Wellington is indeed a small town. In the week or so since tasting the 1975 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard and the 1975 Chateau Lafite Rothschild I’ve been told more than once how oxidised, brett tainted and cork tainted the flight was. And this was from people who weren’t even at the event.
For those who only saw a dozen old fault riddled wines, they need to look again. One or two are past their prime, but most still have more to give and are an interesting study on aged Bordeaux blends from the old and new world.
Reading through the historical notes provided on the individual wines, 1975 was a hugely tannic year. One of the benefits of attending a tasting led by someone who remembers 1975 (I had yet to join this world at that stage) the historic perspective can be applied. Red wines of the 70s were lighter than what’s currently fashionable, the seasons were cooler, cropping rates greater, ripeness was a challenge. All good things to remember when tasting 45-year-old wines.
The overall impression on these wines was a contrast of elegance versus size, the French had a smaller size of fruit in the wines, while the new world wines retained a bigness of fruit.
Of anecdotal interest, at these library tastings we’re always asked to rate our top, second and least favourite wines. We’re also asked to put a hand up for where we thing the wine is from. The 1975 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard was the clear crowd favourite, it was also the wine most people thought was the Lafite.
For another view on the wines, as well as details on how the wines were prepared for presentation, I’ll direct you to the very thorough notes from the presenter, Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews.
There is a part two to this, a more affordable look at 75s, including some New Zealand wines coming up in a couple weeks in Wellington.
1975 Stanley Leasingham Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 49
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec.
A highly-regarded and expensive wine at the time that showed what was a new craze for new oak in the New World.
This wine was a beast for its first 20 years; even now it lacks subtlety. Alive and drinkable 45 years on, there’s more on the palate than the nose.
Faded cassis, crushed violets and chestnuts are all still showing on the nose. A big mouthful of fruit the wine is big, round and plush. The acidity still sharp. The wine is rounded out with a floral vanillin component and a fresh spearmint quality the weaves itself through the whole experience. The presence of oak is still rather prominent.
1975 Wolf Blass Cab Sauv/Shiraz Watson Trophy
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz
Barrel fermented. 60% of the wine was in American oak, 40% in Nevers hogsheads.
Creamy and supple while being fruity and elegant. The dessicated coconut character from the new American oak is overwhelming. The whole wine is infused with a sweet essence. By the end of the evening it was showing as a tropical rum punch.
Putting the coconut aside, vanilla jumps out along with a sweet tobacco leaf, jersey caramel and a lacing of white florals. Not much in the way of primary fruit remains.
40 years on the wine is still harmonious, although there is nothing subtle about it at all.
1975 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
The Napa wines of the 70s were famous for intense berry and mint on the bouquet, sometimes verging on eucalyptus.
This wine is bigger, richer, younger and tougher than the rest of the lineup. It was artfully placed as the final wine in the flight to prevent it bowling over all others. This is definitely the only wine that can escape being labelled tired.
Cassis and plum fruit are still present and primary, giving the wine a fresh, ripe and dense character. Sweet American oak comes through with vanilla bean and bits of sweet spice. There’s an array of meaty, savoury and cedar notes, a herbaceous thread and a flinty finish.
Others in the group insisted that the wine was corked. And although it was slightly tainted, it was nothing that couldn’t be overlooked. It’s all about perspective.
1975 Sonoma Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
(now Rodney Strong) No historic notes for this wine were provided.
There’s clear Cabernet styling on this wine with moderate oak coming across as cigar character and a still noticeable acidity. Deep, jammy red fruits with cassis and violets still showing, even if it’s all decaying.
The wine has a gritty feel to it, something a bit stalky and vegetal, as well as a pleasing liquorice note. The nose fades and the wine finishes short and soapy.
1975 Ch Branaire
(now Branaire-Ducru) 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot
In 1991 Robert Parker commented on the ‘underrated, undervalued’ status of the producer, citing their 1975, 1976 and 1982 vintages as support for changing this perception. In 1998 he said the ‘Branaire-Ducru’ has consistently been one of the finest 1975s.
