We recently hosted a party with a few of our friends where we opened up the same wine, a decade apart, spanning four decades, to see how the wine ages and matures.
Château Pape Clément from 1976, 1986, 1996, and 2006. Why Château Pape Clément? We decided to go with a Bordeaux for a variety of reasons, including it’s the easiest place from which to find old bottles. The Bordeaux First Growths and the right bank equivalents of First Growths are a bit too expensive. So, we looked up our favorite Second Growths and their equivalents, and lucky enough, we were able to find Château Pape Clément bottles from each of the four decades.
Who is Château Pape Clément?
Château Pape Clément is a winery that lies just south of Château Haut-Brion and the city of Bordeaux, in the Pessac-Leognon region. It is named after one of its earliest owners, the archbishop of Bordeaux who then became Pope Clement V (in 1306). Imagine that, a wine making pope! While Catholic historians primarily remember Pope Clement V for being the first of the Avignon popes (we won’t talk about what the Knights Templar remember him for), wine enthusiasts always appreciate that there was a pope who was a winemaker. And, to judge by the quality of Château Pape Clément’s recent vintages, Pope Clement V probably made some fine wines for his time.
Drinking the Wine (a/k/a the Best Part)
So, what was it like to drink these four decades of wine at the same time? And, which wines were ready to drink and which ones were past their prime?
• The 1976 had a beautiful caramel color, but most of the group considered the 1976 a bit too over-the-hill. While there was still some fruit in the mouth, the taste of the wine had become simple and there were some just slightly-off aromas. Jordan happily took the rest of the 1976 the group didn’t drink.
• Both the 1986 and 1996 wines took some time to develop, but once they had enough time to breathe (we opened all wines at nearly the same time), they both were fantastic. They were ready to drink now, but they also likely would hold up for many more years if we hadn’t opened them for this party.
• The 2006, besides being unsurprisingly still a bit too tannic, also had the strong fruit forward taste and smell characteristic of many wines made in the more modern style.
As a whole, three of the five thought the 1986 was the best, while two of the five thought the 1996 was the best. For the second best, 1996 got two votes, 1986 got two votes, and 1976 got one vote (a bit obviously, Jordan)
Do Wine Critic’s Recommendations Hold Up?
Tastings like this one always make us wonder – how close do the critics get when they predict when a wine is ready to open? So, being the wine geeks that we are, the morning after the tasting, we pulled out both Robert Parker’s 2003 book, Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, (4th ed.) and Michael Broadbent’s 2002 book, Vintage Wine: Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wine to see whether these experts’ predictions were accurate.
So, how did each of these two famous wine critics do guessing how the wines would taste today? Each of them rated two our of the four wines and this is how they did.
- Broadbent tasted the 1976 Château Pape Clément in 1989, gave two out of five stars, and recommended to drink it right away. While the 1976 Château Pape Clément was no doubt over-the-hill today, in 2017, it wasn’t too bad. Although we were drinking it well beyond its prime, the wine was still drinkable almost thirty years after Broadbent’s review to drink now. He also tasted the 1996 Château Pape Clément (in 1997 and 1999). He gave it 2 out of 5 stars, but thought it might get to 4 out of 5 stars eventually. He recommended drinking it between 2008 and 2016. Tasting the wine in 2017, Broadbent wasn’t even close on his recommendations on what years to drink. The 1996 was in great shape and will hold up for many years to come.
- Parker gave 91 out of 100 points to the 1986 Château Pape Clément and recommended drinking it between 2003 and 2016. The 1986 Château Pape Clément was still great today, in 2017, and will likely be great for at least another five years if not more. Parker gave the 1996 Château Pape Clémentt 94 out of 100 points and recommended drinking it between 2005 and 2020. We doubt it will be over-the-hill by 2020; and it seems odd that the 1996 Château Pape Clément was rated so much higher than the 1986 Château Pape Clément.
The moral of this is that even some of the greatest wine critics in the world are still only guessing when they predict what a wine will do many years in the future.
- Map: Wine, Whit, & Wisdom