The Bordeaux Soundtrack: Icons at Legacy Records


If Vinous reviewers decided to make a sudden career change, then I’m sure we would form a band.

The Vinous Underground?

Vinous Halen?

You choose.

Antonio would reach for his Stratocaster and request lead vocals; however, his operatic training risks impromptu bursts of Nessun Dorma, which is fine for Bohemian Rhapsody but not much else. I’ll give lead vocals to new recruit Billy Norris because, as far as I know, he’s the only one to have played Madison Square Garden. Eric Guido reliably informs me that he can tinkle the ivories. Therefore, he will be our ‘Rick Wakeman’ with church organ and ruby-studded cape. He’ll also be in charge of catering on tour. Rebecca Gibb is a Grade 8 cellist, so there’s your ELO strings. Female drummers are über-cool, and so Anne Krebiehl could get behind the drumkit for that metronomic Krautrock beat. Joaquin Hidalgo confessed he has nary a musical bone in his body, so he’ll be on cowbell and more cowbell. Angus Hughson is a fully qualified trombonist. However, we need an on-stage dancer to shake the maracas like Bez from Happy Mondays, so he’ll have to handle both. Nicolas Greinacher reliably informs me he had a few saxophone lessons, so there are your Sade-inspired sax solos for our ‘quiet storm’ ballads.


I’ll be the notorious Svengali laundering the money, the one that absconds halfway through the North American leg of the tour.  

Given Vinous’ impressive musical chops, it is apposite that the venue for the inaugural Icons of Bordeaux dinner was a building in Manhattan where legends such as Aretha Franklin recorded their classics. When the mics were switched off, the hospitality group behind Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones converted the Hudson Yard premises into a capacious 85-seater restaurant. Walking there from my hotel, it was easy to spot the neon vinyl record signage outside the art deco-inspired building, and once through the revolving doors, I found the interior exquisitely furnished, a retro vibe simpatico with its musical legacy. An adjoining room houses hundreds of vinyl records from artists that recorded within its walls. It's probably good that I didn’t discover this until after the dinner. Otherwise, I would be rifling through every single one and forget that I’m supposed to compère a night of Bordeaux delights.

Remarkably, this marked the first time that I have ever tutored a dinner in the United States of America. That’s absurd, given I was blessed with an American audience literally two or three weeks after incepting Wine-Journal over twenty years ago. Despite working for American publications almost my entire career and writing a book that sold more copies on that side of the Atlantic than this, I had never actually guided a Stateside audience through wine. After waiting for so long, the evening had to live up to expectations, and it did in every respect.

Finn Ohara makes sure every plate meets his exacting standards before exiting the kitchen. The service that night was impeccable.

The structure of the dinner was four châteaux, each presenting three vintages at different stages of maturity, respective winemakers providing insights to which I would add my own two cents. Nicolas Audebert gallantly made a 48-hour journey from Argentina via France. His efforts were rewarded with his luggage taking a different route. We also welcomed winemakers extraordinaire Marielle Cazaux from La Conseillante and Guillaume Pouthier from Les Carmes Haut-Brion, plus Arnaud Frédéric, who is in charge of sales at Montrose. Dishes were specially prepared to match the wines by chefs Ryan Hardy and Finn Ohara, but above all, and this is something too often forgotten, the aim was for guests to have a fun and memorable night.

The dozen wines were served per château rather than age, which I prefer since it keeps palates alert. Proceedings commenced with Les Carmes Haut-Brion, that ‘disruptor’ Pessac-Léognan that has got every château thinking the unthinkable and considering using stems à la Burgundy. Of course, that’s only part of head winemaker Guillaume Pouthier’s modus operandi. It was interesting to compare one vintage made under the current regime with two predating it. There is no question in my mind that the 2016 is in a different league to either the 1995 or the 1982, the latter pair without the same complexity, more rustic in style, though not without charm. The 2016 Les Carmes Haut-Brion is captivating; the 65% whole bunches are hardly noticeable, which is why this unorthodox practice, at least in Bordeaux, works successfully, since it acts as a guiding hand that shapes instead of defines the wine. The 1982 might be considered lackluster given the growing season, but it actually improves in the glass, and I am quite smitten by the end.

Next up is Montrose, an estate that has been on fire of late. The 2016 and 2010 Montrose are exceptional. I am transfixed by the latter: a mesmerizing bouquet and a palate adorned with unparalleled symmetry. Neither is really ready for drinking, but the 2010 is not too far away. The 1990 Montrose is the most controversial wine of the entire dinner. I haven’t encountered a bottle for a wee while. Bottle variation depends on the level of Brettanomyces and the drinker’s sensitivity to that infection. I actually enjoy its feral animal nature, but if you hanker for the clarity and delineation demonstrated by the other two vintages, maybe the 1990 would pall after more than a single glass?

That trio of Montrose was a hard act for any Right Bank to follow, a bit like coming on stage after Aretha Franklin.

Step forward, La Conseillante.

The 2016 La Conseillante is a fabulous Pomerol beginning to strut its stuff; incidentally, it is estate director Marielle Cazaux’s second vintage at the helm. The 2010 La Conseillante was overseen by her predecessor, Jean-Michel Laporte, and constitutes the best he ever made, a benchmark for that era. At 14 years old, it is really developing into a mighty wine surfeit with complexity and class. The 1985 La Conseillante predates both winemakers and would have been made by Professor Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, who was in charge of the winery between 1982 and 2004. I have long enjoyed this vintage, which reflects the fleshiness that this growing season bestowed its wines, though perhaps it is approaching the end of its drinking plateau after nearly four decades.

Discussing the vintages of Château Canon with estate director Nicolas Auderbet.

Last but certainly not least, three bottles from Château Canon spanned some 74 years. Again, the 2016 Canon is further evidence that this is a benchmark vintage for Bordeaux. However, this is one instance where the previous vintage might have the upper hand. The 2015 announces the arrival of a rejuvenated Saint-Émilion that has produced some stellar wines under Nicolas Audebert. One must not forget the work of his predecessor, John Kolasa, who addressed some of the long-standing problems that afflicted the estate in the Seventies and Eighties. Testament to his work, the 2001 Canon is perhaps the biggest surprise, a really beautiful wine not overshadowed by the 2016 in the slightest, perfect to drink now.

The last wine is a rara avis. A unique opportunity to taste a wartime vintage direct from the château’s cellars. Audebert bought three bottles of the 1942 Canon that we tasted together before the dinner in anticipation of bottle variation, and we poured the best two. While it could not claim to be a 1945 or 1949, the 1942 vintage is the best vintage during the war, made mostly by women and children, anyone on hand basically. This was an instance whereby the privilege of drinking wine is one where you had to reflect upon historical context that surpassed its sensory attributes. The nose is enervated by the passing decades, and the palate is a little frail, yet it is perfectly drinkable. I doubt anyone in the room will drink it again, especially not a bottle that never moved from the cellar.

This must have been at the end of the evening when I was summing up the wines.

The evening drew to a close. Everyone was reluctant to leave, which was always the sign of a good night. Winemakers mingled with guests, and I signed a few books. Nicolas Audebert returned to his hotel to pray that his luggage would turn up (it did), and I left Marielle Cazaux outside, wondering if there was a karaoke bar nearby. The last to leave, I thanked the staff for their sterling work and took a few moments to rifle through the vinyl and think about all the songs that had been recorded within its hallowed walls. No more songs will be recorded here, and so the fictitious Vinous supergroup will have to record their debut album elsewhere. Still, there’s nothing to stop us from repeating what had been a marvelous evening.

© 2024, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

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