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Chateau Palmer 1991

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The other day I went to a vertical tasting of Chateau Palmer, the Bordeaux third-growth that's generally considered the best wine of Margaux after Chateau Margaux itself. Bernard de Laâge de Meux, Palmer's communication director, was there to conduct the event, which mostly involved presenting the various wine journalists present with a series of foil-covered bottles and smiling with a kind of offhand Bordelais devilishness as we tried to guess which vintages we were tasting.

I'd like to say that I nailed them all, but I'd like to say that I live in a villa at Cap-Ferrat and drive a Ferrari, too. Instead I drive a '93 Volvo and live in Brooklyn. But at least I didn't make a sad fool of myself, which is always comforting. All of the wines were very good (not surprising) and some were great. My favorites (slightly more surprising) were two less well regarded vintages. First there was the 1998, which had a fragrant, lightly gamy aroma with a slight and strangely appealing band-aid-box note, a dense, tongue-coating texture, and graceful black currant and black cherry fruit. About this, M. de Laâge de Meux (I sort of love writing that name-makes me feel like Stendhal or something) said, "A vintage of Palmer takes about ten years to show its aromatic complexity," to which I say, "Yep, sure seems that way."

The second of my favorites-along with several other people at the table-was the 1991, which was particularly surprising given it was paired against the much more acclaimed 1990. The color had a ruddy, beginning-to-fade quality, the aroma was full of tobacco, gamy secondary notes, licorice, and berries; in the mouth it was supple, lovely, fully developed, with dried fruit and plum cake notes, sort of sweet and savory all at once. Really wonderful wine from a frost-damaged and rainy vintage, and all the more mysterious for that. There doesn't seem to be much of it around, but what there is seems to run about $120 a bottle-not cheap, but given 2005 Palmer futures are somewhere around $250 to $300, you know, the price tag doesn't seem so bad after all...

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