Bordeaux En Primeur 2003
What happens when tannins meet terroir?
It's been called the Year of the Big Heat, the year when the New World came to Bordeaux. It has also been called the year of terroir. One thing is certain, 2003 will go down as the most confused and confusing year for as long as anyone in Bordeaux can remember.
Nearly 5,000 wine trade professionals from around the world descended on Bordeaux in late March. There were almost as many opinions as there were wines. It was not a great year across the board as 2000 was. But there are great wines.
Higher-than-usual alcohol and denser, riper tannins characterize the 2003 wines. The best come from the northern Médoc, from Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. Properties that made my 2003 hit list include the wine of the vintage, Château Latour, and all three Léoville estates—Barton, Las Cases and Poyferré.
In Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the situation was tougher, as are the tannins. Only winemakers who managed last summer's unabating heat made decent wine. They couldn't irrigate the vines—it's not allowed in France. But they could protect the ripening grapes. So unlike most years, when grapes are exposed to get the maximum sun, in 2003 leaves were left on the vines as sunshields.
Christian Moueix, owner of négociant Jean-Pierre Moueix and of Château Pétrus, which is another star of the vintage, told me that he "never thought about canopy management in Bordeaux before. So it was a great advantage for us to have our Dominus estate in Napa Valley. It gave us just the knowledge we needed to cope with the heat."
By contrast, neighboring Château Le Pin in Pomerol is not selling any 2003 wine. The Thienpont family's other Pomerol estate, Vieux Château Certan, is making 800 cases of wine, rather than the usual 4,000.
What is surprising, given the 100-degree days that characterized much of the summer, is how much like Bordeaux the best wines are. "It's a paradoxical vintage," said Jean-Luc Thunevin, owner of Château de Valandraud in Saint-Emilion. "The climate was Mediterranean, but the terroir kept the wines very Bordeaux. But," he added, "it's not just a question of terroir, it's also a question of how the terroir was worked."
"The best terroirs restrained the exuberance of the vintage," Charles Chevallier, technical director of Château Lafite-Rothschild, explained. "We had to move fast at harvest time—everything came ready at once. We had to be very flexible and adapt to the weather."
Prices are sure to rise. With quantities down by 25 percent over the already small 2002 vintage, and with wines which are better than the 2002s, the wines are predicted to fetch 10 to 15 percent more than the 2002s.
"It's not 2000," said Hervé Berland, commercial director of Château Mouton Rothschild. "That was a great year all over Bordeaux. 2003 is not the same in overall quality. And it doesn't have the magic number of 2000. While the first growths are different, the rest of Bordeaux needs to listen to the market."
American buyers were out in force to taste the 2003 vintage, despite the weak dollar and the strong euro. U.S. consumers can expect much more product from importers over the next few months than we had for the 2001 and 2002 vintages.
"It's time the Americans came back into the en primeur market," Alek Leontie of Orlean Wines and Spirits on Cape Cod, told me. "Customers have got through their 2000s, they didn't buy 2001 or 2002, so now they are asking, 'what's next?' "
Q&A Steve Burns
Bidding Washington a fond farewell
Steve Burns, who led the Washington wine industry to unprecedented success, has resigned as executive director of the Washington Wine Commission (a marketing and promotion organization) and its lobbying arm, the Washington Wine Institute. Burns acknowledges that, at 45, he was ready for a change.
Burns has been at the helm of the Wine Commission for eight years, as the state's wine industry has tripled in size to over 250 wineries. During his tenure he pushed for a landmark study that measured the economic importance of Washington's wine industry; discontinued the moribund World Vinifera Conference and replaced it with a series of wildly successful "Taste Washington" road shows; lobbied and won state funding for college-level wine career training programs; and presided over the establishment of three new AVAs and a Wine Quality Alliance.
Wine Enthusiast: Rumors have been circulating that you were being recruited for various other executive wine positions. That's not what is behind this change, is it?
