Happy Bastille Day!


I have been fortunate enough to celebrate La Fête Nationale Francaise – Le Quatorze Juillet, a holiday marking the anniversary of the fall on July 14, 1789 of the Bastille, in Paris on a number of occasions. As readers of this blog know, I was a Francophile in my early life and majored in French in college. My father has always been somewhat obsessed with France and the lifestyle and food so it is a natural for me to think of today as a celebration. When I was in high school we spent an incredible Bastille Day at the Paris Hilton looking at the fireworks and the festivities on the Champs de Mars. Which reminds me of that incredible Cole Porter song, sung by Ella Fitzgerald,  “I love Paris.”

I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris

Today I want to write about a wine I tasted this June on a special occasion, my parent’s 61st wedding anniversary. It was a wine from 1979 that my uncle had collected and which came to us after he passed away some years ago. My uncle was an avid wine collector and particularly liked Bordeaux. He was a very classy fellow and thus my expectations from this wine were high. I didn’t know what to expect from this wine both because of the vintage and the storage over many life changes in the history of its owners..

First let me say that the wine was ethereal. Complex, layered and rich, it was everything I had hoped and more including boasting a vibrant color and beautiful aromas and flavors that were lively, nuanced and evolved but not gone after 41 years. Spice, stewed fruit, bramble, earth and cedar were still evident as were fine grained tannins and enough acidity to hold up.  Robert Parker said in 1989 that the wine had another 15 years. He was 16 years short in my view or even more. We have one more bottle and I think we will keep it for a bit longer.

I knew little about this property which is apparently considered to be the 6th Premier Cru since 2009. The first five being those of the 1855 classification plus Mouton Rothschild.

La Mission Haut-Brion is owned by the Domaine Clarence Dillon  which also owns Chateau Haut Brion, Château Quintus and Clarendelle. Domaine Clarence Dillion  has  owned La Mission since 1983. The history of the Chateau however is much longer and complicated, starting in  1540 when a plot of land was purchased which eventually became the starting point for La Mission Haut-Brion, with it being under the Catholic Church for many years, attacked and sold off during the French Revolution and passed among a number of families during it’s long history.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion’s vineyard’s are among  the communes of Talence and Pessac. It is part of the Pessac-Léognan appellation which is North of Graves. The property just opposite Château Haut-Brion. It has the same gravelly terroir  with small stones of various types of quartz. The subsoil is composed of clay, sand, limestone and falun (limestone shell) and it has great drainage. The vineyard is 29 hectares or about 72 acres almost all planted to red grape varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). Only 4 are devoted to white grape varieties (Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc). 

I found this description of the 1979 vintage from a site called idealwine.com.

A good vintage with an abundant harvest. The wines from this vintage are fruity and harmonious, and often wrongly considered as inferior to the 1978 wines. The great wines have today proven their worth and are truly delicious, like Latour, Léoville Las-Cases, Haut-Brion and la Mission Haut-Brion. The 1979 vintage, underestimated and under priced are very good value for money.

According to another site called, the Wine Cellar Insider,  the 1979 harvest was very abundant, the most since 1934.

Much of the summer was cool, but dry. Things improved in September.  However, the wines were well priced at the time because of the glut in the marketplace which was caused by all the back stock that stores and merchants everywhere were not able to sell. Bordeaux was in the doldrums at the time and people were still not buying wine. 1979 Bordeaux wine is in many ways similar to 1981 Bordeaux. The 1979 Bordeaux wine was difficult to move as many stores and negociants still had ample stocks of 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978 Bordeaux wine to sell. That does not even take into account all the unsold wine from 1972, 1973 and 1974. The best 1979 Bordeaux wines were produced in Pomerol and Pessac Leognan.

As I have little experience with vintage Bordeaux, I can’t really comment on the 1979 compared to the 1981 or the mythical 1982 vintage. I can say the wine was exquisite and I look forward to my next peek into the world of vintage Bordeaux for my birthday later this week.

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