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A Very Good Year


Louis Guida

My daughter was born in October, 1993 and I've recently begun looking for a case of wine to lay down for her. I want a 1993 vintage that can last a good 25 years, so she'll be able to enjoy it when the wine is at its peak and she is reasonably mature. Given a finite budget and a preference for top-quality Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy, the process hasn't been easy.

My search reminds me of a trip my wife and I made to France about 10 years ago. We spent some time in the Bordeaux region, touring wineries. It was March, not a busy time in the northern hemisphere wine world. I made no advance plans for visits, deciding to take my chances on gaining entry when I arrived.

I counted on my work at Beaulieu Vineyard in California and my wife's good French (mine was just passable) to get me in the door. It worked, most of the time. Just an hour or so after our phone calls, we were shown the cellars and vineyards of Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux. These were private walk throughs led by a chemist, cellar master and marketing director. (As for the other premier crus, we joined a small group tour at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, but were unable to see Chateau Lafite Rothschild, where we were told an appointment had to be made through a Paris office.)

Our greatest successes occurred outside Bordeaux proper, at Chateau Figeac in St. Emilion and Domaine de Chevalier in Leognan (Graves). There we met a proprietor (Figeac) and administrator (Chevalier) who sat down and chatted with us, showed us their vineyards and cellars and offered us wine to taste. There are many stories from those visits, but the one that came to mind in relation to my daughter was told by Claude Ricard of Chevalier.

M. Ricard was talking about the 1984 vintage, an off year in the region because of bad weather before harvest. But Chevalier's 1984 wine was exceptional, Ricard said, in part because only grapes in optimum condition were picked. Workers had to make several passes through the vineyard to find the good grapes. Quantity was sacrificed and production was very limited.

That opinion of Chevalier's 1984 wine wasn't his alone, Ricard told us. The vintage, particularly the red wine, received high marks from wine critics and writers. Ricard showed us some of their published tasting notes.

Then he told us that another writer, a famous one whom I won't name here, had recently visited Chevalier and praised the 1984. Ricard prefaced his remarks about the writer, a regular visitor to the winery whom Ricard knew well, by telling us when he was born. "He had a very good year for the year of his birth," Ricard said. The reference, of course, was to a vintage year.

Ricard's remark showed me how encompassing the perspectives of a life with wine can be. And how intense the opinions. As I look for a wine for my daughter to drink in 2020, I trust she'll have a sense of humor if she's tempted one day to judge her birth by the quality of my choice.

© 1997 Louis Guida

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