Château Lafite-Rothschild--Vintage 1870
Pauillac, 1er cru classé
Recorked at the Château in 1986. Slightly bin-soiled label. Level base of neck
Tasting Note: One of the all time greats and, at its best, a powerhouse, massively endowed with every conceivable component. In fact, such a powerful and tannic wine that it was virtually undrinkable for half a century. Nevertheless, bottlings varied, and, as always, provenance plays a part. I have had the opportunity to taste, and drink the 1870 Lafite on sixteen occasions starting, however, with an untypical pale and astringent bottle which nevertheless, as if it was conscious of letting the side down, emitted a sweet bouquet which lingered in the glass long after it had been emptied. This was in 1966.
Unquestionably the most magnificent were (and still can be), the Coningham-bottled magnums from Glamis Castle. Of the 48 originally binned in 1878, 41 magnums had remained undisturbed until I and a friendly wine merchant in Perth packed them up for a great sale at Christie's in 1971. Naturally, to make sure that the wine was all right, I opened one at a dinner in the boardroom before the sale attended by a dozen or so wine luminaries. The cork was sound, the level high, the colour so impressively deep that it could have been mistaken for a 1970; nose flawless, the bouquet blossoming in the glass. Perfect on the palate too. A lovely drink. Thank goodness the 13th Earl of Strathmore, who had originally bought it, didn't take to it; it must have been swingeingly tannic. Like the 1928 Latour, it took 50 years to become drinkable. It was in 1934 that his lunchtime host asked André Simon, the founder of the Wine and Food Society, for his first reactions to the wines. They 'evoked memories of Berkshire', the 1870 Lafite 'of the Majesty of the Royal Oak'. That's wine writing for you! No toasty new oak; no gobs of glycerine, oodles of sweet black fruits; awesome.
Then there was a bottle I opened in Sir John Thompson's cellar at Woodperry House to see if the cork was branded. It was: 'Pfungst 1870'. A fabulous colour, still tannic (in 1976). Later, also Bordeaux-bottled, this time by Cruse, five bottles from the Ten Broeck mansion in Albany (New York), noted at Heublein pre-sale tastings in 1978 and 1979. Purchased in 1879, the wine was still in original cases, wrapped in tissue paper on which was printed Cruse et Fils Frères. each bottle had a glass button on the shoulder embossed Château Lafite Grand Vin. They varied, the best being superb. Even those with mid-shoulder levels (caused by cork shrinkage) were surprisingly good. Low-shoulder: oxidised of course. Around the same time a perfect magnum from Woodperry served by Lenoir Josey at a great wine dinner in Houston, and an equally delectable bottle despite being mid-shoulder at the Overton Lafite tasting.
Not all were good: an oxidised Day & Watson London bottling, another ullaged and poor Cruse bottling, and even two below-standard magnums at Rodenstock's Raritaten Weinprobe as recently as 1996. Even the Glamis magnum was high-toned and over the top, its twin better, though with a sour/cheesy finish.
Most recently, rising to the occasion, a bottle recorked in 1980: still fairly deep with a fine mahogany-mature edge. Just after decanting, it emitted a deliciously Mouton-like spicy scent. After 30 minutes in the glass it reminded me of Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet: pure eucalyptus on the palate; dry, its fine flavour matching the bouquet, wonderful length, still buoyed up by its original tannins. Last noted at Wilfred Jaeger's in the hills south of San Francisco, June 2001. At best ***** M.B.
1 bottle per lot