On the Trail

Return to 1989

David Driscoll
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If you search among the annuls of wine criticism, vintage guides, and general hoopla surrounding all things Bordeaux, you’ll find a varying group of opinions concerning the level of respect we should have for the 1989 vintage. Before the grapes were even harvested from the vines, people were calling it one of the best vintages of the century, so you might understand how that could lead to some debate down the line once the wines had actually been made and matured. In 1999, James Sucking, while still with the Wine Spectator, called 1989 a better harvest than 1982 ten years down the line, while Robert Parker considered it inferior to 1990, the vintage he claimed was also better than 1982. There’s no debate about whether 1989 was a great Bordeaux vintage, only about exactly how great it was. While most critics use Latour and Haut-Brion as their ballasts, I’ve always found that the measure of a fantastic Bordeaux harvest can be found in how some of the less-renowned properties perform in the long run. Not so much in how the first growths (which taste pretty good in just about any vintage) hold up, but rather the cru bourgeois. Seeing that a number of value-priced specimen from 1989 just landed at the store, I figured we should go through them and see how they're drinking.

Château Gressier Grand Poujeaux isn't a household name in the wine world, but it's been a property I've been selling to in-store customers for years now, especially the sub-$20 values from 2009 and 2010. Originally part of Chasse-Spleen before it was divided in 1822, the properties were reunited in 2003 when the Merlaut family (owners of Chasse-Spleen) purchased the twenty-three hectare estate and began revamping its deep gravel soils as part of the Grand-Poujeaux plateau. I'd never tasted anything older from Gressier until the 1989 showed up this past week and I was well impressed. The wine has held up impeccably with fleshy, grippy tannins, a rich body, and a finish that shows a balance of earth and subtle dark fruits. I had no idea the Gressier wines could hold up this well, which makes me think twice about some of the aforementioned bottles I still have in my cellar! 

Most Bordeaux drinkers see 1989 Margaux for $59.99 and they start getting suspicious, but don't let the price fool you here (or with the magnums for $120). One of the oldest properties in Margaux (dating back to the 1200s), Tour de Mons has always been respected for its tremendous terroir, a mixture of gravel over limestone subsoil. Tasting this graceful and elegant 1989 vintage today it's clear that the wine has all the stuffing for the long haul because everything about this wine is in sync. Delicate dark fruit, weightless tannins, and pure silk in texture, this has sleeper written all over it. That same skepticism might apply to 1989 Pauillac for $69.99, but again we're digging deep for value here. The 1989 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste has a reputation for superb quality, so in typical K&L fashion we went right after the property's second wine: the Lacoste Borie. Named for the Borie family, of Ducru Beaucaillou fame as well, the second wine lives up to the hype of the vintage. Still showing fruit after almost three decades, the tannins are soft, integrated, and the palate is like pure silk. Those looking for underrated value from Bordeaux should take note.

I always enjoy getting the chance to taste older vintages from the Right Bank because there's a huge gap in my knowledge there, especially with the properties that no longer exist. L'Arrosee was purchased in 2013 by Haut Brion who merged the vineyards with Tetre-Daugay and called the new estate Quintus. Those who like their old school Bordeaux, both in historical and flavorful sense of the word, will really dig this. In the 1989, the flavors are savory with plenty of secondary development and soft tannins that flesh out on the finish. 

-David Driscoll