Stunning Vintages, A Hundred Years in the Making

By Serena Sutcliffe
Master of Wine, Serena Sutcliffe, Honorary Chairman of Sotheby’s Wine, gives her verdict on 100 years of family winemaking in Bordeaux.

H istory can be a dry subject, but not at a Bordeaux classed growth that has been in the same family for a century. The Cordiers have owned the great St. Julien property Château Talbot since 1918 and Nancy Bignon-Cordier, her husband Jean-Paul and their three children decided to mark the event with a stunning tasting and lunch – their next best decision was to include me amongst the invitees. Nothing inspires me more than starting the day with a 1919 Claret, still ‘sweet’, with peaty allure and charm – and this was just a half bottle!

Serena Sutcliffe, MW, Honorary Chairman, Sotheby’s Wine
Serena Sutcliffe, MW, Honorary Chairman, Sotheby’s Wine. ©NicolasSeurot

Thereafter, things only got better. One of the reasons we love serious Claret is its ability to mature, evolve and develop and we really tested this theory over the next hours. Talbot sits on an important gravelly plateau and exudes fruity smoothness in every vintage, superbly drinkable at every stage of its life. A magnum of the 1926 proved the point, with a bouquet of intoxicating beauty and flavours of cherries – we were all astonished. The soft 1934 had elements of violets, cocoa and cinnamon and was a winner for the decade. Then came the big gun, a magnum of 1945 – I can only call this a knock-out blow, with its classic, mouth-coating cassis and thick prunes and plumes on the palate. The ultimate kindness is to let the ‘taster’ go back and have another sip…..

Nancy Bignon-Cordier, her husband Jean-Paul Bignon, and their children, Marguerite, Philipinne and Gustave Bignon
Nancy Bignon-Cordier, her husband Jean-Paul Bignon, and their children, Marguerite, Philipinne and Gustave Bignon. ©NicolasSeurot

Turning to the Fifties, as one does, there was the silky sweet aniseed of the 1955, but then the explosive 1962, ripe, fresh, seductive and more-ish. Everyone was captivated by this and they were right. There was a magnum of 1975, structured and liqueur-rich and a noble, precise 1986 which I thought bore similarities to the splendidly opulent 1996. The sumptuous, mocha 2005 has a way to go, as did the almost edible 2010.

By now, we were positively glowing and repaired to lunch, a ‘tour de force’ prepared by a young team from a Bordeaux restaurant no one should miss, Garopapilles. The family’s dachshund was also interested in the fine fodder……Led in by Talbot’s rare white wine, we then broached the blissfully fresh 1989 in magnum, before being totally spoilt by the 1947, incredibly dense and sweet. Don’t ask me to adjudicate between the 1945 and 1947 – I need more practice. The fresh yet melting 2000 came with the cheese – nowadays many gastronomes go younger with the last red wine to leave one feeling spry.

Château Talbot and vineyards
Château Talbot and vineyards. ©NicolasSeurot

And we did all skip away from the feast, utterly convinced that Château Talbot is in the right hands. The Cordier ancestors should be very proud of the family now at the helm.

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