A Century of
Bordeaux: The Twos
BY NEAL MARTIN | SEPTEMBER 27, 2022
to take things to extremes. Life’s a bit boring otherwise. I could easily
publish a common or garden Ten-Year-On report to see how the 2012s are shaping
up. But why limit yourself?
about those overlooked 2002s or derided 1992s?
1982s meet expectations or are cracks appearing in their gilded reputation?
1972s fermented dishwater?
the dark horse of the sixties, likewise 1952 in the fifties?
Was it even
possible to make decent wine in 1942 occupied France?
finally tasted a wine from the 1932 vintage? (Don’t get your hopes up)
does a century-old 1922 taste like?
the 1912s finally reached their drinking window?
article attempts to answer all these questions via the only way possible: not
by bunging the question into a search engine, but tasting the wines. This is
essentially an amalgam of several hypothetical standalone articles and continues
a tradition that I introduced to Vinous in 2018 (see here
for the “eights” and here
for the “nines”). Having missed the “zero” and “ones” because of COVID, the
“Century of…” series returns with the twos.
bulk of my notes derive from the annual Ten-Year-On tasting with the Southwold
group last February: a two-day blind tasting of around 150 wines. Hot on its
tail came another 2012 horizontal tasting, this time organised by merchants Bordeaux
Index, and was made up of a smaller number of sighted wines where I was
afforded more time to examine each one. The overlap was useful in being able to
compare like-for-like under different conditions, and tasting notes state from which
one they derive. In instances where there was bottle difference, I publish two
separate tasting notes (e.g. Haut-Brion).
these notes with a selection of 2002s that châteaux opened during my primeur
visits. Several went further and organised mini-verticals: Edouard Miailhe opening
his cellar at Siran back to 1922 and Giscours, Gloria and Saint-Pierre back to
1982. Most of the 1982s stem from a stupendous dinner at Hatched restaurant after
the Southwold Ten-Year-On tasting, each participant donating bottles that
included all five First Growths, often in large format. Apart from the
aforementioned verticals, tasting notes for ancient vintages are mined from the
Académie du Vin dinner in Bordeaux during en primeur, a welcome return after COVID,
and my first attendance since 2018.
Académie du Vin soirée is one of my favourite events of the year, a unique
opportunity to taste esoteric wines from yesteryear, all direct from château
cellars and often in large format. The second wellspring is an annual private dinner
organised by Olivier Bernard at Domaine de Chevalier with a dozen-or-so regular
attendees. Wines are not necessarily from Bordeaux and are poured completely
blind along a numerical theme, obviously this year any vintage ending with
“two”. Bernard raids his treasure trove, again, not necessarily to pour Domaine
de Chevalier, and invitees reciprocate by donating their own wines. Nobody has
any knowledge of what anyone else has brought. Funnily enough, the highlight
was a flight of 1920s from bottles donated in 2020 before COVID struck… I’ll
save them for a Cellar Favourite as they were quite special.
in. Let’s travel back in time…
A swarm of tuxedos descend upon a table where old vintages are poured.
The 2012 Vintage
(You were listening to “Gangnam Style” by Psy)
first port of call is 2012. In a nutshell, it was a bit rainy and cool in the summer
with mildew pressure, uneven flowering, rain in June that improved through
August and a harvest where you had to play the game “dodge the showers”. The
vintage has been overshadowed by 2015 and 2016, often paired with 2011 as the
comedown duo after 2009 and 2010. In the past, I have favoured 2012 over 2011
because though in terms of quality they were on par in their youth, the 2012s
seemed to “kick on” in bottle, not least on the Right Bank. There is something
a little staid about 2011 whereas the 2012s had a bit more “sparkle”.
on the Right Bank with a series of wines from Saint-Émilion, I dug up my
original assessment of en primeur remarking upon the diversity of styles. The
imprimatur of Robert Parker’s sway is evidenced by the more extracted,
oak-driven wines, though others had begun to charter a different course with a
more refined and elegant approach. Wine-lovers could take their pick. After ten
years, I found the Saint-Émilion wines rather inconsistent and not quite
fulfilling their promise after the Southwold blind tasting back in January
2016. There is nothing that really transcends the season, though readers should
look out for the likes of Figeac, Canon, Trotte Vieille and
Bélair-Monange. Of course, this was the year that estates were reclassified
and Pavie and Angélus were promoted so that two became four. Repercussions
of that decision rumble on, and you could argue it sowed the seeds for its possible
demise. Here, both newly-crowned Premier Cru “A” acquitted themselves well.
