Anyone with even a passing familiarity with le vin will have at some time or another experienced the pain of being asked to choose a SUBLIME glass of wine for an expectant friend who, frankly, wouldn't know a sublime glass of wine if it dripped straight from Jesus' wrist.
It's delicate. You just have to choose something obvious and pleasurable and not oversell it and hope that the friend in question is in a generous mood.
Don't do as I did the other day to my poor friend B, and inflict a fairly geeky, intimate, some would say unhygienic vertical tasting of leathery old Margaux that, due to the expense of the wine involved, requires a great deal of glass-swapping among people who have just met.
What can I say, though. I got asked for a sublime glass of wine on particularly great night at a particularly great wine bar - Le Garde Robe - where they happened to have a number of old Château Malescot St. Exupery Margaux open for 9eu / glass. It seemed very possible that a sublime glass of wine would, in fact, be available!*
After a few brief kamikaze thoughts of sharing, among six people, one bottle of each of the three vintages on offer - '79, '80, '81 - my other friend J and I came to the prudent conclusion that it would perhaps be wiser and cheaper to sacrifice some social convention in order to taste a glass of each vintage first, among the six of us, before reaching a communal decision on which we'd most enjoy a full bottle of.
J and I had both come expressly for the tasting, which presented a relatively rare opportunity to taste old, pre-Robert-Parker Bordeaux, most of which is vastly out of both our price range and, partly as consequence, our field of interest. (J used to work at September Wines in NYC, which fact should explain his geek interest, and also our general hipster agreement that all but the best Bordeaux can be a bit leaden and plodding.)
A little research reveals that Château Malescot St. Exupery is a third-growth Bordeaux, whose current incarnation dates to its purchase by the current owners in 1955, but whose winemaking history goes back far further, apparently into the 1600's. Everything is hand-harvested, parts of the estate abut the much more famous Château Margaux, and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration. This latter aspect is the most notable to me, in that Bordeaux in general is not known for prizing authenticity over commercial interests. (This is a region where Château Margaux could, in theory, legally purchase those abutting parcels of Malescot St. Exupery and blend them unimpeded into Ch. Margaux, at increased production and profit but uncertain effect on overall quality.)
Our thoughts on the vertical were as follows:
'79: The feistiest of the bunch, and the clear favorite, despite the murky color of the wine itself. A whisper of deep dark fruit among all the tea, pencil lead, and armchair leather. Enough acid to actually pair with food, though we didn't.
'80: A little dead on the nose. I think there may have been just the faintest echo of cork taint going on, but I don't think J agreed. Easily the most joyless of the three. What flavors were there were all savory: old leather, dried meat, bitter tea.
'81: Surprisingly forceful, but a little lugubrious overall. The fruit was there but its lights were out. Dried prune on the nose, still some wood tannin evident on the palate.And what did my poor friend B make of it all? Not sure, actually. She said she liked the '79, but then she and her friend split after the first sips, claiming fatigue. I'm pretty sure they went to a club. After which the rest of us all found a table outside, switched to simpler, stranger, more pleasurable weirdo wines from the Loire, and did some serious drinking.
*This is the thing with the Sublime Glass of Wine. Wines of truly striking quality - striking to people who don't even know what to look for - are usually not available as glass-pours. Unless the restaurant is pulling some kind of stunt. (I remember restaurants in the North End of Boston occasionally offering $26 glass-pours of Gaja's "Promis" every now and then. $26 for red teeth, basically.)
Le Garde Robe
7, rue de l'Arbre Sec
Metro: Louvre-Rivoli or Chatelet
Tel: 01 49 26 90 60
- A Profile of Château Malescot St. Exupery at TheWineDoctor
- A Pretty Fanciful Post About Same Château At Bordeaux-Undiscovered, Wherein The Author Takes Pains To Play Up The Non-Existent Name Connection With The Author Of The Little Prince