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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A surprising wine

Just back from an interesting tasting at O'Brien's, organised by Lynne Coyle who is the excellent buyer for the group. She had arranged for Eric Getten, Commercial Director of Domaines Baron Rothschild (owners of Lafite) to run a number of tastings of their wines.
Today, the tasting was of eight wines, mainly from Chile and Argentina. All in all, a good range, although I found the wines a little too "French" for my taste! However, there was a blind tasting of one vintage of Lafite, and that was the surprising wine.
I am not a fan of blind tastings but, in this instance, given that we knew the wine was Lafite itself it becomes a pleasant exercise. First, my note on the wine was as follows (along with what the note represented in my thought process in square brackets):
Appearance: medium-deep ruby core with a gradual fade to a broad garnet rim; depth of colour was noticeable. [A few things here. First, the depth of colour is not surprising with a high percentage of cabernet but it began to rule out the wetter and weaker vintages. Second, the overal colour suggested a good 15 year's or more bottle age.]
Aromas: clean, very mature with spicy tobacco notes, leather and slightly herbaceous notes; very mature with complexity evident. [The slight leafy note made me rule out very hot vintages, while the highly evolved tertiary nature of the aromas also made me rule out the super-ripe year.]
Palate: soft entry, with some red fruit acidity, soft smooth tannins, very low; good weight and concentration mid-palate with rich spicy, leather and tobacco notes, very elegant overall with well-integrated alcohol and a fairly long finish. [Again, the richness ruled out cold, wet years while the acidity ruled out very ripe years. The nice level of alcohol suggested not a super-hot year.]
All in all, I felt the wine was a fully mature example of a wine from a good, though not classic vintage. But which vintage?
Well, every year from 1999 to 2010 was immediately ruled out due to appearance, aromatics and structure. Next, 1991 to 1994 could be ruled out as these were awfully wet leading to thin, weedy wines which would have shown more tartness and less smoothness. 1997 and 1998, though better, would also not be expected to show as well as this wine was, and similarly 1984 and 1987 were discounted.
Taking out the great vintages, this ruled out 1982 and 1990. This left 1981 (I assumed we were not getting a wine from the 1970s), 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1995 and 1996. I ruled out 1996 as it was a hot year which suffered some blocage during August, so, while the colour was right, the fruit was too weak. 1995, though cooler, is a good year which I expect would have more dark colour and black fruit style. Similarly, I ruled out 1983 as it was a super-hot year, with high alcohols and often an unbalanced palate; 1989 was not considered as I felt the fruit was too light for such a drought year.
This now left 1981, 1985, 1986 and 1988. In the end, I plumped for either 1985 or 1988, thinking that 1986 was too good a year for this wine and discounted 1981 as I felt it was a bit too elegant for this more classic vintage.
Was I right? Eh, no - it turned out, surprisingly, to be 1983! I was really quite taken aback as the balance of alcohol with the mid-palate fruit was very good and the wine was showing quite well. But that's the beauty of blind tasting - it forces you to think about what you're doing and, in the end, you always learn something. I doubt it would make me want to buy any 1983s as many I've tasted just aren't up to scratch but, if someone was offering '83 Lafite, I'd be happy to accept!

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