores and scoring therefore become somewhat arbitrary.  And the importance of checking and re-checking wines over an extended period of time becomes dramatically emphasised.  Unfortunately,  there is a class of wine person who likes to brag about how they tipped this and that (often expensive) wine down the sink,  instead of reassessing it clinically the next day.  In contrast,  in these notes I am trying to extract all the information I can from these wines,  and explain what we see before us,  plus create some kind of sensory picture in the mind's eye,  so that a keen reader may vicariously share in them.  

The Tasting – nett impressions ...
Finally,  in ranking the wines,  and allocating a score,  there is that ultimate and unquantifiable factor:  yes,  but,  which do I actually like drinking / which wine would I prefer to have a glass to dally with later with some food.  So,  with all the attempted objectivity in the world,  wine writing still has an inescapable subjective factor.

My hope in presenting this tasting was that the group of wines would provide a lovely picture of classical claret,  with the highlight being a wine from the now near-mythical 1953 vintage.  In the event,  the 1971 burgundy stole the show,  several experienced people rating it their top wine,  and the 1953 burgundy-styled Rioja was the other 'great' wine.  These two made the tasting really special,  and incidentally,  make a nonsense of the 95 – 98 point scores Australasian winewriters spray about for quite commercial wines.  The style of classical claret was still captured,  but not at the same level of beauty,  quality and substance as these two wonderful old wines.  I have included a little more background than usual for each wine,  to make it more apparent that this was a special tasting.

References:
Broadbent,  Michael 1980:  The Great Vintage Wine Book.  Mitchell Beazley,  432 p.  
Broadbent,  Michael 2003:  Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.
Halliday,  James 2002:  Classic Wines of Australia and New Zealand.  Harper Collins,  386 p.
Parker,  R  1991:  Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  1026 p.
Penning-Rowsell,  Edmund 1985:  The Wines of Bordeaux.  Penguin,  606 p.
Peppercorn,  David 1982:   Bordeaux.  Faber & Faber,  428 p.
Peppercorn,  David 2000:  Wines of Bordeaux.  Mitchell Beazley,  248 p.
Read,  Jan 1973:  The Wines of Spain and Portugal.  Faber & Faber,  280 p.
Read,  Jan 1982:  The Wines of Spain.  Faber & Faber,  267 p.
Spurrier,  Steven 1986:  Guide to French Wines.  Willow Collins,  256 p.
www.erobertparker.com
www.jancisrobinson.com
www.winesearcher.com
www.winespectator.com






THE WINES REVIEWED:  

1955  Bodegas Bilbainas Rioja Clarete Fino Vieja Reserva
1953  Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva Especial
1961  Clos René
1971  Domaine Gouroux Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru
1972  Lake's Folly Cabernet Sauvignon 100%
1986  Ch Margaux
  1960  Ch Margaux
1953  Ch Margaux
1962  Ch Margaux
1976  Ch Montrose
1983  Mount Mary Cabernets
1985  Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Medalla Real


1971  Domaine Gouroux Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru   19 +  ()
Cote de Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ 50mm cork;  a Corney & Barrow (London) selection;  Steven Spurrier notes the vineyard:  Adjoins the top of Clos de Vougeot, producing wines with a rich ruby colour  and fine bouquet.  They are firm and velvety on the palate,  in flavour not unlike a good Pomerol,  and age superbly;  our wine is long past that point,  but is included in the hope it will accompany the 1953 Margaux rather nicely,  and perhaps make it look younger ….;  Domaine Gouroux was well-regarded back then,  the vineyards now passed to Jean-Marc Millot amongst others. ]
The amber and rosy garnet colour of this wine was not the palest of the set,  by four.  Just a sniff and one is instantly transfixed.  This is great pinot noir in the full bloom of maturity,  wondrously floral still,  and actually smelling rich.  It reminds me of the great 1945 burgundy John Avery brought out to the National Wine Competition judging (now Air New Zealand) at The Chateau,  central North Island,  in the mid-1980s.  The best aroma descriptors still seem to be boronia and roses now justifying the term aethereal,  though also some browning now,  on truly burgundian fruit.  In mouth there is velvety cherry fruit,  ageing obviously but still rich and satisfying,  plus secondary and tertiary flavours which are wondrously mouth-filling and complex,  just a mite of tannin showing but offset by the fruit sweetness,  the total palate impression simply glorious.

