Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

Conclusions from the tasting:
The Invitation implied that the vintage was not the greatest,  but some of the labels gave us a reasonable chance of sampling ‘interesting’ 40-year-old bordeaux … including some wines which few people can afford nowadays.  Thus it turned out to be.  So the first thing to say is,  that from a careful cellar in cool-temperate Wellington,  these 1979 wines are at full stretch.  In a warmer climate such as Auckland,  they would be critically older and less pleasing.  The best of the wines illustrated that good wine doesn't really ever become bad (unless the cork fails):  like some people at least,  good wine just becomes older and frailer,  but still nice to be around,  and whether you like it or not is more a function of the the individual's tasting experience,  than of the wine itself.  

Yes,  as examples of claret,  these 1979s distinctly reflected a much smaller scale of wine better suited to subtle food,  such as the British particularly have traditionally appreciated.  Such wines are now described as ‘classic’ in style,  rather than contemporary … the degree of patronising depending on the author.  Nearly all of them would still be eminently enjoyable,  with the right dish.  The problem is,  these days too many people drink only current-vintage and thus often raw wine … and the gentle mellowness of wines such as these is too foreign to be accepted.  There is only one remedy to this dilemma.

Though you are not allowed to say so,  the fact is,  too many of the over-ripe,  over-alcoholic,  over-oaked wines of the recent-modern approach do not enhance food.  They compete with it.  Happily,  this Americanisation of claret (that bigger is better) has passed its peak,  and lower alcohols,  fresher acid balances,  and greater inherent subtlety,  are now again the goal in France.  And not only in Bordeaux.  That is not always the case,  unfortunately,  in some warmer-climate countries.  Given global warming,  it seems safe to say that we will not be returning to wines as ‘classical’ and small-scale as those of the 1970s,  in the foreseeable future.  These 1979s therefore gave us a pleasant sampling and reminiscence of an era now past.

Though 1979 now has a modest reputation amongst wine people grown accustomed to the bigger,  riper,  and softer wines of the latter-day era,  nonetheless,  any of these better six wines in this tasting would still be a pleasure to have at table.  From the left,  1979 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon,  still surprisingly youthful in appearance,  altogether a bigger and more flavoursome wine,  17.5;  1979 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste,  the opposite extreme,  ethereal cedar,  browning berry and gossamer harmony all through,  too subtle for some tasters,  17.5;  1979 Ch Palmer,  fragrant merlot dominant here,  a gentle wine,  much lighter than its near-neigbour Ch Margaux,  17.5 +;  1979 Ch Leoville Las Cases younger than some of the clarets,  more clearly cabernet-dominant and clearly cassisy,  not as perfectly ripe as some,  17.5 +;  1979 Sassicaia very clearly cabernet-dominant,  a bolder wine with obvious berry and oak,  not quite the magical subtlety of the better bordeaux,  but not to be ignored,  18;  and finally Ch Margaux itself,  clearly the most compete and elegant of the bordeaux,  sweetly-fruited,  no hints of decline … but still the wine of a smaller year,  hence the score 18 +.

The 1979 Vintage:
For the seven Bordeaux in our 1979 tasting,  there is not much point in re-inventing the wheel.  In London they are so much closer to the action:  the following account of the 1979 vintage in Bordeaux is reproduced from Decanter:

Weather Conditions:  The extremely wet conditions of winter lasted well into spring, although conditions improved in time for a successful flowering. Little rain fell during July and August, and temperatures were low. September fared little better. The result was an abundant crop of poorly ripened grapes.
Best Appellations:  This was the third October vintage on the trot, and the largest vintage of the decade, setting a new record for the quantity of red AC wine. The wines in general have not fulfilled their early promise, because of the problem of maturing the Cabernets. As a result many wines which promised well when 10 years old have declined and now show rather lean tannins while lacking fruit. Graves produced by far the best wines, which are delicious today, all others … have problems.
Best Producers:  Graves:  superb rich delicious wine from Haut Brion and La Mission, while excellent and perfectly matured wines are to be found from Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly. Margaux:  while many front runners in Medoc have stumbled, Chateau Margaux and Palmer have lasted the course better than most. St.Julien:  Leoville Las Cases and Leoville Barton are probably the best survivors. Pauillac:  some big disappointments here. Lafite, which seemed so promising, has not really gone anywhere, and Pichon Lalande is one of the few vintages in 20 years not to live up to its early promise.

The tasting included three of the wines nominated by Decanter as being in the best shape now:  Ch Margaux,  Ch Palmer,  and Ch Leoville Las Cases.  To set the above Bordeaux comments in context,  see the summary of vintages 1970 – 1990 in Table 1,  below.

