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An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 4

 

The 2003 vintage followed that incredibly hot summer when temperatures were up in the 40 degrees Celsius (well into the 100’s Fahrenheit) day after day, At Vinexpo, that pivotal wine fair held in Bordeaux every two years, iced water was the star of the show. There was very little rain and in a land where irrigation is simply not allowed, there was a severe risk of the grapes shriveling. Mercifully the rain arrived in time and good quantities of very ripe sometimes shrivelled grapes with low acidity were harvested. Some of the fruit tasted stewed, some simply luscious.

Nobody felt that the wines would be anything more than massively fruity and fairly short-lived because of the over-ripe tannins and lack of acidity. Well Bordeaux is an amazing region for great wines and the 2003’s stubbornly wanted to be amongst them and now we are seeing a surprising number of very classy wines – in particular from the Medoc – showing great complexity.

Recently I enjoyed drinking three examples of this fascinating vintage

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2003 Pauillac
Nice sweet, cassis nose, also chocolatey, and rich. It was concentrated, sweet and full. The palate was firm, complex and had full rich spicy fruit and firm tannins. It had wonderful balance and great length. Very special

Château Cos d’Estournel 2003 Ste Estephe
A wonderful velvety, toasty nose that’s round and powerful. It was very rich wine with plenty of ripeness and luscious fruit with a coffee edge to it. It has balanced oak and enormous concentration. A wine with enormous power and potential longevity

Château Pavie2003, St Emilion
Surprisingly from the right bank where wines were not generally as successful as those from the Northern Medoc, this wine showed great class. At once it had rich and chocolately with roast coffee notes and some very sweet dark fruits. The palate was powerful, full and concentrated with plenty of oak influence, along with the sweet fruit. Really delicious and still a keeper.

 

An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 3

 

The 2000 vintage was much hyped. Everyone wanted a great wine for such a memorable year. Seemingly they were going to buy whatever. Thank heavens it turned out to be a fine vintage in Bordeaux. Indeed now as the wines are coming round it is being considered as an even better vintage than originally thought.

Bordeaux 2000 is the story of a vintage in two parts: after a warm winter and wet spring, the first half got off to a bad start. A sultry wet winter and the biggest mildew attack since the 1870 was only brought under control by a flash of heat in June. Then July, usually the powerhouse of any vintage, was overcast and cool. At the end of July, if this had been 30 years ago, the vintage would have been lost already.

The second half was a total turn-around, and, as the long, dry days of August and September progressed into harvest time, things got better.

Picking started around 20th September in ideal conditions but rain did arrive on the 24th and picking stopped. The rain only lasted twenty-four hours and was not the downpours of previous years. Many estates delayed picking immediately after rain and some held off until October and were rewarded by an Indian Summer which produced wines of gorgeous ripeness. Some growers picked in September and their wine just missed the boat, but were still of good quality. One of the keys to this vintage is recognising this in the wines.

Quoting Jancis Robinson who emailed me the other morning: “Last week I had the great pleasure of 'looking at' nearly 50 of the more significant red Bordeaux from the 2000 vintage now celebrating its tenth birthday. This is traditionally the time at which classical red bordeaux starts to come round and starts to provide good drinking.”

Quality abounds in all regions with many wines already very accessible but clearly with the potential to live on for another 20 years or more. Even though prices opened substantially higher than the 1999’s, most of the great wines have trebled in price since release.

 

An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 2

 

Having considered the 1990 vintage, another important year from this decade is 1996. This was a highly acclaimed vintage upon release, and in particular acclaimed as classic on the left bank, as the ripening conditions and harvest favoured Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the dominant grape for appellations such as St Estèphe, Pauillac, Moulis, Listrac, St Julien, Margaux and the rest of the Médoc.

Indeed the weather conditions in 1996 were perfect for the appellations at the northern end of the Médoc. Following a damp and relatively mild winter, a hot and dry June brought about rapid and uniform flowering, with the resultant expectations of a prolific harvest. Alas the rains in early July and late August changed the position. However, regions further south that did not have as much rain had healthier, concentrated grapes on the vines. A dry and windy September helped everybody.

Harvest of the Merlot from the right bank began on September 16th, and lasted as always for several weeks. Later that month it rained and diluted the harvest somewhat. On the left bank however, conditions were more favorable. There was dry and sunny weather throughout the harvest, which ran from late September through to mid-October.

