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The 1985 Red Vintage – today

1985-rousseauThe 1985s: a modern-day look at 1985 grand crus together with a 2005 selection of Chevalier/Montrachet apetisers…

It’s definitely not every year that you get to look back at a properly mature vintage, and in enviable grand cru depth too, but it seems to me that 1985 is worthy of such focus.

Even if the drinking of this vintage flowered relatively early, it seems to me that 30 years should be perfect for the grander wines of most vintages, and that’s despite me noting in the last years a number of 1985 1er crus, and certainly villages wines that seemed on a more downwards trajectory.

In character terms, 1985 had always been a sweet, lush, but balanced vintage for my palate – almost a cross between 2000 and 2009 – there is a certain ripeness and glycerol-fat and certainly the acidity has always seemed modest, yet there was balance and never any suggestion that these wines were not devoured and enjoyed. To the modern buyer, 2000 and 2009 may not sound like the most laudable vintage parallels – they are mine, not suggestions from others – but we should remember that 30 years ago, good, drinkable vintages were in much shorter supply than they are today, and this vintage was loudly trumpeted.

The 1985 vintage…

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The 1985 vintage produced above-average yields of pinot noir but these wines were very well received, delivering suave, seductive wines. Despite delivering only modest acidities, this vintage has always seemed to offer balance and it remains one of the best vintages from that decade.

The year began with temperatures approaching -30°C; many vines in frost-traps were lost, just like in 2009. Flowering was a little late, due to the cool Spring, but was largely uneventful. The weather became very fine and dry in August and continued in the same vein in September – the sole exception being a mid-August hailstorm that laid waste to a substantial area in Aloxe-Corton. The harvest by today’s standards was modestly late, but had recovered some time versus the late flowering due to the fine and dry late summer – the domaines began to harvest on the 24th September.

From the very start of tasting young wines, ‘the professionals’ thought them tasty and very approachable but questioned their longevity. I still think that a majority are fading or should have already been drunk – grand crus should, however, always be the exceptions, but wines kept in similar conditions to those in this tasting, have no right to be fading – and indeed they rewarded us amply.

See also another view of 1985 from Clive Coates from earlier this year.

The wines…

We are fortunate to be tasting wines that were largely assembled and cellared by one person – of-course, not all grand crus – there are notable wines from the Côte de Beaune too. Our venue was a good restaurant in Vienna.

Only to note the obvious, wines are for drinking with food and conversation, but if I really want to compare and contrast wines, I want to do it quietly with the same palate, i.e. not one that has just finished (for example) a little fois gras with pickle, and then the next plate with a deep savoury sauce. So my preference is to first taste the wines, then afterwards drink them with food and friends – but this beggar could not be a chooser, and it was anyway an honour to sit with these people and these bottles!

DSC07950So how did the wines show versus my previous experience? To be honest, rather differently. Yes there was a certain sweetness, fine balance but here was energy too – there was rarely the glycerol richness of many other wines that I’ve previously enjoyed, and one dead wine apart, all were vigorous and seemingly in their prime. Here I must highlight provenance; a majority of these reds came from an Austrian cellar sale in 2009 – a deep cellar with 13 degrees all-year-round and indeed no electricity – torch-lights were required on cellar expeditions. The wines were imported into Austria on release so have spent over 20 years in this perfect location – I doubt that even the producer’s cellars will offer better bottles. You will note from photos that this was also a very damp cellar, hence, the plastic wrap to preserve something of the labels – and not just the labels were preserved, the fills were remarkable – almost as new!

Wines were opened in a cool room two hours before the tasting to check for cork taint et-cetera but without decanting. They were poured blind, mainly in flights of three, and after tasting each flight their identity was revealed. I liked the fact that there was no collation of scores to make a table of the best – every wine here was for enjoying as an individual. All the wines, including whites, were presented in Zalto Burgundy glasses.

Whites? Yes, to ease us gently into our tasting was a recently disgorged magnum of Champagne from AR Lenoble – 1996 Collection Rare – tasty it was too. There followed a remarkable, for more than 1 reason, set of 4 wines from a small area above the village of Puligny-Montrachet – and 2005s too – I found them remarkable for their lack of that vintage’s brutality, in the main they were fresh and they were relatively open and accessible too, they were also remarkable because it was said that three came from Chevalier La Cabotte:

White 1: 2005 Bouchard Père et Fils, Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte
This nose starts tight but quickly begins to fill the glass with more than a hint of textured vanilla. Really super texture, a direct wine but one with many layers of flavour that finishes with a beautiful minerality. Gorgeously textured loveliness.

