Cellar notes #54: Back to the 1980s

Reclaiming the small cellar that had lain undisturbed in my sister's basement for a decade was cause enough to celebrate the return of three prodigal sons: a 1985 Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, bought from Victoria Wine for £14.95 a bottle, a 1986 Château L'Angélus, a sample from the owner, and a 1987 Pichon Lalande, around a tenner a bottle from Oddbins.

A slow developer, the Beringer displayed oodles of rich, ripe cassis fruit with minty undertones and little hint of its age other than a slight edge in the bouquet. In contrast, the Angélus, which has since become a Robert Parker favourite, a classified growth and hideously expensive, had evolved well but was slightly corked (another case for screwcaps) which dulled the fruit impact in what might otherwise have been a supremely elegant claret.

The biggest surprise and pleasure was the 1987 Pichon Lalande, an elegant, classified Pauillac château run with a pipette of iron by the redoubtable Mme May-Eliane de Lencqesaing, the Margaret Thatcher of the Médoc. But 1987, sandwiched as it was between the excellent 1986 and the fine trio that followed (1988-1990), was one of the lesser, lighter vintages of the decade. All the greater the surprise and pleasure, then, in that the wine exhibited a delightfully elegant, silky-textured fruitiness, tinged with a slight herbaceous green edge. This was compensated for by the new-oak vanilla, seamlessly integrated into the structure and flavour. Which all goes to show that even in a so-called off-vintage, pedigree will out.

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