March 11, 13,and 15, 1998

Three-day extravaganza, featuring the 1970 red Bordeaux vintage.

I have been planning this event for over five years. A total of 54 various châteaux will be tasted, as well as unusual aperitif and dessert wines. All the wines are from my cellar, and they have been perfectly cellared for up to two decades at 52ºF constant. The exceptions are the 1970 Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, and Trotanoy, which were purchased recently from a wine merchant in Washington State. All levels and appearances are very good. The 16 participants will take part in all three sessions.

Each session will feature several communes. These wines are now 27 years old and they have spent a full quarter-of-a-century in bottle. These tastings will give all participants an excellent opportunity to appraise this highly touted vintage. No doubt there will be disappointments and a few pleasant surprises. However, due to excellent storage, I think that this should be a most enjoyable weekend.

ß       Wednesday, March 11, 1998

First session

At “The William Tell” restaurant.

Aperitif

“Y” 1979, dry wine of Château d’Yquem:

Bright, green-gold colour with good depth. Expansive, oak, vanilla, and ripe fruit, with hint of botrytis on nose (no doubt due to storage in used d’Yquem casks). Surprisingly dry on palate, but with excellent balance and length. Later developed even a hint of sweetness. This wine is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. It is only bottled when there is excessive Sauvignon Blanc left over after the production of the Grand Vin, as d’Yquem does not produce a second wine.

Flight #1

Graves

1. Château Carbonnieux 1970:

Dark colour, orange rim. Earthy, truffles on nose. Bell pepper, too. Still tannic, surprisingly solid. Good fruit. A bit coarse, with noticeable acidity at finish. (15)

2. Château Haut-Bailly 1970:

Good depth, evolved orange rim. More forward-looking than #1. Delicate, cedary nose. Hint of coffee beans. Softer, round, elegant. Noticeable acidity at finish, but good, toasty oak and fruit, too. Fully mature. The elegance is a trademark of this property. (17)

3. Domaine de Chevalier 1970:

Similar appearance to #1. Subdued, perfumy nose. Has breed. Fairly soft, yet tannic backbone. A bit too dry, without the charm it had in the past. Later improved. Elegant, long. Needs drinking. I have tasted better examples of this. (17)

4. Château Latour-Haut-Brion 1970:

Excellent, deep colour. Darkest so far. Fruity, cedary, toasty on nose. Hefty, lively fruit and flesh. Still surprisingly youthful, yet simple. I have tasted better examples of this, too. (16)

5. Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1970:

Good colour; pale orange rim. Volatile on nose. Powerful, but coarse. Lemony, sour. Good structure, but too acidic. For some mysterious reason, La Mission blew the 1970 vintage. This and Leoville-Lascases are two great properties, but both have produced disappointing 1970s. (15)

6. Château Haut-Brion 1970:

Deepest, darkest, and best wine of flight. Ripe, earthy, hint of truffles on nose. Surprisingly deep, ripe, rich, and long. A lovely mouthful of ripe, fully mature wine. Hint of leather. The biggest, richest, best 1970 Haut-Brion I have tasted to date. Can be variable. (18.5)

Flight #2

Margaux and Haut-Médocs

1. Château La Lagune 1970:

Impressive, deep colour to rim. Cedary, spicy on nose. Full, sweet, solid. Very slight hint of mustiness. Nice fruit, still a bit tannic, masculine. Spicy, cedary complex, and sweet. (16.5)

2. Château Dauzac 1970:

Similar appearance to the 1970 La Lagune, but more evolved rim. Earthy, wet cement on nose. Lean, acidic, sour. Poor wine. Hint of cork, too. (12) Only in the late 1980s has Dauzac started to produce good wines.

