First Growth Tasting – 1982 to 1996

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Tasting a first growth wine is always a special experience, regardless of the vintage. Even in weaker vintages, you are tasting the height of winemaking and the best the terroir was capable of that year. So of course we were extremely excited to participate in a first growth tasting to compare many of these exceptional wines. When you are tasting many high-end wines simultaneously, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that they are all great wines that could all impress on their own. But when you taste these first growth wines together, you really learn to find subtle nuances that make some stand out more than others. At this tasting, there was also a ‘mini-vertical’ of Château Margaux, that included four of the strongest vintages from 1982 to 1996; the stylistic differences among the vintages was evident, but the variability in vintage also allowed us to see the continuum of wine maturation. But as is often said, “There are no great wines, only great bottles,” we found on this night that there were many great bottles indeed.


 

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1982 Château Margaux: For much of the evening, it was difficult to decide whether or not this was better than the 1983. It seemed to have an intensity that built in the glass over time, gaining more aromatics and overall balance. There was beautiful black currant, violets, green pepper, and tobacco. Tannins are nicely integrated but are still present. A silky mouthfeel, with more elegance than power. A medium length finish that isn’t memorable but harmonizes well with the overall experience. There are still some years left here, and the fruit is robust.

1983 Château Margaux: Initially, this nose was much more perfumed and open than the 1982. With time, this shifted as the nose became a bit shy. More spiciness and earthiness than the 82. Both dark and red fruits, mushroom, green pepper, violets, and menthol round out the aromatics. A similar style to the 82, with more elegance than raw power. An appealing mouthfeel with good weight, some of which was lost with more time in the glass. Still fairly tannic, certainly more so than the 82. A medium length finish. Will be interesting to see if the the fruit fades before the tannins resolve. I would drink this fairly soon if you have it, though the fruit should last for the near future.

1986 Château Margaux: The consensus least favorite wine of the evening. The vintage really showed through, with harsh tannins and fading fruit. Interestingly, the color is still good, showing dark ruby. Perhaps the tannins were masking the fruit, which is the best-case scenario. A bit acidic on the finish. Disappointing on this night, certainly compared to its peers.

1996 Château Margaux: My #2 wine of the night. A really big wine with huge potential. A beautifully perfumed nose of black currant, blackberry, sous bois, violets, chocolate, leather, and tobacco. Full-bodied, with incredible complexity and concentration. Certainly well-structured, but the tannins are so soft and marry beautifully with the fruit. Very fresh acidity on the finish. Incredible length. Easily the best Margaux of the evening.


 

IMG_41961990 Château Haut-Brion: My #1 wine of the night. With the first sniff, I predicted this would be wine of the night. As good as the 1996 Margaux was, this was easily better due to its advanced level of maturity. A sexy wine that is a true stunner. An intoxicating nose of cassis, matchstick, wet gravel, barnyard, sweet tobacco, tar, and leather. Just incredible complexity. The balance is all there, with the tannins creating an exquisite mouthfeel. Acidity is in its right place. An incredibly long finish. I don’t particularly love scoring wines, but do so for my own relative reference; this is as close to 100 points as you get, in my opinion.

1995 Château Haut-Brion: It’s amazing how much younger this seems than the 1990. A shy nose that shut down in the glass. Still, there’s great fruit, chocolate, and developing tobacco and leather. Some floral notes as well. A bold wine on the palate, with firm tannins and lots of great structure. A very nice finish with high acidity. This is far from maturity, and I would give this wine at least three more years of aging.


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1995 Château Mouton Rothschild: The chameleon wine of the evening. At first, there was an enchanting nose with loads of fruit and complexity. With time, this also shut down in the glass. Lighter on the palate than the 95 Haut-Brion, but with a nice silky mouthfeel. The tannins aren’t overbearing, but there is need of more integration. Excellent concentration. Good acidity on the finish. This wine appears to be in an awkward phase, and I would probably hold off for a few years. I still feel there is great potential for this to turn into an impressive wine. Perhaps it’s showing a bit of the character of the 1995 vintage.

1982 Château Cheval Blanc: From a magnum. My #3 wine of the night. This really didn’t impress much from the get-go, but really blossomed after time in the glass. The aromatics showed nice complexity, with black currant, cherry, spice, toast, tobacco, and mocha. Medium ruby color. I really enjoyed the weight of this wine; after a few hours, at times it seemed almost Burgundian. While there are tannins left to resolve, they are ultra-soft and well-balanced. An outstanding finish with great length. While this vintage has suffered a bit in the critical scores department, this is yet another great example that there are no great wines, only great bottles.

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