Bordeaux Year's Aging Shows Value Of '89 Vintage

April 14, 1991|By Michael Dresser

It was love at second sight.

Last spring, when visiting Bordeaux to taste the new wines of the 1989 vintage, I was holding back, resisting commitment, playing hard to get.

The review I wrote when I returned was admiring. "A great vintage," said I, but with clinical detachment.

This spring I fell. With a year's more aging, the 1989 Bordeaux reds are opening up beautifully, showing even more roundness, complexity and depth than they did a year ago. It's more than a great vintage; under its tough exterior it's a very likable vintage.

This is not a fundamental reevaluation of the 1989s -- just an intensification of the praise anda toning-down of the caveats.

It still isn't the vintage of the decade, but it is now quite clearly second behind the 1982s. It's a vintage in which the best wines will keep for many decades, but for the most part the wines will never show the harsh, raspy tannins that make the much-praised 1986s so difficult to like.

Like 1982, it's a vintage in which many chateaux performed at a level beyond their classifications. At least 17 of the red 1989s I tasted this spring were performing at the level one would expect of a First Growth. Add a couple I didn't retaste this year and the total comes to 19 -- including one Cru Bourgeois Margaux (Chateau Monbrison) and the second wine of a First Growth chateau (Bahans Haut-Brion).

And if you look beyond the reds you find two of the greatest dry white Bordeaux in living memory -- the phenomenal 1989 Laville Haut-Brion and the incomparable 1989 Haut-Brion blanc, which continues to be the greatest dry white wine I have ever tasted.

As one would expect, there were some revisions in my estimations. Pavie slipped a notch, though I still think it's a First Growth-quality wine. And Langoa-Barton really belongs at the Third Growth level rather than the Second.

But there were more wines I would revise upward. La Mission Haut Brion, Pichon Longueville (Baron) and the little-known Pomerol Chateau Clinet are now at that stratospheric level where you can't even expect the First Growths to tread. And how was it that I ranked Lynch-Bages as a Second Growth equivalent and Troplong-Mondot as a Fourth when they now so clearly show First Growth class?

In addition, one wine that I didn't taste last year, Lafite Rothschild, rivals the incredible Haut-Brion as the greatest red wine of the vintage. And Leoville Las Cases isn't far behind.

There are others who are even more enthusiastic about the 1989s. Christian Moueix, whose Libourne firm manages Chateau Petrus and owns many other famous chateaux, now rates 1989 slightly above 1982 for the commune of Pomerol.

For Bordeaux enthusiasts who missed out on the initial futures offerings last spring but are feeling more flush now, the news on the 1989s is encouraging. Many of the stores that sold futures then have not sold out, and a supply glut has kept prices from going up too much from last year's stiff opening quotes.

Right now, the odds look pretty good that you will be able to wait for shipment of the finer 1989 Bordeaux -- starting in the fall and continuing through next spring -- without having to worry about too steep a price increase. With the huge 1990 crop coming in at lower prices, there won't be much room for merchants to inflate their take.

The best of 1989

Based on barrel sample tastings in Bordeaux this month anin April 1990, these seem to be the top red Bordeaux of the 1989 vintage.

Wines followed by a 90 were tasted in 1990 but not retasted this spring. Wines marked with an asterisk are upgraded from last year's rankings. Other abbreviations are the same as in the chart of 1990 wines.

Overall the 1989 vintage is an expensive one, and consumers can expect to have to pay for quality. Wines marked $$$ will likely offer good value for quality -- in relative terms, at least.

Best of the best

# (First Growth-plus)

Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan, 1st)

Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac, 1st)

Petrus-90 (Pomerol)

*La Mission Haut Brion (Pessac-

Leognan, G)

Cos d'Estournel (St. Estephe, 2nd)

$$$

*Margaux (Margaux, 1st)

Leoville Las Cases (St. Julien, 2nd)

*Pichon-Longueville-Baron (Pauil-

lac, 2nd)

Pichon-Lalande (Pauillac, 2nd)

*Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac, 1st)

*Ducru-Beaucaillou-90 (St. Julien,

2nd)

Clinet (Pomerol)

Outstanding (First Growth quality)

*Bahans Haut Brion (Pessac-Leog-

nan) $$$

*Monbrison (Margaux, CB) $$$

Beychevelle (St. Julien, 4th) $$$

Pavie (St. Emilion, P)

*Lynch-Bages (Pauillac, 5th)

Grand-Puy-Lacoste-90 (Pauillac,

5th) $$$

Gruaud-Larose (St. Julien, 2nd) $$$

*Troplong-Mondot (St. Emilion, G) $$$

Excellent (Second Growth quality)

*La Tour Haut Brion (Pessac-Leog-

nan)

*Clerc-Milon (Pauillac, 5th) $$$

Domaine de Chevalier-90 (Pessac-

Leognan, G)

Haut-Batailley-90 (Pauillac, 5th) $$$

Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Medoc, GB)

$$$

l'Angelus (St. Emilion, G)

Chasse-Spleen (Moulis, GBE) $$$

Palmer (Margaux, 3rd)

*Rausan-Segla (Margaux, 2nd) $$$

Branaire-Ducru (St. Julien, 4th)

*Leoville-Poyferre (St. Julien, 2nd)

Leoville-Barton (St. Julien, 2nd)

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