3. Château Prieuré-Lichine 1970:

Evolved colour with red tinge. Dull, vegetal nose. Sweet, solid, yet sour on palate. Too sharp, but still has retained some fruit. (14.5)

4. Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry 1970, in magnum:

Deep colour to rim. Impressive, full, rich, solid. Backed by ripe fruit. Steely finish with noticeable acidity, but good, ripe fruit, too. Zesty, slightly citrusy. Has held very well in magnums. A bit rustic. (16)

5. Château Lascombes 1970, in magnum:

Deep-red colour. Subdued nose. Full, cedary/toasty, with good fruit, but some noticeable acidity. Surprisingly lively. Elegant, well balanced. (16.5)

6. Château Palmer 1970:

We toasted the memory of our dear friend, Peter A. Sichel, who passed away two weeks ago. Perfection now, but approaching the end of its plateau. Very soft, evolved, perfumy, complex, velvety, and chocolaty. Such a pleasure to drink now. The epitome of Margaux. (18)

7. Château Margaux 1970:

Impressive, deep colour. Spicy, cedary, but rustic on nose. Extremely acidic and sharp on palate. Clearly overshadowed by the 1970 Palmer. Michael Broadbent rates this a five-star, which puzzles me. A poor effort, and the beginning of Margaux’s decline—until the new regime took over in 1977/1978. (14.5)

Flight #3

St. Estèphes

1. Château Meyney 1970:

Dark colour to rim. Stemmy, subdued nose. Sweet, but noticeable acidity on nose. Too sour. Lean finish. Drink up. (14)

2. Château de Pez 1970:

Bright red. Not quite as dark as the Meyney. Orangy rim. Green, stemmy, charred oak on nose. Quite sweet, long, rich, still solid, at 27 years old. Sweet, cedary, but was better five years ago. (16)

3. Château Lafon-Rochet 1970:

Sweet, leathery, baked, and pruny on nose. Sweet on palate. Soft tannins, but too ripe, and very sharp, acidic finish. Past its prime, but then, this was never a very good wine. (14)

4. Château Cos d’Estournel 1970:

Bright, deep colour. Excessive acidity, lacking ripe fruit. Some greenness, unripe tannins. Otherwise, quite a pleasant wine, with enough complexity to show the class this property is capable of producing. (16.5)

5. Château Montrose 1970:

As expected, a brooding giant. Very deep, very youthful colour to rim. Cedary, slightly herbaceous nose, backed by ripe black fruit. Very big, very hard, very tight, with great concentration. Drink from 2000 to 2020. If there is one criticism, it is that this wine lacks the complexity and class of that other 1970 monster, Château Latour. This is clearly the best St. Estèphe of the vintage. (18)

Overall impressions

The first flight (Graves) was clearly the best and most complex. The Margaux flight, as expected in 1970, was disappointing, with the exception, of course, of the lovely (but now fully mature) Palmer. The St. Estèphe flight was good overall, with the classic, old style, tight, hard wines typical to that commune. How sad it is that the modern St. Estèphes have lost their true commune character, producing softer wines, more Merlot, maybe more immediately pleasing to the palate, but totally uncharacteristic to this fine commune.

Tonight’s stars were the 1970 Haut-Brion, Palmer, and Montrose. No surprises here.

Dessert wine

Vouvray Moelleux “Le Haut-Lieu” 1947, Huet:

What a superb dessert wine! The best sweet Vouvray I have ever tasted. Brilliant, deep amber-gold colour. Ripe apricots and peaches, superb nose. Full, creamy, yet backed by excellent acidity. Very long. A mouthful of lovely, ripe Chenin Blanc. A great effort from a gifted producer. Huet himself feels that this is the best wine he has ever produced. (19) I purchased this wine, together with Huet’s 1945, last year from the “Sonoma Rare Wine Company,” at a cost of US$200 per bottle.

ß       Friday, March 13, 1998

Second session

At “Le Crocodile” restaurant, in Vancouver, featuring Haut-Médocs, St. Juliens, and Pomerols.

We sat down to a glass of this wine.

