An Evening at Home with a Dear Friend

I  pulled out the big eight from 1982 that I had purchased as wine futures in 1983, took possession of immediately upon their arrival to America, and had stored in a 52-55 degree cellar with 80% humidity since 1985. Storage is everything in wine, as I have noted in tasting 1982s that have been purchased at auction over the last few years. They have been far more evolved, in some cases even decrepit compared to the same wines that have been pristinely stored. In a previous Gazette, I made reference to this in a Bordeaux tasting where I thought the wines were over the hill 1985s, and they turned out to be cooked 1982s. Proper storage is essential, and it is one of the reasons why I no longer buy wines at auction ... any auction!

The food was simple. I prepared a comfit of duck, a grilled New York strip steak, a gratin of potatoes, and roasted mushrooms.

All of these wines were opened and decanted two hours prior to serving. The decanters were kept closed. The wines were poured into eight glasses and examined over the course of the next three hours. Since there were only two of us, we had plenty of time to taste. I have never enjoyed the type of tasting where 24 people split a bottle of wine. The minimum quantity for judging a wine over the course of several hours is a 4-ounce pour. Not surprisingly, the three Pauillacs were pure perfection, although totally different. The 1982 Lafite Rothschild needs another 5-6 years, but it is a modern day clone of the 1959. When fully mature, it will be interesting to see if it will have the longevity of the 1996 or 2000. The 1982 is already revealing the complex lead pencil and cedar notes, but more voluptuousness and opulence than normal. The 1982 Mouton Rothschild should have been decanted in the morning. It possesses a dense ruby/purple color as well as a gorgeous nose of crème de cassis and Asian spices, and tight, but full-bodied, pure, still backward flavors. It is beginning to shed some of its tannin, but remains an enormously endowed effort that represents a synthesis in style between the 1945 and 1959. As it has been in every tasting, the 1982 Latour is atypically opulent, forward, and more developed than either of the Rothschilds. Again, it was the sexiest wine of the tasting, with extraordinary notes of new saddle leather, cedary black currants, and spice box intermixed with a liqueur of black fruits. The opulence, glycerin, and concentration are remarkable, but the wine is also extremely low in acidity, and the tannin is so sweet, it is almost unnoticeable. It will be interesting to see how the 1996 and 2000 Latours age, but certainly the 1982 has more to it than the 1990, also a great wine. The only other vintage that behaves like 1982 is the 1961 Latour.

The 1982 Ausone was disappointing, and the score might be more for future potential than the way it performed in this tasting. The color was the lightest of the big eight, with pink and amber at the edge. Revealing notes of dusty herbs, a high mineral content, and more body and depth than most Ausones, it was tight and unyielding. No matter how much time we played with it, the wine remained backward. I recall the great Rodenstock tasting in Munich several years ago when absolutely amazing one-hundred year old bottles of Ausone were poured, making me comment that the reason I didn't like Ausone was because they needed one-hundred years of cellaring! Maybe that's the case with the 1982, but I am not sure this wine is ever going to come around in the next 15-20 years. Perhaps my descendants will be raving about it in 50-60 years. Cheval Blanc began slowly, and at first seemed underwhelming based on a bottle from the same case I had two months ago. However, after three hours, it exploded in the glass, revealing more glycerin, and notes of dried herbs, sweet fruitcake, and candied red and black fruits. It is more structured than I remember it being early in life. Now I think the 1990 and 2000 are superior vintages for Cheval Blanc. Nevertheless, this wine, which was fabulous to drink young, and then closed down, seems to be re-emerging into another animal altogether.

I never believed the 1982 Haut Brion was one of the great wines from this hallowed estate. If some of the top 1982s resemble 1959s, Haut Brion's 1982 is more like an oversized 1985. It is sweet, ripe, and elegant, but qualitatively, well behind the other first-growths with the exception of the right bank effort from Ausone. The 1982 Haut Brion exhibited complex, gravelly notes intermixed with asphalt, currants, and dried herbs. Medium-bodied and complex aromatically, it does not deliver the full flavor profile the 1982 vintage can provide.

Château Margaux performed extremely well. While it has always possessed more size than the 1983 (a terrific as well as more consistent vintage for the Margaux appellation), I have always preferred the bouquet of the 1983, and the texture and flesh of the 1982. The 1982 is corpulent, solid, masculine, and rich, but it does not reveal the finesse and elegance of vintages such as 1983, 1986, 1990, 1996, and 2000. Nevertheless, the 1982 has another twenty plus years of cellaring potential. Lastly, the consistently inconsistent 1982 Pétrus was brilliant. This wine's score can range from the upper eighties to virtually perfect. I don't understand why, but this particular bottle was revealing some of the roasted herb, sweet caramel, and opulent black cherry fruit, full body, silky texture, and a hint of dry tannin in the finish. The color reveals some amber at the edge.

1982 is certainly Bordeaux's greatest vintage after 1961 and before 1990. By and large, the finest 1982s possess more glycerin and stuffing than the 1990s (production was higher in the latter vintage), but overall, 1990 has more superstar wines than 1982. Of course, there are always vintages like 1996 in the northern Médoc, 1998 on the right bank, and the soon-to-be released 2000 that will rival, and in many cases surpass 1982. However, 1982 will always have its place as it has no competition between 1962 and 1989. The reality of Bordeaux today is that there must be 50-60 châteaux that are making significantly better wines than they were in 1982. That's great news for consumers.

As far as these wines go, I think the Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild have another 25-30 years of upside potential. The Latour is more difficult to measure since it always so sweet and showy. But it is certainly capable of lasting two more decades. That is also my prediction for Château Margaux and Ausone, although I am not sure the latter wine is ever going to be that pleasurable. My instincts suggest drinking Cheval Blanc, Pétrus, and Haut Brion over the next 15 years. Of course, all of these estimates are based on pristine bottles stored impeccably since the vintage was released in spring, 1985.

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