Table 1:  The 1979 vintage in context,  paraphrased from the sources shown:  
YearBroadbentRobinson Wine Spectator
1990 ★★★★★  abundant, exciting vintage, well-constituted wines, substantialHot year, alluring wines, many outstanding, velvety texture and  luscious, almost over- ripe97,  Drink:  Opulent, well-structured and harmonious

1989★★★★★  rich, ripe, excellent fruit and tannin balance

Hot year, huge crop of rich, opulent wines, attractive young. Right bank very good98,  Drink:  Bold, dramatic fruit character; tannic and long-aging

1988★★★★  firm well-structured wines, overshadowed 'Classic' in style ie firm and initially a bit austere 93,  Drink:  Racy, fruity wines, with good structure
1987★★ → ★★★  light and attractiveSimple, unexciting, early maturing 76,  Past peak:  Delicate, ripe, yet diluted
1986★★★★  hot summer, huge crop, surprisingly good

Dense, viciously tannic at first. Some may impress in the end … patience 95,  Drink:  Powerful, intense and tannic; best in Médoc

1985 ★★★★★  beautifully balanced wines, some now fading Fragrant wines drank well for years but losing fruit and ripeness now93,  Drink:  Balanced, supple and fruity; defines finesse

1984★  lean, hard wines mostly

70,  Past peak:  Unripe, astringent and dry
1983★★★  appealing, now fading

Good but less concentrated than 1982, many peaked. Margaux district best86,  Drink:  Rich and ripe in fruit and tannins; some overly tannic
1982 ★★★★★  exceptional, but not typical, still good

Legendary, the first of the modern era, concentrated, delicious. The best still fine

95,  Drink:  Intense ripe fruit and generous in style; round tannins. St.-Julien and St.-Emilion stand out
1981★★ → ★★★  in classic style, some fine PomerolsPatchy quality, lack of guts but attractive balance. Now faded82,  Past peak:  Elegant, balanced and charming
1980★  modest, lunch wines78,  Past peak:  Light
1979★★  Left back lacking ripeness, right better

Graceful, suave and well-balanced initially,  should have been drunk83,  Drink:  Supple, fruity and delicate

1978★★★  better than expected, declining now

Saved by perfect autumn. The big left bank names are strongest87,  Drink:  Structured, fleshy and complex

1977–   Worst year of decade

60,  Past peak:  Poor, unripe and acidic
1976★★ → ★★★  hot year, easy but not classic, some charmers80,  Past peak:  Fat, ripe and lacking structure
1975★ → ★★★  good colours, initial promise, now dry and tannic Many overwhelmed by dry tannins. A few Pomerols and Pauillacs are magnificent
85,  Drink:  Hard, tannic. Right bank ripe, rich

1974–   Ungracious wines, avoid

58,  Past peak:  Unripe and diluted
1973★★  at best,  light 68,  Past peak:  Light, diluted
1972 –   Mostly un-ripe, avoid 60,  Past peak:  Acidic, light
1971 ★★★ → ★★★★  Right bank better than Left 83,  Drink:  Large crop; uneven quality. Right bank very good
1970★★★★  quantity and quality, some did not live up to promise

Firm, sturdy wines, very much of their era, have lasted well but now short on flesh 91,  Drink:  Excellent all-around vintage; structured, lots of fruit

For the other districts,  it is not always easy to obtain vintage information.  For Australia,  Halliday's website vintage analysis goes back only to 1987.  Books of the time are loath to rate vintages  … it was still that era when all Australian wines were considered excellent,  and every year was a vintage year.  My recollection as measured by my favourite Victorian winery,  Ch Tahbilk,  is that 1979 was a more than acceptable year.  For California,  Wine Spectator’s excellent vintage charts rate California cabernet-based wines as balanced,  supple and elegant,  but austere (maybe relative to the fine 1978 year),  88,  now past their peak – but by no means the least vintage of the decade.  For Tuscany,  Italy,   the same source considers 1979 one of the better years:  Very balanced, with lovely fruit and ripe tannins,  now past peak,  89.

The Invitation:
Hindsight now tells us that in Bordeaux there were no great years in the entire decade of the 1970s … though the 1970 vintage comes closest – by modern standards on a par with say 1996 or 2011.  1978 and 1979 were a kind of two-some,  1978 great in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley,  and initially praised in Bordeaux … but now seen more as just smallish wines,  pleasantly ripe.  In Bordeaux 1979 is similar,  but in general critically less ripe … though one or two 1979s out-performed.  One of our First Growths is such a wine.  In addition to the two First Growths,  we have two of the undoubted Super-Seconds,  Palmer and Leoville Las Cases.  How many Super-Seconds there are depends on who you talk to,  but these two are on everybody’s list.  

