Recently, a perennial sampling of new bordeaux was held at the Four Seasons, where assorted luminaries assembled to be royally supped and gently lectured. The Bordelais are past masters at this sort of thing, arriving on foreign shores in black tie to discreetly expose wine buyers, collectors, restaurateurs and the press to the latest available vintage -- in this case the '84s.
The owner of Cha~teau Lynch-Bages, Jean-Michel Cazes, told the assembly that 1984 was "a very good vintage." Now, Cazes is one of the more appealing personalities among bordeaux producers, and he makes very good wine. But bear in mind that almost everything said about bordeaux by the Bordelais is inflated. We are talking hyperbole here, not outright falsehood, and a "very good" vintage is in fact, as everyone knows, a mediocre one.
Happily, a mediocre vintage can be a boon to consumers, because it provides wines that can be acquired more cheaply and poured sooner. The bordeaux at the recent debut -- from the cha~teaux Mouton-Baronne-Philippe, Les-Ormes- de-Pez, Lynch-Bages, Talbot, Lafitte, Latour, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion -- were for the most part unremarkable. But there were some surprises. The '84 Margaux proved to be the most harmonious, and the Haut-Brion seemed to have the best future. The Lafitte was remarkably "forward," and the Lynch-Bages equaled the first growths in balance and depth. A few wines were distinctly odd.
In general, the '84 bordeaux seem to be thin and not particularly flavorful -- no match for either the '83s or the predictions from critics who have tasted the '85s. The '84 crop comes closest in recent memory to that of '80, which also produced light wines that were quickly consumed -- some with considerable pleasure. The '84s have a bit more stuffing than the '80s, and some are worth buying -- provided the price is right. Pick carefully among them and don't be too quick to buy by the case. This vintage could well prove to be one of the best deals in years for those who can accept drinkability in place of complexity and are willing to wait for further price corrections.
Potential bargains, for example, may be improved by the sheer abundance of bordeaux. Both the '83 and '85 vintages were plentiful; '84 wasn't bad in terms of volume; and '86 may be the most abundant yet. To compound matters, the sale of wine futures -- in which wine presumably can be bought for a lower price than after its release -- has faltered since the banner vintage of '82. The '83s often undercut their futures price when they were released, which didn't make investors happy. There is still plenty of unsold '83 bordeaux.
The wine press had labeled 1984 bordeaux a disastrous vintage before the grapes were even picked, and futures in the '84s never made economic sense. The Bordelais shamelessly raised the futures price for the '85 bordeaux -- which really was a very good vintage -- despite the weakening American dollar. To peddle the problem '84s, some cha~teaux tried to tie the sale of '85 bordeaux to them. Many dealers rebelled, and one prominent Washington retailer canceled many of his orders for the '85s.
Now comes the whopping '86 vintage, which could knock the props out from under the inflated '85s. Meanwhile, the '84s are about to hit the shelves. "The market is in such a state of flux," says a retailer, "that I wouldn't be surprised to see the '84s dumped in the fall." He plans to sit back and wait for the dam to break.
The smart consumer will join him. Autumn '87 could provide some good spectator sport in the wine arena -- and some outstanding bordeaux bargains. ::