Chateau Latour: Wines for the Ages

Chateau Latour never fails to impress with its longevity. Is it the longest lived wine of Bordeaux? A comparison of two vintages, at three decades and five decades of age, showed two wines aging at a glacial pace, but seeming much younger than their years.

The 1982 and 1964 vintages showed a generally similar aroma and flavor spectrum, in itself an extraordinary feature for two wines separated by two decades. Of course the aromatics were stronger in the younger wine, the color and fruits were more intense, but you could see the same lineage. In a blind tasting you might have taken the young wine for the early 1990s and the older wines for the early 1980s. In a blind tasting I would not have separated them by twenty years.

One of the marks of why Chateau Latour is such a great wine is that no single feature stands out from the harmonious whole. The ripeness and density of the fruits is unmistakable, but in so many New World wines those same features make the wine overpowering, at least when paired with food. Here the 1964 was perfection against a variety of dishes, although I have to admit I found the aromatics on the 1982 just a fraction intense, and found myself muttering “infanticide” from time to time.

The wines were tasted at a splendid dinner at The Modern restaurant in New York, which has recently changed its format from a three course to a four course prix fixe (alas, accompanied by a significant price increase). The wines went well with a mushroom tart (containing mussels and various other components in a brilliant blend that was hard to deconstruct), monkfish in a mushroom sauce accompanied by a green sauce (the killer dish of the evening with an extremely complex texture), and chicken breast in chanterelle sauce (perhaps a mistake on my part to have three dishes in succession based on mushrooms, but  the chanterelles were wonderfully intense). One of the things I like about The Modern is that its well balanced menus do not fall  into the mistake of striving too hard for effect for unusual flavor combinations that clash with wine: everything was perfectly harmonious.

1982 Chateau Latour

This wine is a brooding monster, several years away from coming into a mature balance. Dark in color and on the palate, it hardly seems to have developed. Quite intense aromatics open the nose and follow through to lead the immediate attack on the palate, with blackcurrants dominating. It’s going to take some time for them to calm down, another ten years at least. Underneath is a massive structure with firm, sturdy tannins, well counterbalanced by the concentrated fruits, but everything is in proportion. It’s really more the aromatics than the tannic concentration that characterize the wine as being too young. This does not rival the 1928 in requiring fifty years to come around – it is perfectly drinkable although a bit of a waste at this point – but I suspect that it will begin to revert to type, which is to say to show more savory elements, only in another couple of decades,

1964 Chateau Latour

Still a deep color. The nose has come off its original spectrum of primary fruits, but has not yet developed tertiary aromas. The palate is pure Latour: deep black fruits, some blackcurrants just poking through, dense and rich. You begin to see the layers of complexity starting (!) to develop, but oh so slowly, with the overall impression still fruity rather than tertiary. There is no sign of tiring. Perhaps this does not have the depth of the 1961, but I think it may still have more fruit than the 1966. (Typical for left bank chateaux that picked before the rain in 1964). This particular bottle showed more evident fruit than some others I have had, so not surprisingly there is of course some variation in the extent of development depending on the bottle. But in top condition it should clearly last another couple of decades.

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