Alas, the 2012 Ausone was corked, though the class of Cheval Blanc
are more consistent, even though I would not class it as one of my favourite
vintages of the decade. Le Gay, La Conseillante and Trotanoy show
the calibre of their terroirs, though the trinity of Petrus, Lafleur and
Le Pin deliver the goods, particularly the latter which is a contender for
the best Right Bank of the vintage. Challenging their superiority is the 2012
l’Église-Clinet. The late Denis Durantou fashioned a wonderful
Pomerol that is evolving more second notes, yet possesses the substance and
grip to suggest it may outlast many of its peers. I would not begrudge anyone
from opening it now.
Left Bank, you could describe 2012 as a solid vintage without fireworks, though
there are a couple of very attractive “Catherine Wheels” that get the pulse
racing. The First Growths are excellent with strong showings from Mouton-Rothschild
and Latour, though if I demanded one on my dinner table, and I
habitually do, then it would be the exquisite Haut-Brion. In this
vintage, Château Margaux and Lafite-Rothschild are a
couple of steps behind and display a little attenuation, yet both are quite
delicious. Frankly, there is not a huge gap in quality between the First Growths
and “the rest”. There is a cluster of strong performing 2012s from the Médoc: Grand
Puy Lacoste, all three Léovilles and perhaps my own pick, a quite
wonderful Montrose. To temper enthusiasm, not that I ever like distilling
wine into numbers, but none warranted anything above 95-points, nothing
provoked superlatives nor encouraged as re-evaluation of the vintage. There
were occasional perplexing showings of some of my favourite châteaux, tripped
up by the challenges of the growing season.
faced several obstacles that year, not least rain during harvest that stymied the
berries progression from the pourri plein to the crucial pourri rôti stage, then the
decision of Yquem, Suduiraut and Rieussec not to declare, casting
a dark shadow over the 2012s that were prematurely written off by some
commentators. Nevertheless, we tackled two flights blind at the Southwold
Ten-Year-On, and the 2012s are certainly no disaster, not by a long way. Climens
and Coutet show extremely well, though La Tour Blanche and Guiraud
are turn ups for the books. Again, it’s not “Sauternes-vintage-of-the-century”,
but my advice is not to dismiss them out of hand just because a few properties declined
to release that year.
The 2002 Vintage
(You were listening to “Clocks” by Coldplay)
back another decade, I was intrigued to take a look at the 2002s now that they
have entered adulthood. This was one of my early primeur trips, and it is
probably an indictment of the vintage that I have no vivid memories! The wines are
not terrible, but to quote Depeche Mode, “they do their hardest to un-impress.”
They are uniformly unexciting. The growing season experienced: uneven flowering
that acutely affected the Merlot, irregular ripening and the summer was dry but
overcast. A clement September saved the day. “It was one of the worst flowerings,”
Nicolas Sinoquet told me at Gruaud Larose when I broached the subject of
the 2002. “The Moueixs said it was the worst since 1984, and that they might
not make a Petrus that year. It was the only summer I spent entirely in
Bordeaux and stayed in Arcachon. The weather was awful – three weeks of rain.
It was so cold. Then at the end of August until the end [of harvest] it
improved, and you look at the wines and wonder how they reached such a level.
The berries were very large, but a northerly wind concentrated the berries.” Dominique
Arangoïts, head winemaker at Cos d’Estournel, told me: “September and
October saved the vintage. In mid-September, there was an easterly wind that
concentrated the berries and prevented rot. Yields were low - 33hL/ha - low at
that time. That explains their deep colour. We made it [the 2002] in the old
concrete tanks.” Of course the modus operandi has changed at many estates since
2002, not least the now biodynamically-run Durfort-Vivens. “We were
oxidising the wine too much during barrel maturation,” proprietor and winemaker
Gonzalgue Lurton candidly confessed. “This killed the fruit. We thought it
would lend stability to the tannins. Picking in that age was a little earlier,
but not much, but the ageing was not good. We used more sulphites, and there
was more racking.”
tasted a number of wines in Bordeaux, though some of these are included in
previously-published or forthcoming verticals. There are only a couple of
standout wines, ones that I have rhapsodized since birth (the wine’s, not mine).
