A massive old-Bordeaux tasting ...
The following wines were tasted Saturday, Aug. 10, 1993, at the suburban home of an East Coast wine collector and generous host (who should probably remain anonymous), who shared dozens of fine old Bordeaux from his cellar with about 60 friends in a festive picnic setting. Many thanks to this individual for his hospitality!

The tasting included both a vertical tasting (a baker's dozen Chateau Palmer Margaux from 1921 through 1989) and a horizontal tasting (featuring more than a dozen 1966 Bordeaux, including the Palmer). A couple of other fine wines came out of the cellar later on, including a handful of well-aged Ports. I took notes on the Palmer vertical first, going pretty much from oldest to youngest, then switched to the '66 horizontal, which I tasted in random sequence.

I find it hard to taste very analytically in a joyous party setting with wines tasted in massive numbers and un-blind, so I pretty much let intuition take over and jot notes casually and without much serious thought. I don't think my responses differ dramatically from the consensus, although I've noticed a couple of points where my palate was seemingly marching to a different drummer, most notably the '66 Leoville-Poyferré, which many found obnoxiously tannic but I thought was at peak and drinking beautifully. Go figure ...

Without further ado, here are my notes:

Palmer vertical

1928 Chateau Palmer Margaux - Remarkably clear and dark, attractive bronze edge. Delightful nose, floral and sweet leathery notes. Full fruit, amazingly youthful for an almost 70-year-old wine; excellent balance.

1921 Ch. Palmer Margaux - amber-bronze, much more antique to the eye than the '28. Herbal, slightly medicinal, witch-hazel; sweet fruit, a little nutlike, but still quite sturdy. A second bottle was holding up better, with more red in the amber color, and a lovely book-leather aroma; tart-sweet, still good fruit.

1957 Ch. Palmer Margaux (375 ml) - Not part of the vertical but pulled out of our host's cellar later. Brilliant ruby, wonderful old-Bordeaux aroma, leathery and floral; ripe, sweet fruit, cigar-box and spice. A delight.

1961 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Clear, dark ruby, clear edge. Earthy, leathery aroma, some berrylike bramble fruit. Tart, deep berries on the palate, wonderful.

1966 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Rather light ruby shading to copper. Earthy, forest-floor aromas; tart-sour, light "barnyard," complex. A second bottle seemed to be holding up better, more open and with the organic notes more restrained.

1970 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Bright garnet, clear edge, looks like a younger wine. Deep, brooding fruit on the nose and palate, tart, big fruit, big tannin; beautiful balance, remarkably youthful. Drinking very well, but can still use more time.

1975 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Dark ruby, slight haze. Black-fruit and licorice, fruit somewhat overshadowed by a tart acidic structure. Still seems to need time.

1978 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Very dark garnet. Appealing cassis and leathery scent; full, forward fruit, tannins resolving. Ready soon.

1979 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Very dark garnet. Rich blackcurrant and herbal notes, tarragon, mint, very nice. Full flavor, ripe and fresh, drinking very well.

1983 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Bright ruby in color. I found it a bit closed and tannic, black fruit and licorice; good elements, wonderful potential, but not showing its best now.

1985 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Very dark ruby, opaque. Good blackcurrant nose, more forward than the '83. Some leather, faint barnyard. Full fruit, ample tannin, still needs time.

1988 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Clear ruby. Delightful, aromatic, spice and sandalwood, Soft and ripe, almost conveys an impression of sweetness. Very accessible, delicious.

1989 Ch. Palmer Margaux - Opaque garnet, almost black. Tight nose, massive fruit, tightly wound up with tannins, oddly reminiscent of a top-rank California Cabernet (perhaps characteristic of the hot-summer '89s). Needs years of cellaring to come into its own, but the potential is fabulous.

1966 horizontal

1966 Chateau Leoville-Barton St.-Julien - Brilliant ruby, rather light in color. Earthy, pleasant, sweet old-Bdx flavors.

1966 Ch. Lynch-Bages Pauillac - Dark garnet. Licorice, clear fruit. Tart, simple fruit. I didn't think it was showing well, but so many people raved about it that I kept going back and also tried from another bottle; the second was more open, tobacco-leaf and sweet fruit flavors, but it still wasn't my favorite.

1966 Leoville du Marquis de las Cases St.-Julien - Dark garnet. Leathery, full fruit, tart acid. Youthful.

1966 Ch. Pichon Lalande Pauillac - Clear, dark brick color. Lovely old-Bdx nose, earthy, floral. Sweet perfumed notes, tart fruit.

1966 La Mission Haut-Brion Graves - Light ruby, slight haze. Cedar, "lead-pencil" and herbal notes, a bit funky, good fruit. One of my wife's favorites of the day.

1966 Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou St.-Julien - Clear garnet. Floral, herbal, aromatic linden. Fresh, juicy fruit, youthful and accessible. A delight.

1966 Ch. Leoville-Poyferré St.-Julien - Clear ruby. Leather, "toast," nice old-Bdx notes. Juicy, almost jammy, complex, good balance, tannins resolving. One of my favorites, although most of the group disagreed with me on this and found it more tannic than I did. My teflon palate at work?

1966 Ch. La Tour Haut-Brion Graves - Brilliant ruby. Blackcurrant and caramel aromas; mineral, linden, sweet fruit, tannins. Interesting, still seems young.

1966 Ch. Chasse-Spleen - Clear, very dark garnet. Tight black-fruit aromas, with an odd note like butterscotch and a whiff of barnyard. A bit awkward now, will live for a long time.

1966 Ch. Branaire (Duluc-Ducru) St.-Julien - Clear garnet. Pleasant cassis, floral, violets. Sweet fruit, mature, balanced.

1966 Ch. Cantemerle Haut-Medoc - Dark ruby, almost opaque. Ripe cassis aroma, candied, stewed-veggie. I half-jokingly likened it to a Central Coast California Pinot Noir.

1966 Ch. Brane-Cantenac Margaux - Light garnet, old-Bdx and linden scent; full fruit, soft, good sweet fruit. Accessible.

1966 Ch. St. Georges St.-Georges-St.-Emilion - Brown, prunes, Sherrylike. Dead on arrival; never intended to be cellared for three decades.


Along with the '57 Ch. Palmer Margaux listed above, our host also pulled out for later inspection:

1976 Ch. Haut-Brion Graves - Dark garnet, classic "mineral" Haut-Brion nose. Lovely, at peak.


I enjoy a drop of Port, but I'm far from an aficionado; tasting these glorious items after reaching satiety made it difficult to evaluate them competently, particularly in a room full of cigar smoke, even though I'm sure they were most excellent cigars. With those caveats:

1927 Graham Port - Brilliant ruby. Stone fruits, complex, drying out with age but showing marvelous complexity and balance. A classic.

1945 Graham Port - Dark ruby, perfumed, herbal, complex; sweet, explosive flavor with full acidic "grip" and a pleasant hint of bitterness behind the luscious fruit.

1963 Fonseca Port - Clear cherry red. Heady floral notes, a whiff of anise. Full, solid, still young.

1966 Graham Port - Clear light ruby. Odd but pleasant "damp laundry" notes behind ripe stone fruit. Powerful and sweet, sugar well balanced by a lemon-tart grip; drinking very nicely.