1982 versus 1990 Bordeaux

When you receive an invitation to a comparative tasting of all Premier Crus from the two great vintages of 1982 and 1990, you drop everything and clear your diary. 1982 and 1990 represent the beginning and end of perhaps the greatest era in the history of Bordeaux. During these nine years there were only two vintages that could be seen as disappointments: 1984 and 1987. It could rightly be stated that the period from 1945 to 1953 produced similarly great wines; this is true for the top wines, but the overall quality reached new heights during the 1980s.

1982 was a milestone for the Bordeaux trade, coming as it did after the difficult decade of the 1970s, which was marked by the Bordeaux crisis, and the ensuing collapse of the 1972 bubble, the oil crisis and rapid inflation. On top of this there were a series of disappointing vintages.The financial markets had stabilised by the time the 1982 wines were offered in the spring of 1983, and by this time there was a large new group of potential wine buyers. There had been an influx of new magazines about wine and good living, and the public was ready to spend money. The American Dollar was high against a weak French Franc and, most of all, the wines were spectacular.


There were several reasons for this.

An early, even flowering, a warm but unspectacular summer and an exceptionally hot period during the end of August and the first half of September. It was this heat that made it possible for the record harvest to not only to fully ripen, but also to concentrate the fruit.  The harvest started on September 14 and was finished before heavy rains commenced on October 2. Another reason for the success of the vintage was that most châteaux had invested in their cellars and were able to work such a large and hot harvest. It was now possible to control the fermentation temperatures better than in earlier hot vintages, such as 1947. The grapes produced wines with such high natural alcohol that chaptalization became unnecessary. They showed deep colour, high and unusually soft tannin levels and a better acidity than first thought, as well as great fruit concentration. The media hype was great, particularly thanks to the advent of new wine magazines - this was the vintage that cemented Robert Parker’s reputation. The prices rose rapidly and have not looked back since. I remember all Premier Crus (including Pétrus) being offered to end consumers for around 50 euros en-primeur in 1983.

The scene when the 1990 vintage came along was quite different. There was a surplus of very good to great wine on the market – for the first time there was talk of three great vintages following one another. This lead to most châteaux lowering their prices by about 20 per cent compared to their 1989 prices, even though the quality was outstanding. There had been a steady increase in prices during the 1980s, but they were now more or less back to the opening prices of the 1982s. It was again a record harvest, but because most châteaux had by now introduced a ‘second wine’ and due to the fact they were more selective with regards to quality, there was actually less wine being bottled as ‘Grand Vin’ than in 1982.

We have been following both these vintages from a comparatively early age, as they were both precocious and easy to drink from the start. The top wines from both vintages are spectacular, but the overall quality is much higher in 1990. Here the wines were equally successful on both sides of the river, and even minor châteaux produced something special. We have always found most 1982s from the right bank to be too alcoholic and lacking in structure; indeed many are now ageing rapidly.


So, which vintage would claim victory?

It was easy in the case of Château Mouton Rothschild to pick the winner, given their 1990 has always been the disappointment of the vintage. It is now maturing rapidly and should be drunk or, even better, sold to someone who only cares for the name on the label. The 1982, on the other hand, was always seen as one of the stars of the vintage. Deep coloured with a great concentration of up-front fruit. Good, fresh acidity and a long finish. The only thing that worries me a little is the massive amount of tannins still present.

The 1990 Château Lafite Rothschild is a lovely and charming wine, full of warmth and style. A classic, elegant Lafite. It is ready to drink now and will bring pleasure for some time to come. The 1982 Lafite is ‘The Superstar’ in the eyes of the Chinese and this has led to the wine reaching new record prices at every auction in Hong Kong and beyond. The wine is very good – more concentrated than the 1990 and still very youthful.  We would call this a draw.

1990 Château Haut Brion is one of our favourite wines – a heady nose of tobacco, spices and leather. Lovely, soft fruit and ready to drink now, but don’t be fooled – this will age forever, just like the 1959 and 1961 Haut Brions. The 1982 Haut Brion is also a beautiful, charming wine, offering great drinking pleasure, but it does not quite have the exotic charm of the 1990. 

Drink soon as we don’t see it improving with age. Victory for 1990.

