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


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

  1978:  Appalling growing season. At the end of August chateaux owners were in despair. Complete disaster loomed. Then, suddenly, the weather improved with a September blessed with cloudless skies and unbroken ripening sunshine through to the start of harvest just after the first week in October.  It was, in the many times repeated words of Harry Waugh, ‘the year of the miracle’.  But could a last minute reprieve make up for the previous miserable conditions?       Michael Broadbent,  2002

Conclusions from the tasting:
For anyone taking an interest in older bordeaux,  the nett impression one would gather from from the Net is,  that the wines of the ‘70s are now pretty sad,  and almost to be bypassed.  The first thing to say in riposte to that is,  quite simply,  in that era,  claret and bordeaux were not expected to be big,  weighty,  and ‘impressive’ – in the way they are now,  after a whole generation of wine assessment so very much influenced (for better or worse) by the American  obsession with size and ripeness in wine.

The best of these 1978s are simply beautiful wines,  the best of them so fragrant that as the blind bottles passed round the room,  as people poured their 30 ml measure each,  you could see this look of astonishment and delight,  wow,  that wonderful  smell,  on nearly every face.  This is rare,  in any wine tasting.  But by the same token,  even the greatest of these wines is not a ‘big’ wine,  by modern standards.  It fell to the interloper,  Sassicaia,  to  be the sturdy wine of the day.

The top five wines scoring 18 points or more in this tasting.  From the left,  1978 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste,  smaller-scale but showing a wonderful harmony of cassis-led smells and flavours all browning now,  with fragrant cedary oak,  the palate soft and harmonious,  18;  1978 Ch Pichon Lalande,  not quite as  perfectly ripe as the Grand-Puy-Lacoste but a little richer,  very much 'classic claret',  18 +;  1978 Sassicaia,  bigger and riper than any of the bordeaux,  a little burly,  but well-liked,  18.5;  1978 Ch Latour,  a wonderful bouquet showing great ripeness and classic claret style,  still good richness,  fully mature,  a well-liked wine,  18.5 +;  and the top wine for me, 1978 Ch Leoville Las Cases,  an extraordinary volume of bouquet,  followed by perfect mouth-filling ripeness of all varieties,  not the richest wine but the most elegant and complex,  19.

To judge from this tasting,  with wines bought at release and cellared since then in near-ideal ambient under-house conditions in Wellington’s excessively modest climate,  1978 bordeaux are now all à point for drinking, even the most serious labels.  Being not as ripe as wines from modern vintages considered good,  these 1978s present complex and informative bouquets,  adding greatly to the pleasure of assessing them – and drinking them.  Note these bottle are all from the cool Wellington climate.  Auckland bottles (for example) would probably smell and taste considerably older.

Information provided for tasters:
The world was cooler place in 1978,  and the 1970s as a whole were particularly modest in Bordeaux.  Broadbent rated the vintage ***,  a late cool vintage saved by fine weather in later September and October.  He considers 1978 better than 1979.  Robert Parker rates it 87 – 88 mostly,  and 1979 similarly.  In contrast,  the vintage was highly regarded in Burgundy,  the best since 1971,  ***** from Broadbent,  but less from Parker (who wasn't so good with Burgundy),  and if anything the Rhone was more highly regarded,  with the usually understated Broadbent ***** again,  with words like 'astonishing' and 'absolute perfection'.  Parker scored the Rhone Valley 97 – 98,  the highest ratings he has ever given the district – until 2010.  Broadbent has Barolo at ***** too,  and Parker 97.  So there should be some attractive if fully mature aromas and flavours in this set of wines.

Most of the information given to tasters for each wine is now in the italicised ‘admin’ section for each wine.  Where possible in the notes for the wines below,  I have sought to give an early comment,  Broadbent where available,  then for this tasting I am adding in a Clive Coates' assessment,  for though he is not as clinical as I prefer,  he has tasted an enviable amount of Bordeaux !  Then finally,  a Parker summary,  to tap his now magisterial overview of the last 50 years of Bordeaux vintages.  This step has highlighted how very individual and fraught wine-writing is:  in the excerpts which follow,  often there seems no hint they are talking about the same wine.  So the old rule applies:  there are no great wines,  no fixed attributes in wine:  each bottle is itself,  after this passage of time.  So every tasting like this is an adventure,  setting out in the hope that certain bottles will be the very best they could be,  having regard to their age … now 40 years old.

