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 nett impression tasters gained from the tasting was one of surprise and relief,  that the wines were so good at the 44-years-old point,  compared with the predictions made for them by respected commentators,  often so many years ago.  Tasters declared themselves well-pleased with the quality of several of the wines,  despite one wine of acute interest,  1976 Ch Petrus,  being impaired by TCA.  At least six of the 12 wines were somebody's favourite:  always a pointer to the level of enjoyment.

How does one account for the predictions of the pundits in many cases so seriously under-estimating these wines?  For example of the 1976 Ch Kirwan,  Robert Parker considered it in 1989:  in total collapse, washed out…,  yet 31 years later not a single taster (out of 21) rated it the least wine of the tasting,  most agreeing it was pleasant,  mature,  small-scale claret.  The most likely explanation is the almost total absence back then of wineries assembling a master-blend for bottling.  Some indeed still bottled from individual barrel to bottle,  meaning an infinite number of ‘final wines’ went to market.  This is the simplest / most economical  explanation for the views of varying commentators about the same label appearing to describe totally different wines.

The top wines still showed the lovely appetising bouquets and supple palates of classical but not large-scale bordeaux in full maturity.  Nonetheless,  one can sum up the 1976s by saying that in 2020,  provided the wines have been cellared in conditions never exceeding 18° C,  even the best are in the late stages of their plateau of maturity.  Most 1976 Bordeaux will be best served by being finished up.  All need decanting,  and  some need further air to dispel a little bottle stink.  Forty-two years (say,  since bottling) is a long time to be locked up.  The 1976 Ch Figeac rejected from the tasting for quite severe TCA turned out to be surprisingly aromatic for a Saint-Emilion,  and would have fitted in at about the Ch Giscours 17.5 + level,  after 48 hours on ice with Gladwrap®.

The top five wines in the 1976 Bordeaux tasting.  What amazed tasters about these wines is just how pleasant they were,  and how good they would be to take out to dinner,  if subtlety and finesse were one's preferences in wine.  Reading the reviews of the pundits on the 1976 bordeaux,  no such impression would be formed.  From the left,  1976 Ch Beychevelle,  a pleasing example of a fully mature,  smaller scale,  fragrant and ‘classical’ west-bank bordeaux,  before there was any expectation that bordeaux be big and impressive,  17.5;  1976 Ch Giscours in contrast an altogether bigger wine,  the deepest in colour and the same impression following through bouquet and palate,  all tending a bit burly,  17.5 +;  1976 Ch Montrose a little different from the other four,  smaller-scale but very aromatic and ‘fresh’ (in the context of the tasting),  as if cabernet sauvignon were more prominent in the cepage than it is,  five top places,  18;  1976 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste inimitably itself,  not a big wine but a beautiful harmony of mature ripe cabernet sauvignon and cedar,  seamless,  first or second-favourite for eight tasters,  18.5;  and 1976 Ch Leoville-Poyferre,  surprisingly rich and ripe considering the reviews on-line,  classic cabernet and cedar on a bigger scale than the Grand-Puy-Lacoste,  top or second-favourite wine for seven tasters,  and even a little time in hand,  18.5 +.

The 1970s in Bordeaux:
When we think back now to the post-war vintages in Bordeaux,  the 1940s were famous for the 1945s,  1947s and 1949s,  the 1950s for the 1953s, 1955s (to a degree) and 1959s,  the 1960s ever-memorable for the 1961s,  but also here and there some lovely wines from 1962,  1964 and 1966.  But for the 1970s,  there was the the initial 1970 vintage,  hailed at the time but rather shrinking subsequently,  the 1975s again hailed at the time,  but the tannins stood firm while the fruit receded,  then the 1976s,  ‘78s and ‘79s … all subsequently proving much less than initially hoped.  Table 1 sets out the nature of the vintages for the 1970s and 1980s.