To add interest we have Italy's top bordeaux-blend,  Sassicaia,  initiated by the Marchesi Rocchetta in the late 1940s,  and commercialised in the early 1970s.  Because it did not comply with the regulations (for chianti),  it had to be marketed as Vino da Tavola.  It took the authorities till 1994 however,  to recognise its quality and merit,  and grant it the first single-vineyard DOC.  Sassicaia now tends to be more expensive than all but the better Second Growths.  And then we have three Californian wines,  to compare and contrast.  To better understand the role of cabernet sauvignon and merlot in Bordeaux blends,  we have varietal bottlings from the same Californian winery,  both 1979.  The other outsider in the tasting is a pioneering ‘cool-climate’ nearly-Bordeaux blend from inland and montane cool-zone Victoria … a wine trying to break the Australian mould of over-ripened,  over-oaked,  overly alcoholic reds that prevailed at the time.

Broadbent,  Michael  2002:  Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine.  Harcourt,  560 p. 
Broadbent,  Michael  2003:   Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p. 
Coates,  Clive,  1982:  Claret.  Century Publishing,  London,  424 p.
Coates,  Clive,  2004:  The Wines of Bordeaux.  Weidenfeld & Nicholson,  London,  720 p.
Halliday,  James,  1985:  The Australian Wine Compendium.  Angus & Robertson,  Sydney,  576 p.
Halliday,  James,  1993:  Wine Atlas of California.  Angus & Robertson,  Sydney,  400 p.
Halliday,  James,  2007:  Wine Atlas of Australia.  University of California Press,  Berkeley,  312 p.
Parker,  Robert  1991:  Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  New York,  1026 p. 
Parker,  Robert M.,  2003:   Bordeaux,  Fourth Edition.  Simon & Schuster,  New York,  1244 p. 
www.decanter.com  =  the London-based magazine of the same name,  subscription needed for tasting detail
www.thewinecellarinsider.com =  Jeff Leve
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
www.robertparker.com  = Robert Parker and successors,  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews


Price:  In the ‘admin’ section of the reviews below,  the first value given is the current world price from wine-searcher.  The original price follows in text,  if known.  For tasting notes,  the date given is the actual tasting date (where known),  not the publication date of the source,  as in the References.

Table 2:  Geographic distribution of the wines tasted:
1979 Dry Creek Cab. Sauvignon, Sonoma County
1979 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
1979 Keenan Merlot, Spring Mtn district, Napa V.
1979 Virgin Hills, Kyneton district, Victoria
1979 Ch Figeac, Saint Emilion 1er Grand Cru 'B'
1979 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac 5th Growth
1979 Ch Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac First Growth
1979 Ch Leoville Las Cases, St-Julien 2nd Growth
1979 Ch Margaux, Margaux First Growth
1979 Ch Palmer, Margaux Third Growth
1979 Ch Pichon-Lalande, Saint-Julien 2nd Growth
1979 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Bolgheri

In this photo,  the colours had darkened a little by the time of the photo,  but the wines are still fresh (held on ice).  Nonetheless the gradation of colour,  and the surprising freshness and depth a couple had retained over the 40 years,  came as a surprise to tasters.  Glasses 1 – 6 front row,  7 – 12 behind.  Wines 2 and 6,  the 1979 Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from California,  and the 1979 Sassicaia from Tuscany,  the two lightest.  Wines 5 and 7,  the Pauillacs 1979 Grande Puy Lacoste and 1979 Lafite-Rothschild,  retaining surprising colour for the relative lightness of flavour;  wine 9 the lovely 1979 Ch Margaux,  as good as one could hope for from the vintage;  and then sequestered to a degree at the end,  the two ‘strong’ wines of the tasting,  11 the 1979 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon from California,  and 12 the 1979 Virgin Hills,  from Victoria,  Australia.

1979  Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
1979  Ch Figeac
1979  Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste
1979  Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon
1979   Keenan Merlot
1979  Ch Lafite-Rothschild
  1979   Ch Leoville Las Cases
1979   Ch Margaux
1979  Ch Palmer
1979  Ch Pichon Lalande
1979  Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri
1979  Virgin Hills

