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


Many consider 1970 the best Bordeaux vintage of the 1970s.  For those who had seen the earlier part of the decade before,  and then the 1980s following,  the conclusion could only be that the interval from 1967 to 1980 or 1981 was pretty dreary for claret lovers.  To be the best of the '70s is not therefore a great claim.  The wines were not of great stature from the outset,  but they were well-balanced and attractive.

All the scored wines in this tasting were of known provenance,  from the one place since import.  However it has to be remembered that in those days,  temperature-controlled containers or shipping were pretty well unknown – other than frozen.  Having traversed the equator,  those wines in New Zealand will therefore  be different from stay-at-home bottles in Europe,  and probably more developed.   Thus in New Zealand,  and even in the good cellaring conditions of equable Wellington,  all the wines are mature to over-mature.  Most need drinking.  Only the Latour and the Lascases in our set have time in hand.  Broadbent (2002) considers the Latour has another 50 years in it,  but that must surely apply only to bottles in the coldest cellars in Europe.  Elsewhere,  to judge from our bottle,  it will be pretty frail if not ghostly,  by then.

The tasting was presented blind,  to optimise factual assessment of the wine quality,  as opposed to the label.  Scoring wines 35 years old poses reality difficulties.  One cannot avoid an element of reconstruction.  And one must assume the score is presented for a person who likewise enjoys old wine.  My goal is primarily to allocate a score which indicates how the wine stacks up today.

The statistics are from Peppercorn 1986,  to better reflect the figures of the time.  The tasting was offered within the Regional Wines & Spirits wine tasting programme,  Wellington.

Broadbent,  M.B. 1980:  The Great Vintage Wine Book.  Mitchell Beazley,  432 p.
Broadbent,  M.B.  2002:  Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine.  Harcourt / Webster's International,   560 p.
Lake,  Max,  1966:  Classic Wines of Australia.   Jacaranda Press,  134 p.
Parker,  R   1991:  Bordeaux.   Simon & Schuster,  1026 p.
Peppercorn,  D,  1986:   The Wines of Bordeaux.  Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guide,  144 p.  


1970  Ch Cos d'Estournel
1970  Ch Ducru Beaucaillou
1970  Ch Haut Brion
1970  Ch Latour
1970  Ch Leoville Lascases
1970  Ch MacCarthy-Moula
1970  Ch Margaux
  1970  Ch Mouton-Rothschild
1970  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon
1970  Ch Petrus
1970  Ch Rausan-Segla
1970  Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 55
1970  Ch Talbot

