Wine Talk

Snooth User: carl242

Looking for an affordable 1981 wine at its peak for my 30'th

Posted by carl242, Oct 18, 2010.

Hi there, 

                My 30th is coming up in March. One of the things I've wanted to do since I was about 6 is to drink a red wine from the year I was born (81).  I don't have the type of money to blow 1000's of dollars on a wine or buy a case to ensure the wine is about to peak (probably a bit late to do that anyway).  Does anyone have any good suggestions on a wine from this vintage that is ready? I'm looking at spending $250 max, and will probably drink it with some close friends/family and a good bolognaise.  

Thanks

Carl

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Replies

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 18, 2010.

1981 is a bit of a tough vintage. No port, lean but balanced and easy to find in both California and Bordeaux though so that's where I'd sugest you look if you're trying to source something locally, though Rioja is my first choice and the hands down best as far as region goes. My top 2 wines from 1981 are

Ch. Beaucastel which Flickinger Wines has for $225 a fair price, though this is not Rioja. It is benchmark Chateauneuf du Pape.

and the 1981 Vega Sicilia, which is twice the price, and also not Rioja, but close enough.

Following closely on the heels of these two, and very Rioja indeed,  I can recommend the Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran reserva. A steal at $125 The Lopez de Heredia Bosconia, which I like a little less but is still an exceptional wine and la Rioja Alta's 890, which can be fabulous, but is pricy. All of these are traditional to the max so you can expect bottle variation, some dirty aromas, and obvious acidity, all of which makes them more enjoyable to me!

 

 

 

 

 

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 19, 2010.

As Greg mentioned, that's a rough vintage, still plentiful enough in the marketplace, but hard to find those that are at the peak of what they ever had to offer, even now.

Of those I've had that were at least decent if not down-right good, I'd look first at Bordeaux, if the choice is between Bordeaux and California. I've had a decent Opus One and a really crappy BV from that vintage in the last few years, as well as a quite good Phelps Backus. A poor Haut Brion (that was still in their nasty, troubled period) but a good La Mission Haut Brion, decent Gruaud Larose, good Haut-Marbuzet and Montrose, a very good Domaine de Chevalier (red) and Trotanoy, but plenty of other weak bottles even from first growths. From Oz, the Penfolds Grange I can remember from '91 was roughly at the level of the Opus One, maybe a little better than the Gruaud Larose, but obviously a very different style..

A La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva I had recently was alright. The Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva I had was much, much, much better. The LdeH Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva I had only a little better. A Sassicaia I had recently was in the Opus One/Grange range of quality.

All these wines I've mentioned as good or better are quite pleasant drinks, even without the special meaning of it being a birth year. All worth chasing down, though I haven't gone to the trouble of doing any pricing for you.

I'm trying to remember the Rhones and Champagnes and Tokajis and Riesling auslese-or-betters and other Italians I've had recently, but I'll have to ponder those memories a little more. Too much tequila already tonight, to calm myself after a troubling day at work.... ;-(

 

 

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 19, 2010.

I've also had a very good d'Yquem (Bordeaux, dessert white) from that vintage last year. The year before a great Mayacamas cab (Napa) and a very, very, very good Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany) this past spring. The d'Yquem might be just past your budget, but the other two definitely within.

Here are a couple of good online merchants' offerings for 1981:

More will come if I don't get too much further into this reposado....

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Reply by carl242, Oct 19, 2010.

Thanks guys.  Due to my childhood connections to France and California (also London, Japan, and Zimbabwe, but the wine from those places ain't too great), I'm likely to go for a wine from either of those countries.  I've been reading about the various wines suggested, and I'm finding the stories of Opus One and Chateau Haut-Brion the most interesting.  It might be one of those! Whatever I get, I'll post my experience in March.

Thanks again

Carl

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 19, 2010.

Haut Brion is relatively poor in that vintage and not to be recommended, and the Mayacamas and Phelps Backus I've had recently were *much* better than the Opus One. Those two labels you just mentioned are the focus of way too much marketing hype compared to true quality. I prefer to buy the steak, not the sizzle.

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Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Oct 19, 2010.

Opus=vastly, obnoxiously, disgustingly overrated. 

Jus' sayin'.

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Reply by carl242, Oct 19, 2010.

Ah, thanks dmcker.  I meant the La Mission Haut Brion you mentioned was good. The Phelps Backus, however, looks interesting, and like it is half the price, so I could possibly get a Port from that year in addition, and enjoy that over time.

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 20, 2010.

Port is also nearly non-existent for that year since most of the proper houses declined to declare. I understand the allures and wiles of vintage port (love it myself), and the significance of that year, of course, but it might be better to look for another bottle of wine rather than the port.

You'll never, ever hear me complaining about a La Mission Haut Brion. From the same area of sourthern Bordeaux you're likely to find the Domaine de Chevalier cheaper, though.

