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May Cause Price Increases for 1981, 1982 and 1983 Vintages : 1984 Bordeaux Red Wines Are Average Quality, Characterized as 'Useful'

January 02, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

The 1984 vintage for the red wines of Bordeaux will be characterized by most wine authorities as useful, a term generally reserved for a harvest that produces wine of average quality that is neither the best nor the worst. If prices are reasonable, even low, then the vintage becomes even more useful for those who enjoy a decent bottle of claret while awaiting a more successful harvest.

The problem with 1984 is not so much the quality of vintage but rather what cost consequences it creates for the recent vintages of 1981, 1982 and 1983, all considered to be good, with 1982 as spectacular. The year 1984 will surely make those prices rise, which is a matter of concern for all wine drinkers.

If the Bordeaux vintners and their agents are smart, the 1984 wines, except for some of the major Grand Cru Classe Chateaux, will be priced in the $10-to-$15 range, and in many cases less. If that is not the case, some well-known claret labels may languish on wine shop shelves.

Climatically the vines could have fared better. After a cold late winter with average rainfall, the month of April was exceptionally mild with above normal temperatures. Rainfall was 70% below average, and there was plenty of sunshine. May was rainy with 25% less sunshine than normal, whereas June conditions were average. July and August featured above average temperatures and plenty of sunshine, and September was divided into two periods. The first half was normal but colder than average, and the second half was unusually rainy.

Growth of the Grapes Slowed

Two major problems occurred. One, because of relatively poor weather in May, the growth of the grapes slowed and resulted in a problem described in French as coulure , which is the failure of the fertilization of the flowers through the loss of pollen. Merlot and Cabernet-Franc grapes were especially affected, while Cabernet Sauvignon fared somewhat better since it flowers a bit later. White wine grapes suffered no special problem.

The second major problem occurred during October when Bordeaux was struck by a cyclone early in the month. Primarily hit were crops along the Atlantic Coast such as oysters, corn and sunflowers. There are those who believe the vines were not affected, although harvesting was temporarily halted when the soil was drenched.

Also believed is that the cyclone helped preserve the claret crop in that clouds were swept away by violent winds, resulting in the Bordeaux region enjoying fine weather for the harvest. Some vintners suggest the cyclone saved the crop.

Saved or not, the wines generally are thin, light structured, not intensely flavored but with adequate fruit and even some aging ability to make for attractive, mellow, soft, early-to-drink wine. As a vintage, it is far superior to 1977 and 1980, both classed as poor vintages.

The total crop for better appellation red wine is more than 50 million gallons, down 39% from 1983, whereas the white wines (sweet and dry) at 23 million gallons are down by only 1%. If Bordeaux must sustain a small crop as this, then it is best that it not be a great one.

Too Early To Comment

The 1985 crop apparently is much more successful. There were no coulure problems with relatively good climatic conditions throughout the growing and flowering seasons and a harvest that some described as perfect. By contrast to '84, 102 million gallons of red wine were produced, a rather sizable crop, which may serve to bring and keep prices down, provided there is no stampede to buy. Early prognosticators are suggesting it may be as good as '82, which is too premature a comment.

At a tasting recently of a delegation of Bordeaux wine producers representing the Union Des Grands Crus De Bordeaux, many of the barrel samples showed characteristically of the vintage. Several showed extremely well. Best of the bunch were Chateaux Cos-D'Estournel, Montrose and Giscours.

Cos (St. Estephe) supplied an attractive one-dimensional aroma, with flavor intensity and structure apparently better than the vintage, together with requisite power to age. Montrose (St. Estephe) showed more delicacy in nose, also a big structure for the vintage, good lingering ability and style and perhaps the best fruit of all. Aging potential is higher here. Giscours (Margaux) reflected a very light nose that is just beginning to develop, and a rather bold, strong structure with fine flavor intensity. It should age well, but quickly.

Also showing well is Pichon-Longueville-Comesse De Lalande (Pauillac) with a splendid floral style, Cabernet-Merlot, nose delicacy and good supple structure with fine flavor intensity. It showed the most elegant of all with only a hint of wood showing.

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