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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.

1978  BORDEAUX,  BURGUNDY,  RHONE,  ONE CALIFORNIAN & AUSTRALIAN,  20 MARCH 2006


Background to the Tasting:  1978 was an exceptional year in both Burgundy and the Rhone Valley.  Michael Broadbent in his latest edition of Wine Vintages (2003),  simply describes 1978 as the best vintage in the Rhone Valley since 1911.  Burgundy he describes as excellent,  though not quite as exceptionally so.  Piedmont too is five stars.  

The 1978 Rhones and burgundies have always been scarce in New Zealand,  not only due to the scarcity of the wines in a small vintage,  but also because this era was made repressive for wine enthusiasts in New Zealand as a result of import licensing,  to protect a then-uncompetitive wine industry.  Thus any opportunity to taste 1978 Rhone or Burgundy wines should be seized.

It would however be wrong to imply that Bordeaux was great in 1978.  Initially the wines were well regarded ( .. the year of the miracle - Harry Waugh) but Broadbent in his 1980 edition,  and in his marvellously understated way,  noted:  but only just.  He went on to say:  It is too early to tell,  though it does seem … an attractive vintage,  one to have in one’s cellar for characterful midterm drinking *** (*).

In his latest 2002 edition,  the rating is now ***.  [ paraphrased ]:  Appalling growing season.  At the end of August chateaux owners were in despair.  Then,  suddenly,  the weather improved with a September blessed with cloudless skies and unbroken sunshine through to the start of harvest in the second week of October.  Hence ‘the miracle’.  But could a last minute reprieve make up for the previous miserable conditions ?  Well,  up to a point it did,  though I have always had my doubts about the balance of the wines.  The best are very good,  but most are in decline.  

The notes below give (where available) Broadbent’s initial and later thoughts,  and odd comments from Peppercorn and Parker (all paraphrased).  My impressions of the wines as they opened on the night follow,  noting that I like old wines.  

Implications of this tasting for those cellaring imported wines in New Zealand in 2006:  At the time these wines were imported into New Zealand,  virtually no wine came in temperature-controlled containers.  All the bordeaux without exception showed signs of temperature stress in shipping,  in the sense the corks were wet the full length,  uniformly.  Since purchase they have enjoyed near-ideal cellaring conditions in one of New Zealand’s more equable and cooler climates,  and as the notes below indicate,  to greater or lesser degree the wines do re-seal.  Ullages on the bordeaux averaged 26 mm.  

In contrast,  bordeaux imported by most New Zealand (but not all) merchants these days comes in temperature-controlled containers.  Cork is of course infinitely variable,  but for most bottles,  the average wine penetration along the cork nowadays is less than 5mm,  often 2 - 3 mm,  at point of sale in New Zealand.  This offers the marvellous opportunity for us in future decades to enjoy mature European wines in broadly similar condition to bottles that have never travelled.  

The weakest link in the chain now is the transport and interval between winery and shipping,  and then warehousing,  and transport / courier in New Zealand,  particularly where a van may be left in the sun.  It is worth noting that there is a marked difference between the rate bottles age in Auckland and Wellington,  the latter’s mean being 3.5 degrees C. less.  Uplifting wine from Auckland as soon as is practicable is important,  for those in cooler climates.  

Next Library Tasting:  see home page,  base of left column.

Broadbent,  Michael  1980:  The Great Vintage Wine Book.  Christie’s / Mitchell Beazley,  432 p.
Broadbent,  Michael  2002:  Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine.  Harcourt / Websters (US edition),  560 p.
Broadbent,  Michael  2003:  Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.
Parker,  Robert  1997:  Wines of the Rhone Valley.  Simon & Schuster,  685 p.
Parker,  Robert:  [ various ]:  The Wine Advocate,  and  www.erobertparker.com    
Peppercorn,  David 2000:  Wines of Bordeaux.  Mitchell Beazley,  248 p.                              
     

