Quality hierarchy: Claret 2004 revisited

The 1855 classification of the Médoc has proved remarkably robust. There have been a few revisions, you have to take into account that in Bordeaux the name on the bottle refers to the commercial entity, the ‘château’, which can buy or sell land (thus obscuring the pure terroir argument) and, of course, the quality of vine growing and vinification rises and falls with the ownership and work force. But all in all the classification has proved a remarkably reliable guide for a century and a half. Last night’s tasting of the 2004 vintage, from a Wine Society offer, demonstrated this again.


The wines fell neatly into four quality groups:

Inexpensive but competent: the Wine Society is to be congratulated on having a ten year old wine in stock at just £14. Ch. d’Aurihac, Médoc AC, from the Haut-Médoc, is roughly 50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a dash of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. A smoky, cigar box nose was followed by some rounded black fruit on nose and palate, medium length only, dry rather firm tannins. Perfectly decent companion to meat and cheese dishes.

DSC01606All of the single commune wines had higher amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, probably around 60-75%. The estates typically say what the vineyard proportions are but of course they are free to change the balance of the blend from year to year if they choose to do so.

Touch of class: Ch. Batailley, Pauillac AC, 5ème Cru Classé, was our only 5th Growth but more than held its own. At just under £30 it was significantly cheaper than the 2nd Growths in the next group but still showed some refined restraint, black fruit and cedar on nose and palate with a light and elegant body. The tannins were much less evident that the generic Médoc. A great choice of Christmas Day when you want to drink something decent but won’t have too much time to concentrate on it – and might have to share it with others!

Obvious quality: our three Second Growths oozed quality. Ch. Léoville Barton, St Julien AC, had beautifully integrated fruit and velvety, luxurious palate with fine fruit and super fine, polished tannins. Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac AC was lifted with more tertiary notes of mushroom and leather, followed by very subtle fruit and a silky palate, very fine. Ch. Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux AC had chunkier black fruit, an oak-induced custard powder note, very fine tannins but was a bit drying on the finish. (In a blind tasting you might have been tempted to put the Comtesse in Margaux and the Ségla in Pauillac!) But in general there was clearly finesse, power and length in these wines. Very fine drinking for Claret buffs; a bit of a puzzle for others because of the restrained fruit.

Ch. Margaux

Sheer class: Ch. Margaux. A deeper ruby in colour than the above presaged a more powerful wine with very fine, dense packed fruit knit together with smoke and spice notes and the first hint of something tertiary, such as leather. The fruit intensity is held together with a fine, powerful tannic structure which will allow the wine to develop over the coming decades. But what is particularly impressive at the moment is the complexity of the palate, combing weight and the array of flavour. Excellent length too. Even our professed Claret sceptic pronounced this to be ‘quite good’ and ‘drinkable’! Premier Grand Cru Classé lived up to its billing. Would impress anybody who has some understanding about wine. Definitely a wine for a very special occasion and deep pockets.

We also tasted a range of wines from older vintages which did not fall so neatly into the 1855 groupings. Ch. Meyney, St-Éstephe, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur 2000 shone way above its station, Léoville Barton 1989 lived up to expectation while Third Growth Ch. Calon-Ségur, St-Éstephe 1998 was not particularly refined. But the 2004s showed that 1855 classification lives on.

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