1: USING THIS BOOK
There can be no question that the romance, if not downright mysticism, of opening a bottle of Bordeaux from a famous château has a grip and allure that are hard to resist. For years writers have written glowing accounts of Bordeaux wines, sometimes giving them more respect and exalted status than they have deserved. How often has that fine bottle of Bordeaux from what was allegedly an excellent vintage turned out to be diluted, barely palatable, or even repugnant? How often has a wine from a famous Château let you and your friends down when tasted? On the other hand, how often has a vintage written off by the critics provided some of your most enjoyable bottles of Bordeaux? And how often have you tasted a great Bordeaux wine, only to learn that the name of the Château is uncelebrated?
This book is about just such matters. It is a wine consumer's guide to Bordeaux. Who is making Bordeaux's best and worst wines? What has a specific chateau's track record been over the last 20-30 years? Which châteaux are overrated and overpriced, and, of course, which are underrated and underpriced? These issues are discussed in detail.
The evaluations that are contained in this work are the result of extensive tastings conducted in Bordeaux and in America. I have been visiting Bordeaux every year since 1970, and since 1978 I have gone to Bordeaux as a professional at least twice a year to conduct barrel tastings of the young wines, as well as to do comparative tastings of different wines and vintages that have been bottled and released for sale. Since 1970 I have tasted most of the wines in the top years a half dozen or more times.
It is patently unfair to an estate to issue a final judgment about a wine after tasting it only once. Consequently, when I do tastings of young Bordeaux, I try to taste them as many times as possible to get a clear, concise picture of the wine's quality and potential. I have often equated the tasting of an infant, unbottled wine with that of taking a photograph of a long-distance runner at the beginning of a race. One look or tasting of such a wine is only a split-second glimpse of an object that is constantly changing and moving. To effectively evaluate the performance and quality in a given vintage, one must look at the wine time after time during its 16-24-month prebottling evolution and then evaluate it numerous times after bottling to see if the quality or expected potential is still present.
Obviously, some wines as well as general vintages are much easier to assess than others. For certain, tasting young wine requires total concentration and an extreme dedication to tasting the wine as many times as possible in its youth, both at the individual Château and in comparative tastings against its peers. This is the only valid method by which to obtain an accurate look at the quality and potential of the wine. For this reason, I travel to Bordeaux at least twice a year, spending over a month in the region each year visiting all the major châteaux in all of the principal appellations of the Médoc, Graves, Sauternes, St.-Emilion, and Pomerol.
The châteaux visits and interviews with the winemakers are extremely important in accumulating the critical data about the growing season, harvest dates, and vinification of the chateau's wines. Most of the winemakers at the Bordeaux châteaux are remarkably straightforward and honest in their answers, whereas owners will go to great lengths to glorify the wine they have produced.
In addition to doing extensive visits to the specific Bordeaux châteaux in all appellations of Bordeaux in good, poor, and great vintages, I insist on comparative tastings of cask samples of these new vintages. For these tastings I call many of Bordeaux's leading négociants to set up what most consumers would call massive comparative day-long tastings of 60-100 wines. In groups of 10-15 wines at a time, an entire vintage, from major classified growths to minor Crus Bourgeois, can be reviewed several times over a course of 2 weeks of extensive tastings. Such tastings corroborate or refute the quality I have found to exist when I have visited the specific Château. Because I do these types of broad, all-inclusive tastings at least three times before the young Bordeaux wine is bottled, I am able to obtain numerous looks at the infant wine at 6, 9, and 18 months of age, which usually give a very clear picture of the wines' quality.
Despite the fact that young Bordeaux wines are constantly changing during their evolution and aging process in the barrel, the great wines of a given vintage are usually apparent. It has also been my experience that some wines that ultimately turn out to be good or very good may be unimpressive or just dumb when tasted in their youth from the cask. But the true superstars of a great vintage are sensational, whether they are 6 months or 20 months old.
When I taste young Bordeaux from the cask, I prefer to judge the wine after the final blend or assemblage has been completed. At this stage, the new wine has had only negligible aging in oak casks. For me, it is essential to look at a wine at this infant stage (normally in late March and early April following the vintage) because most wines can be judged without the influence of oak, which can mask fruit and impart additional tannin and aromas to the wine. What one sees at this stage is a naked wine that can be evaluated on the basis of its richness and ripeness of fruit, depth, concentration, body, acidity, and natural tannin content, unobscured by evidence of oak aging.
