Bordeaux 1982 horizontal: blast from the past in Washington D.C. (tasted December 2005)
January 1, 2012
One had 12 % alcohol, another 11.5% – I do not think any of the nine Bordeaux 1982s we enjoyed had more than 12.5%.
Does this matter? Perhaps not at all.
But in this day and age of very ripe and concentrated Bordeaux, sometimes clocking in at 13.5 or even 14.5% [and since this article was written, above 15%], it was amazing to taste a wonderful array of top Bordeaux wines from the fabled 1982 vintage with comparatively diminutive degrees of alcohol in a banner sunny year to boot, with members of the Mark Squires erobertparker wine bulletin board from the Washington D.C. area, some of whom (not me) had purchased these wines at rock bottom prices, when they were released… some 20 years ago.
First off, we were lucky. No corked bottles. And I believe not even a “faulty” bottle, though some noted a slight cork flavor in La Conseillante while others did not.
The nine 82’ wines were all very good, at the very least, and they also nicely represented some of the major Bordeaux appellations:
Leoville Barton, Gruaud Larose and Branaire Ducru of Saint Julien, Grand Puy Lacoste of Pauillac, Calon Segur and Cos d’Estournel of Saint Estephe, Canon and Figeac of Saint Emilion and La Conseillante of Pomerol
Participants were fellow chat members of Mark Squires’ Bulleting Board on the erobertparker.com website: Randy McFarlane (Branaire Ducru and Calon Segur, opened at the restaurant), Kevin Shin (Grand Puy Lacoste), Chris Bublitz (Cos d’Estournel), Ken Brown (Gruaud Larose, previously decanted), Ben DeLancy (La Conseillante), Howard Cooper (Canon), Maureen Nelson (Leoville Barton), Alex Anthopoulos (who kindly came down all the way from Pennsylvania without any 82s, but brought a 1990 Suduiraut as well as a tasty Lynch Bages white 2001).
Maureen smartly advised the group to take small pours of each wine so that we could revisit each one. Intelligent suggestion as the wines of course evolved in glass.The only caveat I could raise is the room, or lack thereof, for the rapidity of the servings. Some tasters were not fully done evaluating the first three wines, while the next ones already came around the table! No matter, it worked in the end, but I wonder if for such a tasting it would not be better to find a larger table, so that everyone would have room to bring, say, six glasses (most brought two or four).
Enough pickiness. The tasting proved wonderful, because we were all very content with the wines, debating about which was the wine of the night.
TNs Game Plan: As Maureen suggested, my notes reflect initial reactions and reactions to the wines as they evolved in glass.
FLIGHT ONE – RIGHT BANK
Chateau Canon Saint Emilion (premier grand cru classé B): Nose, dominated at first by white caramel, with a hint of baked cherries. Full-bodied palate has depth, intensity and power, with a taste of beef blood. Nose later turns to strawberry, and the palate stays very deep and vinous. About two hours later nose turns to crème brulée and palate has somewhat less intensity and depth. Basically, this wine was complex and brooding, but some time in glass allows it to open and then actually lose some of its initial intensity. It was a real pleasure to drink for its clearly defined flavors and had a nice length.
Chateau La Conseillante Pomerol: The nose was more polished than the above, fresher, with wintergreen notes. Was this a funky bottle? Corked? I got neither. Perhaps a hint of yeastiness on the palate, but it did not really bother me… at all. The palate actually was dominated by a taste of dark chocolate. It was however not nearly as full bodied and brooding as the Canon. It was rather light in comparison, but not diluted by any stretch of the imagination. Another style of wine, which was also very good. With time in glass, it improved if anything, with mint notes, more freshness and an underlying, somewhat sneaky, power and persistence. A lovely wine.
