Thoughts on 1986 Bordeaux?

I was discussing Bordeaux vintages with a friend recently and we got into a discussion about 1986 and whether the wines would ever come around. He said he’s been largely disappointed by most 86’s, although he did have a few that he liked (Gruaud Larose), but overall seemed to think that the tannins would never resolve while there was still any fruit left. I’m a little more positive on it and have had some excellent ones (GL, Lynch Bages, Clerc Milon, Leoville Barton, Pichon Lalande, Vieux Chateau Certan, Sociando Mallet, Talbot and Palmer come to mind), but also think that some of them are just out of balance. My experience with them has been a bottle here, a bottle there, and I haven’t really had an opportunity to taste any single chateau consistently over its life.

So while I understand the hazards of discussing a vintage in general (always good wines in a bad vintage and always bad wines in a good vintage, etc.), I’m curious to get people’s opinions of the vintage overall and whether the wines will come around or if they’re just overly tannic and will never resolve. Also, would you consider buying them at this point (assuming good storage, etc) or would you pass in favor of other vintages for mature Bordeaux. Thanks

I think your take is more in line with mine. I don’t really ascribe to the “too astringent” camp on the vintage and think there are some wonderful highs. I think it is clearly better than 75 (a vintage often compared) and will be hitting peak drinking in the next 5 years for many left bank wines. On top of that, they are often available at significant discount compared to 82s.

I love the top 20-30 wines of the 86 Bordeaux vintage (all Left Bank).

Faryan, thanks for your input. I know from your posts that you know Bordeaux far better than I do. I know I was asking people to comment in generalities, but what are your particular favorites in 86?

1986 Gruard Larose is a beauty.

Yup. Gruaud Larose is spectacular.

The other Cordier wines (Meyney and Talbot) are also extremely high quality, and Meyney’s a nice value - I’ve usually found both 89 and 86 Meyney around the $50-65 mark in the past year or so.

If you don’t mind a touch of green, Sociando Mallet is fantastic.

And over on the right bank, both Canon and Figeac are fantastic. Had the '86 Figeac just a few months ago and it was stunning after an hour or so of air.

They’ll be fine. Except at the extremes, I don’t find “balance” a very useful tool for making bets on where a Bordeaux is going, if by balance we mean that there should be X amount of fruit for every X amount of tannin. These are wines that you want to have the capacity to go another 25 years and then some - some tannin can’t hurt. The Gruaud is indeed great already but just imagine where it will be when it’s as old as the '61s are now!

Count me as a non believer of the 86 vintage in general. I’ve had more tannic monsters than I care to remember and I don’t think many will find their fruit outliving their tannins but there always exceptions.

Rachel - What Salil and Pat said :slight_smile:

To Keith’s point, I think balance is a function of how you like your wines. The 09s may be less “balanced” than the 05s but as a result are imminently more approachable. Likewise, 86s may be less “balanced” than 82s but I find the structure and ability to add certain elements of depth superior to some 82s. Of course, we are talking within acceptable bands. There are some cases where a lack of balance led to the wines drying out prior to resolving or being too flabby to hold until desired characteristics are achieved…chacun son goût

I loathe '86 Bordeaux for the reasons Justin stated. I bought heavily (25+ cases) on pre-release and have sold most of them. The vintage is without charm.

Some 1986s I liked that come immediately to mind:

La Mission Haut Brion
Lynch Bages
Cos d’Estournel
Mouton Rothschild (lots of bottle variation, but, when one has a good bottle of it, it is superb)
Montrose (likely more because for sentimental reasons)
Pichon Lalande is good enough, but, for some reason, every time I’ve had it, I’ve gotten the feeling that something was missing.

