A 2017 Observation About 1980s Vintage Bordeaux

Generally speaking, so many of them are in such an amazing drinking zone. And they have been for a handful of years, but it struck me completely - sure, intellectually speaking, I knew this - that perhaps classic Bordeaux really do need 25-35 years to hit that perfect sweet spot. I’m talking that point where the wine exhibits full maturation, the range of ancillary and tertiary characteristics many of us want to see expressed in a wine, where the fruit remains vibrant but also more layered and nuanced, where the tannins, oak, alcohol are all in such perfect balance. Of course not all achieve this apogee, but thinking back on the many 1980s I popped this year, from Basic Cru to Classified Growths, and even a few First Growths, I have been thrilled.

It most recently struck me this past week where a lowly 1989 Meyney so out-performed a 1996 Cos d’Estournel and a 2000 Gruaud Larose. Having a 1966 Magdelaine during this past week also heralded a clear signal to me how great some of these 1980s can and will be over the next 20 years.

Logic tells me that these 1990s and 2000s will eventually hit those same heights as the 1980s. Clearly we all hear how much better the vineyard and winemaking practices have become, how weather patterns have even become more manageable. So in theory, perhaps some of these wines eventually outshine the 1980s. But I still wonder. While we may be seeing more objectively better wines, cleaner wines, will we see the musky Bordeaux perfume of the wines that intoxicated me when I started down this path, wines like 1986 Gruaud Larose and the stable of Cordier wines, 1989 Montrose, and a host of others. The 1989 Meyney had it. In spades. The 1996 Cos didn’t much speak to me.

Pardon the stream of consciousness ramblings of someone that really is smitten with these 1980s Bordeaux. Even the so-called off-years speak to me. Sadly, my “cellar” is way too young.

Old man yells at cloud.

Try some 2001s. Or something from 1996 that’s actually approaching maturity. You could have had the same experience with a bottle of 1986 Cos a few years ago, or possibly even now.

New quality is perhaps up, on average, but the things that made for ‘great’ wines in the past are now gone.

I don’t think we will see the great heights of the 'pre-Parker" Bordeaux wines. (It’s almost like pre vs. post phyloxera.)

Which, of course, is my first point.

Nothing profound, nothing revelatory here, just some observations arising from thinking back on some of the very excellent 1980s Bordeaux that I have enjoyed this year.

I agree,
they do need a fair bit of time to come around, and a lot is wasted by being drunk far too young. But hey what sane person spends vast amounts on a product that may not be optimal in their lifetime neener

In short, yes. I’m still buying 80s Bordeaux when I can find it and am rarely disappointed. I’d love to have many cases of 90s, and think it likely that the few cases I do have will survive a few more years at least.

But the 2000 Smith Haut Lafitte I’ve been drinking this week has offered more youthful but no less worthy pleasures. This is a lucky person’s problem :slight_smile:.

My wine plan for next year has me buying more pre-2000 Bordeaux than drinking the stuff. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve felt this way for a long time.

Parker fanboys who relentlessly beat the drums of “ever-better” wines have done the wine world a great disservice.

I don’t know what evidence one might cite for the belief that the wines of the last 15 0r 20 years won’t be terrific when they are this age. They might all fall apart, but what evidence we currently have suggests otherwise.

The lesson I have learned from the wines of the 80s is that “off” vintages are capable of producing long-lived and deeply pleasurable drinking. The 82s and 89s, sure, but the 83s and 85s too.

Quite a conundrum, eh?!

I admit to loving young and mid-aged Bordeaux too, but clearly the very matured ones express, I think, the intent of Bordeaux.

Back on the old BWE site, we had a discussion and debate in 2005 if new wine making styles and changing weather had made 80’s style Bordeaux a thing of the past. It was a spirited debate. I didn’t get to taste many 80’s bordeaux when young, but of what I did, the stuff being made since at least the late 90’s tasted different on release. Others with much longer experience than I felt the same way.

In particular, there was much debate about the long established idea that for Bordeaux to taste good when mature (or at least to taste like 80’s Bordeaux did in 2005), it had to taste “bad” when young. I personally had seen Bordeaux with enough cellar time go from boring, tight, nondescript, inscrutable to aromatic, open, complex, silky, integrated, including the 89 Meyney. A secondary question was similar to Robert’s post— does Bordeaux need 25-30+ years of cellar time to become what we prize in mature claret (for me, the answer is unequivocally yes), and if yes, were the newer vintages built for that longevity?

I used to be keenly concerned about this debate because 80’s Bordeaux was what I first feel in love with in wine and it might mean everything I was laying down might not morph into this style (I didn’t start building my cellar in earnest until 2003 and I didn’t have funds for older vintages then). But then i dicscovered online auctions and that there was a trove of well stored Bordeaux from the 80s and earlier available for attractive prices, and that I could just focus on backfilling. These older wines won’t last forever, but hopefully by the time these wines dry up, the 96s, 00s, and 05s I bought in volume will have undergone their own transformation. I have enough of these later vintages in storage that I will get to put this debate to rest once and for all, at least to my own satisfaction (and I hope my doubts about later vintages and styles prove unwarranted, despite my skepticism).

While the generalization of “older Bordeaux gets better” is certainly applicable to many vintages in the 80’s, I still don’t think that the same can be said for the majority of the vintages in the 70’s, or even to many in the 60’s.

Yes, Bordeaux in the 80’s got it right, almost all the time.

