A Bordeaux Legend in SF - Dinner with Jean-Michel Cazes
"Don't expect me to describe all the words and flavors...who ever eats pencil shavings? What matters is balance, texture, elegance." - Jean-Michel Cazes
I adore this quote from last night's event. Not only does it contain a lost-in-translation gentle humor of a brilliant, sharp, 83 year-old icon, but it also seems to epitomize an ethic that I've heard on multiple occasions from Jean-Michel Cazes. He isn't one for scores, flavors, or technicalities. Sure, he has a few favorite overall vintages and plenty of stories to tell. But when he addresses a wine, he speaks of specific bottles and does so in a way that seems almost elemental. He is certainly a luminary and one of Bordeaux's most prominent figures over the past four decades. For all this and more, we were incredibly fortunate to be able to host him and his wife for what ended up being an impactful and dynamic event at San Francisco’s Mathilde.
The evening started with the 2016 Lynch Bages Blanc - a wine that's passionate following and limited nature would imply a stratospheric price, but remains one of the most reasonably priced wines you'll find in Bordeaux. We take all we can get every year, but that usually amounts to a handful of cases. Cazes mused that back in the day the white was a friends-and-family off-the-books bottling that amounted to about 300 bottles a year. One year an inspector from the French government came by and asked for an accounting of those bottles, asserting that everything produced needed to be on record. After absorbing a steep fine for this infraction, Cazes declared that he would embrace the wine and sold it commercially for the first time in 1990. Last night we started with the 2016 and it showed lovely texture and depth. We also just received our allocation of the 2017 which is a bit richer and rounded due to a higher component of Semillon.
One of the big surprises of the night was the 2014 (sold out, but we will be getting more soon). The last time I tasted it was about two-and-a-half years ago and found a charming Lynch Bages that was solid for the vintage. Last night? It was quintessential Pauillac - deep, layered, and accessible without surrendering anything for it. It was pure Cabernet to the core. While the 2015 next to it was terrific, many folks had a strong preference and adoration for the 2014...even as the night went on. The 2015 just landed and seemed loaded with potential, but there is no denying that the 2014 had so much on offer, even at this young stage.
The dinner started off with a lovely 2001 Ormes de Pez from Cazes' St-Estephe property, drinking perfectly at the moment with years to go. A charming claret if there ever was one, and great with the meal. The next pairing brought to light how terrific the wines were with the food. 2010 Echo needed a bit of time to open up, and 2006 Lynch Bages was open from the get-go. But both changed dynamically with a quail dish and people started admiring the wines for different reasons altogether.
The heavyweights came out after that, starting with a pairing of the 2005 and 2009 vintages. Again, these were experienced in stages – the 2005 was initially adored for its classic profile. But as the duck confit was served and everybody had a chance to get to know the 2009, its caliber was undeniable. At the end of the night, there were certainly some strong votes for 2009 being a favorite of the entire event. That’s some tough competition, especially considering the 2000 from magnum and the 1996 from 750ml that followed. The 2000 tasted extremely young in large format and seemed to have so much depth and so many layers in reserve that might not unravel for years to come. The 1996, however, was in a gorgeous spot – on the early side of maturity with extremely complex aromatics and a luxurious palate. While other 1996 Bordeaux we’ve tasted have been tough, and 2000s tend to be more giving, the opposite seemed true for Lynch Bages on this night.
It is clear to see why Lynch Bages is so universally adored – the perfect Pauillac poster child for one of the world’s most cherished regions, and a price that often defies the first-growth caliber of what is in the bottle. Very few complete Bordeaux collections are without a significant portion of Lynch Bages, and any lucky collector from anywhere would be lucky to have squirrelled away a few bottles. It is also one of the most dependable wines of the modern era of Bordeaux. All of this is encapsulated in the humility, generosity, and kindness of Jean-Michel Cazes. As his longtime friend and co-owner at K&L Clyde Beffa likes to say, “no one has done more for Bordeaux in the U.S.” With the enthusiasm and appreciation that was showed at this tremendous event, that kind of high regard is not too far from the truth.
- Ryan Moses