Table 1:  The 1976 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 1976 in particular,  the 1976 summer in Europe was a hot one,  with at-the-time newspaper photos of people frolicking in fountains and so forth commonplace.  In the vineyards,  berries were small,  thick-skinned and tannic.  Vintage date at 15 September was the earliest of the decade,  and hopes were high.  However rain during vintage quashed the possibility of a challenger to 1961,  as some had predicted.  Some earlier assessments:
Broadbent 1980:  ★★★
A good vintage, not outstanding, but some immediately satisfactory wines … a hot, dry, wonderful summer … The year of the rather alarming heat and drought in northern Europe. The weather broke in September … interrupting the picking in Bordeaux which began on 15 September. … 1976 prices remained reasonable – albeit at a level that made the decade of the 1960s look ridiculously cheap,  and the 1950s another world.  Assessment: useful wines. At best, claret at its most pleasantly refreshing, but quite a few wines, from high to low class, lack flesh; more lean and hungry than elegantly svelte and supple. … A vintage worth buying carefully and keeping a while.
Peppercorn 1982:
… by the end of August, the grapes were extremely small and conditions resembled 1921, 1947 and 1949 … Rain [during vintage] had the effect ... of diluting quality. The resulting wines have a deep colour, were fairly rich in alcohol, and very low in fixed acidity, with unusually high pHs … and tannins … masked by fruit.
Broadbent:  2003:  ★★ to ★★★
On release a deservedly popular vintage. … the wines were easy and agreeable, but many, from high class to low, lacked flesh; more lean and supple than pleasantly fresh, some of the first growths combined substance and elegance. Never a classic claret vintage, though many were beguiled by its youthful appeal, attractive colour, and initial fruit. Some continue to charm and delight. Many are flavoury, most are fading. One or two top growths have time in hand, despite being well past their prime. Drink up.
Stephen Brook in his authoritative ‘The Complete Bordeaux’ (2007) provides a more recent summing up:  
1976:  An exceedingly hot summer, with weeks of very high temperatures and little rain until mid-September, right at the the beginning of harvest. The rain diluted the musts. The result was a large crop of wines that matured rapidly; many had a baked character, others were thin from dilution. The whites were rich and powerful, but aged quickly thanks to low acidity.

The Invitation:
For this year’s Hawkes Bay Library Tasting offerings,  the first tasting offers the rare opportunity to taste 44 year-old claret,  11 from Bordeaux,  plus one New Zealand.  The wines will be fully mature,  to declining,  but still full of interest for those who like old wine.

There are two goals for this tasting.  For the first,  in the sense that the cabernet / merlots of Bordeaux (or Hawkes Bay) are cellar wines par excellence,  this tasting offers the rare opportunity to see a reasonable sampling of well-known names at an age greater than most people are familiar with.  Secondly,  it offers the opportunity to taste the rare,  in New Zealand nearly mythical,  Ch Petrus (then 95% merlot,  5% cabernet franc) within an affordable context.  I say affordable,  because 1976 is not one of Petrus's greatest years,  the season being warm and the wines tending tanniny,  so we can cost Petrus into the tasting at a realistic figure.  All the wines have been cellared in Wellington’s cool climate since original purchase at release.

Beaven,  D. W.  1977:  Wines for Dining – New Zealand Pocket Guide.  Whitcoulls Publishers,  63 p.
Broadbent,  Michael  1980:  The Great Vintage Wine Book.  Mitchell Beazley,  432 p.    
Broadbent,  M.B.  2002:  Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine.  Harcourt / Websters International,   560 p.
Broadbent,  M.B,  2003:  Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p. 
Brook,  Stephen,  2007:  The Complete Bordeaux.  Mitchell Beazley,  720 p.
Halliday,  James,  1985:  The Australian Wine Compendium.  Angus & Robertson,  Sydney,  576 p.
Parker,  R  1991:  Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  Second Edition,  1026 p.   [ the cepage details are more likely to be accurate for the time,  using the earlier edition ]
Peppercorn,  D.  1982:  Bordeaux.  Faber & Faber,  424 p.
Saunders,  Peter,  1977:   A Guide to New Zealand Wine 1977 Edition.  Wineglass Publishing,  64 p.
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.

The wines span:  Haut-Medoc,  Margaux,  Pauillac,  Saint-Estephe,  Saint-Julien,  and Pomerol (the Saint-Emilion being lost to TCA),  plus Huapai / Kumeu for New Zealand and Coonawarra in South Australia.  There are surprisingly few tasting notes on-line for the 1976 Bordeaux.  Robinson has only Ch Petrus.  As always,  Parker is the most likely to have tasted a wine.  The date given alongside a tasting note is the inferred date of tasting,  not the publication date of the book.  The first price shown is the current wine-searcher value,  if available.  This indicates how the world-at-large rates the wine,  today.  Purchase price where known is shown in the text.  At the time,  the standard bordeaux bottle was 730 mls.

1976  Ch Batailley
1976  Ch Beychevelle
1976  Ch Cantemerle
1976  Ch Giscours
1976  Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste
1976  Ch Kirwan
  1976  Ch La Lagune
1976  Ch Leoville Poyferre
1976  Ch Montrose
1976  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon
1976  Ch Petrus
1976  Redman Cabernet Sauvignon (en magnum)

 The 12 wines were a pleasure to sit down to,  the colours all healthy and glowing for their age,  and the generalised aroma of mature claret wafting from the set simply a great pleasure.  Front row wines 1 – 6,  back 7 – 12.  Despite being totally written off years ago by the pundits,  Ch Kirwan on opening seemed the best ‘in the middle’ wine to introduce the scope of the tasting,  at glass one.  Colours ranged from the lightest ruby and garnet in position nine,  the 1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon,  through to the clearly deepest wine of the 12,  Ch Giscours in position six.  Note the relative lightness of the Redman Cabernet Sauvignon at position four,  anything but an Aussie blockbuster,  and likewise the matching lightness of the top wines of the tasting,  Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste in position 11,  and Ch Leoville-Poyferre,  wine 12.  Wines seven,  eight and nine put the three slightly ‘odd’ wines,  Ch La Lagune with brett,  Ch Petrus big and tanniny,  and the quite strong Nobilo,  together,  so they could share their characteristics among themselves,  and not detract from the more fragrant and elegant wines concluding the tasting.