And the Phelps Backus is a good choice. Personally I'd go for the Mayacamas, but perhaps you can get both. ;-)

You should consider giving the Rioja and Italian (esp. Brunello) options a chance. Treat yourself....

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Reply by gregt, Oct 20, 2010.

Go with RIoja.  Most of the newer bodegas weren't even around and those that were had an excelent vintage.  And those wines hold up magnificently.  The usual suspects - Reservas or Gran Reseras from C.V.N.E and their VIna Real and Contino (one of the best wines I've ever had hands down), Beronia, Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, Bilbanas Monte Real, even Valdemar and Faustino!  In a magnificent year, even the second-tier players can make great wine.  You'll be far happier than you will with something from Bordeaux that is far from their best effort. 

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 20, 2010.

If I was going to buy four bottles, one would be the Mayacamas from Napa, one the Domaine de Chevalier from the Graves, one a Rioja like that LdH Bosconia I mentioned or something from what GregT suggests, and one the Biondi Santi Brunello.

You've got your California and French connections, but also an introduction to some lovely new friends from two new grape varietals. And at a lesser budget than going after the big guns in Bordeaux.....

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Reply by eron, Nov 8, 2010.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone on this thread, being a bit of an amateur chef, I was just starting out looking for a bottle to celebrate my 30th as well. I have solid experience with contemporary American and Italian wine, but was dreading trying to dig back through vintages unknown and ending up spending $200 on a bottle somewhere between vinegar and Franzia. Thanks to all of you that fear has been allayed!

One other avenue of possible libation celebration, while decidedly less specific to the yearly fluctuations, is that there are a good number of 1981 scotches floating around near the same price-point as these bottles of wine. Most of the British vendors such as Master of Malts, Parker's Whiskey or D&M will ship to America, but even a simple google "Shopping" search turns up some gems. A couple examples are a Caol Ila 27 year 'Duncan Taylor', or a Brora 'Signatory' 1981. Have fun!

 

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 8, 2010.

Have had a bit of Caol Ila over the years, all quite heartwarming... ;-)

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Nov 9, 2010.

No good Aussie 81's even Grange relatively poor in that year

Must have been due to being the year I started as a graduate accountant!!!!!

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Reply by affguy, Mar 8, 2011.

On the basis of this thread, I picked up a bottle of the '81 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva for my lover's upcoming 30th birthday.  Having zero experience with teenage rioja, much less any entering it's fourth decade, I'm wondering if anyone could make any food pairing suggestions?  My options are a nice french american restaurant (first preference), a mediterranean place, or cooking at home.

I also grabbed a bottle of '81 Kopke colheita.  I know it wasn't a banner year for ports, but I love me some tawnies and it at least got some props from Mr. Hersh at For The Love of Port.  This I might open at home the night of her birthday, with the rioja at a restaurant a couple days later.

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 8, 2011.

I'd go for the 'mediterranean' theme, without knowing the details of that restaurant or the 'french american'. Depends on how the restaurants do their dishes, of course....

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Reply by gregt, Mar 9, 2011.

That Bosconia is going to have notes of dry strawberries and sour cherries and tea and it goes on for a long time.  It will have a lot of acidity and it's also going to have a really earthy, funky nose with aromas of mushrooms and leather and even a slightly metallic note of oxidation.  And you won't have much sediment, if any.  It's earthier than their Tondonia and very old-school.  The tannins are pretty much gone at this point and it's living on acidity.  It won't have the herbal notes that you find in older Cabs - it's hard to describe really but if you think of them like singers, Cabs are the baritones and the Riojas are the tenors.

All that is provided that the wine was stored well, however.

As far as what to drink it with - they drink it with dinner or lunch or snacks.  Jamon works pretty well, so does lamb or anything grilled - sometimes they grill lamb chops over some vine twigs.  Or a mushroom risotto.  Or all that. For a pairing that you may be more familiar with - if you would pair something with a wine like Chianti or maybe a Barbera - red fruit profile, high acid, low tannin - that's a decent place to start thinking about your Bosconia.

Good luck with that!

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Reply by affguy, Mar 9, 2011.

Thanks much, those notes help a lot.  I think I should be safe with a menu like http://www.whitehousecrawford.com/food/dinner-menu.php to choose from. :-) 

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Reply by carl242, Mar 16, 2011.

Well, thanks for all the advice! I went to K&L in Redwood City and decided to keep it French. I picked up a bottle of 1981 Leoville-Las Cases, St-Julien. It was cellared by Mahler-Besse in France until very recently (which apparently is a good thing since we know where it has been/how it has been stored over the past 3 decades), and the bottle looks in really good condition. I will keep you posted on how it goes :)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 16, 2011.

Hey, you're in the Bay Area.  Can I stop by for a glass? Looks like a good call!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 16, 2011.

Looks like you could have saved a few bucks at JJBuckley in Oakland or European Wine Source in Richmond. Just mentioning in case you need a second bottle...

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