This Grands-Echezeaux pinot is four times as rich at 42 years of age as the 2003 Mount Difficulty Target Gully at 10 years of age,  loosely speaking.  How do we bridge that concentration gap,  in New Zealand ?  Is it only vine age coupled with cropping rate,  or is the absolute concentration of character achieved by perhaps 10,000 vines per hectare,  with each vine putting all its energies into half a kilo of fruit,  the key ?  This wine has all the beauty,  complexity,  perfect balance,  palate weight and texture the 1953 Ch Margaux should have had,  but it is dramatically pinot-y,  not claret-y / cedary.  A simply great wine experience,  of a calibre rarely encountered.  It is now just slipping over the edge of its plateau of maturity.  Unfortunately there is no clue on the bottle whether the grower / producer was Louis Gouroux or Henri Gouroux,  neither now practising.  Corney & Barrow (Specially Selected by),  the original suppliers,  could not enlighten me.  GK 11/13

1953  Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Reserva Especial   19  ()
Haro,  Rioja,  Spain:   – %;  $ –    [ 45mm cork;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$190;  original cost <$5,  Ch Montrose then $4.35,  so relatively expensive,  currently on sale in Germany for €166;  latterly related Bilbainas wines are 100% tempranillo from the Rioja Alta,  but earlier is likely to have included graciano at least;  aged in both large oak and then American oak barrique-sized perhaps including a little new even back then,  for an unknown time but probably exceeding four years.  Then aged in bottle for much longer.  It was seen as a burgundy-style,  contrasting with the Vieja Reserva,  and released latest 1960s.  No tasting notes found from established writers.  1953 highly regarded in parts of Spain,  but for Rioja Jan Read rates the vintage 3/10 in a classic sense,  contrasting with 10/10 for 1952,  also noting that exceptions abound in the Spanish climatic milieu;  www.bodegasbilbainas.com ]
Rosy garnet and ruby,  simply beautiful,  and above midway in depth.  Bouquet is of a quality to lose oneself in totally,  great Rioja of a quality scarcely encountered these days,  with so many consumers thinking oak equates with quality,  and too many winemakers scurrying to satisfy that perverted preference.  Here the dominant aroma is the very particular red fruits and citrus [ Jamaican grapefruit in the traditional slatted-wood case with one blue-mouldy fruit in it, +ve ] smell of mature tempranillo,  fragrant like the 1971 burgundy,  fruit-rich,  the oak merely shaping.  Palate is clearly burgundian,  and nearly as wonderful and perfectly balanced as the Gouroux,  but not quite so fine-grained – on both the varietal tannins and the American oak.  If anything it is richer and more tactile,  and more youthful,  though that is not quite the right word.  My impression of the wine is that it is not quite so perfect as the 1952 of this label,  but it is of a quality hard to find today,  particularly in New Zealand.  This wine too is a great experience,  and there is no hurry to finish it.  It was imported by one of New Zealand's most discriminating wine merchants from an earlier era,  Dick Maling in Christchurch,  and became available in about 1970.

Characterising great old rioja is not easy,  so it is worth quoting someone long-experienced in the wines of the region.  Jan Read (1973) quoted the Spanish oenologist Don Victor de Zuniga as saying of Rioja wines: "independent of the conditions of the harvest and quality of the crop,  they present quite distinct properties of nose, flavour, alcoholic content, colour and extract."  Anyone who has drunk the wines will recognise and enjoy those qualities.  A highly perceptive connoisseur like André Simon may differentiate between the bouquets of Lafite Margaux and Latour, describing them as being evocative of violets, wallflower and verbena; and such descriptions sometimes seem justified ... In the case of the Riojas, they do not seem helpful. Of the old Reservas, all that can honestly be said is that they are glorious and individual old wines, with a roundness and intensity of flavour, a characteristic acidity and a bouquet entirely sui generis and of the Rioja..  GK 11/13