Margaux First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $696   [ cork,  53mm;  cepage then approx. CS 50%,  Me 35,  CF 10,  PV 5  planted at 10,000 vines / ha;  from the start of the Mentzelopoulos era in 1977,  Prof Emile Peynaud was appointed as consultant;  cuvaison in oak vats;  18 – 24 months in barrel,  not clear when 100% new oak adopted,  depending on the vintage;  Broadbent,  2002:  a dozen notes from the autumn of 1981, fragrance frequently reiterated. Also flavoury, but the raw '79 tannin hard to get away from: ***;  R. Parker, 1993:  This is a classic Margaux in the sense of its elegance and fragrance. A perfumed bouquet of blackcurrants, minerals, flowers, and smoky oak is persistent. This medium-bodied, rich, elegant wine is one of the less powerful examples of the Mentzelopoulos/Pontallier regime, but it is still concentrated and deep. Fully mature, it is delicious to drink and should continue to evolve gracefully for another 15-20 years: 92;  Coates,  2002:  Quite oaky, certainly concentrated, and almost a little dense on the nose. But very good ripe, rich fruit underneath. Full-bodied, rich, classy, vigorous and opulent. This is certainly a very lovely example. Excellent fruit. Still with bags of life ahead of it. Fine grip. Lovely finish. Complex and classy. Very fine indeed: 19;  www.chateau-margaux.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  one of the fresher wines,  and the third deepest colour.  Right from opening this wine was wonderfully aromatic and nearly floral (still),  berry-rich with clear browning cassis and dark tobacco,  all shaped by fragrant cedary oak.  Flavours in mouth  are clearly sweeter,  riper,  and richer than the other Bordeaux wines,  and the least old too,  lovely fruit lingering on the tongue.  There are no obvious stalks in this wine,  just attractive,  fragrant,  rounded and mature claret flavours.  And unlike the 2016 Bordeaux of the previous night,  the wine smells of berries and cedary oak,  not artefact.  Fully late-mature in 2019,  in a cool climate cellar,  so best enjoyed now while still at or near its recent peak.  The wine’s intrinsic merits did not shine through to the group,  however,  two-only second places.  It is hard to taste for dry extract in older wines,  but this is clearly the richest wine in the set.  GK 08/19

Bolgheri,  Tuscany,  Central Italy:  12.2%;  $573   [ cork,  49mm;  CS 85%,  CF 15;  the following information is summarised from robertparker.com and the Sassicaia website.  First plantings of Bordeaux varietals 1944.  From 1948 to 1967,  the wine remained experimental and private,  the first commercial release being 1968.  It soon became known as the first of the so-called super-Tuscans.  It then had to be labelled Vino da Tavola,  due to its non-conforming cepage.  It was upgraded to DoC Bolgheri Sassicaia in 1994.  This is both the first and the only single-vineyard DoC in Italy farmed by a single producer.  Sassicaia comes mainly from 48 hectares between 100 and 300 m asl,  including Tenuta San Guido's oldest and best vineyards. Planting density then 3,600 to 5,500 plants per hectare.  Fermentation then in s/s,  temperature controlled to max 30-31°,  cuvaison c.12 days.  Elevation:  65% of the wine 21 months in French barriques,  half new,  half second- or third-fill;  35% of the wine in Yugoslavian oak,  c.70% of the wood new,  balance second- or third-fill.  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  89;  J. Robinson, 2002  [ Note:  JR has marked 1985 Sassicaia 20 points, admitting to having become ‘lost’ in the wine. ] Definite evolution. Very old. Oxidation. Rather sweet and faded on the palate, but definitely past it on the nose. Lost its concentration of fruit, 14.5;  happily the Parker website has restored the earlier reviews of Sassicaia – great !  The only review is from a recent vertical reported on by Monica Larner,  2017:  ... 1979 Sassicaia delivers a playfully Mediterranean personality that marries this great Tuscan red blend to a concrete sense of territory. You can almost smell those tonnes of wild sage and rosemary that come from the lush green shrubs that grow so thickly along the Tuscan Coast. Those dark herbal notes end with tertiary tones of cured meat, cola and balsam herb. You also sense some of the saltiness that comes thanks to the soft offshore breezes. The wine closes with a spot of candied fruit sweetness that recalls the warm Tuscan sunshine. All these elements contribute to shaping a profound sense of place. To 2022, 89;  present-day production c.16,650 x 9-litre cases;  great detail on website;  www.tenutasanguido.com/eng/sassicaia.html ]
Garnet and ruby,  amber to the edge,  the lightest wine.  This wine too was fragrant and appealing right from decanting,  simpler than the best of the Medocs,  as if more straight cabernet sauvignon,  and the oak showing slightly more.  As it opened up in the glass,  the berry expanded,  both browning cassis and almost portobello mushrooms,  becoming even better on bouquet.  In flavour however the initial impression of oak becomes more noticeable,  and the whole wine seems a whole size bigger than most of the bordeaux,  and not quite so refined.  Palate is very much straight cabernet,  riper too than any of the bordeaux,  the flavour surprisingly long and rich on fruit as well as oak.  Like the Margaux,  fully mature,  best enjoyed now.  For those still holding the wine,  Robinson's bottle was clearly an oxidised one,  in the light of this tasting – good news.  One second-favourite rating.  GK 08/19

