In his recent article, A Century of Bordeaux: The Eights, Neal Martin speaks about his continual fascination with Bordeaux and its ability to transcend time. The enjoyment of Bordeaux is not only derived from the quality of the wine, says Neal, but also the sense of the region’s history and expertise; enhanced from the initial insertion of the cork until its eventual extraction.
‘I spent my entire professional career delving into back vintages, diligently noting every bottle to accumulate fairly substantial library of tasting notes,’ Neal says. It’s this dedication that has elevated him to the level where he can now detail how the wines are evolving in the bottle. With all that information on hand, here is Neal’s recap of all the Bordeaux vintages ending in ‘8’ over the past 100 years.
1918 Bordeaux – 100 years later
- Even with all the intensity and commotion at end of World War I, 1918 was a very good vintage thanks to the fine summer weather.
- Picking commenced on 24 September.
- Neal was lucky enough to taste a Citran, opened at Domaine de Chevalier, which proudly showed off its sound provenance.
1928 Bordeaux – 90 years later
- ‘A copper-bottomed great Bordeaux vintage.’ – Neal Martin
- A hot summer produced grapes with thick skins and high tannins.
- The harvest began on 25 September.
- The result was a yield that was rich and dense that produced alcoholic wines that demanded long-term cellaring.
- Neal also noted that those who patiently held onto this vintage were handsomely rewarded as the 1928 vintage remained ‘the apogee of a fecund decade of Claret’.
- Bottles tasted from this vintage included Domaine de Chevalier, Poujeaux and a Mouton Rothschild.
1938 Bordeaux – 80 years later
- Despite a freezing cold summer, the wines of 1938 were, at the time, deemed to be fruity and fleshy in their youth or as the Féret guide described ‘riper, elegant and harmonious.’
- Something of a forgotten vintage, with most wines being shipped after the end of World War II.
- Surprisingly, Neal only tasted two wines from this year – a Rauzan-Ségla and a Pichon-Lalande.
1948 Bordeaux – 70 years later
- The growing season of 1948 suffered the unfortunate fate of being caught between two superb vintages, however, it had a good reputation.
- Coulure threatened to ruin a fine spring but the summer was cool and a small crop was harvested in clement conditions.
- The wines of 1948 are known for their masculinity and lack of charm.
- The Right Bank was deemed a surprise although the likes of Cheval Blanc, Vieux-Château-Certan and Petrus were all outstanding.
- The diamond of the vintage would have to be the jaw-dropping Cheval Blanc, which Neal calls ‘the 100-point tour de force’.
1958 Bordeaux – 60 years later
- Known for its good but short-lived wines, despite it being over-shadowed by 1959.
- A rainy summer brought outbreaks of rot and it was the first vintage where winemakers had the tools and skills to overcome the limitations set before them.
- Bottles tasted included the Canon-la-Gaffelière, which was deemed as being splendid, whilst any tastings from Saint-Émilion indicated that it was producing something special during that period.
1968 Bordeaux – 50 years later
- A peculiar vintage with a freezing cold spring that caused uneven flowering with a decent July and a colder August.
- Damage was caused though due to unripe grapes being picked in good conditions, had stricter selection been implemented, then this vintage might have been saved.
- A ‘somewhat’ derided vintage.
- Neal found that neither the La Mission Haut-Brion or the Cheval Blanc had much to offer but, unexpectedly, the Domaine de Chevalier Rouge ‘defied all logic and was perfectly drinkable‘.
1978 Bordeaux – 40 years later
- Forecasted to be a disappointing year with inclement weather predicted but it is now the most fondly regarded growing season of the 70s.
- Due to the unfavourable weather, the vintage was saved by the high-pressure system that lodged itself over Bordeaux in mid-August.
- As Neal notes, selecting wines from ’78 is difficult it ‘predates the modern era and many properties remained lackadaisical when it came to quality and focused on quantity.’
- The La Mission Haut-Brion was deemed an astonishingly fine wine and a candidate for ‘wine of the decade‘ according to Neal.
1988 Bordeaux – 30 years later
- A popular vintage – its wines were appreciated but not received euphorically.
- Prices remained modest and the wines, says Neal, are ‘lighter, yet fresh and full of vivacity, slightly dry towards the finish, your archetypal ‘classic’ Bordeaux‘.
- The growing season faced a myriad of challenges including; coulure, millerandage and hail.
- Rain in October prompted some growers to pick early whilst those who waited benefited from those few extra days.
- Neal has a lot of affection for the wines of 1988, however, he does point out that a lot of these wines are beginning to dry out and may have plateaued from the mid-nineties to around 2010.
- If you have 1988s, you should consider drinking them in the near future as they will not improve any further.
- The best wines tasted included the La Mission Haut-Brion, Domaine de Chevalier and Vieux-Château-Certan.
1998 Bordeaux – 20 years later
- Summed up as ‘outstanding on the Right Bank, good to very good on the left‘.
- This vintage is often seen as a modern day 1964 or 1975.
- July threw out some hail which struck Pomerol and forced vineyard managers to conduct some green harvesting, which may account for the eventual concentration in the wine.
- An incredibly hot August brought about some burnt berries or grillure, thankfully a 3 day spell of rain in September was the catalyst to restart the cycle.
- The era of the garagiste movement which was rapidly gaining influence and forcing people to sit up and think.
- Neal mentioned that the Haut-Brion was perfect for those that couldn’t afford the 1989s whilst still being good in terms of quality.
- ‘A period when its wines were over-extracted and unnecessarily pushed too hard.’ – Neal Martin
2008 Bordeaux – 10 years later
- The first vintage that Neal released his thoughts and opinions for Vinous.com instead of RobertParker.com – marking the end of a magical era and the start of a new beginning.
- His first report on the 2008 Bordeaux vintage can be viewed here.
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