The wines of Margaux are too light, too thin, too quick maturing, and without doubt, the most stunningly perfumed red wines of France. Potentially the finest Bordeaux wines, according to many experts, they are perhaps the most perplexing as well.
Margaux is the only Bordeaux commune to take its name from a single property, the premier cru Chateau Margaux. There's no question about the quality of the soil there: the 1855 classification of the Me'doc lists more chateaux from this commune than from any other. A remarkably high percentage are clustered in the elite second- and third-growth categories.
On the other hand, if the classification were redone, at least half of Margaux's 21 crus classes would be strong candidates for demotion. The chief culprit has been wine making. Chateau Margaux itself went through a period of unalloyed mediocrity in the decade of the '60s and early '70s that saw it eclipsed not only by its neighbor Chateau Palmer, but by Chateau Giscours as well, both third growths. Despite a dramatic turnaround in 1978 under new owners, it still sells for a bit less than the other first growths in many markets.
Then there is the matter of style. Despite their extraordinary bouquet, Margaux wines tend to be less deep in color, less tannic and less full-flavored than the wines of the other great Me'doc communes, Pauillac, St. Julien and St. Estephe. Their delicate, refined style is often described as "feminine." To fans, they are aristocratically svelte. To others, they're merely skinny.
Margaux is not really one commune, but five. Besides the village of Margaux, this appellation controle'e also applies to the neighboring communes of Cantenac, Labarde, Arsac and Soussans. The last three typically produce somewhat less refined, heartier wines. But even this must be qualified. In 1978 came the dramatic discovery that the classic elegant Margaux style was not so classic after all. In that vintage, the new owners of Chateau Margaux, under the tutelage of professor Emile Peynaud of the University of Bordeaux, produced a virile, deep-flavored wine that was easily among the most powerful wines of the vintage.
Whatever one thinks of the traditional Margaux commune style, enolgists believe the wines' apparent flaws may be precisely what explains their extraordinary bouquets. It's long been said that the worse the soil, the better the wine, and that great wine is produced from vines that are stressed. These wines suggest that great fragrance is produced by vines that are stressed perhaps a bit too much.
Almost pure gravel, the soil of Margaux is the lightest not only of the Me'doc, but of any region of Bordeaux. In most cases, it does not appear to be rich enough to provide for deep color and flavor. The lack of surface nutrients, however, forces the vines to root deeply, where the temperature stability is greater. It is believed that this stability fosters the development of the hundreds of complex aldehydes, esters and other compounds identified as contributing to the bouquet of wine.
Listed below are tasting notes on 11 of the 1982 Margaux wines and one other wine. This was an excellent vintage in Margaux, though not quite the equal of that elsewhere in Bordeaux (1983 was Margaux's year to shine). Prices of these wines have not gone through the roof, as has occurred with some other 1982s. The Margaux chateaux thus find themselves in an unaccustomed position: They are among the better buys in the current market. Furthermore, their softer style makes them a better choice for drinking over the next 5 to 10 years than the massive, big structured "classics" produced in Pauillac, St. Julien and St. Estephe.
Listed in order of my assessment of quality for this vintage:
Chateau Margaux (Margaux; $59.95-79.95): Given that it produced perhaps the best wines of the Me'doc in every year since 1978, it's hard not to expect too much from the dynamic winemaking team here. Great as the 1982 Chateau Margaux is, however, it's a distinct notch below the best Me'docs -- Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Le'oville Las Cases and Latour -- of this extraordinary year. The unmistakable violet-scented Margaux perfume is there, supplemented by a good deal of spicy new oak, but there's just not quite enough intensity and depth between the initial entry and the incredibly long finish to measure up to the very top wines. No, the 1982 Chateau Margaux is not perfection. The 1983 is.
Rausan Se'gla (Margaux; $15-18): The 1982 Rausan Se'gla is proof that its placement as the top second growth after Mouton was no fluke. Richly perfumed with fresh floral scents and vanillin new oak, long, silky and elegant on the palate, this outstanding wine is the first Rausan Se'gla since the 1970 that has lived up to the potential of its superb soil, just yards away from the vineyards of Chateaux Margaux and Palmer.
Palmer (Cantenac; $24.95-34.95): Usually the second best Margaux wine after Chateau Margaux, the 1982 Palmer is an utterly charming wine that lacks the intense core of the better '82s, including its usual rivals, Chateaux Le'oville Las Cases, Ducru Beaucaillou, and Pichon Lalande (often referred to as the "super seconds" because they, along with Palmer, sell at prices above the other second growths, but below the firsts). Beautifully perfumed, soft, savory and lush, Chateau Palmer has nothing to be ashamed of here, except perhaps its price.