Saint-Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $227   [ cork,  50mm;  original price $28.95;  cepage then approx. CS 67%,  Me 17,  CF 13,  PV 3,  planted at 8,000 vines / ha;  cuvaison in oak since 1977;  12 – 24 months in barrel,  at that stage c.33%% new oak,  depending on the vintage;   Leoville Las Cases is one of the undoubted Super-Seconds;  Coates,  1982:  Las-Cases is a full firm wine, the biggest of all St Juliens … since 1959 Las-Cases has been remarkable in its consistency and exhilarating in its quality;  R. Parker,  1993:  This is a lighter-styled Las Cases, with medium body, and an attractively pure, fragrant bouquet of leafy, curranty fruit, minerals, and spicy new oak. Well-etched on the palate, with everything in harmony, this wine displays no signs of fading. Drink it over the next 8-10 years: 87;  Broadbent,  2002:  very impressive from the spring of 1980 to the mid-1980s, after which I noted more pedestrian qualities, cedary but earthy, quite good fruit but, of course, tannic:  **?;  Coates,  2002:  Good vigorous ripe Cabernet nose.  Rather more vigour and depth than the Ducru-Beaucaillou. Plenty of succulence and class. A lovely example. Vigorous. Fullish-bodied. Concentrated as well as ripe. Excellent fruit. First Growth quality. Aristocratic. Very long. Lots of life ahead of it. Not as sweet at the end as Ch Margaux. Very fine: 18.5;  www.domaines-delon.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  one of the less-aged colours,  but below midway in depth.  Freshly opened,  there was a good volume of berry and cedary oak,  impaired by light TCA.  By the time of the tasting,  TCA had not dissipated,  sadly:  six of 20 tasters found it interfered with their appreciation of the wine.  The following day and more particularly two days later,  the wine was transformed,  a freshness and concentration of cassisy berry nearly as rich as the Margaux,  but not quite as sweetly ripe.  Just a trace of stalk.  A perfect bottle would be pretty lovely claret,  but in the classical style and weight of its times.  Fractionally past its prime,  now.  No favourite ratings – a result no doubt influenced by the light TCA,  even if the flaw not identified.  GK 08/19

Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $444   [ cork,  54mm;  original price $30.34;  cepage then approx. CS 45%,  Me 35,  CF 10,  PV 10,  planted at 10,000 vines / ha;  cuvaison in oak vats;  c.21 months in barrel,  45% new;  Ch Palmer is one of the undoubted Super-Seconds;  R. Parker,  1991:  Palmer can often be every bit as profound as any of the first-growths. In vintages such as 1961, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1975, 1983, and 1989 it can be better than many of them. … The style of Palmer’s wine is one characterized by a sensational fragrance and bouquet … The bouquet has the forward fruity richness of a great Pomerol, but the complexity and character of a Margaux.  R. Parker, 1993:  While it is still one of the finest wines of the vintage, it has been slow to completely unfold since its showy days in cask. The wine reveals a ... dusty, earthy component to its otherwise attractive plum, blackcurrant, and licorice-scented nose. Medium-bodied, with excellent concentration and crisp, high acidity, this well-structured, austere style of Palmer ... should be held for another 1-3 years; drink it through the first decade of the next century: 89;  Broadbent,  2002:  Continuing its run of well above average wines. Fleshy ripe fruitiness on both nose and – for a '79 – on palate … [ most recently] … lean,  attenuated, spicy … needs food: ***;  Coates,  2002:  Splendidly concentrated nose. Very good grip. Fullish body. Excellent acidity. Mellow tannins. Still very vigorous. Great class. Excellent. Very lovely finish. Will last for ages: 19;  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  below midway in depth.  This wine had a soft,  fragrant charm to it,  right from opening.  The bouquet is very understated,  however,  and much less aromatic than the Las Cases,  more a case of subtle merlot charm to the fore.  Three acute tasters (one a winemaker) wondered if the understatement was a result of almost-subliminal TCA.  The soft fruits impression is amplified on palate,  a lovely supple tracery of delicate fruit in exquisitely subtle cedary oak,  all much softer than the Las Cases (with its higher percentage of cabernet sauvignon).  Because of the lower aromatics / phenolics,  it seems fractionally riper than Las Cases,  but also not quite as concentrated.  It is light alongside the Margaux,  and now gently declining.  This wine too had two second-favourite votes.  GK 08/19

