Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 45, tasting 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages and 1991 Graham’s Vintage Port, April 21, 2017.

In February this year we had the good fortune to taste the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages, and last month at my son’s birthday dinner we opened a bottle of 1991 Graham’s Vintage Port, from the year he was born. Both were great wines, and worth looking at in more detail.

I bought the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages in 1992 or 1993 at an LCBO Vintages outlet in Ontario at $43.45 per bottle. This was the last of 3 bottles I had bought. The 1988 vintage at the time was not viewed by critics as outstanding, but it was respectable. It was much better than 1987, which was a complete washout. It was not as tannic or meaty as 1986, but it was more traditional than the softer and fruitier 1985 vintage. And of course it got completely forgotten when the wonderful 1989 and 1990 vintages were harvested. The key adjectives I would attribute to 1988 Bordeaux would be “traditional” and “classic”. I did not buy a lot of wine from 1988, but those that I did buy were meant to mirror or compliment those characteristics, and Chateau Lynch Bages fits well.

The 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages in February 2017 was fully mature and in perfect harmony and balance, showing no signs of advanced age or going downhill. Still a strong rich ruby black in color, long tears ran down the glass after swirling the wine in your glass. On the nose there was wonderful cedar, smoke, black cherry, raspberry and currant aromas. On the palate the wine was in perfect balance, soft, fleshy, round and plump. The classic cedar and cigar box flavors took over, then emerged the fruit, with black berries and currants, figs, and raisins. After the fruit came hints of leather, wet damp earth in a forest, ending with  nice spicy cassis on the finish.

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This was not an overwhelming wine, this was not a blockbuster. This was a mature, rounded, balanced wine, in perfect harmony. The wine improved in the glass, even after having been decanted for over an hour. No sign of being over aged or in decline, but pleasantly parked on a plateau basking in the late afternoon sun. At 29 years of age, I would easily expect this wine to last another 10 years effortlessly, and at least 5 of those years in the current condition. My rating was 93 points, well deserved.

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I was really disappointed when I went to check tasting notes on this wine on www.winesearcher.com while researching what the critics have said about this wine recently. Wine Searcher has 5 critic scores ranging from 93 points to 80 (4 of the 5 over 90 points), the 80 point revue was from La Revue du Vin de France done in June 2000, nothing from Robert Parker (in spite of the fact that he has reviewed this wine 3 times, the latest in June 2000 where he gave it 92 points) and nothing from the Wine Spectator. I don’t know about you, but when I go to check critic reviews I want to see what the best critics are saying, and it is pretty clear to me that when 4 critics appraise the wine at 90 + points and one gives it 80 points, La Revue du Vin de France has clearly goofed, especially when Robert Parker tasted the wine at the same time in June 2000 and gave it 92 points. So what do you think www.winesearcher.com is doing with their sketchy and poor selection of critic reviews? In my opinion they are doing a pretty poor job.

In Parker’s June 2000 review of this wine, where he rated it at 92 points, he expected this wine to keep going strong for another 10-12 years. Well it has been almost 17 years since that date, and this wine is still pristine, and showing all the signs of going another 5-10 years. My reason for going on and on about this is to simply point out that you, as a wine collector and consumer, need to be careful to pay proper attention to the information you get from information websites like www.winesearcher.com or you can be easily misled. Mixed reviews leave doubt, which generally results in one moving on to something else, and in this case you would be really missing out on a classic mature claret in great shape now and for years to come. Too bad that was my last bottle!

The 1991 Graham’s was tasted in late March 2017 on the occasion of my son’s 26th birthday. Eight of us polished off this beauty in record time, so it must have been very good. The 1991 was the first declared vintage port by Graham’s since their 1985, and it was considered to be a small but high quality vintage. This wine has been reviewed in 1993 by Clive Coates for The Vine (magazine) where he rated it 97 points, in 1994 by James Suckling for The Wine Spectator (magazine) where he rated it 93 points, and by Robert Parker for The Wine Advocate (magazine) in 1995 where he rated it 94 points. Parker noted in his comments that the 1991 Graham’s was without a doubt the best port of the vintage. He described the wine as “…explosive nose of black fruits, licorice, spring flowers, and tar. Thick and full bodied, with a satiny texture and a blockbuster, alcoholic finish, this is a top-notch vintage port.”

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When we tasted this port 3 weeks ago, we observed a dark ruby color in the glass, no longer purple/black as it was in its youth. Great glycerin legs in the glass. On the nose this wine was nicely perfumed with aromas of sweet dark berries, grapes, and tar. On the palate any coarse tannins that may have once been present (as noted the last time I tasted this wine 8 years ago) have  faded away, leaving rich fruit flavors of berries, and plums, as well as licorice, tar, tobacco and chocolate. Sweet without being overpowering on the mid palate, giving rise to a long satin smooth chocolate finish. There is still a little sharpness in the alcohol on the finish, but you can tell that this is diminishing as the wine ages. A very pleasant wine that is now only middle aged, and will continue to improve over the next 10 years before it reaches full maturity. This wine will easily last another 20 years, and will only reach its peak in roughly 10 years by 2027. A very fine port that I rated at 94 points. Drink now and hold for further development.