D'Issan (Cantenac; $14-18): The herbal scent of the cabernet sauvignon grape achieves unusual piquancy in the 1982 D'Issan, which is a medium weight, exceedingly well-balanced wine with a lot of finesse. One of the best buys in 1982 classified growths, the D'Issan is a wine that can really benefit from some cellaring: With the fine balance between fruit and tannin, it should develop into a stunning wine.
Prieure'-Lichine (Cantenac; $13.95): The overwhelming impression left by the 1982 Prieure' Lichine is ripeness -- ripeness in the intense, plummy bouquet, ripeness in the intense purple color, and ripeness in the almost tropical fruitiness that emerges on the palate. It will be interesting to see how this wine develops. Recent Prieure's have not been keepers, but this one appears to have the intensity and structure to keep going.
Du-Tertre (Arsac; $12.49-15): The roundness of the tannins gives this wine a deceptive softness. More concentrated than the Prieure', though slightly simpler, the savory, berrylike fruit of this deep ruby wine makes it tempting to drink now, but the underlying structure should allow to evolve till at least the end of the decade.
Boyd Cantenac (Cantenac; $10.95-18.29): Deeper in color and more tannic than any Margaux chateaux in this grouping with the exception of Chateau Margaux, Boyd Cantenac is a rich, hearty, almost rustic wine that is at present unyielding and hard, but seemingly loaded with potential. Packed with fruit and tannin, this is a wine on which to take a chance at under $12 a bottle, but a decade or more of cellaring is essential.
Lascombes (Margaux; $16-19): Lascombes uses noticeably less oak than most Margaux wines, and perhaps as a result this example tastes less spicy and opulent than many other 1982 Margaux. This is perhaps not surprising, as Lascombes has a reputation for deepening and bulking out with a little bottle age. As it stands now, Lascombes has a forest, herbal scented bouquet that is pleasing, but less dramatic than some Margaux, with somewhat reserved but well-balanced flavors.
Cantenac Brown ($13.95): Cantenac Brown has a reputation for producing coarse, old-style wines that at their best, as in 1970, are big, gutsy and exceedingly pleasing. The 1982, though quite delightful, is not cast in this mold. Quite soft, and supple, this wine has none of the rustic, almost gamy flavors that Cantenac Brown fans (there are a few, including myself) look for. It should, however, provide good drinking while waiting for most other 1982s (and the 1970 Cantenac Brown) to come around.
Rauzan Gassies (margaux; $12): although it has made big strides in recent years, Rauzan Gassies still has a long way to go to catch up with the property with which it was once united, Rausan Se'la. The 1982 Gassies resembles an intense rendition of its pleasant '76: low in acid, but round, fruity and soft. At the very least, it's good to see that Gassies has avoided the high volatile acidity (brought about by excessively high fermentation temperatures) that plagued its wines through most of the 1970s. In any event, the 1982 offering displays the refined Gassies bouquet that was impossible to hide even in the years of utterly indifferent winemaking that preceded the present regime.
Dauzac (Labarde; $14.95-19.29): located far in the south of the Margaux AC, near Chateau La Lagune, Dauzac produces an easygoing, moderately spicy style of Margaux that doesn't need much aging. Although there are any number of cru bourgeois that produced better wine, the 1982 Dauzac has the usual friendly attributes of this chateaux, in a slightly bigger style.
D'Arcins (Arcins, Haut Me'doc; $5-7): A wine from Arcins, the Haut Me'doc commune just north of Margaux, belongs in this group if for no other reason than the former use of its wines to "top up" the barrels of less than scrupulous Margaux proprietors. This wine, however, can stand on its own. Though it doesn't have quite the finesse of a true Margaux, it has lots to commend it -- deep color, a sweet, open knit floral bouquet, soft, but surprisingly complex flavors, and a $5 to $7 price. It even has enough tannin to benefit from a couple of years in the bottle. (Imported by Wine Limited). Wine Briefs
Chateau Lynch Bages in Pauillac has decided to join Cha teaux Margaux, Talbot and Loudenne in offering its white me'doc wine for commercial distribution. As previously reported, the tiny production (400 bottles) of Lynch Bages Blanc had been limited to the Cazes family's private cellar. Capacity will be expanded to 2,000 cases, but commercial distribution appears to be at least a few vintages away, to permit the newly planted vines time to mature.
April and May are the months when many Washington retailers hold their spring sales. What are the best buys? While it's tempting to stock up on whites for summer imbibing, it's probably wiser to concentrate on imported red bordeaux and burgundy for medium- to long-term aging. Most retailers are still selling wines purchased at the old dollar/franc ratio. Comes the fall, these wines will have to be restocked at much higher prices. The best buys include the 1981 classified growth bordeaux, 1982 and 1983 petit chateaux, 1980 burgundies, and from Italy, the 1978 Barolos.