King of red wines™, the cabernet sauvignon/merlot-based wines of France's Bordeaux region have for years set the standard for what a dry red table wine should be.

Unfortunately, someone clued the Bordelais in on this, and consequently prices have risen dramatically, some would say absurdly, in the past few years.

A little bit of history: in 1855 the top wines of Bordeaux, and specifically of the Médoc region, were classified into five 'crus' or 'growths', in descending order of price/quality/popularity (at the time), and this classification has stuck to this day, enabling those relatively few dozen Châteaux that got tagged at the time to proclaim their classification on their labels, from the 'First Growths' (Premier Cru Classé) on down (with the lower levels usually just saying "Classé en 1855" or words to that effect). These are many of the wines that you pay through the nose for, some deservedly, some not so. The five First Growths (Margaux, Mouton, Lafite, Haut-Brion & Latour) all sell brand new for around $200-300 these days (and still rising), but they also have a track record for consistency, quality and ageability that is hard to beat.

However, even apart from the 'big boys' and their even more expensive cousins in boutique regions like Pomerol and the 'Garage Wines' of St. Emilion, there is a lot of quality wine to be found if you are willing to hunt around a bit and try vintages that collectors/speculators consider a waste of time (1997 and 1999 are good examples--lots of very nice, tasty wine to be found these days at sometimes half the price of the same Château's 1996 or 2000 releases).

Château d'Agassac Haut-Médoc 1989 ($20): Medium garnet, light brown at the rim. Light cassis nose w/definite stalky, vegetal overtones. Medium- to light-bodied, red cassis with metallic tones & that light greenbean. Crisp acidity, light tannins, very light touch of coffee on the finish. Eh. Unremarkable. (4/3/99)

Château d'Armhailac Pauillac 2000 ($27) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Medium-dark garnet. Smells very toasty-oaky, smoke and dark blackberry/blackcurrant fruit underneath, tar & licorice on the finish. Hard and tight, with fuzzy-rough tannins. Has lots of stuffing I guess, good intensity, but is too knotty now to be very pleasurable. Wait a few decades, retry. (5/03)

La Bastide Dauzac Margaux 1995 ($15) (2nd wine of Ch. Dauzac): Blunt cassis & rubbing alcohol nose with a note of sheet metal in there along with a touch of green bean stemminess. Light to medium-bodied. Medium purply-red. Low acidity, oversharp tannin--metal/vegetal notes on midpalate echo the nose. On the whole seems disjointed--touch of wateriness with a tiny stewed tomato note flashing in front of the sharply tannic finish. Overall the impression isn't as odd as it would seem, though, and with chicken the wine was surprisingly smooth, given its disjointedness. Both Lisa and I liked this second wine better than the Grand Vin! (10/7/98)

Château Batailley Pauillac 1983 (Prodigal Hawaiians): a pale wine, medium-light ruby, just a bit faded to brick-red at the rim. Oh, here's a nice nose--rich, classic cedar-tobacco and very quiet cassis. A real pleasure to smell, but a little less of a success in the mouth; a bit soft and limp, with some surprisingly assertive fine tannins. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh--it's still a very sound wine, but after the promising nose, I expected a bit more oomph when I tasted it. Still, it's a very decent wine, with a joyful nose. (1/12/00.)

Château Beycheville St. Julien 1964 (Magnum)(Trilateral Offline): Medium translucent ruby. Plenty going on here aromatically; cedar, stewed tomato, muted earthy red fruit, faded but still quite interesting. On first tastage there is a certain limpidity to the mouthfeel, but the wine soon rallies, and by the midpalate some bracing tartness kicks in that carries through to a good finish. Soft and smooth and silky, if unlayered, and, while not profound, does well for itself. I'd drink any more of it fairly soon, though. (3/14/00)

Château Brainaire-Ducru St. Julien 1982: (Sedate Evening): Smells like muted cassis and peat, sweetly ripe, with cedary hints, tobacco and toast, wow, smells like warm classic Bordeaux. Tastes rather soft, light and a bit plump, but flavorful and with good midpalate focus. Comes to a lovely layered fruity-earthy finish. Very nice.

Château Brainaire-Ducru St. Julien 1999 ($42) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Medium-dark garnet color. Big toasty-jammy aromatics--grilled chocolate cherries are what come to mind, strangely enough. Plenty of toasty wood, plenty of ripe cocoa-blackcurrant fruit, hollow center, ripe and simple. It's okay if you're looking for a simple burger wine, but the wood and the fruit are at odds and there's very little complexity. Shrug. (3/06)

Château Brane-Cantenac Margaux 1982 ($60): Deep ruby with a hint of amber. Nose keeps opening up in the glass--("tomato!" said Lisa on first whiff) real rich bordeaux 'cigar-box' aromas, tobacco, cassis & cedar, with traces of raisin and, yes, a hint o'tomater. Medium-bodied, smooooth & very well integrated. Firm acidity, nicely crisp flavors of blackberry, cassis & licorice. Tannins are subtle & smooth but present & accounted for. Really well knit. Slight pruniness on the finish, which is short & smooth & silky. Lovely classic Bordeaux, no fading of fruit, lots of life left. Delicious with a grilled shell steak. (2/14/99)

Château Calon-Segur St. Estèphe 1982 (Lou Turns the Worm): Quiet mineral-cassis, pretty smelling, lightly cedary. Tastes softish and well developed, medium bodied and calm, lowish acidity, red at the core and feathering out at the edges. "It tastes like Bordeaux" opines Lou. Yes, yes it does, easygoing straightforward claret, giving the lie to the prevalent notion that the '82 Bordeaux were blowsy California wannabees across the board. Good on the resourceful folks at Calon-Segur for making the most of a challenging growing season. (10/05)

Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc 1989 (Lisa's Birthday): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells of sweet cherry-cassis, rich and ripe and dark red but a bit uniform. Tastes soft, a bit low-acid and round, turning dark and tarry through the midpalate, then slightly bitter on the finish. Unusually soft and creamy-round, not really something I usually look for in Bordeaux, but pretty decent stuff if you like a mellowerlot style. (6/13/00)

Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc 1997 (Asylum): Medium-dark garnet color, smells sweetly of cherry-cassis with dark toasty notes and an undercurrent of oregano herbiness. Tastes fairly limpid and soft, not much grab inthe mouth. A soft, easy-drinking little wine that falls away quietly on the finish but is decent enough if you don't compare it to the more impressive '95 and '96. (9/8/00)

Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc 1999 ($13) (Winterfest '03): Medium-dark garnet color. Friendly rich young nose, marked creamy-toasty wood over smooth dark blackberry and graphite, hint of vanilla and oregano. Tastes warm and supple, there's good supporting acidity but the wine has a fleshy easygoing quality to it right up front, hiding some quiet depth. Warmly tangy in the middle, dark and licoricey on the finish with a hint of bitterness. Flavorful and juicy middleweight claret. Doesn't seem like a long ager, but could use some time to come together. (1/22/03)

Château Cantenac-Brown Margaux 1982 ($60)(Cellar Gems): Some brown around the rim of the wine; soft, smoky nose, light coffee, muted fruit, pleasant, faded, doesn't have time to make much of an impression. (10/14/99)

Château Carconieux Médoc 1996(September 15, 2001): It's very decent, lightly graphitey over a base of easy red cassis fruit. Decent, a bit hollow. Shrug. (9/15/01)

Carruades de Château Lafite Pauillac 1999 (Sleeping Cats): Smells like Bordeaux. Tastes like Bordeaux. Easygoing, flavorful, surprisingly accessible, undistinguished, seems ready to go. Callahan calls it "industrial Bordeaux," Jayson responds "Yeah, but industrial Bordeaux that'll last and get better for twenty years." Three and a half small brown Prongs. (Pronged twice, with consistent Prongs.) (9/17/02)

Clos du Roy Fronsac 1990 (Premier Cru Jeebus): Medium ruby color, slightly decayed nose, hints of cloves, stewed tomato, cedar and leafiness, along with a note of quonset hut tinniness. Aggressively tight fruit attacks your tongue upon first sippage, not giving up too much at first, and the impression of light metal remains until a licorice tang takes over on the finish. Quite crisp, more structure than fruit. (9/31/00)