Chateau Figeac Saint Emilion (premier grand cru classé b): What an interesting comparison between the two Saint Emilions. With Figeac just across Cheval Blanc in the famous graves regions of Saint Emilion and containing so much more Cabernet (35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Cabernet Franc – only 30% Merlot), it proved different from the Merlot-dominated Canon (though Canon also contains 25% Cabernet Franc), whose vines are grown on the cooler limestone plateau – more suitable to Merlot. Still, I understand that in 1982, Canon had more Cabernet Franc in the mix… Anyhow, Figeac’s nose evoked pine forest freshness, with truffle, earth, leather, plus spice (a pinch of cinnamon). It was probably the most complex nose of all so far. On the palate, it seemed to me to marry the full bodied aspect of the Canon – though being far more open and not at all brooding – with the silky elegance of the Conseillante. This is also logical when one considers the soil and make up: La Conseillante’s vines also grow on gravely soil over clay, and at that time, the wine at La Conseillante also contained more Cabernet Franc (30% then as opposed to about 20% today, I believe). The feeling on the palate of Figeac was, someone appropriately said, “Burgundian.” It was very silky and soft and yet also very long and full of flavor. Time in glass did not change its flavor profile that much, though I did not get a chance to taste it again at the very end because it was… gone (a note on its popularity!). I think Ken said that he would be more than happy to nurse an entire bottle one evening. Make that two for me, pretty please.
FLIGHT TWO – SAINT JULIEN
Chateau Branaire Ducru (4th growth): At first, a slightly green pepper nose – NO I DO NOT MEAN THAT IN A NEGATIVE SENSE. It was ripe green pepper, which then started showing animal leather and even ashes from a fireplace, plus chocolate (which is quite typical for this property). Its rather complex nose preceded a tasty, medium- to full-bodied – and certainly pleasurable – palate that was sweet and luscious. But it was structured, too, and this wine, perhaps now at its plateau, can still last much longer, I think (I remember enjoying a 1966 at the chateau with owner Patrick Maroteaux last year that was thoroughly delicious). As the wine sat in the glass, animal notes began to dominate, but never too prevalent, never horse-like. What struck me was the approachability, and it proved a nice partner for the tasty venison I ordered… except perhaps for the food’s excessive pepper.
Chateau Gruaud Larose (2nd growth): My my my. If I really, really had to vote for a wine of the night, at least on a really gut feeling, I might just as well pick the Gruaud Larose. What a wine! What made it so special? First off: the nose was, well, SO DARN YOUNG. I could not believe this, but it almost reminded me of the 2000’s nose, when I had tasted the 2000 on three separate occasions in Germany for a vertical I organized for the chateau. Maureen was looking at me as if I were nuts, when I pronounced “vanilla and oak-derived notes.” It was, I give, too much to utter oak-derived notes, but the nose here was at times singing sweet vanilla and even… some butter toast, wonderfully mingled – okay – with cigar box, sweet cassis and very fine leather, which came on especially on the palate in the form of meatiness. And talk about the palate. This was, if you will, the “Canon” of the Left Bank wines: brooding yet sweet, opulent yet well knit, indeed rock solidly built. The texture was very finely grained, too. And the length? At least half a minute. But what impressed me most was the intensity when I slurped it to get the retro-nasal flavors. Really, this was something truly special. No wonder Robert Parker gave it (I believe) a 98/100 rating…
Chateau Leoville Barton (2nd growth): The 1982 was I think the last wine made under Ronald Barton, Anthony Barton’s uncle. Some critics – I think a French critic but I do not remember – prefer wines like the 1986 to the 1982, which they call more rustic and old school. I got no sense of rusticity in this wine, though it was very likely the MOST BROODING of all in tonight’s tasting. The nose was at first muted, and then gave forth hints of cedar and lead pencil, licorice and some cassis. The temperature was normal, but I am not sure whether Maureen decanted beforehand – I believe she did. What I really liked was the full bodied power and intensity in this wine – it seemed indeed contained by a wall of sound tannin. I mean tannin not in any way aggressive but rather present and indeed reassuring, as if this wine is telling you: “Don’t you worry about me; I will be around for a long, long, long time.” About two hours later, it had opened up, with a mélange of cigar box and now more animal notes coming through on the palate, but it was still brooding and not really truly ready for business, yet. Oh, I almost forgot: 11.5% alcohol (see caption).
