Bordeaux 1990 horizontal tasting; a vintage to celebrate
This week has highlighted exactly why I love writing this blog so much; on Monday I was recommending Italian wines under £10 for #newwinethisweek then a few hours later I was tasting £300 bottles from one of the best Bordeaux vintages of the past 30 years…sometimes I’m quite glad I decided to do this thing!
That superb year was 1990. And what a pleasure it was to taste these magnificient wines at another fantastic event at the West London Wine School. I think it was even more enjoyable given the reports coming in from the 2013 tastings, which are full of doom and gloom after what was one of the most challenging growing seasons of recent times. But there were no such problems in 1990. The wines were on top form and, almost 24 years on from the harvest, many of them were just beginning to open up; this is a vintage that truly will reward patience in the long term.
What is particularly amazing about 1990 is that the yields were so high they had to be capped at a staggering 60 hectolitres per hectare (Pontet Canet have just revealed that their 2013 yield was 15hl/l!). Such high yields are often a sign of low concentration and variable quality, however 1990 seemed to deliver the lot…and then some.
July and August were the driest since 1961 as well as being two of the hottest months since records began; then heavy rain came at precisely the right time at the end of August and a relatively cool September resulted in perfect harvest conditions. The wines have a wonderful balance and harmony; ripe fruit, wonderful acidity and perfectly structured and luxurious tannin.Some have suggested 1990 is the best vintage since 1961…the wines on show tonight certainly painted a very positive picture…
Chateau Cantemerle 5eme Cru Classé1990, Haut Medoc (Fine & Rare £50)
Ripe and fragrant fruit, leaning towards strawberry with blackcurrant in the background; there’s a touch of vanilla, a hint of anise and a balsamic note. Very encouraging; I could smell this for quite some time. The acid is bright but the fruit is a bit muddy and verging on dried and shrivelled. There is good minerality and some leather notes but missing tannic structure. The superb aromas don’t quite carry through to the palate; after a fresh attack and decent middle, I’m left with a metallic tang. Hmmm. 90 points
Chateau La Lagune 3eme Cru Classé1990, Haut Medoc (Fine & Rare £80)
A very fresh nose reminiscent of summer pudding with a delightful mixture of red and black fruit; there are violets, a touch of smoked meat, sweet tobacco and cedar. Good weight and plenty of tannic structure, which is beautifully balanced by refreshing acidity. There’s still plenty of blackcurrant fruit, earthy minerality and a pencil shaving finish. Lovely weight and balance; a long and interesting finish and plenty of life ahead of it. My first taste of La Lagune but I will certainly return! 93 points
Chateau Lagrange 3eme Cru Classé1990, Saint Julien (Fine & Rare £110)
The nose is filled with blackcurrant with plenty of smoky spice and an exotic spice box. Intense and concentrated; exotic and opulent; lovely stuff. The texture is rich but there is alack of grip and a lack of acidity…there’s no flavour delivery! Am I missing something here? Is it too early? It’s got me confused; the experts lavished high scores but it’s not doing it for me at all. 88 points
Chateau Leoville Barton 2eme Cru Classe 1990, Saint Julien (Fine & Rare £135)
I love the elegance of Leoville Barton; pure blackcurrant fruit, delightful gravelly minerality, cedar and graphite; delightful in the extreme. Sweet blackcurrant fruit, edging towards crème de cassis. Marvellous balance of fruit, acidity and lush tannins. Wonderful minerality, elegant and exotic spice and graphite. Stylish and luscious, polished without being manhandled; classic and majestic. 94 points
Chateau Calon-Segur 3ene Cru Classé1990, Saint Estephe (Fine & Rare £130)
Intense and broody, dark plums and blackcurrant; intense and concentrated with leather, tobacco, cedar and a dusting of dried herbs. Full bodied and very dry on the attack, before the soft dark fruit and fine acidity cleanses the palate. A sweet and long finish; plush and opulent –will get better. 93 points
Chateau Grand Puy-Lacoste 5eme Cru Classé1990, Pauillac (Roberson £205)
Fresh and young with lashings of blackcurrant, blackberry and even a hint of red berries. There’s an understated smokiness, cedar and exotic spice –so luxurious. Wow! Rich and powerful palate with wonderful acidity and delightful grip. Highly concentrated blackcurrant with notes of sweet spice, cedar, expensive leather and graphite. Such supreme power and elegance; structure, fruit, freshness and length. Magnificent. 95 points
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron 2eme Cru Classe 1990, Pauillac (Lay & Wheeler £252)
Heaps of blackcurrant and cassis, gentle smoky spice but with an exotic and mysterious depth. This is super concentrated and rich with rich and dense sweet fruit. The tannins are big and luscious but they are perfectly matched with the fresh and vivid acidity. Silky smooth, luscious and intense; still very young but oh so marvellously concentrated and what a finish! 95 points
Chateau L’Evangile 1990, Pomerol (Roberson £310)
We probably should have started with this one but what a way to finish the tasting! You have to get your nose right in there but once the aromas start escaping I’m hypnotised by sweet red strawberries and cherries, with an undertone of blackcurrant –then the balance changes toward black fruit –amazing! There are also vio.et and gravelly notes with smoke, caramel and a hit of balsamic. On the palate it’s soft and fruity with fine tannins; the flavours are highly concentrated and coat my whole mouth –smooth and sexy! So different to Cabernets but just shows how good 1990 was on the right bank too. I love it. 95 points
And for the big Bordeaux fans among you, some links to other tasting write-ups: