I miss the old Bordeaux

I’ve noticed there is more than one thread relating to various goings on in Bordeaux right now and was just thinking how they may be related to the bigger picture.

When I first started drinking fine wine in the '70s I remember how different the wines were and attitudes towards them; people bought with the implicit understanding that the wines would be, generally, unapproachable, powerfully tannic, green, austere, almost harsh on the palate. These wines would be laid down for at least 20 years, if not more, before even a thought of opening a bottle occured to the owner. When, through trial and error sometimes, the time came for announcing a certain wine was ready for drinking, from thenceforth, was a cause for great celebration. I remember drinking great claret from the '50s, '60s and latter the '70s, all memorable, impressive, powerful, sometimes monumentally structured and usually wonderous.

Then came the '80s and two huge changes; modern wine making and Parker. Now don’t get me wrong, neither of these changes are bad in themselves but, wow, the differences they bought to the wine world were huge. Suddenly the Bordelais said, “Who is this person Robert Parker”? While the consumer said two things; “Who does this guy Parker thinks he is”!? “What is happening to our beloved claret”?

Almost overnight claret started to change in style and the way it was drunk/tasted also changed. New wine making techniques, from the use of all stainless steel wineries to strict hygene rules from vineyard to finished bottle, saw a massive sea change in the style and therefore taste of Bordeaux wines. Parker added to the new mix with definitive observations, even proclamations, on tasting these new style wines - buyers, old and new, started to take note of new and old Chateaux like never before especially when wines were scored on the 100 point system. Wines that were usually expected to score highly often didn’t and the reverse was true of the lesser growths and even cru bourgeois wines. As a result of all this Bordeaux saw an opportunity to revive flagging sales combined with virtually non-existent marketing strategy and now positively courted the young gun from America. To say things got shaken up was an understatement, including many irrate Chateau owners and equally happy one’s!

Surely the biggest event of the '80s, when it comes to Bordeaux, would’ve been the 1982 vintage; Parker was now in his element and flying at supersonic speed throughout Bordeaux, his sonic boom shattering as many dreams of greatness as making them come true! Luckily for most it was fairly hard to make a less than good wine that year but before long some noticed that was not the entire picture. 1980 and 1981 had hardly been good vintages, barely even average and then came this vintage of the century apparently.

I laid down some wines from that vintage, not necessarily on Parker’s advice but from tastings and discussion with other drinkers of claret. I do remember some big numbers Parker was throwing about and wondering if it could get messy when differing palates were taken into account. However, I could see the value in Parker for those that might be less sure and even those happily buying regardless; also, no doubt, he was single handedly sending prices all over the place. For investment for future purchases I went on his advice for PLL and D-B; in the end the PLL price went so silly I’d have been mad not to sell and hoped I might hang onto the D-B therefore. As it was, when I finally opened a bottle of D-B in the early '90s I was very disappointed; it had none of the power, depth or structure I expected and put it down to at a certain stage initially. In the back of my mind I could never get over the fact that, where structure is concerned, I’ve never come across a claret that can magically reverse the situation. For monumental structure and power to be there throughout the life of a wine it must be there in it’s relative infancy. I tried another bottle at 20 years and still no joy - oh dear this wasn’t looking good. Compared to the wines of '61, '66 and '70 it didn’t even come close; it was medium bodied, the tannins had lessoned their balancing grip and the fruit, well, where was that going/gone? A decision was made and the remaining 10 bottles were sold for a huge price.

In comparison, I bought a case of Latour a Pomerol 1970 at around the same time at a local auction house; this was to prove a very wise purchase. For 20 years this blockbuster sat hugely tannic, massively structured and fruit straining to get out, in my cellar. On tasting the 3rd bottle I realised it had turned the corner and oh what a beauty it had become! Gone was any harshness to be replaced by exquisite perfume, complex fruit, balancing acidity and ever present but softened tannins; the massive structure was still there but now it was harmonious, glorious. I really miss that magnificent wine and wish I had some more plus some '61 in my cellar!

In summary, I’m not against the new style Bordeaux but neither am I enamoured with it. I don’t believe my palate has changed so much over the years that the differences between old and newer wines is just a natural progression in my tastebuds. No, this is deeper a more profound change that has occured in Bordeaux over the last 30+ years. In fact, perhaps the same could be said of Burgundy and virtually every other historical wine region in the world?

I have no problem with the way that the 1982s have aged. Recently I have had GPL, Ducru and Gruaud,and they have all been wonderful wines and extremely transparent versions of their respective terroirs. The better vintages still require 20+ years to really show well; for example 1996 still needs ten years to reach maturity.

That being said, I agree that the wines have changed, but I think it is a little facile to just blame Parker for it. People are just not interested in buying wines that need 20 years to be drinkable; it’s an expensive proposition, and also one that requires more space than the average urbanite has.The fact that Parker’s taste coincided with a lot of other things, from, global warming which has meant that grapes can be picked later with less risk,to changing tastes in the market wants have resulted in wines that are easier to drink young. But having tasted most vintages since the late eighties, I see the pendulum beginning to switch back to wines that do need some time. Tasting both 2005 and 2010 reminded me how old fashioned, classic Bordeaux can taste. Especially 2005.