Château Cos d'Estournel St. Estèphe 1970 ($100) (Magnum)(Nonoffensive Notes): Rich medium-ruby color. My first impression is surprise at the youth and vigor of this specimen--it seems just a bit frayed around the edges but still very young and strong, with just a hint of bricking at the rim of the glass. There's clear cassis on the nose, along with a hint of funky mushroominess. Tastes bright and sharp, with lean red fruit and medium-crisp acidity, some slight fine tannins. Not very complex, the flavors are a bit one-noteish, but crisp and solid and very drinkable. With air the wine start to fray more visibly, turning a little rough around the edges, but all in all very nice. Get to it quickly, though. (3/20/00)

Château Cos d'Estournel St. Estèphe 1979 (Magnum) ($95) (Age-Related Drunkenness): Medium ruby color, bricking lightly at the rim. Smells warm and bright and rather pleasantly reserved: old weathered wood and pipe tobacco, muted red cherry-cassis, a light stony undercurrent. Tastes tart and crisp up front, warms and spreads in the middle, although not as much as I'd have expected. It's rather tight and primary at first, loosens up marginally with a few hours of air but retains a shy hardness at the core. Still, there's good balance, firm acidity, layers of flavors and interesting character. Finishes with some drying tannins, a pretty and surprisingly young Cos. (9/17/03)

Château Cos d'Estournel St. Estèphe 1989(Oddball Grapes): This has a lean, hungry nose, not much going on, light oregano and blackcurrant notes. Tastes thin, stern and simple, without much fruit or anything else to recommend it, finishes angrily tannic. Really surprisingly poor, yielding no pleasure despite repeated attempts to coax it into kindness. Not having much experience with this wine, I ask Greg (who brought it) if it's an off bottle. He moans lowly, says "No, it's all like this. It just sucks." He then proceeds to rather plaintively ask everyone if they want to buy any, cheap. Poor guy, I guess he got stuck with a bunch. Some malcontent asks "C'mon, did anybody bring any gamay, or something good?" but gets no response, only an awkward silence. (7/27/03)

Château Cos Labory St. Estèphe 1996 (Lisa's Birthday): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells graphitey and smoky over a base of dark cassis-berry fruit, not lush, but fairly rich and silky-smelling. A taste, and again, I am struck by a nicely balanced wine. Crisp and young, but not wrapped up too tight, the flavors are a bit monolithic now, but the wine has nice structure and seems promising. (6/13/00)

Château Coufran Haut-Médoc 1995 ($18): Muted cassis, cherry and earth flavors, metallic tang on the finish. Soft, fleshy & reserved; very light tannins, light tarry & pepper notes over midtones of light cassis--short finish but nicely integrated and smooth medium-bodied wine. I'm not familiar with this wine except as part of the Mouton stable, but it was certainly a pleasant quaff. (12/25/98)

Château Croizet-Bages Pauillac 1982 (The New Year, With Bordeaux): Squishy-soft redfruit, low acidity, watery middle, well fruited but rather limp. Kind of a typical '82 in that regard, if I may veer off the vintage generalization cliff. Actually, it's quite drinkable, in a friendly-bland kind of way, and I do go back for another glass. (12/31/05)

Château Dauzac Margaux 1993 ($17) (McNetta 2002): Cedary hints on the nose, cigarbox, warm cassis and violets. With air, an herbal streak emerges. There's pleasantly warm fruit here, racy and a little hard and tight, but decently stuffed. A medium-bodied wine, crisp and on the lean side but with good focus. The oregano streak emerges again in the midpalate and mingles with smokiness on the finish. Very decent wine that I had low expectations of. No worldbeater, but good lean claret with complexity and character. Were Brad Kane here he would make little squinchy faces and call it herbal, but he's not. (6/02)

Came to Château Dauzac Margaux 1995 ($26) with a lot of hope from good reviews, but it was pretty disappointing--almost no nose, just a hint of violets and tarriness, and almost no midpalate taste either, with a watery, diluted quality with a bit of coffee in it, and then, surprisingly, a long, buzzing finish with a nice bitter lash to it. But who wants a wine that's all finish? Very odd, indeed, and a letdown.

Another look at the Dauzac: I came back to this after a couple of days in the fridge, and it had opened up noticeably. Much more accessible nose, the watery midpalate taste was gone, and it came over very nicely with sort of a chianti-like light body and not so much of a finish. Very interesting. I will have to begin decanting young reds, something I was a bit skeptical of earlier. It was really almost a different wine, much more tasty and accessible. (9/21/98)

La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1995 ($20)(2d wine of Sociando-Mallet): Medium color, slightly translucent ruby-red; aromatically light, with a big whiff of bretty/stinkiness at first that blows off for the most part fairly quickly, revealing a light cassis/cherry nose with a kind of mossy-earthy streak running underneath it (part of which seems to be the remaining traces of barnyness). Nice and crisp in the mouth, bright and fairly light flavors of tart cherry, cassis & dusty earth tones on the finish. A little stern, not giving a whole lot. Well, not an unpleasant wine, just a bit tight and simple. If it was $15, I'd probably buy more, but at $20 it's just over the value line for me. (5/23/99)

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St. Julien 1966 (Five Jews): more good color, even less faded than the other two. Smells very nice, velvety-sweet aromas of rich cassis, smoke, graphite and stewed tomato. I can't help an involuntary exclamation when I take a sip of this, because it's a doozy, still very fresh and vibrant. If I had to guess, I'd say this wine was fifteen years old at most, with layers of soft, fleshy fruit and an oh-so-silky mouthfeel leading up into a beautiful long finish. My wine of the night (so far); a real gem, drinking wonderfully. (12/12/99)

Château Duhart-Milon Pauillac 1988 ($30): Nice clear ruby color, could've been bottled last week; fresh, open nose of cassis, tobacco & hints of green olive. The aromas coming out of the glass are pleasant and soft, and in the mouth, soft too. A medium-weight wine, pleasant raspberry-cassis-smoke notes, but lacks grip, no edge. Bit limpid, just lays there in the glass.

Ets Vinicoles de Gironde Cabernet-Merlot Grand Vin de Bordeaux 'Premius' 2002 ($5) (Boatloads VIII): Wow, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux for only five bucks! What a steal! Or... not. Simple cherry-berry aromatics, actually smells like almost nothing, maybe a hint of tarry-toastiness, um... not much else. Tastes red, quite red. Simple and red, with medium acidity and a watery middle. Okay, so it's no great shakes, but I have to admit you could do worse for five bucks in Bordeaux, as the wine actually has a smidgen of flavor and decent structure and isn't flawed in any real sense other than being industrial and having a strange chemical note on the finish. But when I'm talking five buck Bordeaux my standards are very low--if I don't go blind after drinking it, it's a buy again. [Buy again? Grand Vin--sure.] (9/06)

Les Forts de Latour Pauillac 1983 (2nd wine of Ch. Latour)(I Get the Shakes): Medium-dark garnet color. Quite funky on the nose--barny, mushroomy hints tinged with cedar hover over a base of quiet, muted red and black fruit. Crisp, on the lean side, although richer than the Lascombes and still fairly vivid and not over the hill. Nice, middleweight claret, turning coffeed on the finish. (6/6/00)

Château la Grace du Ciel Bordeaux 2005 ($5) (Boatloads XI): This may be my second most corked bottle ever. For a five-dollar Bordeaux, I think I've ended up paying twenty-five bucks to finally get a good one. Okay, it comes of like a ripe 2003, smoky-plummy-creosoteish, licorice and tar couched in dark purple-blackfruit. Low acidity, a bit wan and flat in the middle, loose but decent enough if your expectations are fairly low, and mine are. For five bucks I'll buy it again, assuming they solve their TCA problem and I don't get a procession of corked bottles before one good one. [Buy again? Yes, assuming they solve their TCA problem and I don't get a procession of corked bottles before one good one.] (11/07)

Château Grand Champ Bordeaux 2003 ($7) (Boatloads VIII): I know what you're thinking: SEVEN BUCKS for Bordeaux?! Why splurge on this stuff when the Premius Grand Vin can be had for two dollars less? Well just hang on a minute--despite the larger chunk of change it'll set you back, it's got a lot more guts, more heft. Strangely, it smells like pretty much nothing, light plum-berry with some dark tarry piping. Tastes more substantial, fleshy and loose and plumpishly simple, with low acidity and a light green-herby streak amidst the redplumberryness. Throw in some aggressive sandy tannins, and how can you go wrong? Has that jammy Oz-wine-with-animal-label feel to it, except with just the tiniest hint of herbaceousness. [Buy again? No, not really.] (9/06)

