A night of perfection in Pauillac

lafite 2 From a dark corner of my humble cellar-under-the-stairs I carefully pick up the Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1985 and carry it upstairs. I’m fearful it may not live up to expectations, having been moved more than once including a change in homes. But then, if I never open it I’ll never know. And what’s the point of having a bottle of fine wine other than drinking it?

This precious bottle, now worth an estimated $500, was a gift from Baron Eric de Rothschild himself, presented to me as I left the Bordeaux chateau at the close of the most amazing wine night of my life.

In the space of a few hours, in the august company of the baron, other Bordeaux luminaries and a coterie of owners, managers and sommeliers from top restaurants in Paris, I’d feasted royally in Chateau Lafite’s superb underground cellars and sampled the finest array of top French wines that I’m ever likely to taste.

cellarBefore we sat down to eat Baron Eric had led us through the estate’s oldest cellars where racks hold vintages of Lafite dating back more than a century, the sight of which prompted gasps of passion all round. Nobody does the act of homage quite like the French.

Dinner was many dishes, each served with a different vintage of Lafite. Meanwhile, other great wines of the Medoc were being freely dispensed from tables set up around the circular cellar. Between courses we roamed among these tables sampling whichever wine we fancied. It was a phenomenal affair.

I tasted Haut Brion, Mouton Rothschild, Palmer  and Pichon-Longueville, then moved on to Leoville Barton, Latour and Margaux. The evening climaxed with the serving of Lafite 1959, poured from magnums left untouched in these cellars for decades.

Lafite lableMy only possible regret about this singular experience is tasting so many incredible wines in just one night. Given the choice I’d have opted to stretch my Bordeaux blitz across my lifetime.

I intended saving my gift for a significant occasion yet suitable moments had come and gone and here it still was unopened.

Enough is enough! Carefully I ease the cork from the neck and notice with joy that it’s still pretty much intact. I allow the bottle to stand for a couple of hours then gingerly pour the first splash.

The wine is deep purple and has that reddish brown tinge from age. The aroma is slight, mere suggestions of wood, leather and plum. I take my first sip and instantly I get the message in the bottle – a trifle past its prime. It’s enjoyable but no longer spectacular, the lesson being never leave a wine too long.

Nevertheless, my gift bottle of Lafite does retain hints of the magic of that one night of perfection in Pauillac. As Baron Eric told me: “Whenever you open a Lafite, it is a special occasion”.

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