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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.
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou is named after the beautiful, large stones found in its unique wine-growing terroir. This exceptional ecosystem produces fine, elegant, tasty wines, with a long finish – in short, archetypal Saint-Julien wines.
Perched on an exceptional site with incomparable views over the Gironde estuary, in the centre of a hundred-year-old park, Ducru-Beaucaillou is a majestic, Victorian-style castle, which has, over time, become one of the great symbols of the Médoc. Unusually for Bordeaux, it is built directly above the barrel cellars, enveloping its owners, who have lived here for over sixty years, in the sumptuous aromas of their wine.
Today, the estate is managed by the company Jean Eugène Borie SA, which is owned by Mrs Borie, her daughter Sabine Coiffe and her son Bruno-Eugène, CEO since 2003, the third generation of the Borie family to head the estate.
There are very close links between this estate and the five families who have been its successive owners.
The grapes are all harvested manually. They are sorted in the vines on mobile tables to avoid contact between unhealthy and healthy grapes during transport to the vat room.The vinification of each plot is done individually to optimise the choice of blends. Moreover, the fermentations are carried out separately and customized to take account of terroir, grape variety and vintage characteristics. We generally operate gentle extraction and keep the must at traditional temperatures with moderate lengths and frequencies of pumping-over.The press drains off continuously into barrels to facilitate the selection of the press-wine batches. Malolactic fermentation is managed in vats for optimal control.
The wine is barrelled in duly identified individual batches immediately after malolactic fermentation. Blending takes place during the first racking operation; for Ducru Beaucaillou, between 50 and 80% of new barrels are used according to the richness of the vintage. The barrels (225L Bordeaux barrels, French oak) are supplied by 5 carefully selected cooperages giving every guarantee. The wine is matured for 18 months in accordance with Medoc traditions for classified growths. Bottling is performed with special care in regard to both oenological controls and homogenisation of the overall batch. The 5 cork makers supplying the estate have signed a detailed and stringent quality charter.
Characteristics of vintage 1982 - Weather
The winter was mild and rainy. After a warm and dry spring, flowering began at the end of May and continued into June. A very hot summer allows a spectacular grape development. Occasional thunderstorms brought just the required amount of water. The first two weeks of September were particularly hot stressing plants on gravely soils. At the time of picking the grapes were very ripe with low acidity levels and fine tannins. The harvest began September 16th and lasted for 17 days.
- Serving suggestions Advice for drinking: To hold Temperature: between 16 and 18°C Decanting time: - 4h
1982 by James Suckling
The 1982 vintage in Bordeaux changed the world of wine and my life. It was the first vintage I tasted from barrel as a young wine writer working for the American magazine The Wine Spectator, and I was amazed at how magnificent the quality of a young red could be in barrel.
I remember the first barrel samples I tasted in the summer of 1983 at Château Prieuré-Lichine with the late wine author and winemaker Alexis Lichine. The wines were so fruity with soft, rich tannins. They seemed too drinkable for a young wine, but Lichine, who had over forty years of experience tasting young wines, told me that the wines were "exceptional" and "some of the greatest young wines ever produced." .
He had invited some of his winegrower friends from the Médoc to a lunch at his château after the tasting. And he kept telling them, including Bruno Prats (then Cos d'Estournel), Anthony Barton (Léoville-Barton) and Jean-Eugène Borie (Ducru-Beaucaillou), that young writers like me were the future of the region and that they had to make me understand that 1982 was a great year. He was upset that the New York Times and other magazines declared the new vintage unexceptional due to its apparently early drinkability.
It was also a time when an American lawyer in the mid-1930s began writing about wine full-time, creating a newsletter called The Wine Advocate. Many say that Robert Parker built his career on extolling the greatness of the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, although he obviously did much more.
More importantly, the 1982 vintage marked a big change in the way Bordeaux was produced. He emphasized ripe fruit and tannins in the reds as well as a slightly higher alcohol level and lower or less strong acidity – higher pH. This is what gave the wines such wonderful texture, or drinkability in their youth.
This was a big change from most vintages before 1982 which produced harsh, tannic wines that needed years or even decades to mellow. The 1982 vintage became a model vintage for red Bordeaux in the future, and arguably for the wine world in general. Think of all the fruity reds being produced around the world today – for better or for worse. The alcohols are at least two, sometimes three or four degrees higher. The tannins are stronger but more ripe. And the natural acidities are lower. Capitalization – adding sugar to fermenting grape must to increase the alcohol – seems to be a thing of the past.
“Young wines are so drinkable now,” said Alexander Thienpont, the winemaker of Vieux-Château-Certan and Pin de Pomerol. The latter made its reputation on early drinkability. “This is what people expect from a modern wine today. »
I believe part of the change with the 1982 was due to the “California” growing conditions that Bordelias were talking about at the time. The summer was extremely hot and sunny. The harvest was warm and mostly free of precipitation. Grape yields were high, with many of the best wine estates producing more wine per hectare than French authorities had set. In fact, the late Jean Pierre Moueix of Château Petrus always told me that the 1982 vintage would have been at the same level as the 1945 or 1949 vintage if yields had been lower.
However, the experience of the growing season and harvest in 1982 made a whole new generation of winegrowers in the region understand the importance of picking grapes later and riper. They realized early on that wine critics such as Parker and myself, as well as members of the American wine trade, were so enthusiastic about 1982 reds on tap. It was also the beginning of the popularization of barrel partitions used to buy wines.
The American market was the largest market to buy high-end Bordeaux with the 1982 vintage. It began a decade of intense Bordeaux buying in the United States, with consumers buying first growth and second growth as well as Pomerols and Saint-Emilion. Americans delighted in the juiciness and beauty of the wine. They also made a lot of money if they kept the wines sold later. For example, most premier crus sold for around $40 per bottle in 1983 as futures and some now cost up to $3,500 per bottle. Prices for 1982 are now down slightly, but the 30-year price appreciation is impressive after 30 years.
The same goes for the quality of wines for the most part. I am lucky enough to drink top 1982s regularly, and the best ones never cease to amaze me with their generous, complex fruit and polished, ripe tannins. Bottle variation can be a problem because many of the big names have been bought, sold and stored all over the world, but overall it's a treat to drink a great 1982. And the vintage always reminds me of my beginnings in the world of wine
James Suckling has been writing and tasting wine for over 30 years. He worked for 28 years as editor of the American wine magazine The WIne Spectator, and in July 2010 he left to launch his own website www. jamessuckling.com and wine events company. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Asia Tatler Group with luxury magazines across the region including Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines and Malaysia. His specialty is Italy and Bordeaux, but he loves tasting and discovering wines from all over the world. His last big wine adventure was tasting 57 vintages of Chateau Petrus in the Hamptons, but he also enjoyed sharing great Barolos from Bruno Giacosa, Roberto Vorezio and Giacomo Conterno with wine lovers in Seoul.
by James Sucking