NB:  for nearly all the bordeaux notes,  the Parker views are his thoughts on the youngish wine.  The other reflection that occurred in preparing these notes is:  how few reviews there are on-line now about the 1978 vintage.  Only Parker has comprehensive knowledge of the vintage.  Yet 1978 is not so long ago.  It seems extraordinary that so often,  Wine Spectator (and even Jancis Robinson) have nothing to say,  with all their resources and connections.  A wine friend of mine (in Hong Kong) writes,  in response to the invitation on my website,  how weird it is that good 1978 wines are being offered for public tasting in Wellington,  New Zealand.

Note that for those few wines displaying alcohols,  just how great the change in wine style has been in the last 40 years,  as the American preference for fully-ripe to over-ripe wines came to dominate both consumer taste ... and therefore,  wine-making approaches,  world-wide.  At the same time global warming made it easier to achieve full ripeness or (all too often) over-ripening.  Temperate-climate wine-lovers can only hope the pendulum principle will apply to this issue.  

Broadbent,  Michael  2002:  Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine.  Harcourt,  560 p. 
Coates,  Clive,  2004:  The Wines of Bordeaux.  Weidenfeld & Nicholson,  London,  720 p.
Parker,  Robert  1991:  Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  1026 p. 
Parker,  Robert M.,  2003:   Bordeaux,  Fourth Edition.  Simon & Schuster,  New York,  1244 p. 
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
www.robertparker.com  = Robert Parker and associates,  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews


1978 Ch d’Angludet, Margaux cru bourgeois
1978 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac Fifth Growth
1978 Ch Latour, Pauillac First Growth
1978 Ch Leoville Barton, Saint Julien Second Growth
1978 Ch Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien 2nd Growth
1978 Ch Montrose, Saint-Estephe Second Growth
1978 Ch Palmer, Margaux Third Growth
1978 Ch Pichon Lalande, Pauillac Second Growth
1978 Ch Pontet Canet, Pauillac Second Growth
1978 Pine Ridge Cab. Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa V.
1978 Pio Cesare Barolo, Piedmont
1978 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Tuscany

1978  Ch d’Angludet
1978  Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste
1978  Ch Latour
1978  Ch Leoville Barton
1978  Ch Leoville Las Cases
1978  Ch Montrose
  1978  Ch Palmer
1978  Ch Pichon Lalande
1978  Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
1978  Pio Cesare Barolo
1978  Ch Pontet-Canet
1978  Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri

St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux:,  France:  12.25%;  $332   [ cork;  original price $32.95;  website has the actual cepage for the year,  noting that harvest was completed late,  18 October;  CS 55%,  Me 19,  CF 23 (higher than usual),  PV 3,  average age of the vines c.30 years;  18 months in barrel,  percentage new then not sure,  later was 50 – 100% depending on the quality of the vintage;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Coates,  2000:  Very classy on the nose. This is very lovely. Pure, rich, concentrated Cabernet fruit. Full, composed and aristocratic. This is still very vigorous. Lots of depth. Very lovely fruit. Very long. Very fine indeed, 19;  R. Parker, 1995:  [ Parker re-rated this wine,  initially 93, one of his top wines of the vintage.  To judge from its showing in this tasting,  his follow-up bottle may have been lesser ... ] The nose is more complex and penetrating than the flavors ... classic, mineral, lead pencil, smoky, earthy scents, with plenty of ripe fruit, and none of the vegetal herbaceousness that many 1978s have begun to exhibit. The attack offers good ripeness, medium to full body, higher acidity than many more recent vintages, and considerable tannin in the hard finish. Although this wine possesses outstanding complexity, the high tannin level may never fully melt away. While it will last another 15-20 years, the 1978 is at its apogee and will slowly dry out over the next two decades, 90;  www.domaines-delon.com/en/leoville-chateau_leoville_las_cases_vins.html ]
Ruby and garnet,  a glowing and totally appropriate colour for 40-year-old claret,  the third deepest wine.  This was the wine which,  as it was passed round and poured,  produced an absolutely sensational volume of infinitely beautiful cedar plus berry plus browning cassis aroma.  The strength of this bouquet,  including its near-floral notes (but fading now,  naturally) is unusual,  and not found so easily in the warmer years.  Palate  follows perfectly,  neat,  perfectly shaped,  not weighty but showing pinpoint ripeness of all components.  This  fragrant,  mouth-filling beauty of flavour is something one hopes for in all bordeaux,  and so rarely finds.   Even on the aftertaste,  sweet fruit continues,  still fragrant and nearly aromatic though cabernet sauvignon is a lower percentage than usual,  this year.  Four tasters rated this their top wine,  two their second favourite,  and in contrast to all the other ‘better’ wines,  nobody thought it California or Tuscany,  at all.  It spoke of classic Bordeaux to everybody.  A thrill.  Fully mature,  but no hurry.  GK 10/18

