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Jefford on Monday: Hail and farewell to Pomerol 1982

The vintage that started everything? Andrew Jefford says Ave Atque Vale - hail and farewell - to some great Pomerol 1982 wines...

Everything, it seems with hindsight, began in 1982.  That was the vintage which, with a crash of cymbals, ushered in the modern wine world – in Bordeaux, of course, but given Bordeaux’s significance, in the wine world more generally.

  • Scroll down to see Andrew Jefford’s Pomerol 1982 wine notes

Everything?  In the vineyards, 1982 marked the turning of the tide on ‘chemical viticulture’, and a slow return to the understanding that there can be no great wine without the effort and endeavour needed to tend vines assiduously, and nourish soils sustainably.  1982 set a benchmark for ripeness, and launched three-and-a-half decades during which climate change seems to have rendered the ripeness which formerly marked only very great vintages more commonplace than in former decades.

Economically, 1982 marked the start of an unparalleled period of prosperity for fine wine in Bordeaux and beyond, as a run of generous vintages coincided with a surge in the global numbers of those able to afford such wines and newly interested in doing so.  It also marked the rise of Robert Parker and the beginning of wine criticism as distinct from wine writing, with points as the magical tool which put ‘buying the best’ within the reach of all. (At least until prices soared beyond the reach of most in the C21.)

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I’m old enough to have known this Bordeaux vintage a little bit in its infancy, and to have had a chance to taste it intermittently ever since, and I’ve always loved it.  For simple wealth of flavour, grace, affability, charm and textural ease, allied to an unfussy but faithful expression of the genetics of each individual site, I don’t think we’ve seen its like since.  Perhaps 2005 and 2010 are even greater than 1982, but they are different sorts of great vintage, with a little more severity of complexion and inner tension (‘classicism’, some might say).  The style rivals to 1982 have been 1990, 2000 and 2009.

As time has gone by, 1990 and 2000 have revealed a little less glowing resonance and perfection of balance than 1982 did, outstanding though both are.  With 2009, by contrast, we were truly in the modern world where no ‘qualitative gesture’ went unperformed — and the consequence of all of this effort in vineyards and cellars was that a rich vintage was rendered just a little bit over-rich and corpulent on occasion, without the spontaneous, artless poise and easy athleticism which marked the higher yielding 1982s.  It’s early days for 2009, though, and most of those who taste more great Bordeaux than I get the chance to do rate 2009 above 1982.  They may be right.  A gap of 27 years, in any case, makes exact comparison difficult, and I’m sure that few 1982s when young had the density of the best 2009s.

Whatever the truth, 1982 constitutes five syllables that have always made my heart beat a bit faster, so when some friends in Hong Kong asked if I would like to come along as they took a look at some of their treasured 1982 Pomerols, my reply came garnished with exclamation marks.  (Pomerol was a sub-region which performed particularly well in 1982.)  Some notes on the wines we tasted (the first six of which were served blind) are given below.

How are the wines showing?  They are gorgeous, but no longer in that assured, mid-life kind of way which promises limitless interactions to come.  All, for me, are fully mature while some are tiring, and I cannot see how any of them might actually acquire further sensual nuance in the years to come, though Evangile, La Conseillante, Petrus and the legendary Lafleur will certainly endure for longer.  The tasting, in other words, had a slightly valedictory feel: the springy poise and flesh of the 1982s is no longer in evidence, and its face has become a little less smiling, a little more set and grave.  It’s many years since I owned any 1982 Bordeaux, and I never owned any Pomerol from that vintage, but if by great good fortune you do, I would begin planning a few special dinners.

