Troplong Mondot 1998, no less.
Troplong Mondot is a St Emilion Grand Cru Classe, meaning it is officially one of the top properties on the right bank of the Gironde in Bordeaux where the dominant grape variety is Merlot. Unofficially, it is considered one of the best chateaux in St Emilion with 1998 being one of the best recent vintages.
So, this was a little way above my usual "everyday" drinking and I wanted to be sure to appreciate the wine fully. Usually, I buy new wines in pairs at least; with the first bottle you learn how the wine develops once opened so that you can serve the second bottle at the ideal temperature and with the right amount of airing, be it straight from the bottle or after several hours in a decanter. With a half-case, or even a full case, you can also see how the wine develops in bottle over the weeks and months between the first and the last tasting. I once had a couple of cases of Austrian Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) which matured beautifully from a crisp, apples-and-pears aperitif to something much richer and rounded over the 18 months or so that it took to drink it all.
Sadly, my boss's generosity "only" ran to a single magnum of the St Emilion, but I figured that we could decant half for one meal, then stopper the bottle and finish it off the next day and hopefully at some point during that time, it would reach a peak. So, here are my tasting notes from the 36-hour period during which the wine was consumed and some afterthoughts:
Immediately on opening:
Wonderful nose of cassis and vanilla, smells richer and "bigger" than a more basic Bordeaux; colour still quite dark for a wine of this age; however, first impressions on the palate are disappointing, all acidity and tannic grip with little evidence of any fruit.
With the meal after two hours in the decanter:
Starting to open up now, more balanced with some fruit on the palate, lovely texture but feels a little overwhelmed by the food (free-range slow-roast chicken plus trimmings)
With dinner the following evening:
Keep the food simple this time - roast beef and Yorkshire puddings; wine much improved, has really opened up and feels much more balanced, still has that wonderful cassis and vanilla on the nose, same on the palate with added hints of pencil shavings and mint, good fruit, but not as fruit-driven as a younger wine would be, exceptionally smooth with wonderful texture, continues to improve during the meal and, sadly, seems to reach a peak just as we finish it off.
Before trying this wine, I wondered what it would be like, how it would be different from a €10 Bordeaux - and if I would be able to tell !
Having drunk quite a lot of Bordeaux in general and right-bank Bordeaux in particular, I found it quite familiar on the nose and palate; it did not taste fundamentally different from a ordinary Bordeaux. The most noticeable difference was that the fruit on the palate was not as prominent as with a younger wine.
However, where the wine really showed its superiority was in the texture, the mouth-feel. It's very difficult to describe, but rather like looking at the original of a great painting after having seen only a reproduction in a book - it's all there, all the same, but somehow better, more complex, more textured.
It may be just my imagination, but also since trying the Troplong-Mondot, the more everyday reds I have been drinking seem a bit thin and two-dimensional - rather like returning to the family runaround after a lift in your rich uncle's posh German saloon.
Troplong-Mondot 1998 is available in the UK - not cheaply, though. One site I found it on suggests it is ready for drinking any time between now and 2017, and that seems entirely possible given how it developed after opening. Magnums generally age more slowly than single bottles (same air gap below the cork, double the amount of wine), so even at 11 years, this one may have been a little young.
We had some other excellent drinks over Christmas including a sweet sherry that tasted like Christmas pudding in a bottle and a very smooth Ukrainian brandy. Appropriately enough, after all that indulgence, my next wine tasting has a "credit crunch" theme.
Chateau Troplong-Mondot - www.troplong-mondot.com/
Wine searcher - www.wine-searcher.com/