What to drink when celebrating an anniversary in 2015?
Vintages ending in “5” include some of the greatest years on record. But there are also some of the worst harvests ever.
If you’re fortunate enough to be celebrating your 100th birthday in 2015 you’re unlikely to find anything from 1915 with which to make a toast. It was a wartime vintage with lots of rain but few grapes and hardly anybody to pick them. However, it was – would you believe – a good vintage in Germany.
Some great Port was made in 1935. A decade later, what is perhaps the most acclaimed of all European vintages gave birth to some legendary wines. Michael Broadbent MW describes it as “arguably one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century (producing) long-lasting wines of the highest quality”.
Throughout France ungrafted, mature vines – none had been replaced during the war – gave the highest quality grapes. In Bordeaux, Mouton Rothschild, despite having an ill-equipped winery, was particularly brilliant. Broadbent has famously described Mouton 1945 as “a Churchill of a wine”, and not just in reference to the wine itself, either. To commemorate the end of the war, this was the first vintage of Mouton to feature a bespoke label, based on Churchill’s “V for Victory”, by a young French artist called Philippe Jullian. Every vintage since, Mouton has enlisted an artist to design a new label.
In June 1993, the château’s then owner Baroness Philippine de Rothschild served the ’45 to more than 200 guests at a dinner. The idea was to pour magnums, of which only 1,475 were made. However, when a magnum was opened for inspection, the maître de chai decided that the wine was not yet ready and bottles were served instead. Maybe they’ll try again this yea
Good red Burgundy was made in 1955, with fine examples of Sauternes (especially d’Yquem), Champagne and Port also produced.
I have heard stories of mould growing in vats during the 1965 vintage. It was a shocker. Fast forward to 1975 and there are excellent Pomerols (especially Pétrus), Sauternes and Champagnes. Defying the trend for ubiquitous excellence or mediocrity in France’s classic regions for “5s”, ’75 was very bad for Burgundy. It was a good year for Penfolds Grange.
It was excellent just about everywhere in 1985. Red Bordeaux, Sauternes, red Burgundy, southern Rhône, Champagne, Port and California all enjoyed a rewarding vintage. The real star of this year is Tenuta di San Guido Sassicaia, which was the first Italian wine to be awarded 100 points by that maker and breaker of reputations Robert Parker. He described it as “one of the greatest wines I have ever tasted, from anywhere” and it retains a strong reputation.
I entered the wine trade in 1996 and I recall the excitement about 1995 white Burgundy (though 1996 turned out to be even better). The reds weren’t bad, either. Champagne, Rhône and Bordeaux were all of a high standard.
Moving into the noughties and the era of massively hyped and expensive blockbuster vintages, 2005 Bordeaux was acclaimed as “vintage of the century” – at least until 2009.
Probably there is better value to be had in Burgundy in 2005, which Jasper Morris MW called “the most uniformly successful vintage I have seen in my career”. Unlike American critics, he’s not given to hyperbole: For him to make such an assertion it must be a really good vintage.