1960  Ch Margaux   18  ()
Margaux First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ 55mm cork;  original price unknown,  this bottle bought at auction in 1980s;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$843;  cepage unclear in 1960,  but moving towards the later CS 75%,  Me 20,  balance CF and PV;  elevage probably 20 – 22 months for a light cool year like the 1960;  Broadbent,  2003:  vintage 1 star (out of five),  light and flavoury wines … some more than adequate made,  but unfortunately hemmed in by the 1959 and 1961;  Penning-Rowsell:  … some very drinkable wines … much depended,  I suspect,  on adroit use of sugar;  Peppercorn,  1982:  In lesser years,  Margaux is inclined to produce a rather small wine with a rather limited future;  the 1957 and 1958 were typical.  But 1950,  and to a much lesser degree 1960,  produced wines of great charm with the breed and style of true Margaux,  if not on the grand scale;  the chateau website reminds of Te Mata,  a lot of words but a lack of absolute detail;  www.chateau-margaux.com ]
Amber and garnet,  still a shadow of rosyness,  the third to lightest.  Of all the claret styles,  this bouquet is the most exquisite,  aethereal,  and other-worldly – the perfume and fragrance almost burgundian in its beauty,  but it is (naturally) cedary more than floral.  Berry and fruit are now almost lost in the total aroma,  secondary and tertiary aromas I guess,  extraordinary,  yet the wine still has a presence bespeaking fruit – qualities one hoped for in the bouquet of the 1953 Margaux.  Palate cannot compete,  there being just a shadow of hollowness,  a hint of acid,  yet for a poor year the total integration of autumnal browning / brown cassis and cedary oak is stunning.  This wine really spoke to the group,  it being by far the most highly rated wine on the day.  It shows near-perfect balance,  the oak superbly judged to the fruit in this lighter year.  The cropping rate must have been very conservative,  to provide sufficient dry extract for the wine to still be so vital today,  53 years later.  Like the burgundy but moreso,  past its plateau of maturity.  GK 11/13

1955  Bodegas Bilbainas Rioja Clarete Fino Vieja Reserva   17 ½ +  ()
Haro,  Rioja,  Spain:   – %;  $ –    [ 45mm cork;  similar values,  release and background as the Vina Pomal,  but made in a claret style,  and bottled in a claret bottle,  presumably implying longer extraction,  or more new oak,  and possibly some grenache – to judge from the tasting;  Jan Read rates the vintage 10/10 in a classic sense for Rioja,  noting that exceptions abound in the Spanish climatic milieu.  These wines are almost unknown on the world wine stage,  yet the best are wonderful.  Similar treasures occasionally found from R. Lopez de Heredia Tondonia,  and CVNE – the latter a bit better known;  no reviews or notes found;  www.bodegasbilbainas.com ]
Light amber and rosy garnet,  lighter than the Pomal,  close to the 1960 Margaux but rosier.  Bouquet is quite different from the Pomal,  an exotic fruit note more red plum and even a hint of canned guava,  unusual,  plus a delicate suggestion of silver pine / pink pine / manool,  which to me is a key indicator of grenache showing correct physiological maturity.  So perhaps the "claret" blend includes grenache,  to contrast with the tempranillo / graciano blend of the burgundian Vina Pomal ?  Palate is leaner and oakier than the Pomal,  not quite as rich as the 1960 Margaux,  not the cedar complexity,  more obviously Spanish wine and American oak than the Pomal.  Balance is still remarkably good for a 58-year-old wine,  but it too is over the edge of its plateau of maturity,  the oak now showing rather much.  GK 11/13

