It hasn't been difficult keeping up with the 1975 Bordeaux wines. Even before the last grape went into the fermenting tanks, glowing reports about them began to appear. In the months since, the publicity barrage has increased until by now words about 1975 must surely outnumber bottles from 1975. But nothing about the wines has increased like the prices.
In the fall of 1976 when Washington retailers first accepted orders for the 1975s (with delivery this year), prices for the classified wines other than the great growths were $60 to $65 a case, over 100 percent higher than opening prices fo comparable 1970s. By this spring prices had jumped another $20 to $30.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning. Retailers say that the wholesale prices they are now being offered equal their present retail prices, around $100.
"The market is absolutely insane," says the Calvert Shop's Doug Burdette. "It's like 1972 and 1973 all over again."
Ed Sands of Woodley Liquors agrees but adds, "I don't think they're going to break and come down like they did then. More people throughout the world, including the French themselves, are drinking classified Bordeaux now. And with a maximum of only 15 to 20,000 cases of any one vineyard available, there's not much to go around."
Consumers apparently agree. Those '75s that have been available are moving briskly, with one store, MacArthur, reporting that the initial purchase of nearly 500 cases of classifieds is already gone. "We could have sold twice as many if we had had them," reports the store's Elliott Staren.
"Buy what you can now," Urged the English wine writer and merchant, Harry Waugh, on a recent stopover in Washington, "for prices will only go up. In four or five years' time they'll be twice as expensive unless either the 1978 or 1979 vintage turns out to be particularly good."
Not all wine buyers are jumping on the bandwagon, however. One knowledgeable wine buff says, "This is the worst possible time to buy. If you've waited this long, why rush? Sample the wines, remember what you like and be patient. I don't believe the average classified growth is going to go over $100 and stay there."
Bill Banford, of Harry's Liquors, shares this view: "But even if they do stay over $100, we're certainly going to resist those $90 to $100 wholesale prices. We're also going to be very picky about future purchases of '75s, and I think consumers should be, too."
Based on the tasting of classified and petits chateaux included here, as well as a subsequent tasting, I think there is little question that the 1975s are destined to be very good, though I would be reluctant to call them great at this time.
Color, always a key factor in evaluating young wines, is a healthy purple in the 1975s, comparable to 1966 and 1970 but nothing like the inky blackness of the 1961s.
Those that have developed far enough show a strong bouquet and hint at good fragrance to come.
As for taste, this is particularly difficult to assess because the various elements of young Bordeaux are seldom in harmony, and at different times a given wine exhibits different characteristics. The evaluation is not helped when the wines have been bumped, heaved and shaken on a recent trans-atlantic trip. But overall, the taste of the '75s is very promising.
Of the six wines I tried at a blind tasting following the one presented here, I would rate three - Lynch-Bages, La Lagune and Ducru-Beaucaillou - better than any of our 14. A fourth, Montrose, was difficult for me to fathom, although I found nothing disagreeable or unpleasant about it, and others thought it an excellent prospect. The other two, Garraud and Brane-Cantenac, were not to my liking at this time.
Of all the factors to weigh in these, or any, wines, "price is the final arbiter," according to wine author and auctioneer Michael Broadbent, and value for money always wins out over pure quality.
These 1975s are high priced, too high priced I think, for our good or for theirs.
What prices will do over the coming months no one really knows. What I know is that $8 or $10 a bottle is too much for me to pay. And fortunately, one of the fringe benefits of growing older is that one can take a more indifferent attitude toward expensive wines that won't be ready to drink for at least 10 to 15 years.