THE 1978 bordeaux are indeed lovely wines. In fact, several wine authorities already have declared the 1978 bordeaux the best vintage of the '70s, though such judgments seem a bit shallow when one compares the 1978s to the classically structured wines of the 1975 and 1970 bordeaux because both vintages produced excellent wine in all regions of Bordeaux, whereas the finest 1978s are all from either the Graves or Medoc regions.
1978 in Bordeaux produced more than a few surprises. The vintage appeared mediocre at best until beautiful, warm sunny days sent grape sugars soaring in September and October. The harvest was very late, but took place under ideal weather conditions, and the grapes arrived at their rspective chateaux ripe and healthy.
I first tasted the 1978s in March 1979 and found the wines to possess lovely, deep ruby-purple color and precocious fruitiness. The wines reminded me of the 1970 bordeaux. I again sampled the wines in June 1980 immediately prior to bottling. The extnesive tastings I did then further intensified my feelings that 1978 was a highly successful vintage with a kinship in style to the 1970 bordeaux. My only disappointment was that many of the pomerols and st. emilions had not lived up to my initial enthusiasm.
The wines finally have arrived on these shores, and after extensive sampling and resampling, I am happy to report that the 1978 bordeaux should prove to be real crowd pleasers except for their high prices.
Without a doubt, the most successful wines i 1978 were produced in the Graves region and the Medoc communes of Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac and St. Estephe. There are some truly magnificent wines to be had from these regions. The pomerols and st. emilions are good, but lack the depth and length of the medocs and graves, and have a curious desire to act as if they were quick maturing 1976s rather than 1978s.
The best 1978s have a beautiful ruby-purple color, richly scented cassis and berry-like aromas and a supple concentrated fruitiness that give them instant appeal. Despite the illusion of early drinkability, the 1978 bordeaux are endowed with sufficient tannin to age nicely for 10 to 15 years.
Two of the biggest surprises of the vintage are Chateau Ausone ($60), in St. Emilion, and Chateau Margaux ($39.95). Both of these estates have produced mediocre wine over the last 10 years, yet both estates produced superlative 1978s. Lafite Rothschild ($59.95) continued its turnaround in quality (which started in 1975) with another excellent bottling. This is the third excellent Lafite in the last four years, so perhaps the owners will no longer exhibit unrestrained paranoia when visiting wine critics want to sample a new vintage of Lafite. Among the other prestigious chateaux of the "Big Eight," Latour ($55.95) is typically excellent and Mouton Rothschild ($55.05) is very good, but not great, a disturbing characteristic that has manifested itself in every Mouton vintage after 1970.Chateau Cheval Blanc ($59.95) in St. Emilion is good, but certainly not worth its asking price. Petrus ($69), now the most expensive wine of Bordeaux, is downright disappointing for that property. Lastly, Haut-Brion ($42.95) is quite successful, but most again take a back seat to its cross street rival and neighbor La Mission Haut-Brion ($39.95), which gets my vote as having produced the finest wine of the 1978 vintage. This is a rather extraordinary achievement, given the fact that many experts felt the 1975 La Mission Haut-Brion was the finest wine of that great vintage.
Consuemrs bent on puchasing 1978 bordeaux should keep in mind these guidelines: First, stick to the Graves region and the Medoc area when selecting wines to purchase and cellar. It was hard to make a bad wine in these regions. For near-term consumption, consumers should look for pomerols and st. emilions, which are good, but not of the same caliber as the medocs and graves.
Secondly, unless you are a collector or a spendthrift, you should avoid buying the fabulously expensive "first growths" at $50 to $75, and concentrate on the better second through fifth growths, which are extremely close in quality and are retailing for $15 or $25 per bottle. Every vintage has its potential superstars and sleepers, and 1978 has some magnificent wines that will reward the selective purchaser. Potential stars among non-first growths include:
From graves: La Mission Haut-Brion ($39.95), La Tour Haut-Brion ($22.95), Domaine de Chevalier ($19.95)
From the southern Medoc: Palmer -($22.95), Giscours ($19.95), La Lagune -($18.95), Prieure-Lichine ($15.95)
From St. Julien: Leoville Las Cases -($22.95), Talbot ($19.95), Ducru-Beaucaillou ($22.95), Gruaud Larose -($19.95)
From Pauillac: Pichon Lalande ($18.95), Grand Puy Locoste $16.95), Batailley -($13.95)
From St. Estephe: De Pez ($11.95), Meyney ($11.95), Cos D'Estournel ($18.95)
The two sleepers among this elite Who's Who in 1978 are the two "Cru Bourgeois" from St. Estephe, Chateau De Pez and Meyney. Both offer value and high quality. From the right bank no wine except Ausone stands out as being potentially excellent, although hardly anyone can dispute the accepted quality of Cannon ($16.95), Figeac ($19.95) and Cheval Blanc ($55 to $59) in St. Emilion.
For values, consumers need look no further than the sextet of Chateaux Greysac ($7.49), La Rose Trintaudon ($7.49), Meyney ($11.95), Camensac ($9.95), Lamarque ($7.49) and De Pez, ($10.95). All of these wines compete very favorably with their more expensive peers. Although Lamarque and De Pez have not yet arrived in town, De Pez is one of the outstanding wines of the 1978 vintage. With the exception of Camensac, which needs a good five years of bottle age, all of these wines can be drunk now.
The consumer could always consider passing up the 1978 bordeaux in favor of the better 1979 bordeaux. Prices for 1979 are significantly lower than the 1978 bordeaux, and with a strong dollar trading for over 5 francs on the Foreign Exchanges, plus some pressure on supplirs to move existing inventories because of sluggish premium wine sales and high interest rates, the 1979s will no doubt come on the market well below prices asked for 1978 bordeaux. However, while the 1979 bordeaux vintage is successful, there are numerous mediocre wines, and the best of the wines will rarely equal the best of the 1978 bordeaux.