Château Chalon, Vin Jaune 1966, Bouvret:

This famous wine comes from the Jura; it is made in the Jerez method, from the Savagnin grape. It is allowed to oxidize and develop a nutty character and bottled in a short, squat, 630 mL bottle called a Clavelin. Bright, palish gold. Subdued ripe nutty nose. Full, yet crisp on palate with good acidity. Very long, bone-dry. Lots of class here.

Today’s tasting features Haut-Médoc Crus Bourgeois (all from the southern Médoc and Moulis), and Château Gloria (as the lead wine for the St. Juliens, which will be the second flight). The third flight will feature Pomerols.

Flight #1

Haut-Médocs/Crus Bourgeois

1. Château Lanessan 1970:

London-bottled by Corney and Barrow.

Medium-red, evolved colour. Very slight hint of dill on nose. Soft, evolved on palate. Nice fruit, but tired, with hint of acidity and sharpness at finish. Was much finer ten years ago. (14.5)

2. Château Beaumont 1970:

Darker, deeper, more youthful than the Lanessan. Slightly earthy, herbaceous nose. Still a bit tannic with pleasant fruit. Surprisingly lively. After 20 minutes in glass, became astringent. (14.5)

3. Château Chasse-Spleen 1970, Moulis:

Very good, youthful colour. Palish rim. Cedary, spicy nose of fine Cabernet. Full, but lactic on palate. Very evolved, yet sweet fruit coming through with good backbone. I have tasted finer examples of this wine in the past. (15)

4. Château Gloria 1970, St. Julien:

This wine introduced us to the St. Julien flight. Subdued nose. Some fruit coming through. Very soft, very evolved. Was much better ten years ago. Drink up. Quite pleasant, nevertheless. (16)

The first three wines of the above flight were certainly sound, but a bit pedestrian. They have obviously seen better days.

Flight #2

St. Juliens

1. Château Branaire-Ducru 1970:

Evolved colour, orangy rim. Slightly oxidized, vegetal nose. Quite sweet on entry, but seems artificial. Candied, soft, tired, yet some cedary character there. Needed drinking ten years ago. (14)

2. Château Beychevelle 1970:

Similar appearance to the Branaire, but slightly brighter. Stemmy, spicy nose. Pleasant, soft fruit. Hint of toasted oak. Good length and complexity. Has the typical elegance of this property. Drink up. (16.5)

3. Château Gruaud-Larose 1970:

Deeper colour than the above two with orange-green rim. Tight, subdued nose of cedar, earth, and mushrooms. Quite aggressive on palate. Lively fruit, fresh, but slightly too sharp and acidic. Not well balanced. Gruaud-Larose produced superb wines until, and including, 1966. Their wine clearly declined in quality for over a decade. From 1981 onward, this property has been back in form. (15)

4. Château Leoville-Poyferré 1970:

Medium-red colour, orange rim. Stemmy nose. Quite sour, acidic, but backed by pleasant fruit. Too musty, but not corked. Nothing exciting has been produced by this potentially great property after the 1940s. From 1982 onward, it is finally back in shape. (14)

5. Château Leoville-Barton 1970:

Hint of chocolate, coconut on nose. Cedary, dill, too. Solid structure, but a bit lean, yet has pleasant fruit. I wish it had more flesh. Hint of iodine, which was characteristic of this property from the 1950s through the 1970s. (17)

6. Château Leoville-Lascases 1970:

Similar appearance to #4, but more depth. Neutral, lactic nose with hint of cedar. Solid, ripe, tannic. Good terroir character. Best 1970 Lascases I have tasted to date. Usually it is a disappointing wine. Good, but not great. (16.5)

7. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1970:

As expected, the best St. Julien of the 1970 vintage. Now fully evolved, it approaches the quality and elegance of the 1970 Palmer, but has slightly livelier fruit. Spicy, cedary nose. Round, perfectly balanced on palate. Very long, velvety, with enough fruit to last for five more years. Top quality and a pleasure to drink now. (18)

