The following recommendations of red Bor deaux are base on tastings of barrel samples between April 1 and April 6. While barrel samples are not finished wines, they provide a good indication of a wine's quality. Readers should be aware, however, that samples can be misleading, even to experts, and no conclusive rating of a wine's quality can be made at this time.
The following categories loosely follow the 1855 classification of Medoc wines into First through Fifth growths, extending the system to all regions of Bordeaux. For instance, a rating of First indicates a wine that, in my judgment, corresponds in quality to what a consumer can expect of a First Growth wine in a good vintage. (I use 1979 as a personal benchmark.) An asterisk beside a wine rated First indicates that it outperforms normal expectations for a First Growth and rivals the best wines of a great vintage such as 1982.
The name of the chateau is followed by its geographic "appellation" and its current classification. In the Medoc, those ranks are 1st through 5th, Grand Bourgeois Exceptionnel (GBE), Grand Bourgeois (GB) and various levels of Cru Bourgeois (CB). In St. Emilion they are Premier Grand Cru Classe (P) and Grand Cru Classe (G) chateaux, with Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone all alone at the top by themselves (P1). In Pessac-Leognan and Graves, wines are either Grand Cru or unrated (except for Chateau Haut-Brion, which was rated with the Medoc). No ratings are given for Pomerols.
Wine consumers will find the best bargains among wines whose performance ranks above their official classifications. Wines that will likely offer very good value for quality are marked with the symbol $$$. Wines with their names in italics showed disappointingly considering their rankings, reputation and price.
Outstanding (First Growth quality)
*Petrus (Pomerol): Petrus doesn't carry a $300 price tag for nothing. This is a wine without compromise -- truly superb -- and it carries on an incredible string of three consecutive near-perfect vintages. In terms of body, it's a beast, but it also has roundness, subtlety and incredible length. The intense blackberry and spice flavor are almost surreal. Likely the best wine of the vintage, it will last for 50 years -- at least.
*Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac, 1st). The typical Lafite elegance, but with an extra measure of power. The flavors of black currant and cedar are bold and dramatic, with exceptional length. Almost as great as the otherworldly 1989. A keeper, but unusually open for Lafite.
*Cos d'Estournel (St. Estephe, 2nd). A wine of imposinconcentration, depth and structure, it also shows a core of great finesse. The intense flavors of chocolate, spice, blackberry and black cherry are remarkably long on the palate. Of the four greatest wines of the vintage, this will be the least expensive by far. A wine to lay down for your children, but go ahead and sneak a bottle in 10 years. $$$
*Trotanoy (Pomerol). A massive, rich, supple wine that resemblea dry version of vintage port. Behind the abundant, but soft, tannin is a roomful of spicy, peppery fruit. Give this wine at least 10 years. Made by the Moueix firm of Petrus fame, it will last for decades.
La Fleur Petrus (Pomerol). A little more angular and reservethan Petrus and Trotanoy, this Moueix wine has enormous concentration of blackberry, spice, oak and chocolate. Its length is exceptional.
Montrose (St. Estephe, 2nd). Here's one wine that surpasses its 1989 version. A return to the glory days of Montrose, it's a dramatic, long, muscular wine with excellent structure and intense flavors of black currant and spicy oak. $$$
Margaux (Margaux, 1st). The epitome of elegance, with plenty of concentration and ripe cassis flavors behind it. It falls short of the sheer majesty of 1982 or 1983 Margaux, but it's a stunning wine considering the troubles the Margaux appellation had in 1990.
La Grave (Pomerol). A powerhouse Pomerol, full of blackberry and spice, with great roundness and structure. Moueix again.
Latour a Pomerol (Pomerol). You guessed it -- another Moueix Pomerol. This one is as huge as you'll find in Bordeaux. On the surface it seems quite precocious, but there's a bucket of tannin underneath the ripe blackberry flavors. It needs at least a decade's aging.
La Mission Haut Brion (Pessac-Leognan, G). A very stylish wine, with lots of spice and a distinctive mineral flavor. So although it's not the blockbuster the 1989 was, it's still a classic La Mission.
Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan, 1st). It isn't the wine of the vintage, as in 1989, but it is an elegant, complex, rather forward wine with delicious flavors of black currant and spice. It wasn't easy to make great wines on gravelly soil in 1990, but with strict crop control, Haut Brion has done it.
l'Angelus (St. Emilion, G). Inky-deep color, with deep blackberry fruit. It's a huge mouthful of wine, just packed with fruit and tannin.
Exceptional (Second Growth Quality)