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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
THE 1975 VINTAGE:  HEITZ MARTHA’S VINEYARD CABERNET,  LAFITE ROTHSCHILD,  LEOVILLE LAS CASES …


Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)


The Original Invitation:
Most keen wine people have heard of Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  For quite a long interval,  it was California’s (and hence America's) most famous and expensive red wine.  But it illustrated an earlier more classical-in-style era,  before the advent of latter-day richer wines now even more famous,  such as Screaming Eagle.

Very few people in New Zealand have however tasted Martha's Vineyard.  This tasting provides the opportunity (corks willing) to evaluate the 1975,  a great year,  alongside 1975 Lafite Rothschild,  1975 Leoville Las Cases,  1975 Ch Montrose,  and some other reasonably reputable labels of the era.

1975 is an interesting vintage.  It has never had a great press,  yet for Bordeaux,  if you study the literature,  it almost reluctantly emerges as perhaps the second best vintage of the 1970s,  after 1970 itself.  It was a stern and tannic year,  which is not so appealing to modern palates,  but that tannin has enabled the good / rich ones to live.  

With the tasting of necessity in a higher price range,  and 40 years on,  I have to mention the peril of TCA-affected bottles,  though ‘corked’ wines were less common then than two decades later.  Attending is exactly the same as if you had cellared the wine yourself:  the risk simply has to be accepted.  There are no back-up bottles,  but there are other wines,  so you will get 12.  But,  for the two ’key’ wines,  they will be presented irrespective,  so that keen people can examine the underlying character of the wine,  which they may otherwise never taste.  It IS possible to ‘see’ through faults – but the will to do so has to be there.  

Reserve wines:  the Lafite and Martha’s Vineyard will be presented willy-nilly,  since even with defects,  there will be interest in seeing them.  Otherwise,  substitutes will be selected from:  Chx Prieure-Lichine,  Cantermerle,  Pontet-Canet.

Introductory material provided at the Tasting:
It is perhaps hard for latter-day wine people to realise quite how poor and mostly light the red wine vintages of the 1970s were.  In Europe the seasons were cooler – it seems unlikely the 1976 ‘heatwave’ would cause so much excitement today.

Thus Michael Broadbent in introducing the vintage in his 1980 magnum opus (ref. below),  started off with:   A timely vintage of undoubtedly high quality. Whether it will turn out to be a great vintage only time will tell; but at least, unlike the preceding three vintages, it is a vin de garde year, with impressively deep-coloured wines worth – indeed needing – cellaring.

Clive Coates in 1995 thought:  For a decade or more, pundits have been writing down the 1975 claret vintage: too tannic, too austere, too dry, too tough for its own good. it won't ever come round, soften up, make generous bottles, it was said. ... almost the only person who has kept faith with 1975 is Emile Peynaud ... the best year between 1961 and 1982 ... just needed time ...

It is fair to say that the 1975 is an uneven vintage and difficult to write or generalise about. There are many excellent wines ... both at the classed growth level and among the crus bourgeois. Equally, there are some disappointments, wines which substantiate the original fear that the vintage was too solid and burly for its own good, and would lose fruit before it had time to soften up.

The 1975 vintage is a year which demonstrates that quality is inversely proportional to quantity. ... 1973 was similar climatically ... but there were 40% more grapes ... naturally in 1975 the individual berries would be riper and more concentrated.


David Peppercorn,  a Bordeaux commentator always worth listening to,  commented ruefully in 1998 that:  They lack the balance and charm of the ‘61s, which some optimists believed them to resemble at an early stage.  Yet he goes on to say,  for the Medoc:  At some chateau 1975 is looking like the best vintage of the decade, with the tannins peeling away to reveal rich concentrated classic wines with power and fruit. Elsewhere the tannins can seem too dry.

By the time of his 2002 revision of his great cellar notes work,  however,  Broadbent is saying of the 1975s:  … the wines have turned out to be irregular … controversial …  Initially, I must confess, I was impressed by the ‘75s, but over the last decade I have noticed an imbalance between both the chateaux and the wines.