Château du Grand Mouëys Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux 2000 ($10) (Boatloads I): Okay, the six-buck Bordeaux didn't work out, let's move back up the price ladder. Smells pleasant but rather wan, light blackberry-cassis, hints of tar and cedar. Medium bodied, loosely-knit and lightly blackfruity at first, soft and low-acid, lacks mouthgrab. The midpalate juiciness fades quickly, bit of sourness on the finish. Not bad, I guess, at least drinkable in a pinch. Certainly better than the Mayne Sansac, although not the equal of the Haut-Naudeau. [Buy again? Don't think so.] (8/04)

Château au Grand Paris Bordeaux Supérieur 2003 ($10) (Boatloads VI): Thin, watery food coloring with a hint of shoe polish and cherry cough drop. Bleh, waste of glass space. [Buy again? Noooo.] (12/05)

Château Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac 1964 (Sleeping Cats): The first pour off this bottle is discouraging, a good whiff of funk and a streak of madeira, but a later pour reveals the suspect to be that old nemesis neck funk. Damn that neck funk. Underneath it there's a quiet, fading wine, turning light amber-orange at the rim and smelling quietly of bricky red fruit laced with stewed tomato/baked beans with a dark shoyu note underneath and a figgy-datey brown streak in the midpalate that is the last thing that fades on the finish. A soft and quiet wine without any structure left to speak of, there are still some warm flavors that hum quietly in the piehole. Pretty nice, but utterly resolved and on the downslope. (9/17/02)

Château Greysac Haut-Médoc 1989 (Premier Cru Jeebus): Medium ruby color. Velvety-smooth dark cassis-based nose. Hints of herbs... green herbs... oregano!, along with some cedar. Decent, middleweight claret, a bit two-dimensional but with some layers of flavors and follow-through. A decent little wine without pretensions, a light claret with a touch of complexity. (9/31/00)

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1966 (Five Jews): Interesting squat bottle, decorated with a painting of the mustachioed Monsieur Gruaud. (Or is that Monsieur Larose?) Nice rich red color, only slightly bricking at the rim; whooey, there's a lot of funk on the nose. I pass it to Kane, who takes a whiff and exclaims "Smells like horse!" Indeed it does, but under the Secretariat funk there's a base of dark, smoky-bricky fruit, muted and softly red. Upon first sippage this wine spreads out in a feathery fashion over the palate, dispersing soft black raspberry and smoky cassis fruit in smooth silky layers. It shows its age, but in a pleasant, complex way, and even Secretariat fades a bit after awhile, morphing pleasantly into one of those tiny dwarf horses you see at a petting zoo. (12/12/99)

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1982 (Bordeaux Bash): Deep medium-dark garnet color. Smells rich and ripe, dark blackberry and cassis up the wazoo, with tarry undertones, hints of licorice. A big wine, ripe and lush and full-bodied, a blockbuster style of Bordeaux that overpowers me with ripeness and Rubenesque flesh rather than seducing me. It's impressive, but I want more structure and more layers of flavor than this wall of unctuous Kaneish gobbiness provides. (12/11/00)

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1985 (New Value Region): Good dose of earthy funkiness on the nose, sweaty-saddle and truffles over round muted red cassis fruit, traces of dark pipe tobacco emerge with swirling, beat back the funk. Halfway into the midpalate it turns rounded and slightly soft, becoming a smooth easy wine that seems quite mature. Very pleasant and easygoing, but with a sly feral streak. (12/22/01)

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1990 (Bordeaux Bash): Okay, this is more my speed--this wine has a pronounced mineral spine clothed with rocky tobacco-edged dark black and red fruit. The graphite/gravel streak underneath buoys up the still-lush fruit, giving it the structure that I found lacking in the 1982. This is the more complete wine for me, big and firing on all cylinders, a wine with real character and balance. (12/11/00)

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1988 (Foodies 3): Nice whiff of barnyardy funk at first nosage, then more textbook cassis and cedar notes. Ripe and plush up front, then ferociously tannic--stern tannins cut a hard line through the fleshy midpalate. There's a lot to like here, but also a strange severe-plush dichotomy--this is a wine gnawing furiously on its own tail. Likeable and interesting, but rather difficult as well. (2/26/05)

Château Haut-Bages Averous Pauillac 1988 (Journey to Queens): Slightest hint of browning, but still a good rich color; brown earth and muted redfruit on the nose, with hints of black olives and some green herbs. Stony and crisp in the mouth, a medium-weight wine with good balance and some nice layers of flavor that I find refreshing after all the simpler Cal wines. Bit herbaceous, but still seems surprisingly young, still grittily tannic. Hold 'em if you've got 'em. (10/30/99)

Château Haut-Bages-Liberal Pauillac 1986(Bordeaux Bash): Some cedar, some tobacco, dark fruit, a foursquare kind of Pauillaciness. Tastes nicely balanced, a bit hard, good follow-through, still a bit ungiving. (12/11/00)

Château Haut-Naudeau Bordeaux Superieur 2000 ($10) (Boatloads I): This is a wine that can satisfy Lisa's Bordeaux cravings. There's not a whole lot of character, but what's there is well made and pleasantly straightforward. Smells a bit like Bordeaux, bit of cedar, touch of graphite, calm black- and redfruit, medium bodied, loose and decent. [Buy again? Yes, several.] (8/04)

Château Jalousie-Beaulieu Bordeaux Supérieur 2005 ($5) (Boatloads XI): Ah, this year's version of the infallible Bordeaux stormcrow. Lesseee... gentle strawberry-plum aromatics, touch of a sort of green stemmy thing, touch of anise, hint of sour milk. Tastes soft and round and blandly generic, with some decent plushness in the middle but no real structure to support it. Turns unpleasantly astringent on the finish, bitter and unpleasantly tannic. Judgment: skip the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux. [Buy again? Nope.] (11/07)

Château Lacroix Bordeaux Supérieur 2003 ($13) (Boatloads VII): Gentle black cherry/raspberry aromatics, slight tarry undertone, maybe just a hint of something earthy-herby in there too, like old old oregano. Tastes plump and plumper, round fleshy redfruit jellyfishes onto my tongue, slides away innocuously. Simple and fruitpunchy, a squishy, hollow wine with some gritty tannins and a medicinal aftertaste to make things even more disagreeable. [Buy again? No.] (4/06)

Château Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac 1955 (Cab Francfest+): Pale brick-red; sweet, light, ethereal nose of cassis & tomato, just a sip, light and tangy, evaporates in the mouth, gone too quickly. (6/8/99)

Château Lafon-Rochet St. Estèphe 1955 (Eve of Chenin/Day of Satan): Seems like another undead wine. Medium ruby color, ambering substantially at the rim, less so into the heart of the wine. Smells very developed and tertiary: earth and leaves, shoyu, tea, very very muted crushed-brick-laced redfruit. First sippage impressions are not positive--the wine is dominated by leafy flavors and acidity. I'm surprised because the TJCWRAAD Vintage Guide clearly states: "All wines from 1955 Are Drinking Well Right Now." Strangely (or perhaps not), with an hour or so of air the fruit reddens, plumps out a bit and fills in a few of the cracks in the facade. Normally a wine of this seasoning will fade with air, this seems to gather a second wind, like a vampire that has fed. Not quite on life-support, but not going anywhere but down from here. (12/31/03)

Château Lafon-Rochet St. Estèphe 1955 (Misplaced Weekend I): Smells very cedary, more complex aromatics, tea, graphite and muted earthy redfruit. Clearly past its best years, but still kicking. Despite being more developed and having a hint of decay it's livelier than the '82: better structured and more complete. (5/2/04)

Château Lafon-Rochet St. Estèphe 1982 (Misplaced Weekend I): Gently aromatic, light redfruit and a minerally note that I'm thinking of calling slate, but Kane comes up with 'cement dust,' which is better. Tastes warm but wan, loosely wrapped and quietly redfruity. Not bad, but understructured and not really very interesting. Seems to be going gentle into its good night, fading quietly away. Drink up. (5/2/04)

Château Langoa-Barton St. Julien 1970 (Prodigal Hawaiians): Ruby-colored, slightly fading to orange-amber at the rim. On first whiffage there is a slight bit of funk that, despite what Joe says, blows off a bit, leaving behind a hint of heat damage that doesn't bother me too much. This has a fairly light but pleasantly layered nose--cooked tomato, very muted cassis and dry oregano predominate. Pretty and light, a smooth, quiet medium-to-light-bodied wine that is faded but still kicking, with just a ghost of fine tannins remaining. I quite like this. (1/12/00.)