1970  Ch Ducru Beaucaillou   19 ½  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 65%,  Me 25,  PV 5,  CF 5;  49 ha,  17 000 cases.  Broadbent (2002) considers Ducru,  Latour and Cheval Blanc the wines of the vintage *****,  and Parker (1991) rates the 1970 the best Ducru between 1961 and 1982,  91. ]
Ruby and garnet.  Bouquet on this wine is still very beautiful,  as it has been from day one.  There is a heavenly integration of (now fading) flowers,  cassis,  pipe tobacco,  cedar,  and red fruits.  Palate is supple and lovely,  still with cassis but mellowed out,  all the bouquet characters totally integrated into fully mature classic claret,  perfectly balanced,  still lovely body,  not too oaky as some of the first growths are,  the wine drying a little.  750s are at the tail end of the plateau of maturity,  or tapering off it,  and should be enjoyed in the next five or so years while there is still supple fruit.  Wines like this provide the complete answer to the doubters:  why cellar wine.  Such ethereal silky beauty is hard to imagine in still-youthful wines,  let alone the infantile ones off the shelf.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Latour   19  ()
Pauillac First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 80%,  Me 10,  CF 10;  60 ha,  16 000 cases.  This is the wine for which Broadbent (2002) made the intriguing remark:  'It will still be teasing some of you in 50 years'  time  ....  needs days of decanting time,  and hours in the glass,  *****.  Parker (1991):  The wine of the vintage,  99 points. ]
Ruby and garnet,  the most ruby and the deepest.  Cassis and 'new' slightly nutmeggy oak dominate the bouquet,  'youthful' but only relative to the field.  This is still pretty mature wine,  with tobacco and savoury and cedary complexities developing.  Palate is one of the two richest,  but again only relative to the field.  It is no richer than the Lascases.  Cassisy qualities dominate right through to the finish,  just,  but every year the oak will increase,  for there is a  lot of it.  A little cabernet monochrome,  not as deliciously complex as the Ducru,  essence of mature cabernet.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Leoville Lascases   18 ½  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  FRance:  11%;  $14.40   [ alcohol nominal,  from negociant supplementary label;  CS 65%,  Me 18,  CF 14,  PV 3;  85 ha,  30 000 cases.  This is a wine to fire the imagination of any wine-lover,  for two eminent Bordeaux appraisers vary wildly in their estimation of it.  Broadbent (1980):  Lovely rich stylish nose;  a dry wine,  fullish,  fine,  elegant.  **** .  And in 2002:  A gentlemanly classic.  Now mature;  typical cedary nose,  very good balance and flavour.  ****.  Parker (1991):  This wine has always enjoyed a considerable reputation.  But the emperor has no clothes.  It is lean,  angular,  and light for the vintage.  77 ]
Ruby and garnet.  This is the second richest of the wines,  with cassis and redfruits melding into cedary oak,  some tobacco,  a hint of leather.  Palate is as rich as the Latour,  but more mellow,  less bouquetted and cassisy.  At a peak of late maturity,  beautiful balance both in itself and with food.  Could be held for a few more years,  and like the Latour will survive longer,  but drying all the while.  GK 03/05