The most important component I look for in a young Bordeaux is fruit. Great vintages, characterized by ample amounts of sunshine and warmth, result in grapes that are fully mature and produce rich, ripe, deeply fruity wines. If the fruit is missing, or unripe and green, the wine can never be great. In contrast, grapes that are allowed to stay on the vine too long in hot, humid weather become over-ripe and taste pruny and sometimes raisiny and are also deficient in acidity. They too have little future. Recent vintages that, in their youth, throughout all appellations of Bordeaux, have been marked by the greatest ripeness, richness, and purity of fruit are 1982, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1995, and 1996, all high-quality vintages for Bordeaux. Vintages that exhibited the least fruit and an annoying vegetal character have been 1974, 1977, and 1984, poor to mediocre vintages.
In early summer or fall following the vintage, I return to Bordeaux to get another extensive look at the wines. At this time the wines have settled down completely but are also marked by the scent of new oak barrels. The intense grapy character of their youth has begun to peel away, as the wines have now had at least 3-4 months of cask aging. If extensive tastings in March or April give a clear overall view of the vintage's level of quality, comprehensive tastings in June and again the second March following the vintage are almost always conclusive evidence of where the vintage stands in relation to other Bordeaux vintages and how specific wines relate in quality to each other.
With regard to vintages of Bordeaux in the bottle, I prefer to taste these wines in what is called a "blind tasting." A blind tasting can be either "single blind" or "double blind." This does not mean one is actually blindfolded and served the wines, but rather that in a single-blind tasting, the taster knows the wines are from Bordeaux but does not know the identities of the châteaux or the vintages. In a double-blind tasting, the taster knows nothing other than that several wines from anywhere in the world, in any order, from any vintage, are about to be served.
For bottled Bordeaux, I usually conduct all my Bordeaux tastings under single-blind conditions. I do not know the identity of the wine, but since I prefer to taste in peer groups, I always taste wines from the same vintage. Additionally, I never mix Bordeaux with non-Bordeaux wines, simply because whether it be California or Australia Cabernet Sauvignons, the wines are distinctly different, and while comparative tastings of Bordeaux versus California may be fun and make interesting reading, the results are never very reliable or especially meaningful to the wine consumer who desires the most accurate information. Remember that whether one employs a 100-point rating system or a 20-point rating system, the objectives and aims of professional wine evaluations are the same -- to assess the quality of the wine vis-a-vis its peers and to determine its relative value and importance in the international commercial world of wine.
When evaluating wines professionally, it goes without saying that proper glasses and the correct serving temperature of the wine must be prerequisites to any objective and meaningful tasting. The best generally available glass for critical tasting is that approved by the International Standards Organization. Called the ISO glass, it is tulip shaped and has been designed specifically for tasting. As for the temperature, 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit is best for evaluating both red and white wines. Too warm a temperature and the bouquet becomes diffuse and the taste flat. Too cold a temperature and there is no discernible bouquet and the flavors are completely locked in by the overly chilling effect on the wine.
When I examine a wine critically, there is both a visual and physical examination. Against a white background, the wine is first given a visual exam for brilliance, richness, and intensity of color. A young Bordeaux wine that is light in color, hazy, or cloudy has serious problems. For Bordeaux red wines, color is extremely important. Virtually all the great Bordeaux vintages have shared a very deep, rich, dark ruby color when young, whereas the poorer vintages often have weaker, less rich-looking colors because of poor weather and rain. Certainly, in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1995, and 1996 the general color of the red wines of Bordeaux has been very dark. In 1978 and 1975 it was dark but generally not so deep in color as the aforementioned vintages. In 1973, 1974, 1980, and 1984 the color was rather light.
In looking at an older wine, examine the rim of the wine next to the glass for amber, orange, rust, and brown colors. These are signs of maturity and are normal. When they appear in a good vintage of a wine under 6 or 7 years old, something is awry. For example, young wines that have been sloppily made and exposed to unclean barrels or air will mature at an accelerated rate and take on the look of old wines when in fact they are still relatively young by Bordeaux standards.
In addition to looking at the color of the wines, I examine the "legs" of the wine. The legs are the tears or residue of the wine that run down the inside of the glass. Rich Bordeaux vintages tend to have "good legs" because the grapes are rich in glycerol and alcohol, giving the wine a viscosity that causes this "tearing" effect. Examples of Bordeaux vintages that produced wines with good to excellent legs would be 1996, 1995, 1990, 1989, 1986, 1985, 1983, 1982, 1970, and 1961.
