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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why '99 Bordeaux is Worthy, Even Though Steakhouses Aren't

Yet another steakhouse wine list, loaded w/ over-priced Napa cabernet and stratospheric charges for back-vintage Bordeaux left my wallet spinning at its bloated commercial selections and lack of breadth. My recent MOA at steakhouses has involved seeking out Chilean cabernet, Argentinian malbec, pinot noir (most steakhouses toss a few Burgundies your way, but California has proved more reasonably priced) or a token Rhone Ranger. While I have become almost unkindly jaded w/ the steakhouse sommelier, I still can’t help but let curiosity get the best of me. I perused the Bordeaux selections with pessimistic hope, perhaps a diluted dream fooled me into thinking that a misprint would make my evening a bit more financially palatable.

What I discovered certainly wasn’t the deal of the century, but at roughly 100 dollars, a 1995 Pichon Baron seemed a lovely selection and made me my search seem justified.

Alas, the famous two pet-peeves of mine were jumbled together painfully.

  1. Number one: restaurant menu-wine list combinations usually are not all. If I am looking at a 1999 Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc, chances are it’s no longer in the cellar during the summer of 2007. Needless to say, they 'just ran out' of the 1995 Pichon Baron. Deals like that don’t tend to last.

  2. Number two: the old vintage switcheroo. While this one was much more tactful in approach; “Sir, we unfortunately no longer carry the 1995. The only Pichon Baron remaining in the cellar is a 1999. Would you be interested at the same price?”

Ok, I’ll bite. The ‘95 was a deal at 100 bones, the ‘99...not so much. Coupled w/ the waiter’s ostentatious commentary on the vintage; “Most restaurants don’t carry this vintage, it’s quite rare that you’ll find a ‘99 Bordeaux at this price.” I could almost feel the whispers of the Bordelais creeping into my ears “vintage of the century, it’s a return to classic Bordeaux,” except I had to agree w/ the second part of his statement- it is rare to find a Pichon Baron 1999 over a hundred dollars (it’s still retailing under 50). Why do I continue to go to steakhouses? Well, everyone else loves them and their lamb chops are usually out of this world. Submitting to peer pressure certainly makes me feel like a dweeb.

Anyhow, w/ all of my previous successes w/ 1999 Bordeaux, I had a good feeling about Mr. Pichon, and that feeling was well recognized. A splash decant was certainly welcome, as each subsequent glass gained in richness and generosity. The scents of textbook Pauillac character were very attractive, w/ spicy cedar, black cherry and licorice notes filling the air. The wine put on weight w/ exposure to air, which certainly bodes well for positive future development. Harmony took a bit of time, but the toasty elements began to mesh perfectly w/ the lovely black currant laced palate. A more than modest finish punctuated yet another reason to enjoy 1999 Bordeaux. My score rose from an 88 on the first glass to a firm 90 at my last sip. The 1999 Baron should evolve nicely through 2018.

1999 Bordeaux is hitting a very favorable stride. Many of the finer left and right bank chateau are beginning to reach an attractive drinking stage of their lives, while one can’t help but imagine close to another decade of positive maturation for these 8 year old pups, gaining even greater complexities and continuing to round off their already supple tannins. Blockbuster years will continue to receive all the press, accolade and speculative attention, but years such as 1999 are the meat and potatoes of why I love to drink claret. They remain at relatively attractive price points and are beginning to offer quite a bit of pleasure in the glass. While it is certainly understandable that the 2005 excitement can overwhelm, I’d like to remind all Bordeaux aficionados to remember that their dinner tables will be a barren place until those 2005s are released, much less reach maturity. While I will continue to entertain a beautiful day dream for enjoying the cream of 21st century Bordeaux, I can’t imagine a better way to pass the time than w/ the last vintage of the 20th century's finest in my glass.


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