By 2003 Robert Parker could say:  After numerous opportunities to taste and discuss the style of this vintage with many proprietors and winemakers, it is apparent that the majority of growers should have harvested their Cabernet Sauvignon later. Many feel it was picked too soon, and the fact that at that time many were not totally destemming only served to exacerbate the relatively hard, astringent tannins.   Parker was most struck with the top Pomerols and Graves,  none of which we have,  sadly.  We do however have a couple of wines he rates very well,  for the vintage.

Presentation of the wines,  and immediate conclusion:
The wines of the 1970s were in general of lighter build than we are accustomed to now.  Cropping rates at many chateaux were significantly greater than now,  and ripeness was therefore less easily achieved.  These factors were aggravated by the seasons in general being cooler.  Further,  few wines then had second labels,  to cull their lesser barrels to.  In presenting such wines,  therefore,  it is imperative that the wines be exceedingly carefully decanted.  The kind of thing you see in movies,  and hear of socially,  the use of funnels and splashing and so forth,  must be totally avoided.  For my tastings,  I stand the bottles up a month beforehand,  to really settle the sediment.  Then,  having removed the cork,  and carefully cleaned away lead-rich corrosion deposits,  which can take many minutes per bottle,  I very gently slide the wine from its original bottle to the blind burgundy bottle from which will be served,  stopping at the 690 ml mark.  The residual 30 or 40 cc of sediment are conserved to a flute,  to better settle the sediment again.  

Following completion of the decanting,  and any necessary settling down needed after the stresses induced by crumbling,  jammed,  broken,  or otherwise refractory corks,  the dregs are assessed.  This approach  optimises capturing bouquet,  if it is fleeting,  and facilitates sequencing the wines in a way which optimises their appreciation.

The first simple nett impression of the 12 wines was:  the new-world wines had good to even ample fruit,  but only two,  maybe three,  of the eight Bordeaux still retained a reasonable fruit balance.  

References:
Broadbent,  Michael 1980:  The Great Vintage Wine Book.  Mitchell Beazley,  432 p.
Broadbent,  Michael 2002:  Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine.  Harcourt / Webster’s International,  560 p.
Coates, Clive 1995:   Grands Vins: The Finest Châteaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines.  University of California Press.  736 p.
Evans, Len 1978:  Complete Book of Australian Wine.  Hamlyn,  512 p.
Gilman,  John, 2011:  Heitz Wine Cellars – Celebrating Fifty years of Classic Napa Excellence.  View from the Cellar 33,  May/June 2011,  pp 1-35
Parker,  R  1991:  Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  1026 p.
Peppercorn,  David 1998:  Wines of Bordeaux.  Mitchell Beazley,  248 p.
Sutcliffe,  Serena (Ed.) 1981:  Great Vineyards and Winemakers.  Methuen Australia,  256 p.
www.essiavellan.com = Essi Avellan,  Finnish MW
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and associates
www.erobertparker.com  =  Robert Parker alone for this tasting   





THE WINES REVIEWED:

Prices shown below are the current wine-searcher values for the 1975 vintage,  where available.  Historical cost where available is in the 'admin' section for each wine:

1975  Wolf Blass Cabernet / Shiraz Black Label Jimmy Watson Trophy
1975  Ch Branaire
1975  Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard
1975  Ch Lafite Rothschild
1975  Ch La Lagune
1975  Ch Lascombes
  1975  Ch Leoville Barton
1975  Ch Leoville Las Cases
1975  Ch Lynch-Bages
1975  Ch Montrose
1975  Sonoma Vineyards (now Rodney Strong) Cabernet Sauvignon
1975  Stanley Leasingham Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 49


