The Year of Jazz & Wine: 1959

BY NEAL MARTIN | NOVEMBER 17, 2020

Introduction

Never liked jazz. Does little for my eardrums. I’m Emily Stone in La La Land before Ryan Gosling corrupted her musical taste. Don’t get me wrong - I appreciate the technical wizardry. Its contribution to contemporary music cannot be overstated. The cover artwork and typography is timeless. Jazz musicians themselves, their backstories, the way they dressed, the way they lived, how they broke racial barriers – path-breakers cooler the cool.

Despite all this I am unable to form an emotional bond with the music.

It sounds like a blizzard of random notes ricocheting around mathematically impossible time signatures and dissonant key changes designed to appease goatee-stroking jazz-nerds and alienate everyone else. Where’s the melody? The aleatoric nature of jazz, zigzagging like a fly trapped in a jar, keeps me at arms length. I completely understand why others are fanatical, obsessive about this musical form, but I must accept that just like single malt whiskey and golf, jazz ain’t for me.

Yet, I know enough that the watershed year for jazz is 1959. Those 12 months witnessed not only the release of an album that even this jazz heretic owns, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, but also Shape of Jazz To Come by Ornette Coleman, Moanin’ by Art Blakey and Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, whilst Coltrane was busy recording the monumental Giant Steps. At this pre-Beatles juncture, when rock ‘n roll was dismissed as a fad, it must have seemed like jazz would dominate the mainstream for decades.

Nineteen fifty-nine was also fecund in terms of wine, not just in terms of the intrinsic and hedonic quality itself, but how the vintage was a pivotal stepping-stone between prescientific and modern winemaking. For the first time since the 1920s, winemakers were blessed with a crop that combined quality and quantity. The latter was a Godsend and perfectly timed. The Great Depression, Second World War and post-war austerity had eviscerated markets in turn, so that even the most illustrious deep-pocketed estates barely turned a profit by the late 1950s and this consequently stymied investment and progress. You might argue that the class of 1961 marked a more significant turning point, at least in Bordeaux, yet those revered wines came about after a late spring frost diminished yields. So, whilst their quality is undeniable, it was less beneficial to bank balances. It was not until 1982 that the magical combination of quality and quantity was enjoyed in tandem once again.

When was the last time you read a report on the 1959 vintage? I see 1961 occasionally covered, albeit with increasing infrequency, but rarely its slightly older sibling. This is partly because even the grandest cellar-worthy wines were approachable in their youth. Thirsty and inquisitive oenophiles could not resist temptation, especially when the 1961s were born tannic and less malleable. Therefore, treasure this piece because apart from this constellation of bottles being unrepeatable, they corroborate 1959s legendary status, not only for classic French wine regions, but elsewhere. 

The tasting notes are a blend from two dinners at the tail end of last year. Given the parlous state of the world, deprived our natural urge to gather and socialize, reflecting on these soirées feels like warming cold hands on a log fire. The first was an annual dinner in Burgundy, guests from both sides of the Atlantic, a follow-up to the previous year’s 1958-themed dinner at L’Hôtel de Beaune. The second was held in Bordeaux to mark a friend’s significant birthday. As expected, the lion’s share of bottles originate from those regions, but the vinous representations from the Mosel, Loire, Ribera del Duero and Southern Rhône enhanced both occasions, pertinent reminders that quality was passim

This article does not run into dozens of tasting notes. However inter alia it does contain all five present-day First Growths (note my careful wording before raising your hand about Mouton-Rothschild), a trio from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, two bottles directly from the cellar of Egon Müller, plus a three-way comparison of consanguineous Pessac-Léognans. Provenance of a majority of the bottles should be noted since most Clarets were ex-château and many of the Burgundy wines either came from the Domaine or meticulously maintained cellars. Eagle-eyed readers will spy one of two 1969s instead of 1959s, simply because those respective Domaines have nary a ’59 left in their cellars. 

The Growing Season

Clive Coates MW avers that 1959 was the last vintage made using pre-scientific methods, though I contend that should be 1961 given that practically every estate, apart from Haut-Brion, was yet to introduce stainless-steel vats and temperature control, resorting to dunking blocks of ice to cool the fermenting must. Spring arrived early and pruning could be undertaken in warm conditions despite storms at the end of April. Flowering took place a week earlier than average in ideal conditions that predicated the abundant harvest. July saw a heat wave descending upon and that lasted until early September. There was finally rainfall from 12 September, almost the totality of year-end figures, but the weather cleared in time for the picking to start around two weeks later with the mercury remaining high. The growing season produced rich and voluptuous wines that were low in acidity, decadent, generous and paradoxically, built to last. In some ways, stylistically it was a precursor to 1982, particularly when you juxtapose wines such as Mouton-Rothschild. 