The bottle of 1990 Château Margaux was not a good bottle; the wine had a mature colour and lacked the usual structure and freshness. This is normally a good, soft wine, so we assume that this bottle had been stored under conditions that were too warm. The 1982 was also now quite mature with soft fruit and needs drinking soon. In this case it is a win for the 1982, although normally we would call it a draw.

Château Latour is usually the wine that needs the longest of all the Premier Crus to show its true class. 1990 was unusually soft and not at all typical of a Latour at an early age. It is a very good wine with soft tannins and great balance. Château Latour produced, for me, the greatest of all 1982s. A fantastic, mind-blowing wine, which combined the classic Pauillac style and backbone with spectacularly concentrated and sensuous fruit. It was joy to drink now and will continue to be so for the next hundred years. Another win for 1982.

Both 1990 and 1982 Château Ausone showed mature colour, nose and fruit.Both were quite pleasant to drink but not really up to Premier Cru standard in either vintage. A draw.

We have often given the 1990 Château Cheval Blanc a perfect score in blind tastings, as this is one of the most hedonistic wines we have ever had the pleasure to drink. We have compared it to Sophia Loren in the 1960s – soft, round, voluptuous, sexy and not a hard edge anywhere in sight. This is the uncrowned successor to Cheval Blanc’s legendary 1947. 

We have, on the other hand, never quite understood the constant raving about Cheval Blanc’s 1982. A very overrated wine for us – too alcoholic and overripe. In fact, it is always lacking the structure necessary to be really good. Not bad, but certainly nowhere as good as its reputation. A clear victory for 1990.

1990 Château Pétrus is a fabulous monument of a wine. Indeed, it displays the deepest colour of all. Still quite closed, but a giant waiting to come out and blow us all away. Very, very long finish. A great wine! The 1982 Pétrus is a wine with a fantastic reputation that, similar to the Cheval Blanc, has never really impressed me. Soft, mature and attractive but lacking the structure of a great wine. Another clear victory for 1990.

The luncheon was rounded off in style with Château d'Yquem from both vintages. 1982 was a difficult vintage for Sauternes, being caught as it did by the copious rains of October. Lightweight and really not very good. The 1990 is an opulent, soft and forward Yquem. Attractive and ready to drink now. 1990 prevails again.

All in all a wonderful afternoon with marvellous wines where, in our eyes, this time 1990 showed itself to be the more complete vintage.

by Tb

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Vintage Report

Bordeaux: The beginning of the last decade of the century had a perfect start. Vintage 1990 continued the series of great vintages since 1988. Mild winter encouraged the early budding which was threatened by the cold and icy temperatures in late spring. This caused prolonged flowering with uneven berry set causing especially challenges for Cabernets at the end of the season. The rains in April stocked the reserves for the dry and hot summer and ensured that the ripening was progressing perfectly. Merlot succeeded better anyway while uneven bunches of very small Cabernet grapes had high skin ratio compared to fruit making wines concentrated but very tannic. Thus this vintage was more attractive right bank vintage than left bank.

In Médoc, the northern appellations succeeded better. Margaux has had the most quality sags. Graves wines are in general flexible and elegant. St. Emilion and Pomerol are more refined and delicious than the "muscle" vintage of 1989. Pétrus is the best wine for the second consecutive year. Other excellent wines are Cheval Blanc, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Latour and Pichon-Baron. Montrose was expected to be better as it has been considered the icon of the 1990 vintage. Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild were generally disappointments for such a great vintage. White wines both dry and sweet were excellent. Sugar levels in Sauternes were at the highest level since 1929. Sauternes had a superb vintage with Yquem shining as the brightest star

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Vintage Report

California and New Zealand


Napa Valley by Bob Levy / Harlan Estate:

In 1990 we received about half the normal amount of rainfall and recorded well-below-average winter temperatures. The cool weather continued into mid-March, delaying budbreak until the middle of April. On several days in early May temperatures rose to between 80°–100°, the rest of the month cooled considerably, leading to a bloom starting in the last week of May when temperatures hovered around 70°. Summer weather was mostly even and moderate, with a few bursts of heat in June, July, and August. A compact harvest began on August 31 with the young-vine merlot and was completed by September 17. Yields were skimpy, averaging just 1.6 tons per acre.


