10 February 2014

Lunch at Taillevent

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I have had a bottle of Vieux Chateau Certan 1900 in my cellar for a few years now, and thought what on earth should I do with it! Daniel and I mooted sending it back to the Chateau, but then thought what good would that do. It would be best to open and experience the bottle! After all, 1900, was THE vintage of that era with supposedly remarkable wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, much like a modern day 2005 or 2010. The only person I could think who could bring a similar wine to drink alongside was Francois Audoze, the much respected and renowned French collector, of what he calls “vins anciens”.

We arranged a lunch date at Taillevent in Paris, and mulled over which other wines to bring. At first Francois suggested a Lafite 1900, which while an extraordinary prospect did not have as much appeal as the Faiveley Musigny 1906 (!), which was the alternative. 1906 was a massive vintage and the opportunity to drink a wine of this repertoire is simply once in a lifetime. A mere half-barrel – around 150 bottles – are made each vintage, so a wine this rare over 100 years old is incredibly unique. Daniel would bring a Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1947, and Tomo a Billecart-Salmon 1961 magnum.

Francois arrived early to Taillevent to open the bottles, to do the “Audoze method” of opening bottles, which is simply to open every bottle around 4 hours before drinking them, even the old ones. We also had a special menu prepared for the wines, which was “quietened down” so as not to overpower any potentially fragile old wine.

We started with the Billecart-Salmon 1961 magnum, which was one of 200 produced and recently released from the House. It was also the youngest wine we had that day. It had a wonderfully complex and layered aromatic profile, and was a joy just to keep smelling! It was very, very fresh, opulent with perfect balance and that cut of acidity that I adore in wines. I suspect it was still too young to drink – perhaps another 10 years. A really fantastic Champagne and a great start to our lunch. Luckily we had a whole magnum for the four of us, so no shortage here on the pours! It was an excellent match to the delicious asparagus and black truffles.


Next came the Vieux Chateau Certan 1900. It was absolutely singing. A lovely red colour (see pic below), with bricking round the edges. The moment I smelt the wine I instantly connected the unique terroir of Vieux Chateau Certan with the other more modern vintages I’ve drank. It was that signature of the terroir, that VCC, that connected it with the 1959, 1989 & 2000 I drank in 2013.  How wonderful. The wine was very Pomerol, very honest and pure. Here was a beautiful 113 year old wine, packed with red berry fruits very much alive. It’s amazing that only when you drink a very mature wine do you see the wine as naked as it can be. The wine is exposed. Today it told it’s story with great expression and vibrancy. It was not massively complex but we appreciated the wine for what it gave, not what it was lacking. The wine was not in decline but today felt the perfect day to drink it. Vieux Chateau Certan is quite a small production Pomerol so I doubt there are many, if any, 1900’s lying in any cellars across the world. The épeautre, one of Taillevents signature dishes, with a generous serving of black truffle really hit the spot!


Next we had the A. Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1947 side by side with the Faiveley Musigny 1906. The aromatics on the Rousseau were off the charts, and in all honesty I have never smelt a wine like it. When you imagine the aromatics on your dream bottle, this is it. It was wholly and purely Burgundy – that nutty, wild and earthy smell. It was so supercharged and energetic there was almost little point in actually tasting the wine. It was for me a transcendent wine, and it was no surprise that the taste could not match the divine aromatics. The wine had a great tranquillity, and was such an original wine – no copy of anything else. Francois nailed it when he said it was the “wildness” of the wine that he loved most about it.

The Faiveley had an unusual nose in that was not so typical-Burgundy but was more like a fascinating tapestry of tropical fruits. I hadn’t before smelt anything like it – it was what I imagined a pre-phylloxera wine would smell like, although of course this wine was made some years after the Phylloxera plague spread through Europe. The wine had an unbelievable complexity, a mid-palatte that didn’t really want to end. It was undeniably Musigny – a peacocks tail of flavour, tastes, all packed with that elusive trait of power without weight. The more I drink these awesome wines it is that one characteristic – serenity, tranquillity – that makes a profound wine stand above a great one. Incredibly I felt that the Musigny could easily last another 50 years or more.

Drinking these two wines was humbling. Before us were two wines that revealed their secrets. We saw the depths of the terroir of Clos de la Roche and Musigny, the wines completely in their element and at a moment that was perfect to open them, not just for the bottles but also for us. Both Francois and I preferred the 1947 Rousseau to the 1906 Musigny. Francois said that it had only been once previously that he had preferred a bottle someone else had brought (“you always prefer your own children!”), so we were happy to hear he preferred our bottle today! Daniel and Tomo preferred the Musigny. It was a close call but the fragrance and originality of the Rousseau made it almost unsurpassable.

After these two wonders we moved onto Domaine de Bouchon Sainte-Croix-du-Mont Café Voisin 1900. Yes I had not heard of it either! And it is very unlikely that I will go to a lunch again when someone will tell me that they are not sure if the wine is white or red! This wine had a lot of history. Café Voisin was at that time what Taillevent is today. This wine (it was red in the end!) was made in an area not too far away from Sauternes. It was absolutely delicious, and quite a charmer! For me it was similar to a red Sauterenes. The others said it reminded them of a red Banyuls with a mature Champagne. They say Champagne because it was slightly fizzy at first, nothing negative – it only added character to it! It had been lying in Francois’s cellar for the last 30 years, and was a real treat to drink. A fascinating accompaniment to the cheeses, of which I still remain hopeless at remembering any names.

A bottle of Pol Roger 1949 was tired, past it and didn’t deserve any attention after this eclectic array of wines. You can’t win them all…


To finish Tomo brought a Chartreuse, dating from the 1940’s. This was a first for me, I haven’t had mature Chartreuse before. It was a Chartreuse Jaune – Liqueur des Pères Chartreux. This was bursting with herbs, flowers and dried apricots. Even after all these wines I took a second glass of this, it was a real delight.


My Top 5 Wines of the Lunch:

  1. Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1947
  2. Faiveley Musigny 1906
  3. Vieux Chateau Certan 1900
  4. Billecart Salmon 1961 magnum
  5. Domaine de Bouchon Saint Croix du Monte 1900

The overall vote was:

  1. Faiveley Musigny 1906
  2. Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1947
  3. Vieux Chateau Certan 1900
  4. Billecart Salmon 1961 magnum

At the end of the lunch, I remarked how in 100 years from now in the year 2114, there will be some collectors, (and perhaps the future heirs of Baron Wines!) opening their 2005’s and 2010’s. Perhaps a Rousseau Clos de la Roche 2005 and Faiveley Musigny 2010? Like us today they will be amazed at the wonder of the wines, and like us will have a unique and humbling experience. Just a thought…till next time.