At the outset, 1975 was welcomed enthusiastically, embraced as the vintage of the decade, and touted as a worthy successor to 1961. But just as its star rose quickly and shone brilliantly, its promise seemed to wane suddenly and to all but crash into the sea. Recently, however, many discriminating palates have begun reappraising the vintage far more favorably. In this article, JOHN WINTHROP argues that 1975 claret has shaken off its long winter nap and now emerges to reveal its remarkable quality.

Claret vintages are like loose women: their reputations, once sullied, are extraordinarily difficult to reestablish. Such, regrettably, has been the case with 1975. Initially hailed as a "great year", not infrequently hyped as one of the "vintages of the century", comparisons to 1961 were common, especially in the United States. Indeed, 1975 produced some irrefutably successful red Bordeaux. Pétrus attained a level nearly unrivaled in modern times, preferred by Christian Moueix to all except the 1982. La Mission Haut Brion produced a wine of legendary dimension that continues to grace many connoisseurs' "Top Ten" lists.

The weather in 1975 was not auspicious. A mild and somewhat wet winter stimulated an early beginning to the growing season, which was shocked by a sudden frost toward the end of March. The flowering occurred under excellent conditions, nonetheless, and the spring and the first part of summer were warm and dry. July and early August enjoyed continuing sun, rising temperatures, and the absence of rain. With the second week in August, however, rainstorms began and persisted intermittently for six weeks, with warm and sunny days in between. The harvest commenced during the third week of September and proceeded under quite favorable conditions until the middle of October. The summer dryness and heat resulted in moderate yields of thick-skinned grapes that, in turn, produced alcoholic, tannic and concentrated wines. Tasted in cask, the young wines were highly praised for their deep color, enormous ripeness, and, most especially, for their remarkably fragrant, '61-like nose. The highly-extracted fruit was acclaimed, although the masking by powerful tannins was also noted. Following the poor wines of '72, '73, and '74, initial demand for the 1975 vintage sent the prices soaring. By mid-1978, when the bottled wine was beginning to close, prices had already tripled.

The early enthusiasm for 1975 claret turned increasingly critical. By the 1980's and early 1990's, the 1975's were being almost universally disparaged as hard, astringent, unbalanced, excessively tannic, and too austere. While the underlying layers of fruit continued to be appreciated, the conventional wisdom held that the fruit would dry out long before the tannins softened. The consensus was probably best summed up by Edmund Penning-Rowsell: "No final view can yet be expressed…the vital question is whether the fruit will outlast the tannin."

Émile Peynaud remained one of the only steadfast supporters. He continued to believe that 1975 would eventually be ranked as one of the greatest years in Bordeaux, together with the 1929 and 1947, and ahead of the 1949, 1953, 1959, 1966 and 1970. In 1989, Peynaud reconfirmed his opinion that the 1975 vintage was the best between 1961 and 1982, and that only time in bottle was necessary for the quality to emerge. While Peynaud was long a voice in the wilderness, the last few years have witnessed more and more critics softening their tones. Some have even been observed creeping back into the Peynaud camp. Almost a decade ago, David Peppercorn offered the following assessment of the vintage: "There certainly are some great wines in 1975, but they have been rather forgotten, through being so slow to develop, and perhaps in the excitement over the 1982's…It is surely time for a reappraisal of the vintage as a whole."

Recently, even Robert Parker, himself no enthusiast of aged clarets, conceded: "I was surprised by my positive overall feelings about many of the 1975's after two recent tastings… the wines may turn out to be similar to the 1928's and 1948's…top clarets made in an undeniably old-fashioned style." The noted English critic Clive Coates is less restrained in his enthusiasm about reevaluating the 1975 vintage: "Patience has been rewarded…Peynaud was right."

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