Saint-Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $217   [ Cork,  53mm,  ullage 27mm;  CS 66%,  Me 34;  18 – 22 months in barrel;  production around 25,000 x 9-litre cases;  Parker was disappointed with Leoville-Poyferre through the ‘60s,  '70s,  and '80s,  despite it having a superb site,  feeling vineyard and winery practice were not optimising the vineyard’s potential;  Broadbent,  1986:  Not a patch on its neighbours, **;  RP@WA,  1983:  Very soft, flabby, almost soupy, fruity flavors show good ripeness, but little structure, grip, or balance. A sweet, simple, fruity wine that can be quaffed easily, but it does not deliver “classified growth” breed or character. Drink up. Anticipated maturity: probably in serious decline [ in 1998 ], 76;  weight bottle and closure:  569 g;  www.leoville-poyferre.fr ]
Garnet and ruby,  the third-deepest wine,  still a suggestion of velvet.  Bouquet right from opening is big,  aromatic yet ‘sweet’,  complex and harmonious,  laden with well-browned cassis and dark pipe tobacco notes,  some truffly hints,  appealing.  Palate still shows fruit-weight and texture,  the wine second only to Petrus in richness,  yet of so much more interest with its cabernet-derived aromatic berry-flavours,  and relative 'freshness'.  Even in this ‘bigger’ wine,  there is a gentleness and suppleness which makes it enchanting with food.  It is one of the few wines with a little time in hand,  despite being written off by Parker in 1983.  Top wine for three tasters,  and second favourite for four more,  with nobody thinking it merlot-led.  GK 10/20

Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Medoc,  France:   – %;  $126   [ Cork,  53mm,  ullage 10mm;  CS 70%,  Me 25,  CF 5;  purchase price $18.25;  20 – 22 months in barrel;  production around 13,500 x 9-litre cases;  Parker feels the chateau’s standing and reputation faded as the previous owner grew old,  some vintages including this one suffering markedly:  the chateau sold in 1978,  and has not looked back since;  Broadbent,  1978:  Stalky, hard, immature but good. Should develop stylishly. **(*);  Broadbent, 1992:  I buy it every year. … undoubtedly stylish. Perfect now, ****;  RP@WA,  1980:  An acceptable wine for certain, but this Grand-Puy-Lacoste is surprisingly jammy, overripe, with a scent of fresh tea. Soft, flabby, and loosely knit on the palate, this wine is now fully mature. Drink up! 72;  weight bottle and closure:  548 g;  www.chateau-grand-puy-lacoste.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  above midway in depth.  This wine too conveyed its charms and quality immediately from opening.  There is a crystalline purity about the fading cassis and exquisite cedary oak in this wine which is enchanting.  It smells a smaller and less complex wine than the Poyferre,  yet you can smell it over and over again.  Palate reveals perfect balance,  harmony and softness of a high-cabernet wine at full maturity,  with beautifully clean and new oak,  the flavour not weighty at all,  yet of great length.  How often Grand-Puy-Lacoste captures the subtlety and delicacy of great claret,  in maturity,  even though it is so understated the wine can be rather dismissed by the big-noters.  Three tasters rated it their top wine,  and five their second-favourite.  Like the Poyferre,  too exciting a wine on bouquet to be thought merlot-led.  Fully mature.  Note the Parker view,  40 years prior.  GK 10/20