Burgundy enjoyed a similar growing season, which is not necessarily always the case since the two regions lie on either side of France, Bordeaux more maritime influenced and Burgundy more continental. Apparently, the only threat Burgundy winemakers faced during the growing season was mildew and those that hesitated spraying their vines paid the price. Like Bordeaux, yields were comparatively high, with some growers picking at 50hL/ha or higher. Burgundy cognoscenti rate the 1959 vintage highly for reds and less so for the whites. Vis-à-vis Bordeaux, the vintage is not quite as lionized in the Côte d’Or.

There is one other factor that must be considered: the freeze of 1956 that devastated vineyards both in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Just three years later, many vines fell victim to the prolonged Arctic conditions and literally exploded as their sap froze. They had not been replaced or they were too young to produce fruit worth of inclusion in the blend. This has two implications. One is based on the theory that the freeze disproportionately affected younger vines, which meant that fruit came almost entirely only from older vines. This idea is predicated on the freeze differentiating between vine-age and to be honest, in my own research I am not convinced that is true. The second is that vines have a tendency to over-produce following a cold episode, for example, in Burgundy following the frosts in 2016. Perhaps one of the reasons why yields in 1959 was so high is that vines were still traumatized, still felt the urge to survive by producing as much fruit as possible.

Instead of analyzing each one in turn, I am going to focus on the talking points that I hope will interest readers as much as they do myself. Readers should note that I have augmented the wines tasted at the two aforementioned dinners with others encountered at La Paulée in Beaune at the same time.


The fabled Domaine de la Passion. I had never seen a bottle from this era, let alone tasted it.

The Passionate Pessac

Let’s commence with bottles poured in Burgundy but did not contain a speck of Pinot Noir. Allow me to set the scene. Guests were milling about, the rooms filled with the pre-prandial small talk and laughter. Remember that sound? I sneaked into the dining room to examine the smorgasbord of bottles so generously proffered, and my eyes immediately caught sight of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. Nothing unusual. I have been privileged to taste these siblings side-by-side in many occasions, if rarely with such maturity. But my heart skipped a beat when I caught sight of the third bottle, the fabled Haut-Brion Domaine de la Passion.

Dig up 19th century editions of the Féret guide and you will see up to 100 estates with the surname “Haut-Brion” encircling the city of Bordeaux in Talence, Gradignan and Mérignac. One by one they succumbed to encroaching urbanization until only a handful remained, the last to vanish, La Tour Haut-Brion when subsumed into La Mission Haut-Brion. Domaine de la Passion was a tiny 1.31-hectare clos to the northeast of Haut-Brion and separated by a road, Rue Château d’Eau with an unorthodox planting of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The normally punctilious Féret fails to mention this cru in early editions. ‘Detective’ Clive Coates MW deduced that it must have been parsed from a once large estate and it appears in the pages of the 1908 edition under the name Château Loup-Blanc Haut-Brion. Albert Van Den Cruyce is listed as proprietor at that time, his name betraying his Belgian roots. It was subsequently sold at auction to the Touraille family, who had to replant much of the vineyard and demolished the château building - a fateful decision. In 1919 it passed to Touraille’s  sons-in-law, Michel Allary and Jean Bardinon. In 1948 they resurrected La Passion with the blessing and assistance of Haut-Brion’s winemaker Georges Delmas. The vineyard was farmed on a sharecropping basis by Delmas’ team, taking one-third as payment. The wine was produced from 1955 until 1978, when incoming legislation forbid the accommodation of more than one producer in a single building unless they belonged to the same family or company. Consequently, La Passion had to be leased to Haut-Brion where it was absorbed into their second label in return for a few cases of First Growth.