Château Lascombes Margaux 1978 (I Get the Shakes): Medium-dark ruby color. Perfumed nose, violets and a bit of earthy funk. Tastes soft, rich and slightly faded, a mellow wine until some surprising glassy-fine tannins swoop in and drymouth me. An odd combination of elegance and wrath, the midpalate seems a bit deserted by fruit, but it's likeable nonetheless, in an offbeat, slightly decayed way. (6/6/00)

Château Latour Pauillac 1966 (Lisa's Birthday): The wine is a medium-dark ruby, bricking only slightly but with a deep dark core. Gorgeous, rich nose, full of rich red and black fruit, tobacco, plum, graphite, cedar and dark toasty notes that .sasha likens to roasted walnuts. Never having roasted a walnut I'll have to take his word, but I can see what he means. Lisa takes a sniff and says "Call me in an hour, I'll be in my glass...." Tastes dark and rich, a bit brooding, turning towards deep bass tones on the finish. This wine is showing some development, but clearly has many years ahead of it. Square-rigged, classic structure, yet plenty of lush, layered richness to flesh out the sturdy spars and masts, a three-decker of a wine under a full bloom of sail. (6/13/00)

Château Latour Pauillac 1967 (X-Geeks): Medium-dark garnet, smells a bit musty, seems slightly corked to me. It can still be enjoyed to a certain extent, for under the TCA is a fairly rich, darkly round smoky-fruity wine, but once again we were all left cursing the cork devil and wishing for a decent screwcap. (6/00)

Château Latour Pauillac 1975 (Five Jews): THIS IS THE LAST LATOUR .sasha tells us ominously. We are momentarily confused and frightened. I still don't know what he meant, but if this is the last one I'm going to enjoy it... Hey, this IS a youngster; deep, dark red color. Big but dense nose of smoky red cassis, plum and cedar. This is a big wine, with a tight rich core of brooding dark red fruit, some seriously crisp acidity and fine but somewhat stern tannins. Still seems like a baby, especially in this company, but a powerful and impressive mouthful nonetheless. If this wasn't the last one I'd sit on 'em for awhile longer. (12/12/99)

Château Latour Pauillac 1981 (Liberation Celebration): Jeff pours himself a hit, brings his glass noseward. "Oh," he says, then "My" and finally "God." Zut alors, strikingly classic Pauillac smells--cedar, tobacco, walnut, cassis, anise, blah blah woof woof, rich and layered aromatics, vividly complex. It's not a blustery Latour, not the Pauillac Brawler, instead it's perfectly proportioned--Michelangelo-carved, broad-shouldered and caressingly muscular, aromatics like blackcurrants smeared on the walls of your grandfather's wood-paneled smoking room. One of those wines that has me sniffing, sipping, laughing, talking to myself, sniffing, laughing, sniffing, shaking my head, sniffing, sipping, talking to myself, laughing, looking around at other people sniffing, sipping laughing and talking to themselves, sniffing some more, laughing. A regal wine in the full bloom of youthful maturity and I'm happy to be here to drink it. (11/6/05)

Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1966 (Passages): Thirty-nine years wins the day! I haven't tasted this in a few years; it seems to be holding up nicely, fading away slowly and charmingly but with a lot of spunk left. The conventional wisdom, such as it is, is that Bordeaux makes early-drinking café wine, charming and innocuous, but this specimen clearly shows that good producers can make wines worthy of being put down for a good long time. (4/06)

Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1986 (New Value Region): Quite ripe-smelling, black cherry and dark berry-red fruit suffused with smoky cedar aromas with a light high note of mintiness. A sip brings a wash of dark rich fruit that wells up and carries through the midpalate, then is shouted down by a flurry of dry tannins on the finish. (12/22/01)

Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1987 (Nonoffensive Notes): Medium ruby. Small nose of soft cassis with a pronounced herby streak, along with cedar and graphitey minerals. Small and rich at first, with crisp dark silky fruit that has a pleasant tang to it. This is very compact and well-balanced--there's a bit of a hole in the midpalate, but the wine recovers and turns rocky-herby on a nice long finish. A pleasant surprise, one of the nicer '87 Bordeaux I've had so far this week. (3/20/00)

Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1989 ($45)(Swedes Invade): Medium-dark garnet. Rich, smooth smoky cassis-blackfruit nose, mmm, smells good, nice hints of cedar, coffee & gravelly rocks. Past its first flush of youth and still fairly coiled, but surprisingly delicious, supple and silky, with impeccable balance and length only very slightly impeded by some fine tannins. I would love to try this again in ten years--great young claret. (3/24/00)

Châteaux Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1994 (Premier Cru Jeebus): A medium-dark garnet colored wine with a dark tarry cassis-tobacco-cedar nose and rich, dark fruit that makes its presence known when you sip at it. There's strength here, a gravelly-espresso undercurrent that is somewhat stern at present but promises future delights. Very tightly wrapped, with plenty of slightly sandy tannins, this wine needs time but is quite impressive and pleasurable even now, in its rough youth. (9/31/00)

Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1998 ($45) (Eve of Chenin/Day of Satan): Medium-dark garnet, purpling lightly at the rim. Smells of dark redfruit laced with cedar, black olive and tobacco. Tastes young and clean, rather vague in the middle but finishes with a nice cherry-earthy hum. Not bad young Bordeaux, although there's a sense of understuffedness that's hard to shake. (12/31/03)

Châteaux Léoville Las-Cases St. Julien 1983 (New Value Region): Quiet, stony-red nose, smells very friendly, softly ripe and velvety, if slightly muted and not terribly complex. The mouthfeel is warm and fleshy, the wine is smooth and pleasant, well balanced. Doesn't strive for much in terms of oomph and aargh, but is a warm decent mouthful, a simple friend who means well and has good manners. (12/22/01)

Châteaux Léoville Las-Cases St. Julien 1993 (Unclear Identities): Yup, that's Bordeaux all right: the aromatics are a little wan, but there's dark berry-cassis fruit laced with cedar and a touch of gravel. Tastes quiet and composed, mediumweight, loosely wrapped, a bit hollow but serviceable enough. If you're not looking for a lot of stuffing or distinctive character, this is competent Bordeaux: "workmanlike" comes to mind. "Bland" also comes to mind if I let my mind wander, but my mind tends to wander in unkind directions if I let it off its leash, so I'll be fair and stick with decent and quite drinkable now. (8/8/04)

Châteaux Léoville Las-Cases St. Julien 1994 (The New Year, With Bordeaux): Smells big and ripe, black cherry-cassis liberally laced with oregano and cedar, gentle toastiness underneath. A sip, and it's a plump, squishy thing, broadly flavorful and richly flavored. The acidity is fairly low, giving it a loose, pillowy pieholefeel. It's St. Julien by way of Napa Valley, but there's a friendliness to its simplicity that gives it a certain winking charm. Probably not one to have with food, but as a cocktail wine it's eminently drinkable, and cold water in the face of the generality of '94 Mˇdocs being rather stern. (12/31/05)

Château Léoville-Poyferré St. Julien 1990 (Cab Francfest+): Deep ruby-red; oh boy, after all these delicate, faded wines here's a young brute: rich, lush, ripe tobacco/cassis/tar nose--a big wine, but really well-balanced; lush fruit, lots of crispness, light but firm tannins. Big mouthful of cassis, tobacco, tar & herbs. Yum. Double yum. A nice note to finish the evening on. (6/8/99)