1953  Ch Margaux   17 ½  ()
Margaux First Growth, Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ 55mm cork;  original price unknown,  this bottle bought at auction in 1980s;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$2,330;  merchant noticed in researching (1855): Price EUR per bottle (75 cl.)  €2,266.49  Restrictions: Maximum of 1 bottle per client (!);  Broadbent,  2003:  A really beautiful vintage:  the personification of claret at its most charming and elegant best;  what a reminder of the inadequacies of earlier generations of winewriting it is,  to try and research (in a limited time) anything about older vintages of a wine even as prominent as Ch Margaux.  All the old wine books I first leant from are so full of rambling romance,  and so devoid of facts,  as to be downright depressing now.  This is yet another area where Robert Parker revolutionised wine thinking,  by producing reference books which in plain terms told you the percentage of grapes in the vineyard,  and much more besides.  Facts like these did not occur to the Penning-Rowsells and Lichines of the earlier wine world;  cepage at the time thought to be around CS 50%,  Me 35,  CF 10,  PV 5;  elevage probably 26 – 30 months for a rich ripe year like 1953;  Peppercorn,  1982 (paraphrased) characterises good Ch Margaux as exhibiting finesse,  breed and sheer beauty of flavour – he thinks of it a being more feminine relative to Latour or Lafite as more masculine;  he considers the 1947,  1953 and 1961 to be the best examples of the chateau,  pre the 90s.  Broadbent,  2003:  (the 1953s in general) The finest still lovely despite being past their best.  Some delightful,  if faded old ladies.  Drink soon before they slip away;  Broadbent,  1980:  on 1953 Ch Margaux specifically:  … reached the peak of perfection in 1971 … magnificent bouquet; rich, waxy, elegant, soft and silky, excellent balance … long fragrant aftertaste;   Parker,  1991:  Unless they have magnums or larger formats,  owners of the 1953 should be drinking this wine,  for it seems near the brink of decline.  But it is still  a majestically perfumed,  extremely soft,  velvety wine …;  Parker,  1993:  The 1953 Margaux has been delicious for most of its life. This magnum, from the cold, damp cellars of Nicolas [ Paris ], exhibits an impressively dark ruby/purple color with only slight lightening at the edge. A huge nose of violets, sweet cassis fruit, and spices confirms that the 1990 may be the modern day clone of the 1953. Round and opulent, with a velvety texture and gobs of sweet, jammy fruit, this is a quintessential, seductive example of Chateau Margaux;  Elsewhere he simply describes the wine as 'legendary'.  Our bottle with its unknown history till the 1980s,  and in a warmer climate,  has no hope of tasting like that:  let's hope it still shows some signs of past glory;  the chateau website reminds of Te Mata,  a lot of words but a lack of absolute detail;  www.chateau-margaux.com ]
Amber and garnet,  the lightest wine in the set.  As the focal point of the tasting,  this turned out to be the main disappointment.  To say it fluctuated in its character post-opening is an understatement.  Freshly decanted,  it smelt almost sweet,  a hint of bush honey and faded fruit,  fragrant.  Yet by the time of the formal blind tasting,  necessarily some hours later after the battle of the corks,  but decanted ultra-conservatively,  just slid from one bottle to another,  once only,  it had faded to dry leaves and autumnal aromas,  plus a clear oxidation-note on bouquet.  Yet on tasting,  at that point the palate was still rich,  much richer than the beautiful 1960,  so that made the wine difficult to assess.  To my surprise,  24 hours later the oxidation notes had pretty-well evaporated,  and there was a kind of tawny fruit,  very autumnal,  yes,  but clearly browned cassis-derived fruit.  Palate showed a lovely integration of tactile fruit and elegant cedary oak,  definitely much richer than the 1960.  What a transformation,  but how would one know how long to breathe it,  in presenting such a wine in a formal tasting.  Yet I have to recall,  one of the other really old wines I have presented,  a 1916 Mouton-Rothschild,  showed exactly the same behaviour,  being much more substantial the following day.  This old Margaux was the least-favoured wine on the night,  so the above score does not reflect the group experience.  How one would like to taste a bottle in the same condition as the 1960.  To judge from its richness,  and the 1953 Pomal,  a good bottle would still be sublime.  It stood for several days,  without further significant decline.  GK 11/13

