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Jane Anson: Bordeaux 1975 tasting

There is real charm in re-tasting what was arguably the last good vintage made in the old style, and Bordeaux 1975 is not as difficult as you would think to get hold of, says Jane Anson.

This Bordeaux 1975 tasting, done to coincide with Decanter’s 40th anniversary, is a look at how classic old school Bordeaux can age. I suggest opening the bottles just a short time before drinking to preserve the delicate aromas.

Château Gloria AOC Saint Julien 1975 – 88 points, Drink now.

Founded by Jean-Louis Triaud’s father-in-law Henri Martin in 1943, making it a relative newcomer for Bordeaux. In 1975, Triaud had just married Martin’s daughter and just finished a year of learning the winemaking ropes at Château Latour, where Martin was co-director. Unlike Latour, the Gloria wines were vinified in large oak vats, with no new oak (although Martin came from a family of coopers). At 40 years old, this has kept its colour remarkably well; there are still rich deep reds on display and a muted but clear fruit character on the nose. Cabernet sauvignon makes up just over half of the blend, with merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc rounding things out. The tannins dry out towards the end of the palate, but this has retained the generous, smooth character typical of Gloria. 12.5% abv.

Château Ormes de Pez, AOC Saint Estephe 1975 89 points. Drink now.
This Jean-Michel Cazes owned property is a real surprise. Rich deep red in colour, fragrant and soft on the nose. On the palate things are not hugely intense or persistent, but still full of pleasure. The estate was using 10 year old oak barrels to age the wine in 1975. Small yields help concentrate flavours – Ormes de Pez had 44% less merlot than 1974 and 38% less cabernet sauvignon, giving 69% of the overall production of the year before. But significantly better quality, and a true pleasure to taste today. 12% abv.

Les Forts de Latour, AOC Pauillac 1975 – 90 points. Drink now.

The wines at Latour were being made by Jean-Paul Gardère and Henri Martin in 1975. This is hugely impressive for a second wine (the label made its first appearance in the 1960s but was only made every year from 1990). At 40 years old, this is beautifully rich, with deep black pepper spice and liquroice on display, excellent complexity and grip, with a surprisingly youthful lift on the finish. The financial means of the First Growths have an impact – they would have among the rare estates to be using new oak at the time according to Triaud. Very impressive, far more contemporary in flavor than the others here. 13% abv.

Chateau Lynch Bages AOC Pauillac 1975 (5th Growth) – 91 points. Drink 2015 – 2020 (in magnum).

Jean-Michel Cazes’ third vintage, and his records of the harvest note excellent weather conditions almost every day up in Pauillac. Harvest of merlot began at Lynch Bages on September 25 (it had been expected to start on the 29th until the rains fell) and lasted until October 12th ( a Sunday when Cazes described the fermentations as going ‘very very well’). Only one or two vats needed chaptilisation because natural sugar levels were so high. On the nose, a touch of band aid suggests brett, but this soon clears and the wine is full of life. Tomato leaf on the attack, the mid palate has a seam of cassis and there is lovely menthol on the finish. This tasting was in bottle, and I followed it with a tasting from magnum a week later. The magnum had held up far better, with rich dark fruit flavours still abundant. 12.5% abv.

 Château Beychevelle AOC Saint Julien 1975 (4th Growth) – 88 points. Drink now.

The wine was aged in cement tanks in the 1970s, again with no new oak. This has maintained an excellent depth of colour, and has aged gracefully. There is a touch of menthol on the finish, and overall this is one of the most delicate of this lineup. A lovely, classic claret, very much of its age and appellation. It will have benefited from greater selection in 1975, as the second wine Amiral de Beychevelle was created in 1974. As an aside, owner Archille-Fould gave another interesting gift to the Médoc besides this delicious wine – he was the French Postmaster General and in the mid 1970s moved the phone book printing facility from Paris to Saint-Laurent-Médoc, creating 300 jobs. 12% abv.

Château Ducru Beaucaillou AOC Saint Julien (2nd Growth) – 90 points. Drink now.

Good nose, lovely clean fruit; an excellent wine that is holding up extremely well, although as with all of these it is fully in its drinking window, and should be enjoyed soon. This was aged in both cement vats and oak barrels. Ducru was owned by the Borie family in 1975, as it is today, but as they had not yet bought Grand Puy Lacoste (1978), both Jean-Eugène Borie and his son François Xavier were making the wine here in Saint Julien (although François-Xavier would not join full time until 1978). An estate that often takes a long time to soften, even in more celebrated vintages, this really showcases its potential to hold steady and reward long ageing. 12.5% abv.

Château Latour AOC Pauillac (1st Growth) – 93 points. Drink 2015 – 2025.

Excellent, the standout wine of this lineup; hugely soft tannins and evident purity and integrity in the soft autumnal fruits, given extra complexity by notes of pencil lead and soft leather with crème de cassis on the finish. As with Les Forts de Latour, the wine would have been aged in new oak barrels, at least in part, and that has had an impact on how well it has aged. Henri Martin commented on September 26, as harvest was beginning, that the health of the grapes was superb, but that he felt the colour in the skins was a little lacking. He might have been pleasantly surprised by how well the colour has stood up to four decades of ageing, as this is one of the darkest and most complete on display. In the perfect window for drinking now, but honestly there is still no rush to consume. 12.5% abv.

Château Haut-Brion AOC Graves (1st Growth) – 92 points. Drink 2015 – 2023.

Note that this was Graves in 1975, as Pessac Léognan appellation was not created until 1987. I tasted this separately from the others in this lineup at Haut-Brion with Jean-Bernard Delmas, who was making the wine at the time. This has walnut-edged tones to the colour, and is surprisingly dark. The nose is fragrant, violet-laced, full of classic Haut-Brion markers of leather, tobacco, woodsmoke, saffron, with a subtle smoky edge of grilled fig jam. A fascinating wine to look at in comparison to the Médocs also. Money may have been tight for most of the other estates, but at Haut-Brion the American Dillon family was continuing to inves, meaning new oak and stainless steel vats. And where malolactic was just getting started at many Médoc estates, Haut-Brion had been regularly practicing this secondary fermentation since 1962. The estate’s proximity and close relations with the school of oenology – and Emile Peynaud – will have played its part here. Delmas said this was tasting ‘infinitely better than 10 years ago’. A silky, caressing and terribly charming wine. 12.5% abv.

Château d’Yquem AOC Sauternes 1975 (1st Growth) – 96 points. Drink 2015 – 2030.

Noted as a standout at the time of harvest, and still holding up incredibly well. This beautiful wine remains rich, luscious and truly of excellent quality. Tiny yields of perhaps 8hl/h, it is displaying notes of orange peel, orange rind, caramel, white truffle, with a dry finish. This is silky smooth and utterly gorgeous, with clear spiciness underpinning the fruit, and a wonderful lift of acidity. This can easily last another few decades, and offers huge pleasure (and has done on several occasions when I have tasted it, suggested consistency). Run by Alexandre de Lur Saluces at the time. 13% abv.

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