19 February 2010

1981 Chateau Haut Brion

Three friends, sitting around a table with a beautiful bottle of wine.  Dan, our host and generous provider of this 1st Growth Bordeaux, was a boy when the grapes in this bottle were growing.  I took my first trip to Ireland and France in 1981; I washed dishes for months in a Greek diner in Buffalo to pay for it.  I was in Ireland for about four months before my already-meager savings were gone, so I took a ferry to France and ended up near Carcassonne, picking tomatoes with Moroccans and eating my first brain tagine.
So here we were, decades later, marveling at the time that had passed since the wine was bottled.  We were encouraged by the very small ullage, and excited when we removed the capsule and saw a cork in great condition.
From the first pour, this wine unfolded with strength, suppleness, and incredible elegance. Mature Bordeaux is such a joy to drink!  Pencil shavings and moist tobacco, followed by deep green peppers and lavender.  Joel pulled out its peaty earthiness, and we continually inhaled the ripe aromas of an old forest floor.  We played with words and were repaid with a finish so long I could taste it when I went to work the next morning.  Really.  It is so enjoyable to give a great wine its due.
I think a wine like this is a contemplative balm; there isn't a barrage of berries or fruit to pull us into a talky streak; no, this wine sang to our northern, winter brains.  As we drank the wine, each of us using all of our senses, our memories, our feelings, to embrace this wine and understand it, it was clear that whether someone's tasting notes contained "leather" or not was irrelevant.  We can use all our words to name something but we won't be able to taste it unless (or until) we let the wine speak for itself.  A wine like this really has its own personality, and it's completely different than a young wine, so much so that if we were looking for something familiar we'd miss the powerful, nuanced depth of the bottle.  It's funny how we kept coming back to anthropomorphic descriptors to understand the wine, maybe because we've all known people much older than ourselves who puzzle, delight, mystify, and inspire us - all at the same time. 
We couldn't hope for a better bottle of wine.  The centuries of craftsmanship and vinicultural stewardship that have made Haut Brion a great estate were in abundance in this bottle, and all three of us were grateful for the opportunity to drink this wine, plucked from the procession of time.


  1. Love this, Patrick. Thanks much for putting our experience into words. It was awesome to drink it with you and with Joel. Cheers! Dan

  2. HI Patrick - came across your blog by chance! I've enjoyed reading your posts. Please send my best to M -I hope I sent our Christmas card to the correct address....


  3. Kirsti, Thanks for writing. Yes, we received your Christmas card - your kids look great!