Chateau Lynch Bages 1959 to 2006

Monday, 5 October 2009 by Stephen Browett

We recently took part in a fabulous tasting of 33 vintages of Lynch Bages, including every single wine produced from 2006 to 1980 and then a few older bottles. These were tasted at Cordeillan Bages, just a few hundred metres down the road, with members of the Cazes family, their wine-making team and a few friends from Bordeaux.

Decanting the samples.

Jean-Charles Cazes bought Lynch Bages in 1939 after being a tenant there since 1933. It was subsequently run by his son André until the early 1960's and then by his grandson Jean-Michel Cazes - one of the legendary characters of Bordeaux - who really put the Chateau on the map. It has consistently out-performed its 5th growth ranking over the decades and is now under the assured direction of Jean-Michel's son, appropriately also named Jean-Charles. I make no pretence in admitting that Lynch Bages is one of my favourite Chateaux of Bordeaux. This vineyard is very much a Cabernet Sauvignon terroir (73% of plantings with 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot) and the resulting wine is often described as "poor man's Mouton". I'm not sure if many poor men drink Lynch Bages but the Cazes family have always had a policy of releasing their wine at fair prices en primeur and it is much loved - especially in the Farr Vintners strongholds of Great Britain and Hong Kong (it's been served First Class on Cathay Pacific for over 20 years). This is a Chateau that always delivers quality but doesn't try to imitate the First Growths. Lynch Bages is a great source of classic claret and, for my money, one of Bordeaux's most consistent Chateaux. Lynch never lets you down. A feature of Lynch Bages is that you don't have to buy just the great vintages. When I first started off in the wine trade in 1980, I remember delivering vast quantities of the 1973 that customers were enjoying for around £10 a bottle. In fact, Lynch Bages 1973 was one of the first bottles of classed growth Bordeaux that I ever tasted. One of our oldest customers still rates the 1957 as one of his favourite all-time wines.

Jean-Michel Cazes, Nicolas Labelle, Neal Martin and Jean-Charles Cazes.

The wines were served blind, in random order within flights, but my notes here are re-arranged in chronological order from young to old.

2006 - This is huge and impressive. A strapping black colour. Classic cigar box and black fruit nose. The palate is packed full of licorice, blackcurrant and cedar with some exotic indian spice notes that linger on the palate. Certainly a wine with more than enough fruit to support the oak. Full bodied. long and powerful, this seems to me to be an archetypal Pauillac that will need another 5 years in bottle before becoming ready to drink. A really excellent vintage for Lynch Bages. 17.5

2005 - A dark black colour with a wonderfully sweet creme de cassis nose. On the palate it is gorgeously smooth, sexy and almost creamy. Less concentrated and less backward than the 2006 but maybe there is extra complexity here and more richness. Long, sweet, lingering and exotic. Not a blockbuster 2005 but give it a year or two and this will be hard to resist. 17.5

2004 - Another impressive black colour. Really youthful and seems very Cabernet Sauvignon dominated. There is not the ripeness of a great vintage but it's nevertheless a very good Lynch Bages that is built for lovers of classic claret. Certainly not ready to drink yet and although it will never have the appeal of the 2005 this is a fine example of Lynch Bages that reminds me of the excellent 1988. A bit lean today but it will flesh out with age. 16.5

2003 - What a contrast. The colour is significantly lighter than the 2004 with some brown fade at the rim already. An amazingly sexy, smoky nose. Already quite evolved on the palate with barbeque and spice flavours. Very exotic, lovely to drink right now. Plush, plump and no need to keep it. Not at all a classic Lynch Bages, in fact pretty atypical, but I would love to glug back a few glasses of this tonight. Dare I say it, but a 50:50 blend of the 2003 and 2004 would be ideal. 16.5

2002 - A little bit of fade at the rim, this wine seems young yet there is a fair bit of evolution. Classy and well built, this is a wine with structure but is already drinking well. there's plenty of life ahead yet it can be approached now. 16.5

2001 - A solid colour. Lots of chewy, fleshy fruit here. Rich and complex, still quite youthful. Pretty serious and dense. A beefy, muscular Pauillac that doesn't quite have the fatness of a great vintage but it's still very impressive and looks to have a long life ahead. 17

2000 - A very deep colour with a solid, powerful, brooding nose. This is a monster Lynch Bages - big and powerful, still young, a real powerhouse. It's good now but in 5 years time this will be fantastic. Great Potential. Classic. 18

Jean-Charles Cazes through a glass of Lynch Bages.

