Just how good was the legendary 1982 vintage, and how have the wines fared over the years? David Peppercorn MW, who was there at the time, reassesses its quality.
With 20 years behind us, the place of the 1982 vintage in the evolution of the Bordeaux vineyards is clear – as is the success of the vintners in converting quality on the vine into quality in the bottle. Going back over the tasting notes I made in the spring and autumn of 1983, my overwhelming impressions were depth of colour, very ripe-scented and often exotic fruit on the nose, great beauty of flavour and luscious fruit flavours allied to great tannic power, rather buried under the fruit initially but coming through ever more strongly as the wines evolved in barrel. We hailed it as the greatest vintage since 1961, though I always felt that only Latour really measured up to that remarkable year.
What the 1982 vintage did do, though, was to usher in a series of high-yielding, ripe vintages that have been the hallmark of the last 20 years. It took producers some time to come to grips with the challenges that this posed and there can be no doubt that, if the vintage had come today, many more outstanding wines would have been made. The primary reason why many wines that looked impressive in barrel have failed to stand the test of time turns on a lack of selection, as second wines were still the exception and green harvesting was still in the future.
The test of a successful 1982 vintage today should be balance and beauty of flavour. If a wine seems dry, this is a sure sign it lacks the fat to balance its tannins and is likely to become increasingly austere. If it still has fruit flavours but seems rather weak, especially at the finish, this is a sign of high yields and a thinning out of textures.
Another measure of the success of any particular 1982 vintage is how it stands up against its 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1990.
It should be deeper coloured and have more fat than its 1985. A great 1986 will have quite a different emphasis, with more powerful tannins. It should be more ‘old-fashioned’ and less charming than the 1982, but it should not make the 1982 look lightweight! For Médocs, 1989s have a ‘hot’ quality that should make a good 1982 vintage look fresh, whereas 1990 Médocs often seem dilute and advanced compared with a fine 1982. However, a great Right Bank 1990 can seem like a more youthful version of its 1982.
Château Latour was one of the very few 1982s which I felt measured up to its 1961 predecessor, itself one of that year’s monuments – and I still believe this to be so. It has a dense Cabernet Sauvignon character with a ripe richness that marks it out as a great classic Latour.
Mouton-Rothschild is also a characteristic classic in its own distinctive mould, again very complex and powerful, which, having seemed very drinkable a year or so back, now seems to need more time to achieve its full potential.
For neighbouring Lafite, 1982 really marks the beginning of its revival. This is the best wine made at Lafite since the magisterial 1959 and also marks the start of a new consistency. The wine combines power, intensity and beauty with elegance.
The fourth Pauillac to stand out is Pichon-Longueville Comtesse-de-Lalande. It was highly individual from the start, but seemed to some critics over-ripe, too exotic and too forward. Exotic and beautiful it certainly was – and is – but doubts as to its staying power have been banished.
Other good Pauillacs are Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Lynch-Bages, Haut-Batailley and Batailley, which shows more concentration than several more highly rated crus.
In Saint-Julien there are several great wines, led by Léoville Las Cases, a long-lasting wine that now has the majestic air of a first growth. It is very complex and powerful with great breed and beauty of flavour. Léoville-Barton is sheer nectar – less powerful but with harmony and opulence – and Gruaud-Larose has the sweet fruit of 1982 at its best.
Of the rest, Ducru-Beaucaillou is opulent and Léoville-Poyferré has great charm and richness. Then come Talbot and Beychevelle, which should both be drunk now.
North of Pauillac, the results are very patchy. Perhaps the most impressive wine I have had is Sociando-Mallet, with its minty, succulent ripeness and depth of flavour, but look out for Meyney, which was recently superbly scented, rich and mellow.
As far as Châteaux Margaux and Palmer are concerned, I now find that the 1982s have breeding, without being in the first rank. Both La Lagune and Cantemerle are richer than one might expect, and the La Lagune, in particular, is aromatic with a nice lingering youthfulness. Both are wines to enjoy now.
Down in the Graves, Château La Mission Haut Brion is more powerful and backward than the charming Haut-Brion, which perhaps just lacks the power for long-term ageing. Both Domaine de Chevalier and Haut-Bailly are very successful – Chevalier typically Cabernet in style with concentrated layers of tannins, and Haut-Bailly featuring scented tobacco fruit and succulent richness. A lovely recent bottle of Rochemorin should indicate that there are plenty of good things still to be found in this area.
Saint-Emilion and Pomerol
On the Right Bank, there seem to be more outstanding wines in Pomerol than in Saint-Emilion and, of the best Saint-Emilions, only Château Ausone is on the Côtes, although for me it is the best of them all. As usual, Cheval Blanc has been a delight from the very beginning. It is harmonious, rich and supple, and I suspect will never be better or more enjoyable than it is today. Figeac is also outstandingly beautiful, with a wonderful perfume, supple and opulent, and with the freshness that the Cabernet Franc brings to very ripe years. Like Ausone, Belair has been a slow developer, but with its classic length and elegance, it promises to get even better. Other good Saint-Emilions recently tasted are Haut-Sarpe, L’Arrosée, Clos L’Oratoire and Larcis-Ducasse.
In Pomerol it is interesting going back over my notes for two to three years to see how the top wines have evolved. Two years ago, I put Château Pétrus above Lafleur. Now, behind the wonderful sweet, aromatic fruit, Pétrus seems rather loose knit and a touch fluid, while Lafleur both jumps out of the glass and has that extra depth and power behind the spicy opulence.
This is a great wine, but also impressive are La Conseillante and Vieux-Château-Certan, with the latter the more aromatic, with spicy Cabernet Franc notes keeping it youthful and powerful. La Conseillante is also a very long-distance wine, very intense and firm still but slowly beginning to open out, although with less flesh than the Vieux-Château-Certan. Certan-de-May is a joy today, with its intense, supple, ample fruit flavours, and Trotanoy is again hedonistic with just a touch of firmness. La Fleur-Pétrus is very flattering and delicious. These wines encapsulate the charms of the vintage and are probably at their best now.
Written by DAVID PEPPERCORN MW