Stuart George

Posts Tagged ‘Christie’s’

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2005–1991

In Tastings on February 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Belatedly, here are my notes from a tasting of Pichon-Lalande 2005–1991 held at Christie’s St James’s offices in London on December 1, 2009. The wines were presented by Pichon-Lalande’s Technical Director, Thomas Dô Chi Nam.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2005

Harvesting went from September 20 to October 7, yielding 47hl/ha. The final blend was 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.

The color is a striking pyrope purple, though it is not opaque like some 2005s. The nose shows a lot of oak at first but gradually reveals red fruits and earthy flavors. Medium-plus body of substantial richness, with wonderful velvet-like tannins. Good length, glowing sweet fruit, and vanilla oak on the finish. Despite the stellar, sometimes notorious, reputation of this Bordeaux vintage, Pichon-Lalande 2005 is not a blockbuster, capturing the elegance and balance of its terroir rather than the sometimes over-generous nature of the year. This wine is already beguiling but is it lust or love…? It could be drunk now or aged 2015–30+ for cerebral rather than sensual enjoyment.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2004

The harvest started on September 27 and concluded on October 14. The Merlot was picked in warm weather and came in with relatively high potential alcohol of 13° to 13.5°. The final blend comprised 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.

Color as before though perhaps a little brighter at the rim. This wine leaves a very different impression to the 2005, being much less opulent and generous. It smells of blackcurrant rather than red fruits and is nowhere near as concentrated. The balancing act of tannins and acidity is striking though they are rather spiky at the moment. Lacking the opulence and length of 2005, it is however perhaps more typical and “classic” in its styling. Age 2012–25+.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2003

Picking started on September 10 for the Merlot and on September 18 for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Harvesting finished on September 26 and the finished wine was made from 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot. At 33hl/ha the yield was much lower than average.

Same depth of color as before though showing more garnet at the rim. Not as jammy or overblown as one might expect, showing mint and pepper, but with aeration it becomes simpler and more jammy. The tannins recall those of 2004 but there is less acidity to counter them, so the wine has a rather ornery finish. Like so many 2003s, this is not one to endure. Now to 2015.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2002

Picking started on September 30 for the Merlot and October 4 for the Cabernet Sauvignon and was completed by October 10. The final cuvée was 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot.

Surprisingly this has a similar color to the 2003! The appealing nose is already quite cedary, though at first there seemed to be a non-trivial prickle of acetate that tickled my admittedly cold-ridden nose… Coming after the ultra-rich 2003 and 2005 this feels thin by comparison. It has a much lighter framework than those two leviathans, with the tannins already well amalgamated. The flavors on the palate are really quite prematurely aged—it lacks some freshness and verve. On its own terms, a more than decent claret but not a great Pichon-Lalande. Dô Chi Nam reckoned that it was “good value for money. It’s not a fashionable vintage but it has a strong energy inside.” Drink now or age to 2020 for extra smoothness, though it might lose more freshness along the way.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2001

This vintage has an exceptionally high Petit Verdot content of 14%. The 2000, which was not available to taste here, has 10% Petit Verdot. “We have very old PV blocks,” explained Dô Chi Nam. Petit Verdot gives “freshness and complexity” to the wine. There are only three clones of Petit Verdot commercially available in France but Pichon-Lalande has propagated its own by massal selection—that is, it takes cuttings from its own plants and grows them.

The remainder of the blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot. The absence of Cabernet Franc resulted in a different cuvée to the norm, with a different structure and flavors. Harvesting endured from September 27 to October 14.

Similar depth of color to 2002 but more garnet. Cedarwood and licorice aromas make this appear very lean compared to the riper vintages. Nonetheless, there is a nicely structured palate, with tannins and acidity in harmony. The palate is surely more appealing than the nose. An elegant, refined claret to drink now to 2020+.

Château Pichon-Lalande 1998

Harvested September 24 to October 7 and blended to 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc. As in 2003 there was no Petit Verdot.

Similar depth of color to the 2001 but just a bit lighter at the core. Tobacco, earthy, almost meaty in comparison to the previous wines but fresh with it. Peppery and complex. Earthy on the palate too, finishing elegantly and long. A good wine, just about mature. Who would ever have thought it in this vintage? It must be all that Merlot! Drink now to 2020.

Château Pichon-Lalande 1996

In this great Cabernet vintage Pichon-Lalande used 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. Harvesting began on September 24.

Its color is similar to that of the 2001. Compared to the 1998 it is closed and unyielding on the nose. There is intense Cabernet fruit and structure on the palate—this is nowhere near ready. Intense rather than opulent, it is still elegant and earthy, with velvety and smooth tannins. The ’96 might be less approachable than some of the other wines, its palate resembling a squeezed fist, but it is intense and long. A very good wine though, on the basis of the other wines here, not typical of Pichon! But Dô Chi Nam felt that the wine was “very Pauillac and very Pichon.” For me this was the best wine of the tasting. Age 2015–30+.

