Bordeaux 2005: A Special Report, 4/5/06

Day 3: More firsts, super seconds and Medoc greats


Published:

Bordeaux 2005 - Cos d'Estournel, Mouton, Lafite, Léoville Las Cases, and other greats from Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estephe

At the tasting table
This is the year in which Merlot in the Médoc became new world. With alcohols approaching 15 and even 16 percent and low acidity, the Merlot became hard to use in the blend, at least for the top estates. It was relegated to second wines, where it produced simple, juicy wines. For the great wines of the Médoc, this is a Cabernet year.

"If we have more years like 2005," said Philippe Dhalluin, technical director of Château Mouton Rothschild, "there will be little place for Merlot in many of the Médoc wines."

The corollary of ripe Merlot is that the Cabernet Sauvignon is also ripe. That's what makes this vintage potentially so interesting and important. In some cases, the Cabernet is so ripe, it has produced wines that are black currant juice worthy of the south of France. But in other wines, especially in Saint-Julien, it has provided superbly ripe wines,

 
packed with warm flavors.

The tannins, given the ripeness of the fruit are much softer than is classic in Bordeaux, dusty, warm and very ripe. That could have meant wines that lack structure and were like 2003, which were always too heavy. What has saved 2005 is the acidity, which powers through most of the wines, giving all that richness a lift and a freshness.

As with Margaux, reported yesterday, the northern Médoc wines - Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe - are astonishingly easy to taste even at this early stage in their lives. But Charles Chevalier, at Château Lafite-Rothschild, believes the extreme fruitiness of the wines is just a very early stage. "After that the wines will just close up. I'm sure this is a long-term vintage", he said.

While Chevalier describes the 2005 Bordeaux as a "classic vintage, nothing out of the ordinary", others see it as more extraordinary. And one of the extraordinary things about it is that the lesser wines are so good, all the way down the line. It makes the difference between the great wines much less in 2005 than in any year in the past.

That small difference is reflected in the scores. Many wines have been marked in the 90s, only a few points behind the top wines, while few of even the more obscure classed growths fall below the upper 80s. That makes it a great year to buy across the board to drink, even if only the top 30-50 wines will be the wines for investment and speculation.

On the wine road
Quality goes deep in the 2005 vintage say the people are tasting to buy. During an end-of-they-day coffee stop in Margaux, Sherlock's wine stores in Atlanta's buyers were effusive about the vintage, worried about the price at the top and eager to buy at all levels. Sherlock's president Douglas Bryant said while "prices at the top may be astronomical, the cru bourgeois and Bordeaux wines will be good." And the weather had everything to do with it. "It's a textbook life cycle for a vintage. Beautiful, rich, dense and fresh," said Craig Maske, general manager of the Atlanta stores.

So what's to worry about? If you are a collector, it's price.

"The chateaux will set the price at whatever they want to set it at," said Don Hackett, the firm's money man. The consensus was that they believe the chateaux think the market is ready to accept whatever the prices are, including higher than 2000 and 2003. "Exponentially higher," added Bryant. "And for Latour, Cheval Blanc and such, people will pay anything," said Hackett.

Yet the first growth owners seem to be playing for calm. According to Charles Chevalier of Lafite Rothschild, Eric de Rothschild, the owner, is "likely to want to calm the market." While at Château Margaux, owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos said, "everybody is speculating about a price increase. It's likely because the wine is better than 2004 but other than that I have no precise idea." At Mouton Rothschild, Philippine de Rothschild entertained journalists in grand style but price didn't cross her lips.

Meanwhile, Sherlock's Bryant, summed it up: "We're in unchartered territory for Bordeaux."

Tomorrow: Saint-Emilion, Pomerol


Red Wines
Left Bank

Note: All wines were tasted blind, except for the following: Château Lafite-Rothschild, Cos d'Estournel, Château Léoville Las Cases, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Potensac, Château Duhart-Milon..