Saint-Estephe Second Growth,  Medoc,  France:   – %;  $215   [ Cork,  53mm,  ullage 16mm;  CS 65%,  Me 25,  CF 10;  purchase price $18.25;  22 – 24 months in barrel;  production around 27,000 x 9-litre cases;  Parker records that Montrose was famous in the post-war years for it rich and saturated tanniny wines which took years to soften,  so much so the wine-making was lightened in the late ‘70s,  with more merlot planted.  He feels the chateau returned to form from the 1986 vintage.  Broadbent,  1980:  Fairly deep; fragrant, fruity aroma; fairly full-bodied, soft, long flavour and good finish. Overall immature, but an agreeable wine, **(**);  RP@WA,  1989:  Undoubtedly one of the successes from this vintage and destined to be one of the longest-lived wines of 1976, Montrose continues to exhibit a dark ruby color, a spicy, vanillin oakiness, and a generous, deep, black currant fruitiness. While many 1976s have turned brown and begun to dry out, losing their fruit, Montrose remains young, impressive, and promising, 86;  weight bottle and closure:  566 g;  www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  one of the freshest,  just above midway in depth.  There is a fresh,  clean,  cabernet-led aromatic quality to this wine which differentiates it from the top two,  with cassisy though browning now aromatics dominating,  and oak much less apparent,  yet still complexing the fruit qualities beautifully.  On palate there is not quite the berry weight of the top two,  yet the oak is in proportion.  On continued sipping there might be a trace of less-ripe fruit,  but even mentioning the concept ‘stalky’ does the wine a disservice.  Four tasters,  all winemakers,  thought there was low-level brett:  if so it is below my threshold.  Not a big year for Montrose,  but a nicely balanced and framed wine,  fully mature.  Five tasters rated it their top wine,  on the cassis aromatics I suspect,  and one second favourite.  GK 10/20

Margaux Third Growth,  Medoc,  France:  12.5%;  $163   [ Cork,  54mm,  ullage 10mm;  CS 75%,  Me 20,  CF 3,  PV 2;  purchase price $21.05;  18 – 24 months in barrel;  production around 30,000 x 9-litre cases;  a chateau on the ascendancy in the 1970s,  according to Parker;  Broadbent,  1980:  Deepest of the group; nose uptight, a bitter fragrance; some ripeness, firm,  classic, leathery texture, very dry tannic finish, *(***);  Broadbent 1988:  Constantly surprises me. One of the darkest coloured, chunkiest and most tannic ‘76s. Yet revealed fruit and flesh, drinking well, ***;  RP@WA,  1987:  Always one of my favourite 1976s,  Giscours produced a deeply colored, plump, quite round, and generously fruity wine, with medium to full body and a lush texture … fully mature … Drink up, 81;  weight bottle and closure:  573 g;  www.chateau-giscours.fr ]
Ruby,  garnet and velvet,  clearly the deepest wine.  There is a bigger,  more sturdy quality to the bouquet of  this wine,  with great browning berryfruit plus almost a honeyed quality,  and leathery suggestions too.  Oak is more apparent than the wines marked more highly.  Palate continues the impression of a big sturdy wine,  tending a bit rustic on its tannins,  but a lovely big mouthful of browning cassis and savoury flavours.  Real roast-beef wine.  This was the only wine to attract a significant ‘might be Australian’ vote,  even though there is no hint of mint.  One person had it their top wine,  and two their second favourite.  This wine too has a little bit of time in hand.  GK 10/20  GK 10/20

Saint-Julien Fourth Growth,  Medoc,  France:   – %;  $157   [ Cork,  53mm,  ullage 21mm;  CS 60%,  Me 28,  CF 8,  PV 4,  purchase price $22.05;  typically 20 months in barrel;  production around 30,000 x 9-litre cases;  Parker records standards not high in the 1970s,  the wine-style light and accessible,  less new oak;  Broadbent,  1980:  fine deep colour; elegant, fruity; well made, good texture, ***(*);  RP@WA,  1990:  Technically, the 1976 Beychevelle is not the most perfect wine. The acidity is low and the pH high, but statistics aside, this wine has retained its immensely enjoyable, plummy, fat, fruity character. I would have thought it to be in decline now, but this seductive effort from Beychevelle continues to provide surprising pleasure. Anticipated maturity: Now, 85;  weight bottle and closure:  582 g;  https://beychevelle.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  below midway in depth.  Though seeming clean at decanting,  by the time of the tasting this wine had developed threshold TCA … only just detectable by five technical tasters.  Putting the glass sample to bed (under ice) with 100 mm² of Gladwrap® completely cleared it,  to reveal a smaller but elegant wine along the lines of Grand-Puy-Lacoste in weight,  but less aromatic and cedary.  In mouth the wine is total harmony,  cassisy and dark plummy berry well-browning now of course,  silky and delightful,  perfect with food.  Shows all the balance and style of ‘classic’ claret,  before it became a bigger,  richer ‘more impressive’ wine.  Fully mature.  Could be marked a little higher.  GK 10/20

