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Haut-Brion Blanc is as renowned as it is scarce, with only about 8,000 bottles available per vintage for a very demanding market. It is often regarded as the greatest white of Bordeaux, although Haut-Brion Blanc’s sibling, Laville Haut-Brion, sometimes equals and occasionally surpasses it. The white vineyards at Haut-Brion are planted to 63 percent Sémillon and 37 percent Sauvignon Blanc, a weighting that gives this wine its particularly plush combination of Sémillon-driven body and Sauvignon-influenced scent of musk. Haut-Brion Blanc ages beautifully.
White Bordeaux does not come much more layered and powerful than this. Strong oak roasted nut notes are evident on the nose but dissipate quickly on the palate. Taut yet shapely refreshing but rich. A large framed wine that manages to find harmony. Alongside exotic touches of stone fruit there are some wonderfully energising fruit characteristics of crystallised lemon rind, grapefruit and lime. Long, complex and very intense without being too weighty.
Early, uniform flowering, a hot but unspectacular summer and an exceptionally hot period at the end of August 1990 and the first half of September. It was this heat that allowed the record harvest not only to fully ripen, but also to concentrate the fruit. Harvesting began on September 14 and was completed before the start of heavy rains 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 with such a large and hot harvest. It was now possible to control fermentation temperatures better than in previous warm vintages, such as 1947. The grapes produced wines with such a high level of natural alcohol that chaptalization became unnecessary. They showed deep color, high and unusually sweet tannin levels and better acidity than expected, as well as great concentration of fruit. The hype was great, particularly thanks to the advent of new wine magazines - this was the vintage that cemented Robert Parker's reputation. Prices rose quickly and haven't looked back since. I remember that all Premiers Crus (including Pétrus) were offered to end consumers for around 50 euros en primeur in 1983.
The scene of the arrival of the 1990 vintage 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 in succession. This led most châteaux to drop their prices by around 20% from their 1989 prices, even though the quality was exceptional. There had been a steady increase in prices during the 1980s, but they had now more or less returned to the opening prices of the 1982s. This was again a record harvest, but as most châteaux had already introduced a "second wine" and were more selective regarding quality, there was actually less wine bottled under the name "Grand Vin" than in 1982.
We have been following these two vintages since they were young, as they were both precocious and easy to drink from the start. The best wines from both vintages are spectacular, but the overall quality is much higher in 1990. Here, the wines have been equally successful on both sides of the river, and even the small châteaux have produced something special. We always found most Right Bank 1982s to be overly alcoholic and lacking in structure; Indeed, many age quickly.