1975  Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Napa Valley,  California:  13.5%;  $359   [ cork 50mm;  original cost $US35;  CS 100%;  our bottle has immaculate provenance,  direct from the vineyard;  Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was widely regarded as the benchmark Californian red wine of its era,  for two decades,  Wiki notes.  1975 was a well-rated Napa vintage,  though it was the 1974 of this wine that sent Robert Parker up to 98 and 99 points;  Martha’s Vineyard was then a single 15-acre site on the west side of the Valley,  near Oakville.  It is not owned by Heitz,  but farmed by shareholder partners.  The wines of the ‘70s were famous for their intense berry,  and mint on bouquet,  in some becoming even trace eucalypt – hopefully not obtrusive now,  40 years later.  Added yeast,  usually a Montrachet strain then.  Time on skins in the 70s fairly short relative to Bordeaux,  7 – 10 days.  Natural malolactic.  After fermentation,  up to 18 months in large (up to 7,500 litres) older American oak vessels,  racking as needed.  Then two years or more in barriques,  percentage new around half or slightly more,  then,  Nevers and Limousin,  and some Yugoslavian.
Joe Heitz (1919 – 2000) was a graduate of the UC Davis wine school,  and gained immeasurable wine knowledge from working alongside André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards from 1951 to 1959.  He was regarded as a forceful character,  one who initiated (or at least was at the forefront) single vineyard wines in California,  and the use of small French oak for top reds.  By the same token,  he could be intolerant of other views,  scoffing at the notion that ‘his’ Martha’s Vineyard could be tainted by eucalypts (widely grown in the district) or the wild yeast
Brettanomyces (virtually known only to academics in the 70s and 80s).  Perhaps therefore our wine will be found to be a wine of its times,  by demanding latter-day palates.  
Robinson,  nil;  Parker,  nil;  Wine Spectator tasted this wine in a Napa retrospective article,  in 2005.  At that point the 1975 was valued at $US392:  
Aging very gracefully, with appealing dried currant, mint, bay leaf and spicy, cedary cigar box and earth notes. Impressive depth and layers of complexity, too, finishing with a long, persistent aftertaste,  90;  John Gilman,  2011 (ref. above), in an 'assembled' vertical of nearly all vintages:  The more I drink California cabernets from the decade of the 1970s, the more I am convinced that I have a slight preference for the style of the 1975s over their more highly-touted brethren from the riper year of 1974. The brilliant 1975 Martha's Vineyard is certainly pretty persuasive evidence that 1975 is indeed a great, great year for cabernet in Napa, as the wine is beautifully deep, pure and still a tad on the young side at age thirty-six! The magical and deep-pitched nose offers up a great melange of black cherries, petroleum jelly, cigar smoke, leather, a touch of chipotles, coffee and a very complex base of soil tones. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and powerfully built, with impeccable balance and focus, a rock solid core of fruit, still a bit of tannin to resolve, superb, tangy acids and simply stunning length and grip on the perfectly poised and refined finish. A wine of First Growth depth and dimension by any stretch of the imagination. 2015 - 2075.  97+;  From the other side of the Atlantic,  Essi Avellan,  2009,  well-regarded European (first Finnish MW,  2006) wine commentator,  comments on the 1975:  This Martha’s Vineyard was tasted in a once-in-a-life tasting of all vintages of it ever made, arranged by FINE Magazines. It showed well and made it to my top 5 of the 35 vintages tasted. Complex lively nose with soft spices, plums, coffee and tar. Attractively fresh impact in the mouth, less pronounced on the palate than on the nose. Elegant and restrained. The wine is at a wonderful drinking age now but there are still 5 to 10 more years ahead of it,  92;  www.heitzcellar.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  clearly the darkest and most youthful looking / least-old wine.  The bouquet is a knockout: a tremendous volume of intense aromatic drying and browning cassis,  just a hint of balsam-like aromatics,  a lot of oak but good oak,  and all clearly in a Bordeaux style.  A hotter year in Bordeaux,  though,  like some '64s,  '76s,  and many '82s.  In mouth the wine is immediately big,  and bolder than bordeaux would be,  even a first growth.  The weight of the tannin is nearly matched by the concentrated currant fruit,  but against the Las Cases and the Montrose,  and interestingly with food,  the balance in the wine is tannin-obvious,  shall we say.  Nonetheless it is immensely impressive wine,  many tasters at the blind stage 'wanted' it to be the Lafite,  and it has to be scored at gold medal level.  Unlike even the best of the Bordeaux,  it still has some cellar life ahead of it,  5 – 12 years or so.  A great experience,  and the most favoured wine by the group.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Leoville Las Cases   18 ½  ()
