.. I thought, the best. Perhaps this is the fate of all wines being tasted last in a line-up. For those interested it was a Chateau Decru-Beaucaillou - which you have never heard of - and I hadn’t either until then. Whilst you could probably get it now for less than I paid for it then you could, on the other hand, be rash and buy a Methuselah sized bottle, the equivalent of 8 bottles, for over $3000 at a Langton’s auction currently in progress. It had a picture of a chateau on the label so it was off to a good start notwithstanding that there are Australian wines with a picture of a Chateau on the label notwithstanding the lack of chateau in Australia.
But I did a bit of research and found that Chateau Decru-Beaucaillou had been around for a while and was classified as one of the fifteen second growths Bordeaux in 1855. This classification ranked the France’s best Bordeaux wines into five different ranks and it really hasn’t changed since that date, meaning that some wines have improved a great deal and should have been lifted to another higher classification and others should have been demoted. But as being in any defined classification translated directly to money there have been only a couple of changes in the past one hundred and sixty two years.
Interestingly the 1855 list was drawn up entirely on price, “There were no chateau visits, no requests for samples, no tastings involved in the establishment of the rankings, nor was there any need for them,” according to Dewey Markham Jr in his excellent study, ‘1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification’. But nobody at the time thought the list would become set in concrete.
So here in the land of Oz a fifth ranked wine such as Château Haut-Bages-Libéral would set you back $89.00 at Dan Murphy’s; a premier cru such as Château Lafite Rothschild would dent your wallet to the tune of $2,390.00. You should say ‘Bloody Hell,’ at this point. This is very, very serious money which some people are prepared to spend. I’m not, but they are, and in this case I suspect that Mr Murphy is a relatively expensive place to buy such wines.
The cost of a bottle of French wine can vary enormously per year according to the vintage. A good vintage means a good price, often twice the price or more of an average year. People follow the experts, such as Jansis Robinson, whose recommendations can make or break your cellar and your bank balance. It used to be quite gentlemanly but over time with the advent of firstly American and then Chinese buyers things have, apparently, been getting ridiculous. A lot of competition for a relatively scarce resource. Economics 101.
This happens very rarely with Australian wines, the only two real exceptions being Penfolds and Henschke who are deliberately pricing their wines up year by year in what is really a marketing exercise rather than an indication of increasing quality. Yes we can all remember when Grange was less than $20.00. Not that Grange or Hill of Grace are bad wines they just don’t seem worth the massive price escalation. Perhaps we need to consider them internationally. Perhaps not.
We have a reasonable idea how Australian wines work by geographic area and grape. But with French wines you are on your own unless you do some serious homework. But unless you have a lot of money why bother given the accessible quality you can get here and in New Zealand? In retrospect I can see that I was flying blind on this purchase.
Nevertheless there were tasting notes available for Ducru Beaucaillou 2000 (beaucaillou translates as ‘beautiful stones’ as the vineyard is actually covered with stones) which made me think that my patient waiting would not be in vain.
‘A stunning wine from Ducru Beaucaillou which showcases its great terroir, this elegant but substantial 2000 has a dense purple color that has hardly budged since it was first bottled. Displaying a floral note, with hints of boysenberries, black raspberries, black currants and a touch of background oak, the wine has superb concentration and density, but still has some substantial tannins that are not yet fully resolved.’
Surely grounds for optimism?
I had carefully concealed the bottle for fourteen years and it quietly matured until I had a major birthday, the birthday for which I had thought it would provide a suitable celebration of years passed and, hopefully, of a few more years to come. It emerged with a fine layer of dust and the look, I thought, of a desire to please.
I prepared a suitable meal to complement the wine. And in the company of my discerning wife and another unimpeachable set of taste buds the wine was uncorked and carefully decanted. Three people meant enough for all and enough for me. All looked good, the colour dense, and the bouquet interesting and complex.
My companions thought it very good as I (almost) did - but very good really wasn’t good enough for me after a decade of expectation. Somehow I had hoped for something a bit more transcendental, something really memorable. An experience to talk about as one dribbled into one’s pillow of senility, something to benchmark other wines against. One of those moments you could treasure and talk about. But all I can say is that the magic didn’t happen.
So it goes. Happiness is usually unexpected.