A La Mission Haut-Brion Vertical Tasting (1961-2004)

Recently we attended a fantastic Château La Mission Haut-Brion vertical tasting (at the Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale), which was another ‘can’t miss’ event. Many Bordeaux wine enthusiasts consider Château La Mission Haut-Brion to be equal to the first growths. It is certainly difficult to argue with this, considering their long track record of consistently high scores awarded by critics. But despite producing incredible wines year after year, La Mission still seems to stand in the shadow of its next-door neighbor, Château Haut-Brion (which is a first growth that actually shares the same owners as La Mission). But anyone who drinks both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion knows that both produce great wines every year that are equivalent in quality. La Mission has produced a number of 100-point wines in the past fifty years, which includes the 1961, 1975, 1982, 1989, 2000, 2005, 2009, and 2010. On this evening, we tasted a broad range of vintages from several decades. While everything showed well, there were some standouts as well as surprises. And we were reminded yet again, “there are no great wines, only great bottles.”

IMG_32742004 Dark opaque color. A nice nose of blackberry, blueberry, cigar tobacco, oak, and vanilla. Dense and layered on the palate. Lots of structure to go along with the fruit. Give this 5-10 years. – 92/100

1998 Quite approachable for such a young wine. It’s still showing very young, and is far from maturity. There is rich, ripe fruit. The tannins are serious and firm. Give this time or a lot of aeration. – 94/100

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1990 This continues to be one of my favorite vintages from LMHB. The nose is just so fresh and exotic. There are all of the typical elements, with dark fruits, smoke, tobacco, spice, espresso, and fresh violets. Vibrant and fresh on the palate. Almost stunning balance, yet this wine still shows so young. A long finish that highlights its impressive complexity. – 96/100

1989 Easily the most disappointing wine of the night, especially considering how great this wine can be. This was clearly an off-bottle, as it was completely closed down for most of the evening. Initially, there was good fruit on the nose, but it quickly became shy and reticent. Also fell flat on the palate. This wine can be so much better than what this showed on this evening. – 92/100

1982 One of the strongest wines of the evening. The complexity on the nose was stunning, with cassis, iodine, balsamic, olive tapenade, smoke, thyme, leather, and fresh flowers. A gorgeous, pretty nose. Wrapped in layers of flavor on the palate. Excellent balance, with soft tannins. The fruit and acidity balanced very well. A long, seamless finish. – 96/100

IMG_32721981 A nose dominated by orange peel, black currant, herbs, and brown spices. There was a lack of ripeness in the fruit. Fruit was dominated by the drying effect of the tannins. This wine clearly lacked balance. – 88/100

1971 Had a very spicy nose, along with black currant, cigar tobacco, smoke, asparagus, and Provencal herbs. Hints of soy and somewhat medicinal on the palate. Still there was some charm and intrigue on the palate. Quite fresh on the palate, but with a bit of biting acidity on the finish. Very enjoyable overall. Hanging on, but likely near its end of life. -91/100

1970 The most disappointing wine of the night. Lacked complexity on the nose (though there was still some ample fruit), and was completely flat on the palate. – 86/100

1964 After the stunning 1961, a bit of a disappointment. More transparent and lighter than the 61. A bit of a metallic nose, with some cherry and earthiness, though there was some charm. Average complexity on the palate, and lacking in concentration. Tannins a little drying and high acidity. I just felt the balance was not quite there. – 89/100IMG_3271

1961 Not quite as strong as the last bottle (which was bordering on perfection), but this was drinking beautifully. Such a fragrant, open nose of blackberry and strong juniper berry notes. Lots of smoke, tobacco, and leather to accompany the fruit. Tannins soft and perfectly integrated. Elegant on the palate, with gorgeous fresh acidity. A long, vibrant finish. Not the best wine on the this evening (but the most special, given its age), but close. -96/100

 

 

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.

A Horizontal Tasting of 1970 Bordeaux

10-10-2015 A horizontal tasting of 1970 Bordeaux at Wine By the Bay, Miami1970 Bordeaux Lineup1970 has been considered by many to be the best vintage of the ‘70s. However, this is a dubious distinction, as the decade was marred by poor quality vintages. Despite that, there were some great successes in 1970, with many in Pomerol (Pétrus, Trotanoy, and La Conseillante, for example). As of 2015, the vast majority of wines have reached maturity, or have already faded. Still, it is always nice to check in on a classic Bordeaux vintage to see how everything is drinking. This tasting included only wines from the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan, but there were some impressive representatives. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that wines this old can vary considerably due to storage conditions. Certainly, in this tasting there were variances in fill levels (all noted in the tasting notes) that seemed to have quite an impact on the tasting experiences. How else can you explain the Prieuré-Lichine outperforming the Léoville Las Cases?