Napa valley: Soaking spring rains during bloom reduced the size of the crop somewhat, but the long, warm summer that followed allowed grapes to ripen uniformly and achieve near-perfect fruit maturity, acid levels and sugar content. Mild weather during harvest allowed picking to proceed at a normal pace and late rains came too late in the season to do much damage. With both red and white varietals showing excellent balance, the vintage was judged overall to be one of higher quality and slightly lower quantity.


New Zealand by Te Mata Estate

Vintage was in mid-season as far as timing went, starting in late March and finishing on the 3rdMay.  We had only 30mm of rain in April and providentially were missed by the deluges that hit Taranaki and Wanganui.  The relative merits of 1989 and 1990 compare to those of 1983 and 1982; 1989 and 1983, being years of drought giving intense, big weighted and slow developing wines; 1990 and 1992 giving more fruitiness and suppleness, slightly lower alcohols and mid to long term ageing capabilities.

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Vintage Report

BURGUNDY 1990 by Leflaive / As in 1989, 1990 was characterised by early growth due to exceptional climatic conditions, comparable to 1941, 1948 and 1961. 

Winter was very mild and spring was rainy. Vegetation developed quickly, and the first blossoms appeared on 21 May in the Clavoillon vineyard. The humid and changeable weather during the flowering period brought problems such as "coulure" and "millerandange" (poor fruit set), reducing a harvest that had appeared to be abundant. 

Thanks to warm, dry conditions in July and August, the vines benefited from some hundred hours of sunshine more than the average of the previous 40 years. The harvest at Domaine Leflaive started on 19 September. An excellent harvest of healthy grapes with natural degrees of between 12.5° and 14° was brought in. 
The acidity, which was even higher than in 1985, gave the wines exceptional balance, and incomparable richness and fruitiness. A classic wine for long bottle ageing, already showing aromas of honey. 

One of the great vintages of Domaine Leflaive since 1978.

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Vintage Reports by Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon and Salon + Italy 1990 by Tb

After a particularly rapid spurt in vegetation growth, the Champagne region is hit hard by spring frosts in April. Blossoming is therefore difficult in the cold and rainy conditions. Blossom drop and uneven grape development are only compensated by the large number of bunches and the wide branches. A heat wave summer then sets in and remains until the generous downpours in the days leading up to the harvest, (on 11 September). The musts boast an exceptional composition and homogenous quality; throughout the Champagne region.


Champagne Vintage Report by Salon / A mild and humid winter, spring frosts, spring drought, exceptional sunshine. Early bud- burst arrived early in the wake of a mild winter. Because of this prematurity, spring frosts were dreaded by all - a concern realised on the 5th and 19th April. 12,000 hectares (45% of the area under vine) were affected more or less seriously. However the frozen vines astonished yet again by the miraculous fertility of the base buds. A disruptive start to July gave way to hot weather, although with temperatures and rainfall close to the norm; however, atmospheric pressure was exceptional. The Chardonnays opened between 11th and 15th September. The ripeness of the grapes was remarkably uniform. The total sugar/acidity ratio was close to perfect. Superb wine.


Italy Vintage Report by Tb: With the advent of the 1990s, Italian wine production finally entered the modern age. The pioneers of modern winemaking had succeeded in their efforts to show the world, not to mention politicians, the potential of Italian wine production. This was demonstrated in 1992 with the implementation of the new IGT classification, whose purpose was to lift the super wines out of the Vina da Tavola category from the disgraceful Italian quality classification system. Conversely, a number of producers gave up their DOC or DOCG classifications and marketed their wines as IGTs, such as Angelo Gaja’s Barbaresco and Barolo cru wines and Roberto Anselmi’s Soave wines.

1990 was the ideal kickoff for this stunning decade. A hot and dry summer with cool nights and light rain set the stage for a small, but exceptional crop, perhaps the finest seen since the 1940s. Piedmont brought in an excellent crop for the third year in a row. However, the rains were distributed considerably more evenly in 1990. Tuscany enjoyed similar weather conditions, and, as in Piedmont, the grapes ripened earlier than usual. Overall, 1990 produced very elegant, nuanced, ripe fruited and concentrated wines, which still have great maturation potential.

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Rhöne Vintage Report by Jaboulet: The wines will be of exceptional quality, especially the Hermitage “La Chapelle” which will come close to the famous 1961.