One being the 2002 Château Latour. This has always transcended the limitations
of the growing season. Here, I include a note from a blind vertical held at the
château in December 2019, a magnum where it really showed its class even
against more reputed vintages. The 2002 Lafite-Rothschild is solid and
quite briny, though like other Left Bank wines, it just does not set the pulse
The 1992 Vintage
(You were listening to “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube)
1992 season was plagued by downpours in what Allan Sichel once emotively described
as a “sad summer”. Compounding problems at that time, few châteaux applied the
draconian deselection that could have meliorated quality, nor did they possess
nowadays technology nor the willingness to remedy a wretched vintage. I started
as a wine professional four years later, and even by then, the First Growths were
still freely available, vast swathes vacuumed up at inconceivably low prices
and sold to Japan by yours truly. Unsurprisingly, few châteaux were inclined to
open a 1992 and kudos to those that did. There was a time, before they were a
decade old, when they could potentially represent a good deal because of their
bargain basement prices. If you could abide a bit of greenness and lack of
concentration, some were pleasurable in a facile way. Never write off any
vintage, however. Sure enough, both the 1992 Gloria and Giscours
were respectable. Others made me sympathize with those celebrating their 30th
this year, hence the stowaway tasting note for the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon
from Chateau Montelena, opened at Olivier Bernard’s soiree. Basically,
if you have a cellar stocked with 1992 claret, then…why?
The 1982 Vintage
(You were listening to “Beat It” by Michael Jackson)
the renown and seismic impact upon Bordeaux, perhaps this cavalcade of 1982s
should form a separate article. On the other hand, I have written about it numerous
times over the years and I like its juxtaposition against the 1972 and 1992
vintages. I have been fortunate to taste around 40 wines from this vintage in
recent months, again, some cleaved away for past and upcoming verticals. It
still includes all the First Growths and major estates that helped seal the reputation
of both 1982 and Robert Parker.
might assume that it was a shoo-in for estates during that year. On the
contrary, it was a growing season with obstacles to overcome right to the very
end. Flowering was quick and even, and it remained warm through July. However, few
remember that August was actually cool and damp. The vintage was “saved” by a
clement September. This Indian summer created a problematic environment in
terms of keeping bunches cool as they entered wineries that could barely cope
with the unprecedented high volume, forcing some to expedite fermentation lest
the next load is parked outside for a dangerously long time. There were stuck
fermentations due to the high ambient temperatures, one property almost
discarding its entire crop as the ferment refused to get going and winemakers concerned
that their wines risked spoilage.
other background factor to consider is that many Bordeaux estates had not
recovered from the dire succession of vintages that besmirched the seventies
and suffered a lack of investment. Properties were ill-equipped to cope with a
large-volume, and many wineries were run by long-standing maîtres-de-chai,
some of whom were hidebound to outmoded practices. Future stars like Paul
Pontallier and Denis Dubourdieu would make their debuts the following year. Consequently,
1982 is not a consistent vintage across
every rung of the ladder, and over the last four decades, there has been
bifurcation between the elite and also-rans. Nineteen eighty-two is a flag that
indicated where Bordeaux would head in the future rather than a zenith.