After the visual examination is completed, the actual physical examination of the wine takes place. The physical exam is composed of two parts: the wine's smell, which depends on the olfactory sense; and the wine's taste, the gustatory sense, which is tested on the palate. After swirling a wine, the nose must be placed into the glass (not the wine) to smell the aromas that issue from the wine. This is an extremely critical step because the aroma and odor of the wine will tell the examiner the ripeness and richness of the underlying fruit, the state of maturity, and whether there is anything unclean or suspicious about the wine. The smell of a wine, young or old, will tell a great deal about the wine's quality, and no responsible professional taster understates the significance of a wine's odors and aromas, often called the nose or bouquet. Emile Peynaud, in his classic book on wine tasting, Le Goût du Vin (Bordas, 1983), states that there are nine principal categories of wine aromas:
1. animal odors: smells of game, beef, venison
2. balsamic odors: smells of pine trees, resin, vanilla
3. woody odors: smells of new wood of oak barrels
4. chemical odors: smells of acetone, mercaptan, yeasts, hydrogen sulfide, acidity, and fermentation
5. spicy odors: smells of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, truffles, anise, mint
6. empyreumatic odors: smells of creme brûlée, smoke, toast, leather, coffee
7. floral odors: smells of violets, roses, lilacs, jasmine
8. fruity odors: smells of black currants, raspberries, cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, figs
9. vegetal odors: smells of herbs, tea, mushrooms, vegetables
The presence or absence of some or all of these aromas, their intensity, their complexity, their persistence, all serve to create the bouquet or nose of a wine that can be said to be distinguished, complete, and interesting or flawed and simple.
Once the wine's aroma or bouquet has been examined thoroughly, the wine is tasted, sloshed, or chewed around on the palate while also inhaled to release the wine's aromas. The weight, richness, depth, balance, and length of a wine are apparent from the tactile impression the wine leaves on the palate. Sweetness is experienced on the tip of the tongue, saltiness just behind the tongue's tip, acidity on the sides, and bitterness at the back. Most professional tasters will spit out the wine, although some wine is swallowed in the process.
The finish or length of a wine, its ability to give off aromas and flavors even though it is no longer on the palate, is the major difference between a good young wine and a great young wine. When the flavor and the aroma of the wine seem to last and last on the palate, it is usually a great, rich wine that has just been tasted. The great wines and great vintages are always characterized by a purity, opulence, richness, depth, and ripeness of the fruit from which the wines are made. When the wines have both sufficient tannin and acidity, the balance is struck. It is these qualities that separate many a great Bordeaux from a good one.
TASTING NOTES AND RATINGS
All of my tastings were done in peer group, single-blind conditions when possible (meaning that the same types of wines were tasted against each other and the producers' names were not known), in my tasting room, in the cellars of the producers, or in the offices of major Bordeaux négociants. The ratings reflect an independent, critical look at the wines. Neither price nor the reputation of the producer/grower affects the rating in any manner. I spend 3 months of every year tasting in vineyards. During the other 9 months of the year, 6- and sometimes 7-day work weeks are devoted solely to tasting and writing. I do not participate in wine judgings or trade tastings for many reasons, but principal among these are the following: 1) I prefer to taste from an entire bottle of wine; 2) I find it essential to have properly sized and cleaned professional tasting glasses; 3) the temperature of the wine must be correct; and 4) I alone will determine the time allocated to the number of wines to be critiqued.
THE RATING SYSTEM
80-89 Above average to very good
50-69 Below average to poor
The numerical rating given is a guide to what I think of the wine vis-è-vis its peer group. Certainly wines rated above 85 are very good to excellent, and any wine rated 90 or above will be outstanding for its particular type. While some have suggested that scoring is not well suited to a beverage that has been romantically extolled for centuries, wine is similar to other consumer products. There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize, and there are benchmark wines against which all others can be judged. I know of no one with three or four different glasses of wine in front of him or her, regardless of how good or bad the wines might be, who cannot say, "I prefer this one to that one." Scoring wines is simply taking a professional's opinion and applying some sort of numerical system to it on a consistent basis. Scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike.
The rating system I employ in my wine journal, The Wine Advocate, is the one I have utilized in this book. It is a 50-100-point scale, the most repugnant of all wines meriting 50 since that is the starting point of the scale and the most glorious gustatory experience commanding 100. I prefer my system to the once widely quoted 20-point scale called the Davis scale -- of the University of California at Davis -- because it permits much more flexibility in scoring. It is also easier to understand because the numbers correspond to the American grading system and avoid the compression of scores from which the Davis scale suffers. It is not without problems, however, because readers will often wonder what the difference is between an 86 and 87, both very good wines. The only answer I can give is a simple one: When tasted side by side, I thought the 87-point wine slightly better than the 86-point wine.
