Château Haut-Bailly 1983
If there was one wine I was sorry to miss during the 2008 Bordeaux primeur tastings it was 2008 Haut-Bailly. I have already written of why we were rather late for the Pessac tasting at Smith-Haut-Lafitte, so won’t go into any detail here, suffice to say that one result of our tardy arrival was missing out on this long-term favourite of mine. In truth, it was at least partly my own fault, a failure to recognise which wines were about to completely disappear from the tasting and which would languish until the bitter end and beyond, waiting to be tasted at my convenience. Not long after our arrival Margaret Rand glided elegantly across the tasting room and whispered in my ear a comment on the wine, which seemed to her to be a little more tannic, more ‘backward’ than is usual. I made a mental note to try the wine – although it was on my list anyway. As the room emptied of people, the tasting drawing to a close within what must have been only five or ten minutes of our arrival, and having only tasted Pape-Clément, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Les Carmes Haut-Brion and perhaps one or two others, I reached for the wine in question…only to find the bottle drained. There was no backup, bottles full and empty were being packed away in cases ready for transport back to the appropriate cellars, and I had missed my chance. Tant pis! I suspect my first taste of this wine will be at two years of age, at the UGC tasting in London, in 2010.
Fortunately for me I have a few older bottles of Haut-Bailly in the cellar to compensate; I hear the 1995 and 1996 vintages are both doing great things, which pleases me immensely, but right now, with roast beef on the menu, I was looking for something with more overt maturity and complexity. The 1983 Haut-Bailly it is then, one of a small handful of bottles that I added to the cellar a few years ago for a handsome price (by which I mean good value, rather than extravagantly expensive). I last had one in July 2005 (how time flies!)
Looking at the 1983 Haut-Bailly today the colour is pretty much as I remember it from my last tasting, a fairly overtly mature mahogany red. The nose, however, is perhaps a touch more impressive, and perhaps my memories err slightly too much towards the conservative or negative. There is initially a blast of maturing, macerated fruit here, but later on more classically-styled complexity, namely bloody beef stock and iron, with perhaps even a hint of rich fruit complexity, by which I mean notes of black olive and dark damson-skin. The palate is quite rich, but balanced (there is none of the overt acidity I commented on last time), fleshy rather than creamy. There is texture and a fine, fresh, slightly gritty substance. There are very mature elements too, tertiary elements reminiscent of axle grease, raisins, sweet tobacco and baked fruits, alongside a charcoaly edge. Overall though, this is a mature and delightful wine, and although it probably reached the summit a few years ago and is now on the way downhill, this is still some way from being totally over-the-hill. I find it to be delicious; sadly, though, this is my last bottle. If only I had bought more. 17.5/20 (15/6/09)