IN THE WORLD of wine the terms "verticle tasting" and "horizontal tasting" should not be interpreted to mean that the tasters involved are either standing or reclining, Roman fashion. A verticle tasting is one in which a series of differnet vintages of wine are sampled. For a horizontal tasting, the wines are all of the same vintage.
Lately I've had the opportunity to participate in two tastings, one of each type, involving classified growth wines of Bordeaux. (Classified Boreaux, those wines accorded aristocratic status by separate rankings of the Medoc, Grave, Pomerol and St. Emilion, have become so expensive that one scarcely meets them socially -- the dinner table -- anymore.)
The first was a presentation of seven wines from a single chateau, Gloria in the Medoc township of St. Julien.
Wine buffs will quickly point out that Gloria is not part of the famous classification of 1855. The property has been assembled from parcels of classified vineyard by Henri Martin, who is also the mayor of St. Julien. Martin made his first wines only in 1972, but it now sells at prices comparable to many older wines of great pedigree and is included by Alexis Lichine on the fourth rung (superior growths) of his proposed moderniation of the classifications. Gloria, which is imported and given wide distribution in this country by Chateau & Estates Wines, typically has the characteristics that have made St. Julien's so popular with red wine-lovers. It has a fragrant bouquet, matures relatively early and, when mature, is soft and fruity but with considerable finesse.
The tasting was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in the morning while palates and taste buds still were fresh. Martin was on hand, but his son-in-law, Jean-Louis Triaud, presented them. Ab Simon, president of Chateau & Estates, provided a commentary. The wines were from the vintages of 1976, 1973, 1970, 1966, 1964, 1961 and 1959. They had been shipped from France earlier this year.
Not surprisingly, the 1970, from a fine year, made a very good impression. A wine of deep color with a full, haunting bouquet, it showed signs of real elegance. But Triaud estimated the wine is still two or three years from being completely ready to drink. The most antipicated wine, however, was the 1961. Almost 20 years after that legendary small harvest, the wines of 1961 have yet to bloom fully. This one, made from 95 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, has enormous concentration and still retains a full measure of tannin; an imposing wine rather than a charming one. But very imposing.
The 1976 appears to be a winner, showing good color and balance with a long finish. Triaud said they are drinking it now at Gloria despite the still noticable tannin, and he thinks it will mature quite rapidly. The 1973 was less impressive, lacking the brilliant color of the 1976 and its complexity. This wine is ready to drink, but the consumer might find the 1974 (sampled separately the night before the tasting) more appealing.
As there is none readily available, the 1959 Gloria was valuable only as a conversation piece and as an example of the long life span of good Bordeaux. There was a not-at-all-unpleasant mustiness in the nose of the wine, which, although it has begun to shrink, seemed well composed and sturdy; dignified, in a word.
The two wines form the mid-1960s, the '66 and the '64, caused some controversy, perhaps because various bottles served in separate parts of the room made different impressions. My '66 was a disappointment, a stark wine with a mushroom-like bouquet and quite lacking in nuance or the fruit one associates with mature St. Julien. Others found it admirable. The '64 I was served, on the other hand, was light with a very short finish, but conveyed a charming sense of raspberries and sunshine. (The grapes at this chateau were picked before the troublesome rains that year.) The wine from other bottles was pronounced faded and disappointing.
In summary, the wines of Chateau Gloria show the discernable character and style that can be imparted by a strong-minded winemaker such as Henri Martin. Those currently available in this area are the 1976, '74 and '73. There may be some '71 and '70 here and there, but not much. Prices will range from $6 to $15.
The second event, last weekend, was a blind tasting of 11 classified Bordeaux from the highly praised 1966 vintage, plus an American "ringer," the first cabernet sauvignon produced by the Robert Mondavi Winery (in 1966). Unfortunately, for those who like cross-reference, the 1966 Gloria did not appear in this tasting.
When all the numbers were counted, group rankings produced the following finish: Latour, Lafite-Rothschild, Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Montrose; Mouton-Rothschild, Margaux, Petrus, Palmer, Haut Brion, Mondavi, Figeac.
As usual, however, numbers don't tell the whole story. Only the Figeac and the Mondavi, both very tired wines, failed to receive strong support from one or more tasters. The Latour, still strongly tannic, is far from fully ready to drink and the Mouton had a depth of color and power that set it apart from all other wines in the tasting. As a whole, despite their age, most of the wines had yet to come into true harmony. They were somewhat hard and lacking in charm, characteristics this vintage has shown since it was first released.
Those with classified '66s tucked away need not rush to drink them, but may wonder still whether the wines ever will develop to their potential. That same question has been asked about the 1961 vintage from Bordeaux, and it has yet to be answered. Doug Burdette of the Calvert Wine Shop, host of the tasting, pointed out that Harry Waugh, the legendary English wineman, had predicted that these '66s should be ready in 1980. They aren't.