Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1986
Although it seems an incredibly long time ago, I would have guessed more than a decade, it is in fact only eight years (give or take a month) since I had my first taste of 1986 Lafaurie-Peyraguey. I remember the evening well; it was a tasting of 1986 Bordeaux, and as we worked our way through the red wines (a tannic but otherwise not an arduous task) I could see through the doorway, on the far side of the room, a radiant sight. On a worksurface in the kitchen there sat a glowing golden apparition, a bottle of Sauternes. Obviously well chilled, it was smothered from top to toe in marbling condensation, adding to the visual impression, as each little droplet of water scattered the light passing through the wine in its own way.
Of course, you might expect that no wine could live up to such an entrance, but this one did. Fabulously rich, dripping with golden fruit, still showing some smoky oak, but floral and lifted nevertheless, with fresh tropical botrytis-tinged pineapples, purity and great, flattering sweetness. Obviously I have gone back to my original notes to remind me of my thoughts at the time, but many facets I have recalled without difficulty. This does not surprise me in the slightest; this was one of a number of wines that helped consolidate my understanding and appreciation of sweeter styles, be it Sauternes, Layon, Vouvray or otherwise.
Over the ensuing years I have revisited this wine only once, and that was only a year or so after my first taste, but in the past week I have had an opportunity to return to it once again. When I first plucked this bottle from its resting place in the cellar I had it in mind that I had purchased it from a university's cellars, but having spent the weekend doing some paperwork I came across a relevant receipt, which reminded me that I did in fact buy it from the Wine Society a couple of years ago. Either source would have meant the provenance was good, though, so I can be confident that this bottle has been well cared for over the last couple of decades.
Whilst considering the source and price of this bottle, it seems like an opportune moment to provide an open reply to the many messages I receive seeking help in tracking down my Weekend Wine, and occasionally complaining that I don't provide stockist information. In response to the first point, there are many good sources for wine recommendations, from daily, weekly or monthly publications, be they newspaper columnists, wine magazines or even annual guides. My featured weekly wine is really something different, more of a vinous exploration, occasionally discussing currently available wines, but also looking at older, rarer or even esoteric gems from the cellar. It is not, as I wrote at the outset in my introduction, intended to be a buyer's guide. Nevertheless, many of the featured wines can be purchased, and mature Bordeaux such as this week's wine is a good candidate. I don't provide stockist information, however, as a quick click on the wine-searcher link at the bottom will provide such details and have the advantage of (a) being current, as any recommendation I make here will date as the wine sells through, and (b) being relevant to your location.
Anyway, back to the wine, and it seems, unsurprisingly I suppose, that the intervening years have produced some development here. The first hint of this, compared with that wine from eight years ago, comes before the cork has even budged one millimetre. Visible through the clear glass, this particular 1986 Lafaurie-Peyraguey seems to have a much richer, more orange-golden hue than my first bottle. Having said that, memories fade with time, and reflecting on them can also lead to unintentional embellishment, and so even though I mention it I wouldn't put too much significance on this apparent deepening of colour alone. There is, however, also obvious development on tasting the wine, and so perhaps my memory is less fragile than I might think. The nose has clearly moved on since my last experience. In fact it starts off with the barest whiff of oxidation, which shows on the nose at first but seems to fade, or perhaps with a little time I was just seeing past it, and on the palate it only really shows at the finish. The palate still has plenty of sweetness, with a more roasted fruit character, and a richer, botrytis-laden, marmalade-tinged character. Underneath it all there is good acidity and a considerably spicy grip, which is particularly firm at the finish. My first impression was one of disappointment, but returning to this wine after 24 hours I was happier; that questionable early aroma had disappeared, leaving a wine with a rich and harmonious character on the palate, soft and sweet rather than laser-like, but nevertheless giving plenty of pleasure. Venerable as it is, I have to admit that this bottle - which of course may not be representative - is showing some features that hint at early decline. Fortunately it came good in the end, but sadly it isn't up to the level of previous bottles, and my score reflects that. 17/20 (19/1/09)