In the thirty-five or so years that I have been tasting, exploring and enjoying wine I have been extremely fortunate. I have had gracious and generous teachers, men and women who have opened their minds, their hearts and their cellars for my benefit. I like to think that their sharing was a reward for my passion and enthusiasm about this magical elixir, which has been with us for the last six thousand years, or more.
Recently I was privy to a once in a life time opportunity, the tasting of twelve incredible Bordeaux wines dating back to 1953, including many from 1961, 1962, 1966, 1967 and 1974. The flight was simply the most incredible collection of wines, all but one showing Bordeaux’s eminent potential for greatness.
The flight was as follows:
1974 Carbonnieux Blanc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Truly noteworthy. For a white wine with 43 years of age, it was showing beautifully. Deep amber in color with a light, almost floral nose. As it spent time in the glass, the bouquet opened to vanilla, butterscotch, pear and custard. On the palate, the wine was expectantly dry, very light-bodied with moderate acidity. With more time, the wine began to show an Amontillado-like character with layers of complexity on the finish. Clearly builds a case for the aging potential of white Graves.
1953 Montrose, St. Estèphe
Marvelous. Vibrant nose with cooked fruit, saddle leather, cedar and mineral hints. Medium-bodied, very well-balanced with almost no tannin. Soft and earthy on the palate, with gamey, roasted meat and mushroom notes. Very long, complex finish. Hints of red fruit were an amazing testament to the aging potential of this wine. To have any trace of freshness at 64 years old is simply amazing. The fact that the wine was a 375mL split is even more incredible.
1961 Talbot, Saint-Julien
A bit disappointing. Brownish tint with a hint of ascetic acid on the nose. Sweet cooked fruit, prunes. Sherry-like with a strong Oloroso nature. Burnt orange rind on the palate with forward acidity. In this case, the 375mL format is showing its age.
1962 Gruaud Larose, Saint-Julien
The overwhelming favorite of the flight, by weighted score. Brickish tint with a strong earthy nose. Roasted game, cooked fruit, menthol, saddle and cedar hints abound. Charming. Medium-to-full-bodied with great mid-palate weight. Some acid and a sour cherry tartness. Dark fruit with an evolving, ultra-complex finish. Absolutely wonderful.
1966 Fourcas Hosten, Listrac-Médoc
Brickish with a faded, garnet robe. Peppery nose with dark, cooked fruit hints. Medium-bodied but very dry on the palate. Tart with briarwood notes. Long finish, but a little abrasive.
1966 Les Ormes-de-Pez, St. Estèphe
Briskish but with a blood-red robe. Cooked fruit nose with prune, saddle leather and cedar hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and surprisingly firm tannin. Dry and lacking mid-palate weight. Dark fruit and anise on the finish.
1966 Palmer, Margaux
The overwhelming favorite of the flight, by first place votes. Brickish with a fig-like nose with stewed fruit, prunes, saddle leather and cedar. Medium-bodied with good mid-palate weight. Some acidity and firm tannin. Dried fruit and roasted game on the finish that is almost endless. Awesome vibrancy for 51 years old.
1966 Leoville-Las Cases, Saint-Julien
A bit disappointing. Brickish with faded garnet robe. Tired nose with saddle leather and cedar hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Very dry. Tart. The 375mL format did not help this wine age. Very tired overall.
1966 Haut-Brion, Graves, Pessac-Lèognan
Second in terms of weighted score, as well as first place votes. Brickish but with a dark, opaque robe. Dark fruited nose with black cherry/blackberry jam hints. Medium-to-full-bodied with loads of dark fruit. Lovely. Gamey, roasted meat palate with smoky notes. Long finish with strong mineral/granitic notes. Another wine of incredible vibrancy for 51 years old.
1967 Smith Haut Lafitte, Graves, Pessac-Lèognan
Unfortunately, the cork had failed and the wine was pure vinegar.
1967 Cos D’Estournel, St. Estèphe
Very disappointing. Light brickish, faded rose. Bright nose with some cherry fruit hints. Very light-bodied with no tannin and firm acidity. Tasting more like an old Burgundy than Bordeaux with dried red berry notes.
1967 Haut-Brion, Graves, Pessac-Lèognan
A solid wine coming in third by the number of third place votes. Deep coloration with a faded rose tint on the disk. Cooked fruit nose. Meaty with saddle leather, cedar and smoky hints. Medium-to-full-bodied with firm tannin and moderate acidity. Great mid-palate weight with dark fruit notes. Long finish, a bit muddled.
A few notes about the vintages.
1953 Not deemed to be a spectacular vintage. The growing season was considered hot, which developed strong sugar levels. September rains pushed the harvest out far enough to allow for added hangtime, which is one reason why the wines from 1953 are showing such great potential.
1961 Considered a legendary vintage with many wines still drinking exceptionally well.
1962 Classic shadow vintage, coming on the heels of the legendary 1961 vintage. Many wines are showing great potential, not unlike 1983 and 1996 wines.
1966 A very strong vintage with many wines, like the Palmer and Haut-Brion above showing an almost youthful vigor.
1967 Deemed a minor vintage. Some wines continue to show well, but most are tired and were likely at their peak back in the late 1990’s.
1974 A very weak vintage with a few standouts, but overall very poor quality and aging potential.