Remember, Remember: 1945 Bordeaux

“Today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. Plans for mass celebrations have been cancelled as the world faces its biggest challenge since World War II, denying us the opportunity to publicly honor and thank the veterans who fought for our freedom. None of this diminishes the importance of the day. This article was written to coincide with V-E Day and the momentous year of 1945. It is more than a list of wines and scores. It endeavors to present an objective analysis of the vintage and its wines, explaining why it turned out more successful than others. Most importantly, it provides historical context, not only as a region under the control of the occupying German army, but also from the viewpoint of individual châteaux. No Bordeaux vintage has more réclame than 1945; fate had already scripted that Bordeaux would celebrate the end of hostilities with a stellar vintage after a series of dreary wartime growing seasons that reflected the tumult of the time. And no wine is as emblematic of that momentous year as Château Mouton-Rothschild and the indefatigable spirit of proprietor Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Its justified acclaim virtually defines the reputation of the haloed vintage, to the point where it lies beyond criticism. While it is true that the growing season allowed many properties to produce outstanding wines that stood the test of time, there are two caveats. Firstly, nearly all Bordeaux estates suffered acute lack of investment not only during the war but also in the preceding decade. The Great Depression eviscerated markets, and the miserable run of vintages during the 1930s compounded winemakers’ woes. At the time war was declared on the eve of the 1939 harvest, many estates’ modus operandi was little changed since the late 1870s. The lead-up to the war was a period of stagnant investment, when there was no concept of yield control, only rudimentary means of regulating fermentation temperatures, no idea of malolactic fermentation, and continued reliance on outside entities to mature and bottle the wine. Also bear in mind that the region had suffered widespread outbreaks of oïdium and phylloxera, the latter necessitating piecemeal replanting that lasted until the late 1930s. War deprived châteaux of manpower and of skilled artisanship traditionally passed from father to son; consequently, much of the day-to-day work was valiantly continued by women and children. Even glass for bottles was difficult to procure, hence the blue or sometimes brown tints. During the occupation, château buildings were used to billet German troops, and out of spite or plain ennui, many an irreplaceable cellar was ransacked, save for those hastily bricked up and hidden. Fortunately, no château was totally destroyed. The Weinführers, Boemers and Segnitz, who administered the occupied regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, respectively, knew full well that high command intended to celebrate victory with fine wine, and they were expected to safeguard the most prized vineyards and cellars. The historic estates, part the fabric of French culture, were merely Hitler’s bounty. In fact, Boemers had a long career as a wine merchant and before the war had built friendships with proprietors who now faced a quandary: whether to treat him as friend or foe. As one owner said, it depended on whether he was in uniform. Despite the high command’s willingness to safeguard the productivity of the region and the punishment of German soldiers unable to maintain discipline, Bordeaux still staggered out of the war in fairly ruinous condition. When Ronald Barton returned to Langoa Barton in summer 1945, he found the entire vineyard covered in weeds. Clive Coates MW calculated that of the 60 top Médoc estates, a quarter were only nominally in existence by the end of the 1940s and hung on to survival by a thread (I refer readers to my profile on Château d’Issan ). Secondly, it must be remembered that the postwar years were ones of economic hardship and austerity. Initially, despite the 1945s being born tannic and unapproachable, a great number of bottles were consumed too young simply because there was no other decent vintage available. However, in general, up until the late 1950s, continued rationing and economic malaise meant that demand was feeble and practically every Bordeaux château struggled to make a profit. According to May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, erstwhile proprietor of Pichon-Lalande, their 1945 was put on the market at the same price as inferior wartime vintages – 80,000 francs per cask for the aforementioned Pauillac. For many years, these now coveted wines were almost impossible to sell and languished in merchants’ warehouses.” --Neal Martin, Vinous , Remember, Remember: 1945 Bordeaux, May 08, 2020 To read Neal’s full report and all about the 1945 growing season and wines, check out the full article on Vinous now. Below is a selection of notes from the report.

Château Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 1945

Delectable Wine
10

The 1945 Haut-Brion is poured against the legendary 1945 Mouton and might just have come out on top. It is difficult to put this wine into words. Showing modest bricking, it presents a sublime bouquet of vibrant red fruit, warm gravel, wilted rose petals and a hint of earthenware. It is crystalline in terms of definition. The palate follows suit with pitch-perfect acidity, a very slight, refreshing hint of balsamic, and finely chiseled tannins. Beguiling in every way, this is a profound Haut-Brion that is absolutely flawless. Tasted at Koala's 1945 dinner. (Neal Martin, Vinous, May 2020)
— 18 days ago

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Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 1945

Delectable Wine
10

The 1945 La Mission Haut-Brion from the château cellar is transcendental. It is blessed with the most beautiful bouquet you can imagine, effortless and natural, featuring woodland, red-berried fruits, a minerally quality and a faint touch of leafiness; given time to settle, it develops a lovely gamy note. The palate is medium- rather than full-bodied and sublimely balanced, upholding that effortless grace with an elegant, bittersweet, dried orange peel finish. One of the most harmonious wines I have ever consumed. Perfect. Tasted at the La Mission Haut-Brion vertical in London in September 2009. (Neal Martin, Vinous, May 2020)
— 18 days ago

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Château Mouton Rothschild

Pauillac Red Bordeaux Blend 1945

Delectable Wine
10

This bottle of 1945 Mouton-Rothschild is my fourth encounter and actually showed better than one poured three months earlier that came directly from the château. Ethereal as always on the nose, that distinctive menthol scent is present and correct, and this bottle is perhaps more elegant and almost Burgundian in style. The palate has heavenly balance, quite opulent and velvety, with morello cherry, raspberry preserve, orange pith and a delicate touch of cedar on the never-ending finish. Monumental. Tasted at Koala's 1945 dinner. (Neal Martin, Vinous, May 2020)
— 18 days ago

Paul, Alex and 12 others liked this
Tan Tingwei

Tan Tingwei

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