Bordeaux Vintages of the ‘60s

 

1960: The decade began with a rather light year, and one of my first as a wine lover and collector. These were good but not great wines, and gave much pleasure at the table in their youth, but they lacked the weight and structure to make old bones.

1961: An astounding year – candidate for vintage of the century, and one of the greatest vintages of all time! The wines are intense, concentrated, and taste immortal. Half a century on, the finest of them are still in full flight, but they will be hard to come by. If you get that rare chance, pay any price for the experience. The array of flavours will overwhelm all your senses, the concentration will command your attention and dare you to taste it!

1962: Were they not forced to live in the shadow of their illustrious predecessor, this vintage’s reputation would probably rank higher. The wines were solid, balanced and well structured, with good fruit and weight. They gave great pleasure through two decades; by now most will have passed their peak.

1963: Really not a very good year – some pundits called it a disaster, although I found one or two examples that were elegant but light in their youth. None had the stuffing needed for long life or development into fine old wines.

1964: A very good year across Bordeaux, particularly on the right bank (Pomerol and St. Emilion). Certainly nothing at all like the ‘61s, and maybe better overall than the ‘62s, these were classic Bordeaux that needed close to a decade to open up and reveal their finer qualities, and lasted well into their third decade.

1965: A very bad year overall. Today, winemaking technology might rescue some of these wines, but in the ‘60s, if nature dealt you a bad hand, you made bad wine. Most of the wines were thin and green, lacking fruit and mass. A few bottles from the better chateau were pleasant when young – that’s about the best I can say.

1966: This was a very good year indeed – it might even qualify as great. The wines are solid and concentrated, with all the true classic flavours and aromas we expect from good Bordeaux. They have lots of tannic structure, and needed at least a decade to show their potential. Most wines from lesser chateaux should have been drunk by now, but the best examples of classed growths have made really fine old bones, and are now providing – in their fifth decade and probably near the end of their lives – exquisite pleasure.

1967: This was a year of lighter wines, and the vintage is now more or less forgotten. But I had many that gave me great pleasure for over a decade; they showed delicious fruit when young, and some of the more complex flavours that come with age began appearing quite early.

1968: The decade closed on a dismal note: two really bad vintages in a row. I can’t remember any ‘68s I really enjoyed; I bought hardly any and they are mercifully all gone.

1969: Another very weak year to close out the decade, although not quite as bad a ’68. The wines were thin and somewhat harsh. As is often the case, good classed growth were accessible very young and made attractive table wines for most of their first decade and perhaps more, but few are left today.

An Introduction to Bordeaux and its Wines

Bordeaux is the reference standard for wine. Bordeaux produces more wine, more great wine, more good wine, more ordinary wine, more red wine, more white wine and more sweet wine than any other single wine region in the world.

And Bordeaux has been doing this for centuries. There was wine produced here during the Roman occupation more than two millennia ago. Through the dark ages, the middle ages, medieval times, the renaissance to the modern era, Bordeaux has been the source of the greatest wines on earth.

If you do not know the wines of Bordeaux, then you cannot claim to be knowledgeable about wine. Fortunately, Bordeaux is also the most studied, most documented, most written about wine region of the world, and its wines are sold all around the world, so it is not too difficult to learn the basics of Bordeaux.

The name Bordeaux applies to the city and its wines – with a capital B it usually means the city; bordeaux with a lower case b it means the wine. Bordeaux is a fairly large region, and the names of the different wines of Bordeaux are strictly controlled by a complex framework of regulations. There are two basic platforms for this framework:

1. The French “Appellation Controlée” system, under which wines are named from the place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made. Each province in France is divided into communes – usually a small town with its surrounding lands, something we might call a township. The better communes have the right, under the regulations, to name the wines produced there after the commune. Lesser wines from lesser communes may only bear a regional name, the lowest ranking name being simply Bordeaux. In total there are several dozen different “Appellations” in Bordeaux.

2. The classification of 1855 – a ranking system brought in to identify and rank wines by quality, that quality being determined by the wine’s historic price on the open market. This classification dealt with only the best wines of the region, and ranked all these wines as First, Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth Growths. You will recognize these wines by the words: “Grand Cru Classée en 1855” prominently displayed on the label.