The summer drought continues until the 19th November. The first rains follow and bring the dried up rivers back to life. Cold weather and the first frosts from the 25th November to the 10th December, when the southerly wind brings a mild period with temperatures unusually high for the season. A few violets are to be seen at the end of the year!
The cold returns on the 1st January and lasts throughout the month. A mild, rainy period sets in at the beginning of February with the appearance of the first almond blossom. This weather continues throughout the end of the winter, triggering the flowering of the apricot and peach trees on the 26th and 27th of February.

The spring is cool and wet, with rains that help growth. Flowering of the vines is almost over on the 30th May. The summer is very dry with a heat wave. At the end of July, the evening temperature reaches 38°C.
Light rains (3 to 20 mm.) fall just before the harvest, which starts on the 19th September, in ideal weather, and finish on the 1st October. The maturation of the grapes and their harvest take place under ideal conditions.



Following the Iraq invasion of Kuwait on August 2nd Desert Shield Begins as the United States and UK send troops to Kuwait. The US enters a bad recession which will have repercussions over the next few years throughout the world. This is also the year "The Simpsons " is seen for the first time on FOX TV. Following the Berlin Wall falling East and West Germany reunite. In technology Tim Berners-Lee publishes the first web page on the WWW and it shown that there is a hole in the Ozone Layer above the North Pole, also the First in car GPS Satellite Navigation System goes on sale from Pioneer. 

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The best wines of the 1990 vintage

