The very first (and last!) time I tried a Château Talbot was very early on in my wine education, a 1983, and I remember thinking “really, that’s IT??” The same to a lesser degree with a 1981 La Mission Haut Brion. Partly due to my lack of experience, but also probably because both were weak or even dare I say ‘bad’ vintages. The Bordelais would never admit to simply having a bad vintage, although 1983 saw high diluted yields, and in 1981 heavy rains during harvest wiped out what could have been a perfect vintage. Nevermind, 1982 made up for both of these and probably the entire previous decade! I think this is the experience for many people with classified Bordeaux; because the prices are generally off the charts, and availability suspiciously scarce for the top vintages, the only “affordable” and most notably available wines are from the lesser vintages, and that makes a MASSIVE difference to your drinking experience, and I think that’s probably the reason why I haven’t been wowed by any of the first growth Bordeaux I’ve tried so far, including; Latour, Haut Brion and Lafite and also probably why my friends weren’t wowed by their 1984 Mouton Rothschild at Christmas. …good effort though!
Those early off-vintages put me off Bordeaux generally for a very long time. However tonight drinking a 2001, (20-odd years later!) even if it was initially considered a weak vintage, has changed my view of Sir Talbot and the lesser growths of the 1855 classification…
The very non-French sounding Château Talbot interestingly got it’s name from an Englishman; Sir John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, but more to the point Govenor of Aquitaine, a region of France that encompasses Bordeaux, who owned the property back in the15th Century. It returned to the hands of the French however and was bought in 1899 by a Monsieur Claverie, who I would have thought might have liked to have renamed it Château Claverie (Hell I would! – Château Talbot is a shit name for a top classed Bordeaux!!) Had it not had a 200 year history as Chateau Talbot by that point and had just been classified a Quatriemèmes Crus Classés in the 1855 classification, and renaming the wine would probably have confused the whole newly established classification. Jeez, I bet that stuck like a knife in his ribs!! Actually before that it was owned by the Marquis of Aux – I can see why he didn’t rename it – Châteaux Aux? Seriously??! I bet he thought about it though…!!
Back to the present and I’ve been developing a theory that my recent trial with good wine and a trashy burger made me consider trying out. All the top wine labels in my cellar I save to have at a birthday dinner, or special occasion to share with other people, I mean you can’t really open an expensive bottle by yourself in front of the TV with a pizza, how lavish, selfish and lonely would that be? Except the thing about opening a good wine at a dinner is not only do you share the 5-6 glasses in a bottle with 4, 6 or 8 other people, which means you end up drinking one glass, but you’re usually engaged in final food preparation and general chit chat and usually getting pretty drunk! you don’t spend time to really taste the wine. See this post for last New Year’s – some pretty amazing wines, but I had no words by the time I sobered up! So perhaps the great bottles are best drunk without the diversions of guests and a dinner party? …What am I saying??!!
I’ve said this before – There’s nothing like a trashy burger (mentioning no flame-grilled multinational corporations in particular!) just like there’s nothing like the taste of a classic Bordeaux – despite the numerous regions around the world trying to replicate it. Hell, I think it even tastes like France! Rich fruit, complex grown up jam. Soft dry tannins, blue cheese, and violets. Delicious. I’m sure I wouldn’t have uncovered those blue cheese and violet flavours If I was sharing this over a dinner party. Hell, I almost got to the very bottom of the entire bottle, forget the bottom of one glass before I experienced those flavours!
It seems the less people you share a great bottle with, the deeper the wine experience, how’s that for sad irony?!