by Rene Corton
Red Bordeaux wines set the world standard in Cabernet and Cabernet-Merlot blends. While France's Bordeaux region and the Washington wine growing areas share a similar northern hemisphere latitude, there are important differences.
Bordeaux's climate is more maritime with frequent rains during harvest, and irrigation is not allowed during the growing season. These and other factors cause a greater variation in vintage quality in France than that typically seen in Washington and California's Napa-Sonoma regions.
During the past 15 years, red Bordeaux vintages have varied from awful (1981, 1984, 1987, 1991) to excellent (1982, 1989, 1990).
Of the wines currently available in the marketplace, the 1989s and the 1990s, while scarce and pricey, are approaching maturity. They drink well and are solid additions to the cellar.
The '91s and '92s are generally quite poor. Taste before you buy and drink up now.
The '93s, which currently are widely available, are average to quite good in quality and reasonably priced.
The '94s and '95s are much better in quality and are, in fact, very good to excellent in some cases. The '95s are being enthusiastically received and sold at near record prices for delivery in 1998. I would not be surprised to see the hype for the 1995 vintage cause the prices for current '93s and '94s (the latter won't hit the market until next spring) to weaken, and any '91s and '92s still in stock to be sold quite cheaply.
Deciding which of the 1993 and earlier vintages to buy is relatively easy. Most wine merchants have them available for tasting or can recommend tastings that you can attend.
Help from a trusted wine merchant or reference to several publications with extensive Bordeaux reviews can be most helpful. The Wine Spectator is the most widely available, but I often prefer The Wine Advocate by Robert Parker, The International Wine Cellar by Stephen Tanzer, or The Vine by Clive Coates, MW. The latter is an English publication and often presents a different perspective from other publications which are written by American authors. Most wine merchants will have one or more of these available.
Au revoir and bonne degustation.