Prieure Lichine Pichon LalandeChâteau Prieuré-Lichine, the surprise wine of the night, as expectations weren’t terribly high. Base neck fill. Brick red color. Nose of cassis, raisin, fig, leather, and mint. Smooth mouthfeel. High acidity, fresh finish. Finish a bit short. Nearing end of life but still kicking. This bottle was obviously well-stored and was enjoyable. Absolutely drink now if you have this in your cellar. – 90pts

Château Pichon Lalande, top shoulder fill. Medium ruby color, lightened edges. Still nicely concentrated. Nose of red and dark fruits, barnyard, leather, and a hint of cheesiness and truffle. Lively on the palate and surprisingly tannic. Impressive long finish (the strength here). Overall very good. – 92pts


Lafite Rothschild Haut-BrionChâteau Lafite-Rothschild, very high shoulder. Really light color, almost Burgundian. An elegant delicate nose of red cherry, floral (fresh violets), asparagus, and brown spices. Very strangely, there was an unmistakable muscadine grape scent, which provided some sweetness to the nose. Soft mouthfeel, nicely balanced. Tannins essentially resolved. Medium-plus acid. Freshness on the finish. An incredibly unique Bordeaux wine. Would like to try this again, as it was hard to make sense of this. What I can say is that this was enjoyable, and one of the better wines of the evening. – 93pts

Château Haut-Brion, dark color, surprising for a 1970. An interesting nose. A little funk that blew off. Dried fig, prune, smoky earth, licorice, and eucalyptus. Big on the palate. Tannins still a bit firm. Acidity nicely balanced. Powerful. Young. Can probably hold for a bit longer, but the fruit is certainly fading. – 92pts


Chateau Margaux Las CasesChâteau Margaux, flawed. Cooked fruit. Maderized. Mid shoulder fill.

Château Léoville Las Cases, high shoulder fill. Medium ruby. Very earthy nose, a bit tired. Walks the line between dried and cooked fruits…fig, prune, bacon, old library book. Better on the palate. Somewhat powerful. Seems a little clunky. Acidic on the finish. Drink up. A disappointment. – 88 pts

Pessac-Leognan Tasting Featuring the Famed 1982 Vintage

06-26-2015 Pessac-Leognan tasting at Wine Watch, Ft. Lauderdale

There are several rules that we live by; one is to taste the 1982 Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion as many times as possible. So when we learned of a Pessac-Léognan tasting that included these two powerhouses, we were in. Tasting notes will follow, but it’s safe to say that the aforementioned wines were the best of the evening. Choosing an actual wine of the night (WOTN) isn’t so easy; the Haut-Brion wins on the nose, and the La Mission triumphs on the palate. But there were a number of other great wines…1982 La Tour Haut-Brion, 1975 Pape Clément, and a couple of Lavielle Haut-Brion blancs thrown in the mix. All in all, it was a great night.


IMG_46941985 Laville Haut-Brion:Don’t give up on this — at first appeared oxidized, but this completely went away after 30 minutes in the glass. Nose then became much sweeter…lemon curd, honeysuckle, mineral, sherry, and brown sugar. Medium length on the finish with bright acidity. Would drink soon if you have this, but it was very enjoyable tonight. 93pts

1998 Laville Haut Brion: Reticent nose of apple, pear, melon, and floral notes. A bit of a sharpness of flavor. Longer finish than the ’85. Nice overall. 91pts


IMG_46951975 La Tour Haut-Brion: Amber with significant lightening of the edges. Cassis, armchair leather, cedar, cinnamon, tobacco, and a bit of ?tomato. Smooth on the palate. Medium-plus finish. Tannins essentially fully resolved. Would drink now if I had this in my cellar. – 92pts

1975 Pape Clement: Appeared a bit oxidized initially. Cherry, black currant leaf, cooked strawberry, saddle leather, and wet earth. Tannins mostly resolved. Notable acidity. Drink now if you have this. – 88pts


IMG_46691982 Bahans Haut-Brion: Red/black fruits, leathery, cedar, and pencil. Tannins not noticeable at this point. Notable acidity. Very enjoyable, but outclassed by the others tonight. – 92pts


IMG_46591982 Haut-Brion: My WOTN (beating the ’82 LMHB and LTHB). Easily the best nose of all of the wines, just gorgeous. Black currant, licorice, leather, spice, sweet tobacco, with floral/violet notes. While the LMHB had more smoke/earthiness, this had more spiciness. Pure elegance and finesse on the palate. Excellent balance with round tannins. Still appears to be at its peak and drinking very well. -96pts

1982 La Mission Haut-Brion: Most of us picked this and the Haut-Brion, but couldn’t decide which was the HB from the LMHB. Dark ruby color. Lots of dark fruit, cassis, smoke, roses, and earthiness. Nose not as open and evolved as the ’82 Haut-Brion. Not as many tertiary notes as one would have expected; seems younger than the Haut-Brion. Really powerful and concentrated. Long, lingering finish. Excellent and still has lots of time left in the tank. – 95pts

1982 La Tour Haut-Brion: Doesn’t have the aromatic complexity of the ’82 Haut-Brion, but had more fruit on the nose than on the palate. Black currant, cedar, and leather. Tannins round but need more integration. Most impressive is the long finish. At or near its peak. – 93pts