By Christopher Matthews
In our ever faster, more frenetic world, the patience (and pocketbook, for mere mortals) required for stocking a cellar full of age-worthy wines — great Barolo, Burgundy, Brunello or Bordeaux, for example — and then waiting a decade or more for them to evolve into something special , is diminishing. Rapidly. Even among cognoscenti and collectors.
But it only takes one compelling bottle from a superior, mature vintage to remind us why we should wait. Last week, at the Wine Media Guild’s Annual Hall of Fame Dinner, that bottle was the Chateau Monbousquet 1995.
At these WMG dinners, members and guests are invited to bring special wines from their cellars, which always makes for an entertaining evening. One standout was a still lively 1889 Madeira that showed up this year’s Bacchanalia. And the superb 1978 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port that graced our table (thank you Jack Maraffi!).
I’m not a huge collector; it’s plenty challenging just to maintain a stock for current drinking and entertaining. But I do put down the occasional, exceptional bottle, in good circumstances, for special occasions down the road. And the 1995 Monbousquet was one such wine.
Chateau Monbousquet is a historic property (dating back to 1540) and well-regarded St. Emilion Grand Cru that has been owned since 1993 by French supermarket magnate Gerard Perse, who also owns the renown Chateau Pavie, among others. Located just southwest of the picturesque village of St. Emilion, the 70-acre property has a great deal of gravelly and sandy clay soils, ideal for the Cabernet varieties, explaining Monbousquet’s higher-than-average percentage of Cabernet plantings (Cab Franc=30%; Cab Sauvignon=10%) than most of the Merlot-dominated Right Bank domains. Known for more “New World” notions of ripeness, extraction and use of new oak that its über-consultant, Michel Rolland, advocates, Monbousquet has received consistent praise from Mr. Robert Parker himself, making the chateau somewhat of a lightning rod stylistically.
Though overshadowed by some blockbuster vintages, like 2000 and 2005 (and even 1996), 1995 was an excellent vintage, especially on the Right Bank, the first good year since 1990 at the time, and very welcome in the marketplace. On most vintage charts, 1995 is currently “drink or hold”.
Whatever you might think of Mess. Rolland and Parker, the 1995 Monbousquet is a classic and superb Bordeaux, drinking beautifully, with plenty left in the tank. The nose was exquisite, layered with high tone menthol, eucalyptus and cedar notes (those Cab elements at work) and seductive black fruit aromas (Merlot in the house!). On the palate, the wine retained a silky structure, mixing deep blackberry fruit with a leafy, forest floor earthiness — and great length. Elegance personified.
If you have a 1995 Monbousquet, or other estimable St. Emilion bottles from that vintage in your “wine cave”, consider doing yourself a favor…and pop a cork.