Serious Bordeaux lovers know that the 1982 vintage was one of the finest ever in that part of the world--perhaps even comparable to such all-time greats as 1945, 1961 and now 2005. The only question about this wonderful vintage has been its longevity.
I've heard some grumblings from my friends, who share the same passion for Bordeaux that I have, that some '82 red Bordeaux are getting tired and have 'passed their peak' of fine drinking. And so it was with some trepidation that I recently attended a tasting of 17 top 1982 Bordeaux wines, served 'blind.' I do happen to own a number of 1982 Bordeaux myself, and so this was a golden opportunity to check their progress.
I'll end the suspense upfront by telling you that at this particular tasting, 1982 indeed proved itself once again a great vintage, and one that is standing the test of time. Of course, there are certain qualifying provisos that come with that statement: One, all of the wines came from one colleague's cellar with ideal storage conditions; two, all of the wines were among the elite (all the First Growths, other Classified Growths, etc.). There were 11 Bordeaux from Haut-Médoc, two from Pessac-Léognan, three from St.-Emilion, and one from Pomerol (unfortunately not Château Petrus, the only big-name Bordeaux that we didn't taste).
The great thing about blind tastings is that one's pre-conceived notions are cancelled, and you are forced to concentrate on what's in the glass instead of the label that you cannot see. Some of the usual suspects performed nobly, others disappointed. A few less-prestigious wines did extremely well-one of the nice surprises of the event. (Retail prices for these '82 Bordeaux today range from $125 for the Château Canon to over $1,000 for most of the First Growths). One wine, the 1982 Château Pichon-Baron (a Second Growth Pauillac) was corked, and was not rated.
Château Latour received the most first-place votes from the group. No surprise there. This great First Growth from the village of Pauillac in the Haut-Médoc has always been considered one of the standouts of the vintage. It was voluptuous, concentrated, and very young; it has many years of life ahead of it, and is not yet at its peak of best drinking.
The second favorite, Château Gruaud-Larose, a Second Growth from St.-Julien (Haut-Médoc), was somewhat of a surprise. Granted that Gruaud-Larose has a reputation for performing well in 1982, but placing No. 2 in this company would not have been expected. The '82 Gruaud-Larose was absolutely perfect, a thoroughbred with perfect structure and balance-I thought it resembled Château Lafite-Rothschild.
My numbers three and four were even greater surprises: Châteaux Léoville-Barton and Canon, respectively. The Léoville-Barton, another Second Growth from St.-Julien, was young, tannic, and far from at its peak; some tasters mistook it for Château Latour. Château Canon (from St.-Emilion) was lovely, rich and one of the few wines that was ready to drink-and I remind you, the least expensive wine in the group.
Some of the wines that I expected to do well lived up to their reputations: Château Lafite-Rothschild (First Growth Pauillac) was elegance personified--I scored it very highly and another experienced taster rated it first; Château Pichon-Lalande (Second Growth Pauillac) was surprisingly austere and tannic, with many years to go before it reaches its plateau of optimal drinking.
Other First Growths varied: Château Margaux was lovely, but surprisingly ready to drink, Château Mouton-Rothschild was as voluptuous as usual, but not a standout-definitely a surprise to me because I always considered this fine Pauillac as one of the great 1982s. Château Haut-Brion was also quite voluptuous (I used that term frequently for these '82s) and rich, with lots of fruit, and like Château Margaux, was ready to drink-although both of these fine wines will age well for several more years. In contrast to the Haut-Brion, its sister-Château across the road in Pessac-Léognan, Château La Mission Haut-Brion, was still very young, with quite a bit of tannin, many years from its peak; a very fine wine.
Rounding out the rest of the group, three Second Growth St.-Juliens: Châteaux Léoville-Poyferré, Léoville-Las Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou, all showed well, all quite rich, with the Léoville-Poyferré receiving the most votes, the Ducru the least of the three.
I was a bit surprised that Léoville-Las Cases, always one of my favorite 1982s, didn't do better. One taster thought it to be 'Burgundy-like,' an unusual appraisal for the normally austere Las Cases. Château Cheval Blanc, the great St.-Emilion wine and one of the early favorites as 'Wine of the Vintage' in the 1980s, did not sing at this tasting.
Not a bad wine, but not a star, either. Is it past its best drinking? Nor did the other prestigious St.-Emilion, Château Ausone, show that well. Its tannins overwhelmed its fruit. Perhaps it needs more time? The one Pomerol in the tasting, Château l'Evangile, did not impress, either, making me conclude that the Left Bank did better than the Right Bank in 1982.
The organizer of the tasting threw in one 'mystery wine,' a 1982 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Many of us, including yours truly, picked it out as the non-Bordeaux in the group. It wasn't a bad wine, but its lower acidity gave it away as a California Cabernet rather than Bordeaux, and it did not finish very high in the voting.
The 1982 Bordeaux vintage is for real, with many of the top wines still requiring some aging-if they have been stored well, of course. I personally don't think that 1982 is uniformly as great a vintage as the 2005, nor will its wines last as long. But the good news is that many 1982 Bordeaux wines (a prolific vintage) are still available, if you search for them, and they can provide a wonderful drinking experience for now and for the near-future, while you're waiting for the 2005s to mature.