1985 Vintage Ratings:
Médoc Rating: 88
Pessac-Léognan Rating: 87
Saint-Émilion & Pomerol Rating: 90
Sauternes & Barsac Rating: 84
Dry Whites Rating: 90
1985 Top Three Bordeaux Wines Today:
After a frigid winter and cool spring, the 1985 growing season in Bordeaux enjoyed a warm, sunny June and relatively hot, steamy July. Then August and September saw out the post-veraison and harvest periods with a sustained period of drought, September being scorching and dry. The earlier-ripening Merlot came in suitably plump and juicy—a welcomed contrast to the wipe-out for this variety in 1984. Cabernet Sauvignon was generally less successful in 1985 as it struggled to achieve ripeness, largely due to the high yields that the vines were expected to ripen with limited water and sunshine resources. However, Médoc producers with lower yields and/or who waited for ripeness made some impressive wines.
I recently tasted again the stunning 1985 Cheval Blanc, which remains one of the wines of the vintage. Offering that classic Cheval Blanc plushness and perfume with a lingering minerality, it beautifully captures both the signature of the vineyard and the year. A clutch of top properties in Pomerol made extraordinary wines; among my favorites is La Conseillante. As for wines from the Médoc, proceed with caution. Saint-Julien seemed a little more consistent than other communes. Otherwise, Château Margaux is a knock-out, and I was recently surprised by how well a bottle of ’85 Pichon Lalande was holding up.
1985 was a very good vintage for the dry whites, and the top wines were delicious into the 1990s and early 2000s, yet few are still offering any pleasure. One major exception is the 1985 Haut-Brion Blanc, which has been nothing short of mind-blowing each time I’ve had the pleasure to taste. Another wine worth keeping an eye out for is the Y d’Yquem—Château d’Yquem’s “dry” sibling. With very little botrytis this year, not much Yquem was made in 1985, but the Château did produce a lot of this drier style. In fact, it was the most extended vintage ever at Yquem. The passes did not begin until late November, with the last grapes coming in on December 16, so 1985 Yquem was nearly an ice wine!
Unfortunately, 1985’s very dry autumn did not bode well for the onset of botrytis in Sauternes and Barsac, delivering more of the late-harvest character than the truly complex, age-worthy style of sweet wines that comes with significant noble rot.