96-98 Château Lafite-Rothschild 2005  Pauillac  Underneath the velvet veneer of deceptively soft, dusty tannins, the wine is a powerhouse of dry firmness. It's a powerful expression of great Cabernet Sauvignon: great ripeness and cassis flavors, but always with a punch just hidden. -R.V.
95-97  Château Léoville Las Cases 2005  Saint-Julien  A big wine with dense tannins, but so elegant. Dark, intense with layers of acidity underneath, only showing through at the end. Unusually, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates this wine, a sign of the ripeness of the Cabernet fruit. -R.V.
95-97  Château Léoville-Barton 2005  Saint-Julien  A solid, hard, very firm wine that initially lacks much charm. But then it's apparent that this wine just needs to knit together its huge, dry tannins that completely hide the fruit, just giving hints of greatness to come. -R.V.
95-97  Cos d'Estournel 2005  Saint-Estèphe  A hugely dense wine packed with fruit tannins, with only a hint of wood showing through. There's a touch of peppermint, but the wine remains immensely firm and solid. A real blockbuster. -R.V.
94-96  Château Beychevelle 2005  Saint-Julien  A dense, powerful wine, packed with very dry, very dark tannins. There is great fruit as well, a range from black currant to black plums to black cherries. A very fine wine. -R.V.
94-96  Château Gruaud-Larose 2005  Saint-Julien  Acidity, black currant fruits, dry tannins: all the hallmarks of young Cabernet Sauvignon in a ripe, layered complex wine that will develop into something extraordinary. A great wine. -R.V.
94-96  Château Lagrange 2005  Saint-Julien  Big tannins here, but balanced and equaled by the very ripe, immensely black fruit. There's acidity, but this is the counterpoint to the sweetness of the fruit. -R.V.
94-96  >Château Lynch-Bages 2005  Pauillac  A wine that seems to revel in richness. The tannins are certainly structured, but the fruit is just bursting out. The dryness and the acidity, though, promise that the fruit will be tamed and the wine will age well. -R.V.
94-96  Château Mouton-Rothschild 2005  Pauillac  With its packed, spicy wood and very ripe fruit, this is almost sweet. There are certainly fruit tannins there, but they are dominated by new wood, leaving a structure that is relatively simple. -R.V.
93-95  Château Branaire-Ducru 2005  Saint-Julien  A huge, generous, opulent wine with cedar aromas, a touch of toast, immense black fruits. And it still keeps a delicacy and elegance: very Saint-Julien. -R.V.
93-95  Château Talbot 2005  Saint-Julien  Huge black currant flavors, very ripe fruit, but also a great sense of proportion that give this wine both charm and impressiveness. It's going to age seriously, and well. -R.V.
92-94  Château Citran 2005  Haut-Médoc  This is full of intensely ripe fruit, but seductively balanced with the fresh acidity. The wine is solid, but also lively, with dusty tannins layered with some new wood flavors. -R.V.
92-94  Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2005  Pauillac  Very opulent, very generous and rich. It shows all the glories of the year, with the huge, but just sufficiently restrained fruit and exuberant tannins. -R.V.
92-94  Château la Lagune 2005  Haut-Médoc  Homemade blackberry jelly fruits are the beauty of this powerful, but elegant wine. The acidity frames the fruit like an aura, giving a very complete picture. -R.V.
92-94  Château la Tour Carnet 2005  Haut-Médoc  Mint and herbs set the scene for a ripe, black-fruited, relatively soft wine, where the tannins are charming rather than firm. But it's easy to imagine this wine broadening and developing a more structured character later. -R.V.
92-94  Château Léoville-Poyferré 2005  Saint-Julien  A beautiful, fruity wine with great black flavors, rich acidity, the tannins playing the essential bass counterpoint. The dryness from the structure only comes through right at the end. -R.V.
92-94  Château Pichon Longueville 2005  Pauillac Big black currant fruits, good balancing tannins with herbs, dark, brooding fruits, a touch of mint: this wine has a whole panoply of flavors that are already blending together well. The acidity sets the seal. -R.V.
92-94  Château Pontet-Canet 2005  Pauillac A beautiful, aromatic, minty wine that has dusty, warm tannins, still within the Bordeaux structure. It's very dry, but the fruit is already enjoyable. This is going to be a delicious wine. -R.V.