Château Pichon-Lalande 1991

There were devastating spring frosts this year on April 21–22 that destroyed new shoots; 80% of the potential crop was lost to the frost and only 30% of the final crop made it into the grand vin, which was harvested October 1–9. The blend was 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot.

Medium depth brick red, turning to tawny at the rim. It smells like a “cool” vintage, the aromas suggesting capsicum or tomato leaf, but also some tobacco. Complex and mature but not opulent. It’s not bad at all considering what horrors some 1991s are! Again characteristically elegant. Still reasonably fresh, if rather lean and unripe compared to other wines here, and retaining a backbone of acidity with the characteristic Pichon elegance. It has good length but the younger wines are more enduring—it becomes less convincing with aeration, especially up against the 1996. Drink now to 2015.

No sleep till Brooklyn: Travels in New York

In Travel on October 22, 2009 at 6:00 pm

This was my first visit to the USA. Ashes series meant that I always went east out of Heathrow. But an increasing number of friends Stateside made it more attractive to visit than ever. Accommodation and guided tours would be free. All I had to do was turn up.

No Sleep Till BrooklynThe flight was entertaining. Departure was late because of a Spanish-speaking prima donna. The entire plane could overhear her complaints. She was booked into first class but had turned up late and her seat had been given to somebody else. So she had to sit next to me in cattle class. “This is so unfair,” she moaned. Life is unfair, isn’t it? Especially when you don’t get that extra six inches of legroom you paid for. She decided that being sat next to me for six hours was intolerable, so off she went.

“Close the door behind you, please.”

She cut me a filthy look.

There was also a group of Hasidic Jews, who made such a fuss of finding their seats. It must have taken them 20 minutes to be happy with their seating arrangements. They made a bit of a mess with their nibbles and biscuits. A (white American, presumably well-off) lady seated close to me said, “My, they’re a bunch of slobs.” It would not be the last time I heard such casual racism on this trip.

I was met at Newark by the delightful Bernardette Lyon, a friend of a friend who I’d met only twice before. For my first night in NYC she had very generously invited me to stay at her mother’s house in Brooklyn. We drove into Manhattan, me grinning like Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy as he looks around NYC for the first time.

SDG and Bernardette in Brooklyn

SDG and Bernardette in Brooklyn

Bernardette took me on a tour of Brooklyn, including Saturday Night Fever territory in Bay Ridge. I think we went through Bensonhurst, too, where that brilliant car chase was filmed for The French Connection. The obligatory pizza was followed by dinner at Tatiana in Brighton Beach, or “Little Odessa.” There are lots of Russians in London (in Belgravia, anyway) but I’m sure Bernardette and me were the only non-reds in the hood.

We walked along the boardwalk towards Coney Island, sat underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (Saturday Night Fever again), walked down Cranberry Street where Moonstruck was filmed, and then refuelled at Junior’s, a Brooklyn joint famous for its cheesecakes. A slice about the size of the Isle of Wight (or Staten Island) was put in front of me. Bernardette and the waiter were amused by my horror at the amount of calories on my plate.

*Oct 21 - 00:05*The final pit-stop was at Farrell’s, just up the road from Bernardette’s place and where a scene in As Good As It Gets was made (so many films today!).  Bernardette had never been in there, which seemed surprising at the time but once inside I could see why… It is a very macho, Irish/cops place, though the regulars turned out to be friendly enough and we stayed there until 2am. Bernardette has vowed not to go again unless it’s with me, bless her.

An American Football match was on the TV in the bar. I have not yet grasped how this sport works but today (22 October) I was at The Oval cricket ground to see a friend. The pitch was being prepared for a “top secret” training session by the New England Patriots (or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I can’t remember which) ahead of Sunday’s NFL match at Wembley. They are completely paranoid about their practices being filmed, my friend told me. She won’t be allowed in the The Oval tomorrow (she works there!) and the Americans had expressed great concern about the flats that overlook the ground. They were politely told that nothing could be done about that. My friend also said that the team’s cheerleaders have a full-time (male) manager. The best job in the world or the worst? We couldn’t decide.

After one night chez Bernardette, I spent the next three nights on the other side of Prospect Park with Lisa Granik MW and her partner Sandy at their splendid house.

Lisa is smart, funny and very candid—which is to say she speaks with great honesty and integrity. Her brilliant mind (and palate) and links to Russia mean that she does not fit easily into the mainstream.

Lisa invited me to a dinner in Chinatown with several of her friends and colleagues. Before coming to the restaurant I met Lisa and her friend Gaetano and we tried the esoteric Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé Le Clos Tête de Cru 2004—as puzzling as The Times crossword—and a quite lovely Huet Le Mont Sec 2005, with not a discordant note anywhere. I brought with me to the restaurant two vintages of Dr von Bassermann-Jordan’s Deidesheimer Kalkofen Riesling Spätlese Trocken. The 2001 was very tightly coiled, with acidity like the lash of a bullwhip. By comparison, the 2002 was a big softie. It was hard to believe that two such different wines came from the same vineyard and cellar.