Château Léoville-Poyferré St. Julien 1994 (Bordeaux Bash): Spicy, cedar/cigarbox nose, dark cassis fruit, coffee-toasty notes. A sip, and it's rich, hard and aggressive. There's good depth here, it's a rather boisterous wine, getting rowdy, making an impression, then turning puckery-tannic in the postgulpal phase. Way too young to drink, but interesting nonetheless. (12/11/00)

Château Léoville-Poyferré St. Julien 1996 (Lies, Damned Lies, and Tail Meat): Smells stonily cassisfruity, still rather monolithic but warm and aromatically appealing. Tastes similarly smooth, silky and round, with middling acidity but a certain vagueness in the middle. I like it, but the character is buried under a blanket of gentle redfruit, mostly potential now but still enjoyable in a fuzzy-snuggly sort of way. (7/06)

Château Léoville-Poyferré St. Julien 1998 (New Value Region): Ripe and easygoing, soft-smelling and fleshy to taste. The nose is one-note red, the taste very smooth red fruit and a dark vein of earthiness, turning towards licorice on the finish. Yet another decent, friendly wine that lacks focus and grab. Have we discovered a trend? (12/22/01)

Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac 1985 (magnum) (Hot Wet Summertime Action): Cedary-blackfruity aromatics, pencil shavings, quiet at first, opens very deliberately as the evening progresses. A sip, and it's a middleweight wine, matte mouthfeel, firm at the core but with a light velvety fleshiness. For the first hour or two the wine lacks midpalate focus, seems diffuse. By the end of the night tobacco-cedary blackfruit has emerged to give it some creamy heft, and the tobacco tones turn dark and linger on the finish. If you're drinking this soon, give it a lot of air.

Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac 1986(Bordeaux Bash): and here's a good robust nose, racy graphite & gravel underneath taut red and black fruit, hints of espresso. This wine is a bit stern; there's a glassy hardness to it, but it's feathered out at the edges enough to give glimpses into its rocky heart. Bright and crisp, a muscular, tight wine that I like a lot even now. Very nice, very butch, a manly wine that stirs in me the urge to sing sea chanteys. (12/11/00)

Château Lynch-Moussas Pauillac 1996 ($26)(Chateau Joe): Medium-dark garnet; cassis & light minty/menthol, tar & toasty hints; brisk, crisp, full-flavored and smooth, with light tannins. I like it. Andrew says Bordeaux, I agree. We high-five when it is revealed. (8/99)

Château Lynch-Moussas Pauillac 2003 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Deep saturated garnet-purple color. Ripe blackcurrant laced with cedar, toasted vanilla and smoke, smells happily Californian. Tastes Californian as well, ripe creamy vanilla-smoke-laced redfruit, tangy and ripe, broad and rich and unsubtle. Some aggressive gritty tannins grind the already-abbreviated finish to a halt, but there's a fun juiciness here, ripe jammy cassis with a dollop of complexity and a sense of composure. Fine Sonoma cabernet. (11/06)

Boy, oh boy, Lisa scored one this time, finding a neglected low-fill bottle of Château Margaux 1976 sitting in a bin at Soho Wine Cellars on sale "As-Is" for $19.99! She brought it home and popped it as a surprise (half expecting a bottle of vinegar), brought it out in a decanter and poured it blind as we ate our steaks. It was clearly old Bordeaux, although I guessed because of the simple, muted quality of the fruit that it was probably an old St. Emilion or other merlot-based wine that had faded into ghostliness. Interesting more as a curiosity than anything else, but what a curiosity! Light to medium ruby-brown, definite browning around rim. Medium nose of stewed tomato (baked beans!), with hints of burned rubber; slightly candied aromas, seems over-the-hill. Fruit tastes very simple and faded--light tomato & rubbery notes from nose carry over; still fairly crisp, but only a very faint ghost of tannins. Interesting, although not in the same universe as the last (post-Metzenopoulous) Margaux we had, the '83. Apparently '76 was a fairly awful year to begin with, it's amazing that it made it this far in as good condition as it still is--low fill, completely soaked cork & all. Makes you wonder where it's been and what it's been up to on its way to our table. We went back to grab another, and they had marked them up to $50, which is too much. (4/10/99)

Château Margaux 1984 (New Value Region): Medium ruby color, slight browning at the rim. Dark hint of shoyu in the nose. Good balance, elegant and yet with enough concentration to keep the rhythm going. Darkly spicy nose, violets, old worn cedar and new-cut sawdust, quiet dark red fruit very restrained yet present. Seems like it's quite ready to drink to me, a middleweight wine without oomph or sustain, but a certain slightly worn Simone Signoret charm, a rakish elegance. (12/22/01)

Château Margaux 1988 ($250) (Cab Francfest+): Matte garnet; violets, cassis on the nose. Smooth, nicely balanced, crisp, but surprisingly tannic. Tannins kind of swarm in on you after a moment and choke off the finish, but tasty nonetheless. (6/8/99)

Château Margaux 1993 ($100) (Premier Cru Jeebus): Medium to medium-dark garnet, it has a pretty, light nose with small but beguiling hints of cassis, cedar and violets. With a bit of air the nose opens up and the flowery violet note becomes more pronounced. Tastes quite tangy--sharp fruit with some medium-weight body around it, nice grab in the mouth. A smooth, correct, middleweight wine with flexibly pleasant layers of flavor whose charm almost lets you overlook a certain shallowness and lack of distinction. (9/31/00)

Mayne Sansac Bordeaux 2000 ($6) (Boatloads I): Having had decent luck with ten-buck Bordeaux, I decided to raise (lower?) the bar even further with a six-buck Bordeaux. Mistake. Smells of light cherry laced with a slight bretty stinkiness and burnt aromas. Thin, reedy wine without anything to give. Bland cough syrup flavors, thin, with an astringent finish, cherry and wood-chip flavored rubbing alcohol. Blech. Stew material, if you're cooking for hillbillies. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? When hell freezes over.] (8/04)

Châteaux Meyney St. Estèphe 1985 ($30) (New Value Region): Blackberry-blackcurrant fruit comes at you at once, but the tide turns in the midpalate, where it seems to be on the retreat. The impression is that the wine is fading, although not gone yet. There's still good life here, but I'd drink up soon. (12/22/01)

Châteaux Meyney St. Estèphe 1986 ($30) (New Value Region): A bit of horsiness right at first blows off to leave a dark red berry-cassis fruit with traces of coffee, earthiness and just a hint of anise. A nice drop with a good core of fruit and fine acidity--a pleasant surprise, despite the rough smoky edges on the finish. A well structured wine whose tight wrapping has served it well in past the decade. (12/22/01)

Châteaux Meyney St. Estèphe 1989 ($25) (Premier Cru Jeebus): A bit fuller, smellingmore of graphite and with a richer, fuller kind of cassis. It's a bit larger than the Greysac, but not by much, another small and pleasant, if undistinguished wine with some surprising fine tannins on the finish. Pleasant. (9/31/00)

Châteaux Meyney St. Estèphe 1989 (The New Year, With Bordeaux): In past showings this has always come off to me as perfectly decent unremarkable St. Estèphe, but it's shaking its mojo tonight, the usual quiet pool of blackberry-cassis having gained a bit of backbone and a high menthol note. There's still a bit of a structure deficit, but not quite so much as I'd remembered--the wines comes off as just firm enough to handle the meats, gently velvety-fleshy black- and redfruit in a medium-sized frame. Quite nice really, I come back to it a couple of times, just to make sure. Yes, yes, I was right. Wait, let me make sure one more time, just a little more. Yup, right on. (12/31/05)

Château Meyney St. Estèphe 1990 ($25) (Bordeaux Bash): Pleasant graphite-mineral streak under a blackcurranty base, a modicum of complexity here. Good balance on a small scale, a solid, pleasant wine that doesn't do too much but does it rather well. (12/11/00)

Château Monbrison Margaux 1989(Oddball Grapes): Medium ruby color. Quiet earthy black- and redfruit nose, hints of tar and graphite. Tastes quiet, blackberry and cassis laced with minerals and smoke and dusted with cedar and sod. Seems reticent at first, but blooms quietly in the middle, spreading softly over my tongue, then really opening up on the finish, spreading out languidly into fine flavorful layers. What we have here is a medium-sized wine with a sense of refinement and character. At first taste it seems that it needs more time, but the supple complexity of the finish wins me over; it's very nice right now, a winning combination of purity and complexity. Once again I'm thinking that maybe cabernet sauvignon has a chance to make good, but once again I read in the program notes that this is just barely half. Still, for my money it's the best of the bunch. (7/27/03)