1986  Ch Margaux   17 ½  ()
Margaux First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ 52mm cork;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$839 (which makes no sense,  relative to the 1960);  this wine represents the revived fortunes of Ch Margaux under Mentzelopoulos control.  The cepage is now closer to:  CS 75%,  Me 20,  CF and trace PV;  10,000 vines / ha,  average vine age 35 years,  average yield 5.8 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison c.21 days,  elevage in a warm big year like 1986 probably c.24 months in 100% new oak.  Parker describes the changes thus:  The style of the rejuvenated wine at Margaux is one of opulent richness,  a deep multidimensional bouquet with a fragrance of ripe blackcurrants,  spicy vanillin oakyness,  and violets.  The wine is now considerably fuller in color,  richness,  body and tannin than the wines made under the pre-1977 Ginestet regime;  Peppercorn considers:  at its best Ch Margaux is one of the most sumptuous and sensual of Medoc wines,  with all the perfume and finesse of a fine Margaux [district wine ] as found in some of its neighbours,  but allied to more body and remarkable character and individuality.  Jancis Robinson in 2005,  18.5:  Bright, youthful-looking crimson. The most notable thing about this wine is its dramatically opulent, almost spicy, nose. This is very fruity, fine, elegant wine that is so concentrated, almost brutal, it is very far from the Margaux stereotype. There is no shortage of subtlety, however. This is probably the second most successful left bank 1986;  In 2003 Parker assessed the wine at 98 points:  A magnificent example of Chateau Margaux and one of the most tannic, backward Margauxs of the last 50 years, the 1986 continues to evolve at a glacial pace. The color is still a dense ruby/purple with just a hint of lightening at the rim. With several hours of aeration, the aromatics become striking, with notes of smoke, toast, creme de cassis, mineral, and white flowers. Very full-bodied, with high but sweet tannin, great purity, and a very masculine, full-bodied style, this wine should prove nearly immortal in terms of its aging potential. It is beginning to budge from its infantile stage and approach adolescence. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2050;  the chateau website reminds of Te Mata,  a lot of words but a lack of absolute detail;  www.chateau-margaux.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  absolutely the deepest wine.  Bouquet is huge … but not exactly beautiful,  showing a dense rich plummyness as if the fruit were over-ripened,  with little evidence of fragrant berry / cedary oak interaction,  and no sign of cassis.  It could be Australian,  except the oak is subtle.  In mouth fruit richness is impressive,  with drying very fine-grain tannins,  but a monolithic fruit / oak quality.  Harry Waugh used to talk about "tannin to lose",  so my score here includes an element of benefit of the doubt.  Will cellar for many many  years – with interest – but will there ever be beauty ?  A week later (in a dedicated wine frig) it was noticeably more attractive,  so perhaps ... yes.  On this showing it reminds of both the 1979 Virgin Hills (Victoria),  and 1976 Petrus.  GK 11/13

1961  Clos René   17 +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ 46mm cork;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$ – no result,  1959 is $220;  this bottle is from so long ago,  it is from the London-bottled era (Clos René was one of the last chateaux in Bordeaux to adopt chateau-bottling);  Me 70%,  CF 20,  Ma 10,  planted at 5,500 vines / ha,  average age 35;  the % malbec is said to be the greatest in Pomerol;  Peppercorn:  (the wine in general) This is a wonderfully perfumed, dense, rich, plummy second-tier Pomerol which seldom disappoints;  no direct info on this vintage found. ]
Dense garnet and ruby,  second deepest to the 1986 Margaux.  And on bouquet,  it is the 1986 Margaux's running-mate,  huge rich over-ripened fruit,  densely plummy,  but where the '86 Margaux shows fine-grained near-invisible oak,  the cooperage here is much older and plainer (then).  What wines these 1961s must have been,  for this 52 years later to still be so saturated with relatively youthful fruit,  even if there is some browning,  and quite a tannin load.  It just lacks finesse in its elevage.  It has to win points on its richness and vitality,  given its age.  Textbook over-ripe merlot,  no hurry at all.  GK 11/13

1976  Ch Montrose   17  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $18.25   [ 53mm cork;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$172;  CS 65%,  Me 25,  CF 10;  average vine age 25 years,  time in barrel 22 – 24 months;  Montrose set out to lighten the style in the mid-70s through to the late 80s,  but even so,  the drought-year 1976 was well-regarded.  Parker,  1998,  86:  Undoubtedly one of the successes from this vintage and destined to be one of the longest-lived wines of 1976, Montrose continues to exhibit a dark ruby color, a spicy, vanillin oakiness, and a generous, deep, black currant fruitiness;  www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the third deepest.  Bouquet is textbook bordeaux,  still clear cassis and fragrant cedary oak now melding into each other,  with some browning apparent.  I placed this wine first in the sequence of 12,  to set the scene for a tasting supposedly revolving around a Bordeaux theme.  It discharged that responsibility superbly.  Palate is like a younger version of the 1960 Margaux,  not quite the fruit to sustain the attractive bouquet,  slightly acid,  very much a classic claret balance before American / New World influences descended on Bordeaux.  Fully mature,  no hurry here either,  but in truth,  it does not have the dry extract of the 1960 Margaux,  so it will not age as long as that wine.  Bordeaux-philes among the tasters were particularly pleased with this wine,  three rating it wine of the night and four rating it second.  Ch Montrose excels in hot years.  GK 11/13

