There's a lot of speculation about the ageability of wines picked very ripe and made to be approachable at an early age. The 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, the product of a hot growing season, provides a good test for this "new" style, which favors opulence over structure.
In early March, I had the pleasure of tasting six top 1982 Bordeaux at Bayard's, an excellent restaurant in New York City. Based on this small sample, I can report that ripeness is perfectly compatible with ageability.
Bayard's, which occupies a 19th-century mansion near Wall Street, is owned by Harry Poulakakos and his son, Peter. They started with Harry's, a steak house that used to occupy the building's basement, where they built an exceptional wine cellar, deep in California Cabernets and classified-growth Bordeaux. The cellar now supplies Best of Award of Excellence winner Bayard's, which is situated on the upper floors of the same building.
Harry bought great vintages in large quantities on release and stored the wines in ideal conditions. He's still got amazing depth and recently decided to pull a few bottles of 1982 Bordeaux to see how they were doing. He asked his chef, Eberhard Müller (formerly of Le Bernadin and Lutèce), to create a menu, and quickly sold out 16 seats at $1,200 each. I was privileged to attend.
We started with Gruaud-Larose and a pastry filled with chopped duck and black truffles, swathed in a truffle sauce. The wine showed the château's typical character—a bit barnyardy but rich—with licorice and tobacco notes. It still had grip, but was a bit short on the finish and should be drunk now. The dish improved it; the truffles overrode the earthiness and brought out a lovely cherry note. I rated it 89 points.
The next wine was Cheval-Blanc, served with sautéed turbotin, a firm white fish, garnished with deep-fried shallots set in a pool of Bordeaux sauce. The light texture of the fish was a nice match for this elegant, supple red. I loved the roasted cherry fruit and spice flavors but found the wine a bit light. Still, it was fresh and youthful (93 points).
Lafite Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild faced off against grilled squab set on sautéed foie gras. The rich dish rather overwhelmed the Lafite, a firm, restrained wine with characteristic notes of lead pencil and mineral and the most acidity of any of the wines served during the meal (93). The Mouton, on the other hand, dominated both the food and the Lafite. It was powerful, with immense structure, and packed with plum, cassis, iron and chocolate flavors. I'd give it another 10 years (97).
Dry-aged strip steak with a gratin of potato and celery was paired with the final two reds, Margaux and Latour. The toothsome meat was gamy, with a mineral tang—a perfect foil for these big wines. The Margaux, a muscular wine that remained elegant all the way through, sang with berry, floral and mineral flavors (95). The Latour was massive and introverted, with dark flavors of roasted plum, coffee and licorice masked by hard tannins. It is obviously a great wine, but tough to evaluate right now (95+?).
All the wines were still fresh and firm, with dark colors and lots of primary fruit. Only the Gruaud-Larose was truly mature; all the others will benefit from up to 20 more years of aging, and the Latour and Mouton should not really be touched for another five years.
I did find that the wines were a bit tough and brooding on their own. The fruit flavors were there, but shy, while the tannins were still firm, even tough, and the complexities of true maturity had yet to emerge. They were significantly improved by the food, which Müller had designed to support and complement—rather than overshadow—the wines.
The dinner made me wish I had a stash of 1982 in my own cellar. It also made me appreciate the foresight and conviction of Harry and Peter Poulakakos, who believed in the wines and still offer them to diners who appreciate what only time can grant: the character of great mature claret.