In 2015 there is still a concentrated depth to the wine with very prominent, chewy tannins. The fruit has browned, the once fresh blueberries, cassis and violets are now showing their age, but there’s still enough to provide a pleasant roundness to the wine. The palate shows more savoury characters like toast, cedar and chestnut. The acid is quite flat but this is still a nice little claret.
1975 Ch Lafite Rothschild
According to both Robert Parker and Geoff Kelly there was a clear falling-off in standards at Lafite from 1961 to 1974. The 1975, although not consistent, has been put forward of the mediocre wines that came before it.
Big perfumed fragrance still shows. Plum, cassis and a heap of mint coming through. The palate is much the same as the nose, but showing more chocolate. There is a mustiness that opens the wine – however, it passes quickly. Some at the tasting chose to get distracted by the TCA and missed the more interesting elements. The heat of the alcohol and the zest of the acidity starts to creep in on the finish.
1975 Ch La Lagune
There were no historic notes provided for this wine. This was one of the highlights of the tasting showing plush, exuberant fruit with red berries and black plums and a light streak of liquorice. There’s a bit of bay leaf spice and a whole raft of sweeter chocolate, richer cocoa and rich coffee flavours. The nose is far fresher, the palate shows more of a decaying/browning quality. The one criticism of the wine was the high, sour acidity. The roundness is quite overwhelming for the age of the wine.
1975 Ch Lascombes
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc
Volatile acidity opens the bouquet, but thankfully this wafts off, allowing for an exploration of the umami, balsamic vinegar and bay leaf characters. There is no real freshness to the wine remaining, the plum and berry fruit that is present is clearly decayed. Star anise, vanilla and espresso make up the flavour profile, along with even more bay leaf. The acidity is sharp to start off with; it softens and gets less intrusive in time.
In 1996 Robert Parker listed off a similarly disparate range of aromatics from gingery, spiced tea-like notes and a herbaceous quality, something he labelled as qualities drinkers will either detest or find interesting. The more modern range of umami, sweet spice, espresso and dried fruit can carry a similar label.
1975 Ch Leoville Barton
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot
Clive Coates in 1995 proclaimed this wine to be fully mature, lacking in concentration and strangely one-dimensional. As part of the introductory notes, Geoff Kelly described this one as the archetypal Englishman’s fine claret.
Geoff’s point is made clear as part of the tasting; Clive’s doesn’t ring true. This wine draws the emphasis of the tasting back to fruit, the browning old fruit that you would see in an aged jar of black currant jam. The floral nose contrasts with a meatier, more savoury palate. The oak is subtle and there is a high presence of brettanomyces throughout the wine.
1975 Leoville Las Cases
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
Well reviewed by Jancis Robinson, Clive Coates and Robert Parker. They all agree it’s a good wine. Very fine, in fact.
The wine is remarkably elegant with integrated cassis character. The oak is a lot more cedar than vanilla. There is a youthful quality to the wine and it’s shocking that there’s still fruit present. The fruit is initially blanketed by TCA and there’s some brett on the palate. Sage and eucalyptus round out the experience. This wine is peaking for an old wine even with all its faults.
1975 Ch Lynch Bages
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot
When tasted in the 90s the wine was rich, fat, concentrated.
Sadly this wine is definitely starting to show its age. For the MWs in the group there was nothing but wet rot, cork and old sack. To be fair there was a dusty, chalky, corky, slightly soapy finish on the wine. Fruit was faded and there was something of a dusty smell. But there was also pleasant cinnamon spice and nutmeg with some liquorice and more cinnamon. Coffee and cocoa come through on the palate along with a leafy sage quality. So, old it may be but it’s not entirely dead.
1975 Ch Montrose
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Jancis Robinson has this wine as ‘very impressive’, Clive Coates is less complimentary in his review of ‘not really much class or generosity’ and Robert Parker in 1996 says this ‘behemoth’ is in need of further cellaring.
I would call it sophisticated and powerful. Big and deep in colour with still plenty of fruit. Very plummy, browning of course. Decaying black roses, rather big on tar with plenty of cedar and spearmint. The complexity of the wine deepens in showing graphite, cassis and blackberries. The acid peaks out slightly but for the most part this wine still has a lot to offer