One of my adventures while in grad school involved seeking out bottles from Bordeaux’s best producers with significant age. While I tended to avoid the legendary vintages of 1961, 1982, and 1990, I focused on the better of the more ‘traditional’ vintages. This meant that while the vintage conditions were often imperfect, these were to some extent winemaker’s vintages – attention to quality shone through. In some cases, the vintage’s historical reputation was ruined by poor outcomes on one bank of the Gironde, while the other bank produced quite good wines; this allowed me to get some rather good bargains!
1964 Leoville Las Cases, St Julien (12% | May 2008)
Straight out of the bottle: Faint earthy aromas; color in glass is a bright red with a faded rim. Lots of red fruit flavors (currants, cherries, plum), some mintiness, and some nice tannins.
Still has the structure to last a couple more years, but I’d drink up. After half an hour of decanting, aromas reflect light red currants more than earthy features. 9/10
1970 Lafon Rochet, St Estephe (11.5% | March 2008)
Faded brick red. Faint, earthy nose with hints of red fruits (primarily cherries). A touch of strawberry jam. In the mouth, very smooth with fresh strawberries, cherries, currants. Long, smooth finish. 9.5/10
1970 Pape Clement, Graves Grand Cru (early 2008)
Barnyardy & alcoholic nose. Bricky rim. Faint red fruit, short finish. It’s possible this bottle suffered from heat damage despite the lack of apparent condition issues, but otherwise long past its peak.
1976 La Mission Haut Brion, Graves (12% | 23 June 2008)
Color: a crystal clear garnet red, with gently fading rims. Lifted aromas of red fruit and a hint of alcohol, surrounded by leather and forest floor. In the mouth, spices, saddle leather, red fruit, some tannins. With a bit of aeration, develops intense, swirling flavors of plums, chocolate, licorice, blackberries, blueberries. Medium long finish. 10/10
1976 Chateau Latour, Pauillac (9 August 2008) Bottle condition: Mid-shoulder fill.
Bright red with a fading rim. Initially flowery, perfumy aromas, which quickly become more earthy and meaty around a solid core of red fruit. In the mouth, earthy, with plums and cherries, lots of spices. Fully mature, and very smooth, with a long finish that just drifts away. 10/10
1978 Montrose, St Estephe (12% | 15 November 2008) Bottle condition: Bottom-neck fill.
Deep, clear glowing ruby red. Mossy aromas. Peat, dark fruit, leather, some mint. Very smooth and relaxed, leather, plums, spices, dried cranberries. Relaxed finish. Smokey, tobacco-y note.
Gorgeous, mellow and contemplative – like a Brubeck standard. 9/10
1979 Leoville Poyferre, St Julien (11.8% | 20 September 2008)
A bright garnet/crimson core with slight bricking around the rim. Very reticent aromas – light red fruits, some faint earthiness, very foresty. In the mouth, dried cherries, cranberries, leather, spices and some earthiness. Pleasantly spicy finish with decent length. 9/10
1979 Prieure Lichine, St Estephe (12% | May 2008)
Decanted 1/2 hour. Raisiny & slightly leathery aromas. Red fruit, leather and earthy flavors. Not much length on the finish. 8/10
1981 Leoville Las Cases, St Julien (28 May 2009) Bottle condition: Some signs of seepage, but full fill.
Deep garnet color with a lightly faded rim. Inviting aromas of wild berries, flowers, tobacco and foresty notes. In the mouth, spices, red fruit, leather, forest floor and a touch of sage. This is beautiful right now, probably at its peak. Very understated rather than flashy. 9/10
1981 Prieure Lichine, St Estephe (April 2008)
Brick rim with a bright red core. Faint earthy nose. In the mouth, light red fruits and a touch of tannins. Elegant and restrained. 8.5/10
1970 Ausone, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe (12.1% | 2 April 2009) Bottle condition: cork depressed 1/4 inch, signs of seepage.
Strong bricking on the rim, but this is still a nice garnet hue. Interesting aromas of mint, sage, forest floor, leather, all wrapped around a core of bright red fruit. This wine is very savory: Eucalyptus, forest floor, leather, plums, all wrapped in a seamless package. After an hour of decanting, picks up coffee and tobacco notes. The finish still has decent length. 10/10
1970 Clos Fourtet, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru (12% | March 2008)
Caramel brown rim with a hint of brick/garnet red in the glass; aromas of honeyed, carmelized fruit, almost port-like (heat damage?). In the mouth, some rapidly fading red fruit; in its way, charming, but long past its peak.
1971 Cheval Blanc, St Emilion (12% | 21 May 2008)
Garnet red, with an gently aging rim. Relaxed, fragrant, enveloping aromas of saddle leather, berries and plums. Flavors of smoke, red fruit, leather, tea. Long, smooth, velvety and relaxed finish.
Awesome. After several hours of decanting, gained nice floral aromatics and coffee notes. 10/10
1975 Clos des Jacobins, St Emilion GCC (12% | 24 August 2009) Bottle condition: top-shoulder fill, no signs of seepage.
Showing age, blood red with a bricking rim. On the nose, earthy, hints of red fruits, strong iron filings. Quite pungent. In the mouth, some bright red fruit remains, nuts, forest floor, more iron.
The finish maintains a decent length, although this is very smooth well and probably in decline. 8.5/10
1988 Cheval Blanc, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe (12.5% | 14 February 2011)
Medium garnet, slightly faded rim. Meaty aromas that quickly turn floral, with vibrant red fruits. In the mouth, cranberries, cherries and blackberries mingle with forest floor and licorice.
But it’s difficult to pull out individual aspects of this. Almost weightless in the mouth, still has a long finish. 9.5-10/10
I set this out before the most hilariously awful Valentine’s Day date ever. Over the course of dinner, I kept thinking about how I couldn’t wait to try the Cheval Blanc. It lived up to my expectations and then some.