Let’s begin with one of my favorites, the 1986. I was rather fully into Bordeaux when the 1986s were offered on the futures market. 1985 had been a rousing success for retailers, and as we would find out in years to come, for most consumers as well. The vintage was touted from the beginning as being an “old-school vintage,” one in stark contrast to the fruity precocious 1985. While the 1985 were being compared to the 1953s, 1986 was seen as some later day offspring of a theoretically mating of 1975 with the fruit of 1961.
Yes, that’s how we talked about wine back then. There were fewer sources of information than today, so wine media coasted by speaking in terms no one could understand. I had only the vaguest notion of what the 1986 vintage would be like. It was deemed to be good, perhaps great, but was structured, dark and earthy, as opposed to the lighter, fruitier, more elegant 1985s. All of those adjectives are my own, facilitated by decades of experiences as well as a wholesale relaxation of the scriptures of wine writing.
That vague notion appealed to me, even in the mid-1980s. The wine world had recognized that we were going through a fundamental change in quality and style, driven by the wholesale modernization of the entire country’s wine industries.
The notion that something could still be “old-school” and yet great was fundamentally appealing to me, so I bought as much wine from Bordeaux’s 1986 vintage as I could. I had done the same with the 1985 vintage as well. I was lucky in a way, since I had just completed a year of drinking almost nothing but Bordeaux.
My buying as much as I could of 1986 Bordeaux translated into roughly 60 bottles. I tasted many on release, but by that time I had made substantial commitments via my futures purchase. I recall tasting my first few at a retailer’s tasting. These were not the 1985 that had danced across the palate expressively, nor were they the lighter 1981, or round polished 82s, or earthy/fruity 1983s for that matter. These were glasses of rocks, gravel, leather and tannins, with the fart of a black currant adding some hope of future pleasure. Oh yes, these were old-school and painfully so. And then, the media began backtracking.
“These wines need time,” they would say, “these wines need more time.”
“This vintage is less consistent than first thought,” one eventually chimed in. Over-rated, under-fruited and austere followed rapidly thereafter.
Through it all, I held on to my bottles. And then, it happened. The 1975s, long thought to be of a charmless dried out vintage, somehow began to offer wines that were pleasurable, fruited even. I saw the media insult those wines and then saw them proven wrong, so I had faith.
I do have to admit that for many years, the 1986 were indeed charmless, dry, austere, lean and unforgiving, like the bad step-parent in a Disney fable. But with time and patience, the vignerons of Bordeaux have proven themselves to be more capable than the wine media at large. Yes, the wines have remained mostly austere, it is a vintage characteristic, but they are also balanced, deep and complex, a hypothetical blend of 1988 and 1983, for those of you used to such things!
Was there a point here? I suppose not. This all serves as a long lead into a handful of tasting notes, and I have completely ignored the sub-plot and character development that I had intended. I guess the lesson to be learned here is patience. Patience for a great vintage, patience for a producer who sees no need to be precocious, and patience with an industry (wine media) that has no need for just that and in fact thrives on immediacy.
And what do you get for your patience? Well, instead of an under-performer, you might find your glass filled with an over-performer. Instead of lack of charm, you might find complexity. Instead of a lonely bottle, you might find a bottle of conviviality, assuming of course that you made sound choices selecting with whom to share said bottle.
That is all I had to say, in far many more words than needed to say it. I’ll continue with my notes in a separate slideshow so that I can sneak in some additional details regarding the wines tasted, but before that, one last word on patience. I thank you for your patience with me in reading all that I have written here. I know it’s not always easy, certainly not always cogent nor entertaining, but sometimes, it is. And it sure is impossible to tell from the beginning when that will be true.
The same goes for wine. Wine is as difficult to decipher when it makes it’s way into the bottles as when it makes its way out. We are left to rely on patience, faith and luck for each performance. And when we do find something worth sharing, we do our best.