1999 - Solid red with a little fade. Very attractive wine full of ripe black fruit. Quite solidly built and well structured. Not a fleshy wine and not trying to be a superstar, this is a good vintage that is perfect to drink now but it will never be rich and voluptuous. 16

1998 - Deep black colour. Dense, chewy with lots of firm cassis fruit. It's a bit tough - ripe but a bit charmless. Could do with more flesh. OK, not great. 15

1997 - Quite a lot of fade here and certainly there is an herbaceous note on the nose. The palate is rather weak out and this wine certainly stands out as the least good of the flight. Needs drinking up and will have a slightly stalky, under-ripe character. 14

1996 - Good full colour, chunky and showingly a little clumsily today. lacks charm but it's still a gangly youthful wine that needs to open up. Plenty of substance behind the awkward, tannic exterior but not ready to drink. A long-distance vintage which, when it comes round, will be classic. 16.5+

1995 - Dark colour. Big, beefy nose. This has lots of depth and is really chewy and chunky. There's certainly a lot to it. A solid wine. 16.5

1994 - A deepish colour and a serious blackcurrant nose. Still very well balanced and although fully developed it retains its classic structure with good weight of fruit and firm, but not harsh, tannins. This is a fine Pauillac that is perfect to drink now. 16

1993 - Some fade at the rim. A big, inviting nose with a strongly smoky cigar-box character. Complex, long and classy on the palate but perhaps a bit lean towards the finish. This wine is certainly at its peak of maturity and really "singing" today. I think we've caught it at its peak and it needs to be enjoyed over the next few years before the fruit fades and the tannins take over. An excellent effort for the vintage. 15.5+

1992 - An evolved colour and more than a hint of green on the nose. This is herbaceous and certainly way behind the 1993 and 1994. A strong sense of "off vintage" here. There is a distinct lack of flesh and it's outclassed in a line-up of vintages 1992-1996. lean and going nowhere. 13

1991 - A mature colour showing a lot of evolution. Quite high acidity, this is a pretty lean wine but it is not green. Ripe but tight, almost crisp. Not obviously "off vintage" but it lacks the flesh of a serious year. This would probably have been a delicious early drinker and should have been enjoyed in the mid 1990's. It probably was as Jean-Michel Cazes said that virtually the whole group was sold to a French supermarket at a modest price. 15

1990 - A solid colour with a huge, powerful nose. This is absolutely packed with thick, black, cassis fruit. On the mid palate it is plump and rich but there is classic breed and structure all the way through. Today it's not quite a match for the excellent 1989 and only just ahead of the 1988 but a very good Lynch Bages indeed. 17

1989 - Some fade at the rim and not as deep a colour as the 1990. An opulent nose, incredibly sexy and inviting. This is warm and approachable in the mouth with wave after wave of ripe but structured black fruit with exotic notes of Indian spices. Extremely long and lingering. This wine is the essence of Cabernet Sauvignon that is ripe but not over-ripe. Fabulous wine and a near-perfect example of mature Pauillac. This would give all the Medoc First Growths a serious run for their money in 1989. 19

1988 - A maturing colour. This is sweet and decadently ripe on the nose and initially on the palate too. Gorgeous and lip-smackingly good to begin with but the finish is a bit dry. Classic Bordeaux with dense, strapping, black Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. Blind this is a serious match for the 1990 and extremely impressive for 1988. 16.5

1987 - Still a solid colour at the centre with some brown at the rim. Spicy cassis with a distinctly lean edge. Delicious to drink now but after a few sips the finish starts to tail off and there is a hint of green coming through. For a famously poor vintage this is pretty good and will still give pleasure if not analysed too seriously. 15

1986 - Deep at the centre still with a little brown fade. A big nose with a hint of bovril. Meaty and serious. The palate is solid and chewy with good richness throughout. There is certainly lots of substance here. a chunky vintage that is impressive even if a little lacking in charm. 16.5

Great vintages of Lynch Bages.

1985 - Deep red with only a little fade. Cassis and eucalyptus on the nose. This is fine and classy. Fresh, brighter and more precise than the slightly smudgy 1986. A really lovely wine to drink right now. Maybe not the sheer class and depth of the 1982 or 1989 but it's a gorgeous wine, now at its peak. 17+

1984 - Fairly brown throughout. There is a hint of green on the nose. The palate is fairly lean but still reasonably vibrant. This is not a bad wine (especially considering the dreadful reputation of the vintage) but it could certainly do with a let more flesh on the tired old bones. Still just about worth it. (By coincidence a bottle of 84 Pontet Canet tasted 12 hours earlier was painfully thin and knackered). 14.5

1983 - Medium deep with some brown fade. This is a touch oxidised on the nose and maybe not a good example. Behind that, there is a a deep, solid wine trying to get out which appears to have a good core of fruit. Oxidation lingers throughout but it had been clean, probably a decent wine. 15+??