Flight #3

Pomerols

1. Château du Domaine de l’Eglise 1970:

Good, dark colour. Licorice, minty, almost California nose. Fairly acidic, yet good, ripe fruit underneath. Was riper, richer ten years ago, but has held very well. The last fine Domaine de l’Eglise to date. After 1970, this property was acquired by the Bordeaux négociant firm of Borie-Manoux, a firm that strives to produce correct, reliable, commercial products, rather than top-flight wines. (17)

2. Château Le Gay 1970:

Similar appearance to the above, but darker rim. Unyielding nose, with hint of iron and mushrooms. Sweet, solid, rich, trace of acidity at finish, but good, ripe intensity. After 15 minutes, it ended a bit short and astringent. Was better ten years ago. (16)

3. Vieux Château Certan 1970:

Lovely, bright colour. Complex, long, cedary nose of great breed. Obviously high Cabernet content. Spicy, complex, long. A classy, elegant wine. Has breed. The best 1970 Vieux Château Certan I have tasted to date. (18)

4. Château Lafleur-Petrus 1970:

Deep colour. Ripe, plummy, solid, even tannic. A surprisingly big wine. Lots of depth here. Very good extract and still surprisingly lively. (17.5)

5. Château Trotanoy 1970:

Very impressive, deep colour. Deepest colour so far. Sensational, rich, cedary, and earthy nose with truffles overtones. Superb, lively, great fruit extract. Best 1970 Trotanoy tasted to date. Made from old vines. Great bottle. (19)

6. Château Lafleur 1970:

Very impressive, deep colour. Unfortunately, oxidized. Tannic, rich, solid, but losing its fruit. Too tough and leathery. Not a very good bottle. Seemed baked. Maybe slightly oxidized. This was very disappointing, because when last tasted five years ago, it was superb. I purchased several bottles of this in Portland, Oregon, back in 1979, at a cost of US$18 per bottle. This wine retails now for over US$350 per bottle! (15)

7. Château Petrus 1970:

A near-perfect wine. Now approaching its peak. Stunning quality. Great depth of colour to rim. Superb nose of ripe fruit, iron, and hint of truffles, but still fresh and lively. A mouthful of great, rich, round, well-balanced wine. Cannot get any better. The star of the evening. (19.5)

The Pomerol flight was stunning—not only in the overall quality of the wines, but in how lively and fresh the best wines still are. Of course, proper storage is the key, and all these wines were very well cellared for almost two decades (or more). Who said that Pomerols do not age or develop complexity?

Dessert wine

1945 Russian Port, Crimea, from the Massandra Collection:

This wine was auctioned off at a special Sotheby’s sale in the early 1990s. Cellophane wrapper with a Sotheby’s label reading “South Coast Red Port from the Massandra Collection.” Tiny, but healthy, cork. Some sediment. Pale, Rosé colour, not unlike a Tavel Rosé. Clean, spicy Muscat on both nose and palate. Good sweetness and acidity, with perfumy Muscat flavours. Quite long. An experience.

The cellars, located at the Livadia Palace of the Czars, near Yalta, were established in the 1890s by Czar Nicholas II. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the winery began to sell off a few hundred cases of Port, Sherry, and Muscat, dating from 1923 to the early 1960s.

ß       Sunday Noon,   March 15, 1998

Third and Final session

At “Lumière” restaurant, headed by the gifted Executive Chef Rob Feenie, featuring St. Emilions and Pauillacs.

Aperitif

Champagne Pol Roger “Reserve” 1985, in magnum:

A lovely Champagne from an excellent vintage. Creamy, smooth, round, long, with fine mousse and tiny bubbles. Still lively. Very long on palate. Bravo, Pol Roger!