It might be overkill, but here are my notes from a big 86 Bordeaux horizontal held in 10/08. Keep in mind with these notes that Bordeaux is my favorite region and 80’s Bordeaux in general is my favorite set of Bordeaux (81, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 89, and 90 if it counts)…

"A group of Bordeaux lovers converged on NYC last Saturday to check in on the great wines of the 1986 vintage… The only really “closed” wines were the Leoville Las Cases, and to a lesser degree, the Margaux. The only “ready” wines were the Rausan-Segla, the Talbot, and maybe the Pape-Clement. But have no doubts: the 1986 vintage in the Medoc is sensational, and it was clear to the table that the fruit will “outlast” the tannins and that these wines are really beginning to open up by and large. The depth and length on these almost all of these puppies was off the charts. Almost all were very open aromatically, if not yet mature.

The best of these wines-- for me the Mouton, Lafite, Margaux, Gruaud, Rausan-Segla, Baron, Cos, Ducru, and Lalande stood above the rest-- will be legends for decades to come. That said, I don’t think ANY of the main wines disappointed, except perhaps the Las Cases as it was so closed and the Barton which at least one person thought was corked. However, I think the Mouton and the Lafite deserve special recognition in this exalted company as the top wines of the night.

All of the wines had terrific acidity-- in some wines, it was arguably more prominent than the tannins. Personally, I love high acids wines when the fruit is there to match it, and in that regard (and all others, for that matter), the 1986s did not disappoint.

Blind Flight - Warm-Up
We began with a double-blind mystery flight. Wine A showed an oaky nose that seemed very American oak to me, so I guessed the '86 Dominus. The table also shared the view that it must be Californian. No one was wowed by it. Wine B immediately grabbed most everyone’s attention. Someone said Cheval Blanc, and I agreed it must be a special Right Bank wine (but I really had no clue). Most everyone was very impressed with B. Wine C was over the hill, and tongue-in-cheek I guessed it was a NY State Pinot Noir… When the wrappers came off wine C was the Montelena 1986, Wine B was a Pesquera 1986 Crianza…and gasps around the room when A was unveiled: Petrus 1986! I will add that as the Petrus sat in the glass, over time the aromas became less overtly oaky and morphed into something like caramelized vanilla. The Pesquera was great, my second time with its 86 (the first was the reserva).

Flight 1These 3 wines were more aromatically superior to their palates. The Pichon Baron was the wine of the flight.
1986 Château Beychevelle - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
The Beychevelle was terrific with a nose of stones, dry extract, black tea. It was aromatically complete.
1986 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
The Pichon Baron had a classy bouquet of dark fruit and some tobacco. To taste, it had lovely sourness, plums. Some subtle oak, but the wood was the most obvious of the flight. Fantastic length, still tannic but open. This improved a lot with time in the glass, and was the most exotic-flashy of the three. Just wonderful.
1986 Château Léoville Barton - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
The Leoville Barton was also classy with a tobacco-cigar nose with a long coating back palate and finish. Dry but balanced. Even if it was corked, it was so mild that the wine was still excellent.

Flight 2
The Rausan-Segla was the WOTF tonight, but in 10 years watch out for the Gruaud.
1986 Château Rausan-Ségla - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
The Rausan-Segla was terrific with perhaps the most evolved bouquet of all the '86s. There was a dried-orange aroma to go with tea and lots of sweetness. The palate was also great with a gripping sour-orange flavor I loved and a fairly hard, dry finish.
1986 Château Gruaud Larose - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
The Gruaud-Larose was terrific too. I had it two years ago and it was darn tight. Not so now. It was somewhat closed aromatically (especially in this flight), but what a palate, what length! To taste, it was huge, smooth and reminiscent of liquid iron. There is plenty of fruit, but hold this baby for its 30th birthday.
1986 Château Talbot - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
The Talbot was no slouch in this company. Some barnyardy notes on the nose, it smelled great and was very expressive. It has the thinnest mid-palate of the flight and had abundant Cordier funk. It seemed to fade a bit in the glass.

