Old Bordeaux

I’m not sure why people ask me for how long they should keep their wine or for just how long it will still be delicious because most of us don’t actually keep our wine for very long. My friend does though and he recently put on a tasting of old clarets; very mature Bordeaux, mostly classed growths.

I love older wines and was very excited about the tasting but I know that for many people these wines wouldn’t have delivered quite the same appeal. We are much more used these days to drinking wines with ripe, bright and abundant fruit. Old wines reveal rather more savoury notes and high acidity relative to the fruit and in fact tasting them without food is to do them a disservice.

We tasted blind in 4 flights of three as listed below.


Château Giscours 1981 Margaux £60+

Obvious age from the prune juice colour. Typical aged Bordeaux nose of sweet fruit and dusty pot pourri. Still showing very gentle fruit on the palate so quite attractive but pretty much on its last legs.

Château La Lagune 1982 Haut Medoc £80- £100

From a great vintage admittedly, but La Lagune is a 3rd growth displaying some truly first class character. The structure was good, there was depth and elegance on the palate. The nose was complex with chocolate, black cherry and rose petal notes.573

Château Larcis-Ducasse 1982 St Emilion £70

A slight bitter treacle flavour and with rotting wet leaves on the nose, this one for me was definitely past its best. The fruit was gone and it was now rather vinegary. Others didn’t find it quite as wrinkly old as I did and I am sure that there will be some bottles about which taste better than this one.

Château Larmande 1985 St Emilion £45

Much more noticeably younger in colour, albeit only 3 years; brighter, amber and hints of brown rather than the dark ginger beer of the previous wines. This was smooth, light, surprisingly characterful with hints of the spicy, pruney flavours of its younger self. This scored highly with the group, less so for me.

Château d’Issan 1985, Margaux £60

Colour of Del Duque! Dried fruit, smoky and cigar box aromas. I was struck by liveliness of the wine – good acidity, smoothness and length. My notes say, ‘This is an elegant old gentleman striding purposefully into the room’!! Apologies for that nonsense especially as I’d like to suggest that he could fall time dead any time soon! Drink up.

Château Léoville Barton, 1985 St Julien £100

Now we’re talking! Deliciously rich, with sweet fruit. Christmas cake, spicy, savoury and meaty, too. Long and intense, with great balance. A truly great example of how well Bordeaux can age.

Château Carruades de Lafite 1988 Pauillac £150

This was past its best as far as I was concerned and to be fair, it isn’t designed to be kept this long. It was lean and had lost its fruit so the acidity was too prominent. On the plus side, there was a minty edge and a hint to its past elegance.

Château Léoville Barton, 1988 St Julien £85

And we’re back on point! Good depth of flavour; sour cherries, fruit cake, cinnamon. Bold tannins and structure. Gorgeous.

Château d’Issan 1988 Margaux £65

Disappointing – musty, fruit lost, too much acidity.

Château Beychevelle 1989 St Julien £90

Palate didn’t deliver quite what the very typical cedary and black fruit aromas promised. It began well with a stewed prunes flavour but then became sharp and not very balanced. I still rather liked it though and feel that with food it would have shown better.

Château La Lagune 1989 Haut-Médoc £60

A savoury nose with kirsch flavours on the palate. Tangy acidity, good weight with some sweet fruit towards the end, hints of coffee. A good finish, no edge.

Château Lynch Bages 1989 Pauillac £250

Sadly this bottle was oxidised and was not a true reflection of what this wine should usually taste like.577

The vintages according to Michael Broadbent:

1981 ** – *** Small crop of good quality wines. Hot dry summer weather with a bit of rain in September.

1982 ***** An exceptional vintage, producing more Californian style of wines than Bordeaux. Top Médocs rich and deliciously drinkable. Right Bank and lesser châteaux should have been consumed.

1985 *****Extreme conditions which in the end produced very appealing wines. High quantity and high quality. Top châteaux evolving to beyond 2010.

1988 **** Storms in late September but those who held out picking until October benefited from good warm weather and the wines have firm structure , good tannins and nice fruit – capable of long life.

1989 ***** exceptionally hot vintage producing wines of real promise. Classed growth Médocs have a great future  – 2010-2025.

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