St Julien,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $258   [ cork 53mm;  CS 67%,  Me 17,  CF 13,  PV 3;  is Las Cases the first of the super-seconds,  seems to be the question nowadays.  Parker considers the 1975 ‘as profound as most of the Medoc’s first-growths'.  Robinson,  2011 (Harding in fact):  A good vintage compared with the early 1970s. Paler garnet and some brick at the rim but still quite a bit of red at the core. The first really developed nose of this line up – liquorice and undergrowth and bloody and a touch of mint. Very bloody. Much juicier than I expected after the nose, high acidity, resolved tannins but a slightly lean finish. Acid starting to stick out. More old-fashioned style,  16.5;  Coates,  1995:  Full colour, still immature. Fresh nose. Still youthful. Very cabernet. Good new wood. This is one of the few wines to have real breed. Full, good oak. Concentrated and balanced. Not too austere. I prefer this to La Mission. Very well balanced. Complex finish. Very fine,  19;  Parker,  1996:  This is one of the great successes of the vintage. However, those with modern day tastes for soft, easy-going, supple wines may not enjoy the 1975 Leoville Las-Cases. Why? It is a tannic, backward, old style wine cut from the mold of such vintages as 1948 and 1928. The color is a dark ruby/garnet with a hint of amber at the edge. The nose offers up distinctive mineral, lead pencil, sweet, blackcurrant scents with flinty overtones. Full-bodied, thick, and concentrated, as well as atypically muscular and powerful, this should prove to be one of the longest-lived wines of the vintage. There are sensational levels of richness and intensity. While the vintage's tough tannin level ensures another 20-35 years of longevity, the wine may dry out by that time. I thought this wine would be at its peak by the mid-nineties, but it still needs another 5-8 years of cellaring. It is a very impressive, albeit backward and hard wine,  92;  www.domaines-delon.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  a similar hue to the Lafite,  but greater depth,  about midway in weight.  Freshly opened,   there was a shadow of congestion,  needing a little air.  As it opened up,  fruit became apparent,  with cedary oak apparent throughout.  In mouth this is the richest of the Bordeaux,  there still being apparent fruit texture and weight on tongue,  the browning berry laced all through with cedary oak,  all beautifully fine-grained.   The nett impression is of a first-growth quality wine,  at 40 years of age.  It certainly won't improve,  but there is no hurry in a cool cellar.  Top wine for two tasters.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Montrose   18 +  ()
St Estephe,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $182   [ cork 54mm;  CS 65%,  Me 25,  CF 10;  as always (if possible),  must have my touchstone chateau in the set;  Robinson,  2005:  This was very impressive – although note the suggested drinking bracket, 2008 - 2018. This is a very long haul wine, but definitely one of the more successful candidates from this extremely tannic vintage. The wine looks fully mature and has a thoroughly exciting complex nose with just the right amount of lift. Lots of richness on the nose and great extract but very dry, dense chewy tannins – still! But the fruit density suggests this will make a great drink – eventually,  18;  Coates,  1995:  medium-full colour, mature. Somewhat austere and charmless on the nose. Typically full, muscular and tannic. Then there is reasonable grip and richness underneath, so the finish is not astringent. But not really much class or generosity,  15;  Parker,  1996:  Still backward, although the color is beginning to exhibit amber/rust at the edge, this large-scaled, muscular, charmless Montrose is structured enough to be admired, but I wonder if there is enough fruit to hold for another 10 years? Full-bodied, with earthy, dusty, red and black fruit aromas, this tannic, behemoth needs another 2-3 years of cellaring. The jury is still out on this one,  87;  www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  slightly redder than the Las Cases,  but below midway in depth.  Bouquet on this wine right from decanting was quite beautiful,  an amalgam of fragrant berry with nearly floral notes in a browning way,  great purity,  the berry slightly dominant relative to the Las Cases.  Taste confirmed the less apparent oak than the Las Cases,  but it is slightly smaller wine.  The balance of fruit to oak is perfection:  there is a delicacy and balance to this wine which in one sense eclipses the Las Cases … yet because it is smaller there is a reluctance to score it as highly.  Saint-Estephe is so often patronised by wine snobs,  but here is real beauty of a rare quality.  At a (late) peak,  exquisite,  but unwise to hold the wine much longer.  Top wine  for one.  GK 03/15

