Tag Archives: Bordeaux

Château Angélus gold label: a terrible disappointment (in a good way)

Chateau Angelus gold label

A while ago I received an invitation from Château Angélus, the famous estate from Bordeaux’s Saint-Emillion. The invitation specified that, should I accept, I would witness with my own extremely lucky eyes “the launch of … a remarkable bottle for a remarkable vintage”, the vintage in question being not the much-hyped 2009 or the possibly-even-more-hyped 2010, but the 2012, a year that inspired relatively few superlatives. The mind boggled, it spent a while boggling, and then it conjured the image of the Penfold’s Ampoule, the £120,000-a-pop hand-blown lesson in unintentional ludicrousness that had sullied the name of a once-proud Australian winery (while bringing quite a lot of bonus publicity, it had to be said). This new bottle would surely be a) idiotically expensive, and b) idiotic, and c) full of properly delicious liquid. I accepted immediately.

The day before the event, news leaked online that the bottle would feature a label made of genuine gold. The mind boggled, spent a while boggling, and then conjured the images of some other alcohol-related gold labels, very much a mixed bag but certainly less exalted company than that which Château Angélus is used to keeping:

Gold Label

Wolf Blass Gold Label

Johnnie Walker Gold Label

It seemed obvious to me, inevitable even, that the bottle was going to be expensive, tasteless and gaudy, and would give me a lot of entertaining blog-fuel. I could scarcely conceal a grin throughout the previous day. I was going to be given lunch, wine and the opportunity for unlimited savage mickey-taking, all of it compressed into a couple of wondrous hours on a Friday afternoon.

Things took a turn for the worse when I found myself sitting next to Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal, the frustratingly charming young deputy managing director of Château Angélus, and seventh generation of the Bouard de Laforest family to work at the estate since they took it over in 1909. The new bottle, still hidden underneath a golden cloth at that stage, had been her brainchild, intended to mark the château’s promotion to Premier Grand Cru Classé A status, the completion of building work on the château itself, and the birth of her sister’s baby, signifying the coming of an eighth generation. The poor infant has no idea that its destiny is already mapped out, a destiny that will involve a lot of travel, smart clothes, nice hotels and delicious wine.

Chateau Angelus 2012, the gold labelAnd then the cloth was removed with a fanfare – literally, while an actual fanfare was played, a genuine moment of ludicrousness that prompted guffaws from the assembled winos. For the first time we saw the bottle, and – curses – it was not hideous. Indeed, it was really quite elegant, as understated as a bottle can be when it’s encrusted with 21.7-carat gold, the metallic lustre contrasting with the dark bottle in a really quite appealingly dramatic way, the craftsmanship truly impressive. I took a sample bottle, sadly empty, and scratched at it with my thumbnail, hoping to see the gold flake away and give me something to complain about, but there was no shifting the stuff.

We also drunk some of the wine – not the 2012, which hasn’t been bottled yet, but the 2011, 2007 and 2006. The most interesting comparison was between the 2007, which was overwhelmingly fragrant and delicious, and the 2006, which was tighter and broodier. In time, the 2006 will unfurl and relax and become every bit as (figuratively) intoxicating as it’s younger sibling, perhaps more so. Everyone around me agreed that because it didn’t currently taste anywhere near as good as the 2007, the 2006 was certainly the better wine. Wine appreciation can be a counterintuitive business sometimes.

There is only so much gold buried in our planet, and to stick some on a bottle that sooner or later will find itself at a recycling plant or buried in a landfill site, its precious cargo lost forever, is a bit sad. But having said that, it’s not very much gold in the scheme of things, it looks good, and what’s inside will almost certainly taste excellent. For all the event’s rich promise, I found nothing to laugh about here. Except, perhaps, the price, but if you’ve got a spare £1200 or so to spend on six bottles of wine, you go right ahead. They’ll look great.

How the legal lot live

There are parts of London that are reeking, dripping in history. Everyone knows that, which is why they go in such numbers to the Tower of London, where actors dressed as 17th-century peasants point them in the direction of the gift shop. But there are quieter corners, barely less impressive, that are seen by few. Even after the Da Vinci Code pointed a certain type of tourist towards the Temple Church, not many make make it to Middle Temple Hall, just a few yards away. It’s an incredible place, so long as you’re not afraid of a little wood panelling, where the earliest known performance of Twelfth Night took place in 1602, with a certain William Shakespeare among the cast.

But a certain group of London lawyers, including as it happens my father, go there all the time. And recently I got to have dinner with them. And after dinner, I got to poke around their wine cellar.

To tell the truth, the cellar bit was rather disappointing. I thought they would have acres of subterranean caves full of three centuries’ worth of first-growth Bordeaux, but that stuff must be kept somewhere else. What they did have is a single corridor full of lesser Bordeaux classifications – Chateau Figeac, which I’ve always liked for mainly typographical reasons, seemed pretty popular –  some interlopers from the Rhone and quite a lot of Kiwi sauvignon and cheap viognier from the Languedoc.

The actual food was pretty decent, given that they were catering for a large hall full of hungry lawyers and their guests. The wine, at least on my table, was excellent. Most of them room got the house wines, with optional upgrades. The top table, full of important people such as, on this evening, the home secretary, and myself, gets the good stuff. Very good stuff: some Champagne in a side-room to kick things off, Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 with the scallops (really liked this, and it’s a bargain at £12.50 a bottle if bought by the case from Wine Direct right now), Chateau Beycheville 1998, a fourth growth that’s in rather a different league to what I’m used to having with my dinner, and was impressively fresh and fruitsome for all its dozen years, with the (sadly overcooked) lamb, 2001 Chateau Filhot, a Sauternes deuxieme cru, with pudding and Taylor’s 1994 vintage port, or cognac if you prefer, with cheese.

I don’t believe this is what they have with dinner every day, with guest nights such as this one happening just once a term. But it was stellar stuff. Here’s hoping for another invite…

The name’s bond. In bond

I keep getting emails about 2009 Bordeaux, the latest vintage of the century. They’re alluring, and I must admit I have been allured once or twice in the past. Within months of my first joining the Wine Society they started to sell the 2005 vintage – the last vintage of the century – and I dipped my toe in the pond with a case of the cheapest thing they mustered some enthusiasm for, Chateau Roland La Garde. This has come into its drinking window, and it’s, well, it’s good. But I haven’t found it enormously exciting. When push comes to shove, it’s a decent bottom-end claret.

At the top end, investors buy first growths to trade and can make hundreds or thousands of pounds in profit from buying en primeur and trading at a later date. At the lower end, I don’t really see why the en primeur market exists. It seems to help everyone except the consumer, who shells out a not particularly bargainous price to secure wine years before they’ll be able to drink it and then gets to pay some more for its storage. Why don’t I keep my cash in my pocket, avoid the risk of getting a dozen bottles of something I’m not in love with and get some 2009 clarets in a few years time when they’re ready for drinking?

Tonight, I’ve been enjoying a Craggy Range Te Kahu, also from 2005 and also fashioned from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There’s no great qualitative difference between this and the CRLG, but one was all sold up years ago, and the other is still available from M&S for a tenner. I think, in short, that there are enough actual ready-to-take-home wines in the shops to keep me happy, without saddling myself with some-time-in-the-future wine. That’s something for my future, I think.

I might be missing out on a bargain (Chateau Couhins Lurton looks enticing, I must admit), but I think it’s a risk I’m ready to take, for now at least.