Nineteen Eighty-Four (Minus Two!)

Let’s set the scene shall we….

Maggie Thatcher was in number 10 Downing Street fighting a war in the Falkland’s and dealing with the highest levels of unemployment since the end of World War II, Reagan was in the white house (also dealing with a recession) and banning Americans traveling to Cuba. CD’s were first introduced in Germany, who incidentally lost the World Cup to Italy (3-1). Channel 4 was launched as was our beloved Prince William, possibly to the sounds of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or even Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical’. In the cinema we were chomping on popcorn while watching E.T, Arnie in Conan the Barbarian, Sly in either First Blood or Rocky III & Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. Oh and the Commodore 64 was released with Time magazine deciding that it’s ‘Man of the Year’ was actually a computer! I would have spent most of the year with a snotty nose and dirty diaper at the ripe old age of 1.

Image But over in Bordeaux, more important things were happening….

I like to think that on both sides of the Gironde wine makers were shimmying about the place with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blasting away on their walkmans while doing a bit of shadow boxing in the vineyards in anticipation of the harvest to come!

Why is 1982 such a legendary vintage for Bordeaux?

The previous two decades in Bordeaux had seen pretty miserable weather with many château proprietors having seen little profit since the end of world war two. The tide initially started to turn from the 1975 vintage which preceded a number of relatively consistent vintages. Wines produced in 82’ were opulent, fruit driven with soft tannins giving them an unprecedented accessibility in their youth and bringing a stylistic change that has only increased over time and had far reaching effects on wines made all over the planet.

The Vintage

A mild winter, dry and sunny April but with a few hail storms and a decent May ran into an outstanding June & July that offered a good mix of sunshine and showers with warm temperatures. August and September saw temperatures of around 30°C allowing an early harvest starting on 15th September, this was a vintage that seemed to make itself, offering both quality & quantity (yield was double that of 1947) with growing conditions not seen since 1959 and producing wines of a similar quality to the now legendary 61’s.

Parker Power

In 1980 it was possible to buy a bottle of first growth wine for around 80 Francs by 1982 this had risen to 180 Francs putting off many traditional British & European buyers worried that due to the vintages early approachability they would not go the distance. America as a whole was not a massive buyer of Bordeaux wines en primeur at this time, but, partly due to the 1980’s boom on Wall Street and an exchange rate that made anything French a bargain. They bought plenty of the 82’s seeing the vintage as ripe for investment giving them huge market dominance.

ImageRobert Parker Jr. was a 35 year old lawyer who since 1978 had been publishing a news letter called Wine Advocate that was slowly gaining in popularity, his 100 point scoring system for wines was based on the American standardized grading system so very approachable to American wine consumers. The foremost American critic at this time was Robert Finigan who agreed with a number of French critics that truly great claret had to be almost undrinkable when young to be able to mature into a great wine, and after briefly visiting he stated that the wines were ‘too agreeable to last’.

Parker on the other hand poured praise (excuse the pun) on the wines in two editions of his newsletter published in March and June 1983 using words such as ‘opulent’ & ‘breathtaking’ to describe the wines. In January 1984 he awarded his first 100 point scores to the 1982 Pétrus & Mouton-Rothschild, the two richest wines of the vintage. This predilection for rich, powerful wines and Parker’s increasing power over the years (he is the wine world’s most powerful & influential figure) has had a massive influence on not only the prices top wines are able to command but also the style of many wines produced around the world that look to pander to his tastes in search of a high score that will then help them market their wine globally. Many have accused Parker of being a driving force in the globalization of wine leading to a homogenous style made purely to this end.

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Petrus 1982-The first 100 point wine

To give you an idea of the power that his scores have we need only look at the effect on the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux, for each additional parker point over 90 points awarded an extra £120 (left bank) or £201 (right bank) can be added to a 12 bottle case of classed growth wine in bond. His scores can literally add (or detract) millions of pound’s/Euro’s/dollar’s to the fine wine market.

He is still hugely powerful in the world of wine (especially at investment level), although his overall influence does seem to be dissipating somewhat as he approaches retirement age, although the Parker brand is strong and he already has a number of people working for him that would appear to be in line to take over their specialist area when he leaves the game for good. Also over the last few years there seems to be a real move towards more natural wines that have a sense of place and individual character rather than carbon copies of predictable ‘fruit bombs’ that have been favored in the past with many drinkers becoming increasingly adventurous in their selections. Never the less it will be interesting to see what happens when Bob does leave the game for good, who will fill the vacuum left behind? With the power of the Internet it’s so much easier to discover new wines through thousands of different avenues and without having to pay a subscription. More shops than ever are allowing customers to taste an ever expanding selection of their wines in-store through wine preservation systems and wine education is booming all over the world, maybe we’ll just have to rely on our own palates, or will the computer be ‘Man of the Year’ once more?

1982 – A modern perspective

It is also worth noting that since the 82’ vintage there has been massive investment in many Bordeaux château, which along with scientific and technical developments means that wine being made now, even in tougher years than 82’, has never been better. As prices have increased most château worth their salt have invested profits back into the vineyard and winery, making sure that the wines produced use only the best fruit. Greater knowledge of individual plots within an estate and the equipment to ferment the grapes from these plots separately and according to their specific character has also increased quality. Most top producers will now use only the very best grapes for their grand vin with the rest going into their second and even third wines with declassified grapes then being sold off to someone else to bottle under a generic name. There may be some down sides to this as some argue that as the spectrum of ripeness in the raw materials used to make the wine becomes ever slimmer some of the character of the past will be lost along with the rustic charm and nuance many of these wines built their fame on over previous decades. But as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said ‘The only constant is change’, we will have to wait and see what the 2009 & 2010 vintages are like in their 30’s.