White 2: 2005 de Montille, Chevalier-Montrachet (La Cabotte?)
*It is suggested that from 2005 to 2007, de Montille exchanged barrels of wine with Bouchard – a multiple of barrels of their newly acquired Malconsorts for Chevalier Cabotte, though could not use the Cabotte name on the label. I’ll enquire further when I visit both…
Tighter, a hint mineral, a deeper riper core of fruit with a faint salinity above and certainly a hint of development. More energy on the palate, indeed here is a wine that’s more about energy and personality than the texture of the last. Lovely, mineral, faintly salty finishing – again very long but without the weight of layers of the last wine – not better, just very different. Very persistent but the only white here with the ripe development of aromatic.

White 3: 2005 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Chevalier-Montrachet (La Cabotte?)
*Also suggested by the pourer to be sourced from Bouchard’s Cabotte.
Ethereal, modest but finely complex aromas, slowly adding weight and an almost lychee fruit note. Here is, again, more minerality and the first with a transient impression of oak texture too, but also another increase in energy. Again the finish is saltily mineral. A very similar character to the de Montille wine, this time without any undue development.

*Both suggestions rejected by de Montille and Colin-Morey when later asked during the tasting of 2015s…

White 4: 2005 Henri Boillot, Montrachet
Not the aromatic width of some, but here is really a more impressive depth of complex, fresh fruit and flower notes. A rounder wine yet one with perfect balance – perfect is an overused word, but I’m staying with it in this context. Super-adhesive flavour in the finish – here is more oak texture but perhaps a little more dimension of flavour too – the only wine here with some lasting oak texture/impression and the only wine here that begs a little more time in the cellar.

The reds:
We had just one dud, and it was one of the few that did not come from the ‘Austrian cellar’ – the others were brilliant wines. Worth noting here, is that there was very little to spit, so after 20+ wines, even if the last bottles were from Rousseau, it becomes harder and harder to write differentiated notes!

Note that the wines were tasted in geographical progression from south to north – almost – as we later found out…

Red 1: 1985 d’Angerville, Volnay 1er Clos des Ducs
Wide, sweet, faintly spiced, slowly adding depth. Fills the mouth beautifully, here is a little tannic texture, still, and a beautiful growing extra weight of flavour in the mid-palate and onwards into the finish. This is a lovely wine.

Red 2: 1985 Pousse d’Or, Volnay 1er Clos de la Bousse d’Or
A more mineral and more strident aroma, with an attractive freshness. The aromas slowly smooth out, and show a panorama of perfect of mature red fruit, occasionally hinting of rose flowers too – eventually adding a tobacco note. Bigger, a little more dimension and energy, though less perfectly textured. A certain minerality flowing through the core into the finish. The finish is really persistent. Great wine, but as a package, just behind the first wine…

Red 3: 1985 Pousse d’Or, Volnay 1er Les Caillerets
Some brett, a hint of beef and plenty of depth. Weight and width – some dimension too, but very much a wine on the downward slope with more than a hint of oxidation in the flavours to augment the brett. It turned out that this wine was an addition to the tasting, rather than from the 2009 cellar sale.

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Red 4: 1985 de Montille, Pommard 1er Epenots
Wide, deep, fresh, with a little herbal, cold impression but very complex aromas that hold your attention. Big in the mouth, direct and intense too – Corton-style it seems – the flavour holds long, really super persistence. Very, very good wine.

Red 5: 1985 Rapet, Corton
Round – but not full – but round with beautifully deep red fruit, almost a tree bark impression – whatever that might sound like, this is a beauty – textbook, gorgeous mature burgundy. Big, impressive, with energy, sort of Vosne in style with impressive sweetness in the mid-palate. It’s not the smoothest texture wine here, but I like this characterful wine very much!

Red 6: 1985 Frateli Monchiero, Barolo Montanello Riserva
The curse of glass 3? More herbs, more intensity of aroma, but not particularly super as there’s some volatility – it doesn’t compel me to take a sip. But actually there’s good width and some sweetness on the tongue – here is a more tannic texture and more than a suggestion of the same volatility from the nose. I’ve no reference points here – maybe due to the volatility – if nothing else was open I could drink this, but other things are… (Ah, so there may be pirates!)

