Great athletes can't all win championships, great actors can't all win Oscars and great wines can't all be First Growths. My ultimate impression from an evening of 5 decades of La Mission Haut-Brion was of a wine that had its own personality, showed amazing consistency and was occassionally stunning. It could be alternatively powerful and elegant, but there was always the leitmotif of concentrated fruit, herbs, cedar and graphite. Textbook Graves. Perhaps the highs aren't as high as with a First Growth, but I didn't get much in the way of real lows and shouldn't consistency and longevity count? Isn't LMBH the Don Sutton of the wine world? It is easy to see buying year in and year out without much risk of disappointment. Great stuff.
Gentlemen, start your engines...
2004 Château Lynch-Bages Blanc - France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Contrôlée
Clean and tight without much interesting going on. Light lemongrass on the nose and nice acidity. Nothing offensive, but nothing to recommend it at its price point.
2003 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A bit like a barrel sample, it showed a hint of what it could become and then disappeared. Very powerful and extremely well structured, it showed good depth with sweet and smoky blackberry, roasted herbs and graphite, giving way to more and more graphite as the tannic bite took over and it clamped down tight. I don't think this will be a profound wine and should show austere for a while, but I think that it will eventually be a compelling offering.
1998 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
Horribly corked. (flawed)
Wines in a Minor Key
1992 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A good wine for an off-vintage, all the pleasure of this wine is in the nose. Funky cherries (which is going to be the name of my new band) mix with herbs and cigar smoke to hold your interest until you put it your mouth. It's soft on the entry and hopes are high, but it turns reedy on the midpalate and certainly finishes short, which may not be a bad thing all things considered. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
1985 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A classic Claret that, while perhaps lacking some of the power of other vintages of LMHB, displays wonderful elegance and finesse. Delicate aromas of dark fruit, herbs and earth show great continuity through the finish. The palate picks up a bit more of a red berry quality that layers in nicely. It doesn't have a tremendous amount of palate presence, although it was by no means thin. Just a well-balanced effort in which everything seems to fit together beautifully. Mark wonderfully described it as a wine in a minor key.
1996 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
One of the most accessable of the '96s I've had, this wine will certainly split the crowd. A dead ringer for a well-made California Meritage, it is loosely knit showing expansive sweet, dark fruit and cedar with a nice earthiness to it. While it lacked the depth of some of the other vintages, it was one of the most open and inviting. It had excellent weight and presence in the mouth, but perhaps lacked the acidity to match the fruit and tannin that the wine possessed. Certainly a great QPR for LMHB that was reminiscent of the '96 Insignia (thanks to Mark again for that insight), but it might not be for those that demand a more classic style to their Graves.
1995 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A classically-styled Graves that displays a high degree of class, but is a touch aloof. A fragrant nose of wild mushrooms, cassis, roasted herbs and graphite gives way to a somewhat austere steely palate. More power than pleasure at this point, it was fabulously structured and will require considerable patience. Just a bit to tightly wound for me at this stage, this wine will be middle of the fairway for some.
The Power and the Glory
1990 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A beautiful, beautiful wine. Classic Graves elements on the nose keep expanding and opening new doors with dark fruit, herbs, graphite and tobacco. It has a wonderful presence in the mouth with a perfect ripeness matched with silky tannin. Great acidity gives it a sneaky persistence on the finish. Seamless. The vintage is really hitting on all cylinders right now.
1988 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
An appealing, large bodied wine that has a great deal of personality, but lacks a bit of focus. More of a fruit centered wine with expressive ripe, dark fruit and nice secondary floral elements. Rich and weighty with a long finish, it nevertheless comes across as a bit fat. There is ample stuffing for aging, so perhaps this is just at an adolescent stage. I think this wine may sneak up on people in a few years.
1981 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
My lucky streak with the '81 vintage continues with this elegant effort. A complex nose of flowers, earthy mushrooms and lead dominate over the delicate cherry fruit. Silky in the mouth it glides across the palate with ease. Pure finesse, it will likely go on in this gentle state for years to come, although I don't expect it will get much better. Very classy.
1978 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
Simply a beautiful wine. Classic old Graves with cassis, cedar, tobacco leaf, herbs...really, you could go on and on. It was surprisingly spritely but intensely focused on the palate it showed both great breadth and length. Nothing out of place. This is why we drink Bordeaux.
1975 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A stunning bottle of wine. If you are lucky enough to have this wine, you will be welcomed by an inviting, complex nose of black fruit, roasted herbs and cigar box. This wine had tremendous presence and weight without an ounce of fat. It reminded me of a professional athlete with its strength and grace. In a word...wow.
1962 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
While corked, at first only the nose was ruined and the palate still showed some great fruit. Really impossible to analyze, but clearly this wine is very much alive (well, not this bottle). (flawed)
1986 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
A young beast of a wine that hasn't even sniffed its peak. The nose was dominated by spicy cedar and tobacco with dark fruit lingering languorously in the background. A touch backward, it is tight, concentrated ball of energy. When it explodes, watch out. The real question for me is whether it can attain the elegence of other vintages. Popped and poured to replace the corked '62, this would have benefited with some air.