1970  Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 55   18  ()
Goulburn Valley,  Victoria,  Australia:   – %;  $11.27   [ CS,  minor CF.  In those days patriarch the late Eric Purbrick still kept an eagle eye on things,  and particularly his loved Bin wines.  These were traditional,  tended to be the press wines,  were raised in big old wood,  the best exceptional and long-lived.  1970 is not a reputed vintage at Tahbilk,  but as can be seen from the price,  the wine was highly esteemed in its day.  Max Lake,  in his wonderful book Classic Wines of Australia, 1966,  describes them as 'truly classic wines of Australia'.  This wine,  530 cases. ]
Garnet and ruby,  the lightest of the set.  Bouquet combines a faint hint of garden mint with fragrant red fruits totally in a cabernet franc / St Emilion style - quite remarkably so.  Palate is mulberry and redcurrants,  and clearly shows the merits of immaculate old oak cooperage,  as in traditional Chateauneuf du Pape.  There is no oak encroaching on the fruit at this stage,  as there is in the Margaux and Mouton particularly,  so the whole wine is fragrant on grape characters rather more than oak,  and fades away as a graceful whole.  Now lovely drinking,  and like the Ducru,  needs to be used up.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Mouton-Rothschild   18  ()
Pauillac First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  11%;  $ –    [ alcohol nominal,  from negociant supplementary label;  CS 85%,  Me 8,  CF 7;  72 ha,  20 000 cases.  Another wine with interesting comment from the world's two most experienced claret palates,  which makes the opportunity to assess any bottle in a blind tasting great fun.  Broadbent (1980):  fine,  peppery,  characteristic cabernet aroma,  a fairly powerful dry wine,  more austere than its peers.  ****.  And in 2002:  I think Mouton '70 is flawed.  Most recently,  deep but something lacking,  fairly fragrant,  with Mouton intensity and cassis,  [ but ] on the lean side,  acid.  ***.  Parker (1991):  a classic Mouton that continues to develop at a snail's pace … scents of walnuts,  cassis,  leather,  cedar and herbs.  Powerful on the palate,  plenty of tannin,  an infant.  [ but ] No Mouton I have tasted has demonstrated as much bottle variation as the 1970.  Till 2030.  92 ]
Ruby and garnet,  one of the deeper.  An intriguing bouquet,  a faintest hint of mint like the Tahbilk,  a lot of cedary oak,  and still good cassisy redfruits,  now browning into tobacco-y maturity.  Palate is more oaky than most,  beautifully cedary,  but the cedar does intrude with food.  Fruit and body are good,  but seem understated due to the oak.  In a sense,  the fruit is losing the battle with the oak.  Acid just starting to show,  relative to the Tahbilk.  Thus in development terms the wine is at the same stage as the better-balanced and more ethereal Ducru,  drying a little.  Best enjoyed while there is still some fruit to cover the excess oak.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Margaux   17 ½  ()
Margaux First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  11%;  $ –    [ alcohol nominal,  from negociant supplementary label;  CS 75%,  Me 20,  CF and PV 5;  85 ha,  17 500 cases red,  3 500 white.  Again,  an  intriguing diversity of opinion.  Broadbent (1980):  Its best feature a fabulous bouquet,  complex,  fruity;  medium dry,  rich,  chunky,  perhaps lacking follow-through. ****,  till 2000.  And in 2002,  a bottle in 2000:  a big wine,  but much more approachable than Latour;  nose low-keyed but harmonious,  sweet good fruit,  slow to open up;  medium sweetness and body,  rich good fruit,  grip and balance,  its sustaining tannins and acidity under control. ****  Drink or keep.  Parker (1991):  From a great vintage,  this is the type of wine to foster consumer ill-will toward expensive Bordeaux.  Austere,  lacking fruit and richness.  76 ]
Ruby and garnet.  This is a much more evolved but classical Bordeaux bouquet,  with some of the leathery complexity of a (good) old Hunter.  Below there is fading cassis,  brown mushrooms,  and cedary oak.  Palate conveys the same ideas,  but is shorter and more tannic than the top wines,  the drying of the fruit allowing the acid to show a little more than the Mouton,  the whole wine leaner.  Redeemed by its aromatic bouquet,  but needs drinking.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Rausan-Segla   17  ()
Margaux Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $13.80   [ CS 66%,  Me 28,  CF 4,  PV 2;  42 ha,  10 000 cases.  Broadbent  (2002):  A pretty good wine.  Firm fleshy good fruit.  Still tannic.  ***.  Parker (1991):  I am not sure this wine is ever going to open up and blossom.  Admirably big and full-bodied,  but rustic and coarsely textured,  with entirely too much tannin.  82 ]
Ruby and garnet.  Classic mature claret on bouquet,  cassis and redfruits,  tobacco,  cedary oak,  the faintest hint of spearmint here too.  Palate is much the same,  but drying,  so the wine seems more acid than some.  Much liked by two tasters, but too lean for others.  Score depends on how one rates bouquet,  versus palate.  Better oak balance than many though,  so a good example of a wine one can now buy for a song,  yet it gives a marvellous snapshot of the vintage.  Drink up.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Cos d'Estournel   16 ½  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 60%,  Me 40;  54 ha,  18 000 cases.  Cos and Montrose have long tussled as to which is the finer of these two second growths.  Personally I have had more fine bottles of Montrose than Cos,  which for some years had a slightly reductive style of winemaking.  Broadbent in 1980 thought the wine:  curious,  sweet chocolatey nose,  ripe,  rich,  dry finish,  not as classic as Montrose 70.  ***.  But in 2002 he considered a big bottle tasted in 2000 as:  serenely mature,  evident tannin but gentle,  lovely,  'as good as it ever will be'  ****.   Parker (1991) thought it showed:  a reticent plummy bouquet,  a concentrated,  rich,  tannic wine,  impressive yet somewhat coarse.  87 ]
Ruby and garnet.  A more straightforward Bordeaux-blend bouquet than the top wines,  some indeterminate fading berry and fruit,  brown mushrooms,  some oak.  Palate is soft,  still fair fruit,  but the flavours lacking berry as such,  more melding into tobacco and mushroom,  the acid starting to show.  As with most of these wines,  still good with food,  but needs drinking.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Haut Brion   16 ½  ()
Graves First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 55%,  Me 30,  CF 15;  41 ha,  12 000 cases.  Broadbent (1980):  bouquet reined-in,  but rich and complex;  fairly full-bodied,  firm,  powerful.  Long dry finish.  ****.  Parker (1991):  not as concentrated and rich as it should be.  84 ]
Garnet and ruby.  A distinctive bouquet, with the leathery,  roti,  earthy,  almost roast chestnuts qualities that characterised the wine in earlier decades.  There are some suggestions of old plum jam –  forgotten shrivelled jam,  under cellophane.  Palate has similar flavours,  mellow,  still some body and richness,  but not a lot of fruit now.  Another wine in the style of a classic old Hunter.  Needs drinking.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Talbot   15 ½  ()
St Julien Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ CS 71%,  Me 20,  CF 5,  PV 4;  101 ha,  red 40 000 cases,  white 2 500.  Parker (1991):  This wine lacks one of the telltale characteristics of the 1970 vintage – a rich glossy fruitiness.  Shows blackcurrants,  but the tannins overwhelm the fruit.  Till 1993.  78 ]
Garnet and ruby.  A fading bouquet,  but clearly in the cabernet and claret style – faded cassis and slightly leathery oak.  Palate is certainly running out of body and fruit now,  the acid and tannins becoming prominent in austere berry.  Still a pleasant pizza wine,  but the first taste is very austere.  Drink up.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch MacCarthy-Moula   15  ()
St Estephe Cru Bourgeois,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $5.95   [ CS > Me etc ]
Garnet and ruby.  Another fading wine,  but recognisably cabernet to a keen wine sleuth.  In the faded redfruits there is the same kind of seaweed / iodine suggestion that some old Coonawarra cabernets show after 20 or 30 years.  This has more body than the Talbot,  but the flavours are more leathery and plainer,  with some acid starting to show here too.  Still pleasant relaxed drinking with food that suits it (for those who like old wine).  GK 03/05