I am not totally satisfied with the compromises being made, Latour from the great 1990 vintage seems to have been made to be drunk within five years of the harvest. Long term, it will be OK, but I think compromised by market pressures to be an easier more polite version of Latour. Contrast that with 1928 Latour, which was apparently being drunk in the sixties as a house wine because nobody thought it would ever come round.

Since my taste also runs to mature Bordeaux, there is much to be found in the secondary market, and the prices do not reflect the cost of storage, insurance and opportunity cost. For example I picked up Giscours 1970 for just north of $100 a bottle. Rauzan Segla 1986 for $135, Du Tertre 1979 for $40, Calon Segur 1961 for $180 and best of all, a couple of cases of the stellar 1970 Magdelaine 1970 also for around $100 a bottle. These are all wines that range from really good to brilliant. If you know what you are doing, and can trust the provenance, there are plenty of bargains out there, and so far, the secondary market is a much better source to find good wines than buying young and keeping.

I for one do not miss 1970s bordeaux in the slightest. The move to lower yields, more aggressive QC in the vineyard, and vastly more sanitary conditions in the cellar have been beneficial across the board. And if bordeaux never produces another vintage like 1986, it will be ok with me. High quality in theory, but in practice, the wines may never really mature. I have wines that are now a quarter century old and are not now, and for the foreseeable future will not be, pleasurable to drink. One might call, that a flaw.

I am less enthused by the post-82 move to more new oak, but that seems to be on the wane too. And yes, there are more overtly modern bordeaux available now, and fewer “traditionally made” ones. That just means that you have to be a more educated consumer. I have no problems finding new wines that appeal to me, that can be consumed with pleasure both in the near term and (at least I believe) in the distant future.

If every (or even the vast majority of) recent release bordeaux were flamboyant, sweet, and obvious, I would be disheartened. They aren’t.

I love the '82s. I can’t say the same for most vintages from the '70s. If you think wines changed from 70s to 80s, what do you think of the wines since mid-90s?

I think you gave up on the Ducru too early. 10 years ago, I would have agreed with you that it was good not great. In 2011, I had it 3 times and it was fabulous all three times. In fact, I would say that the 82s are right now in the place you say you wanted the wines from the 60s and 70s to be - 30 years old and drinking fabulously. I had a whole bunch of them last week and they were fabulous. TN: 1982 Bordeaux dinner at Lavandou also bubblies, whites and stickies - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers A whole bunch of the people at the tasting (myself included) are not fans of modern big, oaky, processed Bordeauxs. But these were awfully good.

I agree that 10 years ago some of these wines were too young, but don’t think that helps your points.

Frankly, back in the 80s and early 90s, a lot of Parker calls were spot on, esp. with respect to Bordeaux.

Really? I have had some wonderful wines over the years from vintages in the 70s. I love wines from 1970, have had a number of 75s over the last couple of years (including Pichon Lalande and LLC) that were really good, love some 1979s (e.g., Palmer, Ausone, Pichon Lalande) and have had a good bit of success with 78s. Certainly, in those days there were relatively few estates making great wines, but the ones that did made some wonderful stuff.

Pretty much agree w/ your points of Parker’s impact on Bdx. Which is why I haven’t bought one in probably 20 yrs.
And…he had much the same, but worse, impact on Alsace, where the Z-H style is much in vogue.
If I want a good GWT w/ my weenies & kraut, I have to go to the AltoAdige.

Paul Blanck

I think the list could go on and on of Alsace producers still making wine in a traditional way. Haven’t a lot of producers been backing off from the sweeter style.

Ok, I’m confused. I get your statement about structure not being what it was before the 82 vintage, but the modern style being less powerful and medium-bodied? I thought the criticism of modern Bordeaux was that the reds are too big and less nuanced. I can’t be the only one scratching my head on this one.

The wines from the 90s and the 00s are a lot better than the wines from the 60 and the 70s. Please excuse me but it is absurd to think the 60s and the 70s wines are better in quality, eg 63, 65, 67 although good pomerol, 68, 69, 73, 74 and 77. I love the 70 and the 75 Giscour, 86 Rauzan Segla 1986, alot of the 78s and the 79s but you can find as many compelling wines with the similar aging potential from just one vintage, 2001. If you are looking aromatic wines with subtlety, you got 2001 and 2004. I don’t find any modern wine making signature in 2000 and 2005 FGs except perhaps Mouton. The advance in wine making helped the small wines more so than the big Chateaus. I happen to like Valandraud, La Mondott, Pavie and etc and am aware of the wines like the 09 Cos and the 10 Ducru but these are still the exceptions not the norms.

BTW, some of the 75s are coming around finally. The modern hygienic wine making is a great thing as the nose of some of the older Bordeauxs are unclean. I am not talking about the freshness/herbaceous note.

The only major house that seems to fit Bob’s palate is ZH and not so sure whether the house style was ever changed for Bob, eg 89 and 90 still big monsters.