1975  Stanley Leasingham Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 49   18  ()
Clare Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 44mm;  original cost $11.57,  recent wine-searcher values for similar age examples approach $100;  CS 90%,  Ma 10;  a highly-regarded (and expensive) wine at the time,  gold medals at Sydney,  Adelaide and Perth,  but one reflecting the new-fangled craze for new oak in the new world;  Stanley Leasingham became part of the Hardy group in 1987,  and is now a lower-profile label in the latter-day BRL-Hardy → Constellation Wines → AccoladeWines grouping.  Bin 49 no longer exists as such,  but Bins 56 (cabernet / malbec) and 61 (shiraz) do.  Leasingham's top-level label now is Classic Clare Cabernet and Classic Clare Shiraz,  the latter at least sparingly available in New Zealand;  Len Evans, 1978:  Tim Knappstein has developed this style into one of the classic regional dry red styles of Australia. These are magnificent wines with tremendous berry fruit, a full rich palate with excellent oak integration and a firm tannin/acid finish … The ‘75 is a return to the old standard [1966 – ‘71 ]. A big firm strongly flavoured cabernet, it will need many years to develop its full potential. Clare reds are noted for their longevity ... ]
Garnet and ruby,  the third deepest wine.  For years,  I hardly believed this oaky monster would ever fine down.  But here,  with other wines also noted for their oak deployment,  the result is impressive.  Yes the oak is still noticeable on bouquet,  but it is of good quality,  it is not blatantly American (matching the Martha's in this respect),  and there is a remarkable volume of fruit to support the oak.  The supporting grape,  malbec,  also tilts this wine more to the Bordeaux wine style than the Blass.  In mouth it is not as rich as the Martha's,  and it seems both less tannic and slightly more fruity,  a bit better balanced.  Intriguing.  There is no obtrusive euc'y character,  but it does shows a similar aromatic lift – balsam or mint maybe – to the Martha's.  Only 6 tasters classed it as Australian,  blind,  a great result.  No hurry here,  at all,  it should make 50 years,  if the modest 44mm corks don't let it down.  GK 03/15

