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Gruaud Larose 1978 - 2000


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These are notes from a Commanderie de Bordeaux vertical tasting dinner of Ch. Gruaud Larose.

It has been said that Pauillac wines can be sorted into three classes – the classic, cedary ‘British’ style (many examples), the elegant style (Lafite and Pichon Lalande), and the exotic style (Mouton, Lynch Bages).

This could be said for St. Julien as well, and one would place Las Cases in group #1, cedary British, Ducru and Beychevelle in group #2, and Talbot and Gruaud Larose in group 3 – the ones that tend to exhibit tar, spice, and animal elements and are often brawny wines that need extended ageing. It was interesting to have the chance to taste traditional vintages against young vintages to assess possible changes in style.

We started with 1995 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve with some amuses bouches, and I found it to be very pleasant with a lemony nose and hint of terminal sweetness.

1998 Pavillon Blanc du Ch. Margaux – a surprising amount of oak in this wine, exhibited both in the toasty nose and on palate. The wine carried it off well, though, being sweet, juicy and well balanced. A very good bottle.

Served with grilled Atlantic scallops beside coconut flavoured seafood ‘cappuccino’ in demitasse.

We then started into the Gruaud with the younger vintages, served with a terrine of venison:

2000 – yes, infanticide, but with the high ideal of scholarly investigation in mind, I silently pardoned myself and dug in. Though quite dark, it wasn’t huge in body, and while there was good depth in the nose, it was still rather simple and undifferentiated as one would expect in a wine of this age – primary fruit, and absolutely no gaminess or leather as one expects from experience with older vintages. Lots of new oak and lots of tannin, though soft, and abundant fruit – this should develop into a very good wine, though I came to doubt that it would ever be very much like the Gruaud Larose of old.

1998 – another dark wine, the fruit a tad sweeter on palate, but with a higher acidity that gave a leaner impression, and a hint of dill. I think that this one will drink best early.

With spiced pheasant breast with red kurri squash ravioli:

1989 – good colour to the rim. A lot of spice in the nose, good acid and the tannins soft – no rush here, but it drinks well now.

1988 – the surprise of this flight – wonderful nose, excellent balance, ready and harmonious with nice sweetness and fruit – not what one expects from this rather neglected vintage! Best of flight.

1983 – more gaminess in this nose, and the tannin fairly prominent for the vintage. Good acidity and good length. A more compact wine than many 83s.

Pity they couldn’t round up some of the excellent 1990 to taste with the 88 and 89!

With Achiote spiced Fraser Valley duck breast:

1981 – probably the biggest surprise so far. Wonderful nose of cedar and plum, balanced, harmonious and perfectly ready to drink. I believe you can still pick this up at lower prices than the 82 and 83 – a bargain, and the best wine so far, with the 88 a runner-up.

1979 – I always enjoy a mature Bordeaux nose and so was delighted with this one, all cedar and dark fruit. No tannins left, smooth on palate and drinking well, but don’t hold.

1978 – while this wine had a nose that was slightly better than the excellent 1979, there was a slight vegetal element that some would like and others would not. Mellow wine, but it finished a bit short. We all agreed that the 79 was superior.

With truffled lamb ribeye:

1986 – still a big, dark brute of a wine with huge tannin and acid, the flavours largely undifferentiated, but you can see that the quality is there, much in the stamp of the 86 Mouton, but that wine is showing more than this backward beast is at this point. If you have it, lose it in the cellar for another decade! Am I ever glad that I cellared some of this – and unhappy I didn’t buy more.

1985 – as one expects from this year, the wine was forward and attractive, soft in the mouth and drinking at peak now. Very nice.

1982 – this one would give pause if tasted blind, for the structure is larger than most 82s and the tannins still harder – I think I’d be floundering around guessing several years younger. The wine is absolutely wonderful – it has amazing weight, impeccable balance, and abundant tannins. The nose showed the expected leather and ripe fruit elements and perhaps a shot of cocoa as well. I wish I had a case of this to taste beside the 1986 over the next 20 years!

We finished with:

1997 Ch. Suduiraut – sweet melon and pineapple nose, not too sweet on palate, very tasty with good acidity. My first taste of a wine that should last well.

Conclusions?

Our Maitre asked the question – did we consider that Gruaud Larose merited it’s second growth status? My answer was undoubtedly yes. There was the consistency in all years, the ability to show well in slightly weaker vintages like 1981, and the ability to perform at what was really first growth levels in excellent vintages like 1982 and 1986.

I have a small stash of 1975, which I intend to drink beside the 1975 Las Cases over the next few years while I muse about what a shame it is that younger wine fans will never have the chance to enjoy these finally drinkable monsters of old. The style of the wine has changed, I fear, and the young examples from the 90s, while very good wines are no longer made, it seems, in the old style.

Unlike many Bordeaux, traditional Gruaud seems to mature at about the age of 15 years in good vintages, and 15 – 25 in great vintages. It is possible that future great vintages may emulate that record, but at this point it seems doubtful. I must say that I am a big fan of the likes of Gruaud and Talbot, even though they are not often accused of being elegant…..impressive wines.

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Great notes. Where was this held? I have some older and newer G-L's. Your notes are helpful in helping me decide whether to hold them or drink them.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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