Napa Valley,  California,  U.S.A.:  13.4%;  $293   [ cork,  50mm;  little information available;  5 km NW of St Helena,  in the Spring Mountain / Mayacamas West Mountains viticultural district,  above the fog zone,  but due to altitude markedly cooler than the Napa Valley floor.  105 km N of San Francisco.  The district is noted for its firm cabernets.  Robert Keenan winery established in 1974,  still a small winery,  production c.14,000 x 9-litre cases.  I wrote to the winery for information,  but they could not be bothered replying to New Zealand.  Wine Spectator,  1999:  ... raw and intense, high in acidity and tannin, with ripe, chewy, rugged plum, currant, earth, cedar and tarry flavors that finish with chewy tannins. This wine isn't fading, so further cellaring might help ... to  2005. 2,950 cases made, 86;  www.keenanwinery.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second-deepest and clearly the freshest of all the wines.  Initially decanted,  the bouquet is big and bold,  a lot of browning cassisy berry and a lot of oak,  with some maybe American,  all much more outspoken than the Bordeaux wines.  By the time of tasting,  berry and oak had harmonised to quite a degree on bouquet,  but in flavour there was simply too much oak.  There was therefore a reminder of Penfolds Bin 707 of the same era – though the Penfolds would be both much more oaky,  and harsher on added acid.  Tasters liked the fact there was more substance to smell and taste here,  eight first-places,  three second.  Yet only two thought it Californian,  at the blind analysis stage – interesting.  I guess people ‘wanted’ it to be the Ch Margaux.  As you do,  in a blind tasting.  The wine is still very much in its prime,  for those who like fully mature cabernet sauvignon.  GK 08/19

Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $125   [ cork,  54mm;  original price c.$26.12;  cepage then approx. CS 70%,  Me 25,  CF 5,  planted at 10,000 vines / ha;  18 – 20 months in barrel,  45 – 55% new depending on the vintage;  Coates,  1981:  Good colour; oaky, quite accessible fruity nose. Medium body, not a lot of tannin. Round, pleasant, quite rich and oaky; elegant St Julien [ sic ! ] style. Still needs 5 or 6 years;  Parker,  1991: … since 1978 Grand-Puy-Lacoste has been making excellent wines;  Parker,  1988:  Quite precocious, with a surprisingly mature bouquet of ripe berry fruit, cedar, spicy oak, and flowers, medium bodied, with soft flavours, a gentle round texture, and pleasant yet short finish … a lighter style than usual; to 1996, 83;  Coates,  2002:  Fine Pauillac nose. Lots of depth and quality. Ripe and classy. Fullish body. Good grip. Just a touch austere, but not lean. Good tannins. Good long, vigorous finish. Fine:  17.5;  www.chateau-grand-puy-lacoste.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  just above midway in depth.  Subtlety is the key word here,  a gentle impression of fading berry,  plus pure cedary oak,  attractive but elusive.  Palate has a surprising degree of berry ripeness,  no hint of stalks at all,  a lovely harmony of fading berry and clean cedary oak,  petite but attractive.  A perfect example of how lovely even old light claret can be,  and very appealing with subtle foods.  It was however a little too understated for the group,  no votes at all.  The wine is fading,  but beautifully.  GK 08/19

Pauillac Second Growth,   Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $210   [ cork,  52mm;  cepage then approx. CS 45%,  Me 35,  CF 12,  PV 8,  planted at 9,000 vines / ha;  18 – 20 months in barrel,  50% new;  Pichon Lalande is ranked by many as a Super-Second;  Coates,  1982:  Good fruit on the nose, fresh and ripe. Medium body, some tannin, quite rich. Good balance.  One of the best 1979s;  R. Parker,  1991:  Another top success for the vintage, and a worthy challenger to the outstanding 1978 … a ripe, full-intensity, cedary, blackcurrant-scented bouquet that in certain bottles seems dominated by an herbaceous character. Quite velvety, rich, and gentle on the palate, and developing quickly, this round, generous, yet stylish and elegant wine has impeccable balance. Now – 1998: 92;  Broadbent,  2002:  [ initially ] … full of crisp fresh fruit and excitement … [ latterly ] … palate more interesting than nose but lack of balance … At best ***;  Coates 2002:  Now perhaps beginning  to lose its vigour. But lovely nevertheless. Mellow, cedary, mulberry and roast chestnuts. But hints that it is thinning out on the nose. Medium-full body. Now mellow. It still has good grip and vigour on the palate. It still has great charm. Excellent harmony and intensity. Lovely: 18.5;  www.pichon-lalande.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  right in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is amazingly fine-grain,  with clear browning cassis but also trace stalk,  on pure cedary oak.  Palate has a clean aromatic sparkle to it,  surprising in a wine at 40 years of age – this refreshing quality reflecting some under-ripeness.  It is less ripe than the Palmer,  but almost as rich.  This wine came across as a familiar and therefore attractive wine style in a New Zealand setting,  with two first-place ratings and five second – the second most favoured wine.  Like the Las Cases,  but a little moreso,  it is moving past its prime,  needing to be finished.  GK 08/19