1982 dinner was a splendid evening that honed in on the top performing estates,
though my highest score actually comes from an ex-château large format of 1982
Latour proffered for a private dinner in Bordeaux. It was just magnificent
from any way you look at it. Forty years in, well-kept bottles will leave you
exhausted of superlatives and speculating how many decades it will last. The
other First Growths are uniformly brilliant, reasserting their position on the
highest rung. The 1982 Lafite-Rothschild is the finest example of many
tasted over the years with an almost Latour-like structure on the finish,
whilst the 1982 Haut-Brion, undeservedly perceived by the market as some
kind of “1982 First Growth Also-Ran”, was breathtakingly beautiful with beguiling
effortlessness. The 1982 Mouton-Rothschild did not quite fire on all
cylinders at Hatched, reflecting the variability between bottles, so I
substitute this with a note from a private dinner in Bordeaux. It is what I
sometimes call a “maximalist” wine: flamboyant, audacious, prone to ostentation
and occasionally tripping over itself, yet it is probably more fun than any
other 1982. Perhaps the 1982 Château Margaux did not quite match those
heights, though I have encountered superior bottles.
Hatched dinner, the one wine that really took everyone by surprise was the 1982
Talbot. Though I had it from bottle many times, this was my first time from
a larger format, and I was bewitched by its panache and sophistication. It made
me wish that Talbot had produced wines of this calibre with more frequency
during this period. Saint-Julien performs strongly in 1982 with a wonderful,
sumptuous Gruaud Larose that, for me, pips Léoville Las-Cases to
the post. I have never been taken with their 1982, even when Jean-Hubert Delon
once served it blind at the château, preferring the atypically sensual 1985 or
the precise 1986 that seems to be finally coming around. There has always been
something distant about the 1982, a bit aloof. Pauillac boasts some superstars.
The 1982 Grand Puy Lacoste, again out of large format, has an audacious
personality, successive bottles in recent years showing better and better until
now; it’s virtually on par with the First Growths. The 1982
Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande has more flair and pliancy, a
luxuriant Pauillac, though the only time it touched perfection was back in the nineties.
It’s still perhaps the most drinkable of all the 1982 clarets, the one that
gives the most pleasure.
mentioned before, just because it says “1982” on the label does not imply the
wine will leave you short of superlatives. Brane-Cantenac is the best
example that I tasted, yet it would pale against Henri Lurton’s recent
vintages. Pavie, pre-Gérard Perse of course, is rustic and not in the
same league as the 1978 enjoyed around the same time; whilst Saint-Pierre,
Gloria and Siran are in a period when they are just not firing on
The 1972 Vintage
(You were listening to “Reeling In the Years” by Steely Dan)
I know. You’ve been waiting for years for a 1972 horizontal. Apologies, but I
cannot provide one; châteaux are not exactly keen to showcase a low point of
the seventies. In fact, the weather was not that bad with a fairly clement July
and August. The vintage was really pole-axed by downpours at harvest. Some estates
decided to wait until October, but showers continued to plague drenched pickers
and rot was endemic. Perversely, two of the three wines tasted were quite
passable, even (God forbid) enjoyable. Both the 1972 Larcis-Ducasse and
Léoville Barton were quite delicious. In particular, the latter was my own
bottle acquired from a Bristol merchant and served blind at Bernard dinner. I
had to double-check it was my bottle because it contained so much pleasure.
Never write any bottle off…ever…unless it’s 1972 Siran. I did cajole
proprietor Edouard Miailhe into opening a bottle for “investigative purposes”. I
hope no permanent damage was done to my palate. Perhaps I got my just desserts
for insisting? It’s a wine to pour for your best enemy.
The 1962 Vintage
(You were listening to “The Locomotion” by Little Eva)
one for supporting the underdog, I have had an affection for the 1962s since
the early days of my career. Perpetually overshadowed by 1961, pick carefully
and there are gems to be found in this growing season. It was a tricky, delayed
season redeemed by the settled and warm months of July and August; hydric
stress was a constant threat, and the harvest was particularly late.
examples were poured at the Académie du Vin tasting. To be brutally honest,
most of them demonstrated the weaknesses of the vintage vis-à-vis 1961, the
likes of Malartic-Lagravière, Pontet Canet, Siran and Domaine de
Chevalier not terrible by any means, but lacking real class. Others, most
notably a divine 1962 Chasse-Spleen and a very commendable Poujeaux
were real treats and flew the flag for Moulis-en-Médoc.
The 1952 Vintage
(You were (not) listening to “4’33” by John Cage)
another one of those vintages like 2002 that seems to fall between the cracks.
