Just kidding: retired doctors don’t take vacations! But we did just return from a week in Madrid and San Sebastian, followed by a week visiting chateaus in Bordeaux. Although there were lots of great-tasting solids (jamon iberico de bellota, foie gras, Charolais beef, raw-milk Epoisses, mmm), this posting is going to be about Bordeaux wines. If you have no interest at all in wine, my apologies; this would be a good place to exit- thanks!
Tasting barrel samples of 2016 red Bordeaux was fabulous; the vintage really does live up to all the hype. If you have a wine collection, I would recommend buying some 2016s: even at $25 or less, some wines are already very appealing (Chateau Potensac from the Medoc, for example) and have the potential to develop well for five to fifteen years. At the other end of the spectrum, wines such as Ch. Mouton-Rothschild or Ch. Margaux lie in the stratosphere, with regard to quality and price, and can age for decades. Ch. Leoville-Las-Cases, for me, was their equal in quality for half the price. If you have a special event to commemorate yearly, such as a wedding in 2016, you’re in luck!
One good thing about this vintage is that the wines reflected their respective communes: that is, a wine from St. Julien had the typical taste and style of that commune, and not, say, Pomerol or St. Emilion. In my opinion, this typicity doesn’t happen every year. To generalize: a typical red from St. Estephe tends to be heavy-ish, somewhat monolithic, linear and powerful. A Pauillac tends to be more nuanced, although still sturdy, with graphite notes (think pencil shavings) and tobacco, like a cigar box. Pauillac’s immediate neighbor to the south, St. Julien, makes wines quite similar, but more supple and round, and I find India ink notes, as well as overt fruitiness, in St. Juliens more than in Pauillacs- both in the nose and flavor. Wines from Margaux tend to be more delicate/elegant, with a famous floral (violets) aroma. Graves often have a mineral, smoky character. St. Emilions and Pomerols are often fleshy, plump and rich from a high percentage of Merlot; whether they are grown on limestone (St. Emilion) or clay/gravel (Pomerol) affects the flavor. From years of comparing these, it becomes possible to identify the commune, or even the producer, in a blind tasting, which is a pretty good bar trick. But I’ve only listed general tendencies; there can be huge differences in style between two chateaus located in the same commune.
By the way, these taste characteristics are not the same as the spurious and fanciful descriptions often provided by wine writers, who might argue with one another as follows: “I taste mangoes!” “Mangoes? You’re crazy; it’s pineapple.” “That’s right, pineapple! And coconut!” “Yeah, just like the pina colada I had before dinner!”
In science fiction, it can get even more obscure. Here’s an excerpt from Fourth World, in which Benn Marr attends a wine tasting at Mellon College:
And so it went, for four other wines. Dr. Neelin described esthetic and geologic elements: earthy forest or mushroom; the smell of rain falling on hot stones; delicate floral scents; the tang of iron, like a bloody nose; roasted coffee beans, licorice, chocolate, berries of various colors; the mineral effect of a steep, rocky slope; a summer plagued by hailstorms; or a long hot spell before harvest. And, though it seemed far-fetched, even as Dr. Neelin described the historical context of each wine- the influence of an ancient monastic order, or the personality of an eccentric winemaker- Benn detected traces of each element. He imagined some sort of ambient energy field interacting with the water content, imprinting all of this data into the structure- the hexagonal, square and triangular formations- of each wine. It was like the electronic translation of sound or sight into a recording (not so different from the volumes of data previously recorded in ancient tapes, plastic phonograph records, or metal discs; and now the micro-crystalline core of his datadisc) which could be heard or seen again, and replayed endlessly, if only one had the diamond-tipped needle, the laser, the ability to translate the data in reverse.