Haut-Medoc (Ludon / Margaux) Third Growth,  Medoc,  France:   – %;  $100   [ Cork,  54mm,  ullage 15mm;  CS 55%,  Me 20,  CF 20,  PV 5;  purchase price $18.35;  18 – 22 months in barrel;  production around 25,000 x 9-litre cases;  Parker regards La Lagune as one of the great success stories of Bordeaux,  having been rebuilt from dereliction in the 1950s.  He earlier regarded it as the greatest value in all Bordeaux;  Broadbent,  1978:  the usual plausible fruitiness … undoubtedly attractive, but not for dedicated, hypercritical, fault-finding claret fanciers, ***;  Broadbent, 1993:  Rich appearance and nose. Very sweet, delicious. Near to perfection in the late 1980s, ****;  RP@WA,  1989:  In a vintage that produced numerous frail, diluted, fragile wines, the 1976 La Lagune is a firmly made, concentrated, successful wine. ... a full-blown bouquet of vanillin oak, grilled nuts, and ripe plums. On the palate, it has an elegant, stylish texture, medium to full body, expansive, sweet, lush fruit, and a heady, but silky finish. Oh, how I wish I had bought more of this wine! Anticipated maturity to 1995, 88;  weight bottle and closure:  565 g;  www.chateau-lalagune.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  only just that way round,  exactly midway in depth.  This wine smells very different indeed,  with both rich browning berryfruit and a big brown raisin (not sultana) fruitcake-and-nutmeg quality bespeaking quite high brett.  Initially opened,  it showed the pharmaceutical 4-EP phase more noticeable,  but with air the spicy 4-EG phase came to dominate totally.  In flavour this is a big rich wine,  crying out for savoury venison casserole and similar dishes.  Naturally,  there are those who affect the view such a wine is undrinkable.  Note the views of Robert Parker (above):  this was before he became attuned to brett,  but wisely he has remained tolerant of ‘acceptable’ levels of this fragrant yeast and its fermentation compounds.  This and the Giscours made quite a pair in the tasting,  for different reasons.  Noteworthy that four tasters rated La Lagune as their top wine,  and two their second-favourite.  Fully mature.  At this level of brett,  bottles will now vary considerably in their exact character,  so best not to cellar it for too much longer.  GK 10/20

Pomerol honorary Premier Grand Cru Classé (A),  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $2,964   [ Cork,  54mm,  ullage 16mm;  Me 95%,  CF 5;  24 – 26 months in barrel;  production around 2,500 x 9-litre cases;  Petrus has been Me 100% in recent years,  according to Wikipedia;  Parker in his forthright way so contrasting with virtually all other wine-writers in the world last century,  asks in his 1991 book whether the wines of the later 1970s justified the prices being paid for them,  and whether Petrus had become lighter in style.  At that stage,  before he became attuned to Brettanomyces,  he was particularly concerned about filtration,  introduced at Petrus in the 1976 vintage:  The remarkable thing about the great vintages of Petrus prior to 1975 was that it was irrefutably the most incredibly concentrated, opulent wine made in Bordeaux. That can no longer be said ...   Lately with increased competition from other ambitious Pomerol proprietors,  it has returned to form,  but is no longer regarded as automatically the best east-bank wine of the vintage.  Broadbent,  1980:  Deep mulberry-like merlot aroma; dry but rich, broad style, peppery still, **(**);  Broadbent,  2002:  Good but not great, ***;  JR@JR, 2013: Fresh, sweet, floral aromas. Light for a Petrus but clean and charming. Very fresh finish with medium persistence. A wine with no more to give but so much more intense than most 1976 red bordeaux would be now, 17.5;  Parker,  1996:  1976 Petrus has been fully mature since it was released … red and black fruits touched by sweet toasty oak. It continues to be a pleasing, fat style of Petrus, without the body, weight, and depth of a great year. It needs to be drunk up, 88;  Petrus is in the Moueix stable,  but their website does not deign to list Ch Petrus as such;  weight bottle and closure:  565 g ]
Garnet,  ruby and velvet,  the second-deepest wine.  At the time of decanting,  the wine smelt ripe,  rich,  leathery and tanniny,  not the varietal berry qualities hoped for.  By the time of the tasting,  threshold TCA had become apparent on bouquet – such a disappointment – but noted by six-only tasters,  mainly winemakers.  The wine’s richness and the furry tannins pretty well masked any off-character on palate.  So the nett impression is of a sturdy,  over-ripe,  one-dimensional Petrus lacking any varietal charm or specificity,  but still rich and rewarding on palate,  more particularly for those who like wines from a warmer climate.  It is the richest wine of the 12.  You have to wonder yet again why the American palate has so endorsed the more one-dimensional merlot-led wines of the east bank,  when compared with the (at best) more aromatic,  complex and exciting wines of the Medoc.  Once revealed,  a disappointment for tasters,  since Ch Petrus is a rare offering at public tastings in New Zealand.  One person had it as their second favourite wine,  on the palate richness.  Stunning cork quality,  so this wine too has the body to hold for longer,  though to no advantage.  Score is post-Gladwrap® treatment,  which over 48 hours on ice,  worked perfectly.  GK 10/20

Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Medoc,  France:   – %;  $68   [ Cork,  52mm,  ullage 16mm;  CS 70%,  Me 20,  CF 9,  PV 1;  purchase price $11.76;  typically 18 months in barrel;  production around 23,000 x 9-litre cases;  now in the Borie-Manoux stable;  RP@WA,  1984:  a straightforward sort of wine, which is fully mature. It is medium ruby-colored, with a spicy, plump, fruity bouquet, medium body, attractive, gentle, almost polite flavors, and a rather short, yet soft finish. Anticipated maturity: Now-1993, 81;  weight bottle and closure:  574 g;  www.batailley.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  below midway in depth.  This wine opened beautifully,  and was unchanged not only for presentation at the tasting,  but for days afterwards (under ice).  Bouquet is quite intense,  fresh and attractive,  browning cassis,  invisible oak,  lovely maturity.  The flavour is just a trace smaller,  not exactly stalky but a reminder of a sweet grass such as sweet vernal (as in riesling),  both freshening the palate,  and making it seem subtle.  Clean oak becomes apparent on the late palate.  Could not be anything but claret,  and Medoc,  at perfect maturity,  eminently drinkable.  Tasters did not approve of this wine quite so much,  no favourites,  and four least places.  GK 10/20

Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $165   [ Cork,  52mm,  ullage 11mm;  1976 Arthur Kelman Trophy winner,  Sydney.  Originally $21.60 per magnum,  production 26,000 magnums (4,333 x 9-litre case equivalents).  Understood to be CS 100%;  Halliday,  1985 records the very traditional winemaking of the era,  still under Owen Redman:  Redman has always picked the fruit early, relying on the higher natural acidity and lower pH this that this gives, so much so that he never checked the pH nor corrected the acid. He believed that physiological ripeness is not determined on the laboratory bench, but by the taste of the grapes. All these practices have a significant impact on the wines. They are deceptively light-bodied: despite the back-blending of all the pressings, they have always given the impression they will not be particularly long-lived. Nothing could be further from the truth for the older Redman wines … The Redman Cabernet Sauvignons … The 1976, a trophy-winner, was another outstanding wine …;  weight magnum and closure:  1,159 g;  www.redman.com.au ]
Ruby and garnet,  below midway in depth.  This was the big surprise of the whole tasting.  It gained entry through having to reject the Ch Figeac for significant TCA.  Both freshly opened and at the tasting,  there was a ‘sweet’ not-quite-floral but youthful freshness to this wine which was beguiling,  near-textbook but simple cassisy berry,  subtle oak,  no acid-adjustment harshness in mouth,  a light but neat and harmonious flavour all through.  In style and balance it was most like Ch Kirwan.  After 24 hours the faintest flowering mint (Prostanthera) note had developed on bouquet,  making the wine piquant and mouthwatering.  Gradually the simple cassisy beauty of the palate became more aromatic too.  It is hard to imagine a more un-Australian wine,  by contemporary or recent standards.  Alongside this delicate  ‘luncheon claret’,  Penfolds Bin 707 would look so heavy-handed.  The absolute purity and simplicity of this wine,  amidst the more complex tertiary aromas / flavours of the Bordeaux,  appealed to tasters – two second-favourites at the blind stage,  and only one person (in 21) thinking the wine from Australia.  In magnum,  perfect now,  no hurry at all,  and very good cork quality for the era (in Australia) too.  The cropping rate must have been conservative,  for it to show so much ‘fruit’ / dry extract today,  even though the wine is light in style.  GK 10/20

Margaux Third Growth,  Medoc,  France:   – %;  $84   [ Cork,  53mm,  ullage 5mm;  CS 40%,  Me 30,  CF 20,  PV 10;  around 20 months in barrel;  production around 10,000 x 9-litre cases;  this chateau disappoints Parker,  the wine:  ‘rarely provides the fragrance or flavor depth one expects from a classified growth'.  He felt it should be down-graded to a fifth growth,  in 1991.  Tasting notes for the 1976 are unknown,  beyond Parker,  and even the chateau does not acknowledge any vintage prior to 1996;  RP@WA,  1989:  In total collapse … washed-out, vegetal fruit flavours, and excessive alcohol on the finish, 58;  weight bottle and closure:  569 g;  www.chateau-kirwan.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  the second-lightest wine.  This is another wine which stayed consistent from opening to presentation.  It is light,  clean and fragrant,  like the Redman a kind of one-dimensional lightness to it,  but here with an attenuated / fading berry character,  just a hint of sweet vernal and honey,  the latter maybe suggesting chaptalisation,  subtlest oak.  In mouth there is fair fruit,  again this leafy suggestion,  silky rather than stalky,  just hinting at not quite optimal ripeness.  Oak handling is light,  clean and harmonious.  The nett wine is again attractive small claret,  balanced and eminently quaffable with food.  Fully mature to fading a little.  GK 10/20

