One of my favorite vintage taste offs was a blind tasting of the now legendary 1982 Bordeaux reds. The tasting harkened back to the seminal “Judgement of Paris” blind tasting of 1976 in which California wines prevailed over top wines from France. However, in this case two Spaniards and one Italian were the upstarts.
The Bordeaux were a mix of Left and Right Bank classified growths. While we were not treated to first growths, the tasting did feature many acclaimed wines, including the 100 point scoring Château Léoville Las Cases St. Julien. The wines were:
1982 Left Bank Bordeaux:
o Château Léoville Las Cases St. Julien / 2nd Growth
o Château Léoville Barton St. Julien / 2nd Growth
o Château Beychevelle St. Julien / 4th Growth
o Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac / 5th Growth
1982 Right Bank Bordeaux:
o Château Latour à Pomerol, Pomerol
o Château Pavie St. Emilion / Premier Grand Cru
o Château Figeac St. Emilion / Premier Grand Cru
o Château Fonroque St. Emilion / Grand Cru
o Château La Dominique St. Emilion / Grand Cru
o Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Penedès, Spain
o Miguel Torres Gran Coronas Mas La Plana “Black Label” Reserva Penedès, Spain
o Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino Tuscany, Italy
The Jean Leon winery was a groundbreaking force in the Penedès region in terms of world quality, Bordeaux style wines. It was started in 1963 by Jean León, a Spaniard, who became a successful restauranteur, was part of the ’50s Hollywood scene, and had even partnered with James Dean in a restaurant venture. The 150 hectare Jean Leon estate was created in the Château style and revolutionized wine production in the region and in Spain by planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot varietal clippings from acclaimed Bordeaux wineries including Château Lafite-Rothschild and La Lagune.
The historic Miguel Torres winery and their Mas La Plana “Black Label” were the other major force in putting Penedès on the map in terms of international reputation and acclaim. Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in the Mas La Plana vineyard starting in 1966 and the first vintage released was the 1970 edition that shocked the French wine world-and probably a lot of Spaniards too-when it bested the likes of Château Latour in the Paris Wine Olympiad of 1979.
Castel Giocondo has been a respected Montalcino estate since the 19th century, and has taken on an even higher profile since 1989 when it became the property of the Frescobaldi family, one of the top winemaking families of Tuscany. 1982 is considered by most an excellent vintage in Brunello di Montalcino. Mirroring Bordeaux, it was hot and dry, producing rich, powerful wines, though without the extra elegance and brighter acidity found in what some consider to be the very best vintages.
There were ten tasters, a mix of wine enthusiasts, collectors (including Jim, who bought most of the Bordeaux on release) and a few wine professionals. The wines were opened about one half hour before the tasting, bagged and tasted blind over the following 2.5 hours. The group rankings are below, with brief notes on each.
#12: Château Pavie St. Emilion / Premier Grand Cru
Unfortunately this bottle was corked, and thus is not a fair representative of the wine. There was clearly quality underneath, but the cork taint put it in last place.
#11: Château Figeac St. Emilion / Premier Grand Cru
This bottle was quite firm and a bit dull, though with some length and complexity. Musty and dusty undertones probably contributed to its poor showing. Further tastings would be required to see how representative this might be, or if it was perhaps slightly corked.
#10: Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
This wine really stood out as different from the Bordeaux blends. Most tasters didn’t “get” the appeal. And it also showed signs of oxidation, which didn’t help. This bottle was purchased at retail a year earlier, so its hard to say if this was simply a tired bottle or an indicative one, since none of the tasters were familiar with this wine at this age.
#9: Château Léoville Las Cases St. Julien / 2nd Growth
This was a disappointing showing for this wine. Even after being open for a few hours it was still not very giving. It showed classic Left Bank graphite minerality and minty tones, but the fruit character was overshadowed by unusual exotic herbal tones and a touch of oxidation. Not the best bottle of this I have had, but it did not show any glaring flaws either. This bottle was not purchased on release.
#8: Château Fonroque St. Emilion / Grand Cru
This was a bright and lovely, mature Right Bank red. It offered pretty rose petal and cedar tones over a core of dried berry notes. Finished firmly and elegantly. Some objected to noticable gamey notes, while others found they added complexity and charm. This is what most of us hope for in a mature Bordeaux, especially from a less acclaimed and more modestly priced producer.
#7: Château Beychevelle St. Julien / 4th Growth
An elegant St. Julien showing the ripeness of the vintage with roasted red pepper top notes over inky black plum flavors. Cigar wrapper, smoke, black soil and touches of mint and coffee rounded out the tertiary notes of this very enjoyable, mature Bordeaux.
#6: Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac / 5th Growth
One of the most full-bodied wines of the night, as one would expect from Pauillac, but still elegant with a soft, spiced finish. Classic red currant scents and flavors predominated with touches of mint, licorice, black soil, graphite, tar and an umami undertone that added complexity.
#5: Château La Dominique St. Emilion / Grand Cru
A good showing for La Dominique, with ample, ripe red currant flavors and a firm finish made graceful by age. Ash, wet cigar, minerals, baking spices, brioche and floral tones added to this lively Right Bank red.
#4: Château Latour à Pomerol, Pomerol
One of the more dense and rich entries, with the promise of further ageability. The nose featured red currant, mint, chalk, potting soil scents with a slight bell pepper undertone. Deep and smooth on the palate with red berry flavors, buttressed by notes of tar and tobacco. Finished long with lingering dusty red currant tones.
#3: Miguel Torres Gran Coronas Mas La Plana “Black Label” Reserva Penedès, Spain
A classic Mas La Plana, offering fragrant currant and cranberry scents, layered with notes of cedar and smoke-plus an intriguing touch of musk. The palette was both bright and delicate with precise currant and cranberry flavors along with notes of cedar, spice, and hints of damp earth, tobacco and coconut. This elegant, pure and lively wine was holding strong and should continue to impress for years to come for those with bottles to spare. Purchased at retail.
#2: Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Penedès, Spain
A very complex wine, showing a panoply of aromas from plum and currant fruit to nuances of cedar, lavendar, violet, smoke, iron and even a touch of toffee. On the mouth jellied plum and blueberry compote flavors mingled with cedar, smoke, cinnamon, ash and black soil tones, plus a touch of cigar wrapper. Graceful, bouyant and harmonious. A beautiful wine. Purchased at auction.
#1: Château Léoville Barton St. Julien / 2nd Growth
Probably the most powerful and backward of the group in its youth, this bottle was singing, but still firm and youthful. Creamy currant scents were at the core of the nose with rich cedar notes and touches of smoke and damp earth. The palate was bright and cranberry tones added to the core of currants with lingering cedar and mineral notes. A powerful and graceful, mature red.
The outstanding showing of the two Spanish wines was the shocker of the night, especially considering they were the least expensive wines of the group-both as mature bottles (at retail or auction when you can find them) or back when they were released in the 1980s. The Jean Leon was purchased last year for $30 and the Torres for $60. While the Léoville Barton, Lynch Bages and Léoville Las Cases will set you back around $185, $300 and $435 each respectively.
For those familiar with the quality and value these Spanish reds offer, it was no surprise they showed well. What was a surprise is just how well they showed against so many classified Bordeaux in one of Bordeaux’s greatest vintages. Keep in mind that 1982 is generally classed as a very good year in Penedès, but not excellent.
The long and the short of it is that Spain offers a wealth of outstanding, world-class wines for those willing to step beyond the well known international classics. Even at a head to head level. And sometimes at ridiculiously low pricing for what you get in the bottle.