91-93  Château Camensac 2005  Haut-Médoc  Big, firm and hard, with solid fruits, layers of dry tannin and great power. There's an intensity to this wine, the acidity adding to the complexity and the structure. -R.V.
91-93  Château Coufran 2005  Haut-Médoc  If you're looking for great, ripe black currant fruits, packed with Cabernet Sauvignon, this is where to come. The wine is full, hugely fruity, but still keeps a good Bordeaux sense of proportion. -R.V.
91-93  Château d'Armailhac 2005  Pauillac  Very pure black currant fruits pour out of the glass with this wine. Yes, there are tannins, but the fruit is uplifting, fresh and very vibrant. Delicious, and likely to remain so. -R.V.
91-93  Château Marbuzet 2005  Saint-Estèphe  A fine, smooth wine showing great tannins over big solid fruit and very dark, chocolate flavors. There is acidity, but this is dominated by wood tannins. -R.V.
91-93  Château Ormes de Pez 2005  Saint-Estèphe  Rich, packed with super-ripe fruit, huge tannins. This wine still manages to keep elegance, power tempered with velvet: an impressive combination. -R.V.
91-93  Château Phélan-Ségur 2005  Saint-Estèphe  A finely balanced wine, with the steel and tannins of Saint-Estéphe tempered with hugely ripe, concentrated black plum and dark fig flavors. This is elegant while also being powerful. -R.V.
91-93  Château Potensac 2005  Médoc  This wine has fine tannins, relatively soft, with good acidity and dryness. It's not powerful, but its fine black currant flavors and ripe fruit give it great style. -R.V.
90-92  Château Clerc Milon 2005  Pauillac  This is a finely crafted wine, packed with all the right tannins that blend easily into the wood and blackberry flavors. The fruit is very pure, intense and nicely layered. -R.V.
90-92  Château de Lamarque 2005  Haut-Médoc  Very dry, intense tannins dominate this wine. The fruit is going to come through later, but together the two will give a very powerful, heavily structured wine. -R.V.
89-91  Château Lafon-Rochet 2005  Saint-Estèphe   While there are super-ripe fruit aromas, the structure of this wine is totally all-present. Somewhere under there is the black fruit. This is hugely dark and very dry. -R.V.
89-91  Château Lynch-Moussas 2005  Pauillac  Very firm, dry, perhaps missing the exuberant fruit of other Pauillacs, but with its restraint showing serious tannins and firm, solid character. -R.V.
88-90  Château Batailley 2005  Pauillac  While there is plenty of good, structured, dry tannins here, the fruit is more of a question. It seems to need greater ripeness, unusual for 2005. All the right flavors are there, but not quite the richness. -R.V.
88-90  Château Belgrave 2005  Haut-Médoc  Attractive peppermint aromas, almost eucalyptus, give this wine an almost Australian character. To taste, it is soft, very rich, very black, very new world. -R.V.
88-90  Château Croizet-Bages 2005  Pauillac  Dense layers of fruit go right through this wine, almost leaving no room for the equally impressive tannins. There is just a hint of old wood that spoils an otherwise serious wine. -R.V.
88-90  Château Duhart-Milon 2005  Pauillac  A ripe, fruity, very juicy wine, with delicious blackberry fruits and freshness. An attractive, relatively simple wine. -R.V.
88-90  Château Langoa-Barton 2005  Saint-Julien  Almost southern in its ripeness, this has super-mature fruit, jelly flavors very exotic. Whether the tannins are sufficient to give structure to this open fruit character is a question. -R.V.
87-89  Château Beaumont 2005  Haut-Médoc  Very ripe, almost sweet fruit gives this wine a delicious, open, generous feel. Red fruits are the dominant character, layered with some spicy new wood that develops only at the end. -R.V.
87-89  Château Cantemerle 2005  Haut-Médoc  With its rather earthy, rustic aromas, this wine is old-fashioned, rather hard and charmless at this stage. We need to wait and see for the fruit to improve. -R.V.
86-88  Château Cos Labory 2005  Saint-Estèphe  Hugely tannic, and somewhat rustic, this is dark, dense and very tough. Its tannins are totally dominant, very hard. -R.V.
86-88  Château Malescasse 2005  Haut-Médoc  The wine is delicate, with dusty tannins and only easy fruit flavors. It could just be rather closed up, but it hasn't much depth at the moment. -R.V.
85-87  Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse 2005  Pauillac  Rather simple, juicy fruits and green flavors spoil this wine. It needs more richness to reflect the vintage. -R.V.

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