1970  Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon
Huapai,  Auckland,  New Zealand:   – %;  $ –    [ In 1969 Tom McDonald released his remarkable 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon,  and set New Zealand wine off in a completely new direction,  not dreamt of since the late 1800s through to Prohibition.  The next wine of similar calibre came from the young Nick Nobilo,  inspired as he was then by recently visiting his parents'  island home Korcula in the Adriatic Sea,  and by sampling the wines of Europe.  Thus the 1970 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinotage from the same vintage were nearly as exciting as the McWilliams,  to those following the re-emergence of vinifera red wines in New Zealand. ]
Ruby and garnet,  with the Latour the youngest colour on the table.  Even when they were first released,  several of the pioneering Nobilo reds in the 1970 – 76 era had VAs above ideal.  This wine,  so exciting in its day,  was sadly bottled with squitty corks 35mm long.  For our bottle,  it was not up to the job,  and VA is now excessive.  The actual fruit is surprisingly good,  however,  plummy and blackberry,  with obvious new oak.  A good bottle would have been competitive in this tasting.  Belies the claim that New Zealand wines don't keep,  an assertion based on ignorance.  As has always been the case,  if the wines were made to international standards of cropping rate and elevation, the serious wines have kept appropriately.  Just is,  there were so few of them before 1980.  GK 03/05

1970  Ch Petrus
Pomerol First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12%;  $ –    [ Me 95%,  CF 5;  11.4 ha,  3,700 cases.  This bottle thanks to Paul Starr,  noting provenance unknown,  and half-shoulder ullage.  Parker (1991):  old-style Petrus that is crammed with concentration.  Spectacular …  97 ]
Brown.  Sadly the cork was rotten (presumably from a long interval standing up,  then being laid down again),  and the wine so oxidised it tasted more like Marsala than anything else.  But the richness was indeed phenomenal.  A good bottle should be as Parker says.  Tantalising.  GK 03/05