1986 Horizontal Bordeaux Tasting

Six very lucky guests together with Tammy and myself were treated to 12 bottles of wine from the 1986 Vintage. No, these wines were not from California or Burgundy, but were mostly first growths and super seconds from Bordeaux, France. So, if you like great Bordeaux, read on! All of the wines either came from my cellar or were acquired by me specifically for this tasting. Some of the big name "heavy’s" as well as a number super seconds were on hand. Let’s see, we had Lafite, Lynch, Pichon Lalande, Haut Brion, La Mission, Pape Clement, Las Cases, Ducru, Talbot, Margaux, Rausan-Segla and Climens.

The second part of this post covers my individual tasting notes on all of the above wines. From my own "at home" tastings over the past few years to the numerous tastings on the road (including the NY-OL), a large number of 86’s have all shown great character and promise. I decided to choose the ‘86 over the ‘82 and ‘85 vintages because I simply had a better inventory of these wines in my cellar. I guess you could say that I was very generous in opening all of the twelve bottles for just the eight of us <g>. Believe it or not, I had initially intended to open seventeen ‘86’s. However, I decided to eliminate the wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion in favor of the "glamour wines" of the Medoc and Graves. Actually, I wanted to invite more guests, however, I was limited by the number of healthy pours I could get out of a single bottle of wine.

I’ve been attempting to put this tasting together for the last eight months or so. However, a couple of our guests have been rather difficult to pin down <g>. Two of our guests accepted our original invitation, then canceled in favor of German Beer and German wine tasting that was slated for the same weekend in Vermont (go figure). Being accommodating, we then changed the date of our ‘86 horizontal tasting to the following Saturday and planned on joining this other couple in Vermont. This would have worked out, however, this same couple decided not to go to Vermont after all. They decided that they would in fact be available for our horizontal tasting on the original October 4th., date. This put us back to square one, but we finally had a commitment from everyone. Hell, you think they would have been beating down our door for a sniff and a taste of these world class wines <g>.

Our guests arrived by stretch limo a full twenty minutes ahead of the seven o’clock start time, only to catch me half dressed and scampering for the rest of my clothing <g>. Fortunately, Tammy had control of the situation and properly greeted our company. We sat down in the family room and started with the appetizer course. It consisted of an assortment of three cheeses and a wonderful Pate. I then started to pour the first flight of wines. The wines were all opened well in advance and served in "house standard" twenty two ounce Riedel Vinum’s. All the wines were served unblind by appellation in flights of two or three.

Dinner consisted of Beef Provencale accompanied by baked potato and my house specialty, a three cheese spinach pie. We started with the three wines from Graves and then we moved to the wines of the Margaux, St. Julien and Paulliac Appellations. Given the amount of wine that was on hand, we were able to return to and re-taste all the wines over a period several hours. I was also able to sample most of them over dinner the following evening. All right, to my notes:

LA MISSION HAUT BRION: Medium/low neck with a medium fullish color. Good mineral, tobacco, tar and dark fruit scented nose. In the mouth, the wine shows a medium texture with a. good dose of medium full tannins. The palate impression mirrors the nose with an excellent mix of rich, ripe, sweet fruit, tar and minerals. In thirty minutes, the wine began to close down for the remainder of the evening. It did not posses the balance or depth of fruit of the Haut Brion.

HAUT BRION: Very high neck fill with a medium fullish color. Airtime changed the wine from good to great to profound. The aromatic impression was just wonderful! Tar, minerals, earth, tobacco, and smoke roar from the glass. In the mouth, the wine shows a stunning presence on the palate. Huge fruit, tobacco and a good dose of non- obtrusive tannins for the long haul. Great juice!

PAPE CLEMENT: Medium/low neck with a medium ruby color and earth bouquet suggesting black currant fruit, spice and oak. On the palate, the wine shows a medium texture with a good inner core of black fruits and spice. This bottle wasn’t quite as creamy as some other ‘86 and ‘90 Pape’s I’ve had recently. Nonetheless, it was still a good bottle of wine.

RAUSAN-SEGLA: Medium/low neck showing a medium to medium fullish color. A lovely but restrained nose of cedar, earth, cassis, and truffle scented aromas were just great! In the mouth, the wine is delicious, superbly balanced and splendidly concentrated. Lush, earthy, savory with ripe black fruit and ripe tannins dominate the attack. This wine can be drunk today and has the potential to last twenty-five years or more.

