A Great Year For Bordeaux

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - July 07, 2006
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The 2005 vintage in Bordeaux has already been hyped as one of the best ever. After my recent trip, I have to say that most of the hype is not hype at all.

There is an overall outstanding level of quality in the wines that few vintages can claim. Over the span of nine days, I tasted more than 200 wines of the vintage from all the major appellations of Bordeaux, and can say that I tasted some of the best young Bordeaux I have ever tasted. In fact, there were several winemakers who, when asked to compare them to vintages, went back to 1982 and 1961 as comparisons. Conspicuously, the excellent 2000 and 1990 vintage were not even included in the conversation.

What separates the wines of the 2005 vintage from most others is a word that few people use in today’s wine language - freshness. I think this is why I would say this is a “classic” vintage. The wines certainly have ripeness on their side. There were almost no weedy or under-ripe flavors in any of the wines I tasted, especially in the Grand Vins. But the fruit is not of burnt or cooked character like other characteristically “hot” years like 1990, 1995 and 2003. The fruit is quite true to type. Cabernet tasted like Cabernet and Merlot like Merlot, simple yet profound.

The other beautiful thing about this freshness, and perhaps because of the long growing season, is the seamlessness of the wines on the palate. For the most part, they have a lengthy flavor corded by a fresh acidity that can be lacking, especially in vintages like 2003. This acidity will certainly lead to long life with these wines, and prevent the wines with tremendous ripeness from becoming clumsy and burly. The results are beautiful and they will have a tremendously long life.

The growing season can be summed up in the thoughts of one of the chateau owners, who said that “whatever we asked for, we got.” It was a long and almost perfect growing season. The production levels in 2005 were average but, interestingly, the production of some the Grand Vins were down. For example, Chateau Margaux used only 40 percent of its production in the Grand Vin. There were similar reports at other first growths.

All this will ultimately lead to high prices. Superb quality and smaller quantity equals high demand and high prices. I suspect that this may be one of the most expensive vintages ever. Several producers echoed Anthony Barton, who remarked that he has not raised his prices in several years. He would not say so, but it would be hard to imagine that for the quality of his wines, he should not get more.

I have a few words of caution.

There were some Chateaux that tried to extract too much from their grapes in the winery. They already had great grapes, but it seems that some winemakers who instead of being happy with already very good wine that perhaps would garner a good rating, i.e. 92-94 from one of the writers, tried to go for the 97-99 points. This happened mostly on the right bank, primarily in Pomerol and to a lesser extent in St. Emilion. The tannins here seemed to have too much bitterness and lacked in elegance, something in which the Right Bank should excel given its higher proportions of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. They seemed rough and hard and may need a long, long time to soften. It may be a case where there was too much press wine in the sample, but nonetheless, it is there.

But in the end these wines will be the exceptions, not the rule.

Altogether, the worldwide market for Bordeaux will love these wines. The best will be snatched up by the affluent Bordeaux drinkers and collectors alike. At the more reasonable price levels, the wines are also worth buying. There were several estates in this category that believed this may be the best wine they have ever produced. That will be the value in this vintage, finding the estates that have excelled beyond their classification or appellation. And there are quite a few.

I have certainly returned with a renewed enthusiasm and fervor for Bordeaux. Lunch with Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing at Pichon Lalande, dinner with Charles Chevalier at Chateau Lafite and lunch with Edouard Mouiex at Chateau Petrus are events one cannot glaze over. Maybe my eyes were glazed afterward, but would-n’t yours be too? I look forward to drinking the 2005 vintage the rest of my life.

My Top 10 Wines of the Vintage: Angelus, Ausone, Calon Segur, Cos d’Estournel, Lafite Rothschild, Lafleur, Latour, Margaux, Palmer, Pichon Lalande.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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