An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 1

This week is the UGC (Union des Grands Crus) Tasting in Bordeaux. A multitude of industry professionals will descend upon Bordeaux to taste barrel samples of the highly acclaimed 2009 vintage. While we're preparing to make our first offer of Bordeaux futures from the 2009 vintage available to you soon, we have called upon Master of Wine and Bordeaux expert, Anthony Foster, to write up some memorable vintages over the past two decades. Next week we hope to have a write up from him on the 2009 vintage as he'll be tromping from chateau to chateau to taste through this fantastic vintage with Rich, our CEO and Mike, our founder. Until then, here is a write up on 1990.

From Anthony Foster, MW:
A combination of climate change and improved wine making skills has made it possible to produce a perfectly acceptable Bordeaux year after year. Decades like the sixties, which boasted – I am not sure that is the right word – no less than three absolute disastrous vintages (1963, 1965 and 1968) and the seventies, which were not much better, are hopefully a thing of the past. The nineties and now the noughties have seen good vintages year after year, with some icons amongst them. I now want to address these icons and have selected 1990, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003. I have already reported on the current state of the 2005’s, which are being compared to the 2009’s. Incidentally the latter is already being feted as the vintage of the century!

1990 produced rich, intense wines ideal for laying down from across the Bordeaux communes, both left and right banks. Like many of the great vintages for Bordeaux, 1990 was a hot, dry and sunny year. It coincided with a period of World recession which affected opening prices when they were declared in 1991.

July and August were near record-breaking months for the region with the following months remaining relatively dry. There was some rain in September, which was much needed in a country where irrigation is not permitted. The rains allowed the water-stressed vines to recommence metabolism, which had shut down in the heat, and thus continue ripening the grapes. The vast majority of estates harvested a bumper crop of ripe, healthy grapes, and some fine wines were in the making.

The vintage was a success across all communes of the region, with only a few chateaux turning in a disappointing wine. The left bank was perhaps a little stronger than the right, but the differences are minor. Many of the red wines have a roasted or baked quality, representing the torrid sun under which the grapes ripened. The red wines had ripe tannins and low acidity.

So how are the 1990’s showing up now? Well a quick overview suggests that the top wines are in great shape while the smaller wines are beginning to dry out. After twenty years that is not surprising. The famous names, such as the first growths of the Medoc, are wonderful, full of lively fruit within the layers of complexity. I quote from a 2009 tasting note of Ch Latour 1990; “The wine was fresh, with that classic cigar box nose and a complex palate that showed tobacco, spice, and some macerated fruits. The finish was spectacular.”

As for value, well Ch Latour and the other first growths have increased in value by as much as ten times since their release. For those who had the money following that recession, and who invested in 1990 en primeur, and who still hold stock of these wines, have done very well for themselves.

If you have any questions regarding availability or prices of the 1990 vintage in Bordeaux. please contact our team at finewine@wine.com.

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