Unlikely finds in suburban Auckland: Cheap Claret of Cru Classe Status

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]xpectations were as low as the top of a scantily clad Playgirl as we journeyed to the only known wine store in a 5 kilometre radius in neighbourhood Auckland. Faced with the thought of perusing your typical run-of-the-mill, nothing-above-average price range wine selection, antipathy near set in.

Wonders will never cease to amaze me. Miracles in fact, as it transpired a whole host of tremendous, lovingly aged, Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux wines greet our lacklustre eyes. Shopmate explains they’ve been in the store since their release, and the prices have never gone up. Gulp. This could be rather exorbitant wine retail therapy…

Low and behold, it turned out to be a rather special night, reinforcing the all important idiom “an exceptional wine can make an evening”. Thanks to these two beauties, and the restraint of the community of St. Heliers, our quartet savoured outstanding, well cellared, recherché Bordeaux with fortuitously prepared and delicious Coq au Vin. Local friend will be back to pick up the several others still lurking, hopefully before you lot decipher the address of this near-giveaway cache.

2001 Chateau Pichon-Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville, Pauillac

2001 is a significantly underrated year in Bordeaux; perhaps this is why the price point on this second-growth Chateau is relatively reasonable. Regardless of price, it was rapturously good. Simply reeking of cigar box, underpinned with a delightfully honed primary fruit character of dusty red and brambly berry fruit this wine was exceptionally focused and refined. It opened out generously after decanting, giving more and more nuances of premium cigar, tobacco, slight metallic graphite, saddle leather and cedar. Quite simply, there is a lot going on.

With 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc the balance of varieties is clear: the latter begets the striking tobacco and cigar characters. On the palate, the Longueville was deceptively tannic, in an entirely attractive way albeit; elegant, tannins balanced with good acid and judicious use of oak makes it an absolute highlight especially with the excellent flavour intensity from attack right through to finish. Because of these refined, gravelly tannins, it could have commanded quite easily an audience of hard aged cheddar – unfortunately we had none on hand! The star of the show. 95 points.

1995 Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac.

This fifth-growth Chateau exceeds its official categorization in bounds, and although the vintage was arguably better, and the wine itself on more uncertain ground due to age, it competed convincingly with the Pichon-Longueville. These two estates in Pauillac are practically neighbours, but the wines are so very different. Immediately apparent in the Lynch-Bages is the obvious stage of maturation, however with a welcoming surprise we are confronted with a operatic performance of primary fruit bellowing up to us in the box of the theatre. Swathes of blackcurrant charter their way out of the glass as it opens up. It gets exponentially better, and fast, with some airtime. Savoury nuances of Bovril, cedar, smoke, earth and pencil shavings elope to our olfactory retreats next.

The palate is the highlight, the clean expression of fruit becomes discernible at the realisation the use of oak is not invasive, rather, totally cohesive with all the elemental complexities. Cabernet fruit is a definitive focus here, and the tannins, ripe and supple, invoke adoration. Perhaps it’s on the decline now in terms of age, but it is still magnificent. On this occasion, just pipped at the post against its superior-growth, younger brother. 94 points.