FINAL FLIGHT: SAINT ESTEPHE AND PAUILLAC
Chateau Calon Segur Saint Estephe (3rd growth): Randall brought this too warm and Maureen advised us to put it into the ice bucket. It stayed there too long and was thus served too cold. But with time, this baby showed its lovely colors (speaking of colors, the restaurant was rather dark, so I could not really describe in detail any of the wines’ colors and tones, but some were darker than others, including the Leoville Barton and the Gruaud Larose in particular, while the Figeac, for example, was much more brick and see-through). At first, with the cold temperature, the nose was not that expressive, and the palate was tight and somewhat tannic. With time, the wine showed an interesting mixture of espresso and graphite, mineral notes which were echoed on the smoothly drinkable palate. This wine was complex – though not the most full-bodied of the evening – its texture possessed contours and a graininess that I really enjoyed. Later on the palate, I sensed some animal notes with some pepper, which made it also go very well with my venison.
Chateau Cos d’Estournel Saint Estephe (2nd growth): If Calon smelled a bit of espresso, this wine was singing roasted coffee with hints of milky chocolate. What a sweet and seductive nose. I wanted to sip, and sip again – and again. A full-bodied palate with a silky texture, it also pleased with a meaty flavor with spices that made me think: “Okay, now I understand the original owner’s adoration for exotic travel!” This wine wins my vote as the most exotic of the night, if you will, as I got hints of ginger on the palate, which was yet so meaty and opulent as well. With more time in glass, it seemed to gain in body and flavor. Bravo!
Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac (5th growth): You see, when I tasted this wine, this – sadly – last wine of a series of such great 82s – I began to think, how the heck can we have a wine of the night? I doubt that the GPL would win wine of the night, if we took a vote. That honor would likely go IMHO to either Gruaud Larose or Cos or perhaps even Figeac… But when I was trying the GPL and drinking it, it became wine of the night for me. Then I went back to another wine, thinking, “Nah, this one is better.” But that is how this tasting went. Each wine was lovely in its own way. The GPL exuded typical Pauillac cigar box and still youthful black currant aromas, with hints of fine grained leather as well. Its palate was very well structured – even a bit of slightly bitter austerity – but happily enriched with full bodied flavors that proved complex, ranging from – yes – milk chocolate to a tasty beefiness! Time in glass allowed for it to open up, and the finish was long and smooth. A lovely wine indeed.
Now some people may prefer the Left Bank to the Right Bank. I can understand that point to a certain extent. I think in general that the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines did show more of a tannic edge and perhaps more power. But I could not pick between the two because I liked all three Right Bankers as well (and I like Right Bank and Left Bank equally). From my very limited experience, I also remember tasting a 1924 La Conseillante a few years ago that was still alive and kicking, if a bit odd on the finish (not sure if it was Merlot, though) or a 1945 Belair that was delicious. Also remember drinking more recently 1959 and 1961 Figeac, so such top end Saint Emilions and Pomerols can last a long time indeed!
Finally a word on picking a WOTN. In the end, there was IMHO no WOTN, and how about that for making an acronym sandwich?
Not everyone will agree with this assessment, but I think that, at best, one could say that a particular wine had the most intense nose or the greatest structure or was the most ready to drink. Each of these wines had superior qualities. Perhaps one could pick out some wines that did not shine as much, but when I thought of beginning a list, I quickly became disheartened, because I realized that even those wines were so darn good… or at least had qualities that made me think, “What the heck are you doing?”
Basically, the impression I get is that the 1982 vintage is far from approaching any decline, as some people in France have told me, including the jovial Tim Johnston of one of my favorite wine bar restaurants in Paris, Juveniles.
He once told me that the 82s are “overrated” with many approaching decline.Not so … for each and every one of the nine we tasted tonight, none being first growths …