Huapai / Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  11.9%;  $ –    [ Cork,  49mm,  ullage 42mm;  thought to be CS 100% or nearly;  elevation understood to be 2 years in French oak,  much of it new.  1976 was an exceptional year in the Auckland district.  Apart from my own notes,  the clearest contemporary description I have of this wine in its youth is from Dr Don Beaven,  in his delightful 1977 booklet,  where he describes the near-identical 1974 of this label as:  Excellent cabernet. Big style; well balanced with good tannin finish.  Peter Saunders in 1977 also spoke highly of the 1974,  thinking it would cellar for six years.  Inability to estimate cellar-life is not new in New Zealand wine-writing !;  weight bottle and closure:  530 g   ]
Ruby and garnet,  the lightest wine of the tasting,  just.  In this set of 11 bordeaux,  there is an elemental unknit quality to this quite big and striking bouquet,  which is immediately appealing.  First impressions are of a very aromatic,  high cassis,  textbook cabernet sauvignon wine,  plus a lot of new oak.  By the time of the formal tasting,  some complexity factors had become apparent,  the most conspicuous of which is a 'sweet' methoxypyrazine-related red capsicum note which is still subtle,  making the wine intensely aromatic,  in the company.  Flavour none the less gives the impression of being surprisingly ‘ripe’,  rich and  complex,  the cropping rate / dry extract extraordinary for the times in New Zealand.  This wine would be delightful with pizza.  Later on again,  the tell-tale old cigarette ash-tray note which absolutely characterises under-ripe cabernet sauvignon became just detectable,  but not obtrusive.  There is a hint to the finish that the wine was chaptalised.  All in all,  different to a degree,  but not outclassed,  two tasters rating it their second-favourite wine.  A good result for New Zealand,  given the era – we were then so far behind Australia.  Fully mature,  the 42 mm corks now shaky.  GK 10/20

Haut-Medoc Fifth Growth from Macau,  SE of Margaux,  Bordeaux,  France:  11.5%;  $123   [ Cork,  55mm,  ullage 19mm;  CS 45%,  Me 40,  CF 10,  PV 5;  purchase price $16.95;  typically 18 months in barrel;  production around 20,000 x 9-litre cases;  Parker records the chateau in decline in the 1970s,  perhaps no new oak,  new owners in 1980;  Broadbent,  1980:  A good ‘76; pretty colour; delicate fruit, slightly sweet, well-knit, with charm and good aftertaste, ***(*);  RP@WA,  1984:  Unfortunately, the 1976 Cantemerle is in decline, exhibiting a brownish color, pale, weak, washed-out flavors that taste cooked and highly chaptalized. This wine is coming apart at the seams, drink it up quickly, 60;  weight bottle and closure:  547 g;  www.cantemerle.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  the third to lightest wine.  Initially opened,  this was very small claret indeed,  a whisper of bottle stink,  hints of under-ripeness.  Once decanted,  and by the time of the tasting,  it had a lot more to say,  very much petite claret,  light red more than black fruits,  suggestions of leafyness going on stalky,  but then a reasonably pleasing palate eased by chaptalisation,  I would think.  Cooperage is clean,  but the wine smells and tastes as if none of the cooperage is new.  Harking back to Stephen Spurrier,  this is ‘green-tinged’ Medoc which has its appeal,  two tasters rating it their top wine,  and one second.  Fully mature,  less ripe than the Kirwan,  different chemistry from the Nobilo,  but like it a pleasantly pure small-scale wine.  GK 10/20

A New Zealand sequel …
Following the formal tasting,  since one does not have 1976 bordeaux open every day,  it seemed appropriate to take out the New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignons of the era,  and set up a little blind tasting to see how they compared with the real thing.  

The mid-70s were an interesting time for the New Zealand wine industry,  with progressive wineries taking their first tentative steps into vinifera-based wine production.  Leaving aside Mission Estate,  muller-thurgau had become the top white variety by 1970,  and in the early to mid-’70s it was time to try cabernet sauvignon,  as the best-known red variety (in the New World).  The problem was,  in that era,  very few winemakers had any calibrated tasting experience of the benchmark wines of France.  Accordingly many (but not all) wines labelled Cabernet Sauvignon and talking blissfully of Bordeaux in the fine print on their labels,  were in fact caricatures of the real thing,  being colossally under-ripe,  dilute or some in fact watered (up to 1983),  and acid.  This situation persisted into the early / mid-1980s.  Any New Zealand wine reviewer commenting factually on the shortcomings of the wines,  or attempting to judge them to international standards,  was all too often threatened with Court action by insecure winemakers,  or removed from judging them.  Myopia and self-interest prevailed,  greatly aided by (wine) import licensing.

