Some people serve you wine at dinner. Others treat you to nourishment for the brain as well as the tastebuds. The most cerebral and generous host of my acquaintance recently treated us to three pairs of clarets, served blind, each pair the 1982 and 1983 vintage from a highly pertinent Bordeaux château.
First was Ch Pichon Lalande (will we ever get round to calling it Ch Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, as bidden, I wonder?). Both the 1982 and 1983 are famously hedonistic with the 1983 (about £900 a case) one of the finest wines of the vintage, the 1982 (£2200) a sensationally exotic, full-on specimen. This pair of wines was the most obviously varied. Next to the 1982, the 1983 looked rather severe, almost austere, drying out a little at the end as lesser 1983s have been doing for some time. (Note - must pull some more corks, and soon.) That said, I have tasted this Merlot-rich wine in isolation relatively recently and it looked absolutely gorgeous, voluptuous in fact. In this instance at least, serving a 1983 alongside a 1982 is rather like serving one of the best second wines with its grand vin: a mistake. One would be perfectly happy with the first, unless exposed to the second. The 1982 on the other hand is ultra-ripe, slithery-smooth and already lovely to drink, unlike its neighbours Chx Latour and Léoville Las Cases which should be in the deepest vault of your cellar.
The difference between the second two wines, from Ch Margaux, was less marked. Indeed there has long been discussion over the relative merits of these two vintages here, with Ch Margaux 1983 (£2200) widely reckoned the finest wine of the vintage. Even so, the glamour that attaches to the 1982 vintage means that Ch Margaux 1982 costs considerably more (£3600), even if on this showing one would be hard-pressed to pick a favourite. Like many Ch Margauxs of the 1980s, both wines are extremely impressive, well made wines that to me stand on their own as beacons of confident pan-Bordeaux winemaking rather than expressing nowhere other than the quintessential silky elegance of the commune's wines. For current drinking the 1983 is certainly better value, although there is absolutely no hurry to drink it, and, served alongside Cos 1989 the other day, it even looked a little tight. The 1982 on the other hand could easily be kept another decade, has more weight and will probably outlive the 1983. The father of one of my goddaughters, to whom I'm told I gave a case of Ch Margaux from her birth year 1983, is currently trying to persuade her to make it over to him - as well he might.
Relative bargain of the night was the 1983 vintage of Ch Cheval Blanc, a snip at £2000 a case when the heavily garlanded 1982 currently sells closer to £4500. Again, I had enjoyed the 1983 relatively recently without the distraction of the 1982 alongside but in this case the 1983 was well up to the comparison. The 1982 is still a rough-hewn monolith while the 1983, which may not be as sweet or alcoholic, is a beautifully polished jewel whose many facets continue to intrigue the taster right through to the bottom of the glass. There is spice and perfect balance, whereas at the moment the 1982 is sheer, impenetrable mass. I am told by someone who knows about these things, Stephen Browett of fine wine brokers Farr Vintners of London SW1 (I have to confess that I have to force myself to keep track of wine prices) - that the price of the 1983 has risen by 20% during the last year as more and more wine lovers realise how unfairly this wine has been overshadowed by the 1982.