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Vertical Tastings - Some Chateau Margaux

Wine Interests

vertical tasting is the name we give, sometimes inappropriately, to the tasting of a flight of wines - that's to say the same wine from a number of vintages. What makes it interesting is that you get to know the character of the particular wine over a number of years, and if the same wine-maker has been at work over the entire flight, you get to see what his intentions were in the vinification.

A vertical tasting is the name we give, sometimes inappropriately, to the tasting of a flight of wines - that's to say the same wine from a number of vintages. What makes it interesting is that you get to know the character of the particular wine over a number of years, and if the same wine-maker has been at work over the entire flight, you get to see what his intentions were in the vinification.

By its nature a vertical tasting will include older vintages, consequently there are two main forces at work determining the taste of the wine. Firstly and most obviously is the age of the wine, which determines its maturity, its colour and its complexity. The second is the vintage itself. There are places on this planet whose climate is so blessed by nature that the vintage is of less importance than it is other, less stable climates. When we talk of Bordeaux and its Atlantic maritime climate, the vintage matters.

Some of our earliest weather records are from Bordeaux, where the general pattern of the season from the last frost to the date of the harvest or vendange, have been noted since the first millennium. Global patterns of cooling and warming are mirrored in the micro-climate of Bordeaux, and frequently years of poor harvest generally in France have been matched by poor vintages. Roughly speaking Bordeaux gets six good vintages each decade, the remaining four varying from the acceptable to the occasional very poor. Yet even in poor vintages good wine-makers can produce acceptable wines. I recently sat with a friend and we tasted three vintages of Chateau Margaux, a premier grand cru. We opened a 1963, a 1982 and a 1985. 1963 is so generally considered a bad year that many charts simply ignore it, yet despite its age and the poor year of its birth, the Margaux remained drinkable, opening up marginally in the glass. Not in any way good, but none the less drinkable - a remarkable feat by the maitre de chaise. The other two were both good vintages and exceptional wines, but it was interesting to see that the '82 is ageing considerably faster than the '85, which still retained its youthful colour and fruit.

Michael Broadbent of Christie's fame once made this analogy; the terroir and the vine itself are the mother and father of a wine, the wine-maker the midwife. Just as in families where siblings from the same parents differ, the climate (and therefore the vintage) is the defining variable that dictates the offspring's style, quality and longevity.

Recommended wine

Domaine Sicard, Minervois

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