By 1976,  the lead earlier set by Tom McDonald (and to a degree,  Alex Corban and Mission Estate) had waned:  only two winemakers were striving to grow and vinify grapes to a European standard of ripeness and wine-concentration:  Nick Nobilo at Huapai,  and Denis Irwin at Matawhero,  Gisborne.  Thus my venturing to include 1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1976 Bordeaux review … with tolerable success.  And hence the further thought:  how would some of the other New Zealand bordeaux-styled red wines of the time compare.  In the event I could not locate 1976 Cooks Cabernet Sauvignon,  so put in a 1974 Cooks Claret,  since 1974 was a markedly dry summer in the Auckland district.  Results below.

And for those winemakers in New Zealand who wish to retain the cork closure,  but still question the merit of spending extra on top-quality (and appropriately branded and dated) corks,  it is noteworthy that the average ullage on the ten French wines was 15.5 mm after a nominal 42 years,  for quality corks averaging 53 mm in length.  In contrast the average ullage on the five New Zealand wines was 49 mm,  for an average cork length of 44 mm.  All wines have been in the same cellar conditions since original purchase.

1976  Babich Cabernet Sauvignon
1974  Cooks Claret
  1976  McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon
1976  Penfolds (NZ) Cabernet Sauvignon

Te Kauwhata,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ cork 37mm,  surely the shortest cork ever put into vinifera table wine in New Zealand,  ullage 51mm. ]
Colour is clear lightish ruby and garnet,  much the reddest and deepest of the four New Zealand wines,  all of which are lighter than the 1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bouquet is light but astonishing in the context,  being not only totally vinifera,  and 'sweet' and ripe,  but nothing like mature bordeaux.  Studying the fine-print on the label after the tasting,  the reason becomes apparent.  Dominant grape is pinot meunier,  then pinotage,  then cabernet sauvignon.  The latter must have been a tiny percentage,  as there is no trace on bouquet.  Palate is nearly as good as the bouquet,  cherry / raspberry flavours browning now,  slightly acid,  but perfectly pleasant very light red wine in full maturity,  vaguely in the style a similar-age modest Cotes-du-Rhone from a cool year would be.  Surprising:  the wine (unlike the cork) pretty well fulfilling the dreams of the founders (for the times).  Probably Te Kauwhata and perhaps Gisborne fruit.  GK 10/20

Henderson,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  11.5%;  $ –    [ cork 45mm,  ullage 47mm;   https://babichwines.com ]
Garnet and amber,  very little ruby now,  the lightest of the four,  all of which are lighter than the 1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bouquet is even less ripe than the Penfolds,  cigarette ash-tray and green-bean / methoxypyrazine exacerbated by oak,  and not quite as clean.  Palate however is markedly richer than the Penfolds,  but the fruit tastes even less ripe,  again the noticeable oak not helping palate harmony.  Green-bean,  methoxypyrazine and silver-beet stalk flavours dominate the palate totally,  only the faintest hint of raw blackcurrant (rather than cassis) suggestions,  but the cropping rate / concentration is closer to the lightest of the Bordeaux.  Again ‘clean’ and wholesome wine,  but in flavour woefully out-of-style.  Henderson fruit,  purchase price $3.55 = $22.60 today,  Reserve Bank inflation calculator.  GK 10/20

Waimauku,  New Zealand:  11.5%;  $ –    [ cork 44mm,  ullage 45 mm. ]
Garnet and fading ruby,  some amber,  the second lightest of the four,  all of which are lighter than the 1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bouquet is light,  clean,  vinifera-dominant,  very faintly aromatic,  but vanishingly small and hard to pin down as to variety.  Palate gives a clearer focus on the wine,  it being thin and watered,  with green-bean / methoxypyrazine notes in stalky ‘berry’,  no ripe fruit tastes at all apart from chaptalisation,  noticeable acid,  but the oak in pleasant balance to the ‘fruit’.  This is very modest wine indeed,  but clean and wholesome.  Waimauku fruit,  purchase price $3.46 = $22 today,  Reserve Bank inflation calculator.  GK 10/20

Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ Cork 45mm,  ullage 62mm ]
Colour is the second-deepest of the four wines,  all of which are lighter than the 1976 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sadly this bottle was out of condition,  way beyond any decline due to ullage.  There was both TCA in the cork,  and appalling cork quality,  the cork being now rotten in smell and flavour.  The McWilliams red wine operation was well in decline by the mid-1970s.  Trying to taste through the negative factors,  a bottle in good condition might have matched the Cooks Claret (as wine in general),  the acid balance in particular being so much better than the Auckland wines. Taradale fruit,  purchase price $4.82 = $30.64 today,  Reserve Bank inflation calculator.  No score.  GK 10/20