1975  Wolf Blass Cabernet / Shiraz Black Label Jimmy Watson Trophy   17 ½  ()
Langhorne Creek 80% & Barossa Valley 20,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 44mm;  original cost $10.40,  recent wine-searcher values for similar age examples exceed $100;  CS 80%,  Sh 20;  the third Jimmy Watson Trophy for this label,  creating a sensation at the time.  One reason for its success was Blass' introduction of barrel-fermentation to produce soft rich flavoursome wines with great oak impression,  but not harshly tannic.  60% of the wine was in American oak,  40% in Nevers hogsheads,  ratio new not known but presumably high;  never short on self-promotion,  this Blass wine shamelessly describes itself as an Individual Vineyard wine,  despite the components coming from two viticultural areas c.80k apart;  the Jimmy Watson Trophy is seen by some as Australia's premier red wine award.  It is awarded to the best one-year-old dry red in the Royal Melbourne Wine Show.  Winning wines were highly regarded (and highly sought-after),  in those more Show-conscious days,  and still fetch high prices (in Australia);   the Australian firm WineAssist organised a tasting of Watson wines from the '70s, 80s, and 90s in 2002.  Our wine was middling,  in the blind judging;  www.wolfblasswines.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  much redder than the Bin 49,  the second deepest wine.  At the blind stage,  this was the different one.  The volume of sweet vanillin aroma on top of great fruit is simply remarkable.  One immediately thought of blackberries rather than currants / cassis,  yet the wine is the most aromatic in the set.  Again it is not exactly euc'y,  but it is aromatic / minty with a balsam-like complexity.  In mouth the shiraz seems obvious,  the level of fruit is simply staggering relative to the age,  and the whole thing tastes youthful,   harmonious,  and vigorous.  Later one suspects a little residual sugar,  even,  but it is easy to be fooled by the faintly caramel-like hints from barrel fermentation  – so many years later.  In its style this is simply splendid wine,  and two tasters rated it top.  It is not subtle  though,  and it does not seem so good with food.  It was also the only wine where scarcely anybody thought it to be French.  This will cellar even longer than the Bin 49,  but like it will be let down by the 44mm corks of the era.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch La Lagune   17 +  ()
Haut-Medoc (Ludon,  near Margaux) Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $132   [ cork 53mm;  CS 55%,  Me 20,  CF 20,  PV 5;  since its rehabilitation in the 1950s,  La Lagune has become an often-attractive,  modern,  tending-rich wine;  it was one of the first to adopt the First Growth practice of employing 100% new oak,  but later progressively backed off that approach;  current practice under winemaker Caroline Frey (consultant Denis Dubourdieu) is 55% new,  for 15 – 18 months;  Robinson,  nil;  Parker,  1996:  Will the fruit outlast the tannin? This firm, austere, tannic wine exhibits spicy, vanilla-tinged oak and ripe fruit, a good attack, and a medium-bodied, elegant personality. Approaching full maturity, it will keep for another 10-15 years,  86;  www.chateau-lalagune.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  right in the middle,  for depth.  This wine sits near the dividing line,  between those still with good fruit,  and those showing their age.  It contrasts with the top five wines,  though,  in being more rustic,  shall we say,  one of several where brett was objected to by the sensitive.  The style of the berry and fruit here is closer to the Bin 49,  almost a rich browning blackberry fleshiness rather than drying currant,  and the oak is apparent too.  So it is quite a burly wine,  for Bordeaux,  and accordingly more tasters (at the blind stage) assessed it as Californian than any other.  The sum of its disparate parts,  including a nutmeg component from the 4-EG,  is surprisingly pleasing with food,  so one mustn't give too much credence to those hypersensitive to brett.  No immediate hurry with this,  helped by the 53mm corks.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Leoville Barton   17  ()
St Julien,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $130   [ cork 49mm;  CS 70%,  Me 20,  CF 8,  PV 2;  the archetypal Englishman’s (fine) claret,  many say;  Robinson,  nil;  Coates,  1995:  Fullish colour, just about mature. Very cabernet. Somewhat inflexible. Medium to medium-full. Strangely one-dimensional. Lacks concentration. Lacks interest. A bit four-square. Not as lumpy as Gruaud though, 15.5;  Parker,  1996:  For a 1975 Medoc, this wine has received surprisingly consistent notes. While it has always revealed some of the severity and austerity of the vintage, it has consistently possessed more depth, sweetness of fruit, and a more expansive texture. There is a firm, tannic framework, but the wine is admirably concentrated, with a classic, herb, cassis, cedar, tobacco, and spicy-scented nose, full body, an impressive palate, a youthful personality, and a long finish. There are no signs of color or fruit degradation. With 1-2 hours of decanting, this wine can be drunk now; it promises to age for another 15+ years, 90;  www.leoville-barton.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  a little more red than the La Lagune,  below midway in depth.  The Barton was intriguing in the tasting,  in some ways like the Lagune,  perhaps purer,  even,  more clearly browning cassis like the top wines,  but unlike them,  the oak handling let down by a carbolic note.  At one stage,  New Zealand McWilliams had oak like this,  and it detracts.  Purity of berry,  and level of oak,  however,  is subtler than the Lagune,  yet for some quirky / inexplicable reason,  as you mull over the wines,  it seems to have less charm.  