We also tried some Champagnes—a simple Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montguex Blanc de Blancs NV; a good Piper Heidsieck Rare 1999 and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 1999 (though not at all flattered by the restaurant’s glassware); and a woody and fat Vilmart Grand Cellier NV.

Lisa, being a responsible adult, went back home after dinner but the rest of went for cocktails in the West Village. I was asked by one of our dinner companions, “Don’t you ever laugh?” It’s true that my natural expression is a curmudgeonly frown. But I do laugh at things that I find amusing (as this picture taken at Santiago airport proves).

SDG vaguely amused by somethingBy midnight only Gaetano and myself were left standing. We went to a bar where he knew (and fancied) the manageress. A youngish bloke and four younger ladies parked themselves on the table next to us. I struck up a conversation with one of them, “Kath, from Michigan.” She was blonde, had lips that implied the assistance of collagen, and wore a skirt slightly narrower than my belt. At first glance she was attractive She told me she had studied Victorian Literature in Glasgow. I was excited—perhaps finally I had found an intellectual soul mate wearing a two-inch skirt.

“And who is your favourite Victorian poet?”

“Oh, I think that would be Edmund Spenser.”

SDG and Kath from Michigan

SDG and Kath from Michigan

Kath then made me an offer that normally I simply could not refuse. But, having put Spenser in the nineteenth century, I declined. Perhaps they do teach Spenser as part of the Victorian Literature course in Glasgow. But more likely Kath was a dumb blonde who was drunk or stoned or both. She looked thoroughly discombobulated by my refusal. As Spenser wrote: “But the trew fayre, that is the gentle wit,/And vertuous mind, is much more praysed of me.”

Gaetano did not believe that I had received such an offer. I told him to ask Kath. Then he was downright disgusted at me for refusing it.

The chaperone, who spoke fluent Italian, claimed to be an “erm, historian” and blinked nervously like the villain in Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent, was a very odd fellow. Think of Ed Balls’ (the UK Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) twitching eyes, too—would you trust him? I suspect that accepting Kath’s offer might have meant an exchange of cash before anything else.

I got back to Brooklyn at 5am. Fortunately I did not have any appointments that day and was able to sleep off my evening of over-indulgence. But in-between the cocktails, interesting offers and hangovers, I did actually do some work. I went to the “California Wine Rush” tasting at Grand Central station, Terry Theise’s “Tasting Grower Champagne: Your how-to Guide” and a Sauternes tasting at Vermilion Restaurant.

I interviewed Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby’s head of wine, and have written-up this for Harpers. Rik Pike of Christie’s was met on an informal basis. I also caught the train from Grand Central to Scarsdale to speak with Jeff Zacharia at his enormous and copiously stocked Zachys store.

After four nights in New York, I went to California for the weekend before returning to NYC  for one night. I had planned to stay in the airport but all the best sleeping spots had already been taken and I needed to wash and rest. So I paid $170 for the privilege of staying in a very basic Best Western hotel next to the airport. Ouch.

Led Zeppelin Physical GraffitiThat left me with a full day to kill before flying to Brazil in the evening. I raced around the city, doing all the cheesy things that English tourists are supposed to do— walking through Central Park, going to the top of the Empire State Building, eating hotdogs, seeing the Yankee and Citi Field stadiums, the Chelsea Hotel, walking over Brooklyn Bridge, the Staten Island Ferry… I also did a few things that would only occur to me, like going to the building at St. Mark’s Place in the East Village that was used for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. (My dad was at school with John Bonham!).

Other things that amused me during this first trip to NYC included the umbrella salesman on the subway and his rhyming sales rap—“It’s going to rain, it’s such a pain, buy an umbrella, it’ll last forever” or something similar. At the Chinatown restaurant there was a reassuring sign in the loo: “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.”

I will write about my travels in California, Brazil and Chile soon…

Feet of Klee: Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales

In Art and artists on June 25, 2009 at 8:16 am





Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in London on 24 June totalled £33,531,150 (including premium) from 23 lots sold – an average of £1,457,876 per lot, which is about the same as a typical New York wine auction would total from 1,000+ lots.

The 85.2 percent sell-through rate was the best for an evening sale in this category since last June, claimed Sotheby’s.

The top lot was Picasso’s Homme à l’épée, which sold to a private collector for £6,985,250. Clearly, despite the ongoing doom and gloom about the global economy, there are still people that can afford to spend nearly £7 million on a Picasso painting.


The previous evening, Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale made £37,235,550 (including premium) from 30 lots, a clearance of rate of only 68 percent.

The highest bid was £6,313,250 for Monet’s Au Parc Monceau, the painting that I had poked and prodded a few days beforehand. Another of Picasso’s Homme à l’épée paintings made £5,753,250, having sold for £2 million in 2005.

At first glance, the prices are impressive, but the Picasso sold within its estimate even with the premium added. The 14 lots that didn’t sell reveal the true state of the art market. These were “mid-range” works priced mostly between £300,000-600,000, a nebulous area for auctioneers at the moment. High quality work continues to sell well, albeit at lower prices than might have been seen two years ago, but lesser works that were clearly over-priced are now a more challenging sell for the auction houses.