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Thirty Years Later: 1982 Bordeaux

No single vintage did more to change the world of wine than 1982
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Mar 26, 2012 4:30pm ET

Most of us can point to an instant that changed our wine lives. For some, it's a single bottle that captures the moment (1968 Heitz Martha's Vineyard for me) when a wine transforms into something extraordinary.

There are great moments, and then there are great eras and the benchmark vintages that define them. For me, the vintage that changed everything was 1982.

My early interests in wine focused on California, and one category in particular: Napa Valley Cabernet. It was the gold standard.

The great vintages from the late 1960s and 1970s were benchmarks: 1968, 1970, 1974 and 1978 were among the most distinctive, the kinds of years that inspired passionate debate. They all had one thing in common: ripeness. At the time, a few thought they were a bit overdone; there were also many who preferred, for good reason, the odd-numbered years—1969, 1973, 1975 and 1979—which were cooler vintages marked by softer wines. Either way, these were golden years for Napa Cabernet.

Throughout the 1970s, I was introduced to the other great wines of the world, courtesy of collectors who were happy to show off the gems of their prized cellars. At the time, Bordeaux was considered the greatest wine region in the world. Burgundy lovers were, of course, dissenters, but wines from both regions were considered essential cornerstones in a trophy cellar.

Burgundy was always the more challenging wine. Vintages of that era were spotty, and, as is still the case today, most of the greatest wines are both rare and expensive. Bordeaux, with its volume, was the easier buy, yet aside from the glorious 1966 vintage, most of the years that followed—1970, 1975 or even 1978—didn't excite me, certainly not the way the Napa Cabernets of the era did.

Then along came 1982 in Bordeaux, with the most magnificent outpouring of great wines the world had ever tasted. Odd to think about it today, but it was as if the Bordelais had borrowed a page from the Napa Cabernet script from the 1970s and intentionally picked riper. 1982 Bordeaux was even called a "California vintage."

Odd, too, that at the same point in time, California vintners, hearing complaints from some quarters that their wines were too big, had changed style. "Food wines" were picked at lower sugar levels, with higher acidity and lower alcohol, which reset the stage and set California back a few years.

It's hard to credit one person for Bordeaux's phenomenal turnaround in 1982. But most agree that Emile Peynaud, the famed enologist, inspired the changes that led to a new style of Bordeaux. He preached letting the grapes ripen more fully, rather than be picked for fear of rain. He urged careful selection, both in the vineyard and the cellar; oddly, 1982 produced a bountiful crop in Bordeaux, allowing vintners the opportunity to make even sharper distinctions between their best wines and declassifying, or bottling the lesser lots under second labels.

When the 1982s were poured in the States in 1983, it was a revelation. I have to think that even the winemakers were amazed by what they had achieved. The exchange rate only sweetened the deal. When the 1982s were sold as futures, it was six francs to the U.S. dollar. Château Lafite sold for $41 on release, probably close to $33 as futures; Lynch Bages sold for $13 on release; Le Pin was released at $23 a bottle. Compare that buying power versus today's. Last year, $1 traded against a euro at $1.50.

The 2011 Bordeaux barrel tastings are now getting underway, to be followed by the futures campaign. Could anyone in 1982 have foreseen the record prices reached in last year's en primeur for the 2010 vintage?

1982 was the perfect time for American wine drinkers to invest in Bordeaux in a big way, which is exactly what happened. A lot of the credit for the great 1982 vintage is due to Mr. Peynaud. And the wine world will never be the same.

Tim Wilson
Raleigh, NC —  March 27, 2012 11:48am ET
Thanks James for this article. I always like reading about those special years in the wine industry. I like those prices of 1982 Bordeaux as well! I am looking to see how the 2009 vintage compares to these past vintages. This article brought back memories for me of the 1994 and 1997 vintages in California for Cabernet Sauvignon. I was just beginning to discover wine at that time and a new subscriber to Wine Spectator. I always read your articles first and still do today. Those two years brought a new meaning to me by moving California Cabernet Sauvignon to the top of my list. It still is at the top today. Even though I have greatly increased my taste for many different varietals, I always come back to California Cabernet.
Josh Moser
Sunnyvale, CA —  March 27, 2012 1:13pm ET
Jim – I was a history major in college and I found this post quite interesting. Below is a snapshot of a few of the Left Bank wines from the 1982 and 2000 vintages that are on restaurant wine lists in San Francisco. I included wines from the 2000 vintage b/c I thought it would be interesting to compare. For example, at RN74 the 1982 Gruaud Larose will set you back $690 and the 2000 - $280 (2000 Gruaud Larose $365 at Fifth Floor).

1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild | $11,000 at The French Lanudry

1982 Chateau Latour | $2,500 at Plumed Horse | $4,500 at Gary Danko
2000 Chateau Latour | $2,300 at Spruce | $2,600 at The Village Pub | $3,795 at The French Laundry

1982 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild | $3,750 at The French Laundry | $4,000 at Gary Danko

1982 Chateau Margaux | $1,900 at Plumed Horse | $2,312 at The Village Pub | $2,800 at Gary Danko
2000 Chateau Margaux | $1,495 at Alexander’s Steakhouse Cupertino | $1,900 at Spruce | $2,300 at The Village Pub | $4,200 at The French Laundry

1982 Chateau Haut Brion | $2,600 at Harris’ Restaurant
2000 Chateau Haut Brion | $1,530 at The Village Pub | $2,100 at Spruce

1982 La Mission Haut Brion | $1,795 at Alexander’s Steakhouse Cupertino | $2,500 at Gary Danko | $13,150 IMPERIAL at The Village Pub
2000 La Mission Haut Brion | $1,420 at The Village Pub | $1,576 at Spruce

1982 Chateau Cos D’Estournal | $700 at EPIC Roasthouse | $1,050 at Spruce
2000 Chateau Cos D’Estournal | $445 at RN74 | $453 at EPIC Roasthouse | $530 at The French Laundry

1982 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou | $840 at Spruce
2000 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou | $360 at EPIC | $525 at Harris’ Restaurant

1982 Chateau Gruaud Larose | $690 at RN74
2000 Chateau Gruaud Larose | $280 at RN74 | $365 at Fifth Floor | $400 at The French Laundry

1982 Chateau Leoville Barton | $945 at The French Laundry

1982 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases | $2,150 at The French Laundry
2000 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases | $804 at The Village Pub | $900 at RN74 | $1,096 at Spruce | $1,195 at Alexander’s Steakhouse Cupertino

1982 Chateau Leoville Poyferre | $525 at Cyrus | $630 at RN74

1982 Chateau Montrose | $552 at RN74 | $695 at Alexander’s Steakhouse Cupertino | $851 at Bourbon Steak
2000 Chateau Montrose | $510 at Spruce | $510 at The Village Pub

1982 Chateau Lagrange | $340 at Spruce
2000 Chateau Lagrange | $250 at Alexander’s Steakhouse SF | $295 at Alexander’s Steakhouse Cupertino

1982 Chateau Branaire Ducru | $480 at Spruce
2000 Chateau Branaire Ducru | $286 at Spruce

1982 Chateau Calon Segur | $600 at Cyrus
2000 Chateau Calon Segur | $270 at Spruce

1982 Chateau Duhart Milan Rothschild | $384 at The Village Pub

1982 Chateau Gloria | $260 at The Village Pub

1982 Chateau Palmer | $574 at The Village Pub

1982 Chateau Pontet-Canet | $260 at The Village Pub | $280 at Spruce

Josh Moser
Founder of VinoServant
Breaking Down Restaurant Wine Lists

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