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1982 Horizontal Tasting held on 15th October 2012 at The Wine Cellars, Fulhan, London by West London Wine School

Coming into this tasting I had rather mixed feelings, prepared to be somewhat underwhelmed by the wines on show as over the previous few months I had been lucky enough to try a few other 82’s that did not all seem to shape up to the large shadow thrown by this legendary vintage. A Calon Ségur that seemed rather tired, a d’Issan that although very suave and enjoyable was lacking in any real star quality and a Montrose that had been fantastically vibrant and alive, so bit of a mixed bag!

Chasse-Spleen, Moulis, Cru Bourgeois £70 from Fine + RareImage
Dusty red fruit with plenty of class, a definite hoi-sin or black soy sauce Chinese spice dominated nose fantastic precision.
Palate is smooth with the balance tipping towards acidity, subtle tannin coming through on the length. More red cherry & current notes that are refreshing and spur on the length, doesn’t quite live up to the nose but incredibly refreshing and good value for the vintage.
90pts

Brane-Cantenac, Margaux, 2nd Growth £90
ImageThe nose seems to have dropped off slightly, but I really like this, all secondary notes dominated by well worn saddle leather, rather meaty with an autumnal smoke as well as wet woodland floor. Very apt for this time of year with a warm, comforting overall feel.
Palate has much more youthfulness than the nose suggests, tannin and acid in good balance lifted on the front palate, delicate tannin coming through on the length giving a soft cocoa note with very light but supple black fruit juxtaposing the nose.
90pts (My best value)

Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 5th Growth £110 from Fine + RareImage
A very appealing mix of black berry (pastal) fruit and cocoa powder,  light mint leaf, graphite and orange peel with time in the glass. Good concentration and depth of fruit if not a huge amount of complexity, still smells pretty young and should still open up further.
Much more tannin here than in the two previous wines, broad shouldered and burly with firm blackcurrant cassis follows through but rather bitter tannins that over dominate on the length (slightly over did it with the oak?) which is very dried. This may just need more time in bottle but I’m not sure that there is quite enough acidity or fruit in this baby to truly balance out.
87-90pts
(Voted best value)

ImageGrand-Puy-Lacoste, 5thGrowth £220 from Cadman Fine Wines
A beautiful sweetness to the deep dark bramble berry fruit that is tightly intertwined with a floral, green plant stem/herbal edge, this is yet to fully open. Time in the glass also brings out sweet liquorice and chocolate soufflé.
Tannin & acidity bounces off each other well leaving firm blackberry and cocoa notes on the length with some dry cedar oak.
91pts

Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, 5th Growth £240 from Fine + RareImage
Floral, dense, inky black fruit with a saline minerality. Time in the glass adds violets and black Forrest gateaux, caramel crunch, incredibly decadent & rich.
Incredible balance in the mouth flows very smoothly across the whole palate, very well lubricated! Luscious ripe black fruit with mineral notes that keep on pushing through on the length which is long+
93+pts (Won best wine of the night)

ImageLeoville-Barton, Saint-Julien,  2nd Growth £150 from Fine + Rare
Unfortunately slight TCA cork taint on this fella that seems to flux between being tainted and just incredibly secondary in character, stripped tree branch and wood chip turf.
Palate shows more youth with a fruit edge but this chap has fallen off the wagon!
Unable to rate…,
Leoville-Poyferre, Saint-Julien, 2nd Growth £200 from Fine + RareImage
A rather steely, black earth and mineral nose backed up with black olive and asphalt, fruit dominated by black cherry notes, slippery and hard to pin down.
Vibrant acidity gives this real lift throughout the palate, tannin is plush and there are some really concentrated black fruit almost into dried currants that seems to reverberate for some time on the length, very engaging.
92+pts

Image

Ducru-Beaucaillou Saint-Julien, 2nd Growth £240 from Fine + Rare
A very distinctive, classy nose, sweet, ripe, layered fruits, spices and floral notes that are singular and hard to pin down with descriptors as has its own unique character.
Good acidity with very well integrated but very grippy tannin that is covered with fruit, dissipates on the mid palate then seems to slowly creep back to the fore on the length, flighty and very classy. This still tastes incredibly young, should continue to age very well.
96+pts stand out wine of the tasting!
ImageCos d’Estounel, Saint-Esteph, 2nd Growth £275 from Fine + Rare
Less opulent than Ducru but incredibly well laced floral spice, again very singular and with maybe a greater sense of place showing a gravel minerality that’s somewhat understated.
Precision on the palate with well interlaced tannin & acidity tightly knitted but giving black fruit, very accomplished.
93pts

Chateau Canon, St.Emillion, Premier Grand Cru
Smoky, rustic black fruit, cola spice & damson with great minerality and typical St.Emillion red fruited, mud pie.
Palate has some great acidity backing up the red fruit, fine, well structured tannin with a wash of succulent red fruit that is long on the palate. Savoury and satisfying, very typical of St.Emillion
93pts

Final Thoughts

As you can see from the scores, these wines are still showing incredibly well with many looking to have some serious staying power, I’m a believer again! When you also consider what recent vintages of top Bordeaux are going for these don’t seem to ridiculously priced. Other vintages such as 85’ & 89’ may be a fair bit cheaper cheaper and still incredibly good but they just don’t reach the peaks that these chaps sit on, put simply there may be better vintages but there will never be another one quite like this thanks to fundamental changes in the ways that Bordeaux is now made. Treat yourself and you won’t be sorry you did.

Many thanks to West London Wine School & Jimmy Smith who put on the tasting. Details of their tastings & courses can be found at www.westlondonwineschool.com 

Stockists – www.frw.co.ukwww.cadmanfinewines.co.uk

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