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.
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,
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."