“In this line-up we’re about to taste, there are some frail wines and there are some ripe ones as well,” so says Geoff Kelly as he introduces the 1978 reds Library tasting.
He continues, “Half of these wines are made in a claret or Bordeaux style based on tannins, the other half are the Burgundy or Southern Rhone style with an emphasis on a soft fleshiness and fragrance. Some say the second half is less intellectual but more hedonistic. Although it’s expected that some of that soft fleshiness will be gone after 35 years.”
Let me borrow some more of Geoff’s words as they so eloquently outline the evening: “this is a special tasting. 1978 was a glorious vintage in the Rhone Valley and Burgundy. It’s a year that is still held up as a model that’s scarcely been surpassed. In Bordeaux the vintage was good rather than great.”
“In 1978 brettanomyces was unheard of. Some people will declare these wines to be completely stuffed, that they’re a failure.”
As a group we were asked that if we’re seeing only the failure in the wines, can we please keep it to ourselves. That if we find a wine that at first glance says it’s dead we should just give it some time. to encourage what aromatics that can be found in the glass.
From the introductory notes, the highlights for the evening include:
- three elegant southern Rhones, one of which Jancis Robinson marks 19
- a rare opportunity to taste Ch Margaux and Ch Palmer alongside each other
- a chance to taste the 1978 Domaine Vieux Telegraphe, of which there were only ever 830 cases.
Napa Valley, California
1978 Cuvaison Cabernet Sauvignon
This was the top wine of the night for me and four others. The colour really stands out. It was one of the few wines I was willing to take a stab at identifying, although I did get it wrong. I had guessed a Grenache from the Southern Rhone – I was thinking hotter climate. The wine is rather uncomplicated in its expression but it is a captivating wine. The palate shines with big, bright berries, dark plums and cinnamon spice, a soft fleshiness and healthy but aged tannins. The wine still has a nice structure. With the amount of tannin, body and colour still hanging around, the Cuvaison could keep going for years. Others criticised the wine for lacking finesse, being too big. Different strokes for different folks and all that.
1978 Ch Leoville Las Cases, Second Growth, St Julien
A huge hit of green capsicums and a touch of cedar on both the nose and palate for this one. It’s completely bone dry with bitter tannins, there’s too much oak and acid on the wine with not enough fruit. Overall, definitely past its best. They can’t all be greats.
1978 Ch Margaux, First Growth, Margaux
Definitely one of the stand-outs from the night. Plenty of cigar, cedar and vegetal notes with some chocolate but no real fruit or florals. Sharp and powerful, velvety with big colour and big tannins. It’s very similar to the Napa Cab Sauv, but without the clumsiness. Epitomising Bordeaux.
1978 Ch Palmer, Third Growth, Margaux
Starting to see a pattern of green capsicum coming through in many of the wines from the night. The cedar and cassis points at Bordeaux, although this one is rather quiet, closed as they say. Others saw more fruit than me. Light of tannin with aged and stewed fruits, but the fruit deteriorates in the glass.
1978 Ch Montrose, Second Growth, St Estephe
Beetroot, liquorice and stewed cabbage with some rotting oak are the flavours and aromas recorded in my notes. There’s a slight hint of red florals, cassis and cherry. The wine is very aromatic on the nose but it doesn’t last. The palate shows light tannins, sour acidity and water-like light body. The wine isn’t classically tasty, but it remains interesting.
1978 Ch Pichon Lalande, Second Growth, Paulliac
A bit old and stinky. The wine is fruity but with some definite signs of decaying pink florals and plum on the nose and a certain leathery-ness. The palate is fresher and fruitier but with plenty of green capsicum and hints of cigar box notes on the palate. A light body and very light tannins.
1978 Ch Trotanoy, Pomerol
Introduced as one of the top few of Pomerol, this was, unfortunately, my decidedly least favourite wine of the tasting. I was picking up a more tertiary array of aromas and flavours while being a bit stalky and sour, with an old wood character. An interesting hit of menthol to finish the wine off.
1978 Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin
Second wine of the night for me and one other person there, but the least favourite wine for seven in the group. There’s just no pleasing some. Fruity, juicy and fresh – like alcohol soaked cherries mixed with notes of grains or barley. The acidity is still there while being light bodied with low tannins and very pale colouring. Plenty of red fruit and florals on the palate along with a sweet cinnamon spice. I found this to be a rather happy wine. For those who were not so impressed they accused the wine of volatile acidity and that, clumsily, chaptalised sugars were clearly showing.
Southern Rhone Valley, France
1978 Guigal Gigondas
A bit dusty and old with notes of tobacco leaf, cedar and a touch of chocolate. Plenty of red fruits and a soft fleshiness more expected in youth. The wine has no tannin to speak of, a soft palate and the mix of flavours is a little bit different every time I see it, like celery popping up on the taste spectrum unexpectedly. A very handsome wine.
1978 Jaboulet Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Cedres
The wine is making me work, it’s a bit fruity with a nice spiciness to it and a light body. Quite delicate in its profile, but attractive in its simplicity. A very nice silky texture in the mouth. I felt like I missed something as others waxed lyrical
1978 Dom. Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Cedar and cigars again. And once more the wine is making me work. It’s a bit fruity on the palate. Very, very dry with healthy tannins. It’s fresher and fruitier the longer it’s left in the glass unravelling into more of a big, rich wine akin to a casserole. It really starts to grow on me. I would like to see this again, but sadly it’s no longer available.
1978 Pio Cesare Barolo, Piedmont
A bit lighter on the nose, rather shy. When the wine does start to open up it’s with something oxidised and slightly bitter, although not entirely unpleasant. This expands to include fennel and liquorice. The wine is really trying to speak. There’s higher tannins than the first two in the line-up (the Burgundian and the Ch Margaux), they’re not huge though. It’s lighter and brighter while showing aged, decaying or dying florals and a surprising length. It’s rather nice on the palate