Considered one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century, 1982 wines from the Bordeaux region are still spoken about in reverent terms—so lavishly, in fact, that famed wine critic James Suckling writes that they changed his life, and Decanter cites an expert who refers to them as being so perfectly balanced that they are “like big men dancing lightly.”
However, novice collectors shouldn’t necessarily buy every 40-year-old wine they can get their hands on: while Italy, Spain, South Africa, Champagne and Porto also produced fantastic vintages, wines from Sauternes, Burgundy, Beaujolais and Alsace were of average quality. Wine Searcher also cautions that 1982 wines from California are hit or miss, as are wines from the Rhône region.
So what was it that made 1982 so extraordinary for Bordeaux?
A SUMMER OF PERFECT WEATHER
Jean-Bernard Delmas, then managing Haut-Brion, noted that “it was an armchair summer, hot and dry, so there were no diseases, no insects to worry us.” Christian Moueix, who now runs Château Pétrus and owns Dominus, called it a “perfect summer,” comparing it to the superb conditions in 1989 and 2005. Decanter breaks it down even further: “The winter had been mild, April was dry and sunny and, apart from a few scattered hailstorms, May was as promising. June and July provided an excellent, if very warm, mix of sunshine and showers, while August and early September, with temperatures at 30°C, did nothing to damage the grapes or prevent an early harvest – starting September 15, even in the northern Médoc. The result was Merlot of more than 13% potential alcohol, even finer than the Cabernet which reached more than 12% – levels then deemed remarkable.”
To circle back slightly, while these specific weather conditions helped produce incredible Bordeaux wines, they hindered other types of production. In the production of Sauternes, a hot September hinders the growth of botrytis (also known as “noble rot”), a type of fungus which decays and dehydrates wine grapes—and helps to intensify certain flavours and an overall sweetness. The rains that fell in September of 1982 washed away the botrytis, further hampering the production of this sweet wine. In short—one vintner’s windfall is another vintner’s despair.
SET UP FOR SUCCESS
While the flawless weather in 1982 cannot be overstated, other factors aligned perfectly as well. The year launched the career of the now-famous critic Robert Parker, who sung the vintage’s praises to the skies, ushering in new collectors and new audiences. Parker knew the vintage would be great, and announced it early—in contrast to the wine critic at the New York Times, who had panned it!
Consumers now turned their gaze to France and Italy, so much so that even Parker himself was surprised at how little interest there was in buying first-rate California wines only two years after Time magazine declared the “Golden Age of California Wine.” At the time, Parker wrote of a great shift in allegiance to European imports “that are providing some astonishingly good buys—a result of a very bullish American dollar combined with unsettled political and economic situations in key European wine-producing countries such as France and Italy.”
Also worth mentioning is the advent of modern winemaking technology, which had begun to permeate the tradition-bound world of Bordeaux. Moueix noted that the 1959 vintage might have rivalled that of 1982, but due to a lack of production abilities, “half of it ended up as vinegar.” Not so in 1982, as winemakers were better equipped to capitalize on Mother Nature’s bounty.
FORTY YEARS OF EXCELLENCE
One of Suckling’s greatest lessons from the 1982 vintage was that “great wines are always great, no matter if they are tasted from barrel or bottle, young or old. The best 1982s were fabulous from barrel and many are still fabulous today.”
Tasting wines from this famed vintage is an exceptional opportunity, and Waddington’s is pleased to be offering an unusually large selection in our May auction of Fine Wine.
ABOUT THE AUCTION
Our May Fine Wine Auction showcases the best of Old and New World wines in our largest auction to date with nearly 700 lots.
Highlights include many lots featuring the iconic 1982 Bordeaux vintage, along with a wide assortment of blue-chip Bordeaux cuvées in their original wood. We are also excited to bring attention to twelve bottles of 1998 Château Lafite Rothschild, a great selection of white and red Burgundies, an abundance of Super Tuscans, a great selection of Porto, and iconic Californians. With such a wide selection of thoughtfully curated wines there is truly something for every Oenophile.
We are always delighted to answer any questions you may have about current offerings, how to buy, build a collection or consign wine and spirits. Please contact Joann Maplesden at 416-847-6182 or [email protected] or Devin Hatfield at 416-847-6181 or [email protected]