It’s a safe bet that we are not drinking 1990 Saint-Estephe, or for that matter any Bordeaux, at my breakfast table on Sundays at 10:00am. This could be a meaningful oversight, but we just don’t. That loose rule was recently broken with some good friends who produced a bottle of 1990 Chateau Le Terme (which I believe is currently marketed under the Tour Des Termes name) that Rene had purchased in Paris before he relocated himself, his family, his business, and his wine to the US several years back.
The four of us have a pattern of getting together to drink great wine as we plan travel or celebrate our identically common wedding anniversary of April 14, 1985. Lots of 1985 Bordeaux has passed through our collective lips. Marianne just returned from a quick visit to Paris and Rene mentioned he was bringing over a bottle he had picked up in France so we could talk a little about some upcoming travel to Puerto Rico. I was having happy thoughts imagining some undiscovered recent vintage Languedoc or Rhone wine, but certainly not twenty year old Bordeaux, as I whipped up a seriously French, artery stopping, morning meal with the help of Joel Robuchon’s sensibility that Patricia Wells embedded in the pages of Simply French.
Besides a great start to a wonderful Sunday, there were two lessons I was reminded of. First, weekend breakfast is a great meal to make time for and luxuriate over. The experience turns steroidal with great wine. We had a bitter green salad with a simple vinaigrette that I topped with a scoop of home made, herb blended, fresh ricotta cheese. In addition, I baked a savory pie of thinly sliced potatoes, gruyere cheese, and slab bacon. Our guests also brought some deer paté and cornichons just in case our cholesterol drip ran dry. The world seemed peaceful and orderly with the sun streaming into our kitchen, a fresh day to look forward to, great friends and conversation, and seriously good wine.
The second lesson, naturally, involves the wine. I wrote a piece for Palate Press earlier this year (which has been recently republished in Palate Press’ first book The Best of the Press, Volume I ) about the American dilema and European advantage surrounding the aging of wine. Americans drink wine young and Europeans, particularly the English, can tolerate age where fruit is sacrificed in favor of what my old friend Peter Adesman refers to as seeking the”approximation of site and soil.”
I had never bought this particular Cru Bourgeois from St. Estephe, nor had I ever tasted it. Actually, I never even heard of it and only discovered it was probably a precursor to the current day Tour de Termes by closely examining the black and white image on this old bottle and the photos of the original building structure that still stands at the Chateau. I would bet heavily that this wine was not very pretty during its youth, even in the 1990 vintage that produced fat, round, and luscious wine around the Medoc. I would venture to guess that it was pretty earthy, muted, dusty, and coarsely tannic back then.
Today, this St. Estephe is a sexy, pretty, silky wine. It is velvety and pure with smoke, black cherry, and sweet perfume immediately apparent after opening the bottle. The tannins have mellowed out into a barely perceptible, finely grained supporting role. After 20 minutes, the Le Terme managed to show some rough and tumble earthiness that I associate with St. Estephe and some of us mused over its emerging mushroom aromatic. We marveled at the multiple dimensions, its completeness, a proven stamina, and a new born elegance that emerged over time. Again, I never tasted it young and my imagination regarding its transition is guess work. For sure, what we were drinking this morning was the result of 17 years of cellaring patience driven by a willingness to invest the approximate equivalent of US$30 to have a world class drinking experience later on. And it did not even require a classified growth. Time and again, wine aging experiments convince me that Bordeaux is blessed with an especially consistent ability to improve over time.
So, lesson number two is to invest in decent, if not first or second growth Bordeaux, lay it down in your cellar, and pat yourself on the back twenty years down the line when your patience is rewarded with a silky and advanced tasting experience that you can take credit for. And, don’t be too shy to pop the cork some sunny Sunday morning.