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Friday, February 22, 2008

Pichon Lalande Veritcal

The torrid ‘vertical week’ pit stop for Wednesday night reeled on storied second growth Pichon Lalande, the arrogant shrew of a sibling to the embattled Pichon Baron. Throughout the years I generally have preferred the Baron, perhaps due to my penchant for the underdog (something all New York football Giants fans can empathize with), or maybe I just dig the Baron’s label a bit more? Either way, vertical tastings tend to elucidate these ambiguities and one thing’s for certain when it comes to Pichons, never underestimate the power of a hot streak. Successive blockbuster vintages are at a premium, but hardly easy to come by in Bordeaux, and while Pichon Baron’s back to back monster performances in 89 and 90 were something to behold, Lalande definitely has something to say for itself w/ its encore accomplishments from 95-96. This tasting even ‘manufactured’ a bit more excitement by grouping the doubleheader stallions from 95 & 96 w/ the breath-taking millennium vintage. Talk about a stacked deck!

We began the evening w/ a gracious offering from the much maligned Daniel Posner, whom has as much commitment issues as an 85 year old bachelor (he regretfully backed out of the tasting at the last second, which turned out to be a positive, considering his insatiable appetite usually inspires him to start gnawing at my leg during these tastings…).

Chateau du Maltroye, Chassagne La Romanee 2004
An exceptionally ripe white Burgundy, considering the vintage characteristics and crop size, this youngster was brimming w/ flesh and exuberant fruit. Quince, vanilla custard, fresh tangerines and toasty brioche notes fill the wine’s sappy, round bodied personality. Those that aren’t wooed by primary force will likely need to hold onto this bottling for at least 3-4 more years, and the cellaring should progress smoothly, thanks to the wine’s bright acidity which keeps things honest, 90+ points.

So begins the time capsule…

This is a lovely ’78, while not nearly as tannic and chewy as the Margaux tasted last month, it offers up a very crisp, delineated and mouth-watering profile of classic cedar box, black plum, rose petals and dried currant notes. Although it’s on the higher toned side, there is an ashy, chocolaty richness coating the flavors in a fine cloak to the finish, 89 points.

It baffles me how such an opulent vintage, married with a top tier producer, produces such a light weight wine? Just as we admire renowned producers in off vintages (see the Lafleur notes), we really do slap them with lofty expectations in years such as this. When they don’t produce, we (read, me) tend to criticize an otherwise decent effort. While the aromatics are off the charts, brewing w/ a cornucopia of smoked beef, caramel, underbrush and dense currant fruit, the body of the wine is quite disappointing to me. Light, a tad weedy and angular in fashion, there is a decent mineral tone that becomes austere and clipped on the wine’s introverted finish, 82 points.

This is what it feels like to have reached the top of the mountain folks. The vista is glorious, the weight of the tannic journey has been lifted and the integration of all elements, time and space has overcome the final precipice. Welcome to the peak my lovers of claret, come on in, the water’s just fine! This is as polished and seamless as Bordeaux gets and to me, represents what ‘cellaring potential’ is all about. Notions of graphite, lilacs, sweet currant fruit and aged tobacco dance to an elegant tune, with nary a rough edge to be found. Deft, and striking on all cylinders, enjoy this beauty now or over the next 5 years, 94 points.

Just wait another 5 years. No, 10 years. How about 15? Keep waiting folks, this is the vintage that you’ll wait for until you die; and you know what? Even in death, you’ll never realize the false potential of this vintage because it simply won’t evolve. The wines, while good (and certainly some better than others, w/ a couple magical wonders in the mix), simply will never be coveted nor should they be. This particular bottle (I’ve heard conflicting stories on better performers of Pichon Lalande) hadn’t budged one bit. Scents of matchstick, iron, modest cedar and sour cherries are monolithic, austere and utterly underwhelming on the palate. I am not going to apologize for it and suggest it will morph otherwise, considering it’s been 22 years already (bet you Barolo fans are shaking your heads at my commentary right now, but hey, gotta be a realist…can’t bring myself to encourage others to wait decades!), good but blah, 84 points.

A vintage where my preference lies slightly w/ the Baron, but only so slightly, this ’01 Lalande is still remarkably youthful and still coated in its prenatal oak dressing (much to Levenberg’s disgust). Pretty aromas of crème de cassis, violets, blackberry ganache and charcoal tinged toast fill the air and shift to a spicy, somewhat shy palate that still needs quite a bit of coaxing to bloom. There is honest lift, lovely balance and terrific material for a bit of a stint in the cellar and I imagine owners of this vintage will be blessed w/ an outstanding tasting experience down the road, 92+ points.

Surprisingly enough, the less sought after vintage (vis a vis 2001) has produced a bit riper, more poised Pichon. Full of raspberry ganache, milk chocolate, toast and rich fruit, this wine is packed in a completely concealed structure and was remarkably drinkable already. I believe the ’02 represents a beautiful example of how to construct a pleasurable drinking experience in young Bordeaux, while not sacrificing at least mid-term cellaring capacity, 93 points.

The flight that launched a thousand ships…

Welcome to the real firepower gents, not to say that the previous ammunition wasn’t effective, but if you’re looking for a shrapnel effect, a rocket launcher to the skull is the only way to go. The nose of this wine was completely shot out of a cannon, launching fireworks of wild flowers, freshly paved road tar, pencil shavings, cassis and black currant through the air in a spectacular, explosive fashion. As effusive as it was aromatically, the palate was flat out decadent, with mouth-watering and hedonistically satiating layers of knock-out proportions. Already drinking phenomenally well & should continue to bring pleasure for another 15 years, 97 points.

Expectedly so, the millennium vintage was quite reserved (especially in relation to the ’96), but so gorgeously constituted that even the blind could have the foresight of this wine’s potential. Layers and layers of depth are packed and stacked, alongside an ironclad structure that almost pierces w/ its sheer brilliance. Notions of sweet black currants, scorched earth, cassis and high class toast only tease the senses, but do so in as pure a fashion as could be imagined. This is going to be a modern day legend and gives the Baron a run for its money in the ‘real vintage of the century,’ 97+ points.

Anyone that owns both the ’95 and the ’96 owes it to themselves to taste them adjacent to each other, as they are not only both great wines, but terrifically distinct. The ’95 is a much tighter, more withdrawn wine aromatically, but loaded to the gills with sweet, luxurious fruit that really strikes an opulent chord from the second it hits your lips to the tail end of its ‘Gone with the Wind’-like finish. While the ’96 is already in a prime drinking window, the ’95 still has nowhere to go but up, and boy does it have the stuffing to get there, 95+ points.

We conclude with the youngsters…

Epitomizes what I’ve enjoyed about the vintage in that there is precocious, up front fruit, but a sense of sinewy tannin that maintains an integrity of focus and grit to slap you back w/ a trusty Old World blow. Dark cherries, date bread, cocoa and cassis notes penetrate the senses in a very rich display that offers immediate gratification, but should evolve over the midterm w/ grace thanks to the fore-mentioned structure and class (has quite a bit in common w/ the ’02), 93+ points.

While my commentary on the 2000 encompasses all that is classic and revered about the ‘vintage of the century,’ the ’05 unfortunately demonstrates what missing the boat on the ride to greatness is. Perhaps the least aristocratic expression of modern Lalande, a fig, dark plum sauce, bitter chocolate and blackberry loaded experience that becomes a bit disjointed and clipped by intrusive tannins and a modest finish. This wine certainly has outstanding potential, as there is quite a bit of ripe fruit to offset its constitution, but it is neither exciting nor singular, yet it certainly is expensive, 90+ points.


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