It’s not good enough to attract headlines, nor was it bad enough. No sooner had
the wines entered the market, the 1953s marched in and stole what little
thunder they had. It was a warm summer; the most dramatic event was a hailstorm
that decimated Sauternes in June. It was sizing up to be a classic vintage when
showers fell right in the middle of picking.
a vintage that you don’t see so often these days. The wines tend to be a little
hard, particularly when compared to the more ethereal 1953s. The real surprise
was the 1952 Siran that simply blossomed in the glass after it initially
seemed rather ephemeral and inconsequential. Given that the appellation was
extirpated by frost to the extent that Yquem did not declare a wine, I was
pleasantly surprised to taste my first two 1952 Sauternes at Olivier Bernard’s
dinner. The 1952 Doisy-Daëne acquitted itself admirably, a wonderful
Barsac from the recently departed Pierre Dubourdieu. The 1952 Cantegril
was decent if just beginning to flag after seven decades, which is nothing to
be ashamed about.
The 1942 Vintage
(You were listening to “Night and Day” by Frank Sinatra)
ineluctably emotive writing about wartime vintages. Extricating the tumultuous
events of that era seems almost immoral. Yet, the vines’ cycle stops for
nothing, not even war. It is generally regarded as one of the better seasons
during the Second World War; a warm summer plagued by intermittent downpours,
and a harvest spoiled by occasional rain.
solitary veteran was a 1942 Petit-Village, the oldest bottle served at
the Académie du Vin tasting. Sure, it was a little rustic and lacked
definition, but there was fine presence, simple yet satisfying. Caps off to the
mainly women and children who made this Pomerol whilst men were fighting.
The 1932 Vintage
(You were listening to “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Duke Ellington)
sins, I have never tasted any wine from this deplorable growing season. One day
I will fill in this gap.
The 1922 Vintage
(You were listening to “April Showers” by Al Jolson)
twenties is perceived as a series of benevolent vintages. In reality, the
passing of time has obscured the fact that it was uneven year-to-year, perhaps
the decade’s reputation hinged on the back-to-back success of 1928 and 1929.
The 1922 vintage was marked by a variable summer, August rains encouraging some
to pick prematurely. It was a huge harvest, principally because the berries
were so bloated.
tasted two very interesting bottles. Firstly, the 1922 Siran was the
oldest vintage served by Edouard Miailhe. For the first hour it was feral,
volatile and not particularly pleasant. But it has that certain something. Sure
enough, after an hour, rather than oxidizing and falling apart, it underwent
some kind of Lazarus-like resurrection and was utterly charming, as if air was
addressing that discombobulating volatility. The 1922 La Conseillante
was served blind at Olivier Bernard’s dinner, this bottle proffered by one of
the guests. Unlike the aforementioned Margaux, this Pomerol entranced from the
moment I inhaled its perfume. Elegant, refined and refusing to disguise its
venerability, this centurion cohered wonderfully and formed one of the
highlights of that evening. It is impossibly rare, and I doubt I will ever
encounter it again, but what a privilege.
The 1912 Vintage
(You were listening to “Symphony No. 9” by Gustav Mahler)
was another difficult season with poor flowering and rain causing outbreaks of
rot throughout the summer. Berries struggled to achieve ripeness despite late
pickings. The 1912 Château du Lyonnat was the oldest bottle at Bernard’s
dinner, and to be honest, it was past its best. That’s no crime. I doubt the
winemaker at this Lussac Saint-Émilion estate intended for his wine to be drunk
110-years into the future. But it was no write-off and briefly glimmered before
decaying in the glass.
back through history ends here, the year that the unsinkable Titanic sank and
over 2,000 souls perished in icy waters, when music-lovers flocked to hear
Italian tenor Enrico Caruso and the year of Captain Scott’s ill-fated
expedition to the South Pole. Whenever I complete these articles, I reflect
upon the calibre of these vintages that are numerically/chronologically united,
in this case, ending with two. Generally, with the notable exception of 1982
and to a lesser extent 1962, these are not renowned vintages. Yet every vintage
will, at its very minimum, offer intrigue and evince wine’s preternatural
time-bending abilities that allows the grateful and inquisitive imbiber to
© 2022, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.