It’s a serious gamble whenever it comes to drinking very old wines, like vintages from the 1960s. You are betting your hard earned cash on an expensive bottle of wine that could very well have turned into vinegar. There aren’t much ways to minimize the risk, even if you’re thorough checking the level of the wine, tracing down its storage condition, and etc. But if you are lucky enough to get hold of a healthy bottle of great old vintage, be prepared to be rewarded with an extraordinary surprise.
I was lucky enough to try a number of old Bordeaux in July, the most noteworthy ones are Mouton 1986, Margaux 1982, Haut Brion 1979, Talbot 1961 and Gruaud Larose 1961. Some were very impressive while others were a bummer. Whether it was a good lively bottle or a bottle on its death bed, it was a great experience to learn how important the storage condition is for a bottle of old wine and how would improper storage would severely alter the aromas and flavors. As a matter of fact, a bad storage spoils all the hard work that was put into making the wine.
Another note worth sharing this month: the acidity of a wine, which is considered to be an important component that gives structure to a wine, doesn’t fade away as it ages. After a few trial with some old red and whites Bordeaux and Rhone from the 60s to 80s, I found some truth in this statement.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1986 is one of the legendary vintage in the superior chateau other than 1982 and 2010. At least Robert Parker gave his Midas touch and crowned it with 100 points. It’s true in a lot of sense. The wine was in an absolutely fabulous condition. Addictive deep ruby, good berries, minty, gentle oakiness, velvet tannins, luring all rounded nose. Instead of having a very big structure that punches right at your face like many a new Bordeaux, it’s a very structured wine but presented itself in a very elegant way.
Chateau Haut Brion 1979. One of my favorite estate from the first growth. It tend to have a more pronounced mineral note than any another first growth. I would like to describe their wine as a modest and charming writer. The wine had a good mineral note, capsicum, pepper and tobacco. Tannins were gentle and I would consider it as a ‘drink now’ wine. At least I don’t feel that the bottle I had would go anywhere with further ageing. The wine was rated 93 points by Robert Parker where he commented: “One of the top three or four wines of the vintage”.
Chateau Margaux 1982, the elegant lady. The 1982 vintage was rated as one of the top vintages of the estate. It is interesting to note that the estate is still using 90% of the vineyards that they were using since 1855. A lot of chateaus have bought new vineyards after 1855 and the source of the grapes is different from what it used to be back then. The Margaux 1982 started to show brownish rims, with berries, smoky, peppery aromas. The capsicum was quite dominant, likely because more Cabernet Sauvignon was used (75%).
Chateau Talbot 1961, Chateau Gruaud Larose 1961. Chateau Talbot and Chateau Gruaud Larose are sister chateaus, united by the Cordier family back in the 1900s. According to Robert Parker, Chateau Gruaud Larose tends to produce ‘far better wine’ than Chateau Talbot in top vintages like 1961. Unfortunately, both 1961 I had was nearly off. Both showed oxidized character where Chateau Talbot had a prominent red date finishing.