This, combined with the weather patterns throughout the growing season, meant that 1996 was a year for purchasing left bank wines, and in particular those of the northern Médoc.

This is reflected in current prices. 1st growths of the left bank are selling for four times those of the right bank. That said, even right bank wines from the key properties have trebled in price since release.

Last week at a dinner in London, we were offered the 1996 Ch Leoville-Barton from St Julien in the Medoc. It was magnificent, with powerful complex fruit, wonderful balance and a long juicy lingering finish. It had more than justified the 14 years of waiting, and, released as it was at about $15 a bottle in 1998, it was a quite remarkable investment.

 

An update on recent Bordeaux Vintages – Part 1

This week is the UGC (Union des Grands Crus) Tasting in Bordeaux. A multitude of industry professionals will descend upon Bordeaux to taste barrel samples of the highly acclaimed 2009 vintage. While we're preparing to make our first offer of Bordeaux futures from the 2009 vintage available to you soon, we have called upon Master of Wine and Bordeaux expert, Anthony Foster, to write up some memorable vintages over the past two decades. Next week we hope to have a write up from him on the 2009 vintage as he'll be tromping from chateau to chateau to taste through this fantastic vintage with Rich, our CEO and Mike, our founder. Until then, here is a write up on 1990.

From Anthony Foster, MW:
A combination of climate change and improved wine making skills has made it possible to produce a perfectly acceptable Bordeaux year after year. Decades like the sixties, which boasted – I am not sure that is the right word – no less than three absolute disastrous vintages (1963, 1965 and 1968) and the seventies, which were not much better, are hopefully a thing of the past. The nineties and now the noughties have seen good vintages year after year, with some icons amongst them. I now want to address these icons and have selected 1990, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003. I have already reported on the current state of the 2005’s, which are being compared to the 2009’s. Incidentally the latter is already being feted as the vintage of the century!

1990 produced rich, intense wines ideal for laying down from across the Bordeaux communes, both left and right banks. Like many of the great vintages for Bordeaux, 1990 was a hot, dry and sunny year. It coincided with a period of World recession which affected opening prices when they were declared in 1991.

July and August were near record-breaking months for the region with the following months remaining relatively dry. There was some rain in September, which was much needed in a country where irrigation is not permitted. The rains allowed the water-stressed vines to recommence metabolism, which had shut down in the heat, and thus continue ripening the grapes. The vast majority of estates harvested a bumper crop of ripe, healthy grapes, and some fine wines were in the making.

The vintage was a success across all communes of the region, with only a few chateaux turning in a disappointing wine. The left bank was perhaps a little stronger than the right, but the differences are minor. Many of the red wines have a roasted or baked quality, representing the torrid sun under which the grapes ripened. The red wines had ripe tannins and low acidity.

So how are the 1990’s showing up now? Well a quick overview suggests that the top wines are in great shape while the smaller wines are beginning to dry out. After twenty years that is not surprising. The famous names, such as the first growths of the Medoc, are wonderful, full of lively fruit within the layers of complexity. I quote from a 2009 tasting note of Ch Latour 1990; “The wine was fresh, with that classic cigar box nose and a complex palate that showed tobacco, spice, and some macerated fruits. The finish was spectacular.”

As for value, well Ch Latour and the other first growths have increased in value by as much as ten times since their release. For those who had the money following that recession, and who invested in 1990 en primeur, and who still hold stock of these wines, have done very well for themselves.

If you have any questions regarding availability or prices of the 1990 vintage in Bordeaux. please contact our team at finewine@wine.com.

2005 Red Bordeaux

We are hearing that the 2009 vintage is going to be in the same league as the icon vintage of the noughties, the much vaunted 2005’s. In his preface to the Master of Wine Tasting of no less than 124 wines, which was held in the Vintners’ Hall, London last November, my fellow MW Charles Taylor described the 2005 vintage: “The climatic conditions in 2005 were as close to the ideal as I have ever seen.” A sunny Spring led to a successful flowering in June and rapid and even fruit set. A warm July and August gave over to scattered showers in September with warm days and cool nights, and the resultant slow ripening of the fruit. Picking conditions were perfect, with growers able to choose the precise timing of the vendage in each vineyard. “The result is wine not only of great density and concentration but also of finesse and freshness.”

All regions of Bordeaux enjoyed these conditions and all have made stellar wines.