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Red 7: 1985 Jean Grivot, Chambolle-Musigny Combe d’Orveaux
Deep, textured aroma of faintly roast red fruit and eventually a very nice, still subtle violet flower. This is still showing some tannin – a wiry wine with pretty fruit in the middle and plenty of structure which the flavour wraps around. Big and impressive – quite a ‘loud’ wine – but it’s very tasty too.

Red 8: 1985 Jacqueline Jayer, Echézeaux
The cork is basically the same as last, as Grivot made both wines – actually the labels are almost the same too!
Deep, a more than slightly exciting aromatic. Wide in the mouth, intense too with a hint of saline minerality and certainly more, slightly raisined, width and complexity. The fruit is less fresh than the Chambolle, but that’s currently not a problem. Mouth-watering wine, less complete but perhaps more interesting than the Chambolle. Lovely lingering flavours, again with a raisined impression…

Red 9: 1985 Jean Grivot, Richebourg
This starts with an unimpressive weight of aroma but opens with minerality and energy – indeed a clarity that is very impressive, it even slowly adds some vanilla which I find less impressive – Rousseau? – Big in the mouth, plenty of energy and indeed dynamism. Very impressive wine with just a hint of tannic texture after the mid-palate. A big finish too – super!

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Red 10: 1985 Faiveley, Clos de la Roche
Wide, pretty, with growing aromatic depth – I’m hooked! Flashes of beautiful fruit on the nose. Big, intense, very impressive weight and intensity on the palate – this is brilliant with super dimension and a flavour that slowly fades. Just a brilliant wine – top marks!

Red 11: Armand Rousseau, Clos de la Roche
Roasted meat, yet nothing that seems faulty – it remains inviting still. In the mouth it is full of fruit with a CO2-style prickle to the texture. A pretty finishing fruit flavour that is rather understated compared to many, but impressively long all the same. Super in the finish, yet a wine with less dynamism and amplitude than those on either side.

Red 12: 1985 Mommessin, Clos de Tart
Top to bottom, this nose is fresh, fine, mature grand cru – super. Super-big in the mouth too. There seems a hint of something faintly volatile but it’s all the more exciting for that – big finishing too. Intense and the biggest and most impressive of this trio, yet not necessarily better only for that…

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Red 13: 1985 Armand Rousseau, Clos des Ruchottes-Chambertin
Wide, with a hint of leafy development, a very pretty and inviting aroma. Big, fresh, mouth-watering flavour. Lovely mid-palate intensity here, the flavour slowly melting and fading on the tongue. Can I keep saying lovely? I really could…

Red 14: 1985 Roty, Charmes-Chambertin TVV
A narrower yet round nose that gives the impression of being very silky – very different and perhaps just a little more primary than most. Big, intense and with a superb extra dimension of mid-palate flavour – that extra dimension is a real standout! This still seems to be faintly backed by a little oak, still, but really a special wine here – gorgeous!

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Red 15: 1985 Armand Rousseau, Chambertin
A little fresh air above with a complex weight of aroma below, yet this is rather discreet. Not so in the mouth, this is intense and direct, impressively so, but perhaps not the most gourmand because that. Massive wine, which has a beautiful finish. I find it difficult in the mid-palate (i.e. too young) but otherwise simply brilliant. This is really a wine of impact. I’ve had this before and that was aromatically more explosive, but this seems younger.

Red 15: 1985 Armand Rousseau, Chambertin Clos de Bèze
A wider nose with more pepper above, yet again far from the most open, but here is less herb and more gorgeously fruited aromatics. Seemingly wider, also very intense but this time more obviously finely flavoured and interesting, here is also impact but less-so than the Chambertin with more nuance and elegance – today…

2 responses to “The 1985 Red Vintage – today”

  1. Mark C Johnson

    Well done, Bill. I always believed 1985 to be a rather shorter lived vintage but these seem to be chugging right along at 30 years old. Of course provenance is very important!

  2. winemaker01

    Thankyou for such a detailed rundown including the provenance as a reference point to previous bottles of same wine with different provenance. In the new world it is rare to have wines cellared at 13C. Bit of a tease having all those Chevalier Montrachets from my point of view as I love the way they build. Bravo

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