Let us start with a confession: in 1987, during the primeur tastings for the 1986 vintage, all Bordeaux producers, brokers and experts were unanimous: 86 was as good as 82 for Médoc vintages. But the famous you-know-who American lawyer and (self-appointed) wine critic decided otherwise. The 1986 Médoc vintage never quite recovered from his (relatively) poor rating. Still today, prices for the 86 vintage are lower than for the 82.
It was a good reason to organise a tasting dedicated to this subject, with some of the best 1986s (as judged at the time of the primeur tastings). You will notice the absence of Château Latour, which is terrible in that particular year; in fact the whole decade is very poor. You will appreciate as well the low number of bottles tasted, since there were only six of us.
Here are the results:
One common characteristic is that 86 has become a powerful vintage, more so than at the time of the primeur tastings in 1987.
All wines were decanted 3 hours before.
We started with the Léoville-Poyferré, then the Gruaud-Larose, then the Rausan-Ségla. Three seconds crus classés in a row. Léoville-Poyferré was the finest, Rausan-Ségla was quite pleasant but with a slightly bitter or vegetal finish, and Gruaud-Larose was the most brilliant one, with a lot of body and a very expressive nose.
Moving on with the Château Margaux (to remain in the same area as Rausan’s), the world suddenly felt different… Château Margaux 86 is a magnificent wine, not only full and round, but also fine and complex, with an incredible length on the palate. Absolutely flawless! It has everything you could hope for, and it will probably remain so for many years to come.
After this revelation, Mouton-Rothschild suffered a little bit by comparison! But it is an excellent wine, soft and mellow, ready to drink, shorter than the Margaux, but very good indeed. Lafite-Rothschild came last in the tasting order, but not in term of result: I expected a magnificent wine, having already tasted it ten years ago and 1986 being one of this château’s great vintages. I am glad to report that it was brilliant. Château Lafite 86 is fantastic, probably the best nose of them all, only dominated by Château Margaux’s incredible presence in the mouth. The greatest complexity, the finest wine of all, it was an expected triumph for Lafite… though… on this day, Château Margaux ended up the winner!
Is 86 a better vintage than 82? Well, it is true for Margaux, though Lafite is extremely good in both 82 and 86, same as Mouton very good in both vintages… It may be safe to say that 86 has a better ageing potential, but I would not draw any definitive conclusion on the subject of 82 vs. 86: the inquiry goes on!