Pauillac First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $927   [ cork;  cepage then approx. CS 80%,  Me 10,  CF 10, planted at 10,000 vines / ha;  17 months in barrel,  85 – 100% new oak depending on the vintage;  harvest not completed till 20 October;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Broadbent,  2002:  Rated equal with Lafite at Penning-Rowsell's '10-year' tasting, but soon to dry out, lacking conviction in the early 1990s **;  Coates,  2000:  Splendidly Latour on the nose. Surprisingly soft on the palate. Fullish, velvety-rich fruit. Very good grip. Above all real breed and complexity. Aristocratic and harmonious. Slightly less voluptuous than Lafite. The structure is more obvious. But this is classier. Very lovely finish. Excellent, 19.5;  Parker,  2000:  Medium garnet-colored with moderate amber at the edge, the 1978 Latour offers a spicy, saddle leather, tobacco, dried herb, earthy nose with sweet fruit trying to poke through. Interestingly, new oak also makes an appearance in the flavors. Medium-bodied, elegant, and fragrant, but possibly beginning to dry out, this fully mature wine requires consumption over the next decade, 90;  www.chateau-latour.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the second deepest wine,  close to the Las Cases but fractionally older.  This was the other great bouquet in the set,  again perfect ripeness of the claret varieties,  nothing pinched.  It is not quite so berry-dominant as the Las Cases,  the cedary oak a little more noticeable.  In flavour one was hard put to know whether the Latour or the Las Cases was the richer wine,  the Latour having a much higher ratio of cabernet sauvignon but also more new oak,  both factors making it hard to be sure.  The main thing is,  like the Las Cases,  this is a lovely balanced example of ripe Bordeaux,  from a year in which that was hard to achieve.  Again,  this wine is fully mature,  but will hold its form probably longer than the Las Cases.  Three people rated Ch Latour their top wine at the blind stage,  and seven their second-favourite.  Intriguingly,  four  thought it could be the Sassicaia.  GK 10/18

Tuscany,  Central Italy:  12.6%;  $1,174   [ cork;  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,  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 22 months in 60% French barriques,  40% Yugoslavian, c.60% of the wood new.  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year, 84;  J. Robinson, 2010  [ Note:  JR has marked 1985 Sassicaia 20 points, admitting to having become "lost" in the wine. ]  Quite a light vintage - made without agronomists or vine management, we were reminded. First bottle pretty oxidised nose. Second bottle apparently lightly oxidised but then it blossomed. But very sweet and rich and slightly high in VA. But sleek and there is much more meat to it than most red bordeaux 1978. Very lively. Flirtatious. Quite high in acidity. But lovely stuff!, 18.5; unfortunately the Parker website now does not show the earlier reviews of Sassicaia,  a new approach I deplore. The only review is from a recent vertical reported on by Monica Larner,  2017: ... the 1978 Sassicaia is another surprise ... The wine delivers a remarkable sense of integrity and fullness with dark fruit, pressed rose and lavender, canned fruit, savory spice, barbecue spice and a sharp touch of sour cherry that grabs your attention at the end. The intensity of the bouquet underlines the warm Tuscan growing conditions and the ease in which optimal ripeness can be achieved in this sun-kissed territory. The fine tannins are folded neatly within the wine's streamlined texture. The 1978 vintage shows strong signs of life, through to 2022, 90;  present-day production c.16,650 x 9-litre cases;  www.tenutasanguido.com/eng/sassicaia.html ]
Ruby more than garnet,  clearly the deepest and most youthful wine.  And bouquet matches the colour impression exactly,  clearly bigger and riper than any of the Bordeaux,  but at the same time,  not so complex,  fragrant,  and nearly floral as the best of them.  The high cabernet sauvignon comes across as clear cassis,  bigger and riper than the other wines but still exciting,  with quite big oak.  In mouth the impression of size on bouquet is instantly confirmed,  nearly a suggestion of Australian ripeness,  almost too much sunshine and new oak,  but it was not apparent if there had been a tartaric acid adjustment,  the finish being gentle and attractive.  The wine is remarkably in-style for the grapes,  but seemed more modern in every respect,  bigger,  riper,  just a little burly.  This confusion of impressions resulted in the wine being top-rated by only one taster,  but no less than eight had it as their second-favourite wine.  In a Bordeaux-themed tasting,  that is an interesting and thoughtful response.  1978 Sassicaia will cellar for another 20 years,  at least,  corks willing.  GK 10/18

