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by Peter J. Morrell

When the telephone rang with an invitation to attend a weekend-long retrospective, in Miami, of the heralded 1978 vintage Bordeaux, including two days of tastings of nearly 100 '78 chateau bottled clarets, I jumped at the chance. Even for a professional, that many 1978's in one place at one time made a tantalizing target.

This altogether remarkable event was hosted by Robert Paul, a respected member of the Florida Bar and a gentleman well known to me as a collector and connoisseur of fine wines. Besides myself, Bob had also invited 35 other wine enthusiasts—Bordeaux and California wine growers, as well as merchants, importers, wine writers and dedicated amateurs from five foreign countries.

Since the theme of the weekend was a review of the '78 vintage ten years after the harvest, we tasters were greeted by an extraordinary buffet of food and wine which included 16 '78 wines from Argentina, Australia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Chile and California, as well as Burgundy and the Rhone (both in France). Unfortunately, time has not been as good to some of these wines as it has been to others, and it was a mixed bag of pleasurable and unpleasurable results. My favorite wine of this evening was a truly remarkable Spanish wine: the 1978 Black Label Coronas, from the venerable wine house of Torres. It clearly exhibited an extraordinarily charming and inviting bouquet of fruit with a superlative vanilla tonality. The delightful red wine permeated my palate and finished with a sensuous and rich, lingering aftertaste.

For the next two days we only tasted. We began with six 1978 wines from the Haut-Medoc wine commune of St. Estephe (the wine of Chateau Cos D'Estournel was preferred although it really requires nearly another decade to reach maturity); ten 1978 St. Juliens (the wine of Chateau Leoville Las Cases was judged best but also judged as not nearly ready to drink, whereas the much softer and more affordable '78 Chateau Talbot was clearly rated the most desirable '78 wine totally ready for current consumption). Seven red 1978 wines of Graves district followed, with the group about evenly divided between preferring Chateau La Mission Haut Brion (curiously much more forward and approachable now). My personal preference was for the more sensuous Haut Brion. We adjourned at 12:30 P.M. for lunch (I had a St. Pauli Girl) and returned at 2:30 P.M. for 27 more 78's including 11 wines from St. Emilion and nine wines from Pomeral. Generally, the assembled experts judged many of these wines as having particularly great breed, but most were judged as still far too young to recommend for dinner tonight. The exception was '78 Chateau de Sales, a lovely, soft wine already yielding up its many mellifluous charms.

On Saturday evening the entire entourage adjourned to the beautiful Sonesta Beach Hotel on Key Biscayne where we dined on local stone crab, conch chowder, and not so local New York sirloin steak. Five more wines were served, the star of the evening being a most delicious 1978 Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, which I rated up with the very best of the Bordeaux.

We returned to our tasting duties early Sunday morning to evaluate 23 '78 wines from the two most renowned wine communes of the Haut-Medoc, Margaux and Pauillac. As we neared the end, very many of these fine wines were appreciated; however, one wine showing great weight and breadth stood out—the magnificent Chateau Margaux 1978, which instantly became my favorite of all the wines served that weekend. Right behind the extraordinary Margaux were the stylistically classic Pauillac wines from Chateaus Pichon Lalande, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild and Latour, all of which won great applause from nearly everyone.

Peter J. Morrell is wine advisor to Morrell & Company.


—Alan Rich, Newsweek

—Lionel Mitchell, N.Y. Amsterdam News

—Clive Barnes, New York Post

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