1983  Mount Mary Cabernets   16 ½ +  ()
Yarra Valley,  Victoria,  Australia:  12%;  $ –    [ 49mm cork;  1983 not on Winesearcher,  1984 $300,  this bottle bought at the vineyard,  courtesy an introduction from James Halliday,  expensive;  vineyard now planted to CS 46%,  Me 26,  CF 18,  Ma 5,  PV 5,  but composition each year varies with varietal performance that season;  c.22 months in French oak 30% new,  some of cooperage larger sizes;  not sure to what extent earlier practice differs,  but probably little;  1983 a drought year not highly rated by the vineyard,  Langtons,  or Halliday;  in 1994 Halliday rated the wine 3 stars out of 5:  Colour on the light side …light fruit with distinct farmyard characters;  the palate is quite tannic,  and again those farmyard characters come through;  the wine is rather hollow overall;  www.mountmary.com.au ]
Ruby and garnet,  reasonably fresh,  right in the middle for depth.  In its intensity of bouquet this wine closely matches the 1976 Montrose.  When you put them alongside each other,  the Mount Mary is more aromatic.  At the blind stage,  three tasters in the 21 saw a hint of eucalyptus in this,  and correctly sheeted it home to Australia – astute.  Berry notes include clear red currants as well as cassis,  and subtle oak.  Palate is nearly the same weight as the 1976 Montrose,  and stylistically remarkably close,  reflecting the difficult year.  I suspect John Middleton would have been happy with the analogy,  and the showing of the wine today.  It does not have quite the ripeness,  complexity,  and length of flavour on palate as the Montrose,  but it is unequivocally 'cabernets'.  No sign of 'farmyard',  if that is a euphemism for brett.  No hurry here at all.  GK 11/13

1962  Ch Margaux   16 ½ +  ()
Margaux First Growth, Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ 55mm cork;  original price around the $11 mark,  this bottle bought at auction in 1980s;  Winesearcher:  Avg Price NZ$621;  noting that Parker rated the 1961 at 86 points,  the 1964 at 78,  and the 1966 at 83,  all good to great vintages,  Parker's rating for the 1962 is 85 (and this was in 1991):  This wine should be enjoyed now for the gorgeous, fully mature, and quickly evaporating bouquet. It is beginning to decline for sure, but the full, intensely cedary, fruity bouquet has merits. The flavors are soft, and I detect some acidity beginning to poke its ugly head through. Drink up!;  Clearly this is the era in which the Margaux legacy withered away under the Ginestets;  the chateau website reminds of Te Mata,  a lot of words but a lack of absolute detail;  www.chateau-margaux.com ]
Attractive light ruby and garnet,  even though the second to lightest wine.  Presenting tastings can be no fun.  On decanting,  the similarity of this wine to both the 1976 Montrose and the 1983 Mount Mary demanded that that they be alongside each other in the tasting sequence.  Yet as happens,  with air and by the time of the tasting,  light TCA was apparent in this wine.  24 hours later it had completely disappeared,  as is so often the case if corked wines are aerated (but the doctrinaire down-the-sink brigade never learn this),  and the qualities of the wine,  apparent on close examination in the tasting,  were now obvious.  There is an austere cassis component,  a touch of redcurrant,  and beautifully-calibrated cedary oak.  Fruit weight is similar to the '76 Montrose,  but seems less than the '60 Margaux,  counter-intuitively.  It is a 'cooler-climate' wine than the Montrose.  At the end of its plateau of maturity,  a light but pleasing wine.  GK 11/13