The score given for a specific wine reflects the quality of the wine at its best. As I mentioned earlier, I often tell people that evaluating a wine and assigning a score to a beverage that will change and evolve in many cases for up to 10 or more years is analogous to taking a photograph of a marathon runner. Much can be ascertained, but like the moving object that has been photographed, the wine will also evolve and change. I retry wines from obviously badly corked or defective bottles, since a wine from such a single bad bottle does not indicate an entirely spoiled batch. Many of the wines reviewed here I have tasted many times, and the score represents a cumulative average of the wine's performance in tastings to date. Scores do not tell the entire story about a wine. The written commentary that accompanies the ratings is often a better source of information regarding the wine's style and personality, the relative quality level vis-è-vis its peers, the relative value, and its aging potential than any score could ever indicate.
Here, then, is a general guide to interpreting the numerical ratings:
A score of 90-100 is equivalent to an A and is given only for an outstanding or special effort. Wines in this category are the very best produced for their type and, like a three-star Michelin restaurant, merit the trouble to find and try. There is a big difference between a 90 and a 99, but both are top marks. As you will note throughout the text, few wines actually make it into this top category simply because there just are not many truly great wines.
A score of 80-89 is equivalent to a B in school, and such a wine, particularly in the 85-89 range, is very, very good; many of the wines that fall into this range often are great values as well. I would not hesitate to have any of these wines in my own collection.
A score of 70-79 represents a C, or an average mark, but obviously 79 is a much more desirable score than 70. Wines that receive scores between 75 and 79 are generally pleasant and straightforward, but lacking in complexity, character, or depth. If inexpensive, they may be ideal for uncritical quaffing. Below 70 is a D or an F, depending on where you went to school; here, too, it is a sign of an imbalanced, flawed, or terribly dull or diluted wine that will be of little interest to the knowledgeable wine consumer.
In terms of awarding points, my scoring system gives every wine a base of 50 points. The wine's general color and appearance merit up to 5 points. Since most wines today are well made, thanks to modem technology and the increased use of professional oenologists, they tend to receive at least 4, often 5, points. The aroma and bouquet merit up to 15 points, depending on the intensity level and extract of the aroma and bouquet as well as the cleanliness of the wine. The flavor and finish merit up to 20 points, and again, intensity of flavor, balance, cleanliness, and depth and length on the palate are all important considerations when giving out points. Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement -- aging -- merits up to 10 points.
Scores are important to let the reader gauge a professional critic's overall qualitative placement of a wine vis-è-vis its peers. However, it is also vital to consider the description of the wine's style, personality, and potential. No scoring system is perfectly objective, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied without prejudice, can quantify different levels of wine quality and provide the reader with a professional's judgment. However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate or any better education than tasting the wine yourself.
ANTICIPATED MATURITY -- WHAT IS IT?
Because of the number of inquiries I receive regarding when a given Bordeaux wine has reached a point in its evolution that it is said to be ready to drink, I have provided an estimated range of years over which the chateaux's wines should be consumed for the specific vintage. I call this time frame the "anticipated maturity." Before one takes my suggestions too literally, let me share with you the following points:
1. If you like the way a wine tastes when young, do not hesitate to enjoy it in spite of what the guidelines may say. There can never be any substitute for your own palate.
2. I have had to make several assumptions, the primary ones being that the wine was purchased in a healthy state and that you are cellaring the wine in a cool, humid, odor- and vibration-free environment that does not exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
3. The estimates are an educated guess based on how the wine normally ages, its quality, balance, and the general depth of the vintage in question.
4. The estimates are conservative. I have assumed a maturity based on my own palate, which tends to prefer a wine more fresh and exuberant over one that has begun to fade, but one that may still be quite delicious and complex.
Consequently, if you have cool, ideal cellars, the beginning year in the estimated range of maturity may err in favor of drinking the wine on the young side. I presume most readers would prefer, given a choice, to open a bottle too early rather than too late. This philosophy has governed my projected maturity period for each wine.
Now. Totally mature; immediate drinking is suggested within several years of the "last tasted" date.
Now-may be in decline. Based on the age of the wine and knowledge of the château and the specific vintage, this designation is utilized where a fully mature wine discussed in the 1985 edition of Bordeaux has not been recently retasted and is believed to have passed its apogee and begun its decline.
Now-probably in serious decline. Based on the age of the wine and knowledge of the château and the specific vintage, this designation is utilized when a wine in the 1985 edition of Bordeaux was at the end of its plateau of maturity and, while not recently retasted, is believed to be well past its plateau of maturity.
