There are a number of myths about bordeaux wines that seem to pass from one wine-drinking generation to the next. Perhaps the biggest of all is that bordeaux must taste terrible when young in order to develop into truly great wine. This myth has continued despite the fact that old-timers extolled the virtues of such legendary vintages as 1929, 1947, 1949 and even 1961 at a time when the wines were rather young and infantile. However, the wines from these vintages easily outlived most of their critics, who said they would not age or "make old bones," as the English say. More recently, critics called the 1970 vintage for bordeaux a product of the "nouvelle vinification." They claimed that because of this new way of making wine in Bordeaux, the wines would not last until 1980. In 1985, most of the top wines from this lovely vintage are still not fully mature.
If critics constantly seem to misjudge the remarkable aging potential of bordeaux wines, they also tend to disregard and underrate a group of lesser known wines produced in Bordeaux which are pejoratively called petits -- or small -- chateaux. Legally these lesser known wines are called "cru bourgeois" and these properties -- some small, but some suprisingly large -- produce an ocean of wine which can, in fact, be sloppily produced and a poor value at any price. However, there are numerous cru bourgeois winemaking estates that have high aspirations, as well as high quality standards. Hoping one day to be elevated in Bordeaux's famous 1855 hierarchy of quality, these properties can often make wine as good as their much more famous neighbors in Bordeaux. However, since they were not included in that original classification, they are not able to charge the high prices that typically accompany the honor. For a shrewd wine buyer, these have always represented the great values in Bordeaux wines, but even the admirers of these passionately run top cru bourgeois chateaux have not realized how long these top wines can last in the bottle.
Several weeks ago in Bordeaux, one of the brokers who specializes in purchasing and selling wines from the top cru bourgeois estates put on a blind tasting of some of the older vintages of some of the better wines from these properties. I knew neither the names of the wines, the names of the producers of the wines nor the vintages. The quality of the wines was clearly on a level with the famous classified growths of the Medoc. There was not a tired wine among the wines tasted. Furthermore, all were vigorous, rich, complex and very well made. When asked to guess the age of the wines, I thought that they had to be from a top vintage such as 1970, 1975 or 1978 because of their ripeness, concentration and youthful character. When the wines were revealed, it turned out that most of them were much older. In order of the wines that were served to me, I tasted:
1. 1962 St. Bonnet
2. 1964 St. Bonnet
3. 1970 Sociando Mallet
4. 1977 Chasse Spleen
5. 1964 Coufran
6. 1970 Coufran
7. 1976 Sociando Mallet
8. 1970 Potensac
9. 1966 Potensac
10. 1970 Chasse Spleen
11. 1928 Poujeaux
The hits of the tasting for me and the other guests were the superb 1976 and 1970 Sociando Mallets, two wines that could be easily confused for one classified as second- or third-growth. Incredibly, both wines are still not fully mature. The extremely rich, majestic 1928 Poujeaux made people ask for the bottle to make sure it was an authentically 57-year-old wine they were tasting. It was a remarkable tasting experience, still full-bodied and quite rich. After these three wines, the tasters all agreed that the 1966 Potensac, 1970 Chasse Spleen, 1962 St. Bonnet and the 1964 Coufran were all top quality wines still in their prime.
What is the lesson in all this? Well, both the 1982 and 1983 vintages of bordeaux produced exceptional wines at the top classified growth level and for the top cru bourgeois. The proprietors of Potensac and Sociando Mallet claim their 1982s are the finest wines they ever produced. At Chasse Spleen, Poujeaux, Coufran and St. Bonnet, the proprietors are more modest, claiming that their '82s are simply the best wines they have made since 1961. The good news is that the '82s from these properties are all available locally. Coufran, St. Bonnet, Chasse Spleen are generally in good distribution. The Sociando Mallet, Potensac and Poujeaux are currently available at Addy Bassin's MacArthur Beverages Inc. and Calvert-Woodley Liquors. While the prices continue to rise because of the huge international demand, all of these wines can still be found for under $10, with the St. Bonnet 1982 available at Pearson's Wine and Liquor Annex and Addy Bassin's MacArthur Beverages Inc. for a modest $5.99. Should you decide to buy these wines, all of them need at least 4 to 5 years of cellaring before they should be drunk, although the St. Bonnet and Coufran can be drunk in two to three years. However, if you have the patience, all of these wines, given the vintage and their high quality, should still be drinking extremely well at the turn of the century. Wine Briefs
Planning a trip to France this spring or summer? If so, and your plane back to the United States leaves from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, save room for a few bottles of a luxury champagne like Dom Perignon. Contrary to what most people think, French wines are generally much more expensive in France than here. However, there are some bargains to be had. The luxury or prestige bottlings of champagne, which retail in this country for $50 or more a bottle, can be found at the duty-free section of Charles de Gaulle airport for remarkably low prices. For example, the Dom Perignon 1978, $55 to $60 here, costs $19. The Taittinger 1976 Comtes de Champagne, $60 here, costs $20. Once past these champagnes, the rule is caveat emptor, as the prices for bordeaux and burgundies at the duty-free airport are a solid 40 to 80 percent higher than here in Washington, D.C.