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How Manuel got to taste the '61 Latour

  I am currently running a feature on "Visitors' Top Wines of 1998". When wine-lover Manuel Camblor from San Juan, Puerto Rico sent me his, I was delighted to see a truly legendary wine there: the Château Latour from 1961. Widely regarded as one of the finest Clarets ever made, and arguably therefore, one of the greatest wines ever made, I asked Manuel under what circumstances he had a chance to taste this vinous superstar. His answer was so entertaining that he's given me permission to reproduce it here...

Just wanted to say that the '61 Latour was a tremendous stroke of luck for me. Really. The story behind it is, in briefest, the following:

On 19 December I went to a wine shop here in San Juan. The management had invited me to a tasting of the Champagnes they represent in Puerto Rico, Piper-Heidseck and Krug - a mighty significant tasting in itself that developed into a noisy party in true Caribbean spirit.

At one point after the formal tasting had ended and the revelry begun, I got up to use the toilet. On the way there, I noticed a cordoned-off alcove in which a private tasting was taking place. The participants were all distinguished looking gentlemen in - I'm guessing here - their fifties and sixties. One of the shop's employees was passing by and I asked him who these gentlemen were. He said they were a group known as the Cofradía del Vino ("Brotherhood of Wine") and that they were tasting 1959 and 1961 Bordeaux. He told me the names of each of the participants and I recognized the last name he gave me as that of a prominent newspaperman, Señor José Luis Díaz de Villegas (who uses the sobriquet "Paco Villón" to sign his newspaper writings - he is indeed of the old school, using a hispanization of the name of that medieval vintner-thief-poet).

As things would have it, the gentleman in question stood up and stepped out of the alcove. The shop employee took advantage of the moment and introduced us. The gentleman, who happens to be the food and wine columnist of the main newspaper in Puerto Rico, started asking me about myself. I told him about my interest in wine and congratulated him on the tasting he was part of. At that point he excused himself and ducked into the loo.

When he came out he grabbed me by the elbow and guided me to the table where the Cofradía was busy discussing the wines tasted. He picked up a glass from the table and said "Try this..." It was an extremely fragrant wine full of cherry and plum flavor and with a note of pepperiness. I asked what it was and the old gentleman said "Cos '61." Then he picked up a glass of something much lighter and translucent. Delicate perfume of crushed red berries and violets. Very ethereal. It was Lafite '59. Next, he gave me something heartier and to me somewhat familiar. I kid you not, I thought I knew the wine from before... Lynch-Bages. I said this to the old gentleman and he said "Bravo! Lynch-Bages '61" It was a wild guess and I don't want you to think that I'm the kind of person who goes around trying to impress others with my tasting abilities. It's just that I'd had Lynch-Bages '61 once before, in Germany, and it was truly memorable. I wasn't just recognizing the identity of a wine, I was reliving a lot of personal memories very quickly...

The gentleman gave me three more wines to sample: Latour '59 and '61. The '59 was a bit faded. The '61, on the other hand, was still full of life and great potential (now I understand Michael Broadbent when he says that this is a wine to last well into the next century...). There was also Mouton '61, a smooth wine slightly past its peak, though still showing plenty of lovely blackcurrant fruit. Don José Luis said that of all he loved a '59 Cheval Blanc the most, with the '61 Latour coming a close second.

What can I say, Tom? My knees were shaking for hours after I parted ways with that amazingly generous gentleman who had taken me, a complete stranger, and given me a wine experience to remember for the rest of my life.