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15/02/2019

"Uncork me a bottle of Lafite!" (And L’Evangile)

by Hamish Orr Ewing (Private Sales)

Our newest gweilo on the ground in Hong Kong is Hamish Orr Ewing. Hamish began his career in the trade making wine in Bordeaux, but realised that drinking it and selling it would be far less hard work and far more enjoyable. Fast forward ten years and he found himself at the Annual Commanderie de Bordeaux Dinner in Hong Kong quaffing Lafite Rothschild like it was going out of fashion…

I spent the autumn of 2008 crushing grapes and fraternising with various travelling troubadours, gypsies and other itinerant harvesters in Bordeaux at 5th Growth Chateau Du Tertre in Margaux. Realising what a wheeze I was onto living rent-free in a Chateau, with free food and wine and only working 35 hours a week (for it is technically illegal to work past midday on Friday in France – Vive la Republique), I ended up staying for two years. Ironically though it wasn’t until I returned to England and joined a wine merchant that I finally got to taste arguably the most hallowed of Bordeaux 1st Growths – Chateau Lafite Rothschild. This was despite the fact that I played rugby for Pauillac RFC alongside the cellar master of 4th Growth Chateau Duhart Milon (which is owned by Lafite), and despite the fact that I bought him a delicious seafood lunch on the river in Pauillac in return for a visit of Lafite: upon reaching the end of the cellar tour with him no tasting was forthcoming – they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch – unless you’ve got some naive English stagiare to buy it for you. Last night, therefore, I felt that justice was served as I spent the evening as a guest (paying of course – there’s no such thing as a free dinner) of the Commanderie de Bordeaux in Hong Kong, with more Lafite in front of me than I could possibly drink. Karma is a wonderful thing.

The Commanderie de Bordeaux was founded in 1957 by a group of American wine lovers and has since grown to 34 chapters around the world, where annual dinners are organised, supported by hefty liquid donations from various top chateaux. Last night was sponsored by “The First of First Growths” and co-hosted by their CEO, Jean Guillaume-Prats. Lafite’s relationship with Asia has been a torrid love affair, full of excess, counterfeit scandal and occasionally a dash of Coca-Cola (westerners add milk to tea – so who are the barbarians?) but at the core of the liaison there is an enormous appetite and incredible success. Hong Kong movie star Chow Yun Fat is credited with helping put Lafite on the map in China after uttering the immortal line “Uncork me a bottle of 1982 Lafite!” in 1989 hit “God of Gamblers”. Chow Yun now lives a monastic life and is giving his fortune away to charity, so one can only assume that he drank his fill. Fortunately I was available to step into the breach.

Domaines Barons de Rothschild kindly sponsored each table with various vintages of their wines, whilst everyone on our table also brought a wine from the “DBR” stable from their own cellars. Whilst Lafite was the headline attraction, the most interesting part of the evening was actually their Right-Bank property, L’Evangile in Pomerol whose vineyards date back to 1741. Purchased by Lafite in 1990, the relatively large vineyard here is flanked by Petrus to the north and Cheval Blanc to the south and is known as one of the appellation’s more powerful wines. 

Overall a splendid evening was enjoyed by all, with generous friends sharing many good and more than a few great bottles. Thanks to the Commanderie and to Domaines Baron de Rothschild for their hospitality.

Fois Gras

  • 2001 Ch. Rieussec, Sauternes – A delightful pairing with fois gras, starting to lose a touch of its sweetness, which made it much more enjoyable than many a young Sauternes.
  • 2009 Ch. Duhart Milon, Pauillac – An impeccably well-made and hedonistic ‘bombe’ 
  • 2000 Ch. Duhart Milon, Pauillac – A chewy and rich Pauillac which showed the transitional period from Duhart’s rustic old style, to crowd-pleasing claret.

Scallops

  • 1989 Ch. Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac en magnum – Wine of the night. Such poise and balance. This has all the perfume and intensely meaty, red fruits of Lafite, with its classically svelte body and lingering finish. Just perfect now, but time on the clock.
  • 1998 Ch. Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac – A surprising success for the under-rated Left-Bank vintage, a surprisingly chunky Lafite which again has a lot left to give. Just starting to drink.
  • 2000 Ch. Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac – This needs 10 years, but it will clearly be one of the all-time great Lafites. Luscious fruits are still battling with pervading acidity and layered tannins. Still an unruly adolescent, this will continue to grow in stature and will be drinking for a very, very long time.

Lamb

  • 1964 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol - a bottling from the King of Belgium’s wine merchants - Grafé Lecocq – who used to buy enormous amounts of Right-Bank Bordeaux in barrel and ship it to their cellars under the citadel of Namur in Belgium, and then bottle themselves. This bottle was reconditioned, topped up (using other bottles of 1964) and recorked in 2014. Cloudy and meaty, the nose was pretty funky – a touch metallic and meaty. The palate was definitely L’Evangile though, with saddle leather, decayed fruit and a mineral lick. Past its best but interesting none the less.
  • 1985 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol (2nd)* – incredibly meaty and smoky, but with a pleasingly drinkable medium body. A point now.
  • 1989 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol (5th) – an enjoyable bottle, but put in the shade by the ’89 Lafite.
  • 1990 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol en magnum (1st) – perhaps the quintessential L’Evangile, this was simply perfect, with woodsmoke, saddle leather, earth, spice and hedgerow fruit, with fine but persistent tannins and the classic minerality of this terroir.
  • 1994 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol (4th) – Surprisingly enjoyable, great balance and still plenty of fruit, well-made. 1994 was a good Pomerol vintage but underrated due to the rains which laid the Left-Bank low.
  • 1998 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol (3rd) – Monumental, 1998 Right Bank is a legendary vintage and this will easily eclipse all the other vintages given time. It could have been mistaken for a 2010 such was the depth and complexity. 1998 Right-Bank wines remain the deal of the century for those seeking the best of the best in Bordeaux, because prices tend to be dictated by the quality of their more famous Left-Bank cousins, for whom 1998 was good but not great.
  • 2004 Ch. L’Evangile, Pomerol (6th) – Mineral to the point of saline, with lots of cool, dark fruits. Quite different but more enjoyable for it


Cheese Train

Rum Baba

*(Ranked in the order I most enjoyed them.)