Savennières Grand Cru “Clos de la Coulée de Serrant” 1980, Mme. Joly:

Made from Chenin Blanc grapes and surely one of the very finest Savennières, and from such a difficult vintage. Palish, youthful, golden colour. Neutral nose. Hint of petroleum jelly, but not in the flowery Riesling sense. Full, fairly acidic, but round, long, and well balanced. No rush drinking this 17-year-old. Very good aftertaste.

Flight #1

St. Emilions

1. Château Franc-Mayne 1970:

Evolved colour, orangy rim. Toasted oak, cedary nose with hint of dill. Typical St. Emilion. Expansive, round, elegant, still has good, sweet fruit. Very long. Finishes a bit astringent. Needs drinking, but certainly a very fine effort. This tiny seven-hectare property has produced lovely wines over the decades. (16.5)

2. Château Fonplégade 1970:

Darker than the Franc-Mayne. Subdued, toasted almonds and black fruit on nose. Slightly metallic. Surprisingly, quite tannic, with hint of truffles. Tight, low fruit. Drink up. (15.5)

3. Château La Gaffelière 1970:

Very evolved colour. Leafy, elegant, subdued nose. Soft, velvety, sweet fruit. Lovely balance, intensity, and class here. Still surprisingly lively. Sweet, soft on entry, but flavours lingered on palate. Very fine wine. (17.5)

4. Château Pavie 1970, in magnum:

Good, dark colour. Stemmy, yet ripe and evolved wine. Full, luscious, round on palate. Seared oak. More impressive on entry than at finish. Drink up. (16.5)

5. Château l’Arrosée 1970:

Good, dark colour to rim. Smoky, meaty, big wine (as expected). Lots of Cabernets here. Not a very complex wine, but certainly sturdy. Still lively, but getting slightly astringent. A bit metallic. Was better five years ago. (16.5)

6.         Château Cheval-Blanc 1970:

Superb nose. Toasty, lovely oak and cedar. Great extract. Lots of class here. Clearly, best wine of flight. Only the La Gaffelière approaches it in terms of complexity, but this Cheval-Blanc is so much classier. Better than expected. Certainly soft and evolved, but very fine. (18.5)

Overall impressions

Clearly, the Cheval-Blanc was the best wine of the flight. However, the real surprise was the elegance and complexity (and longevity) of the La Gaffelière.

Flight #2

Pauillacs

1. Château Croizets-Bages 1970:

Quite evolved colour. Metallic, dull nose. Sharp, acidic, low fruit. Hard, steely. Having said that, the wine was better than expected. When will this property turn around? (14)

2. Château Mouton-Baron-Philippe 1970:

More evolved colour than #1. Sweet, cedary, toasty, cherry. Fair bit of acidity is backed by good, cedary, stemmy Cabernet. Better than expected. Clearly best complexity of the first three Pauillacs. (16)

3. Château Pontet-Canet 1970:

Deeper colour than above two. Subdued, slightly candied nose. Closed and unyielding. Nice sweetness. Better than its reputation would indicate. Soft, evolved, elegant fruit. Clean, fruity aftertaste. (15)

4. Château Batailley 1970:

Deep bright-red colour. Sweet, cedary, and wet earth on nose. Round, still surprisingly fruity. Not much complexity here, but certainly still lively and fruity. Better structure than the Pontet-Canet. This is the only Borie-Manoux property that attempts to achieve some complexity. Sadly, this is not the case with Trottevieille, Domaine de l’Eglise, etc. (16)

5. Château Haut-Batailley 1970:

Lovely, dark-red colour. Youthful rim. Metallic, dusty nose. Hint of toast and dill, too. Nice, sweetness on entry. Very good fruit. Elegant, cedary, well balanced. Lasted surprisingly well. Classy, yet elegant Pauillac. (17)

6. Les-Forts-de-Latour 1970:

This is the second wine of Château Latour. Clearly, deepest, darkest, most youthful wine of flight. Sweet, ripe nose of cedary Cabernet, with ripe, cedary extract. Full of life. Some greenness, due, no doubt, to younger vines, but an excellent wine, nevertheless. (17.5)

With the exception of Les-Forts-de-Latour, I did not expect much from this flight. I was pleasantly surprised.