Pauillac Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $336   [ cork;  cepage then approx. CS 50%,  Me 35,  PV 8,  CF 7,  planted at 9,000 vines / ha;  18 – 20 months in barrel,  50% new;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Broadbent,  2002:  [ initially] a good, rich, fruity, spicy wine.  [ later ] Like almost all the 1978s, now failing to a certain extent, to live up to expectations … cedary;  correct; sweet mid-palate, but not rich or convincing enough … At best, ****;  Coates,  2000:  very lovely nose. Splendid succulent fruit. Good weight and grip. Still fresh. Fullish body. Very classy fruit. Excellent structure. Rich. Very elegant. Very long. Very intense. Very fine, 19;  R. Parker, 1997:  An excellent 1978 (one of the top wines of the vintage), Pichon-Lalande's offering displays an aromatic profile consisting of roasted herbs, chocolate, cedar, tobacco, and ripe curranty fruit. Medium-bodied, with low acidity, some tannin, and a round, attractive personality, this wine has reached its plateau of maturity, where it should remain for another decade. Anticipated maturity: Now-2007, 92;  website not functional at time of writing;  www.pichon-lalande.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  close in hue to the Las Cases but less rich,  just above midway in depth.  The volume of bouquet nearly matches Las Cases and Latour,  clearly one of the top three bordeaux sensu stricto in the tasting,  very fragrant.  On very close examination,  you wonder if there is slightly more tobacco,  and less cassis-related aromas,  with oak similar to the Las Cases.  Flavour is rich but slightly fresher than the top  wines,  just a hint of less-than-perfect ripeness in the grapes,  not quite so cassisy,  but it would be mean-spirited to say that it is stalky.  It epitomises what is now called ‘the classic claret style’ – which to many people now means under-ripe,  but to others,  simply refreshing.  Four people rated Ch Pichon-Lalande the top wine of the evening.  It is now fully mature,  but should hold this form for some years.  GK 10/18

Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $201   [ cork;  original price c.$22.50;  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;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  no Broadbent notes;  Clive Coates,  2000:  Very youthful. Splendid nose. Excellent fruit. Complex. Very concentrated. Marvellous 'old viney' fruit and harmony. Fullish body. Very profound. Impeccably put together. Very generous. Very fine, 18.5;  R. Parker,  1993:  This is one of the few 1978 Medocs that has not exhibited an increased herbaceousness as it has evolved. The 1978 Grand-Puy-Lacoste remains dark ruby/purple-colored, with a bouquet offering scents of cassis, smoke, and earth. Medium to full-bodied, with fine structure and tannins, this wine combines elegance with authoritative flavors. It is close to maturity, yet it can be cellared for at least 10-12 more years. It may last even longer, 90;  www.chateau-grand-puy-lacoste.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  glowing,  above midway in depth.  The bouquet is glorious classic Grand-Puy-Lacoste,  back in the days when it had a wonderful cedar-led quality to it,  as if it were pure cabernet sauvignon,  but raised in Rioja.  Recent vintages are not quite so distinctive.  Below the cedar is perfectly ripe cabernet,  riper than the Pichon-Lalande,  cassis-led but browning now.  Palate is soft,  round,  harmonious,  fragrant on the cedar yet not oaky,  but somehow not as complex and exciting as the fractionally less-ripe Pichon.  Different people would therefore rate these two wines quite differently,  as to which was the better.  This wine is very much the taste of how things used to be – intriguing.  I placed Grand-Puy-Lacoste first in the blind tasting of 12 wines,  to emphasise the concept of harmony in older wine.  Accordingly,  since it is near-impossible for the first wine in a line-up of 12 to ever be rated the top wine,  there were no top places,  but there were two second.  Fully mature,  but no hurry.  GK 10/18