Château Montrose St. Estèphe 1921 (Chateauneuf-du-Joe): . Medium-lightbodied, lean and racy, crisply acidic and taut. I marvel again at the youthfulness of the well-honed redfruit; served blind I'd peg this as a corked wine from the 70s or thereabouts. There's a tannic streak that is shy at first but becomes rather aggressive as the wine heads into its finish. Damn, this must've been a pretty severe mouthful when young. Here begins a peculiar exercise in wishful thinking, as everyone swirls and sniffs, swirls and sniffs, attempting to will the wine to not be corked. Strangely, it seems to be working for a little while, as the character of the wine starts to show through the mustiness. It's quite startlingly youthful for a near-nonagenarian; calm muted redfruit laced with stewed tomato, cedar chips and flinty minerality. And of course musty cardboard, the skunk at the garden party that we're all trying to ignore. Connell brightens a little. "It's better if you don't swirl it," he suggests. Final consensus: this is the best corked 85-year-old red wine most of us have tasted recently. Well, besides .sasha, of course. (11/06)

Château Montrose St. Estèphe 1966 (Five Jews): Imported by 'Macy's Famous Tasters', this is another healthily-colored wine, just a bit faded around the rim, with a pretty but curious nose. There's some leathery hints, and a kind of spicyness that is very familiar but which I can't quite place. I pass the glass to Lisa for consultative purposes, and she puzzles over it for awhile before coming up with 'cream of tartar,' which is, as usual, just right. There's also a hint of 'pepperkakor' or cardamon over the leathery, muted cassis. Very interesting. At any rate, the wine is a bit thinner than the Gruaud, with tangier fruit and sharper acidity, with some dry tannins and a somewhat abrupt finish. .sasha opines that it's a bit oxidized, and I'm sure he's right, but I don't find it distressingly so. (12/12/99)

Château La Motte Premieres Côtes de Blaye 2003 ($11) (Boatloads V): Medium garnet, purpling lightly towards the rim. Smells darkly redfruity, mineral underpinnings and a touch of cedar, but rather aromatically reticent. A sip, and it's a bit blowsy and fluffy-ripe, but decently composed and not freakish. (A nonfreakish '03! Yay!) Very little character, ripe blackcurrant-raspberry fruit, light toastiness, calm minerality. I dunno, not too interesting but at least pleasant if you don't mind a general blowsiness and sense of diffusion. Decent Central Coast merlot. [Buy again? Nah.] (10/05)

Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 1970 (Best Wife): Medium ruby, ambering at the rim and slightly inboard. A sniff or two, and whee, there's a party in my nose: sweetly cedared and muted blackberry-plum base underpinned with a vein of graphite, suffused with dark saddle leather, pipe tobacco and old bookspine notes. I briefly consider something off the wall (old Grange?), but then it settles and becomes more classically Pauillacish. I take a sip, yep, it's got a nice tart blackfruit intro, but it contracts rather than expands in the middle, turning graphitey and dark and finishing lingeringly, sweet cedar and leather flickering out at the last. A little less impressive in the piehole than up the nose but still very tasty. Seems fully resolved, just a shadow of tannin on the finish; Bordeaux big boy from good-but-not-great vintage, "Sixties Bordeaux..." I say, mulling my options.... I guess '66 Latour. (9/03)

Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac Naked Label 1993 (New Value Region): A sniff, then another, here's a smooth smoky-stony nose, a stack of toast on graphite with hints of oregano, light herbiness. A sip, and tightly focused lean reddish-black fruit limned with gravel and tarriness knifes into my startled soft palate. The wine is lean and hard, along the lines of a young Taluau without the finesse. Indeed, it's a fairly uncaring mouthful, galloping roughshod through a tight midpalate and finishing with warring bursts of toast and tannins. I feel a bit used after letting it into my mouth. (12/22/01)

Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac Non-Naked Label 1993 (New Value Region): Here's a smooth smoky-stony nose, a stack of toast on graphite with hints of orega--hey now, it smells and tastes exactly the same as the first glass! No wait, it seems a bit toastier... no, that's just my imagination. Or is it maybe slightly more aromatic...? No, no, not really. Same wine. It seems label nudity has less to do with what's in the glass than is commonly thought. (12/22/01)

Château Les Ormes de Pez 1990(Bastille Day): Herby smelling, oregano and sweet-smelling dark red fruit. Rich and red in the cakehole, simple and tasty up front and in the midpalate, redeeming itself somewhat with a happy graphite-minerally flourish on the finish. Very decent, if undemanding. (6/16/01)

Château Palmer Margaux 1979(Bordeaux Bash): Lovely hints of development, earthy-tea and stewed tomato hints over bricky muted red fruit, a pleasure to smell. Doesn't taste too bad either, although I find the taste to be less beguiling than the smells; it's a lightish, understated wine that is prettily balanced and quite whispery going down the gullet. Seems to be on the downslope, but it's going down in style. (12/11/00)

Château Palmer Margaux 1979(Bastille Day): Smells of darkly muted cassis with a core of gravelly minerals and light high notes of cedar, tea and violets. Still a good core of young dark red fruit, smooth and rich, if lacking in mouthgrab. The fruit is fleshy and tanninless, but there is enough acidity to give it a spine, albeit one with a bit of a dowager's hump. With air it seems to flesh out and become somewhat meatier. A slightly faded, easy to drink wine that seems to be riding gamely into the sunset. (6/16/01)

Château Palmer Margaux 1982 ($25/.375 ml.): Faded medium ruby, slightly browning around the rim, mucho sediment. Soft, interesting nose--clear cassis, touch of mint, touch of earthy barnyard. In the mouth bright and tangy medium-weight cassis comes right at you, then fades quickly. Fairly low acidity, almost nothing in the way of tannins. Soft, lightly fleshy feel. Seems like it's nearing the end of its run, but still gives a nice round pleasurable mouthful. (7/2/99)

Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 1994 ($30): Medium ruby-red; soft smoky cherry/cassis notes mingle with a trace of barnyardy scent on first sniff, not really too much there... in the mouth it's tangy & bright, with muted redfruit flavors, crisp acidity & an odd tarry bitterness underneath it all. Medium-bodied, simple, tangy, some firm, slightly gritty tannins. Not bad, but simplicity & bitter quality detract. Tannins are just kind of hanging out there in space by themselves. Disappointing, given the price and pedigree. (5/5/99)

Château de Pez St. Estèphe 1990 (Return to Kane Manor): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells lightly herbaceous, plenty of graphite-backed blackcurrant underneath, rich and beguiling. A sip, and it's a rich, crisp mouthful of St. Estèphe, fleshy and tangy and dense. Nice stuff. (6/10/00)

Château de Pez St. Estèphe 1990 (A New Low): Hey, it's one of those oddball grapes from the southeast of France that we've all heard about! Smells like a pool of black currants, hints of smoke and tobacco and old leather. Tastes cassis-berried, smooth and very likeable, with sufficient acidity. Here there be gobs! Softer and fleshier than I remembered, perhaps it's just the company. (7/14/03)

Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac 1986 (Hot Wet Summertime Action): Darkly cassis-blackfruity smelling; aromatically taut, with a gravelly-graphite undertone and a touch of oregano. Mediumweight wine, brighter and leaner than the Lynch-Bages, but with better composure and focus, an expressive little thing at first. Interestingly, as the evening goes on the Lynch-Bages blossoms and composes itself while the Pichon-Baron retreats into its shell. While the Pichon-Baron was the clear favorite when they both came around, later on it's the Lynch-Bages that's more interesting and vivid; ships passing in the night. (6/05)

Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac 1988 (Walt Begs for Mercy): Very shy nose, oregano, tobacco, cassis and tobacco, you have to really swirl to get something out of this one. A nice initial impression of good Pauillac fruit fades quickly into a dilute midpalate and a rather pallid finish. Disappointing. (5/01)