Pauillac First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $1,185   [ cork,  55mm;  a property in the doldrums in the 1960s through to 1974,  according to Parker,  a new age starting with the 1975 vintage;  cepage then approx. CS 70%,  CF 15,  Me 15,  planted at 7,500 vines / ha;  cuvaison in oak vats;  24 – 30 months in barrel then,  probably not all new as latterly,  details not known;  Coates,  1982:  Lafite has always produced a lighter wine than than the other Pauillac first growths;  Coates,  1981:  (barrel sample)  Good colour, strong new oak taste, underneath quite soft. Elegant, very long. Has a lot of style and balance. Medium body, not a great deal of tannin. Ready in five or six years, perhaps.  Wine Spectator,  1991:  Fruity, deep and firm, filled with plum and cherry, backed by youthful, stiff tannins. Needs time for complexity to develop. Try in 1995, 92;  R Parker,  1997:  I overrated this wine when it was young, and have not been as pleased with its evolution in the bottle. The wine has retained a cool climate high acidity ... the nose has taken on a more vegetal, earthy note to go along with the new oak and sweet red and black currant personality. The wine's crisp acidity keeps its tannic edge aggressive. … Now-2012, 87;  the Lafite website does not go back before the 1985 vintage – seems odd;  www.lafite.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  a hint of amber to the edge,  in the middle for depth.  Initially opened,  this wine had very little to say.  By the time of the tasting,  there was an air of great refinement in the cedary oak,  plus fine-grained and well-browned cassis,  but there was no hiding the stalky notes,  even on bouquet.  Palate retreats even further,  the wine clearly much less ripe than the Grand-Puy-Lacoste from close by in Pauillac,  even though the concentration is comparable.  Again,  because New Zealanders have traditionally been accustomed to a stalky thread in their cabernets (though this is now changing),  two tasters rated this wine their second-favourite,  at the blind stage.  The wine is now fading.  GK 08/19

Napa Valley,  California,  U.S.A.:  13.7%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm.  As for the Cabernet Sauvignon.  No info or reviews for this wine found;  www.keenanwinery.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  below midway in depth.  A big jump in winestyle here,  to a totally different,  softer,  riper,  more ample  kind of bouquet,  well browned bottled plums,  some sultana and glacé fig notes,  and a very different kind of cooperage,  as if some redwood barrels still (in those days).  Palate is fully mature,  richer than the Bordeaux,  the oak coarser,  maybe a touch of added acid,  all a bit leathery.  You gain the impression the wine didn't receive the quality of care that the Cabernet Sauvignon did,  but it is dry to the finish.  All in all,  pretty good at 40 years of age,  fading just a little.  GK 08/19

Sonoma County,  California,  U.S.A.:   – %;  $ –    [ cork,  44mm;  5 km W of Lytton,  near Healdsburg,  Sonoma County,  at the lower somewhat cooler end of the Dry Creek Valley viticultural district,  c.130 km NNW of San Francisco.  Some cooling fogs.  Mean temperature warmest month 20.8° C … for comparison Hastings is 18.9°.  I wrote to the winery for information,  but they too could not be bothered replying to New Zealand.  1979 was the seventh vintage,  the wines at the time CS c.75%,  Me 25,  picked at c.23 Brix,  elevation in small oak,  kind unspecified,  for c.20 months.  Alcohols tended in 13s,  then,  and labels of the time mentioned finesse and elegance,  ‘which greatly complements food’.  Halliday visited in the early 1990s and writes:  To my mind, the red wines of Dry Creek are as exciting as its white wines are boring … [ several reds mentioned ] … all beautifully made and balanced wines, showing stylish use of oak, perfectly balanced tannins and positive fruit flavors in the redcurrant/dark cherry/raspberry spectrum.  No reviews found for wines of that time;  www.drycreekvineyard.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  some amber to the edge,  the second to lightest wine.  Bouquet is soft and ripe / over-ripe,  sweet and fragrant,   suggestions of sultanas and glace figs again,  much more than any browning cassis,  and a level of vanillin suggesting rather more American oak.  This wine too has a touch of the redwood cooperage aroma.  Palate is clearly more varietal than the bouquet,  suggestions of appropriate (old) cabernet sauvignon flavours,  but all very mellow.  The whole wine comes into the easy-drinking category,  with a couple of grams residual,  and the flavour lingering well on the soft vanillin oak.  The nett impression appealed to tasters,  four first places,  and one second,  but even so it's not very good cabernet sauvignon.  GK 08/19

