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Top Clarets of 1982

by Tom Cannavan, 01/02

This stunning tasting was arranged by Bibendum Wines, who have one of the UK's leading Fine Wine departments. Bibendum had organised a tasting of the very, very top 1982's about 10 years ago, and decided to reconvene to examine once more a set of wines that should produce sublime drinking experiences: the top wines, from the top region, in one of the best ever vintages for red Bordeaux.

The average score awarded to each of these eight wines by Robert Parker is an astonishing 99 points out of 100, with five "perfect" 100-point examples. Prices are of course equally impressive, with twelve-bottle cases starting at £2,485, rising up to £5,235 ($3,730 - $7,850).

Some expert opinions have had it that the 1982 vintage, though of absolutely unquestioned quality, was perhaps not going to be quite as long-lived as some other "classic" claret vintages like 1945 or 1961. A few commentators have said the wines are now mature. So I was intent on tasting not just to see if these wines lived up to the hype, but also to assess their current state of development and what future each of them might have.

The evening was conducted by Jancis Robinson, though tasting and note taking was done in silence, with discussion of the wines only after assessments had been committed to paper. My overall conclusion (taken with other '82's I've tasted recently like Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Poyferré and Léoville-Barton) is that it is indeed an incredible vintage in terms of wines that combine structure and elegance with easy drinkability and delicious fruit. I think all of these wines can be drunk with pleasure and no difficulty now, and that only one or two could be classed as "not ready". On the other hand, there is such good fruit and delightful balance that all should hold for a decade or more.

the wines

The tasting was not blind. The wines were decanted three hours before tasting. .

Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, 1st growth
Beautifully rich, deep colour. Still ruby at core, with broad rim of orangy-red. Absolutely gorgeous nose; sumptuous, filled with warm autumnal berries, rich mulberry, brambles and a hint of damp woodland. There are nuances of cedar and tobacco, but a core of ripe, sweet cassis. The palate has elegance with a wonderful core of minerality giving a very clean impression. It doesn't have the weight of some of the other wines here, but has terrific purity and balance, a very composed wine with fine length. The acidity is cool and clean and is well integrated. Poised and beautifully proportioned without being flashy. Excellent/outstanding. Should drink well through two decades more. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac, 1st growth
Similar colour, but has retained more depth at core. Rather more closed on the nose. There is a deep seam of black plum and liquorice with some nuances of minerals and earth, but this is deep, dense and savoury. The palate is wonderfully concentrated and sonorous; it seems to extend in a column of dense black fruit. The core is plummy and rich, with notes of bramble and earth, but then a creamy layer of blackcurrant adds to a fleshy mid-palate. The purity of fruit here really pushes through to the finish. Great length. Excellent/outstanding, and probably a few years off its peak. Should go on for decades. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Pichon-Lalande, Pauillac, 2nd growth
Lovely rich, dark, ruby red gently ageing towards rim. What a gorgeously fragrant nose, perfumed and inviting with gamy hints, nuances of violet and black chocolate and a core of sweet mulberry and blackcurrant. That little animal note persists. Very complex and well-developed. Concentrated, pure cassis fruit on the palate. Wonderfully silky texture and the fine wrapping of cedar is alluring and soft. Beautiful wine with magnificent balance into a long, fine finish. This is outstanding and is drinking just perfectly. It will not last as long as the Lafite, but drink over next 10 years. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Léoville-Las-Cases, St Julien, 2nd growth
Amazingly youthful colour; dark, deep, quite vibrant with much less obvious age. Dense, tight and coated in a liquorice and mineral tough veneer. There are notes of blackcurrant and blueberry, and this has concentration. Plate follows through with a cedary weight of cassis that is cool and classy. A savoury framework of fine tannins supports into the finish, before minerality re-asserts and toughens up. A more challenging wine than the P-L for sure, but a little disjointed and not so harmonious. Needs time I think, but maybe doesn't have the balance and harmony to ever be outstanding? Excellent of course, and this is comparative. Drink 2007 onward. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Margaux, Margaux, 1st growth
Slightly paler wine; less intense and opaque, but still quite a youthful colour. Beautifully gamy fragrance, with deep notes of autumn berries, tobacco, leather and some exotic spice and incense notes. Hints of truffle, blood and deeply-set plum and black fruits. Silky palate, with a grippy tannic edge framing a core of fragrant bittersweet fruit. This has a gorgeous cedary complexity and a fleshy quality. There's just a hint of being a touch disjointed on the palate, with acids and tannins powerful and needing to integrate some more. It finishes with power and fine length and will undoubtedly be better in 10 years. Excellent/outstanding. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, 1st growth
Very deep colour and more dense than the Margaux, with a hint of amber on the rim. This has that tell-tale roasted coffee-bean quality often found in Mouton; real dark espresso bean oily notes. Loads of spice and tobacco over ripe, fat black fruit with classy cedarwood notes. On the palate this has a fantastically sweet and juicy quality of fruit, a really vibrant quality and tone of cassis and bittersweet plum. Real depth here, and also very muscular and powerful. Controlled and structured, this is dense, fleshy and very, very fine with supporting tannins underpinning all the fruit. Terrific length and purity, this really is terrific stuff. Outstanding and has the fruit, concentration and balance for near immortality. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Cheval Blanc, St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé
There is a caveat on this note: at the end of this three bottle tasting, it appeared that one bottle - the one I tasted from - was significantly lighter and more mature than the other two samples. Notably lighter colour, quite a soft ruby/crimson with hints of brick at rim. Heavenly, high, incense and burning spice nose. Filled with fragrance: coffee, briarwood and floral nuances. On the palate there is a wonderful sweetness of fruit. A fine pencil-shaving subtlety adds an edge to juicy blackcurrant and red cherry. This is really focussed and sweet, a more "feminine" character, with fine purity. There's a little creamy raspberry lightness about this wine compared to the more brooding, larger-scaled examples here. It is sweet, voluptuous and long, but rather lacks structure and perhaps a little complexity. Excellent. Drinking now and for 10 years plus. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Château Latour, Pauillac, 1st growth
The dark, crimson core is still dense, taking on a tinge of brown at the rim. Massive nose, redolent of gamy perfume, black fruits, coffee and a wonderful depth of truffle and leather. A deep mulberry-fruited core with meaty undertones, blood-streaked and dense. Wonderfully sweet, silky fruit on the palate. In the mouth this is coated in a glossy sweetness of pure black fruit, glycerine and a dramatic bittersweetness. Plum-skins and ground coffee bean richness. The palate just has a huge, silky-sweet quality that is other-worldly. There are magical tannins and highlights of bright cherry and cassis against mellow fudge, tobacco and chocolate. Fine concentration, beautifully elegant and with terrific balance. The wine is also extremely long and powerful. I would say this is beginning to drink perfectly, but must have 20 years plus ahead of it. Outstanding. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.