Château Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac 1983 (Scraps):is a medium ruby color, ambering slightly at the rim. Smells stony-cedarish over a base of sweet muted cassis and blackfruits. A sip, and it has a pleasant refined velvet-coated hardness at first, smooth sweet dark fruit that develops a very interesting white marble streak, then there is an odd clashing of gears as some unintegrated acidity comes at me somewhat harshly and fights with the fruit, ultimately flowing into a pleasant if quite glassily tannic finish with a bitter-coffee undertone that detracts from the final impression. Good grab and balance, but a bit out of whack, elements out of joint. (3/01)

Château Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac 1989 (Spuds, We Hardly Knew Ye...): Warm, rich aromatics, anise- and oregano-laced cassis-blackberry that turns tobaccoey with air. Tastes ripe and smooth, velvety-gentle and loose, a plump little wine that I enjoy at first sippage but soon grow impatient with. Where's the guts? I ask it silently and rhetorically, where's the focus? It's a pleasant round sipper with some aromatic complexity, but could do with a lot more mouthgrab. (12/05)

Château Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac 1993 ($40)(Bordeaux Bash): Here's a pleasant nose; smoky cassis, cedar, redfruit and minerals. Tastes leaner and more disjointed than it smells, with a lean streak, a bit soft and dilute in the midpalate but quite drinkable, if not much more. Unimpressive, if decent. (12/11/00)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1985 ($50) (New Value Region): More hints of shoyu, dark smoky truffley-spice. More strength at the core than the Margaux, more sustain, another notch upwards in the spine department. Slight grittiness on the finish, but a good package, nice balance and good mouthgrab. An integrated whole, with the fruit and structure and dark smokiness inseparable, just a whole real wine. Very nice. (12/22/01)

Châteaux Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1989 ($50) (Asylum) : A quiet wine, medium dark garnet and somewhat nasally reclusive. Small but earnest muted cassis and stolid graphite notes, nice compactness and small amplitude, not the range and strength of the lusty mid-90s P-Cs, but deep and interesting on a smaller scale. Interestingly, after an hour or two of air time, the nose emerges and blooms with dark tobacco and more lush deep cassis tones and the initial impression of reticence is cast into the dustbin of history. Very nice. (9/8/00)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1994 (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner): Textbook Pauillac writ small on the nose; tobacco, cedar and muted cassis, quiet aromatics, traces of toast and a flicker of licorice. Angular at first, a bit rough on entry, but widens and smooths in the middle, turning calm and rather sedate by the time the prettily layered finish rolls around. This has resolved much faster than I'd thought it would--it actually seems as if it has plateaued out. This was never as interesting as the '95 or '96, but I thought it would take longer to come around, maybe it's time to investigate one of those, eh what? (5/05)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1995 ($35) (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner): Medium-dark garnet color. Aromatically it seems to be friendly, smells dark and quietly spicy--blackcurrant and licorice at first, then cedar and cigar, with a light dusting of oregano. In the piehole it's another story, though--tastes taut and rather hard, seems like it's just beginning to begin to loosen up. Hard acidity, hard blackfruit, hard-hearted at the moment, the tight core moderated only by a the first stirrings of a velvety-creamy skin. Completely different story than the '94. HOLD HOLD HOLD. (5/05)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1996 ($35): Oh my, my, my. Just pouring this into the decanter the room filled with lush, classic bordeaux aromas and we had to pause and pay attention: Color is dark and dense, deep red with purply hints around the rim. Sweet, spicy, nose of cassis, cedar, tobacco & licorice, maybe a slight touch of green herbs, really rich and just a pleasure to take in. One sip, and no letdown there; smooth, really nicely balanced--seamless integration of lush fruit, crisp acidity, very fine but definitely sturdy tannins, the whole package. Long, sweet/dark finish, with the tannins coming out and saying hiya at the last. Beautiful. This was one of those wines where we just looked at each other and said, "we'll be picking up some more of this, QUICK." The presumed infanticide never materialized--this is a pleasure to drink now, and I look forward to seeing how it comes out with some bottle age behind it. (4/25/99)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1997 ($33) (All CNN Wines): Lightly tobacco-cedar nose, cigarbox, calm redfruit and oregano. Smooth, balanced and medium-lean, an easygoing wine without much stuffing and only vague mouthgrab. Fine for drinking now, although after '94-'96 this seems like Pontet-Canet Lite™. (11/11/01)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1999 ($35) (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells of blackberry-cassis, smoke and cedar chips. Tastes rather understuffed, if not quite thin then at least compact, a wine of small amplitude. Decent acidity, good balance, but also seems to be struggling under the weight of more smoky wood than the fruit will bear. There's pleasure here, but there are no highs or lows, only middles: "mediocre" is word that springs to mind. (5/05)

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 2003 ($60) (Lies, Damned Lies, and Tail Meat): Broad, blackfruity and richly flavored. I was prepared to dislike this, but it's stymied me. Weighty without being ponderous, ripe and broad, with enough structure to get by and a lot of slightly peculiar but interesting tarry-smoky-earthy-blackfruit flavors. Reminds me a bit of some of the better '03 Bourgueils--atypical and oafish at heart but strangely likeable--Jethro Bodine in a glass. (7/06)

Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Médoc 1982 (Bordeaux Bash): Deep, rich medium garnet color. Warm red nose, ripe cassis with blackberry edges and hints of tar & smoke underneath. A friendly wine, meaty and a bit soft, lacking in definition. No, it's a nice, warm wine that's on the chunky side, but it's pushing my buttons because it's yet another ripe, friendly, somewhat one-note 1982 Bordeaux. (12/11/00)

Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Médoc 1982 (The New Year, With Bordeaux): "Smells like Mr. Hankey," opines Michel. He's right, by cracky, there's a good whiff of barnyard over the muted tarry-cassis redfruit. Tastes soft and plush and velvety, simple but quite decent, with the gentle stinkiness adding a bit of interest. Nice, simple plush little wine... um... yep, that's about it, nice soft plush simple little wine. (12/31/05)

Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Médoc 1997 (New Value Region): There's a beguiling red clay note in the brambly, red-raspberry nose. Fairly weighty feel, glyceriney and silky-smooth in the piehole. A pleasant, low-acid wine that is friendly now and doesn't seem like an ager. Easy, decent, simple. (12/22/01)

Château Prieuré-Lichine Margaux 1989(Oddball Grapes): Okay, this is soothing after the angry Cos. Smells warm and simple, blackfruit and a light toastiness, touch of graphite. Interesting combination of fairly low acidity and a fruit-driven tartness that stands in for structure. Calm in the middle, quiet and whispery on the finish, a small, supple wine that doesn't strive for much but goes down smoothly and gives us hope that this grape can do some good after all. (7/27/03)

Château Prieuré-Lichine Margaux 1990 (Bordeaux Bash): There's a delicate violet streak to the velvety red cassis nose, light and perfumed; it makes me smile. When I sip I smile some more, as I find a rich, nimble spine of strong fruit that is couched in a bright, smooth body that flickers with dark flowery notes. Well integrated, with the impression of lightness--the balance is what makes this wine, the sense of fluid delicacy that hides a bright, supple strength. Audrey Hepburn. Another favorite, in a very good place right now. (12/11/00)

Château Rausan-Segla Margaux 1989 ($80): Bright, brisk red cassis & silky tarry nose--small but vivid. In the mouth crisp and fairly rich--still young and slightly tight, but seeming to be on the verge of blossoming. Crisp acidity, some fine firm tannins. Young, but I see potential. (10/14/99)

Château Roc de Cambes Côtes de Bourg 1989 (Joao/Kansas): Earthy-mushroomy hints are the first impression on the nose, muted, slightly faded dark red fruit underneath. A wine with a light mouthfeel and a crisp fleshy earthyfruit attack that fades a bit too quickly. Crisp, but soon thin and tannic. Seems past its prime. (3/2/00)

Château Rougi Bordeaux Cuvée Speciale 2003 ($8) (Boatloads IV): Eight dollar Bordeaux from a freak vintage, what could go wrong? Smells of cherry and cotton candy, lightly confected and rather wan, hint of smoke, just a hint of a dark note. Tastes round and dilute, watered down cherry juice. Not really objectionable, just hardly seems like wine, grabless and watery and lightly frootpunchy. No, on second thought it's somewhat objectionable. Lame. [Buy again? No.] (6/05)

