5me Cru Classe Pauilliac Lynch-Bages is the quintessential overachiever chateau, illustrating the basic flaw of the 1855 classification: that it is a snapshot of the pecking order of the Bordeau chateaux at the time that it was codified and not a hierarchy of terroir - and over the years the properties have grown and merged, and the people running them and the land they own, they, too, have changed. After various cycles of change and improvement, Lynch-Bages has reached the point where, for the last few decades, it has been commanding the respect, and often the prices, lavished on the so called Super Seconds.
For me, this very generous vertical tasting wasn’t about comparing the character and quality of different vintages, so much as it was about getting a picture of Lynch-Bages the wine and how it develops. Recently, it’s been less and less important to me to judge which vintage is “the best” out of a group of obviously stellar years, say, in this case, 1982/1986/1990/2000. Especially with a tasting like this, where the "entry level" is vintages like 2008 or 1996.
So what's Lynch-Bages like, then? For me, Pauillac at its sexiest, the fruit fine and generous without being lavish, intermingled with minerals and meatiness to varying degrees. Great clarets have this sense of effortless ease, which ups the bar and makes other wines mundane. Lynch-Bages is in that class, courting with an abundance of silky finesse.
We started with 2009 and 2010, excellent-to-great vintages, which have already collected praises and high scores. Going on a decade post vintage, both are very closed and barely show their potential elegance. Kudos to the writers who were able to make sense of them during barrel and en premieur tastings. 2010 shows gunpowder/minerals/earth and the 2009 is more fruity and modern. But I wonder whether calling it modern is meaningful information to anyone who aims to drink it in a decade or two when it matures, by which time I expect it to be more like the 2000 (which I recall presented a similar facade at age seven to eight).
We tasted the 2008 in a blind flight with two peers from the vintage. Mouton-Rothschild, which is famous for being the only chateaux moved up to 1me Cru Classe, had a complex nose and a sweetish palate confidently backed by fine tannins. On the one hand, it really tries to impress and live up to its reputation, on the other hand, it succeeds. I reckon less than 30% of the people who care about these things (or have the experience to gauge) think Mouton is consistently of 1er Cru level, but in 2008 it certainly was. Lynch-Bages had a very similar palate, which was apt, given that it's sometimes nicknamed the poor man's Mouton, and I sensed notes of earth and gunpowder, which were not as obvious in the Mouton. The other peer was Pontet-Canet, which felt manipulated, and even though it improved, it never grasped a balance between its ripe fruit and tannins. Like Lynch-Bages, it's a 5me Cru Classe held in high regard, but the few bottles I've drunk, including this one, makes me think that high regard is misplaced.
Back to Lynch. The 2000 is a great vintage, oozing minerals, leather and red fruit. Obviously, blatantly great, with sexy substance that is reined in and reserved at the same time. 1996 was a little funkier, less complex, with a hint of cowhide. It will last for a long time, but it feels to be on the start of its plateau, whereas the 2000 is still climbing towards it.
The next flight nails why we age Bordeaux. Both 1982 and 1986 were great vintages at an time when great vintages were harder to come by, and even then you couldn't necessarily bank on the quality being consistent across the board. The 1982 was complex with subtle meatiness born of mellow maturity. 1986 is just about the same but it forces you to work and approach it on its own terms.
The final flight was the last piece in the evening's theme of Lynch-Bages greatness. 1989 is more languid and funkier while the 1990 is earthier. Both are caught in transit between 2000/1996 and the mid-eighties flight, the fruit receding while the tannins have not integrated yet, and they thus come off as rawer than the either of the other flights.
Before the festivities began, we were served, as is usually the case chez Eldad Levy, with a starter champagne, a fine Blanc de Blancs vintage, as befitted the occasion.
Pierre Péters, Blanc de Blanc, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Grand Cru, Esprit de 2009
It was a good call matching such an elegant Bordeaux with a Blanc de Blancs, as I find the clarity and finesse an apt counterpoint. The acidity is excellent, the body full and light at the same time (always a paradoxical trademark of great Champagnes), the aromatic profile pairing mushrooms and orange blossoms.