1978 REDS

1978  Drouhin Bonnes Mares
1978  Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin
1978  Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah York Creek Vineyards
1978  Jaboulet Chateauneuf-du-Pape les Cedres
1978  Jaboulet Vacqueyras
1978  Ch Leoville Barton
  1978  Ch  Leoville Lascases
1978  Ch Montrose
1978  Ch Palmer
1978  Pio Cesare Barolo
1978  Ch Trotanoy
1978  Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon / 45% Shiraz Yellow Label

1978  Jaboulet Chateauneuf-du-Pape les Cedres   19 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ Gr dominant.  In a rare example of one of the great man’s blindspots,  in 1980 Broadbent did not consider the Rhone worthy of inclusion in his first Cellar Book,  and this wine does not figure in the latest.  Parker (1997) in 1994 however did not like it:  herbal,  animal-scented,  medium body,  some sweet fruit,  a lean attenuated style,  drying out.  83 ]
Ruby and garnet,  in the middle for depth of colour.  Bouquet on this wine is sensational,  a soft warm spicy evocation of grenache and a dash of syrah etc at it's burgundian best.  The play of aromas is infinite,  red fruits spanning cherries and raspberries to red plums all mellowed with age,  floral / savoury herbes components making the wine piquant,  and this wonderful warmth of stick-cinnamon.  The wine Parker reports on was simply not the same bottling run,  for every bottle from my case has been variations on wonderful.  It has confidently been identified as burgundy by noteworthy wine people,  in blind presentations.  Palate is rich yet drying a little now,  not big,  silky in a slightly furry way,  just slipping past perfect maturity.  Magnificent.  In the absence of real burgundy in the same blind flight, it can easily be taken for a fine Cote de Nuits.  Only the subtle cinnamon might alert an acute taster.  Fully mature,  yet holding well.  Nothing to wait for,  and the risk of losing flesh.  Glorious with food.  GK 03/06

1978  Ch  Leoville Lascases   18 ½ +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $32.95   [ CS 65%,  Me 18,  CF 14,  PV 3.  Broadbent ’80:  very impressive,  pronounced aroma.  A real bouquet in the bunch of flowers sense,  but still peppery;  flavour to match.  Excellent aftertaste.  More intense than Ducru ****.  Broadbent ’02:  was at best c. 1990,  ‘extra dimensions’.  Recently spicy nose but losing body,  not exciting.  At best ****. ]
Ruby and garnet,  still some velvet,  one of the three deepest.  In the first few hours,  bouquet on this wine represented all that is glorious about mature claret:  cassis-suffused dark tobacco leaf and cedar,  almost faded florals,  and darkest plum.  Palate is velvety,  the bouquet liquefied,  the tannins furry and richer / denser than les Cedres,  the finish a touch more drying.  This is a great wine also starting to slide off its plateau of maturity,  yet the flavour is superb and it lasts and lasts in mouth.  A lovely Lascases,  from an era when it could be reductive.  GK 03/06

1978  Drouhin Bonnes Mares   18 ½  ()
Chambolle-Musigny Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ a Drouhin domaine wine;  Broadbent ’02:  In 2001,  a glorious bouquet,  with a sort of cherry-like fruit;  perfect sweetness,  fairly hefty yet not obtrusively so,  lovely flavour with mulberry-ripe fruit.  All the component parts perfectly balanced *****. ]
Garnet and ruby,  older than the les Cedres,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet is slow to unfold,  and is not quite as floral as the village Gevrey.  Fruit richness however is greater,  with autumnal red and black cherry,  and a hint of spice (from the percentage of new oak) which closes the gap with the cinnamon of les Cedres.  The palate too is rich,  unequivocally pinot noir,  richer than most of the clarets,  but drier and less seductive than the Jaboulet.  The two wines make a marvellous and instructive juxtaposition.  These top three wines were a delight to have together,  for all illustrated their districts superbly.  They are all now mellow,  wonderfully food-friendly,  and best used in the next few years.  GK 03/06

1978  Jaboulet Vacqueyras   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $ –    [ Gr dominant.  Jaboulet in the 70’s was arguably the leading / best known Rhone producer,  mainly in the north.  The firm was also noted for Vacqueyras,  however.  The 1976 of this label recently opened was aethereal in its lightness,  yet elegant and satisfying in mouth,  and great with food. ]
Garnet and ruby,  akin to the Bonnes Mares,  but lighter.  This wine was the standout of the night, in the sense that its status is so lowly,  and it is fashionable for new world wine writers to say that these Cotes du Rhone styles should be drunk in the first 3 – 5 years.  My experience has been quite the reverse,  that well-constituted and balanced Cotes du Rhone with some stuffing to start with,  can age graciously,  and like this wine,  end up fragrant fading red fruits and cinnamon spicy,  wonderfully warm and enticing,  simply beautiful.  And their exposure to oak having been minimal,  just older big wood as a container,  the fruit remains supple and almost Burgundian.  In mouth,  this wine put several of the classed clarets to shame,  even though it is drying a little.  Fully mature,  needless to say,  but delicious.  GK 03/06