Château St. Pierre St. Julien 1989 (Bradcave): Dark ruby-red color, slight hint of amber at the rim; there is a bit of barny, earthy funk on first whiffage that blows off somewhat after a minute or two. Underneath that is a relatively tight nose with hints of stewed tomato, cassis and graphite. A taste, and it's got some nice dark tightly-wrapped cherry-cassis fruit in a medium-low acid base. Seems young. With some swirling and time light herby notes emerge and the barniness fades into a background earthy tone. I'd give this some more time, but it seems to have some good solid stuffing. (12/17/99)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1979 ($50)(Clash of the Ayatollahs): Medium-dark garnet, almost no sign of age at all. Nice cassis-cedar-tobacco nose, but I'm a trifle surprised when I taste this wine, for it seems uncharacteristically soft and fleshy for Sociando. This is the first time I've had the '79, and it drinks very well now, surprise aside, although it still seems fairly youthful. There's plenty of smoky, stony cassis fruit that turns more tobacco-earthy on the subtle, quiet finish. I'm partial to this house, and I like this wine. (4/19/00)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1982 ($60) (Bastille Day): The nose is a warm pool of rich, deep cassis, edged with cedar and tobacco with a dark graphite streak underneath. Very cohesive and silky, great balance and depth, although I find the ripe silkiness of the fruit tends to level the wine and hide some of the complexity. It's a luscious wine, but having gone through the '83 and a couple of the '85s in the last few weeks I find I do prefer the complexity and structure of the '85 over the ripe silkiness of the '82. I guess I'm really off the '82 bandwagon for good, although it does trump the smaller '83. (6/16/01)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1982 ($75) (Beaucoin Revisited): Bright acidity at the core, satiny redfruit, tobacco, firm minerality and smoke. Still too young, it's nonetheless quite lovely and supple to drink, very flavorful, very classic, the consensus seems to be something Italian. After some narrowing-down ("No, it's not Italian...") Manuel pegs it as Sociando. I announce, "Yep, that's it, the '82," but he's on a roll, not listening, prognosticating that it's the '93. SFJoe looks at me, "Can I get a guess on the vintage...?" he asks. In the interest of fairness, I disallow his request. (3/7/04)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1983($40)(August Is the Cruelest Month): Here's a light nose, herby-graphite over light red cassis-berry fruit, traces of tobacco and smokiness. Tastes tight, with a hard core of acidity and without the depth I've come to expect from this producer. Edgy and a bit hard, it's a very good wine but comes in well behind the compelling '85 and almost as compelling '82 in terms of character and sustain. (8/7/01)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1985 ($50)(Trilateral Offline): Medium red, with just the tiniest hint of bricking at the rim. Graphite-rich nose, with a tight base of oregano-tinged blackcurrant fruit & hints of cedar, still rather tight and minerally, not giving up much. I've been wondering if the fruit would fade before the structure on this one, and this bottle isn't doing much to resolve the issue, as it still seems coiled and fairly tight. The midpalate seems to be a little more dilute than I remember, but the finish is tangy and smooth and gravelly. Still tight, needs more time. Will the fruit last? (3/14/00)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1985 ($50)(Cape Mayhem): Ah, here's the real thing, a richly warm and layered smellishness, friendly waves of warm cassis, pipe tobacco, oregano. Very prettily balanced, nimble but with a rich and velvety mouthfeel, this is the first time I've had this wine when it has seemed to be in full bloom, holding no more back than is necessary for strength of backbone. Beautiful. Perhaps these '85s, after years of isolationist severity, are finally joining the community of nations. (5/25/01)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1995 ($28)(Kaneturbury Tales): Medium-dark and dense; young and tight as a drum, but also quite rich, nice dense cassis nose, light hint of green olive & vanilla, medium-crisp, full-bodied mouthfeel with some very fine, very strong tannins. My '85 Sociandos are just beginning to come around now--I'm putting my remaining stash of this to bed for ten years, but they're gonna be good down the road. (9/20/99)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1996 ($40) (Winterfest '03): Smells of cedar, dark black fruit laced with green tobacco leaf and oregano. Actually, it smells rather like a tight young Chinon at the moment. A sip, and there's dark blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with rocky undercurrents, obsidian-hard and tight. Impressively focused and well bred, but all restrained potential right now, a dark, racy wine that's closed tight as something that I can't think of that isn't a drum but is even tighter than that. Hold, hold, hold. Then hold some more. (1/22/03)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2000 ($32) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Dark garnet, purpling at the edge. Smells very minerally, pure graphite over a blackberry-cassis base, trace of black olive woven in there as well, with air some cedar and tobacco hints emerge. Elegant and richly stony; dark and tightly wrapped, very young, very tight. Not quite as structured as in some years, a skosh lower in acidity than I'd expect from this house. Turns darker and plummier as it heads into the finish, which ends with an earthy plum-blackberry hum. Not a terribly expressive wine at this point, but there's loads of potential here. It's also nice to see the price coming back down. (5/03)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2001(Buster Has a Little Lamb): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells lightly herbal, oregano and cedar over taut blackberry-cassis. Firm core of acidity, the velvety-plush midpalate seems to be receding--I daresay this is shutting down, and shutting down hard. A bottle six months ago was broad and spicy, exuberantly chewy-meaty, this is much more elegant and compact. Lots of anise and cedar on the finish, a nice match with the lamb. (8/04)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2001 ($35) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Dark blackfruity aromatics--smoky cedar and graphite, tobacco and blackberry. With a bit of swirling a plummy-clovey streak emerges. A sip, and it's a substantial wine, chewily textured and happily tangy, with gently biting acidity. Finishes tarry-licoricey, with some rough-edged tannins. The aromatics become more muted and reticent with air, but the midpalate remains well honed for such a big wine. A rather intense youngster much in the mold of the 2000, although a bit more intense and aromatic. Really impressive young Bordeaux. (11/05)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2002 ($32) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Smells nice but restrained; tobacco, muted cassis and oregano notes shiver slightly, as if in a draft. Lots of structure, hard acidity, rather understuffed, or perhaps just fetal. No, actually it does seem understuffed in the mold of the '99, just a bit short on guts and long on structure and wood and other stuff. Very, very young, but not the most promising of young Sociandos. Still, if history teaches us anything, it's wait and see; those who forget the wine are condemned to repeat it. (11/05)

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2003 ($50) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Dark saturated garnet color, purpling at the rim. Hugely aromatic--cassis and hoisin sauce, tar pit, clove, graphite and cedar, sod and blackberry, yikes. It's the usual aromatic profile turned up to eleven. A sip, and the gigantism continues--ripe dark blackberry-cassis fruit suffused with spiciness, firm acidity, all wrapped up tighter than I'd have suspected based on the aromatics. The wine, despite the size, has a compactness and focus that gives it composure beyond mere heft. More definitely Bordeauxish than the first two, yet drawn large. An imposing wine, peculiar but compelling.

Château Talbot St. Julien 1995 ($15/.375): Dark red, fairly deep color; nose is a bit ungiving, but hints of dark cassis, smoke & a touch of green olive. In the mouth fairly tight too, slighty harsh texture, tar & licorice & muted black silky fruit. Fairly dense, middling crisp & closes with a tarry tang & a vegetal olive-y note. Needs more time, methinks -- closed now, but seems to have a fair amount of stuffing for down the road a bit. (4/3/99)

Château Terrey-Gros-Cailloux St. Julien 1983 ($13): Translucent medium-light ruby color. Light nose, small hints of smoky, slightly faded red fruit. Plenty of structure here, but the fruit seems to have waned a bit, if it ever existed in the first place. Tart and crisp, a bit watery, but a decently-drinking small claret, not bad for a Cru Bourgeois from 83. Drink 'em up if you got 'em. And I mean NOW! Hurry! I'll wait... (1/29/00)

Château La Vieille Cure Fronsac 1990 (Horrifying the Newbies): Smells of light cherry, stewed tomato, earth and sod. Tastes a bit soft and insubstantial, lightly limp, with earthy-cherry fruit right up front that segues into more of a forest-floor flavor in the midpalate, the red fruit turning towards a brick dust matte flavor, almost a pressed-flower quality, with a light herbal streak. Has some small interest, but seems like it's fading. (3/3/01)

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