I’ve had some marvelous 70s bdx recently. Cherry-picked to be sure, but one has to do that today as well

Great post, Pat. Do you have a link to that BWE thread? Some smart peeps over there.

I came into Bordeaux in 1992, so was trying young Bordeaux from 1986, 88, 89 and shortly thereafter, 1990. While some were lean and hard, some closed, some monolithic - and many did actually have open windows - I still vividly recall a musky perfume that I really do not get from the vast majority of Bordeaux being produced today. I’m sure some will attribute the musk to the cleanliness of the cellar, or that pariah, brett, that is even being called now the genesis of bacon in Northern Rhone, but whatever it was, and is on these old wines, I love it. It was what clearly differentiated Cali Cabs to me, which was the other wine region that I was exploring, especially after having clerked in San Fran just prior to law graduation. I am not suggesting that Bordeaux from 2000, 05, 2010 and 2014 are not as good, I actually voted with my wallet by going deep here, but perhaps they are a bit different stylistically. Maybe it’s like comparing a Tesla to the muscle cars of the 1980s.

I, too, have had many 70’s Bdx recently and over the years. Just like you said, cherry-picking is the MO. But I’ve had many bombs as well. It’s not the same for me when compared to the decade of the 80’s, where I had been satisfied with many pours from many bottles that came my way from vintages 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989 and even a couple of 1987s that I enjoyed.

All I’m saying is that, I don’t subscribe to the fact that older Bordeaux gets better all or most of the time.

I think Ramon is right, the 1980s is the greatest decade of Bordeaux. The 2000s, 2010s will probably be heralded by most as the greatest. I am looking forward to finding out, but let’s not rush me into my dotage just yet. I am going down fighting, so get off my damn lawn! :wink:

This is one of those instances of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

I’ve almost exclusively written off Bordeaux from 1982 and forward at this point. What’s funny is that I would argue the 60s was the best time for Bordeaux, and not that I drank them young, but what I drink now is simply off the charts and really, really speaks to me. I also prefer most of the 70s to the 80s too. I went to several tastings (most notably two 1982 vintage tasting this year), and both times drank very little of the wines, so much so that I went home and opened a great Burgundy to make sure my pallet wasn’t way off. (I was not, the Burgs brought me right back). I’ve had spots where the wines have been great (86 Mouton, 89 and 90 Montrose, 1996 Latour and 2000 Lynch Bages), but frankly the hits are so few and far between, I would completely give up if this wasn’t a totally necessary part of my job!

I’d love to love the 70’s Bdx wines that I had but, unlike those from 1980s, not enough of the ones that were poured my way worked for me to feel enthusiastic about the decade. In a couple of tastings that included Bdx wines from the 70s, I gave up and poured them down the spit bucket and was not at all regretful to do so as they were not something that was necessary for me to keep drinking. Others, I noticed, did the same pour down. In a couple of other tasting that had all or mostly vintages from1970’s, others also poured down the spit bucket. Perhaps, us being civilians and not ITB may have something to do with it, but I suspect that the 1970s wines we had were mostly secondary market stuff, just as the mostly good 1980’s ones that I’ve experienced drinking in other off lines.

If you have a hard time finding 80’s Bordeaux that you like, you don’t really like Bordeaux :slight_smile:

At least to me, very few wines NEED, or can age that long. 35 years is really quite old for most wines. And then the wine needs to be from a very vintage and top terroir. IMO, that’s really overstating things, but again that’s just my taste.

It most recently struck me this past week where a lowly 1989 Meyney so out-performed a 1996 Cos d’Estournel and a 2000 Gruaud Larose.

That says more about your personal taste than the wine. 96 Cos for me blows away any vintage of Meyney. Better terroir makes better wine, IMO.

Logic tells me that these 1990s and 2000s will eventually hit those same heights as the 1980s… will we see the musky Bordeaux perfume of the wines that intoxicated me when I started down this path, wines like 1986 Gruaud Larose and the stable of Cordier wines, 1989 Montrose, and a host of others.

I like all those wines, but 86 Gruaud can show a lot of brett, and while 89 Montrose is a stunner, the 90 is marred by brett.

All the wines we like or not, are personal taste. But having tasted a lot of old Bordeaux, and young Bordeaux, I am one of those that thinks the wines being made today are dramatically better wines in every respect. They show more purity of fruit, concentration and silkier tannins, awarding much better textural experiences.

And for folks thinking the wines made today do not age, have you taste 96 Left Banks, 98 Right Banks or any 2000 lately? Those are all still young, as are the 2005 wines etc…

I agree, in part, with Jeff’s last point, and appreciate his views, while they do not always square with my more basic observations. I do think many of the classic wines of today will age effortlessly. Think Leoville Barton, VCC, Montrose, the Pichons, La Mish and all the First Growths. In vintages like 2000, 2005 and 2010. These wines will blow past 25-35 years of age. Now where I differ with Leve are on the Chateaux that have gone modern, many employing the likes of Rolland, picking much riper fruit, doing what they do to achieve a lower acid, fruit-forward style to appeal to universal palates and wines that show glossy in their youth. While the jury may be out in the long haul, my own, fairly extensive tastings of many of these Chateaux at 10-15 years out, suggests these wines will not age, will not necessarily show better with time. Excessive use of new and charred oak and elevated alcohol will not integrate, IMHO. I think the pendulum will swing back to classic. Classic never goes out of style.