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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.

Revisiting 2003 Bordeaux

When high reviews came out for the 2003 vintage in Bordeaux, I was pretty skeptical. Really? Weeks of 100 degree weather producing Bordeaux of that caliber? I don’t think so. Grapes need slow ripening periods of mild sunshine and heat, with cooler temperatures at night. I was in France the summer of 2003 and I guarantee there was nothing mild about that heat, and absolutely nothing to cool you off at night. So if I could not cool down and sleep at night, how on earth could the grapes?

It’s not that I didn’t think the wine from the vintage could be good – I bet it tasted fantastic in the barrels – lots of ripe fruit, higher alcohol, plush in texture – what I doubted was its ability to age well. Even over a few years. When temperatures spike like that in the vineyards, balance gets out of whack in the grapes, and balance is a key component in wine aging. My thought about the ’03 (because I had had some basic ’03 Bordeaux that I did not fancy) was that five years down the road, the wines would take on a “stewed fruit” character, typical of wine that have too much extracted fruit and high alcohol.

But last night, I had the opportunity to taste the 2003 Chateau de Pez, a Cru Bourgeois from St. Estephe. I was bit disappointed when my husband brought it out of the cellar for dinner, as I think we have quite a few better wines than any ’03 Bordeaux. But, it was his birthday, after all, and I was the one that messed up the babysitter schedule which led to us having birthday dinner at home.

We popped out the huge Bordeaux glasses, got the ribeye steak cooking and poured ourselves a bit to swirl and help the wine aerate and open up.

And indeed it did. No longer would I dis the ’03 vintage. There was not a stewed fruit to be found in this lovely bottle. There were marks of blackberry and currant, a touch of wood notes, some coffee style undertones and a bit of herbs. Tannins were elegant, completely integrated but present. Nice long finish and just all around great. I’ve had more complex wines, but this easily beat out a wines I’ve had for twice the price.

Not sure where you can find the ’03, but the 2005 vintage, which is a highly touted vintage in Bordeaux, is currently available and less than $50!

It will be on my next order and will definitely keep you posted on how compares. Meanwhile, I may be digging around to taste some more 2003 Bordeaux. I love it when wine can change your mind.

Club Claret – what is it all about?

590x110-club-claret Club Claret is about Bordeaux. Affordable and approachable Bordeaux. Wine you can drink now, wine that goes with food and wine that offers balance. If you are looking for a “cocktail” wine, Club Claret is not for you. If you want big fruit-bombs with high alcohol, Club Claret is not for you. But, if you seek balance, a sense of place and a good story, I invite you to try one of the Club Claret wines.

101176lThe team behind Club Claret is headed by one of the UK’s top wine experts, Anthony Foster, MW. Based in St Emilion, they search through the thousands of Chateaux in Bordeaux and source exceptional wines at affordable prices. Club Claret takes the effort out of finding a gem, and delivers wines that can be drunk any day or for that special occasion.

How do you know which wine is best for you? Watch the videos of Anthony Foster meeting the winemakers whose wines have been selected to join Club Claret. You’ll see why each wine was chosen and what makes each so special.


Please share your experiences with Bordeaux – either through tasting the wines, visiting the region, or just learning about the history.

What you don’t know about Bordeaux

2 glassesIt’s not all grand chateaux and dusty bottles that need 30 years cellar age. This historical region, which has been making wine for centuries, knows what it’s doing and does it well. Some wines are age-worthy collectibles, but the majority are meant to be drunk now and enjoyed with food. Here are some fun facts you may not have known about Bordeaux.

-The region is made up of 57 separate appellations, or AOCs.

-Bordeaux represents 2.3% of total world wine production

-In 2007, the region produced nearly 760 million bottles of wine. That is a LOT of wine.

Carmenere, the grape now associated with Chilean red wines, was once a common blending grape in Bordeaux. It grew out of fashion in the mid-20th century and is now almost extinct.

-“Cot” is the local name for Malbec, a grape that is waning in importance in the region.

-A half-bottle of Bordeaux is called a “fillette.”

-The 1855 classification stands exactly as it did in 1855, with one exception – Chateau Mouton Rothschild moved from a Deuxieme Cru (second growth) to a Premier Cru (first growth) in 1973.

Get all the facts you ever wanted to know about Bordeaux at www.bordeaux.com. And don’t forget to browse our updated affordable Bordeaux section at Wine.com. Especially our Club Claret line up.