1978  Ch Palmer   18  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 55%,  Me 40%,  PV 5.  Broadbent ’80:  The nose broad,  rich and plummy,  undeveloped but innate opulence,  mulberry;  palate beautifully rounded,  good grip ****.  Broadbent ’02:  A lovely wine and a very good 1978.  Most recently,  sweet,  attractive,  quite good length,  a point (in 1999),  drink soon ****.  Parker in 1997:  One of the Medoc’s most successful 1978s,  this wine has reached full maturity,  but it reveals no signs of an early demise.  The colour is a dark ruby / garnet with only slight amber at the edge.  The nose offers up black truffle,  cassis, smoked herbs,  and meaty aromas.  In the mouth,  there is a green pepper quality to the rich,  sweet fruit. This medium-bodied,  silky-textured wine is more spice-driven than most Palmers,  but attractive and mouthfilling.  Anticipated maturity:  Now-2006.  90 ]
Ruby and garnet,  above half-way in weight.  This wine opened quietly and attractively,  but went on to expand in the glass in the following 12 hours.  It later showed classic Palmer violets,  red and black fruits and cedar,  almost perfumed (+ve).  Palate is a little less,  tapering off its plateau of perfection,  drying,  the acid of the year now peeping through.  But the flavour is classic claret,  beautiful,  lingering,  not oaky or tannic,  beautifully fine-grained,  merlot dominant.  Perfection with food.  GK 03/06

1978  Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin   17 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin,  Burgundy,  France:   – %;  $25.69
Garnet and ruby,  the lightest,  but still pleasing.  The quality of bouquet on this village wine is exceptional,  showing beautiful florals epitomising the roses,  violets and boronia of fine pinot.  It has been like this since day one,  and to see it now makes me very thrilled that I bought a case.  In a review of 22 pinot noirs on the New Zealand market in 1982 (in New Zealand Wineglass 22,  Sept.  ‘82),  and including both the Bonnes Mares and this,  I commented on this wine:  Not a big wine,  but a very good one,  and of all the wines reviewed the best value,  if the taste of real pinot noir is the prime objective.  Palate now is all one could ask of a village burgundy at 28 years:  cherry fruit with an edge of brown,  mellowing on old oak,  not mouthfilling exactly yet a wonderfully satisfying wash of flavour,  not as rich as the Bonnes Mares,  drying a little.  Marvellous with food,  all the same.  GK 03/06

1978  Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon / 45% Shiraz Yellow Label   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  McLaren Vale & Coonawarra,  Australia:   – %;  $8.45   [ 18 months oak,  80% US, 20 French ]
Ruby and garnet,  the second deepest.  Among the blind wines,  the bouquet on this one was softer,  richer,  sweeter than most in the field,  with gorgeous indeterminate fruit wrapped in subtly aromatic oak,  not quite cedar,  but very fragrant.  Some tasters thought it of very high pedigree.  Only a couple (among 21) picked up any Australian tell-tales on bouquet.  Palate is soft,  the fading boysenberry of Australian shiraz more apparent than the cabernet,  a slight lactic / best caramel hint,  lingering softly.  The wine illustrates how quickly Wolf Blass learned his mastery of oak.  Holding well,  no hurry.  GK 03/06

1978  Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah York Creek Vineyards   16 ½  ()
Napa Valley,  California:  15.1%;  $15.20   [ WinePros:  3200 acres in California.  DNA evidence now confirms Petite Sirah is Durif,  which is a crossbred grape from Syrah and Peloursin.  Petite Sirah has long been an important blending grape,  prized for its deep colour and intense tannin.  Most often blended into Zinfandel to add complexity,  body,  and to tone down the tendency of zins toward "jammy" fruit.  On its own,  the  flavour of Petite Sirah can be vaguely black peppery … pleasant … not highly distinctive … ages slowly and can survive fairly long cellaring of ten years or more. (Jancis Robinson rates Durif  “undistinguished”). ]
Rich ruby,  garnet and velvet,  much the deepest and most youthful.  Bouquet has the kind of fruit,  vigour and weight that Stonyfell Metala had back in the ‘60s (when it was the top wine in the Stonyfell portfolio) – a rudely healthy over-ripe wine verging on portiness,  but clean.  Palate is much the same,  very rich and robust black fruits nearly jammy,  but saved from it by dry furry tannins which coat the tongue (still).  Amazingly youthful,  and a great example of its hot-climate,  old-time Barossa Valley-like wine style.  Cellar another 5 – 15 years,  easily,  browning all the while.  GK 03/06

