A couple of months ago I was made aware of a seemingly little-known wine secret; top-class Bordeaux from some of the region’s premier estates sold at a fraction of their regular price. How does this work? The top estates are concerned, not encouraged, when they have a bumper crop as this means that they will have a glut of supply which will then (through simple supply-demand economics) bring down the prices. As a result, when they have an excess of production they release a proportion of their wine under a different label to those in the know.
I obtained two bottles from a website – a 2011 pertaining to be from “the finest producer in Saint-Émilion” and a 2010 from “the top producer of Sauternes”. Reading between the lines I believe that these were a 2011 Cheval Blanc and a 2010 Château d’Yquem. Now I have no frame of reference in terms of drinking these wines, particularly given that they routinely cost several hundreds of pounds a bottle; however, I was keen to give these little treasures a test-drive and see if I would be prepared to pay the big bucks for them. Now, I am aware that one would never normally want to open these kinds of wines so young and that to drink them at such a young age could be reasonably classed as infanticide, but my flat does not have the ideal conditions to store wine so I figured the best thing to do would be to drink these wines young.
With this in mind I headed to Hawksmoor in London’s Spittalfields with my wife and some friends for two main reasons. On a Monday they have an excellent offer that allows you to bring your own bottles of wine for a very modest corkage fee of £5/bottle. Furthermore, if you are going to drink a robust and youthful Bordeaux then you are going to need some steak and where better to go then the restaurant that does the best steak in London?
What of the food then? To go with the Cheval Blanc we ordered a 900g Bone-In Prime Rib and a 900g Porterhouse. That’s right, 1.8kg of beefy goodness. We took the waitresses’ recommendation and had them cooked medium-rare to medium (normally I am a rare-man) on the charcoal grills so that they had a nice colour to them with the fat nicely rendered. When we carved the meats they were deliciously, vibrantly pink in the middle and were beautifully succulent. This restaurant really is a paean to the majestic cow.
The Cheval Blanc was dense and deep to look at. On the nose I got fruits of the forest (black/red), there was evidence of power but it seemed slightly withheld. We had this wine decanted as soon as we arrived and started drinking it about 45 minutes in. In truth I felt that it really opened up after about an hour and a half through a combination of decanter and glass. On tasting it was smooth and fruity, there was a hint of tannins but they were surprisingly subtle. The wine was certainly insistent and had a thrust of power to it, but it lacked nuance or depth for me; probably because we were drinking it so young, it needs time to allow it to express itself a little more. Overall: 8.5/10
Given that we’d brought a dessert wine we needed to have a pudding. What a shame. I opted for a white chocolate cheesecake with strawberries, which was glorious. Other selections at the table included a Peanut Butter Shortbread and a Salted Caramel Ice Cream and a Sticky Toffee Pudding. A truly decadent start to a week on a Monday evening!
The Yquem had a slightly reserved nose, perfumed with peach and apricot as well as having floral notes of lavender and honeysuckle. It really came alive, however, on the mouth; it was exceedingly fresh, not at all unctuous and sugarey. There was a burst of acidity on it that gave it body. On tasting there were honeyed flavours, floral flavor, fruity flavours and perfumed flavours; deliciously complex. It had an exceedingly long and pervasive finish. Absolutely stunning; probably the greatest dessert wine that I have ever tried. 9.5/10.
There we have it, a truly great wine experience. I will certainly be keeping my eyes open for future deals on de-classified Bordeaux, it seems like an excellent way to try wines that would normally (for me) be just that bit too expensive to warrant spending all that money on.