1982 - Deep with only a little fade, looks similar to the 1985. Rich and powerful on the nose. On the plate there are layers and layers of black fruit - creme de cassis with a touch of licorice and spice. Dense, sweet, ripe and opulent. This is a multi-dimensional wine that is still youthful. Long in the mouth. Maybe not quite the opulence of the 1989 but it is 7 years older. A fabulous Lynch Bages and another brilliant example of the greatness of 1982. 18.5

1981 - Medium colour but still still quite a powerful nose. A rich and creamy texture with great depth of chewy blackcurrant fruit. Fleshy but structured. This is still very good indeed. Impressive - even more so when revealed to be 1981! 17

1980 - Brick red to brown throughout. A little bit herbaceous on the nose. The palate is light and slightly herbal. Blackberry and apple rather than blackcurrant. Not a lot of flesh here. However, it's still good to drink and an impressive effort for what is regarded as a long-dead vintage. Surprisingly not bad. 15

1978 - Medium colour, browning. An extraordinarily sweet, brown sugar nose. Lightish on the palate but a lovely decadent sweetness lingers on the palate. Almost tastes like a creme brulée with strawberries. Soft tannins, pretty and sweet. Very un-Pauillac, atypical Lynch Bages. Nice but fading. Jean-Michel Cazes reminded us that this was a vintage picked very late after a poor summer. Picking didn't even start until October 8th. 15.5

1975 - Deep coloured, dark and powerful. A great colour for such an old wine. This has solid, chewy black fruit. Serious but not sexy. Firm and classically structured. A tough wine that might last for ever but will never offer much in the way of charm. Impressive if not exactly fun. Jean-Michel Cazes commented that this wine would have been better if it had been made by the wine-making methods of today. 17

1970 - Some brown at the rim but a dark black centre. Absolutely classic eucalyptus nose that could only be Pauillac.....or Napa Valley! Firm, good depth, solid but not really fleshy. This is a long-lived, serious wine with more complexity than the rather one-dimensional 1975. Nevertheless, it's a bit too serious and starting to dry out. Not as great as it was 10 years ago (when it was Latour-like) and not as good as a wonderful bottle of the famous Giscours 1970 tasted the night before. Jean-Michel Cazes commented that this famous wine was made from yields of 70 hl/ha with no second wine (Haut Bages Averous was made for the first time in 1976). 17.5

1966 - Still quite a dense colour, with just a little brown fade at the rim. Impressive for over 40 years old! The nose is big, rich and plummy. This is really sensational. Packed full of black fruit with bags of licorice. Mouth-filling, plump yet finely balanced. A long finish with lingering sweetness. Tasted blind alongside the 1961 and 1959 this was unanamously prefered to those two famous vintages. A remarkable wine that must now be one of the very best of the vintage. The first great achievement of the Jean-Michel Cazes era. 19

1961 - Fairly brown at the rim but brick red at the centre. This bottle is not quite right as there is a whiff of oxidation on the nose that carries on through to the palate. Hard to judge and a question mark is fairer than a score. ?

1959 - 50 years old virtually to the day (like myself). A mature red/brown colour with a forest floor nose and a hint of oxidation. The palate, however, is better than the nose with a remarkable sweetness and complexity to begin with. The warmth of the vintage comes through but now slightly drying out at the finish. Savoury and satisfying, clearly a wine of class and distinction that has performed admirably throughout its career. Now, winding down but there are still vestiges of an extraordinary sweetness and intensity that are now fading in the glass. 17 points today but was probably worth 19 (at least) at its peak.

Tasting over, the great man gets ready to dance.

This tasting showed the remarkable consistency of Lynch Bages which, I feel, is the hallmark of the Chateau. In the whole tasting only a couple of minor vintages showed poorly but the vast majority were good to very good. Maybe only the 1989 stands out as a genuine rival of the First Growths but that is not really what Lynch Bages is about. This property makes great, reliable claret that performs well year after year. If there is one overall message that this tasting delivered it is that the Lynch Bages style and character stands out more than the variations between the vintages.

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