Anniversary Vintage Wines for 2024 from Arden Fine Wines in Mayfair, London.
The 2024 edition of “Anniversary Vintage Wines” arrives at a time of economic and geopolitical uncertainty.
Russia’s terrible war in Ukraine ground ahead, and a horrific new conflict erupted in the Middle East.
Rising inflation, higher interest rates, climate change, military conflict, and slower growth provide a challenging backdrop for the fine wine market.
But how about a vintage bottle for a special birthday or anniversary in 2024?
2014: Fourteen pounds in a stone
Drinking fine wine – something that can age and improve – that’s only ten years old is considered to be infanticide at Arden Fine Wines. We offer very few bottles post-2010.
Nonetheless, it was a very good year in most of the world’s significant wine regions.
For Bordeaux, 2014 was the best-rated “off” vintage since 2005 and remains the second (after 2013) least-expensive post-2005 vintage currently available.
Please contact us if you’re looking for Bordeaux or other 2014 vintage wines.
2004: Fantastico Four
Such is the improvement in winemaking techniques since the 1990s that “bad” vintages that would have been rain-drenched write-offs in the 1970s and before are now highly acceptable.
Bordeaux produced some good wines in 2004, though Burgundy was underwhelming because of a cold spell in June that delayed the flowering of the grapevines. On the whole, white Burgundy wines were better than the reds.
Barolo had an outstanding year in 2004, with some superb examples made of this great Italian wine.
1994: A Safe Port
The Right Bank (north of the River Dordogne), where the Merlot grapes ripen earlier than the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Médoc (south of the Dordogne), was by far the most successful Bordeaux winemaking area.
This year was also good for German Rieslings and for Tuscany, where it was the first vintage of Sassicaia to be released as Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC.
California had an excellent year.
But the best wines of 1994 were Vintage Ports, which are of exceptional quality and value for money.
With the possible exception of 1987, this was the worst vintage of the decade in Bordeaux.
The 1984 grape-growing year in Bordeaux sounds like something from a dystopian novel by George Orwell.
There was cold, dry weather in February, March, and May; a sunny April, June, July, and August that caused the grapes to ripen slowly and unevenly (because of the sudden changes of temperature); cold and wet weather in September; and then Hurricane Hortense (named after Napoleon’s step-daughter) uprooted trees and caused widespread power failures in early October.
The final Orwellian twist to our vinous version of Nineteen Eighty-Four was the release prices of the 1984 First Growths, which were twice as high as the superior 1982s. Nowadays the 1982s are usually three times the price of the 1984s – with Lafite’s 1982 up to six times the price of its 1984. (At Arden Fine Wines the 1984-1982 Lafite multiple is x 4.)
The best bet is again the Douro. It was not a Declared Vintage but Single Quinta Port wines of 1984 are worth a try.
1974: Fifty Shades of Grey
The April 1975 Sichel & Co “Bordeaux and Burgundy Vintage and Market Report” stated that the 1974 Bordeaux wines were “the unwanted orphans of a shattered marketplace”.
As with 1984, it was probably the worst vintage of the decade in Bordeaux.
However, there have been some pleasant surprises on my travels. Domaine de Chevalier 1974 was tasted (drunk with dinner, actually) with Olivier and Anne Bernard at the Domaine in Léognan. Even Oliver said that it was good.
Romanée-Conti 1974 is notable only for its embossed bottle. I have seen bottles of the 1974 with labels stuck over the embossed “DOMAINE DE LA ROMANEE CONTI” in an attempt to present (usually) a counterfeit 1971 or 1978.
It was such a poor vintage that DRC does not even bother to list on its website how many bottles it produced in 1974 – and we do not list any Arden Fine Wines.
The get out of jail card for 50-year olds is California, which had a wondrous year in 1974. The best-regarded wine of this great Californian vintage is Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Martha’s Vineyard in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, just south of Oakville.
A wonderful 50-year old – thank you Martha.
1964: “Birthday greetings, bottle of wine…”
There was torrential localised rain in the Médoc in October 1964 that drenched vineyards in Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe.
Château Latour managed to pick its grapes before the rain – unlike its Pauillac neighbours Château Lafite, Château Mouton Rothschild(label design by Henry Moore), and (especially) Château Lynch-Bages – and made a top-class claret.
There was no Vintage Port in 1964, though Colheitas (single-vintage Tawny Port) are widely available and well worth a look.
My late friend and colleague Nick Belfrage MW said that 1964 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva was outstanding.
Two lovely bottles of 1964 Monimpex Tokaji came to Arden Fine Wines from (an even lovelier) Parisienne friend of a friend, whose father had owned them for some years after they were gifted to him. He only bought French wines, of course.
