Collector's corner: back to the classics

Collector's corner: back to the classics

by Westgarth Wines January 15, 2024

“Classics never go out of style.” This quotation could not hold more truth when looking back at 2023. The ‘quiet luxury’ trend that took over TikTok, catwalks, and television focused on high-quality ‘investment’ pieces. But it was also a reflection of the financial climate. Reckoning with global economic uncertainty, the lasting effects of the pandemic, and turbulent geopolitics; brands shifted their attention towards conservatism and restraint.

The fine wine market reacted similarly, with 2023 seeing the return of Bordeaux and classic vintages. Increasingly risk-averse, buyers at large focused on stable, consistently excellent wines with proven collectible potential such as Bordeaux’s classed growths, rather than venturing into uncharted territories. The most popular wines on Westgarth Wines last year included Château Margaux, Cheval Blanc, and Léoville Poyferré.

Fine wine outlets reported that Bordeaux’s market share has increased for the first time in a decade, with the First Growths at the helm. The trend highlighted their everlasting power and cemented their position as some of the most collectible wines in the world. But what contributes to their appeal, and which are the most classic vintages one must have in one's cellar?

The Bordeaux Classification and the eternal appeal of the First Growths

Bordeaux was classified into ‘Growths’ in 1855 as Napoleon III prepared for the Great Exhibition in Paris. Judged by merchants of the time, wines were tiered according to the châteaux's reputation and trading price, which, at that time, was a direct reflection of quality. The First Growths, or ‘Premiers Crus’, represent the pinnacle of this classification.

Thanks to their status, the five First Growths – Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild – continue to enjoy global recognition and consistent demand. These wines are known for their remarkable ability to age, developing complexity and new flavor profiles over time, which also can lead to significant price appreciation. The mainstays of every cellar, the Bordeaux First Growths are symbols of winemaking history, excellence, and perhaps not-so-quiet luxury.

Classic Bordeaux vintages for the cellar

In the world of Bordeaux, certain years stand out as quintessential vintages.

1982

Among these, the 1982 vintage is often hailed as a benchmark for modern Bordeaux. The vintage saw the ascension of Robert Parker Jr. to the status of the world's most influential wine critic and reasserted Bordeaux's dominance in the global wine scene, which had been increasingly challenged by Californian wines. Characterized by an unusually warm growing season, it produced wines of extraordinary ripeness, structure, and longevity. These wines have not only stood the test of time but have also appreciated in value, exemplifying the ideal of a classic collectible wine.

1990

The 1990 vintage in Bordeaux is often spoken of in reverential tones, earning its place as one of the most legendary vintages of the late 20th century. What set the 1990 vintage apart was its consistent excellence across all appellations. Both the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux produced outstanding wines, with Saint-Estèphe, Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Pomerol, and Pauillac contributing to the vintage's legendary status. Some of the most noteworthy wines were Lynch-Bages, Pichon-Baron, and Grand Puy Lacoste. Today a broad spectrum of wines from the 1990 vintage have reached a state of perfect readiness for enjoyment, with many of the higher-tier wines, predominantly reds but including some whites, expected to continue their development until 2025 and beyond.

2000

Another notable year is 2000, a millennium vintage celebrated for its perfect growing conditions and exceptional balance. These wines, now reaching their peak maturity, are a testament to the enduring allure of Bordeaux. Collectors and connoisseurs treasure them for their complexity and elegance, making them a must-have in any serious cellar.

2005

The 2005 vintage, with its optimal weather conditions and meticulous vineyard management, also produced wines of remarkable depth and structure. Renowned for their intense flavors and tannic backbone, these wines are just beginning to show their full potential, promising further development and desirability in the years to come.

2009

Often compared to the legendary 1982, Bordeaux 2009 produced wines with rich fruit flavors, smooth tannins, and a luxurious velvety texture. These wines are notable for their immediate appeal but also possess the structure to age gracefully in the coming decades.

2010

Another truly great year, 2010 was marked by a series of climatic challenges that ultimately contributed to its greatness. A cold winter initially delayed vine growth, disrupting budburst and flowering.

This was particularly problematic for Merlot, leading to issues like millerandage and coulure, which reduced yields. However, a wet start in June gave way to an exceptionally hot and dry summer, especially in the Médoc region. The drought, while reducing the harvest, ensured that the surviving grapes were of exceptional quality. The hallmark of the 2010 vintage was a remarkable balance between body, alcohol, tannin, fruit character, and acidity. The best reds featured a sophisticated, intense dark fruit profile, poised for further development over the years.

In conclusion

While there are a number of more recent greats, including 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020, older Bordeaux vintages have continued to capture collectors’ attention, a trend unlikely to wane anytime soon. In a world constantly chasing the new, the allure of the classics remains unshakeable.







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