Margaux Cru Bourgeois,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $183   [ cork;  cepage then approx. CS 60%,  Me 30,  PV 7,  CF 3;  extended cuvaison to 30 days,  12 – 18 months in barrel depending on vintage,  probably less than 30% new then;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  R. Parker, 1990:  The 1978 is fully mature, with a big, spicy, rich, plummy bouquet. This solidly built, relatively fat, intense d'Angludet has shed its tannins and should be consumed. Anticipated maturity: Now, 85;  www.chateau-angludet.fr ]
Ruby and garnet,  above midway in depth.  This wine smells for all the world as if merlot were dominant or nearly so,  a softer,  more plummy,  less aromatic dark red fruits quality,  with gentle cedary oak totally in the background.  Palate is a little less than the bouquet,  good plum fruit with no hint of under-ripeness,  but just a suggestion of plainness relative to the wines rated more highly.  This may simply reflect a lower ratio of new oak.  One person had d’Angludet as their top wine,  and three as their second-favourite – but there were also three people thinking it the least wine.  This observation shines an interesting light on both the other wines in the tasting,  and the wonderful way in which good wines converge / become harder to discriminate  amongst,  when they reach the 40-year point.  Fully mature,  no hurry.  GK 10/18

Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $368   [ cork;  original price c.$35;  actual cepage for the year CS 53%,  Me 40,  CF 5,  PV 2,  planted at 10,000 vines / ha;  c.21 months in barrel,  45% new;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Broadbent,  2002:  A lovely wine and a very good 1978. Seductively rich, ripe, mulberry-like fruit: full, soft and fleshy in its early days. Most recently, sweet, attractive, quite good length and residual tannin and acidity, ****;  R. Parker,  1993:  One of the few stars of this vintage, the 1978 Palmer offers a dark garnet color with some amber at the edge. Its bouquet of dried roasted herbs, spices, and blackcurrants offers considerable fragrance. Full-bodied, lush, and concentrated, with only a vague hint of the weediness that has become such an annoying component of this vintage, this soft, fleshy, corpulent style of Palmer is delicious now and promises to keep for another 10-12 years, 90;  And a recent comment from Neal Martin,  2015 (though from magnum):  1978 Château Palmer has always been a great success for the vintage ... it has a powerful, expressive nose with cedar, sous-bois and cigar-box scents interwoven into the vestiges of black fruit. This is "old school", perhaps the cousin of the magnificent 1966. The palate is medium-bodied and well balanced, hints of spice and cedar, a little dustiness perhaps towards the finish, but overall a convincing Margaux that has far more vigor and length than you would presume. While it is not a renowned vintage for Château Palmer, it's a wine I would jump upon if I found it for sale, 92;  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  below midway in depth.  To judge by other reviews of this wine in recent years,  1978 Palmer should have been one of the highlights of the tasting.  But by the time of the actual presentation,  an almost subliminal TCA note had become apparent – on inquiry,  to two only of 21 tasters.  The wine was still very fragrant,  seemingly merlot-dominant,  with the palate showing a beautiful fine-grained elegance,  with gentlest oak.  But the flavours were short:  a perfect example of a wine scalped by TCA.  One will have to hope the next bottle redeems the wine's reputation.  Even so,  four tasters rated it their top wine of the evening,  and one their second.  A wine at full maturity:  hard to estimate remaining life on this sample,  but likely to be as for the Pichon Lalande.  The score is after 24-hours in the glass,  with 100 mm² of Gladwrap®.  GK 10/18

Piedmont,  Northern Italy:  13.5%;  $404   [ cork;  Ne 100%;  apparently the first year for use of small new wood;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  90;  information is now scarce,  but in a reflective article in 2014 Decanter visited the district,  tasted back through the vintages,  and reported on the 1978s  (including our wine today,  amongst others):  The years since the harvest of 1978 have seen many changes in Piedmont. There has been a proliferation of stainless-steel fermenting tanks (of which there were few in 1978), not to mention the introduction of temperature-controlled fermentation, shortened fermentation and maceration times and the appearance of barriques in the cellars. … Unquestionably a classic, pre-global warming growing season. A cool, rainy spring followed by a cooler than average summer, but capped by a glorious, warm autumn with great diurnal temperature variations. All showed big, funky, mushroom aromas, just turning to truffle; deep, mature, mushroom and mineral flavours; long earth and dried black fruit finishes, with lots of life in them yet ... a five-star vintage;  Robert Parker’s website no longer has the tasting note for this wine,  but earlier said:  Pio Cesare’s 1978 Barolo is fully mature.  It shows slightly maderized aromas on the nose followed by evolved flavors of prunes and plums with good length, soft tannins and a note of menthol on the finish, 89;  www.piocesare.it ]
Garnet and ruby,  a hint of amber to the rim.  Bouquet is delightfully fragrant,  but totally different from the Bordeaux blends.  Here in one sense there is sweetly fragrant best caramel toffee,  and in another sense the raspberries and tar of classic Barolo descriptions –  but the red fruits all totally browned now.  Likewise the palate could not be more different from the silken fine-grain elegance of the better clarets:  here there are the inimitable furry tannins of Barolo / nebbiolo totally to the fore,  plus higher acid,  yet all beautifully integrated and long,  in its distinctive ‘older-style Barolo’ flavour.  It will hold this form for years,  fading gently to become ever more autumnal.  Three first places,  but also two least,  I imagine simply because it was so out of style in the tasting.  GK 10/18

