THE 1982 Bordeaux en primeur prices came out in May 1983. It was to be the landmark vintage, one which jump-started the hitherto desultory Bordeaux market. I was not to know this, the 1982 being my first experience of Bordeaux en primeurs. Robert Parker had published in his Wine Advocate his tasting notes and scores in April 1983. His 100-point system of scoring was then new - revolutionary, even, but it hit the right note, and was readily comprehensible. The 100-pointers were easily remembered.
1982 made Robert Parker's scores the reference point for wine consumers. And not only did the scores sell the wines, they sold them at increased prices!
Sadly, being very new to this game, I bought too cautiously!
What of the wines today? A group of us put together a small tasting of all the 1982 Firsts two weeks ago. All the Medoc Firsts plus Cheval Blanc and Petrus from the right bank.
Haut Brion 1982
A still-youthful deep red, with a light brownish tint. Very typical Graves bouquet, very cedary, lots of tobacco and touch of iodine in aroma. Medium-bodied, gentle rather than heavy in its impact on palate, complex, good finesse and very good length. A classic Haut Brion.
Similar colour to the Haut Brion, but very different aroma. More perfumed, gentle, subtle. Very fresh. Beautiful impact on palate, delicate, very cedary and cassis-loaded, lots of tobacco. Great elegance and finesse. A beautiful Margaux.
Mouton Rothschild 1982
The densest in colour of the three Pauillacs. Very good aroma of sweet cassis and cedar. Medium-bodied, very good density and concentration, very complex flavours of cedar, tobacco, and liquorice all combined into a lingering and haunting memory. Very much Mouton in style, in top condition. Still bearing a tinge of youth.
Curiously, not as dark as expected. Mouton was the darkest in colour of the three Pauillacs. Very much Latour on the nose, cedary, tobacco, ripe cassis forming a warmish, soft bouquet. On the palate, it was the densest of the Pauillacs, more liquorice. A very good Latour, perhaps not showing at its best.
Cheval Blanc 1982
Medium-dark, orangey brown-red in colour. Great aroma of merlot, not cedary, no tobacco. Just lush, ripe, soft fruit. Very different from the Medocs, rounder and softer in texture, good, not great. In good condition, but at peak.
Very dark red with brownish tint. Very ripe berry fruit, soft, rich bouquet, seductive. Very concentrated, ripe orangey fruit, black chocolate and coffee on palate, with great richness and intensity, very long finish. Still not fully ready. Very plush!
Spoilt by touch of corkiness.
Very typical Lafite, light-footed, but very long. Very Pauillac on the palate, cedary, lightly tannic. Still very youthful, will benefit from a further five years' ageing at least.
The consensus was that Mouton was the best in this showing. It created the strongest impression with its complexity, finesse and bearing. Margaux was Margaux, perfumed, gentle, elegant. Latour on this showing was not at its best. This showing most probably not representative. Haut Brion was typical Haut Brion, always reliable, always showing its class and breed, not showy, just gentlemanly and correct. Cheval Blanc on this occasion was good, not great, somewhat disappointing in light of its reputation in the '80s and '90s. Petrus was Petrus, almost towering over the others, and if you like that style, it would be rated the best.
The problem with showings of these 30+ year-old bottles is the variability in the provenance of the bottles. This single factor is the greatest determinant on the performance of a wine in a given bottle on a given day. However, it would be aiming for the ultimate to expect perfect provenance of all the bottles in such tastings, given the age of the vintage and the wide variability in the source of the bottles.
A final bon bouche!
Early this week, I experienced a wine which stopped me in my tracks, as it did to everyone else at the table. With the first sniff and mouthful, we looked at each other in wonderment and awe. And with that, each of us knew that what we were experiencing was for real. The magic began immediately on entry of the very first mouthful and continued through to the (inevitable) end.
The magic was Clos de la Roche 1996, Domaine Dujac. A transparent, light, slightly faded, pale-ish red, it emitted a wondrous aroma - only Pinot Noir at its most inspired could produce such a scent. A light and extraordinarily beautiful aroma filled the mouth, wafting through the throat up into the back of the nasal passages. Exquisitely delicate, an aroma of perfectly ripe fruit - a magical blend of the aromas of citrus, peaches, pineapples, mangoes and roses, a veritable ambrosia, defying accurate definition. Swallowing (slowly!) heightened the aromas and introduced a new element - the taste. The palate had that ultimate criterion of a great burgundy - great transparency of complex flavours, and what delicate flavours they were. Perfectly ripe fruit - oranges, peaches and pineapple blended into a floating cloud of flavours, maddeningly difficult to pinpoint. A veritable nectar of the Gods. Absolutely exquisite.
The magic of this wine was its aroma. Wines such as Romanee Conti 1978, La Tache 1971, Musigny 1985 and Domaine Roumier have provided similar experiences, but none of them have cast the spell that this Clos de la Roche did. A wine such as this makes one wonder: how does a simple grape like the Pinot Noir produce a wine with such an almost extra-terrestrial blend of aroma and flavours, beyond humble human comprehension. What alchemy, what combination of factors - vines and grapes, soil, the weather and the human contribution? All these - and more?
Clos de la Roche is a 16.9 ha Grand Cru in the Morey-Saint Denis commune. Domaine Dujac has the second largest holding, 1.95 ha after Ponsot (3.34 ha.) The wine is characteristically lush with great richness and complexity, even sometimes quite powerful, especially those of Ponsot. But exquisite delicacy of the order seen in this Dujac's 1996 I have never before experienced. It will be interesting to see if the other bottles of this 1996 will provide the same experience.
It was an experience that evoked John Keats' poem describing explorer Cortez's reaction upon seeing the Pacific Ocean while in Darien. Atop a peak there, he saw the ocean in the distance:
"Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific - and all his men -
Looked at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."
- John Keats (1795-1821)