Monday, June 20, 2011

1982 Bordeaux Tasting at the Bull and Bear

The now-legendary 1982 vintage is considered a marker in the history of Bordeaux wines due to (i) exceptional wines across the region and (ii) the emergence of Robert Parker as a force to be reckoned with in the wine-prognostication arena.  Propelled by the siren song of the vintage, a group of us got together at the Bull and Bear Restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria to taste a representative sample of wines from this noted vintage.  The results of that tasting are reported herein.

The touchstones of the vintage were (i) a successful and populous flowering in June and (ii) heat throughout the summer capped by a September heatwave.  The large crop of super-ripe that was harvested produced wines which were, according to the NY Times, "rich, supple, tremendously fruity, full-bodied, and already drinkable."

Skeptics took the position that the wines from the 1982 vintage lacked balance and were destined for short shelf lives.  Robert Parker stood alone in describing this as one of the all-time great vintages; and history has borne him out.  In a 2000 retrospective tasting of 61 of the  wines from 1982 Parker assigned 100-point scores to Lafite, Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Pichon Lalande, Leoville Las Cases, and Lafleur.

The tasting was divided into five red flights, and a sixth flight which had one white wine (Chateau Laville Haut-Brion Blanc) and a Sauternes (Chateau d'Yquem).  Each of the red flights was associated with a Bordeaux commune: Pomerol (I), St. Julien (II), St. Estephe (III), Pauillac (IV), and Pessac-Leognan (V).  Chateau La Lagune does not fall into any of the foregoing communes so it was arbitrarily assigned to Flight IV.

Flight I: Chateau Certan de May, Chateau L'Evangile, and Chateau Latour à Pomerol.

The first wine tasted was the Certan de May, a 98 point wine as rated by Parker.  A slight hint of green on the nose accompanying aromas of butternut, smoky vanillin, sweet herbs, red fruits and cedar.  Slight oiliness on the nose.  On the palate a round mouthfeel, tobacco, vegetality, with medium acid and a slight drying characteristic.

The L'Evangile was rated 96 points by Parker.  Aromas of dried rose petals, potpourri, acorn-fed meat, prosciutto, sugar cane, and cedar box.  On the palate reinforcement of aromas along with a chocolate creaminess and a long finish.  This wine was judged to be the wine of the flight by participants.

The Latour à Pomerol was rated 94 points by Parker in 2009.  On the nose carnation, smoke, cigar box. More of a Medoc than a Pomerol feel on the palate. Short, hollow finish.  Definitely the least complex of the wines in this flight.

Flight II: Leoville Barton, Gloria, and Leoville Las Cases

The Leoville Barton was rated 90 points by Parker.  Soil, wet stones, mint and vanilla on the nose.  Rich, almost creamy on the palate.  One dimensional. Adynamic finish.  Turned out to be the least complex of the wines in the flight.

Chateau Gloria was rated 91 points by Parker.  On the nose bacon fat, roasted nuts, black olives.  On the palate mocha, late-arriving coffee.  Elegant. Great balance and acidity.

The Leoville Las Cases (95 Parker) had notes of carmelized chocolate pudding, fresh pine, spice box vanilla, and sweet tobacco.  This wine was concentrated, a "big boy." On the palate, stiff tannins with a rich, lush, long finish.  This wine is still in its youthful phase.  This was the wine of the flight.

Flight III: Chateau Montrose,  Chateau Cos d'Estournel, and Chateau Calon-Segur

The Montrose (96 Wine Spectator) exhibited traces of volatile acidity.  Vanilla, rust, and metal on the nose.  Leather and cassis on the palate.  Good balance and long finish.

The Cos d'Estournel (Parker 96) exhibited notes of black fruit.  This wine was rich and concentrated with black olives showing through on the palate.  Balanced with acidity and fruit retention. Wine of the flight.

The Calon-Segur (92 points Parker) had almost pungent blood and iron characteristics along with soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, cedar, and some vegetality.  Blood and minerality on the palate.  Medium finish.

Flight IV: Chateau La Lagune, Chateau Pichon Baron, and Chateau Pichon Lalande

The La Lagune (90 points Parker) showed red and black fruit, cassis, leather, and cedar on the nose. Fruit comes through on the palate in addition to tobacco and earth.  Round mouthfeel and medium finish.

The Pichon Baron (92 points Parker) had green notes, mushrooms and vanilla on the nose.  Good round mouthfeel. Good balance. Palate-coating with a great finish.

The primary characteristics of the Pichon Lalande (100 points Parker) were roasted pine nuts and coffee.  Lush creaminess. Well balanced. Very long finish. Wine of the flight and, in a close tussle with the L'Evangile, wine of the night.

Flight V: Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion

The Haut-Brion (94 points Parker) was, disappointingly, maderized.

The 1982 La Mission Haut-Brion had been awarded 96 points by Robert Parker.  In our tasting we detected notes of mushrooms, earth, tobacco, molasses, and dried stewed fruits.  Layered, complex, with a long finish.

White and Sauternes Flight: Chateau Laville Haut-Brion and Chateau d'Yquem

The Laville Haut-Brion had notes of crushed pineapple, ocean air, boat exhaust, linseed oil and a certain waxiness.  On the palate freshness, gasoline, smoked lychees, stony minerality, volcanic ash.  Dry, balanced finish.  For us, a vino de meditazione.

The d'Yquem (92 points Parker) showed talcum powder, botrytis, creme brulee, cinnamon, and sweet white flowers along with hazelnut, almonds, coconut and lemon.  On the palate nutty and rich. Dry, long finish.

All in all it was a wonderful evening and as we went into the post-tasting dinner, we did so with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of having "crossed over to the promised land" and surviving to tell the tale.

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