1990 in the Sunshine - (May 2008)

Tasting note from Dr Jeremy Howard.

Two friends and I decided to use the unseasonable May weather to try some Left Bank Bordeaux 1990s. For many Bordeaux lovers, this vintage vies with 1989 for supremacy between 1986 and the vintages of the late nineties. Top Bordeaux wines from the 1990s are certainly not cheap, but they are a little more accessible than the astronomic prices one meets when venturing into the best years of the 1980s (and beyond). Plus I was aware from reading the excellent CellarTracker notes (www.cellartracker.com) that 1990 is drinking really well at this time. With a sense of anticipation we settled down around my patio table in the sunshine to enjoy an afternoon’s slurping. We cooled down with a glass of refreshing and zesty Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling 2002. This wine is modestly priced at a little over £10, but it is a beautifully balanced Riesling with petrol and glycerin balanced by lemon zest acidity. Delicious and refreshing, and a perfect opener on a sunny afternoon.

We then warmed up with a Right Bank Pomerol that Robbie had brought from his private cellar: Chateau Beauregard 1989. This predominantly Merlot based wine was showing a plumy red colour fading to brick at the edges. The nose offered an intriguing combination of violet perfume and damp earth or wool, but without a great deal of red or black fruits. In the mouth the wine showed nice acidity and lovely soft fruits with some strawberry. We scored the wine 88 on account of its rather abrupt finish, but it was a lovely wine to drink with lamb or a chicken casserole.

With our noses and palates suitably tuned in it was time to get serious. Chateau Cos d’Estournel 1990 from St Estephe was first up. We drank all three of the 1990s after decanting for around 3 hours. The Cos has a high (40%) Merlot content and this was immediately obvious in its medium ruby colour with tawny edging. The nose was big with inviting herbs, stewed rhubarb and redcurrants. I was expecting a more tannic and full bodied wine, given the appellation’s reputation for austerity, but what presented itself was a finely balanced delight with softened tannins and very restrained acidity. In the mouth the wine was beautifully refined and balanced with pan fried steak and roasted peanuts at the finish. After some debate we decided that Robert Parker’s 95 point rating was a tad generous, and we settled on scores of 93-94 – marking up the wonderful purity of the wine but recognizing a slight lack of complexity and a shorter (20 sec) finish than we would have liked. It could have been a boisterous Right Bank wine, we felt.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre 1990 grabbed our attention from the outset. Dense purple in colour, with only slightly pinkish edges, the wine immediately looked younger and fuller than the Cos (reflecting the lower Merlot content). The nose showed further herbs, but also tobacco and cedar and a much more feminine and ‘sexy’ bouquet. Once in the mouth the wine had a genuine ‘wow’ factor that the Cos had perhaps lacked. Cedar and vanilla and voluptuous black fruits fought with still elevated but exciting and spicy tannins. The finish was bigger than the Cos and I noted a touch of crème brule at the end. We felt the wine could develop further over 5 years but merited all of its 96 RP points.

For the last wine we move northwards from St Julian, to the neighboring appellation of Pauillac and Chateau Pichon Longueville 1990 . This chateau has had a fair amount of favourable press coverage in recent years, and it was my first experience of the chateau. In the glass the wine glowered dense purple with only the very edges yielding any pinkish hues. I began to suspect what awaited before lifting the glass to my nose. Once there my nostrils were filled with classic Pauillac aromas of saddle leather, coffee and mocha, with earth and rocks. The wine was the antithesis of the Poyferre. Where the Poyferre had shown perfume and femininity the Pichon was dark, muscular and oh so masculine. The palate was full of dark roasted coffee, mocha and black fruits. The finish was huge and long, and coated my mouth for 45 secs plus. Drinking beautifully now, we thought the wine would last another decade at the very least.

Try as we could we simply couldn’t separate the Poyferre and the Pichon. Andrew plumped for the Pichon, Robbie for the Poyferre. I simply couldn’t make up my mind – swinging back and forth with each sip. The sun had all but set by the time we picked up our almost empty decanters and headed back inside. But we were delighted with our trip back in time to a truly great Bordeaux vintage.

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