Steve Burns: I wanted to work for myself. [My long-time partner] Josh and I bought a house a couple of years ago in Glen Ellen. We decided we wanted to have a certain kind of life, and thought, "what are we waiting for?" At 41 and 45 [years of age], you just proceed. So it's really a life choice, a decision about moving home and residing in Sonoma County, close to San Francisco.
WE: You have been called irreplaceable, but someone must replace you. How would you write a job description for that person?
SB: You have to be a combination of a marketer and a politician. You have to believe in the product and the people.
WE: Are you burned out?
SB: Burned out? No. I've been tired from time to time throughout the last eight years, but not burned out. I believe in the product; I couldn't do it if I didn't believe in it.
WE: Then what has changed?
SB: The job has gone from being out there with the wineries to being the office politician on the phone. I miss spending time with winemakers and growers. Most of my duties are so time intensive that they don't allow me to get out like I should.
WE: You have indicated that you will stay on until a successor is named, and then be available for consulting. Any parting thoughts on the future of Washington wines?
SB: Josh and I do a lot of house remodeling. We look for houses with good bones. And this industry has good bones. What I have done wasn't a significant overhaul; it was an interior design project. For me it's important that the industry has diversity of product, good honest business people involved, and delivers value for money. I hope that I support those kinds of things, in any industry. And the Washington wine industry does have that in spades.
Wine Enthusiast Editor at Large Jeff Morgan has teamed up with his wife, Jodi, to create the parent-friendly, kid-pleasing, Working Parents Cookbook (Chronicle Books, $22.95). It contains recipes, but also offers advice on everything from vitamins and minerals to how to stock the kitchen, and how to deal with picky eaters of all ages. Whimsical illustrations throughout make the book as inviting to look at as it is user friendly.
Informative sidebars accompany the 11 different sections, which include breakfast, seafood, pasta and grains, and everyone's favorite, sweets and desserts. The Morgans contend that fast food doesn't have to be junk food, and have compiled a wide range of fast and healthy meals that the whole family can enjoy.
FOR MORE NEWS AND NOTES FROM THE WORLD OF WINE, SEE THIS MONTH'S ISSUE OF WINE ENTHUSIAST
Pinot Producers Form New Alliance Is a break with Santa Barbara County Vintners in the offing?
Grapegrowers and winemakers of the Santa Rita Hills in late March officially announced the formation of their new Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance.
The 30,720-acre appellation was created in July 2001 by Pinot Noir producers concerned that their existing appellation, Santa Ynez Valley, did not fully describe the cool-climate conditions found nearer to the coast. Once the appellation came into being, it was only a matter of time before a new association was created. "Santa Rita Hills was getting lost in all the discussion about Santa Ynez Valley, which is really too broad to be meaningful," explained Richard Sanford, of Sanford Winery, the new alliance's founding chairman.
Other alliance officers include Chad Melville (Melville Vineyards), Wes Hagen (Clos Pepe), Dan Gainey (Gainey Vineyard), Babcock Vineyards and Longoria Wine Cellars.
There are about 20 members in all, according to Sanford, who says the new alliance is unique in having grapegrowers and winemakers participate equally.
There's been some speculation that a few Santa Rita Hills wineries might leave the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association, which was founded in 1983, to concentrate on the new group.
"I have heard more than one winery representative say that they would have to re-evaluate maintaining their membership in the SBCVA once the Santa Rita organization is up and running," says Kirby Anderson, winemaker at Gainey.
However, Sanford says, "To my knowledge, no one will leave SBCVA." That claim is echoed by Melville winemaker Greg Brewer. "We want to do all we can to work with [SBCVA] and make this work out for everyone."
Lesson learned at Taste of Oakville: Buy up those 2001s
There were stretch limos in the parking lot and standing-room only crowds in the barrel cellar at the Nickel & Nickel winery on March 29, as the annual Taste of Oakville event allowed producers from the prestigious Napa Valley appellation to showcase their latest wines.
Thirty-two wineries, among them some of the most famous and expensive names in the business, poured in the crowded, dimly lit cellar. Most of the wines poured were Cabernet Sauvignons and Cab-based blends, and were primarily from the 2000 and 2001 vintages. There was the odd Syrah, Sangiovese or Sauvignon Blanc, plus a few barrel samples from 2002.