Perhaps it is that carbolic note,  which comes through with food too.   All this said,  two people rated it their  top wine of the 12,  and 16 rated it French / Bordeaux,  far and away the clearest result of the evening.  Interesting wine,  therefore,  very Leoville-Barton,  at full stretch.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Lynch-Bages   16 ½ +  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $196   [ cork 53mm;  CS 70%,  Me 15,  CF 10,  PV 5;  generally regarded these days as a wine far out-stripping its fifth-growth standing,  more of second-growth quality – but not perhaps in 1975;  Robinson,  nil;  Coates,  1995:  Fullish mature colour. Slightly resiny on the nose. Medium full. This has richness, fatness and a good element of old-vine concentration. Very seductive. Good grip. Stylish. Very good indeed, 17;  Parker,  1996:  After the number of disappointing tastings I have had of this wine, I was surprised that it showed reasonably well at the blind tasting in December. The color exhibits significant amber/orange at the edge, followed by a dusty, herbaceous, cedary nose with some ripe fruit. Full-bodied but slightly hollow, the wine exhibits more sweetness and expansiveness than I expected. This above average wine is beginning to reach full maturity. Given the number of washed-out, excessively tannic examples of 1975 Lynch-Bages I have tasted, I am now more optimistic about this wine. Drink it between 2000-2010, 86;  www.lynchbages.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway.  This wine opened with a clean lean aromatic bouquet,  showing that not only the new-world wines could have a hint of mint.  Fading / browning cassisy berry and noticeable oak were apparent.  In mouth immediately there is a step down from the wines rated more highly in this tasting.  The fruit level is drying appreciably,  so the oak seems more apparent,  and like the Barton,  there is a phenolic note in the oak.  Yet the whole thing is still quite pleasing,  and still good with food.  Needs finishing up.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Lafite Rothschild   16 ½  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $918   [ cork 55mm;  CS 70%,  Me 20,  CF 5,  PV 5;  though Lafite is now the darling of the investment (and Chinese) wine-buyers,  again Robert Parker was the only person in the 1990s to call attention to the falling-off in standards at this famous chateau between 1961 to 1974.  The contrast between his clear-eyed wine-writing and the ingratiating waffle of the British wine trade in those days means we owe Parker an enormous debt.  Wine-writing world-wide was changed for ever by him.  Robinson,  nil;  Coates,  1995:  medium-full, mature colour. Soft, gentle new oak. Stylish. Not a bit dry. This has class. Medium body.  Lovely fruit. Good oaky undertones. Misses a bit of real concentration and intensity but lovely style. Very long and complex. Atypical for a 1975, 18;  Parker,  1996:  As this wine has aged, it appears to be less of a sure bet. In most cases, it has been an outstanding wine, as the bottle tasted in December suggested. The aromatics indicate the wine is fully mature, but the tough tannin level clearly underscores the dark side of the 1975 vintage. This wine will undoubtedly last for another 30+ years, but I am not sure the fruit will hold. It is a perplexing wine that may still turn out to be an exceptional Lafite. In contrast, the 1976 has always been much more forward and consistent. However, I would still take the 1975 over the overrated, mediocre 1970, 1966, and 1961, 92;  www.lafite.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  the lightest colour of the 12,  but still more red-flushed than the Branaire.  Right from first opening,  the bouquet on this wine was different,  very fragrant as if almost a red berry / cabernet franc-dominant wine,  with fragrant new oak.  In mouth the subtlety of the oak is exquisite,  though the wine tastes more red fruits than black,  and there simply isn't the total fruit needed.  Feeling let down on palate,  therefore,  you then go back to it,  and what was cedary to first impression on bouquet,  could seem phenolic now.  This is more the weight and style of a second wine,  a very pure second wine,  but one lacking substance.  Our sample is from a magnum,  in one cool cellar since 1979,  a stunning 55mm cork,  so the provenance could hardly be better.  It should therefore have been exemplary,  but the Las Cases (for stature) and the Montrose (for beauty) run rings round it.  Needs finishing up.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Lascombes   16  ()
Margaux,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $122   [ cork 50mm;  CS 63%,  Me 33,  PV 3,  CF 1;  the '70s were not a good phase for Ch Lascombes,  the visionary Alexis Lichine having sold in 1971;  Robinson,   nil;  Coates,  1995:  Good;  Parker,  1996:  This wine possesses one of the most exaggerated aromatic profiles of the vintage … herbaceous, gingery, minty, spiced tea-like nose that readers will either detest or find interesting. Tannic and loosely jointed, this fully mature wine (there is considerable amber/orange at the edge) exhibits the vintage's tell-tale tannin and structure, but the fruit is sweet and ripe. Consume it over the next 5-7 years before the fruit begins to dry out. This is another wine that held up surprisingly well in an open decanter (2 days),  87;  www.chateau-lascombes.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is fragrant but lean,  another one with an herbes touch to it,  salvia or bay-leaf,  making it too aromatic.  This bottle also showed trace VA.  Below the aromatics is fading cassisy berry,  now overshadowed by noticeable oak.  Blind you might think it a Pauillac rather than a Margaux,  but in simple terms this wine is running out of fruit.  Still pleasant enough with food,  but the least favoured wine of the evening,  to finish up soon.  GK 03/15