1954: Seventy Souls
The May 1955 Sichel & Co “Bordeaux and Burgundy Vintage and Market Report” noted 1954 as a “mediocre vintage” that was initially offered at the same price as the much superior 1953. For Burgundy, “to our regret we have not found any wines on the Côte d’Or which we can recommend to our UK customers”.
For French wines, this vintage is of historic interest only. On 7th October 1954, the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO) agreed to take responsibility for handling the classification of Saint-Émilion wine.
The 1954 Port harvest was not generally declared but some excellent Single Quinta Vintage Port was bottled.
1944 and 1934: Crimea and Punishment
I have two tasting notes for wines from 1944 and 1934, both of which came from – as it always has been for anybody born after 1954 – Ukraine.
A winery at Massandra, near Yalta on the Black Sea coast of Crimea, has existed since the mid-19th century.
It was built to supply wines for the Tsar’s Summer Palace at Livadia, also near Yalta, and catered for every conceivable vinous need of the Tsar: wines for Church Communion, for the Court, for social functions, and for the Tsar’s own personal consumption.
Massandra Collection Ayu-Dag Kagor 1944 was named for Ayu Dag, or “Bear Mountain”. “Kagor” was allegedly named after the French red wine Cahors.
Like many of the old Massandra bottlings, this 1944 wine was very sweet, with 190 grams per litre (or 19%) of sugar.
Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat 1934 came to Arden Fine Wines from an auction in Lancashire.
Gurzuf is a small town just east of Yalta, where one of the Massandra wineries was established in 1921.
According to its Cyrillic label, the 1934 Muscat was “Additionally aged 66 years”, so probably released for sale in 2000.
The stated alcohol level is 11.6% and the sugar content is “24.0”, or 24%. A trip to a dentist might be needed after tasting or drinking this special wine.
From Madeira, Leacock’s “SJ” 1934 was made with unknown grapes from the São João (SJ) vineyard in which the wonderfully named Thomas Slapp Leacock (1817-1883) found a cure for Phylloxera –a louse that destroys vines – in 1872. This 1934 wine was dry, warm, and long in flavour.
A small amount of very good Vintage Port was made in 1934 and it was the best Bordeaux vintage of the decade. For Burgundy, it was the second best vintage of the 1930s (after 1937).
1924–1914: Hundred Years Warre
High quality Port wine was made in small quantities in 1924.
Bordeaux produced an abundant crop of attractive wines that year. The 1924 Mouton Rothschild is notable as the first claret to be bottled at its château instead of – as was usual in those days – by a negociant / merchant in Bordeaux or wherever the wine ended up (London, for example). It was also the first Mouton vintage to have a bespoke artist’s label – a superb Art Deco image by Jean Carlu.
European winemakers were distracted by the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In Champagne, the German army arrived before the harvest had begun. And then the Battle of the Marne started, which lasted only a week but had a shockingly high number of casualties.
1904: A Twitch Upon the Thread
In Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, the protagonist and narrator Charles Ryder recalls a dinner in Paris:
“… for the wine I let him give me a bottle of 1906 Montrachet, then at its prime, and, with the duck, a Clos de Bèze of 1904… I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place… By chance I met this same wine again, lunching with my wine merchant in St James’s Street, in the first autumn of the war; it had softened and faded in the intervening years, but it still spoke in the pure, authentic accent of its prime, the same words of hope.”
“Words of hope” might be all that one could now expect of a 120-year old Burgundy wine, as fine as the vintage was – the best since 1887.
For many years the 1904 Bordeaux vintage was widely considered as the best year between 1900 and 1920, though it was perhaps overrated because the 1901-1902-1903 vintages were so poor and there was nothing notable until 1920.
But for Sauternes it was the first really good vintage of the 20th century.
Declared by most of the major shippers, 1904 was an outstanding Port Vintage.
To infinity and beyond…
In the 19th century, the 1894, 1884, and 1854 vintages were excellent for Port.
The 1834 vintage is mentioned in Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset:
“‘Henry,’ said the archdeacon, ‘what are you drinking? That’s ’34 port, but it’s not just what it should be. Shall I send for another bottle?’
‘It will do for me, sir. I shall only take a glass.’
‘I shall drink two or three glasses of claret. But you young fellows have become so desperately temperate.’
Despite the vineyards being devastated by Phylloxera in the middle of the century, Bordeaux produced some remarkable wines in 1874, 1864, and 1844.
William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family mentions that Mr Bagshot has “just begun to drink ‘24 claret now, that of ‘15 being scarce, and almost drunk up.”