I am in the middle of our annual family holiday in Wales and have been availing myself happily of the pleasures of my father-in-law’s wine cellar. Bill got interested in wine as a graduate student at Oxford, where he learned about the stuff in the cellars of his College. While there are some prize bottles in his current cellar, I wouldn’t characterize him as a collector. His cellar is a living thing where wines don’t go to die, but to age until such a time as they are ready to be enjoyed. So, at dinner every night for the last two weeks, I have been enjoying at dinner red wines a decade or so old, especially from Bordeaux.
The cornerstone, so to speak, of Bill’s cellar is Château Cissac, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated claret from the Left Bank. Cissac is classified as a Cru Bourgeois. I have been tasting and drinking Bill’s Cissac for more than 20 years, and it’s lovely to come back to this wine. I have tasted Cissac fro the storied vintages of 1961 and 1982, both of which were, as one would expect, delicious. I’ve also tried all the zeroes and fives from 1990 onward, which were (likely still are) very, very good. For a few years, Bill would often would present at dinner a mini-vertical of 1995 and 1996, and it was fun to see how each evolved. The ’96 showed better at first, but was eventually overtaken by the ’95.
This year, on a few occasions, we have dined with the 2008 and the 2009 in magnum. Both have been lovely Cabernet Sauvignon dominated, Merlot seasoned and Petit Verdot garnished glasses of perfectly ripe black current, lively acidity framed by a velvet curtain of fine tannins. I’m on holiday, so I haven’t taken notes, and because I tasted the two wines separately what I remember is what they have in common, not what distinguishes one from the other. That’s actually why I like the wine so much anyway: there is a consistent house style, developed by the late Louis Vialard and maintained by his daughter Danielle. For this reason, Cissac is one of my gold standards of red wine. I don’t mean that it’s better than other red wines, but just that it’s point of comparison (especially for wines made Cabernet Sauvignon).
I am just now starting my own cellar, and I haven’t found my ‘Cissac’ yet, although there are a few contenders. I hope I find one, but for now the real one once or twice a year will do just fine.