Bordeaux 2005: cost and triumph
There have been three excellent released vintages in Bordeaux this century – 2005, 2009 and 2010. They may well be followed in quality by the 2015s and the 2016s, though the latter will come in minuscule amounts. That is five excellent years when we have not even completed the first two decades of the 2000s and so it is probably time to drop the old jokes about ‘vintages of the century’.
But great vintages in Bordeaux come at a cost, and Bordeaux 2005 is no exception. First, there are the inevitable price rises from the producers (who want to make the most of a great year) and then because of the market (because there is competition for the best wines). Jancis Robinson called the 2001s and the 2008s ‘the last affordable vintage’ (obviously apeing the multiplication of vintages of the century) as prices rose steeply for the 2005s, and yet more spectacularly for the 2009s and 2010s.
A vintage for the patient
But the second cost is in a way more interesting: time. In September 2017, 12 years after the fruit was picked from the vines, the wines are still not showing their full potential. This was particularly noteworthy as we were not talking about second or third growths, never mind the majestic concentration you should expect in a first growth. The wines we tasted were with two exceptions fifth growths or cru bourgeois and the equivalent level on the right bank, what you might call affordable Bordeaux. It is not that the wines are unbroachable now, it is just that they are still quite closed and they nearly all had the concentration and balance which should allow them to improve with more bottle age. So the effect of a great vintage is that you need to be very, very patient.
True to type
In general, the Bordeaux 2005 wines were remarkable for their touch deeper than usual colour, very narrow rims, freshness and impressive aromatic concentration. The tannins are very evident still but they are ripe and fine. They just did not look or taste like twelve-year-old wines. They all shared relatively high alcohol levels by historic standards and medium levels by today’s: 13-13.5% though Haut Bailly tasted as though it had made at least full use of its legitimate 0.5% latitude going higher. However, what the wines did show was a good deal of typicity between the various areas and communes. Château Le Crock, Saint-Estèphe had dense blackcurrant and black plum fruit and a suave mid-palate helped by its new oak, but combined with a certain austerity. Though the fruit was fully ripe it is also herbal and a touch leaner than the other top communes. Château Batailley had very condensed fruit with ripe, high and still unyielding tannins, very Pauillac, but with a rich and velvety gloss. This will probably be the last of these wines to reach its peak (except perhaps the different quality level Haut-Bailly). Château La Garde showed some of the homely, autumn leaf character of Graves. Château Chauvin was deeper in colour, fuller-bodied, black-fruited and less immediately aromatic in line with being Merlot-dominant and from Saint-Émilion. Full ripeness and perfect conditions do not eradicate the differences between the communes.
Pick of the bunch?
Of the 2005s (other wines and vintages were available on the evening) I would plump for Château Haut-Bailly, AOC Pessac-Léognan. This had super rounded, even plump fruit, huge concentration and lots of evident new oak. Despite the latent power, it was wonderfully immediate. It had all the depth of fruit and balance to keep it going for many, many years. As noted, it tasted a touch hotter than 13.5% but with more than enough fruit intensity to carry this off successfully. Truly outstanding.
A special evening
This was a splendid tasting, held to say thank you to our friends and fellow tasters Ken and Julie who have unaccountably decided to move to Norfolk. But we known that they will be back, hopefully quite often to keep tasting with us. Here are the full list of wines tasted and drunk on this special occasion.
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Prestige 2006, 100% Chardonnay, fermented at 18ºC, no malo, 8 years on lees, disgorged 2015, 8g/l RS – just as brilliant as we remembered from our visit to the winery
Laville Haut Brion 1976 – 2.87 ha only of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc; fermented in barriques, aged for 9-12 months, 50% new oak (today). Now called Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc. The vintage is not a mistake – fabulous Sémillon-dominated wine in healthy old age.
Château Le Crock, AOC Saint-Estèphe 2005, 13% – Cru Bourgeois, 63% Cabernet Sauvignon (much higher than usual), 20% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, yield 59hl/ha (higher than usual)
Château Batailley, AOC Pauillac 2005, 13% – 5th growth, 40 year old vines; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 16-18 days on skins, 16-18 months in barriques, 55% new
Château Chasse-Spleen, AOC Moulis 2005 13.5% – Cru Bourgeois, 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, aged in barriques 40% new for 18 months
Château La Garde, AOC Pessac-Léognan 2005, 13.5% – property owned by Dourthe; on gravel outcrop; 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, picked in late September and first 10 days of October; aged in barriques, 45% new, on fine lees for 14 months
Château Haut-Bailly, AOC Pessac-Léognan, 2005, 13% – 30ha estate including a 4 ha parcel of 100-year old vines; 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc; aged in barriques 63% new
Château Bahans Haut-Brion, AOC Pessac-Léognan, 2005, 13.5% – second wine of Ch. Haut-Brion now called Le Clarence de Haut-Brion; recently: Merlot 51%, Cabernet Sauvignon 33%, Cabernet Franc 13%, Petit Verdot 3% but much more CabS in 2005
Château Chauvin, AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2005, 13.5% – close to Pomerol, 28 year old vines, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 16 months in barriques 50% new, 50% 2nd fill; RP 90-92
Château Moulinet-Lasserre, AOC Pomerol 2005, 13.5% – owned by Moueix; 5 ha property, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec, aged in barriques for 18 months, 30% new
Ch. Coutet, Sauternes 1º cru classé, 2002 – 75% Sémillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Muscadelle; yield averages 9hl/ha (sic), aged in barriques 70-100% new