The best way to age is to remain young, says Prof. Emile Peynaud. He was really referring to wine, but he may as well have been talking about himself. Now in his mid-60s and officially retired after 50 years in the Bordeaux wine industry, Peynaud is a credit to his creed. As teacher, enologist and adviser, he has no more retired from wine than Ted Kennedy has retired from presidential politics. Last month he was in New York to receive an award. Then he was off to advise a winery in Peru.
Winemaker of the Century: The award, presented by Les Amis du Vin and PanAm, carries a somewhat overwhelming title. Nevertheless, as the descendant in a line of master-pupil that goes back to Louis Pasteur, Peynaud is as qualified a candidate as any. And, if you want an objective picture of Bordeaux, past, present and future, he's the man to ask.
Which was another reason for his visit: to talk about the 1982 vintage. By his account, it was an extraordinary year in Bordeaux. "We have not seen such a combination of richness and size in our generation."
Apart from being the earliest vintage in many years, it was one of the largest. The flowering was excellent, followed by rapid ripening in a summer of generally above-average temperatures.The grapes were high in sugar, color and tannins -- a concentration of qualities that led Peynaud to compare the characteristics of '82 with those of fine years like '75, '61, '59 and '47. "I am certain that it will be one of the great years of my life."
Before the fanfare for another Vintage of the Century, it should be noted that Peynaud was speaking before the "assemblage" had been made. This is the selection and blending of separate lots and grape varieties, prior to aging in small barrels. It will be made this month and is going to be an important factor in the eventual quality produced by each chateau.
For, in the Medoc, the harvest was not entirely covered in sunshine and glory. Rain arrived in late September -- not enough to hamper picking, but enough to reduce the high concentration in the grapes. However, Peynaud was not too concerned. With such a large harvest, the chateaux can afford to be choosy when making the blend for aging.
From the other side of the Dordogne, Alain Querre of Chateau Monbousquet in St. Emilion had only good news. The merlot, the major grape of St. Emilion and Pomerol, ripens earlier than the cabernet sauvignon of the Medoc and thus was not affected by rain.
General excitement in Bordeaux is tempered by an inflation rate of 20 percent. Still, the speculative word is that opening prices of the '82 classified growths should be no higher than 10 percent above those of '81.
September was not as kind to sauternes. After an exceptionally early start, on-off rain disrupted picking. The berries were nobody rotted all right, but particularly careful selection will be needed to produce the desired richness.