Last week, we had the occasion of trying out Beychevelle’s 1983 and 1978 at the same dinner. All the guests at dinner preferred the 1983 to 1978. Both were indeed very enjoyable and showed fairly common characteristic of that specific vintage in Bordeaux.
For the 1978, it has passed its prime, but still a lovely, enjoyable wine. Without any decanting, the wine was good to go once pouring into the glass. It had an excellent and somewhat fresh and vegetal aroma. The wine is quite elegant, with tannin fully integrated with some dark fruit on the palate. There was apparent and good acidity, but with a rather lean structure. Surprising, over the course of two hours, the wine did not fade away and actually picked up a little bit of flesh with some exposure to air.
For the 1983, it was simply delicious! What jumped out most was the ripeness of the fruit and its sweetness on the nose and palate, with beautiful leather, mocha and wood. Tannin was silky and smooth. A very good balance of acidity and structure and was enjoy from the beginning till the very last sip over the 2.5 hour dinner. Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise that the wine was still energetic and seemed to have many more years to go.
The Beychevelle 1978 reminded me of the Pichon Lalande 1978 we had last year; and the Beychevelle 1983 was somewhat similar to the Leoville-Poyferre 1983 we had just 3 weeks ago. Are these wines representative of the vintage of 1978 and 1983 in Bordeaux?
The 1978 Bordeaux growing season did not start off well with a wet and cool spring. Things improved so slowly that some winemakers were already planning to write off the vintage. Luckily, starting in the third week of August, everything went perfect. It was hot and dry, but never excessive. Final splash of rains also came during the final stage of ripening. On the edge of a being a catastrophic season, it turned out to be an excellent vintage. However, many of the 1978 would seem “lean and ungenerous” and many have already begun fading away.
Similarly, the 1983 growing season had periods which made the condition look almost catastrophic. The spring was cool and wet, leading to perfect flowering in June. However, July was super-hot and drought. Temperature was above average in August with much more rainfall (which was dangerous as humidity and heat usually led to rots). Luckily, September and October were warm and reasonably dry. The heat continued but the weather turned very dry throughout September and October. Winemakers who harvested late made some excellent wines as the fruits were more mature (which explained the sense of ripeness in both Poyferre and Beychevelle 1983). Clive Coates summarized the good wines from 1983 as “rich and full, balanced and concentrated, complex and long on the palate”.
Immediately following the legendary 1982, 1983 vintage has been somewhat ignored. Yet, it actually offered great value for those enjoying fully mature Bordeaux. What about some other earlier decent vintages prior to 1982? For the good quality ones, Clive Coates considers 1983 a classic vintage, better than both 1981 and 1979. 1983 is fuller and richer than 1978 and probably as elegant; less overpowered with tannin and more endowed with fruit than 1975.
This is the beauty of “off-vintage” wines as it is so much fun to explore, a real pleasure to drink at maturity and can be pleasantly surprised when you are able discover great wines at excellent value.