1978  Ch Montrose   16 ½  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 65%,  Me 25,  CF 10.   Broadbent ’80:  Role reversal with Cos in 1978,  surprisingly open,  soft,  sweet,  some oak on bouquet,  but palate unintegrated,  dry,  acid ***.  Broadbent ’02:  Earlier was predictably closed,  but with depth and potential.  Recently (1999),  at or a little past its best,  finishing very dry **** (just).  Parker in 1993:  Light for Montrose, the 1978 has reached full maturity. It offers a straightforward, spicy, earthy bouquet of curranty fruit and damp, woodsy aromas. Medium-bodied, compact, and adequately concentrated, this spicy wine should be drunk over the next 5 - 8 years.  85 ]
Ruby and garnet,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet is clearly Bordeaux,  and pretty clearly Medoc,  with a firm cassisy,  cedary,  but tending leafy bouquet reminiscent of both lesser years in Bordeaux,  and many older New Zealand cabernet / merlots.  Palate is very fine-grained,  elegant fading red fruits again with a leafy edge,  only medium in body,  the acid showing through.  Not a sturdy Montrose at all,  more what you would expect from (say) Lanessan or similar – pleasant.  Needs finishing up.  GK 03/06

1978  Pio Cesare Barolo   16  ()
Barolo DOC,  Piedmont,  Italy:  13.5%;  $11   [ nebbiolo 100%.  Broadbent ’02:  Using small barrels for the first time.  Rich,  orange-tinged,  strange figgy fruit and violets,  rich texture,  attractive in its way.  A whiff of eucalyptus supposedly from the Yugoslav oak ***. ]
Garnet and ruby,  the oldest wine,  yet one of the deeper.  Bouquet is clean,  leathery,  and odd,  and Broadbent has captured it exactly,  for there is more than a hint of the traditional fig medicine Califig.  Palate is still very rich,  but searingly acid,  with only browning remnants of raspberry or fresh berry,  and rather more of the tar barolo used to have ascribed to it.  An old-fashioned wine,  something of an acquired taste.  Will hold for some years,  but not very pleasurably.  GK 03/06

1978  Ch Trotanoy   16  ()
Pomerol “Second Growth”,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ Me 90%,  CF 10.  Broadbent ’02:  A wonderful wine,  impressively mouthfilling and also exudes charm,  in 1991 silky,  sweet,  rich,  round,  delicious ****.   Parker in 1990:  The 1978 Trotanoy has matured rapidly. Ready to drink now, it has a bouquet suggestive of herbs,  fresh tomatoes,  and black currants …. medium bodied, soft,  velvety,  without the depth of fruit normally found in this wine.  Little tannin remains in this loosely knit,  herbaceous,  somewhat austere Trotanoy.  84 ]
Garnet and ruby,  one of the oldest,  and towards the lighter end.  The bouquet on this wine has the same hint of phenol / carbolic as New Zealand McWilliams Cabernet showed,  once they lightened off,  after 1971.  The fruit is lightly cassisy and leafy,  quite tobacco-y,  yet showing little of its merlot cepage – except in the sense of under-ripe fruit.  But it is clearly Bordeaux,  and mellow now.  Palate is silky-textured,  much the best part,  and here the merlot is apparent,  with fine tannins which linger nicely,  until the thread of green reappears.  Clearly it has lost more ground since the tasting reports above,  but on the other hand,  the present assessment does show how slow the rate of decline can be from the plateau of maturity,  if the wine is reasonably well-proportioned in the first place.  Drink up.  GK 03/06

1978  Ch Leoville Barton   15 ½  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $23.50   [ CS 72%,  Me 20,  CF 8.   Broadbent ’02:   disappointing,  acid,  most recently (1994) mature,  cheesy,  so-so **.  Peppercorn thought better of it:  superb.  Parker in 1988:  A lovely,  rather full,  big bouquet of smoky,  berryish,  ripe fruit is first class.  On the palate,  the wine shows a good cedary,  spicy,  deep fruity constitution,  moderate tannins,  and a long finish.  Just about ready.  86 ]
Ruby and garnet,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet on this wine is clearly under-ripe,  with a phenolic quality akin to the Trotanoy,  on reasonably cassisy berry.  Palate however is less,  with fair fruit showing green and acid qualities in the berry,  all exacerbated by oak tannins.  This ends up being a less pleasing mature Bordeaux,  yet still clearly in class.  Whether or not one should score it more or less than the old Barolo is hard to say – the latter has much more fruit and richness,  but one could prefer the cool elegance of the Bordeaux.  Needs drinking.  GK 03/06