The Cabernets displayed the trademark Oakville character of sweetly ripened fruit, a gentle but authoritative structure, and perfect balance. Some wines—such as the 2000 Harlan Estate, 2001 Plumpjack, 2001 Rudd, and Swanson's 2001 Alexis, a blend of Cabernet and Syrah, were spectacular, and proved once again that the vineyards on the benchlands and slopes of Oakville produce some of the greatest Bordeaux-style wines in California.
The 2001 vintage, which Wine Enthusiast has rated at 95 points but could go even higher, represents almost a foolproof investment for ageworthy Oakville Cabernets. The best will age gracefully for decades, although as usual, some properties fail to live up to the potential of their terroir. Cabernets from the lighter 2000 vintage should be consumed earlier, within the next 10 years. But so great is this appellation, and so diligent most of the estates, that even in a lesser year, an Oakville Cabernet is an important wine—although you always end up paying for it.
Our correspondent reports from Vinitaly, the wine world's foremost annual trade fair.
The 38th edition of Vinitaly ended on April 5, following five days of vinous excess. By every measure, the 2004
version improved upon its predecessor, finishing with more attendees and more exhibitors than 2003. There was a greater international presence than ever before, with stands from 31 countries.
Included among the foreign contingents was a booth representing this year' guest nation, the United States. Wine Enthusiast Senior
Editor/Tasting Director Joe
Czerwinski (photo, left) led a tasting of American Pinot Noirs that showcased the wines' regional differences.
But as usual, the focus was on Italy. Here are some of the top stories to come out of the fair.
An increasing emphasis on native Italian grape varieties. Sure, there are still plenty of super Tuscans, and Chardonnays from seemingly every growing region, but there are also more, better-made examples of such long-neglected indigenous grapes as Freisa, Lagrein, Teroldego and Ribolla Gialla—and these are just some of the relatively well-known examples.
The re-emergence of once-maligned DOCs. Soave, for example, is no longer home only to weak, lemony-tasting beverages that barely qualify as wine. Top producers such as Pieropan, Gini and Inama are making complex wines that show a delicate minerality and wonderful, fresh peach fruit, sometimes complemented by touches of oak. Anselmi, from the same region, still produces fine wine, just no longer under the Soave DOC. In Abruzzo, quality trailblazers Edoardo Valentini, Gianni Masciarelli and Emidio Pepe have shown other estates and the big co-ops alike that Montepulciano d'Abruzzo can be more than an inexpensive house red for U.S. pizzerias. The wines are getting better from vintage to vintage.
Yes, 1999 really is that good for producers of Brunello di Montalcino.
The vintage shows exceptional balance and structure (see Contributing Editor Michael Schachner's report in the Buying Guide for his picks). Conversely, 2002 is really that bad. Many producers won't bottle any Brunello from that vintage.
Although for fans of Italian wines nothing can replace visiting the different growing regions, Vinitaly is open to the public on certain days and represents a marvelous opportunity to taste yourself silly. For additional information, visit the show's Web site at www.vinitaly.com.
Claus Josef Riedel, the patriarch of the Riedel crystal empire, passed away on March 17 due to a heart attack. He was 79.
Ninth of eleven generations of glassmakers, Claus Riedel experimented with glass shape, size, thickness, and rim diameter and thickness, and determined that glass design did in fact influence the taste of wine. He set out to create a line of stemware that would revolutionize the wine world. Riedel was president of the family company from 1957 to 1994. In 1958, he created the Sommelier Burgundy Grand Cru stem, initially called "the goldfish bowl," still known today as the world's largest wineglass. This glass, along with 127 other Riedel glasses, is in the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1973, Riedel's first wine-specific line of glasses was released, dubbed the Sommelier collection. Of them Riedel said, "Aesthetics and excellence are my criteria, not mere convenience."
Riedel is survived by his wife, Ute, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren. His son, Georg, serves as president of Riedel Crystal and grandson, Maximilian, is currently executive vice president of Riedel Crystal U.S.A.