For a moment, imagine yourself an invited guest at an exclusive dinner at a First Growth Chateau in the Medoc. It is mid-June, and everyone who is anyone in the wine world is in Bordeaux to attend VinExpo to make deals or discover the latest trends. You would expect to see such familiar figures as Margrit Mondavi, the Swiss born VP of Cultural Events for Robert Mondavi Winery; the publishers and editors of magazines like Wine & Spirits and Wine Spectator; and of course the owners and key team members at several top Chateaux. You might also expect a fairy tale chateau, gorgeous grounds, perfect weather, and a showing of the region’s best wines.
That was the case on June 21, 2009, eve of the summer solstice, historically one of the most celebrated days of the year. The Celts and Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing and bonfires to help increase the sun's energy. The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Goddess of Light. Guests of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild were lucky enough to spend the Solstice enjoying the celebrated Lafite-Rothschild 1978 and several other classified wines from the region.
If you are new to wine, the term “classified” might seem initially confusing. According to Dewey Markham Jr., writer of 1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification, in the 1640s fashionable wine drinkers asked merchants for a wine from the Medoc region of Bordeaux in order to be assured of a quality product, a known value somewhat like the Prada or Louis Vuitton handbag of today. With the passage of time, customers’ requests became more and more focused, homing in on particular communes in the Medoc that had developed commercial reputations for better wine-making techniques or perhaps better located vineyards. And to this day, the top classified growth, Chateau LaFite-Rothschild, is considered one of the international benchmarks of fine wine today.
The evening started with an al fresco reception, guests having the luxury of sampling several classified Sauternes and Medoc wines along with hors d’oeuvres before being ceremonially summoned to dinner in the caves, where barrels of fine wine are matured before release. Dinner was an extremely formal affair, with key figures at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and the Medoc leaders giving speeches in English and French about the history of the Medoc wine trade, the challenges of the current economy, and the value of classified growth wines. The multi-course dinner included magnificent pairings with wines such as Chateau Du Tertre 2006, Chateau Giscombe 2001, Chateau Du Tertre 1989, Chateau Giscombe 1989, a jeroboam of 1978 Chateau LaFite-Rothschild, and Chateau Doisy Daene 1991 for dessert — still very fresh and luscious.
In the end, the evening was a celebration of life — especially the French sense of life, as its culture offers the best of the sensual world. Under the French touch, gastronomic cuisine and elegant service are elevated to an art form. And since the first classification in 1855, the production of fine wine has been taken so seriously and passionately that we who are alive today can still claim its benefit. Discovering Bordeaux — its fine wine producing regions, the history of the Medoc, the 1855 Classification systems — is both a process and a passion. It is a time capsule of history captured in a jeroboam of 1978 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. A votre sante!