Dinner at Home: Meursault and Mouton-Rothschild
My colleagues and I enjoy almost embarrassing exposure to the world’s greatest wines in our tastings. But, for me, there is nothing to match the pleasure of drinking wines from my own cellar at home, with good company and good food. There is no timetable to follow or rules to obey, and no wine is wasted. No tasting can match the pleasure of following a wine for a few hours, and sharing it between only two or three people. I try to make evenings like this a regular fixture, but this dinner chez moi in Beaune, shared with my wife and an old friend, was especially satisfying and seemed worthy of the Hedonist’s Gazette’s pages.
After a day of tasting young Côte de Nuits reds, it was imperative to have some old wines. And after what I had tasted that day, those old wines had to be good; so I dug deep in my cellar. Ironically, several of the best Bordeaux I have ever consumed were enjoyed from bottles that had matured in Burgundian cellars. The limestone soils and comparatively low water table that characterizes much of Burgundy means that the region offers excellent cellarage—unlike the Médoc, where even famous Château didn’t have proper cellarage until recently (though that doesn’t stop them charging a premium for ex-Château bottles). These two bottles of Mouton-Rothschild—the 1955 and 1961—derived from a cache of old Bordeaux that I purchased from a Burgundian cellar, and every bottle to date had been utterly exceptional. While the levels are only average, the wines have proven strikingly vibrant and without exception among the best examples I have encountered of each and every bottling. To precede them, something exciting was called for, so I chose the 1959 Meursault Charmes from the Domaine Jean Monnier.
To eat, we began with some terrine de foie gras from a superb local source that ranked among the best I’ve ever tasted, served simply with toast and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. It was a brilliant foil to the ’59 Charmes, a rich and lavish wine that unfurled in the glass with aromas of buttered peaches, praline, walnuts and oatmeal, with just a faint hint of fino Sherry on the upper register suggesting it would have been purer and more precise a decade ago. On the palate, the wine was full-bodied, fleshy and textural, with all the concentration and power of old school white Burgundy, but balanced by succulent acids despite the sunny vintage, concluding with a lavishly expansive finish. I suspect it might have been carrying a couple of grams of residual sugar. It was a terrific bottle. A few years ago, I drank an even better 1978 Meursault Charmes from Jean Monnier with the same friend, and it was pleasant to reflect on what the 1959 and 1978 shared and what differentiated them.
I double decanted both the Bordeaux an hour and a half in advance and set about preparing the main course—deboned squab pigeon, stuffed with wild mushrooms and roasted at high heat, served with lentils cooked in a rich stock and roasted root vegetables. The pigeons were raised by a retired restauranteur who lives in Aloxe-Corton, so they lived their lives overlooking the town where we consumed them. They’re the most succulent, flavorful and delicate squabs I have tasted, so this source has been a transformative discovery.
We began with the 1955 Mouton-Rothschild, which is a fabulous wine. 1955 is one of my favorite Bordeaux vintages, and one I used to drink a lot more frequently. I still remember celebrating receiving my undergraduate degree with the 1955 Latour, and the 1955 La Mission Haut-Brion remains one of the greatest wines I have ever tasted. This year, the 1955 Cheval Blanc numbered among my best bottles of the year. And this Mouton didn’t disappoint. Offering up aromas of cassis, exotic spices, grilled ceps, dark chocolate, cedar cigar box and rich loamy soil (I took notes, it was so good), the wine was medium to full-bodied, rich and concentrated, with velvety but still abundant tannins, bright acids and an immensely long, penetrating finish. It only improved with three hours’ aeration.
We followed the 1955 with the even more youthful, virile 1961 Mouton-Rothschild. My great mentor in wine, the late Hugo Dunn-Meynell, was a great admirer of the 1961s, so this is probably the Bordeaux vintage with which I have the most experience—from obscure Saint-Émilions such as La Clusière to the Médoc first growths. But for all that, I had only tasted the Mouton ’61 once before. It is a wine that lives up to expectations, bursting with scents of cassis, black truffle, cigar ash, exotic spices and menthol. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, ample and satiny-textured, with amazing depth and concentration, built around a bright line of acidity and still framed by fine-grained structuring tannins, concluding with an immensely long, searingly intense finish. It was a profound bottle of claret. Right now, I would rather drink the ’55 or the extravagantly textural ’59, but in another decade I suspect the ’61 will take the crown. There’s no doubt that it’s infinitely more exciting than even the best examples of the ’61 Lafite, but the ’61 Latour possesses another dimension.
It was such a pleasure to drink these thrilling old wines; and it prompted me to make a mental reservation to do less tasting and more drinking in 2019.
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