The wines

Château Latour à Pomerol 1982

This wine still had impressive depth of colour, though the hues were now tile-red.  The aromas were full and warm: no fruit as such, but earthy, meat-jus notes and incense spice more than compensated.  It was deep on the palate, too, but a little more brusque than the aromas had suggested.  Elemental and sturdy; some puff left for a few more years. 90 points / 100

Ch Le Gay 1982

This was not an outstanding bottle (hence the bracketed score): the aromas were a little stewy and stinky, and this character did not noticeably lift in the glass.  On the palate, by contrast, it seemed rather better than its dismal reputation: not deep or succulent, but held in place by a lingering tannic frame, and with a mid-palate that showed some grace and charm. (87)

Ch Eglise-Clinet 1982

This was the last vintage prior to Denis Durantou taking over in 1983 (though he took part in the vintage, and remembers it well); the wine has a poor reputation.  It was, though, one of the wines which was served blind, and impressed several tasters including me.  In contrast to Le Gay and Latour à Pomerol, it has a true Pomerol nose, with creamy warmth and refined Havana-leaf notes.  It was soft, gravelly and elegant on the palate, and still had some wealth of flavour and tannic engagement.  Has the quality of the site won through in time?  Or was this just a lucky bottle? 92

Ch Trotanoy 1982

A very good wine, as it had been when I last tasted it with Christian and Edouard Moueix in 2014.  Aromatically, it needs teasing out of the glass, but then it opens beautifully: sweetly rich, with some lingering fruit glow and a little planty freshness.  On the palate, it has slightly brighter acidity than some of its peers, yet it had retained plenty of weight and poise, too, and the aromatic sweetness seems almost to have a chocolate cast here. 96

Vieux Château Certan 1982

The colour is holding well enough, but the aromatic spectrum seems to be tiring a little: dusty and medicinal.  On the palate, too, this is now a wine of pale complexion; the bones are beginning to show beneath the skin.  Still a delicious drink: elegant and harmonious, but no longer as exciting as it once would have been. 91

 Ch l’Evangile 1982

Another dark wine, with a rich and exotic scent: lots of sweet spice and incense here.  Still very sturdy on the palate, too, with its acidity held in check (a gauge of longevity in older Bordeaux: the more the acidity shows, the nearer the end).  It’s still possible to pick out plums in its cascade of flavour amid the warm, meaty depths.  An outstanding wine. 97

Ch La Conseillante 1982

Deep in colour, and a gorgeous wine to smell: warm, fat and rich, brimming with good things – savoury notes, very soft sweet fruits, the autumn land.  On the palate, it was a more vital wine than I was expecting: behind lavish raspberry and plum fruit there were sustained, upright tannins mingled with lively ripe acidity.  Brisk and poised yet at the same time generously ripe: on a perfect evolutionary plateau just now.  97

Ch La Fleur-Pétrus 1982

After the quiet thunder of Trotanoy, Evangile and La Conseillante, La Fleur-Pétrus was clearer, lighter, silkier, floating on the breeze.  I can’t say that it has a lot more kite time ahead of it and it’s structurally a much softer wine than its peers, but the forces are gathered, seamless and harmonious; there’s no sign of the acid component beginning to poke through the sheeny skin.  93

Ch Petrus 1982

This is more translucent than Lafleur and a glowing brick-red in hue.  There’s plenty of head-turning exoticism on the nose: spice, truffle, the coffee-roaster’s yard.  On the palate, the wine shows its age without being tired; the acid levels seemed among the lowest of the group, and once again there was no sense of bony senescence.  The flavours were unapologetically mature: wild mushroom, beef stock, fine tobacco.  Rewarding and delicious – just not quite the blockbuster one hopes for on sight of this label.  95

Ch Lafleur 1982

This magnificent bottle lived up to its reputation.  It was dark in colour, and still powerfully aromatic, with all of the truffley richness which you hope for in well-aged Pomerol, lifted and freshened by a little rubbed plant leaf.  On the palate, the wine is deep and commandingly textured still, earthy and dense on the mid-palate, growing creamier and more truffley towards the end.  Despite this generosity, its energy levels were clearly higher than for any of its peers: the mid-life assurance and the rangy athleticism were still there.  The only challenge was to drink it with innocence.  A rare, once-in-a-lifetime treat for this lucky Pomerol fan.  99

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