Flight 3
I think the LLC was the WOTF (the Lalande was mine), but the Ducru was right there and kept getting better.
1986 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
On the Ducru-Beaucaillou, I got a nose of green banana, black tea, some sweetness. It had the best bouquet of the flight. Awesome on the back-end/finish. Bright acids. Improved with air.
1986 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
The Pichon Lalande was disliked by some, but I loved it. It had a bigger nose than the Ducru; its bouquet was fairly funky with some distinct lactic-cherry notes (some said this lactic smell is from the Petit Verdot). It seemed the most ready of this flight, but still think it needs lots of time to really shine. It has great grip with a long finish where hints of green appeared.
1986 Château Léoville Las Cases - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
The Leoville Las Cases was pretty closed, but showed hints of ash/smoke on the nose which I’ve found on this estate before. Most thought the LLC has the depth of fruit to eventually come out alive.

Flight 4 - The First Growths
At this point, I stopped taking anything like notes. The three 1st Growths were magnificent, with the Mouton edging the Lafite for its exotic flair (e.g. it has a clear note of soy sauce in the bouquet). The Margaux was terrific but just too closed tonight to run with the Pauillacs. The Mouton was the WOTF and the WOTN, but the Lafite was not far behind and clearly these two belong alone at the top.

Flight 5
We had the Pape-Clement, Cos and La Mission Haut Brion for the finale. For me, only the Cos really stood out as superb, but it needs time to really shine. It keep getting better and better with air. The Clement was something of the disappointment, and the La Mish was funky and kinda weird with pungent aromas somewhat reminiscent of slightly rotten fruit or compost, but it had fantastic depth and power.

Pat, great notes. Thanks for reposting them. It’s much appreciated.

Pat, excellent review. Straight and to the point. I’m sitting on some PLLs and a couple Gruauds. I might wait on the Gruauds a while longer. Haven’t splurged on the Mouton yet, but if I find one in good condition with good provenence, I’ll pull the trigger on it.

I was at that dinner with Pat and essentially agree with his notes. The wines are starting to come around and there is plenty of fruit there to go the distance as the tannins continue to resolve. I found many of them very enjoyable even back then, and they have continued to evolve.

That 1986 notes and NYC dinner (a great dinner it was) that Patrick referred to provided for a universal praise for the 1986 vintage by those who attended. I, myself, have had some slight trepidation prior to the dinner, but was very impressed after. I’ve also noted how I’ve experienced more 1986 hits with ensuing single-producer or single-commune verticals whenever a 1986 bottle was present.

Wines such as Gruaud Larose (and Cordier stable-mates especially the Talbot), Cos d’Estournel, Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande, the excellent Mouton, the Rauzan Segla, the Palmer and the Leoville Las Cases have consistently been solid in my experiences. While there are still the very noticeable tannin present in most, I also find that there was also sufficient fruit to help with the overall balance. I must also admit that I tend to like the austere-style more than the fruit-forward kind in my Bordeaux.

My unscientific reading of recent notes is more like “lots of 86s have come around nicely… will Mouton and LLC ever come around?” All my bottles in the past several years have been excellent including Gruaud, PLL, Ducru, Meyney, La Dominique and several others in blind tastings that I’ve forgotten. I had some lesser ones like Monbrison that were lovely many years ago. I have not revisited Cos recently as my last bottle was in fact shut down pretty hard, but I’ve seen better notes recently.

On the other hand I would probably never buy an 86 if an 85 was available at the price. For my personal taste it has been the best vintage of the 80s. I think you like 85 too…

I have always liked 1986 Bordeaux a lot, but my first love is Barolo, so I’ve never had a problem with tannin. Most 1986’s in my experience have loads of fruit to go with the tannins and are nothing like the 1975’s.

We had a 1985 vs. 1986 Bordeaux tasting a few years back with pairs of wines from the 2 vintages. I can’t find my notes right now, but my memory is that it was mixed. Two very different vintages, but some did better in 85 and some in 86.

I expect this result from a group, for instance the 86 Gruaud is probably almost objectively better than the 85. However I prefer the 85.

I have had some great 1986s. The Rauzen Segla, Leoville Las Cases, Talbot, and Ducru all come to mind. On the other hand, Petrus, Cheval Blanc and Margaux were not that memorable. So I my experience has been that the super seconds have bested the first growths. I think a similar scenario occurred in 1989.