Name Tb Producer Location
1 Hermitage Red 99.0 E.Guigal Rhône, France
2 Pétrus 98.6 Château Pétrus Pomerol, France
3 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 97.9 Château de Beaucastel Rhône, France
4 Hill of Grace 97.6 Henschke Eden Valley, Australia
5 La Tâche 97.3 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France
6 Le Pin 97.2 Le Pin Bordeaux, France
7 Cheval Blanc 97.0 Château Cheval Blanc Bordeaux, France
8 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 97.0 Château Rayas Rhône, France
9 Château Gilette 97.0 Château Gilette Bordeaux, France
10 Richebourg 97.0 Meo Camuzet Burgundy, France
11 Romanée Conti 96.9 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France
12 La Mission Haut Brion 96.8 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
13 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé 96.8 Château Rayas Rhône, France
14 Krug Collection 96.8 Krug Champagne, France
15 Millésimé 96.7 Jacques Selosse Champagne, France
16 Château Haut-Brion 96.7 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
17 Hermitage 96.6 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Rhône, France
18 Chambertin 96.5 Domaine Armand Rousseau Burgundy, France
19 Reserve des Célestin CNP 96.5 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape, France
20 Batard-Montrachet 96.5 Domaine Ramonet Burgundy, France
21 Ermitage Cuvée Cathelin 96.5 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Rhône, France
22 Montrose 96.3 Château Montrose Bordeaux, France
23 Clos des Goisses L.V. 96.3 Philipponnat Champagne, France
24 Hommage à Jacques Perrin 96.3 Château de Beaucastel Rhône, France
25 Clos-de-la-Roche Vieilles-Vignes 96.3 Domaine Ponsot Burgundy, France
26 Musigny 96.3 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Burgundy, France
27 Brunello di Montalcino 96.2 Soldera Montalcino, Italy
28 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 96.2 Jacques Selosse Champagne, France
29 Bin 90 A 96.0 Penfolds South Australia, Australia
30 Clos de la Roche 96.0 Maison Leroy Burgundy, France
31 Richebourg 96.0 Domaine Leroy Burgundy, France
32 Civee de Papets 96.0 Clos du Mont Olivet Rhône, France
33 Maya 96.0 Dalla Valle Napa Valley, United States
34 Clos du Mesnil Vinothèque 96.0 Krug Champagne, France
35 Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 96.0 Meo Camuzet Burgundy, France
36 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques 96.0 Domaine Armand Rousseau Burgundy, France
37 Barolo Cannubi Boschis 96.0 Luciano Sandrone Piedmont, Italy
38 Clos-de-la-Roche 96.0 Domaine Dujac Burgundy, France
39 Chambertin Clos de Bèze 96.0 Domaine Armand Rousseau Burgundy, France
40 Chevalier-Montrachet 96.0 Domaine Leflaive Burgundy, France
41 Barolo Falletto 96.0 Bruno Giacosa Barolo, Italy
42 Barbaresco Bricco Asili 96.0 Ceretto Piedmont, Italy
43 Hermitage La Chapelle 95.9 Paul Jaboulet & Âiné Rhône, France
44 Château Margaux 95.9 Château Margaux Bordeaux, France
45 Clos des Papes 95.9 Paul Avril Rhône, France
46 Krug Vintage 95.7 Krug Champagne, France
47 Echezeaux 95.7 Henri Jayer Burgundy, France
48 Montrachet 95.7 Domaine Ramonet Burgundy, France
49 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne 95.7 E.Guigal Rhône, France
50 Château Latour 95.6 Château Latour Bordeaux, France
51 Dom Pérignon Rosé 95.6 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
52 Lafleur 95.6 Château Lafleur Bordeaux, France
53 Barolo Monfortino Riserva 95.6 Giacomo Conterno Piedmont, Italy
54 Montrachet 95.5 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Burgundy, France
55 Dominus 95.5 Dominus Estate Napa Valley, United States
56 Léoville-Las Cases 95.5 Château Léoville-Las Cases Saint-Julien, France
57 Chateau Beausejour Duffau-Lagarosse 95.4 Château Beausejour Duffau-Lagarosse Bordeaux, France
58 Musigny 95.3 Domaine Georges Roumier Burgundy, France
59 Tertre Roteboeuf 95.3 Château Tertre Roteboeuf Bordeaux, France
60 Krug Clos du Mesnil 95.2 Krug Champagne, France
61 Cristal 95.1 Louis Roederer Champagne, France
62 Dom Pérignon P3 95.0 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
63 Grand Siècle ’Lumiere du Millénaire’ 95.0 Laurent-Perrier Champagne, France
64 Ermitage le Pavillon 95.0 M. Chapoutier Rhône, France
65 Château L´Evangile 95.0 Château L´Evangile Pomerol, France
66 Vin Santo 95.0 Avignonesi Tuscany, Italy
67 Chapelle Ausone 95.0 Château Ausone Bordeaux, France
68 Richebourg 95.0 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France
69 Femme 95.0 Duval-Leroy Champagne, France
70 Chevalier-Montrachet 95.0 Domaine Michel Niellon Burgundy, France
71 Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart 95.0 Billecart-Salmon Champagne, France
72 Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet 95.0 Domaine Ramonet Burgundy, France
73 Corton-Charlemagne 95.0 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Burgundy, France
74 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 95.0 Penfolds South Australia, Australia
75 Musigny 95.0 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Burgundy, France
76 Vosne-Romanée aux Brûlées 95.0 Meo Camuzet Burgundy, France
77 Sori Tildin 95.0 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco, Italy
78 Dom Ruinart Vinothèque 95.0 Ruinart Champagne, France
79 Cuvée R. Lalou 95.0 G.H. Mumm Champagne, France
80 Bâtard-Montrachet 95.0 Domaine Leflaive Burgundy, France
81 Côte-Rôtie La Mouline 95.0 E.Guigal Rhône, France
82 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Cros Parantoux 95.0 Emmanuel Rouget Burgundy, France
83 Barolo Vigneto Arborina 95.0 Elio Altare Piedmont, Italy
84 Corton-Renardes 95.0 Francois Gaunoux Bourgogne, France
85 Blanc de Millenaires Vinothèque 95.0 Charles Heidsieck Champagne, France
86 The Armagh 95.0 Jim Barry Wines Clare Valley, Australia
87 La Grande Dame Rose 95.0 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne, France
88 Vintage Brut 95.0 Lanson Champagne, France
89 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Speciale 95.0 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape, France
90 San Leonardo 95.0 Tenuta San Leonardo Trentino , Italy
91 Comtes de Champagne Rosé 95.0 Taittinger Champagne, France
92 Collina Rionda Riserva 95.0 Bruno Giacosa Barolo, Italy
93 Dom Pérignon Rosé P3 95.0 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
94 d'Yquem 94.9 Château d'Yquem Bordeaux, France
95 Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 94.9 Henriot Champagne, France
96 Cristal Rosé 94.9 Louis Roederer Champagne, France
97 Vieilles Vignes Françaises 94.9 Bollinger Champagne, France
98 Barbaresco Santo Stefano 94.8 Bruno Giacosa Barolo, Italy
99 Montrachet 94.8 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France
100 Clos St-Denis Grand Cru 94.8 Domaine Dujac Burgundy, France


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