A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


John Tilson • 10/1/14        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share



When I first tasted the 1990 Red Burgundies from barrel over 20 years ago (Underground Wineletter Volume XIII, Numbers 1 & 2, August-September 1991), I thought it was the greatest Burgundy vintage I had ever tasted from barrel. Today I would also include 2005 and 2009 on the list of greatest Red Burgundy vintages that I have tasted from barrel. But, what must always be remembered is that wines tasted from barrel may be quite different after they are bottled.

After the wines were bottled I tasted several hundred of them and bought a lot for my cellar. Since the very beginning out of barrel, I have loved the 1990 Red Burgundies. But, as is often the case, many of them started to close up after 5-10 years This led many to proclaim the vintage not great and some even declared it a failure. However, this is simply not true. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. A period of hibernation is very common in the aging of most great red wines. Yet, balanced wines will always show their true colors with time. What is required is patience.

Today the 1990 Red Burgundies are fully developed and delicious to drink. However, I believe that the best of them will hold for at least 10-20 more years. Recently with friends I drank the 1990 George Lignier Bonnes-Mares and the 1990 Leroy Clos de la Roche. I first tasted both of these wines  from barrel with Outstanding Potential ratings. And, they certainly have more than lived up to expectations. I have enjoyed both of these wines over the years, but had never tasted them together. This was a real treat! Both wines were extraordinary and very similar. The Bonnes-Mares had a deep color with just a touch of amber and a stunning perfume. It was soft and velvety with foresty, spice, and dried rose petal nuances. The fruit was there and the overall impression was one of great elegance and complexity wrapped in a seamless structure. The Clos de la Roche was a bit darker in color with a compelling perfume that showed an exotic tinge. Rounded, deep, and lush, it had great stuffing, balance, and flavor with a long finish. Both wines were delicious and a real pleasure to drink. As I was savoring the wines I had a big smile on my face and said simply “This is why I love Burgundy!” For there can be no question that drinking a great old wine is one of life’s great pleasures. And, there is nothing in the world like a great old Red Burgundy!


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10 comments for “1990 RED BURGUNDY”

  • Ryan Smith says:

    Hi John,
    Like all other loved reading this article. I have only recently discovered the burgundy region and at 29 can see how you made the decision to move on from your career and start up the undergroundwineletter. I am considering starting up my own wine trading business which will allow me to travel and taste for a living…

    Any advice you can give to a younger version of yourself?


    • John Tilson says:

      Hi Ryan,
      I wish I could give you some advice. But, all I know is that when I started the Underground with my friends in 1979 there was no internet. And, there was a very little information on wine and what little information that was out there we mostly thought was bad. So the Underground was started. I had a full time job as did all the other people involved. I wrote and published the Underground. Our only motive was to taste wines and figure out which were the best. These were the wines we also bought, cellared, and drank. It was not a way to make a living and over time it actually cost all of us money to do it. But, we did it because we were passionate about wine. You can read all about the history on the website.
      Everything has changed today. There are a huge number of people reporting and writing about wines. For most of these people it is how they make their living. In my opinion, that diminishes their credibility, not to mention that I don’t agree with a lot of what they say. That part has not changed. Also, I think many of the wineries are in it for the short term money and commercialize every aspect of the operation including charging people to come an visit and taste wines. This is something that is prevalent now in California which has really come into being in the last 10-20 years (see my recent article Where Has Napa Valley Gone?) But, today in Europe, for the most part, they still welcome people to come an visit and taste wines without a commercial tasting room that sells wine by the glass. The difference today is that there are a lot more people. And, add to this that many of the wines across the globe, but particularly in California, have also been commercialized and manipulated which adds another dimension that was much less prevalent in the earlier days.
      So I think you can see that it is a more crowded and much more diverse field today than it was many years ago. Which leads me back to my original statement – I wish I could give you some advice. But, I cannot. I am 70 and you are 29. You will need to find your own way which, undoubtedly, will be a much different path than mine. But, following the Underground might give you some guidance. Good Luck!

      In Vino Veritas,

  • Blake Brown says:

    Truly memorable wines and a great article that supports my take on the 90` vintage as well and why I am opening more now than in the recent past and enjoying them to the fullest.

  • Eric Hille says:

    To bad climate change is real and all to soon there will never be a decent Red Burgundy to savior let alone a “great” one to swoon over. A sane culture would never allow hallowed vineyards anywhere to perish especially those in the Cote de Nuits,where the vineyard names are too “beautiful” to lose. Share those “great” wines with the people you love. Peace

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks Eric. Interesting perspective. There is very little man made manipulation in Red Burgundy that I can discern at this point. But the wines are a bit riper, although no where near the peaks now routinely achieved in a lot of the goofy California Pinot Noirs. The ole wines of the 30s through the 90s have generally aged very well. As for the future:
      Vamos a Ver!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Bill Tisch says:

    Terrific article, compelling me to start drinking some of the 1990 Burgundies I purchased long ago but have never tasted. I have a few bottles of 1990 Bonnes Mares from Georges Roumier and 1990 Richebourg from Leroy, which I hope are drinking well now and will be good for a few more years. Thanks for the article, bringing a big smile on my face too.

  • rhoda sharp says:

    LOVED reading this one. Can I go to a tasting with you just ONCE

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