Domaine Clarence Dillon must have expected to buy the property once the lease expired in 2006. But in 2004 they were given notice that Michel Allary wished to resume responsibility himself and rebuffed offers to buy him out. This raised the hackles of Haut-Brion and La Mission’s owners, already mindful about the confusion caused by five other “Haut-Brions”, let alone a sixth, and won a court order banning use of the original name. Nevertheless, a new barrel cellar was constructed, and Louis Fournier appointed as technical director. When he died in 2009 from a sudden heart attack, they appointed Stéphane Derencourt as consultant and plans were hatched to build a winery and introduce biodynamics in the vineyard. Allary might have been on the wrong side of 90 but having grown up on the estate he vowed never to relinquish ownership. It was not called “La Passion” for nothing. (I never tasted the wines of this era, and they apparently bore little semblance to those produced before.) Allary died in 2010 and after the final release of the 2011, his children, Daniel and Marie-Félicia decided to sell the vineyard. The Haut-Brion team harvested the 2012, and the fruit now forms part of the second label once more.  

Because of the miniscule size of the vineyard, plus the fact that unlike Haut-Brion or La Mission most bottles were consumed, Domaine de la Passion is as rare as hens’ teeth.

So how did it taste?

Well, firstly there is no question that in this benevolent vintage it stood toe-to-toe with the other two, so it certainly shares their DNA for longevity. Maybe in a more challenging season it might well have been less consistent, though with the talented Georges Delmas overseeing winemaking, I would assume no more than any other Bordeaux estate. I felt that it did resemble La Mission more than Haut-Brion and personally could not discern the absence of Merlot in the blend. It was a little rustic, yet impressive in terms of its stature and density.

Before I move on, a twist in the tale is that the gentleman who kindly brought all three bottles to the dinner was well acquainted with the Bardinon side of the family. When visiting their home, he discovered that they still have a large stockpile of multifarious vintages of Domaine de la Passion and regularly opened bottles as both literally and figuratively, their house wine. It was from here that this ‘59 winged its way to Beaune and appreciated by all concerned. 


Thrice DRC

It is always a special occasion when you drink a mature bottle from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Of course, the older the bottle and more ambiguous its provenance, the greater is the risk of disappointment. I have had a fair share of those. But to have three bottles from the same vintage was a privilege, and it begged comparison. The presence of Aubert de Villaine, invited by our host, made the occasion extra special. These wines must evoke memories de Villaine who would have turned twenty when they were made, commencing his tenure five years later. In 1959, the domaine was owned and run by his father Henri de Villaine and Henri Leroy, who had purchased 50% of the shares in 1942. Cellar-master would have been André Noblet, father of Bernard who retired just a couple of years ago. Although in those days the Domaine was renowned, it was a far cry from today’s hoopla and eye-watering market prices. Then, it just happened to be the most historically significant and finest producer in the Côte d’Or. Picking was around the end of September since Romanée-Conti was picked on 26 September and their other Grand Crus are always harvested around the same time. Yields were around a healthy 40hL/ha - almost double the average of previous vintages.

The three wines were 1959 Richebourg, Grands-Echézeaux and La Tâche, the first from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s own cellar. The other two came from a well-known collector who purchased the bottles in the early-1990s and kept them in such perfect condition that de Villaine commented that the La Tâche was one of the best examples that he had ever encountered. It was a salient reminder that its renown stems not from rarity or price, rather the fundamental fact that La Tâche articulates Pinot Noir more ethereally than almost any other. Its bouquet was so pure and fragrant that you wanted to just sit in stationary silence and inhale for the rest of the evening. The beguiling palate with its core of extant red fruit was utterly haunting and otherworldly. It flirted with perfection, and I only demur awarding a perfect score because I would like to taste it against the 1959 Romanée-Conti. Dreams can come true, can’t they? The two other 1959s from DRC were also magnificent, particularly the Grands-Echézeaux that was rolling out astonishing wines in those days, as anyone who has tasted the 1962 will attest. Provenance did play a part in these sublime showings. After 60 years, I would suggest that they are all approaching their end of the lofty drinking plateaus yet, their decline will be long and graceful. 

Before moving on, this report includes one dazzling Burgundy wine that was equal to the mesmerizing 1959 La Tâche. Jean-Nicolas Méo poured a 1959 Nuits Saint-Georges Aux Murgers at a La Paulée for a vast table of thirsty guests. It was labeled Domaine Jean Camuzet though the winemaker would have been a young, pre-fame Henri Jayer. This was a transcendental Pinot Noir with a shimmering, crystalline bouquet that after six decades continued to shine as bright as a ruby. The palate was so finely chiseled that it beggared belief, one of those instances where I might have doubted its authenticity had I not known its impeccable provenance. 