I have largely stopped buying Bordeaux, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I like Bordeaux older and am already 56. I think I like the older style Bordeaux more than Kevin does. It was interesting, we once did a blind tasting at Dinos where we did two flights of wines - one pre-1982 and one 1982 and beyond (although most of the wines had some age and I doubt there was anything past about 1995). Both flights were excellent but very different in style. The older people at the tasting (Dean Gold, Ken Barr and me) seemed to like the older wines more and I think the younger people (which included Kevin and Ken Brown) liked the later wine flight better. Cannot remember where Randy and others came out. One of the wines in the new flight I think was Valandraud and it did not at all stick out as some nonBordeaux wine. I should emphasize that in both flights there were some real standouts like 79 Palmer and 82 Cos and Grand Puy Lacoste. So, I think preferences were more a matter of style than quality.

Last Thursday, we all loved the 1982s and while there were some differences along the margins as to which wines each person liked better, there was general agreement I think at the table as to the quality of the wines.


I think I once brought an 89 ZH Gewurz to the Duckhouse a few years ago (I think you were there but am not sure) that was outstanding. These wines may start out sweet, but really age to be pretty classic beauties.

I’ll just leave this here - in the active part of this thread >

The names of those who were initially responsible for the change to the “modern” style were Jean Ribéreau-Gayon, & his pupil, Émile Peynaud (& later his pupil, Michel Rolland).

These changes began in the 50’s & 60’s & took hold very slowly in the beginning.

Stylistic preferences aside, this sea change was without a doubt a change for the better overall for the wines being produced.

Using neutral stainless steel starting with Ch. Latour & Haut Brion. Picking riper fruit. Using some selection techniques to obtain better quality fruit.

In fact these changes were called Peynaudization before Parker came along.

The first wine of this “new” style I tasted was the '79 Ch. Margaux - an absolutely top quality wine from a much less than great vintage.

Obviously I’m in the so called “modern” camp. I have no doubt that many of the great wines being made today are the greatest red wines ever made.

How will they age? I also have no doubt that they will also age very well - the '82’s are now 30 years old. Is it necessary for a wine to “need” 30 or 40 years to mature to be great?

Just a little of my 2 cents on modern Bordeaux.


I don’t think I had a Bordeaux dinner with Dean but I am a big fan of the 79 Palmer and most of other 79s. But in general the wines from the 60s and the 70s were not up to par with the modern wines. If you go back to the 40s, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50 and the 50s, 52, 53, 55, 59 these are comparable to the90s and the 00s.

I agree. My point is Bob’s influence in Alsace is pretty minor if exist at all. Sauternes, Alsace, Icewine, Lories sweets seem to settle with age not showing as much of sugar but Dal Forno’s nettare, TBA, BA, Madeira and Takaji seem to keep the sweetness.

My totally uninformed impression is that the main issues for ageability of modern-styled Bordeaux emanate more from things like micro oxygenation, spinning cones and reverse osmosis which seem to have become much more common as we moved through the '90s. Was there also an increase in the use of commercial as opposed to native yeasts in that time frame?

1 Like

Jay… What pecific wines are you talking about? Are you saying the wines using those techniques are worse today than they were before they began using modern technology? As for wines not aging well that use reverse osmosis, I think Leoville Las Cases debuted that technique and based on tasting their wines, they remain amongst the longest lived wines from Bordeaux.

Hang on people! Some of you seem to be jumping to conclusions immediately. [head-bang.gif] Attempting to encapsulate what I’m talking about in one short post is nigh on impossible.

Paul I should’ve clarified; re. the Ducru '82 I meant in relation to the the '60s and '70s blockbusters of which I’m fortunate to have drunk many. I’m not saying that generally the following vintages, through the '80s and '90s, where lighter and less structured just different. Maybe I should’ve given the D-B another 5 years but at 20 years old it just didn’t say to me there would be any massive improvement with further time. For instance, I felt it would only get lighter in style as it already appeared to have passed the massive wine RP described early on - in truth I was expecting and looking forward to it being a much bigger wine in every sense, even at 10 years old let alone 20. I would drink the Latour a Pomerol '70 in preference any day.

I’ve never said anywhere that I don’t like the relatively recent vintages through the '80s and '90s but with modern wine making comes a certain uniformity; I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but is ‘more’ always an improvement? Yes there are still blockbusters emerging from Bordeaux but they are different and will perhaps mature sooner than the older style wines I refer to. As for dimissing the wines of the '60s and '70s that is pure nonsense; for those of you that haven’t perhaps had a bottle of Palmer, Margaux, Latour or even Pichon Baron '61 and/or '66 you might change your tune if you had - same applies to '75, '78 and to a lesser extent '79. [bow.gif]

I had a bottle of '82 Montrose on Christmas day and it was very, very good but I wouldn’t say better than similar wines of the '60s and '70s. Anyway, what ever your take on my post, whether you think it nonsense or not, it only goes to prove how divergent our palates are and just how damn subjective this wine drinking business is! [cheers.gif]

Microoxygenation in particular makes wine taste friendlier young and concerns me as to eventual ageability. But I don’t really follow Bordeaux these days (confining myself to buying older wines at auction as I’m not aging as well as those older Bordeaux) so I don’t know who’s doing what.