Saint-Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $189   [ cork;  original price c.$23;   cepage then approx. CS 65%,  Me 25,  CF 10,  planted at 9,000 vines / ha;  c.18 months in barrel,  50 – 70% new;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Broadbent,  2002:  predictably closed,  but with depth and potential. Flesh and texture then noticeable. [ more recently ] … deep but with a surprising amber rim. Good drink though, **** (just);  Coates,  2000:  Quite a tough nose. Quite rich fruit underneath. Not too tough and tannic on the palate. Good fruit. Restrained and classy. Very good grip. Very good length. This is fine, 17.5;  R. Parker,  1993:  Light-styled for a Montrose, the 1978 has reached full maturity. It offers a straightforward, spicy, earthy bouquet of curranty fruit and damp, woodsy aromas. Medium-bodied, compact, and adequately concentrated, this spicy, earthy style of wine should be drunk over the next 5-8 years, 85;  the chateau itself gives a remarkably candid tasting note for its 1978:  The wine is fine, light with a slight acidity. The attack is neat and balanced. The finish is a little short with a little bitterness;;  www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  the second to lightest wine.  Bouquet on this wine is enchanting,  in the sense it is still nearly floral though browning,  and smells beautifully ripe,  but in a very petite way.  This was not at all my impression of 1978 Montrose,  from memory.  There is a clear aromatic cabernet sauvignon / cassis component which is delightful,  plus a whisper of brett,  positive at this level.  Palate is indeed petite,  but still the impression of ripeness and elegance,  and gentle cedary oak,  persists.  For a wine from the the coolest of the classed-growth zones in the Medoc,  this is a good achievement in 1978.  Tasters did not enjoy the small-scale harmony of this wine as much as I did,  no positive votes,  four least.  But I am not dissuaded from my score,  the wine being so ‘correct’,  at 40 years.  In the context of a meal,  you could drink a surprising amount of this,  very agreeably.  Nearing the end of its run,  even from a cool cellar,  and this may be a particularly happy bottle.  GK 10/18

Rutherford,  Napa Valley,  California:  13%;  $153   [ cork,  original price $US7.50;  no info on winemaking then,  other than harvested third week October,  must average 24.5° Brix,  production 3,959 x 9-litre cases;  more recently,  cepage is usually c.75% CS, significant Me,  trace PV,  Ma,  CF,  hand-harvested;  the oldest vintage on the website had extended cuvaison to 34 days,  and c.18 months in new,  one and two-year French oak;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  93,  ripe, rich and full-bodied wines;  Wine Spectator,  1987:  Nice maturity and bottle age with ripe herbal, blackberry and currant flavors, fine balance and a good dose of tannin on the finish. At or near its peak, 90;  first vintage for this label;  bottle courtesy the late Dr Ken Kirkpatrick;  www.pineridgevineyards.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  midway in depth in the field.  Bouquet is immediately ‘different’ in the set.  After interpreting the wine this way and that (to myself),  I ended up wondering if in those early days for the winery,   they might still have had some redwood cooperage,  for there is clear resiny note on bouquet.  There are also good red fruits,  not explicit as to variety on bouquet,  but smelling warm climate.  Palate shows plenty of red plummy fruit browning now,  both oak flavours and the more resiny suggestion of non-oak cooperage,  with perhaps both tartaric adjustment,  and a few grams residual sweetness to the finish.  It fitted into the tasting sufficiently well to attract two first-place votes,  and one second,  but also six least-favoured votes,   perhaps on account of the resin notes.  Fully mature now,  but yet again one has to note the absurdity of so much American wine writing,  as conditioned by a ‘consuming’-obsessed society,  where nine years after vintage this wine was described as ‘at or near its peak’.  Sad.  GK 10/18

Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $141   [ cork;  original price c.$22;  cepage then approx. CS 68%,  Me 20,  CF 12  planted at 8,500 vines / ha;  18 – 24 months in barrel,  percentage new then not known,  the run-down estate having only recently been sold to the Tesserons;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Coates,  2000:  Fruity nose. Mature. Definitely lightening and drying on the palate. Medium body. Losing its grip. Not bad at best, 13;  R. Parker, 1990:  In contrast to the 1979, the 1978 is a much more tannic, reserved wine for long-term cellaring. The wine has dark ruby color and a spicy, ripe, yet generally tight and closed bouquet. While certainly a good wine, it seems to be missing length and complexity. Anticipated maturity: Now-2000, 82;  www.pontet-canet.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  above midway in depth.  Initially opened and for the first 24 hours,  there was a dull ‘wooden’ quality about this wine.  The following day it had breathed up markedly,  to reveal rich well-browning berryfruit much influenced by old cooperage.  Palate confirms,  the wine qualitatively big and ripe,  but the fruit flavours let down by irredeemably old cooperage,  as if the wine saw no new oak at all.  This may well be true,  in the fading days of the Cruse era.  How different Pontet-Canet is today.  The wine is fully mature,  but has the ripeness and richness to hold its tanniny form for some years yet,  given breathing.  Intriguing to have two wines in a tasting at this level so clearly let down by the quality of cooperage.  GK 10/18

Saint Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $201   [ cork;  original price $23.50;  cepage then approx. CS 72%,  Me 20,  CF 8,  planted at 9,000 vines / ha;  20 months in barrel,  50% new;  Wine Spectator vintage rating for the year,  87,  Structured, fleshy and complex;  Broadbent 2002:  Frankly disappointing … worrying acidity … hard tannic edge, **;  Coates,  2000:  Classy nose.  More fruit than I expected. Quite round. Medium body. A little dryness at the end. But ripe and pleasant and with the usual Barton elegance. Not great but very good plus. No lack of charm, 16.5;  R. Parker,  1993:  A moderately intense, herbaceous, cedary, smoky, earthy nose is followed by a medium-bodied wine with sweet fruit, adequate acidity, and light tannins in the finish. This wine is ready to be consumed. Drink it over the next 5-6 years, 85;  www.leoville-barton.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the lightest wine. This wine smells quite different to the field,  a reminder of much New Zealand cabernet sauvignon 20 and 30 years ago,  very fragrant but the volume partly due to a touch of methoxypyrazine,  bespeaking insufficiently ripened fruit.  Behind that is red rather than darker plums all well-browning now,  cedary oak made more noticeable by the edgy effect methoxypyrazines have on the aroma,  and a hint of brett.  Palate shows good fruit richness,  but yes,  a clear stalky under-ripe streak right through the wine,  and all a little acid and oaky.  Like the Pontet-Canet,  this wine passed almost unnoticed by the group,  neither impressing or offending.  It is fully mature / starting to fade,  and best finished up.  GK 10/18

Reserve wines:
1978  Ch Canon-la-Gaffeliere,  Saint Emilion,  11.5%;  $117     cork;  Me 55%,  CF 40,  CS 5;  around 18 months in barrel,  percentage new then not clear,  in later ‘80s moved to 100% new;  R. Parker, 1998:
 The 1978 is fully mature, and given this wine's inclination to behave like a burgundy and die quickly, it is best drunk up. Light ruby with some browning, this round, soft, fruity wine is one-dimensional and light, but cleanly made. Anticipated maturity: Now - probably in serious decline, 75;  www.neipperg.com
1978  Babich Cabernet Sauvignon,  probably all Henderson,  11.5%;  $ –      cork;  CS 100%,  18 months French oak;  www.babichwines.com
1978  Montana Cabernet Sauvignon Marlborough Private Bin,  11.8%;  $ –      cork;  CS 100%;  12 months in French barriques;  Peter V Hubscher Selection;  no relevant website.
1978  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon,  Huapai,  Auckland district,  10.5%;  $ –      cork;  CS 100% probably;  understood to be 2 years in French oak,  a high percentage new;  no relevant website.