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james suckling uncorked

The Power of Pichon-Lalande


Posted: Oct 16, 2006 4:25pm ET

I went to a vertical tasting of Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande in London a few weeks ago. London wine merchants Farr Vintners organized the event and Gildas d’Ollone, general manager of the estate, was there. And I was just thinking that I never posted anything. So here it is.

I think that Pichon-Lalande is like many top estates in Bordeaux at the moment. I believe that the best wines are being made today and their history of great winemaking has been since the 1982 vintage. A few specific things also come to mind from the tasting of the second-growth Pauillac:

1. The 2003 was more structured and powerful than I remember. I think that a lot of the top wines from the vintage are closing up and showing that they are built for aging. It is a classic vintage, especially for the Médoc.

2. The 1995 is better than the 1996, but just by an inch or two. It is more closed now but shows more richness and power in the end. In most cases, this is also true—1995 is superior to 1996 on the whole. Stay tuned for a story in the mag.

3. The 1989 is a bombshell. It is a beautiful wine with lots of everything. D’Ollone says the wine is the “new” 1982. Oui monsieur!

4. The 1986 is a gorgeous wine that many Bordeaux lovers have forgotten about. Get a bottle. It is the new 1983 for me. The 1983 was always close in quality to the 1982 but a fraction of the price.

5. The 1982 is always a treat to drink. It is so beautiful, so wonderful. It is one of Pichon-Lalande’s benchmarks.

Here are my notes from the non-blind tasting:

2004: Gorgeous aromas of currant and berries with hints of spice. Medium- to full-bodied, with fine tannins and a balanced finish. Spicy, racy and refined. Best after 2008. 90 points.

2003: This is even better than I remember. Gorgeous aromas of crushed raspberry, chocolate and vanilla. Full-bodied and very, very structured with big and chewy tannins. Tight and powerful. This is built for aging. Best after 2012. 94 points.

2000: Intense aromas of crushed berries, with hints of spices, cedar and tobacco. Full-bodied, with silky, velvety tannins and a long, rich finish. So beautiful and so long. This is really exciting. Best after 2012. 96 points.

1996: Open aromas of blackberries and chocolate with hints of cedar. Full-bodied, round and delicious with velvety tannins. Starting to come around. Drink now. 92 points.

1995: This still needs a couple of years but it’s a beauty. Very perfumed, with hints of currants and lightly toasted oak. Extremely perfumed. Full-bodied, chewy and compacted. Tight and not giving it all yet but it will come around. Best after 2008. 93 points.

1994: Like most 1994s, this is on the way down. Blackberry, currant and fresh herbs. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins and a medium finish. Drying out a little now. Drink now. 87 points.

1990: This is not as exciting as I remember. But it’s outstanding. Seductive wine with blackberry, licorice and raspberry aromas. Full-bodied, yet racy and silky with lovely fruit and a long, long finish. Showing well now but will improve with age. Drink now. 92 points.

1989: This gets better and better. Amazing aromas of crushed fruits and berries with minty undertones. Full-bodied, with velvety and rich tannins and a long, long finish. Seductive and exciting. Superb wine. 95 points. Drink now.

1988: Starting to fade. Mint, cedar and blackberry with hints of licorice on the nose. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins and a fine fruity finish. Starting to dry a bit. Not sure if this is from a good bottle or the wine is going down? 88 points. Drink now.

1986: What a pretty bottle. Fabulous aromas of currant, mineral and blackberry. Superperfumed. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a light earth, berry and chocolate character. Long finish. 95 points. Drink now.

1982: This is legendary quality for the estate and this bottle proves it. This is so exotic and voluptuous. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, long finish. Shows coffee, berry, chocolate, and wild fruit character. So long. So exicting. 97 points. Drink now.

Colin Haggerty
La Jolla, California —  October 16, 2006 8:17pm ET
James-Great post. I have cellared Pichon-Lalande for many years, and accordingly have tasted the wines serially on numerous occasions. My palate is very close to yours with respect to these vintages. I was interested to read your take on the '90. My impression is very similar to yours. While it is not the absolute best Pichon-Lalande that I have had, it is certainly a nice wine and (IMHO) is not the flawed wine that is described in a different publication.
Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  October 17, 2006 9:16am ET
I was the sommelier a few years back at a tasting of 53 vintages of Pichon-Lalande here in Nashville, moderated by May de Lanquessang. The highlight of the tasting was listening to her talk about her family helping hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Of course, many of the wines were spectacular, especially the 1982 which I considered a 100 point wine on that day.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  October 19, 2006 3:34pm ET
Aaahhh...Pichon Lalande. I vividly remember my first whiff of 1982--a glass sent over from a friend at a restaurant. I refused to drink it for a while because it just smelled so wonderful. Then I had the 1990 at a NYC fine dining establishment on a night out with the wife. Luckily, I have a 1989 in my cellar, which I cannot wait to drink...someday (sooner rather than later based on your report?). My buddy has a 1995, which we're going to taste side by side with my 1995 Reserve de la Comtesse--just to see the difference. Thanks for the interesting post.

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