The Setting: A hot sultry evening in Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery
The Characters: Two distinguished gentlemen from the World of Wine engaged in a public tête-à-tête under the silent gaze of gods, nymphs, muses, warriors and fauns.
This was July’s offering in the “Bringing The Wine Geese Home” calendar, which saw Wine Geese author and local historian Ted Murphy in conversation with 8th generation Bordeaux wine merchant and descendent of Cork nobility, Pierre Lawton. Despite the soaring outside temperatures, a large flock of wine-geese enthusiasts had gathered in the Crawford’s sculpture room for this Bordeaux tasting amidst the sculptures – the airy room which is home to Cork’s biggest collection of Greco-Roman statues provided a welcome cooling backdrop to this hotly-anticipated evening.
The preceding Wine Geese events have been bringing winemakers with Irish roots to Cork to showcase their wines and winemaking practices, but this event offered an alternative slant: Pierre isn’t a winemaker as such, he is one of the most respected Bordeaux-based négociants, specializing in high-end chateaux bottled wines. A position that sees him regularly dining at Lafite or Mouton and other top Chateaux as the quatorzien (14th guest), called in by superstitious Chateau owners to round out numbers seated at the dining table. This enviable status means Pierre has at his disposal a rich store of tales to regale and charm an audience with. We were more than entertained by stories featuring Greta Garbo, playing backgammon with Philippe de Rothschild and the tipple preferred by Bordeaux aristocracy at Christmas – a day in the life of a Bordeaux Wine Merchant…..
….a Wine Merchant whose family has been selling wine since 1739 in Bordeaux. However, as Ted Murphy explained, this great merchant family’s links stretch far beyond the Quai des Chartrons to another great port city of that era: their history can be traced back to 18th Century Cork, where Lawton was one of the prominent merchant names of the time. Ted’s extensive research, chronicled in his book “A Kingdom of Wine”, reveals that the plot of land occupied by Cork’s General Post Office was formerly a busy quay, known as Lawtons Quay, where boats docked to load and unload their valuable cargo. Around that time, the Lawtons also played a law-enforcement role as sheriffs, later paradoxically taking on the role of pirates. Hugh Lawton, a direct ancestor of Pierre’s, was appointed Mayor of Cork City in 1776, and as testament to his time in office, an enormous portrait of Hugh in all his mayoral finery hangs above the main staircase in the Crawford, which, thanks largely to efforts by both Ted and Pierre, has been lovingly restored to its former glory. How fitting then that that an evening celebrating one of the great Wine Geese families should take place in Cork’s main art gallery!
Having set the scene, Ted entrusted us to Pierre to guide us through the tasting. This was a horizontal tasting – same vintage, different wines. Pierre had carefully chosen wines from the exceptional 2009 vintage and from 3 of the great appellations in the Haut Medoc: St Julien, St Estephe and Pauillac that he felt represented the different village styles of the Haut-Médoc perfectly. It seems there is no Cru Classé worth its salt that Pierre’s company “Alias Bordeaux” doesn’t peddle – and the final wine – a great “Irish” Wine from Chateau Lynch-Bages – demonstrated this perfectly.
Wine 1: Chateau Clauzet Saint Estephe 2009. Easy-drinking, well integrated acidity, good structure and ripe supple tannins. Fruit-forward with blackberry and dark cherry. Some liquorice notes and a hint of oak. A good old-fashioned Bordeaux!
Wine 2: Chateau Branaire Ducru Saint Julien 2009. Deep and dark with a classic Cabernet Sauvignon nose and a hint of oak. Gorgeous texture with refreshing acidity and ripe firm tannins that don’t overwhelm. Flavours of blueberries and cassis overlaid with some floral notes and a fine layer of oak. Smooth and complex with a beautiful finish. Still tastes a touch on the youthful side – I’ve made a mental note to try this again in a few years.
Wine 3: Chateau Clerc Milon Pauillac 2009. Fifth growth from the Mouton fold. Deep and intensely dark. Coffee, forest fruits, liquorice and the faintest whiff of flint on the nose. Medium-bodied with a silky texture and juicy, concentrated ripe black cherry and plum. Excellent balance with a lingering finish. Delicious now, but undoubtedly with many better years ahead
Wine 4: Chateau Lynch Bages Pauillac 2009. Where to start???? I think I’ll start with the finish – every time I taste Lynch-Bages, I’m blown away by how long the flavours linger after the wine has been dispensed with. Despite its age (or lack of), this is remarkably soft and quite feminine. The tannins firm, but velvety. Plums, cassis, figs, cedar, and smoke – they’re all there. Perfectly polished – an excellent example of fine Bordeaux. Imagine what it will be like in a few years time!
A vast array of styles, but with a shared common trait –all extremely drinkable despite their youth. This brought me back to a another Wine Geese event earlier in the year when Master of Wine, Jane Boyce, told us how the 2009 “en primeur” tastings were a joy that year due to the unusually soft tannins even when the wines were still in cask.
Pierre’s choice was impeccable, demonstrating the best Bordeaux has to offer from everyday quaffers to those special occasion wines. Not an advocate of too much fuss or overly technical terms often used in the world of wine. “My advice: just enjoy the wine! Don’t be prejudiced by what you read!” Simple, but sound advice indeed!
We would like to thank Pierre Lawton for taking the time to travel to Cork and share his stories and wines with us; to Dr. Ted Murphy for inviting Pierre to Cork, and for his fascinating introduction, not to mention all the work he has tirelessly carried out over the years on the subject of the Wine Geese. Finally, we would like to thank Suzanne and all the Team in The Crawford Art Gallery for making the beautiful Sculpture Room available for the evening!