Four First Growths Plus One In-Waiting

The hype that precedes any new Bordeaux vintage is nothing new. Merchants hailed the Bordeaux 1959s as “the vintage of the century” even before the harvest according to Edmund Penning-Rowsell. Was their sales pitch so misplaced? In 1959, all the First Growths delivered unlike in 1961 when Latour is most deified or in 1989 when Haut-Brion is primus inter pares. There is no leader of the pack. Therefore, performance is dependent on provenance and how that particular bottle performs on the day. Maybe it is more interesting to consider where each estate was at that time.

The title of this section refers to the fact that in 1959, Mouton-Rothschild was a Second Growth. Baron Philippe de Rothschild had to wait another 14 years before his wine was finally promoted, but I am sure erudite Vinous readers know that already. I had tasted the quintet together once before, coincidentally at the same friend’s significant birthday celebration ten years earlier. So, I was already aware that the magnificent 1959 Mouton-Rothschild is equal to the quartet of First Growths and, on this occasion, it could be argued that it is the best of all the Left Banks, powder in the keg for Baron Philippe campaigning for promotion. 

We already have the Baron campaigning for promotion. Baron Guy and Elie de Rothschild were in charge of Lafite-Rothschild. Perhaps the 1959 vintage is significant for the rivalry that flared up between the two branches of the Rothschild family. In a game of brinkmanship revealed in letters of correspondence at the time, prior to release, Baron Philippe advocated what ostensibly amounted to price-fixing, so that neither was sold more expensively than the other. I suspect his motivation was not monetary gain, but to serve as evidence that Mouton deserved promotion, after all, the 1855 classification was based on market price, not quality. Did Baron Guy de Rothschild acquiesce to this request? Pas du tout. The 1959 Lafite-Rothschild came out at 11,000 Francs per tonneau one month later than Mouton-Rothschild at 9,650 Francs per tonneau. Baron Philippe privately accused Baron Guy de Rothschild of waiting for Mouton’s release before putting Lafite onto the market with a 15% premium. Baron Guy’s riposte was that at Lafite they prided themselves upon independence, not only from Mouton, but all the other First Growths. It was a number of years plus a new generation of directors before the intra-familial acrimony ebbed.

At the time, the Comte Guillaume de Beaumont was at the helm of Château Latour. It should be noted that the cuverie was little changed from decades earlier. Modern stainless-steel vats replaced the old wooden vats only in 1964. The 1959 Latour was picked around 21 September and the musts were reported to be “rich, gras, coloured and promising. Tumultuous fermentation as it was very hot. The wine has the rôti of 1949 and the ampleur of 1953.” I have argued before that whilst the 1961 Latour is the more impressive wine, the 1959 Latour is the most pleasurable, the voluptuousness of the growing season counterbalancing its preborn austerity and structure. It remains a towering multi-dimensional wine. Bottles with sound provenance could keep going for another six decades. I was lucky to encounter two bottles, the ex-château magnum simply off the bloomin’ charts. 

In 1959 the Ginestet family presided at Château Margaux. It was the last great vintage before a run of disappointing wines in the 1960s and 1970s tarnished its reputation. Blame is often directed towards Pierre Ginestet, though that unfairly ignores the vast improvements that his family made, reconstituting the vineyard from the 1930s, as well as improvements in the winery. This particular bottle of 1959 Château Margaux was a little richer than previous examples encountered over the years, but it was endowed with Burgundy-like purity – certainly superior to the disappointing 1961 and any other release until 1982. 

Finally, the 1959 Haut-Brion and we should include its sibling, La Mission Haut-Brion. At this point in time, the neighboring estates were under different ownership. American financier Clarence Dillon had purchased Haut-Brion for the sum of 2,350,000 Francs in the mid-1930s, the apocryphal story that he had actually intended to buy either Ausone or Cheval Blanc but never made it to Saint-Émilion after getting lost in fog. (I wish the same would happen to me when I get lost in fog). The 1959 Haut-Brion is significant because it was the last vintage overseen by Georges Delmas, before his son Jean-Bernard took the reins in 1960. It was also the year in which its first-year barrel cellar came into use, though as I mentioned before, predates the revolutionary introduction of stainless-steel vats by two years. Henri Woltner had taken over La Mission Haut-Brion upon his father Frédéric’s death in 1933 and fifty years later, sold to Domaine Clarence Dillon SA, uniting the two properties under common ownership. The 1959 Haut-Brion was picked from 24 September to 3 October and I would guess La Mission was around the same time. I have to say, choosing between the two was impossible, though I might opt for the 1959 La Mission Haut-Brion by a dint of freshness. That might well be reflective of that particular bottle on that night as much as anything else. 