MARGAUX: Medium neck fill with a saturated black and purple color. Unlike the stunning aromatic impression of the ’83 Margaux, the ’86 Margaux is totally closed for business. It is a medium full to full bodied wine showing a muscular, corpulent character and personality. In the mouth, the wine has a definite dumbness to it. Specifically, the tannins were fullish and were also significantly more angular than the last time I sampled this wine. There is, however, in addition to the tannins, plenty of power, concentrated fruit, extract and grip for the long haul. Needless to say the component parts were somewhat masked by the aggressive tannins. The palate impressions did offer up a restrained, brooding mix of deep briery like fruit, pepper, and alcohol. Tasted the next day, the tannins were still Omni present. Lay it down for ten years.

LEOVILLE LAS CASES: Medium/low neck showing a medium full ruby color. Tasted side by side with the ‘86 Lafite. The ‘86 Lafite and ‘86 Las Cases continue to be in varying stages of closed. This was my sixth tasting note on the ’86 Las Cases and this probably was my best bottle to date. It sure gave Lafite a run for its money. The bouquet was just absolutely gorgeous! The wine seems to be softening a little, with an awesome nose suggesting leather, earth, cedar and minerals. The palate impression offers up a stunning mix of super-ripe black fruits, spice and tar with excellent balance and a substantial finish. Slight gaminess here, but not overstated. All of the other stuff going on in the wine is centered around a huge core of jammy fruit. The tannins in this example were neither course nor soft, but, fall somewhere in between. Make no mistake about it, this is a fifty year wine!

DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU: Medium/low neck showing a medium ruby color. Lovely earth and truffle scented nose. On the palate, the ‘86 Ducru showed quite well with plenty of savory ripe fruit, oak, spice, soft dry tannins and a long, lingering finish. It did not possess the depth of fruit of the Las Cases or Talbot.

TALBOT: Medium/low neck showing a medium fullish color. Like the ‘82 and ‘83 Talbot, the ‘86 Talbot is recognizable on nose alone. The color was a dark ruby showing no signs of aging. The bouquet offers up the hallmark (Talbot) fragrances of pepper and spice. Add to that, deep, dense black fruit, tar, and a slight gamey element that was just Outstanding! In the mouth, the wine is super concentrated with plenty of grip and a mountain of tannins masking the huge reserves of highly extracted fruit. It was one of the groups favorites. This example was also much more evolved than previous examples.

PICHON LALANDE: Medium/high neck fill showing a dense, saturated black color. The bouquet was somewhat ungenerous at first, but eventually started to come around and show it’s stuff in about an hour. In two, the aromatics were at there best. Simply put, the bouquet roars from the glass with an outstanding and expansive mix of chocolate and ripe mulberries. In the mouth, the wine was gushing with meaty Paulliac flavors. Add to that a purity of fruit and a finish that must be experienced to be believed. There were also significant underlying tannins present. However, they were not obtrusive or course tannins. The wine is no where near ready, but it can be consumed today or twenty years from now.

LAFITE ROTHSCHILD: Medium/high neck fill with a very dense, fullish color showing no signs of maturity. My first words on nose alone were "oh my". Lots of minerals, cedar, cassis and lead pencil aromas. Much more evolved aromatically than previous examples. On palate impression, the wine literally coats the lining of the mouth with super concentrated flavors of jammy ripe fruit, leather, cedar, minerals, and a truffle like flavors. Layer upon layer of dense fruit masks the mountain of tannins. Words like syrup, jelly and port like best describe this wines texture. This is a great wine that will get even better with age.

LYNCH BAGES: Low neck fill showing a medium full color. This example was somewhat reminiscent of the great ’82 Lynch I sampled last year. A gorgeous nose of cocoa, cassis, game, sweet oak and earth were first rate. In the mouth, the wine is medium to medium full with a dusty/earthy/gamey element that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is splendidly concentrated and finishes very well.

All in all, it was a great night!  Great food, wine and company! What surprises me most of all was the fact that there was not even a single bottle of bad wine. All great wines. I was impressed with the overall quality of the '86 vintage. Highly concentrated wines with great balance, grip and a terrific mouth feel. What fun it will be to taste and report on these wines again in ten to fifteen years. My favorites of the evening were: Haut Brion, Rausan-Segla, Las Cases, Talbot, Lafite and Pichon Lalande.