Flight #3

Pauillacs

1. Château Pichon-Lalande 1970:

Dark colour, palish, orangy rim. Subdued nose with hint of cedar. Sweet, elegant fruit on entry. Coffee beans, cigar box. Leaner, tighter, more masculine than expected for a wine as elegant as this. Has class. (17.5)

2. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1970:

Medium red. Surprisingly evolved. Cedary, open, plummy nose. Quite evolved on palate. Black currants, hint of tar. Not as youthful as on past occasions, but certainly a very fine, classic Pauillac. I have tasted several better examples of this, over the past two decades. (17.5)

3. Château Lynch-Bages 1970:

Very impressive, deep colour. Cedary, minty nose. Very ripe, California-style Cabernet. Ripe, fruity, tannic, minty wine. So obvious Lynch-Bages and so easy to like! Great fruit extract. Loads of ripe, rich fruit. Drink now to 2005. (18.5)

4. Château Lafite-Rothschild 1970:

Clearly palest, most evolved wine of all three flights today. Smoky, elegant, but very tired on both nose and palate. Bacon bits, perfumy, but thin, loosely knit, tired. Having said that, it was better than expected. (16.5)

5. Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970:

Much darker than the Lafite. Lovely, cedary, cigar box, classic Mouton nose. Full, rich, round, evolved, yet lovely extract. Noticeable acidity at end, but toasty cedar, oak, and ripe fruit, too. Surprisingly fine. (18)

6. Château Latour 1970:

Together with Petrus and Trotanoy, the greatest wine of this three-day event. Still not ready! Deep, dark colour. Lovely, cedary black fruit and truffles on nose. A mouthful of very rich fruit and tannins. If well cellared, should reach its peak around 2005 and last well at least until 2025. A great Claret with a great future. A mouthful of great Cabernet extract towering over all other wines in this (or any other) flight. Deserves its reputation of being the greatest, longest-lived wine of this fine vintage. A fitting finale. (19.5)

Dessert wine

Setúbal “Colheita” 1934, J. M. da Fonseca:

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of that house, established in 1834.

This Setúbal is made from Moscatel and other varietals, all from the 1934 vintage, and bottled in the early 1990s, so that it has spent over 50 years in cask before bottling. A luscious, intensely rich, nutty, sweet wine. Lingering aftertaste of roasted almonds and maple syrup. Superb quality.

Chef Rob Feenie produced, as is usual at “Lumière,” a superb and innovative meal.

Conclusions

Are the 1970s, now 27 years old, over-the-hill? No, provided (and this is absolutely crucial) that they were very well cellared through their lives, and that the levels are good. How many times have we read, over the past decade, that the 1970 Bordeaux are over-the-hill? Even as recently as a month ago, at an extensive tasting of Diamond Creek Winery’s wines in San Francisco and Yountville, I was told by Michel Betanne and other knowledgeable tasters to expect many disappointments. Well, these experts were wrong.

Of course, 1970s that were stored in warm cellars and/or that have poor levels will taste washed-out and tired, but the best are still superb. Wines such as 1970 Latour, Montrose, Petrus, Trotanoy, Lynch-Bages, and others are still full of life. And if The Wine Spectator or other leading magazines or experts tell you that the 1970s are over-the-hill, tell yourselves that these expert tasters have tasted wines that were not well stored and that came from many varied sources. The same is true of 1963 Vintage Ports, for instance. (Mine are full of life. Some are not ready yet at 35 years. Yet when you read comments on these wines, you would think that they have already kicked the bucket.) Other successful 1970 Bordeaux, such as Palmer, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Haut-Brion, Cheval-Blanc, etc., are drinking very well now, but they will not improve.