Forget the First Growths for a moment because there were other representations on the Left Bank as you will see from my tasting notes. Perhaps this is an opportune moment to regale the astonishing 1959 Domaine de Chevalier, represented by the last remaining magnum from the château’s cellars. This predates the acquisition by the Bernard family in 1983. Claude Ricard was the incumbent proprietor at the time, his father Jean having inherited the estate after his father-in-law Gabriel Beaumartin died in 1942. Ricard was ably assisted by estate manager Louis Grassin, both gentlemen having studied under Prof. Emile Peynaud at the University of Bordeaux. Maybe that explains why postwar bottles of Domaine de Chevalier are consistently stellar. Ricard himself, a classical pianist no less, was known for his perfectionism. In an era when quantity was prioritized over quality, Ricard would ensconce himself in the vineyard during harvest, instructing pickers what fruit to accept and what to reject. This brilliant 1959 Domaine de Chevalier was irrefutable proof that Ricard’s prescient approach towards ensuring only the healthiest fruit entered the cuverie created a raft of astounding wines. At six decades it is not flagging one iota and is equal to the First Growths.    


Proprietor Claude Ricard’s oversaw this magnificent Graves.

Mixed Fortunes On The Right Bank?

It is generally felt that the 1959 Bordeaux vintage favored the Left Bank over the Right Bank. That is because the deep frosts of 1956 devastated Saint-Émilion and especially Pomerol more acutely than appellations partially saved by the regulating influence of the Gironde estuary. Remember that persistent freeze did not just burn nascent buds but killed vines outright. This necessitated wide-scale replanting, ergo these immature vines hampered potential quality. However, even though this is a small sample, the tasting proved that there are plenty of gems on the Right Bank, and it could be argued that it is more a case of antiquated winemaking that could have precluded quality.

Let’s begin with a pair of Saint-Émilions that make sentimental Claret-lovers come over all misty-eyed: Bélair and Magdelaine, God rest their souls. Bélair was one of the most revered Grand Cru Classés and nested at the top of the rankings in early editions of Féret. For example, in the 1898 edition it is ranked second behind neighboring Ausone. That is unsurprising when considering its prime location on the highest point of the limestone plateau. In 1959 the Dubois-Challon family were owners of both Ausone and Bélair, running the two in tandem, though it must be said that they were not doing a great job. Over the years Bélair gradually squandered its reputation that reached a nadir in the 1980s. In 2008, Ets J-P Moueix purchased Bélair and immediately set about renovating the vineyard and reconstructing the winery, a project that continues to this day. It was renamed Bélair-Monange. Four years later, they decided to merge the conjoining Château Magdelaine to create a sizeable 23.5-hectare estate that is the jewel in their crown.

Both bottles came from Edouard Moueix, for whom Bélair-Monange is home. To be honest, I expected it to be a close contest between the two, but without doubt the 1959 Magdelaine was far better, though perhaps it had an unfair advantage in that Moueix advised that magnums show much better than regular bottles. It begs the question whether the best barrels were reserved for larger format bottlings in those days. Most of the cellar-masters who could answer that have long since passed away. The 1959 Magdelaine exhibited beguiling pure red fruit, a cashmere texture and a sense of effortless undiminished by age. By contrast, the 1959 Belair was malodorous and rustic, indicative of wine that might well have been harvested too late and succumbed to volatility during alcoholic fermentation when temperatures were high and vats were unregulated. Perhaps the rot set in earlier than I had presumed? It was an unexpected one-sided contest. 

A bottle of 1959 Ausone poured in Burgundy was inferior to the one poured at the vertical in January 2018 and in any case, this is not a halcyon period for the estate and was fatigued like the Bélair. Much better is the 1959 Canon, one of the last great vintages before hitting the doldrums in the 1970s and 1980s, though pick of the bunch is the stellar 1959 Figeac, this ex-château bottle made by Thierry Manoncourt, the finest of several encountered over the years.

Before crossing the border to Germany, I leave the best to last. The 1959 Vieux-Château-Certan is a truly astonishing Pomerol and this particular bottle ranks among the very best that I have tasted, including one poured a month later as part of a hitherto unpublished vertical. Occasionally you meet a bottle where words seem unable to translate the brilliance of a wine. Georges Thienpont, who had bought the estate in 1923, was still at the estate, but the daily running had passed to his sons Léon and Georges. They had revamped the chai in 1957 so perhaps this assisted them in creating this masterpiece that made everyone around the table swoon and struggle to find enough superlatives. It was perfect.


