During a rather academic tasting of 2009 Bordeaux I was suddenly struck with a sensual pleasure, a sublime wine moment of the kind that is so rare as to be memorable for the rest of my life. It was one of those highly technical, partially blinded tastings where we all quietly sample a couple of ounces poured into half-a-dozen glasses and take notes, discussing each afterwards and unveiling them one at a time.
We were at George Heron’s house, a group of eight sampling six pre-decanted bottles from our own collections. I have a certain routine for this affair. First I sniff each glass of wine and make note of the noses before slowly and methodically progressing through them a mouthful at a time, eyes closed, cheeks bulging as they swish within, before I spit into my own special mug, taking notes all along. I am not one to denote in a colorful vocabulary of analogs, preferring to describe, in simple words, the overall trends of each wine, structure, phases, missing or aberrant elements, the finish.
It started out that way until the third glass when I was bewitched as soon as the mouthful entered my palate. It had full, elegant upfront fruit, chocolaty, and so seductive that I instantly gave up my routine. The wine was still a bit closed and it had no phases, but it did not matter. The flavor, the texture, thick and smooth, was mesmerizing. It exploded upon entry and slowly faded away. I couldn’t spit it. I swallowed the full wallop. I then took a smaller sip, just to be sure, and swallowed that too.
After a brief break to catch my breath I moved on to the next one and switched to my technical routine. It was lean and vegetative, soft tannins, multiple phases but no lushness, medium acid finish. Probably a good food-wine. I longed for another sip of the former.
When we came to the discussion and George, our leader, asked for volunteers to describe each wine, one person per bottle, I eagerly raised my hand on the third and told them what an amazingly lush, sensual wine this was quietly and enthusiastically, a wine equivalent of an encounter with Racquel Welch, I said.
My mates all laughed. One commented that the table was rising at my end, another chiming in that it was decent but not orgasmic, yet others speechless. Only one person agreed with my assessment, my friend Padmesh who, as it turned out, had brought this bottle, and whose Bordeaux palate is well calibrated to mine. He did not describe it in sensual terms but still found it outstanding.
My charmer was a 2009 Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux, a Fifth Growth that, in most vintages, deserves a higher classification. The one that followed, unfortunate to have lined up that way, was a Chateau Cantemerle, another Fifth Growth that I’ve never liked. I likened it to Katherine Hepburn and drew jeers.
Will I feel the same way about another ’09 Prieure Lichine?
Most likely not. The wine will continue evolving into something else. The line up that set my palate for this experience will never happen again. The occasion will be different, maybe a distracting social situation, a restaurant meal, or a Friday night at Wine Wizard’s where wines can sometimes feel different.
The magic of the sublime wine moment is not just the wine, but the ephemeral nature of it. One is never quite sure it will happen again. It is precisely this fleeting nature of the experience, its impossibility to duplicate, that makes it so special and memorable.