Battle of the 1989 Pessacs – Haut Brion Vs. La Mission Haut Brion

There has been a debate raging for the last 30 years as to which of these 2 wines are better. The Haut Brion boasts a 100 point score from 6 different reviewers, while the La Mission Haut Brion has perfect marks from 3 reviewers. The Haut Brion was more hyped on release and has been significantly more expensive by about $1000/btl; a huge premium when you consider La Mission is arguably better in most vintages, especially tough years like 1975 & 1978 where it is considered the wine of the vintage. Personally, I have always enjoyed La Mission better.

Another debate is whether the 1990 vintage of these two wines is better. Although the 1989s have always outscored the 1990s, early on 1990 was sexier and more voluptuous than 1989. That said, most wine aficionados agreed that 1989 would ultimately eclipse 1990 in time. 1989 as a vintage is more structured, while 1990 is more fruit forward. There are many examples of 1990 being the better of the 2 vintages. Examples are Chateau’s Margaux, Latour and Lafite. Personally, 1990 is my favorite vintage for Bordeaux.

For this competition, we also included a 1990 La Mission Haut Brion from OWC to see how it would match up side by side with the 1989s. Our venue was the hottest restaurant in San Diego, Steak 48 that open in Del Mar 3 weeks ago. We paired these wines with A5 Wagyu, Ribeye cap and New York strip.

Tasting Notes

The 1989 side by side comparison was like trying to decide which of your children you love more. Both were simply devine and perfect examples from OWC’s. We did not decant these wines, but preferred to watch them evolve over 90 minutes.

1989 La Mission Haut Brion

The La Mission exhibited classic Graves notes of smoked earth and volcanic soil with a backbone of fruit that continued to get more lush with air. On first sip, it was a bit restrained, but in 10 minutes or so fruit emerged and continued to evolve for 90 minutes. Unctuously textured and roaring from the glass, everyone’s comment was “Bordeaux does not get any better this”, except maybe the Haut Brion! Living up to all the hype, the finish was lengthy, complex and deeply pleasurable. This is a perfectly complete wine that is worth begging, borrowing or stealing to have the privileged of enjoying.

1989 Haut Brion

Very different from its cousin across the street, the Haut Brion transcended its terroir, as it did not have the classic volcanic notes from Pessac, but was ethereal and perfectly perfumed with sweet fruit that my guess would have been Pomerol or St Emilion on first smell. Upon opening, it slowly evolved with a kaleidoscope of notes that included soy and fruit cake, but with a backbone of pure sweet dark fruit that was much better than I remember the last time I had a bottle 4 years ago. The pallet was no different, as each mind-blowing sip begged for the next. It was very hard not to drink this at will, but with 4 guys on the bottle I took my time and enjoyed every nuance. Again, Bordeaux does not get any better than this and I believe the 1989 Haut Brion is in its wheelhouse and probably will be for decades.

1990 La Mission Haut Brion

Sadly, this wine never had a fair chance to complete with its 1989 cousins. We all commented that had we only drank the 1990, we would be oohing and awing over how great this wine showed. Very much like the 1989 La Mission, with classic Graves notes and sweet fruit, but nowhere near the concentration and texture of the 1989. I have had many bottles of the 1990 over the years, enjoying them all, but it appears to be slightly diminishing, or just overpowered by the 1989. I’ll have to revisit a bottle on its own to truly give the 1990 its just due.

So, which was better of the 1989s?

Like I said earlier, choosing between 2 children you love is hard, but personally I would give my vote to the Haut Brion. Considering it is from Pessac, I cannot figure out how they made one of the top wines of the last 100 years in a style that transcends its terroir. I would love to try this side by side with the 1989 Petrus, as it reminded more of the bottle Chuck Smith shared with me earlier this year than any vintage of Haut Brion. Thanks to Chuck for bringing both the 1989s.  His generosity is also transcendent!

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