I HAVE a wine prejudice; I adore a good bottle of bordeaux. Not that I enjoy other wines less. It is simply that there are so many wines from Bordeaux that seem to combine all the right components: a complex, interesting bouquet, flavors that exhibit richness and texture, and an overall sense of balance that is difficult to match.
The current swollen condition of the world's wine inventory, has created an ideal buying situation, that makes 1983 a perfect time to stock up on bordeaux.
Only once before in the history of this famous wine producing region in southwestern France have there been four high quality vintages in five years. The immediate post-World War II era--1945, 1947, 1948 and 1949--provided immensely majestic wines, which continue to provide memorable drinking to those fortunate few who still own any. Now it appears that the last five years, 1978-1982, may turn out to be an even more esteemed succession of fine bordeaux vintages.
There is a wondrous number of quality wines to chose from, but in spite of this vast selection, there are a few pitfalls to avoid. The 1978 bordeaux wines remain very expensive. A very good vintage indeed, particularly in the Medoc and Graves regions, where the wines are truly excellent. These wines were purchased when the exchange rate was 4 francs to a dollar rather than the current 7.5. Consequently, the wines were expensive from the very beginning, and have remained so. If you own any of the 1978's, they will provide memorable drinking in four or five years; but if you don't, then seriously consider putting your money in more recent vintages that are just as good, and much lower priced.
Unlike the 1978's, the 1979 bordeaux came on the market when the French franc had begun its decline. Additionally, the 1979 crop was immense. This combination led to wines that were and continue to be good bargains. The vintage was successful in all areas of bordeaux, but especially good in Pomerol, Margaux, Pauillac, and the "Co tes" section, or hillside vineyards, of St. Emilion. Uncommonly, virtually all the wines are quite well made. The best 1979's tend to share a precocious, supple, fruity character, and can certainly be drunk over the near term with a great deal of pleasure. Undoubtedly, this vintage of bordeaux will provide the most immediate pleasure over the next decade. Look for the top wines such as Margaux, Giscours, Palmer, Prieure-Lichine, Du Tertre, Leoville Las Cases, Pichon Lalande, Lafite Rothschild, Cos D'Estournel, Gruaud Larose, Petrus, Trotanoy, L'Evangile, Certan De May, Canon, Pavie, Madgelaine, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, and Haut Bailly. Expect to pay $12 to $18 per bottle for second through fifth growth wines, and the better Pomerols and St. Emilions, and $35 and up for the top first growths. The prices for 1979 bordeaux average 25 - to - 35 percent below their year-older kin from the 1978 vintage.
The real bargain vintage among the most recent crop of bordeaux is 1980. Seriously maligned in its infancy by many who had not bothered to taste the wines, the vintage is not nearly as disastrous as originally predicted. The wines have a healthy color, a supple fruitiness, medium body and light tannins. They are uniformly better than other so-called "off vintages" of the 1970's, particularly 1973, 1974 and 1977. In fact, the wines are a testament to what progressive viticultural practices can do in a year of less than ideal climate. These wines are perfect restaurant bottles of bordeaux . . . easy to drink, fruity, smooth and supple. The prices for the 1980 bordeaux make them the very best values since the 1974 vintage. First growths like Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Margaux (this last wine is quite exceptional), can be found for as low as $22 to $25 a bottle, and the best second through fifth growths for as low as $8 to $12 a bottle. Real skeptics of this vintage need only try such wines as the aforementioned Margaux, Pichon Lalande, La Mission, Haut Brion, Pavie, La Conseillante, Cos D'Estournel, Ducru Beaucaillou and Gruaud Larose, to be convinced that there are a number of fruity, mature, well-balanced wines that are conspicuously lacking the green, vegetal, unripe flavors normally associated with poor vintages.
The two most recent vintages of bordeaux have not yet arrived on these shores. The 1981 vintage is now being bottled in bordeaux after having aged in small oak barrels since the winter of 1982. I spent considerable time tasting the 1981 bordeaux last June, and again several months ago. It is destined to be considered a very good, perhaps excellent vintage, but is surprisingly variable in quality. Rain at the harvest time affected some vineyards more than others. However, those estates that are skillfully managed and are willing to make a careful selection of only their best barrels, have produced excellent wine. The top 1981's were offered for sale last year as "wine futures" by two local shops, Calvert Woodley and MacArthur; their prices turned out to be the lowest in the country. If consumers carefully picked their selections, they will be rewarded with some sensational bordeaux in 5 to 10 years when these wines mature. Additionally, the 1981 bordeaux crop will continue to represent great values as the franc continues to stumble against the dollar, and the vintage gets forgotten in all of the hoopla regarding 1981's younger sibling, the highly acclaimed 1982's.
Ah . . . the 1982's. A visit to Bordeaux two months ago to assess these wines left me staggering about . . . not because of their heady, full-bodied personalities, but because the wines did indeed live up to their trade publicity. Perhaps the best bordeaux vintage since 1961, the 1982's are massive wines with an extraordinary depth of fruit, concentration, ripeness and richness that is extremely rare. They are likely to be precocious wines in spite of very noticeable, and in some cases significant, tannin content. Fortunately, 1982 combines abundant quantity with exceptional quality and seems to represent a sure bet to be the most popular bordeaux vintage since 1961.
As for their prices, the two local shops that traditionally offer wine futures, Calvert Woodley and MacArthur Liquors, are offering second through fifth growth wines at outstanding prices, primarily due to the powerful dollar abroad. Expect to pay $70 to $110 per case for top second through fifth growth bordeaux. Remember, you will not take possession of these wines until 1985, and you have to put all of your money up front to take advantage of these low prices. Unless the French franc totally collapses over the next year, the prices offered by Calvert Woodley and MacArthur for these wines represent extraordinary values for potentially great wines. However, the prices offered for the "first growths," those wines ranked atop the bordeaux hierarchy, most notably Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, Petrus, Cheval Blanc and Ausone, have come on the market at 70 percent above their asking price in 1981. Futhermore, this opening price has already been driven up to preposterous heights by wine brokers in Bordeaux. They are being sold at the shocking prices of $400 to $500 or more a case. While they will undoubtedly be collectors' items, no one except the most hopeless wine snob will argue that they are four or five times better than the other top wines from the 1982 vintage., They are vastly over priced and represent poor value.
All things considered, it is an exciting time for bordeaux wine enthusiasts.