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Unfortunately, once again when I was researching ratings and critic scores for this wine on www.winesearcher.com I ran into bad information. WineSearcher rated the wine at 89 points on the strength of 3 ratings of 80 points from Jancis Robinson (date not mentioned), 92 points from Cellar Tracker, and 93 points from The Wine Spectator. No mention of the Clive Coates rating of 97 points, or the Parker rating of 94 points.

So what is the big deal about ratings and wine scores you might ask? Poor data collating by WineSearcher (not properly compiling critic reviews and scores) causes them to rate the 1991 Graham’s as the second worst Graham’s Vintage Port of the 18 Graham’s Vintage Ports declared since 1990, at 89 points. This is just plain wrong, simply because they included the Jancis Robinson rating and excluded two other much stronger ratings. Bad data leads to an inaccurate rating and a bad rap for a really good wine. The moral of the story, and the message behind this blog is twofold:

  • Old wines properly kept live much longer than the critics expect them to. A wine critic when he/she forecasts a wine’s lifespan will always err on the younger side, they never want to overestimate a wine’s lifespan, and they never want to assume the consumer has state of the art storage conditions. So properly kept, you should expect your wines to last longer than the lifespan predicted by the critics.
  • Do not blindly believe what an information collating site like www.winesearcher.com reports on a wine’s statistics. Do your own homework, use them as just one of several information sources. Their stats are often selective, incomplete, and lead to the wrong conclusions. If you trusted their information to be accurate and complete, your logical conclusion would be to avoid the 1991 Graham’s, and what a mistake that would be. Similarly, you might think the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages was too old to be bought safely today, and again how wrong you would be.

30 years ago you had no access to online information about critic tasting reports and scores, about latest auction prices, or what wine the Chinese were now buying. Liv-ex and www.winesearcher.com did not exist, and if you wanted tasting reports and scores you subscribed to The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate publications. You also relied more heavily on your own tasting experience, and that was very important because it taught you more about what you yourself like, not what a particular wine critic likes.

So do yourself a favor, do not rely too heavily on what an information and search website like www.winesearcher.com says about a wine, because inaccurate or incomplete information will often lead you to the wrong conclusion. My suggestion is that you use it as only one source of information, and that you do your own analysis of the facts it presents to you. I will write another blog soon to give additional pointers on how to research wines on an information collating website. But above all else, always remember that there is no substitute for trying these wines yourself. So drink wines young, old, and in between. Learn to recognize the difference between young and tannic verses fully mature, soft and rounded, and decide for yourself which you prefer. This is all part of your wine learning and appreciation experience.

Learning what you like can be so much fun!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – 1970 Mouton Rothschild and 1995 Grand-Puy-Lacoste tasting, post #36, December 9, 2016.

On November 13th 2016 we had the opportunity to celebrate my wife’s recent birthday and some of the family gathered for dinner, we were 7 adults. I had taken it upon myself to prepare the dinner and select the wines. I had elected to go with lamb, marinated for 48 hours in a creamy herb marinade of my own creation, and cooked with a honey garlic sauce. I decided that Bordeaux red was the wine of choice, but I wanted to taste the 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild which I had in the half bottle size, so I also needed to have a full bottle of something else as we were 7 people. I wanted to serve the Mouton last, so I went with a younger and fruitier Bordeaux to go with the lamb as the main wine, and the Mouton, being last, could be consumed on its own after the main plate was done.

As a plan this was both logical and sound. I had no recent tasting experience with the 1970 Mouton, and my half bottle had a medium shoulder fill only. I remembered that half bottles age faster than full bottles, and given the evaporation in the bottle there was a good chance that the wine was well past its prime and in full decline. Tasting the Mouton last would therefore be less disruptive to the dinner, and less offensive to the palate if the wine was dried out, because it would not be competing with the sweetness of the honey garlic sauce in which the lamb was to be cooked. I had also done some homework looking at tasting notes of the 1970 Mouton on line, and noticed that some tasters had variable tasting experiences, running into bottle variation and tough tannic bottles of wine.

Some other tasting notes online also indicated the 1970 Mouton was lighter and drier, so I had decided not to decant the wine before pouring it. My thinking was that if the wine was in decline, and if evaporation in the bottle had oxidized the wine, aging it further, then decanting it for an hour or two before serving it might just push it right over the edge, making it sour and lifeless to consume. After all, I thought, the wine is 46 years old and not from an outstanding vintage, even though the 1970 Mouton is arguably the top Bordeaux red of the vintage.

The lamb preparation was perfect, the sauce was just right, and the combined taste was bursting with flavor, not sweet, just the right touch of garlic, which enhanced the flavors of the lamb. Now it would be up to the pairing with the 1995 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste to see if one would complement the other, or if they would clash and engage in open warfare on our palates. I had opened the wine an hour ahead of time allowing it to breathe.