1975  Sonoma Vineyards (now Rodney Strong) Cabernet Sauvignon   15 ½ +  ()
Sonoma Valley,  California:  12%;  $ –    [ cork 44mm;  original price $NZ4.56;  no info.  Name change in 1980.  Standard wine,  not the Alexander's Crown bottling ]
Ruby and garnet,  redder than the Lafite,  but one of the lightest.  Bouquet is light and pure,  highly varietal  slightly aromatic red berries and cassis,  a hint of leaf,  and not a lot of oak.  It really smells remarkably Entre Deux Mers,  though perhaps one with slightly more new oak.  Palate fulfills the bouquet perfectly,  the berry revealed well since the wine is not as oaky as the Bordeaux wines,  highly varietal in a simple way,  but a little stalky.  Still in surprisingly good order,  considering it was the mainstream commercial label.  Finish up.  GK 03/15

1975  Ch Branaire   15 ½  ()
St Julien,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $142   [ cork 54mm;  CS 60%,  Me 25,  CF 10,  PV 5;  Parker in his wonderfully direct way commented in his 1991 account of Bordeaux (used to get a better approximation of the cepage of the era):  I have always found Branaire-Ducru to be curiously underrated, undervalued, and somewhat forgotten … Several of the recent vintages,  in particular 1975, 1976, 1982 have been magnificently scented deep rich wines that are almost as good as the first growths in those years …;  Robinson,  nil;  Parker,  1998:  Branaire-Ducru has consistently been one of the finest 1975s. I have come to the conclusion that it will never resolve all of the tannin, but the wine has such a large-scaled, muscular, rich, concentrated personality that the tannin level is acceptable. There is plenty of cedar, sweet cassis fruit, vanilla, and lead pencil notes to this powerful Branaire-Ducru. The wine's deep ruby color displays some amber at the edge. I enjoyed drinking this wine young, but it has not budged in its development, continuing to display freshness, richness, and the tell-tale tannin of the vintage. It should continue to evolve and last for another 10-15+ years. Last tasted 12/95,  91;  www.branaire.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  the second lightest.  Bouquet is complex but with detracting undertones,  suggestions of varnish and bay-leaf,  some VA,  clear brett,  so the nett impression is of a fully mature to over-mature wine,  but one clearly in the cabernet camp.  Palate has more fruit than the bouquet suggests,  but again a medicinal herbes quality detracts.  Despite all the technical failings,  it still works quite well with food.  Wine is so hard to pigeon-hole.  This bottle of Branaire however does not fulfill Robert Parker's views of the chateau at that time.  Drink up.  GK 03/15