1972  Lake's Folly Cabernet Sauvignon 100%   16 ½  ()
Pokolbin,  Hunter Valley,  NSW,  Australia:   – %;  $6   [ 55mm cork;  hand-picked CS 100%;  cost was expensive for the time,  nearly the same as (e.g.) Ch Montrose,  reflecting the high profile of arguably the first fine boutique winery in Australia,  at Fletcher Humphries,  Christchurch;  Sydney surgeon Dr Max Lake (1929 – 2009) probably knew more about Hunter Valley wines and their romantic / glorious history than any other person of his generation.  He knew the great Maurice O'Shea for many years.  Despite the reputation of the Hunter being founded on shiraz,  Max's passions were bordeaux and white burgundy.  He located one of the few spots of terra rossa in the Valley,  and started planting in the early '60s.  He was regarded as eccentric not only for planting cabernet,  but also importing new French oak.  The first vintage for Cabernet was 1966,  and Chardonnay 1974.  The Hunter climate is fickle to say the least,  many years being unsuited to subtle wine in any Bordeaux sense.  Max Lake's own rating of the 1972 vintage is ''Good",  and on their website it is classed as one of the best vintages ever,  95/100,  and unlike most wines prior to 1980,  still hanging on.  Curiously,  the 1972 is not in Halliday's Classic Wines;  Andrew Caillard,  writing for Langton's,  described the 1972 as:  Deep colour. Sweet mushroom/leather aromas. Deep sweet leather, mushroomy flavours, some cherry chocolate characters, fine chalky tannins building up grippy and tight. But plenty of flavour length. 90/100;  Jeremy Oliver this year rated the 1972 as one of the three best vintages ever produced by Lakes Folly:  Beautifully perfumed, floral and finely constructed, the 1972 delivers alluring fruit and charming complexity above the vineyard’s characteristically silky tannins;  this is now a rare bottle;  www.lakesfolly.com.au ]
Garnet and ruby,  right in the middle for depth of colour.  Bouquet immediately has an overlay of Hunter tar,  not quite sweaty saddle,  but there is a leathery component.  Below is well-browning fruit,  red and plummy rather than cassis.  Palate is still wonderfully rich and mellow,  but the leathery quality is more apparent now,  making the wine relatively less refreshing compared with the other 11.  Jeremy Oliver's comments therefore have to be taken with the usual pinch of hot-climate salt.  The other wines seem much fresher and more cool-climate-complex than this.  It reminds of some of the Mount Pleasant wines of the 60s.  Even so,  one taster rated it as their top wine,  three as their second-most-favoured wine,  and even more thought it Bordeaux,  so it stacked up remarkably well for a cabernet from a hot-climate district.  It is first and foremost a traditional Hunter,  but up against shirazes of that era,  yes,  it might then seem more cabernet-like.  Against Bordeaux,  it doesn't.  No hurry at all.  GK 11/13

1985  Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Medalla Real   16 +  ()
Maipo Valley,  Chile:  12%;  $14   [ 48mm cork;  price in 1988;  not on Winesearcher,  1986 $89;  CS mostly,  trace CF;  14 months in French oak,  some new;  400mm rainfall zone;  this label was well-regarded in the northern hemisphere in the 1980s.  I reviewed the 1985 in National Business Review 11/11/88 as:  This is the closest approach to good Bordeaux I have seen from Chile.  Bouquet combines ripe cabernet and European-styled wineyness with gentle oak.  Flavour is excellent,  delicate yet rich,  with Bordeaux acid balance and not too weighty.  Serious wine which is already drinking well.  *****;  Wine Spectator liked it a good deal less,  perhaps reflecting the preference for bigger wines in America at that time:  Medium-bodied but rough-hewn, showing earthy aromas and tannic, oaky flavors, surrounding ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruit,  75;  www.santarita.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  fresh,  clearly above midway in depth.  Bouquet is intriguing,  a great volume of cassis and redcurrant berry made piquant by an almost ripe red capsicum note,  and an exotic 'oak' quality.  The total achievement is close to the Mount Mary and Montrose,  but the different aromas and the oak set it apart.  Palate shows ripe fruit,  so though the bouquet can be interpreted as stalky,  its not quite that simple.  It is more like the ripeness complexity of good physiologically mature sauvignon blanc.  Steve Bennett put that down to the percentage of carmenere in the wine,  which was not then separated from cabernet sauvignon.  Carmenere is later-ripening than cabernet sauvignon.  Interesting and refreshing wine pretty well in style,  but differentiated primarily on the oak.  I suspect at that point the cooperage still included a little traditional rauli (Nothofagus alpina).  Drying a little,  but no great hurry.  GK 11/13