A weekend to celebrate a personal milestone, so we enjoyed one of the last of the half-case of this Graves vintage which I inherited from my Father. The family story is that wines from Chateaux Haut Brion and Pontet Canet were the first Grand Cru vineyards that my Father had bought from in his capacity as Wine Steward at Magdalene College, Cambridge.
My Father is credited there with having introduced the choice of a fine wine for formal dinners in the college hall as previously the college custom had been that beer was served with some meals in the college dining room. One of the college blocks off Mallory Court was still known as “The Old Brewery” when my family lived in Cambridge and I was christened in the chapel at Magdalene.
The bottle of twenty-five year old wine that we enjoyed last night was in fine condition. The cork didn’t give up its home of a quarter-century without a struggle, needing all my skills and latest two stage corkscrew from Le Creuset, plus some digging, but eventually I extracted it without spoiling or wasting any wine.
In the glass, Haut Brion 1988 showed a fine cherry colour, initial aroma very clearly of cherries but my companion rapidly detected a shift to the more tannic flavour of plum, which I perceived as ripe damson. A very smooth vintage, with none of the mustiness which afflicts some other old wines. The colour still firmly cherry with only a very slight hint of a shift towards the tawny colour.
We firstly enjoyed the Haut Brion with a selection of cheeses and then moved on to pigeons, which my chef companion presented with a blueberry sauce. The combination of fruity colours and flavours worked memorably.
Our dessert was an almond based chocolate gateau with a vanilla sauce and also some blueberries. The cork of a bottle of Chateau Liot 1996 yielded rather more readily that the Haut Brion had done, with a fine cork aroma promising a light vanilla and slightly nutty treat. My first impression of the wine was of honey, was more reminded of rose petals or rose water.