I tend to score wines using Greek Alphabet scoring α, β etc. I am happy to say there were no γ wines. The beauty of this method is that you can add +’s or –‘s to each letter. So Ch Haut Brion for example scored α+++. To show what a great vintage 2005 is, only six of the wines were in the β’s.

I would like to provide a tasting note for every wine tasted but alas time and space make it impossible. Suffice it to say that I scored 38 wines at α+ or more and that, in other terms, means 95 points or more. All the first growths from both left and right bank justified their position at the top of the tree. What I would like to pick out are a handful of wines lower down in the hierarchy which really succeeded. So, as they say, in no particular order, and from a wide range of price categories..

Ch Leoville Lascases 2eme Cru Classé St Julien
Deep purple black in color, massive Cabernet Sauvignon fruit on the nose and palate, cassis balanced with powerful tannins. A mouthful of complexity and elegance. No where near ready for drinking. Needs another ten to fifteen years when it will be sensational. α++

Ch Siran Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel Margaux
This wine may not be officially classified as a Grand Cru Classé, but it is playing magnificently out of its league. It has fine elegant fruit on the nose, and on the palate it is full juicy and already very attractive. Glorious balance and elegance with a lingering finish. α+

Ch Pichon-Longueville Baron 2eme Cru Classé Pauillac
Stunning deep opaque purple in color. Gloriously rich powerful nose of cassis, eucalyptus, massively concentrated. On the palate it is rich, juicy with great elegance and structure. It has enormous length and will last forever – 50 years certainly! This wine behaves like a first growth and maybe one day will be. Qui sait? α+++

Ch Palmer 2eme Cru Classé Margaux
Opaque, deep purple, with subdued but very refined mulberry fruit on the nose. On the palate the concentrated juicy fruit and tannins balance beautifully with the acid. Despite being already very appealing, it is a wine to keep as long as you can. α++

Ch Cos d’Estournel 2eme Cru Classé Saint-Estèphe
Deep, deep purple in color, concentrated and massively elegant dark berry fruit on the nose. On the palate, it is a blockbuster, as fine and as classy as any Bordeaux at any level. Long, lingering finish. Faultless. α+++

Ch Bastard-La-Tonnelle Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion
Deep in color, wonderful elegant fruit on the nose. Soft round and juicy on the palate, velvety ripe Merlot fruit. Juicy and classey on the finish. A jewel of a wine and not expensive. α++

Ch Bellevue Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion
Deep purple in color with elegant mulberry fruit on the nose, firm round and juicy on the palate with enormous concentration and elegance. Another example of a truly magnificent and affordable Saint-Emilion α++

Ch La Conseillante Pomerol
This wine is one of my weaknesses. Every time I drink or taste it, I am transfixed. The 2005 is no exception. Deep purple in color with a glorious cedar and cassis nose. On the palate it is beautifully balanced with soft fruits and tannin, and firm complexity. It will last for years and be increasingly seductive. α++

Of the other wines, currently listed on Wine.com, which are not mentioned above, here are my notes on those that I tasted.

Ch Cantenac-Brown 3eme Cru Classé Margaux
Deep purple in color, soft elegant berry fruit on the nose with spicey notes. Lovely structure and very elegant on the finish. Will age well. α+

Ch Branaire Ducru 2eme Cru Classé St Julien
Dark plum in color, Classic spicey St Julien fruit on the nose, medium weight but great concentration of elegant fruit and fine tannin, Elegant finish. Another keeper but not for too long! α-

Ch Leoville-Poyferré 2eme Cru Classé St Julien
Very deep red in color, velvety round plumy fruit on the palate, slightly auster. Needs a lot of time. α

Ch Clinet Pomerol
Deep deep purple in color, soft elegant berry fruit on the nose. Balanced elegant blackberry fruit and finesse. A classy wine for drinking from 5 years on. α

Ch Mouton-Rothschild Premier Cru Classé Pauillac
Deep purple in color, powerful cedary cassis on the nose. Very refined and elegant, also very closed. This wine lives up to its reputation and, dare I say it, price in every way. α+++

I will attempt to catch up on those missing over the next few months. Also if anyone wants my notes of any wine not mentioned above, please let me know. I will answer providing of course I have tasted it.

Hold your breath for the 2009’s. We will be hearing about opening prices in the next few months. Cross fingers they are sensible.

Anthony Foster M.W.