First to the Carruades de Lafite, it was exquisite. In the first place, 1990 was a good vintage overall with Michael Broadbent rating the year as a 5 star vintage – a promising start then. With 20 years of bottle age, the wine is now ripe for drinking with the tannins having mellowed into the background allowing the fruit flavours to fully come through. A good nose of blackcurrant, mocha and a touch of pepper follow through on the palate but what is most impressive is the complexity and the depth of flavour. The wine keeps on giving in the mouth and the finish too and really points to the idea that this, despite being a second wine, outclasses almost anything else bottled helping the amateur drinker (like us) understand what quality really means and helps demonstrate what a truly great claret should taste like. Certainly this wine is better than other rated growths (including we think the super seconds) and gives many first growths a good run for the money.
With the Pavillon Rouge (1996), you just have to get excited. Of the grand vin Chateau Margaux, Robert Parker describes it as ‘a modern day legend’ and goes on to say that the 1996 vintage of Margaux ‘continues to give every indication of being one of the all time great clarets’. Rated 98-100 Parker points, Chateau Margaux carries a price tag of £500+ so is out the range of most. But in the year when the grand vin is so good, the second wine must surely follow n’est-ce-pas? What’s more, the Pavillon Rouge retails at around £80 a bottle so is somewhat more affordable. Writing this, I still have a glass of it in front of me and it is delightful. A couple of hours after opening the nose is still quite closed and being 6 years younger than the Lafite, modest tannins are still present but the overwhelming sensation that you’ll get on this wine is the big fruit flavours in the mouth, the blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries. Parker describes the grand vin as ‘massive, but not heavy’, and so it is with the Pavillon - massive. It’s an utter joy to drink.
So which is it, the Carruades de Lafite 1990 or the Pavillon Rouge 1996? As always it depends (and not least on your budget). The Lafite is out of the range of most and perhaps needs to be rated versus the other first growth wines given its price point which is quite remarkable. As for the Pavillon Rouge, it’s not as complex as the Lafite and the finish is good but not as extensive (in this sense it is typical of a second wine), but this is a serious fun wine or a fun serious wine whichever way you like. The Lafite meanwhile is a serious serious wine. Both are great but money has to be a consideration. We might if a good deal comes along stock up on Pavillon Rouge and anticipate the joy of drinking but sadly, when the current case of Carruades de Lafite is exhausted, we’ll have to move on and merely relish the memories. But oh happy memories, oh happy drinking.