The classification of 1855 applied only to the Haut Médoc region of Bordeaux, plus one Chateau in what was then called Graves. Other regions of Bordeaux have since drawn up classifications of their own, the best known being the commune of St. Emilion, and the communes of the northern part of the Graves region, known collectively as Pessac-Léognan.

A Bordeaux wine estate is usually called a Chateau, sometimes a Domaine. So here are some examples of what you might find on a label of bordeaux wine:

Chateau Bonnet Appellation Bordeaux Controlée – this is the red wine from a well known chateau in the very large Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux. They produce both red and white wine at this chateau, so you will also see:
Chateau Bonnet Appellation Entre-Deux-Mers Controlée – this is the white wine from the same chateau. The regulations only allow the white wine from this region to be called Entre-Deux-Mers.
Chateau Timberlay Appellation Bordeaux Supérieur Controlée – parts of the region are allowed to add the word “Supérieur” to their name; they are held to a slightly higher standard of quality and production to exercise this entitlement.
Chateau Loudenne Appellation Médoc Controlée – within Bordeaux, the region stretching along the left bank of the river downstream from the city of Bordeaux is called the Médoc. The portion of Médoc closest to the city is called the Haut-Médoc; further downstream is the Bas-Médoc, but on wine labels they leave out the Bas and call their wine simply Médoc. This example is a very fine wine from a chateau just below the line separating the two regions of the Médoc.
Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme Appellation Haut-Médoc Controlée – the wines from the Haut-Médoc always put the Haut in their name, as this region is considered superior to the Bas region.
Chateau Batailley Appellation Paulliac Controlée Grand Cru Classée en 1855 – there are two things of importance to note here. First, the appellation for this wine is the name of its commune. There are several commune names you should learn to recognize, they are listed below. The second significant feature is the notice that this wine was included in the 1855 classification.
Chateau Bouscaut Appellation Pessac-Léognan Controlée Cru Classé – this wine is from one of the regions that drew up its own classification system in 1987. Before that date, these communes were part of the much larger Graves region that stretches upstream from the city of Bordeaux. Both red and white wines may be labelled Pessac-Léognan, and both red and white wines may be classified as Cru Classée. Some chateau make only red, some only white; some chateau have both their red and white classified, some only one colour. And of course there are many chateaux within the appellation that make very good wine that is not classified as Cru Classée.
Some communes whose names you should learn to recognize:

St. Estèphe, Paulliac, St. Julien, Margaux – these are the four most famous communes of the Haut-Médoc. All of them make wonderful wine. Most of the chateau that were included in the 1855 classification are in these four communes. Almost all the wine made here is red, and most of it to a very high quality standard – and prices to match! They require several years of ageing to reach their peak; as they mature they reach heights of elegance and power, complexity and sophistication – a rare treat, worth the price and worth the wait.
Moulis, Listrac – these two communes often write their names as Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc. They are also in the Haut-Médoc, upstream from the previous four, but are not quite as renowned. There is much very fine wine made here, but none of the chateaux were included in the 1855 classification.
Pessac-Léognan – the collective name given to a collection of communes in the northern part of the Graves region. This classification was created in 1987 – up to that time they were part of the larger Grave region. One chateau here, Chateau Haut-Brion, was included in the 1855 classification. More recently this region drew up its own classification. Both red and white wine of exceptionally fine quality is made here.
St. Emilion – a large commune across the river from Bordeaux, on what is known as the “right bank” of the river. The wines of St. Emilion were not included in the 1855 classification, so they have created with their own, which they tinker with every now and then. The rankings to look for are: Premier Grand Cru Classée, Grand Cru Classée, and Grand Cru. All the wines of St. Emilion are red, most of them are very good: rich, full and satisfying. Most of them improve with age, as do the wines of the Haut-Médoc, but they don’t demand as much time to become enjoyable.
Pomerol – a smaller commune on the right bank, next door to St. Emilion. The wines are similar: rich, fleshy, and full of fruit. The wines of Pomerol have never been officially classified.
Sauternes – and now for something completely different! The wines of Sauternes are white and sweet. They are the most wonderfully sweet wines on earth – rich, powerful, pungent and delicious. They are made by a unique natural process (which is described in a separate article) and make a most marvellous dessert.