Macedon Ranges,  Victoria,,  Australia:   – %;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  located near Kyneton,  in the Macedon Ranges viticultural district,  95 km NNW of Melbourne,  Victoria.  Halliday states that this is the coolest viticultural zone in mainland Australia.  It was pioneered by the founder of Virgin Hills,  Tom Lazar,  near the settlement of Lauriston,  starting 1968,  first vintage 1973.  Most of the soil parent materials are derived from granite.  Altitude averages 595 metres;  rainfall is 760 mm.  Cepage of this wine is CS dominant,  CF,  Sh,  Ma,  Me.  Halliday (1985) reports on our wine,  tasted in 1982:  Some minty fruit aromas with very well-handled oak.  Palate excellent weight and structure with good length to the minty mid-palate fruit; good acid. An outstanding stylish wine, 18.6 /20;  https://virginhills.com.au ]
Garnet and ruby,  the deepest wine but not the freshest in hue.  Bouquet is dominated by mint,  with nearly a hint of medicinal wintergreen,  pretty well taking it out of contention in an international Bordeaux-blends tasting.  Disappointing.  Below there is very aromatic berry,  nearly cassisy (to the extent one can tell),  and berry dominant over the oak.  The palate likewise is softly,  even beautifully,  oaked,  with surprisingly fresh berry flavours,  but the total acid is unattractively high,  and in one sense the wine tastes nearly sour.  There is no perceptible VA.  Interesting and bolder wine in the set,  which I placed in position 12,  and against the Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon in the blind lineup,  so these two ‘strong’ wines could talk to each other,  somewhat apart from the other 10 more subtle wines.  Again,  the mint going on euc’y aromatics proved familiar and appealing to some tasters,  with two first-places,  and two second-places,  but also interestingly,  four least places.  It is the kind of wine where a second glass might not appeal as much as the first,  due to the added acid,  and euc-derived aromas.  GK 08/19

Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé 'B',  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $336   [ cork,  53mm;  original price c.$20-ish;  cepage then more CS 35,  CF 35,  Me 30,  still trace malbec then,  the blend unusual for the Right Bank,  where merlot usually dominates;  fermentation in s/s,  c.20 months in barrel,  ratio new highish even then,  detail not known;  the chateau was in a lesser patch at the time;  Coates,  1980:  … good full nose, has richness; medium body, not much tannin, nice fruit. A forward wine which perhaps lacks a bit of concentration;  Parker, 1993:  Never an exciting vintage for Figeac, the 1979 is losing its fruit and is on the edge of cracking up and becoming attenuated. ... earthy, herbaceous, smoky aromas followed by a light, diluted wine with some soft, charming fruit, but little depth or length ... an indifferent effort from Figeac. Drink it up, 80;  Neal Martin@RP, 2015:  ... cropped at 6.5 t/ha = 2.6 t/ac [ more a NZ rate ] ... The nose is fully mature with singed leather, dried orange peel and musky scents that are defined, but unlike the 1978, seem a little fatigued. The palate is medium-bodied with a fine thread of acidity, quite ferrous in the mouth with a grainy texture and missing some substance on the mid-palate ... finishes short. It is not a terrible 1979 by any stretch of the imagination ... drink sooner rather than later, 85;  www.chateau-figeac.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  amber to the edge,  yet above midway in depth.  Bouquet on this wine is very different.  It is light,  clean,  fragrant,  but the dominant ‘fruit’ note is sautéed red capsicums plus good cedary oak.  Methoxypyrazines at 40 years of age are remarkably stable.  In mouth there is a remarkable concentration of good redcurrant fruit,  chaptalised I think,  but the wine is much too stalky and under-ripe,  with fragrant methoxypyrazines dominating all.  Finish is long on cedar as well as the sautéed red peppers.  Interesting,  and still worthwhile with capsicum / bell-pepper pizza,  but clearly out of style,  in a ‘claret’ line-up.  It needed a Marlborough cabernet of the same age,  to keep it company.  How things have changed:  such an under-ripe wine would not be bottled as the grand vin,  today.  GK 08/19

Reserve Wines:
1979  Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon,  Napa Valley,  California
1979  Clos du Val Merlot,  Napa Valley,  California
1979  Antinori Tignanello,  Val di Pesa,  Tuscany,  Italy  (Sa dominant,  CS,  CF)
1979  Ch Montrose,  Saint Estephe Second Growth