Contenders for the two greatest Pomerol and Saint-Émilion releases in 1959. A border might separate them and yet they lie very close to each other.

The Riesling (That Never Aged)

Egon Müller was born in August 1959 so I would hope that his father tucked away a few bottles for his son who became the fourth “Egon” to run the famous estate. Two bottles from the vintage were tasted, one in Burgundy where Müller was an invited guest and the second in Bordeaux where he donated a bottle but was unable to attend in person. 

Both bottles of 1959 came from the renowned Scharzhofberger vineyard in Wiltingen albeit at different sweetness levels, one Spätlese and the other Auslese. What struck me about the latter is that in nearly a quarter-century of tasting I cannot remember a Riesling or indeed any white wine so amazingly backward, frozen in time. Should it be scolded for ageing at a glacial pace and not rewarding cellaring? Maybe because of that I took more pleasure from the Spätlese since it had evolved more personality. They are both remarkable wines, ditto an absolute killer bottle of 1959 Zeltliner Wehlener Sonnenuhr Feinste Auslese from Joh. Jos. Prüm. Sebastian Prüm, the father of Dr. Manfred Prüm’s would have made this fabulous wine that lived up to its name and seemed to radiate sunshine across the room. 


I am pretty sure that I did taste the third bottle, the 1959 Niersteiner in this photograph, but I failed to write any tasting note.

Beyond Bordeaux & Burgundy

This article contains a number of other famous estates that were not necessarily at their zenith in this year but nevertheless produced a great wine. Take Vega Sicilia for example. The 1950s are sometimes referred to as “the dark years” for Spain’s most famous vinous export. In January 1952 it was acquired by the Prodes seed company who cared less about the wine operation and more about the fact that the vineyard was merely part of a large bodega whose acreage was devoted to cereal crops and cattle. The fact that Vega Sicilia was unusual in bottling wines themselves carried little prestige in a region where consumers enjoyed carafes of bulk-produced wine. Yet this 1959 Unico paid little heed to circumstances at that time because it sported a vital and glorious menthol-tinged nose lifted by anticipated volatility, the palate rich and exuberant, to the point where you could easily imagine it lasting another 20 or 30 years.

It was paired with a bottle of 1959 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Clos des Pape. They were one of the first to bottle their own wine in the southern Rhône from 1896 and when this wine was made, Régis Avril, grandfather of current proprietor Paul Vincent Avril, was at the helm. Since de-stemming was introduced in 1991, I would assume that this bottle would have included whole bunches. Ancient Châteauneuf-du-Pape is rarely seen and, in my experience, can be hit and miss, but this was definitely the former, kirsch and medicinal scents bursting on the nose, the palate decadent and Port-like yet remaining beautifully balanced. 


Final Thoughts

These “twice-in-a-lifetime” dinners proved that the reputation of the 1959 vintage is completely justified and perhaps even under-estimated. Provenance was a key factor to the performance of these bottles but putting this aside, they confirm that the very best continue to cruise at high altitude. What I adore about the 1959 is their buvabilité. I remember discussing the French word for drinkability with Bertrand de Villaine a couple of years ago, and he winced when I mentioned the word. Perhaps it is more pejorative in France, synonymous with easy-drinking wines, so-called glou glou that cannot entertain either complexity or longevity. On the contrary, I regard the term as a virtue, after all, what is the raison d’être of any wine if not to be consumed and give pleasure. That is what 1959s have always done in exemplary fashion with no detriment to precision, terroir expression or as it has transpired complexity and longevity. Perhaps the fact that like the 1985s or 2009s they dish out so much sensory satisfaction, we incorrectly assume they cannot be profound or intellectual. 

It had been an embarrassment of riches. I did not even mention that a 1959 Petrus was opened in Burgundy, sadly dead on arrival or that when I re-examined the photos, there were a number of bottles left unopened. My appreciation towards the 1959 vintage has never really changed since my first days in wine. 

Who knows? Maybe one day my musical taste will change, and I’ll be snapping my fingers to Ornette Coleman. Just don’t ask me to grow a goatee.

(Thanks to everyone who brought bottles to these gatherings. Soon we will all meet again.)


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