Now-2001. The wine has entered its plateau of maturity, where it should be expected to remain until 2001, at which time it may begin slowly to decline. The "now" dates from the time of the last tasted note.
1999-2010. This is the estimated range of years during which I believe the wine will be in its plateau period -- the years over which it will be at its best for drinking. Please keep in mind that Bordeaux wines from top vintages tend to decline slowly (just the opposite of Burgundy) and that a wine from an excellent vintage may take another 10-15 years to lose its fruit and freshness after the last year in the stated plateau period.
ABOUT THE BOOK'S ORGANIZATION
This book has been divided into the major geographical regions of Bordeaux. Within each region, the famous châteaux and many minor châteaux deserving recognition are reviewed. The emphasis, for obvious reasons, is on the major Bordeaux estates that are widely available and well-known in this country. The quality of these wines over the period 1961-1989 is examined closely. For lesser-known châteaux, the selection process has been based on two factors, quality and recognition. High-quality, lesser-known estates are reviewed, as are those estates that have gotten distribution into the export markets, regardless of their quality. I have made every effort over the last 25 years to discover and learn about the underpublicized châteaux in Bordeaux. Because older vintages of these wines are virtually impossible to find, and the majority of the Crus Bourgeois wines must be drunk within 5-7 years of the vintage, the focus for most of these lesser-known Crus Bourgeois wines is on what they have accomplished in the period 1982-1996. I feel the châteaux that are reviewed are the best of these lesser-known estates, but to err is human, and it would be foolish for both you and me to believe that there is not some little estate making exquisite wine that I have omitted altogether.
At the beginning of each chapter on the Bordeaux appellations is my classification of the wines from that appellation. This analysis is based on their overall quality vis-è-vis each other. This is not a book that will shroud quality differences behind skillfully worded euphemisms. Within each appellation the châteaux are reviewed in alphabetical order. For those who love lists, my overall classification of the top 160 wine-producing estates of Bordeaux may be found beginning on page 1349.
With respect to the specific vintages covered, tasting emphasis has generally been given only to the good vintages. Vintages such as 1991, 1977, 1972, 1968, 1965, and 1963 are generally not reviewed because they were very poor years, and few Bordeaux châteaux made acceptable-quality wine in those years. Furthermore, such vintages are not commercially available. As for the actual tasting notes, the "anticipated maturity" refers to the time period at which I believe the wine will be at its apogee. This is the time period during which the wine will be fully mature and should ideally be drunk. These estimates as to anticipated maturity are conservative and are based upon the assumption that the wine has been purchased in a sound, healthy condition and has been kept in a vibration-free, dark, odor-free, relatively cool (below 65 degrees Fahrenheit) storage area. For the wine-tasting terms I employ, and for the proper methods of cellaring Bordeaux wines, see Chapter 6, "A User's Guide to Bordeaux," and Chapter 8, "A Glossary of Wine Terms."
ONE FURTHER CAVEAT
When a book such as this is revised, difficult decisions must be made regarding the retention of tasting notes on wines that have not been reevaluated in the 13 years that have lapsed since I wrote the first edition. As readers will discover, many of the finest wines in top vintages have been retasted since the last edition and the changes in text and ratings, where warranted, have been made. Because a serious tasting note is the professional's photograph of a wine during its life and, moreover, since all the tasting notes in this book are dated, I have opted to leave those original tasting critiques in the book as part of the history of that property's record of wine quality.
Copyright © 1998, 1991, 1985 by Robert M. Parker, Jr.
A Consumer's Guide to the World's Finest Wines
A Consumer's Guide to the World's Finest Wines
Parker has not only added tastings for the vintages in the intervening years since the last edition, but he has also retasted and reevaluated a majority of the earlier vintages. His accessible and direct style welcomes both the seasoned wine collector and the eager beginner to the pleasures of fine wine and France's most illustrious chateau.
Organized by appellation, Bordeaux moves alphabetically from one producer to the next, providing essential information and an overview of the property and its owners. Parker then lists each vintage, and includes numerical ratings and detailed tasting notes for most of that chateau's wines. At the end of each tasting note, Parker estimates the "anticipated maturity"—the range of time when the wine should peak in flavor and balance—and each entry concludes with a summary of the chateau's earlier vintages. Hailed by The New York Times as “the critic who matters most,” Robert Parker's Bordeaux is the most complete consumer's guide to the wines of Bordeaux ever written.
- Simon & Schuster |
- 1264 pages |
- ISBN 9781476727134 |
- February 2013