1960s Archive

A Decade of Vintages: 1950-1960

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1952. In St. Emilion and Pomerol, the best vintage (excepting 1947) since World War II, and perhaps even since 1928. The Médocs are sturdy but much less attractive, may outlast the '53s but will never be as good. 15/20 to 18/20, but note, however, that the lesser wines are gone. The very best whiles deserve perhaps 14/20—forget the others.

1951. Long since gone and no loss either.

1950. Very good. Fine, rather light wines which developed well and received less appreciation than they deserved … and still deserve, for that matter, when you can find them. 14/20 for the Clarets; the whiles are over the hill, 1½0 or less.

Unlike the burgundies, the great château Clarets of the first great postwar years (1945, 1947, 1949) are now at their absolute peak of quality, and some of us who drank them promptly have lived to regret our impatience. They are practically unprocurable today, and acquiring them is less a matter of money than of good fortune.


1960. The spring and early summer of 1960 promised great things—then came the rains. The net result is disappointing: in red wines, a huge crop but, with rare exceptions, wines deficient in color, character, and body. 12/20. The whites somewhat better, though light and certainly short-lived. 13/20.

1959. A truly incomparable year, which has been and can fairly be called the “Vintage of the Century.” In quantity, almost double the average; in quality, unsurpassed since 1900. The red wines are maturing quickly, and there is little chance of their being long-lived. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine how they could be better than they are and will be for the next five years—silky, bouqueté, beautifully balanced, full of grace and distinction and charm. In red wines, 20/20. The whiles are very different—rich, full-bodied, almost overpowering, possibly a little lacking in breed; also probably short-lived, but 18/20.

1958. Spotty and hardly more than passable in red wines, deserves about 12/20. The whites are another matter: fragrant, light, and fine, they recall the splendid 1950s, and many experts rate them ahead of the 1959s. 18/20.

1957. Big. sturdy, firm red wines, maturing slowly and almost certain to outlast the 1959s. although presently less attractive. Now about 16/20 and bound to improve. The whites less good; only the very best of them ever lost their early greenness, or will. 14/20 on the average.

1956. Poor and best forgotten. A few passable whites.

1955. A great year, Red wines which have surpassed all expectations are now. on the whole, the best red Burgundies for present drinking, or until the '59s come along. In many cases their development was arrested and their character somewhat affected, in cellar, by the intensely cold winter of 1955-56. They have outlived this handicap and, while rarely sensational, are consistently fine. 16/20. The whites, also good, were rather light and are no longer improving—14/20.

1954. Poor with almost no exceptions.

1953. An extremely great year, not far behind 1959 in quality. The reds were charmers from the beginning but, less well-balanced than the '59s, never gave promise of long life, and many of them have begun to throw sediment and give other evidences of senescence. Originally 19/20, they are down to 15/20 today, but there are a few magnificent exceptions. Drink them. The whites were never as good as the reds, and never as good as the '52s. They will gain nothing by further keeping.

1952. Sturdy red wines, a little lacking in grace and fruit, which are beginning to overtake the inure attractive '53s; they are very good, not great—14/20. The whites were the best of the past two decades, but they, too, alas, will soon be gone. 15/20.

1951. Requiescal in pace.

1950. The reds, never much good, are gone. 11/20. The whites, on the other hand, were underrated and truly remarkable. Few can still be found, but a surprising percentage of these, if properly stored, are extremely fine. Now 14/20.

NOTE: In the way of older vintages, there is precious little that can be recommended: the very best 1947s of the Côte de Beaunc are still magnificent, and from the Côte de Nuits one finds occasional bottles of 1949, 1947, and even 1945 that have withstood the passing years. The rest is history.


A detailed vintage chart for Champagne cannot help being a little ridiculous: in five years out of ten the wine never even pretends to go to the consumer in an unblended state, and admittedly would be less good if it did; and what proportion of which vintage goes into a non-vintage Champagne is a well-kept trade secret, and not for us common people, whose only real function anyway is to drink Champagne and pay for it.

It is certainly more sensible, therefore, to reserve comment on what might be called the “buried” years—those that have disappeared into the nonvintage—and discuss only those that have been, or may be. presented as millésimes: 1960 (?), 1959, 1958 (?), 1957, 1955, 1953, 1952, and 1950. We may as well forget 1950, too. which came along when the '49s and '47s were Still famous and unsold, and which appeared only on a few rare but very good bottles from producer-growers.

1960. Will probably not carry a vintage. Passably good, light wines, most of them destined to be blended with the heavier '59s. which they will complement nicely. Alone, no better dun 13/20.

1959. Will unquestionably be shipped as a vintage although. in this case, as the French say, “la mariée élait trop belle”—it was too good a year. The grapes ripened superbly and the quantity was satisfactory, but the wines were extremely full-bodied, too high in alcohol, and they proved hard to referment into sparkling wine. Doubtless there will be some superb cuvées, bur others unquestionably will prove very heavy, lacking in sprightliness, delicacy, and charm. 15/20.

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