Tips for Choosing Wine for That Special Celebration

From the Greeks an age ago, wine has enjoyed popularity as that most celebrated of drink; a good wine can convey emotions, set the tone for an event, and compliment the perfect meal. Choosing your wine from a selection as diverse and numbered as grains of sand on a beach, then, can be a difficult task: what grape do you prefer? what year? what vineyard? There are as many questions as you can dream up when selecting a wine for an occasion, but there are some simple ways you can narrow down your selection.

First, and most importantly, is the grape used to create the wine itself. Grapes have identities, personalities, and that personality is passed onto the wine as the grape ferments and matures. You have reds, which generally have a dark, moody tone to them: good for romantic engagements and to complement lighter foods, a good red wine can be the key to your perfect evening.

White wines, on the other hand, are made with much lighter grapes. They’re used to cleanse palettes, and to complement heavier meals. Speaking engagements, meetings, celebratory dinners, and even your hand cooked steak at home are perfect mates to a well selected white wine.

As important as the type of grape you select, the vineyard where it was cultivated and harvested has a complex and textured effect on the flavor of the wine. A more northern vineyard complements the grape with cooler temperatures, shorter summers; the grapes produce more acid and become an altogether different flavor than a more southern grape on the shores of the Mediterranean.

The climate when a wine is bottled edges and sharpens the flavor: something as minute as the humidity in the air for a given day will create a pang of flavor, a slice of flavor from million-piece whole. Selecting the proper age for your wine is as much about experience as anything else: certain years will produce overall flavors and personalities as global climate shifts to and fro.

Wineries around the world have cellars full of bottles, some dating back hundreds of years, some dating just a few months: the flavor of a wine begins as a straight line, but as age and time takes toll, the line shifts, jutters, and moves about. Creating the proper picture for your moment with a wine is all about knowledge and, through the use of that knowledge, a proper selection; this knowledge is only truly gained through your tasting experience, because each person’s palette and experiences in life shape their tastes. Wine is as much a living creature as you or me, and treating it well will help encapsulate and crystalise a moment in time, a feeling, a dream.

Snacks To Have When Wine Tasting

Whenever you have guests in your home it’s always a good idea to have some snacks available for your guests, but what you have on offer really depends on what the event is. The one thing that might be a little different is a wine tasting evening in the home, as all that is really required are some palate cleansers to keep the taste buds neutral between each taste. Snacks may not necessarily be required, but it’s still a nice hosting touch to add little finger foods and snacks that your guests will enjoy, and which complement the wine tasting.

It’s generally recommended that if you do decide to serve snacks, that you do so before and after the tasting, and just making sure that there are plenty of palate cleansers on hand when the tasting is in progress. That means providing water for all your guests, as well as such items as a plain, non-grainy baguette and crackers, although nothing overly salty. The idea with these items is not to feed your guests, but simply to keep the taste buds neutralized between each serving of wine, which will give them a clean tasting palate each and every time.

There are some great snacks that you can serve before the tasting begins, all of which will not overload the tasters, or have any sort of negative effect on the palate. Yogurt has the double bonus of being good for you, and also being able to coat the stomach if you haven’t had a chance to eat a full meal before the tasting begins. Hummus is another great option, and adding some veggies for dipping can help fill an empty stomach. Nuts are very popular among the wine tasting crowd, but like the crackers, try to go with nuts that are not overly salty.

Many people associate cheese with wine, but while it can make for a good mix, you should be sure to avoid the stronger cheeses, as their taste can overpower everything that comes after. The same can be said for chocolate, which usually ends up being a bad choice to go with when tasting wine. Having said that, you could definitely look at serving some chocolate desserts after the wine tasting is finished. Vanilla ice cream with a fruit sauce of some sort is also a nice dessert touch, as is a nice flan.

The snacks for a wine tasting event can actually be matched with the types of wine that you are planning on tasting. That can create a themed evening, with the snacks actually complementing the wines, rather than being used as filler or simple hors d’oeuvres. When shopping for the wines that you will taste, try to buy from a specialty wine shop, as there is sure to be someone on staff who can recommend a variety of different snack that will work perfectly with your chosen wines.