The wine was a rich dark red in color in the glass, showing nice glycerin content as the tears of wine seemed to hang there forever on the side of the glass. On the nose, there was lots of full ripe red fruit, strawberry and raspberry, followed by spices, tobacco, mushrooms and mild earthy tones before the cedar emerged. This was just loaded with young expressive aromas. On the palate the fruit was fuller and more intense, again mixed with spices, cedar and tobacco. There was a fresh acidity, medium tannins, and a full bodied fleshy texture to the fruit flavors as they rolled off the tongue. There was great balance and a long smooth aftertaste to the wine as it left you with a lingering cedar taste in the mouth.

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A fabulous wine, still young and vibrant, and at only 21 years of age, this wine is easily good for another 20 years and probably will need another 5 years at least to reach full maturity.

This Grand-Puy-Lacoste seemed to pair perfectly with the lamb, the honey garlic sauce was slightly sweet, and the richness of the fruit in the wine only served to enhance the combined taste on the palate. There is no doubt that a drier, less fruity Bordeaux red, like the 1970 Mouton Rothschild to follow, would have been completely overwhelmed by the honey garlic sauce. So the decision on which wine to serve with the lamb appears to have been correct. Our tasting panel certainly agreed, and before long both the wine and the lamb were all gone.

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Moving on to the Mouton Rothschild, I was well aware that the 1970 vintage was not rated that highly in Bordeaux, that the vintage was generally soft, light in fruit, and most properties did not produce great wine. On the other hand the Mouton Rothschild has consistently performed very well in tastings, continuing to be viewed as the best Bordeaux of the vintage. The Mouton Rothschild is the only Bordeaux that I ever bought from the 1970 vintage, and so I was anxious to try it. As I said earlier we were trying a half bottle with only a mid shoulder fill, so I had a legitimate concern that the wine might be oxidized and spoiled, or just tired and ready to turn quickly in the glass, which is why I did not decant the wine.

The critics have generally rated the wine quite highly, Parker gave it 93 points, but that was in 1996. The Wine Spectator gave it 96 points in 1993, and more recently Stephen Tanzer gave it 94 points in 2011. So I was hopeful that this bottle would perform the same way, in spite of the mid shoulder fill of a half bottle.

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In the glass the color was significantly lighter, an orange red, but no signs of any browning around the rim of the glass. On the nose the aromas were subtle, light but well knit together. You initially smelled plums, black currant, oak, cocoa and flowers. None of this was full, fat, or forward, instead it was delicate and tightly packed together, but all still there. Was this wine waxing or waning, that was yet to be determined.

On the palate cedar and citrus joined the ensemble, together with mint, minerals, spice, dried herbs and leather. The wine was medium bodied, light and perfectly balanced. There was nothing to indicate this wine was past its peak and in decline.

The wine had a silky smooth texture to it, leading to a long soft and delicate aftertaste. My palate picked up flint, a little saline, and more soft tannins on the aftertaste. Nothing harsh, nothing dried out, just light delicate and tightly woven aromas and flavors – classic Mouton!

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As we relished the wine and hung on every sip, the wine improved in the glass over the next 30 minutes, showing more coffee on the palate. The aromas and flavors opened up and became more pronounced. It was immediately apparent that this wine was still in great condition and in need of decanting and aeration for at least an hour before consuming.

There is no doubt that even with a mid shoulder fill in a half bottle size, this wine is still no older than middle aged, and should be a great drink for at least 10 more years. I think the wine is fully mature, but not showing any signs of moving into decline. Color and appearance in the glass, presence of fruit on both the nose and palate, balance and structure, are all still there.

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This wine was made in a classic older style Bordeaux manner with more subdued and delicate fruit, not your typical modern style fruit bomb aimed at competing with thick chocolaty California Cabs. And at the time, in 1970, Mouton was in the forefront and perfecting that style. So this is in fact history in a bottle, an excellent example of what Bordeaux used to be. I would score this wine 92 points, to drink now and over the next 10 years.

In my opinion, critics complaining about bottle variation and uneven performance with this wine are probably experiencing one of the following two problems:

  • The wine needs decanting for at least an hour to fully open up and show at its best, and
  • This wine will show best on its own, not within a flight of full, fat, fruity, and younger style Bordeaux wines at a large tasting, where so many of these wines are tasted and judged.

I did the right thing by not serving this wine with the lamb dish because the honey garlic sauce would have destroyed this wine. If I were to pair this wine with food, I would suggest a veal with light herbs seasoning, or something similar of light delicate texture on the palate, in order to allow the wine to demonstrate its full array of aromas and flavors.

I was very pleased with how both wines performed, and I was also just as pleased with the decisions I made on pairing with food. Had I served these wines in the opposite order they both would have been less effective and less enjoyable. A little bit of thought and preparation clearly goes a long way in enhancing the experience.

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Cheers, I can’t wait to do it again soon!

Reg.