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

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

Bordeaux 2005 – Margaux

At the tasting table
In all the hype about the quality of the 2005 Bordeaux vintage, there has been no mention of how attractive many of the wines are to taste, even as barrel samples. That’s especially true in Margaux. There are none of the hard, almost impenetrable tannins of the past – even of 2000. These are, simply put, delicious.

That’s due to the ripeness of the grapes, something Bordeaux couldn’t always achieve. “Yes, we had higher alcohol in 2005 than in 2004, but what is more important is that we also had perfect phenolic maturity,” said Thomas Duroux, general manager and winemaker of Margaux’s Château Palmer.

Margaux has certainly benefited from the weather conditions of the summer of 2005 in Bordeaux. “We had drought, but we also had normal temperatures. It means that we had much better balanced wines in 2005 than in 2003, when it was just too hot,” said Duroux. The downside is that quantities all around are smaller, with yields down from 2004, increasing pressure on supply.

Many Margaux wines are already balanced, the tannins are ripe and dusty, rather than firm. The Merlot, of which Margaux has a higher proportion than the other top Médoc appellations, was super-ripe in 2005, with high alcohols. Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, by contrast, are more elegant because their alcohol levels are lower. The best wines combine the classic elegance of Margaux with the greater weight and power of a warm, dry year.

The lower alcohol of the Cabernet has translated into an unusual situation at Château Margaux. Here the second wine, Pavillon Rouge, with nearly all the estate’s Merlot in the blend (close to 50/50 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon), is higher in alcohol, at 14 percent, than Château Margaux itself. The top wine, at 13 percent alcohol, has 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, more than usual. Paul Pontallier, director of Château Margaux, believes the result is “one of the finest Margaux, ever.”

Tomorrow:Cos d’Estournel, Mouton, Lafite, Leoville Lascases, and other greats from Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estephe

On the wine road
“It is a unique vintage, it doesn’t compare with anything else in my memory,” said Peter Morrell, one of New York’s top retailers on his way from a lunch at Château Rauzan-Ségla. “Bordeaux is suffering yet it is a unique place, nowhere are there wines like it,” Morrell said. He should know; he has been buying Bordeaux for 42 years.

Unlike Morrell, who buys Bordeaux every year and therefore has a sure supply, a large number of U.S. importers go in and out of the market. Many didn’t buy in 2004 or 2001, for example (both lovely vintages). And now that the “perfect” vintage has arrived, they want cases and cases of the top wines. Some negociants in Bordeaux call these Americans “cherry-pickers.”

“Americans are a bit panicked, afraid they won’t get the wines their clients want,” said Hamilton Narby, a negociant. “But these top wines are always on allotment.” The Chinese, the big competitor in the Bordeaux speculation market, play by the Bordeaux rules: they buy year in and year out. And this vintage, if nothing else, is a speculative vintage. It is not called “futures” for nothing. Naturally, each time the wine is bought and sold, the price will go up. If these wines could be sold by the spoonful, they would be.

So during en primeur week, American buyers are trolling the negociants, trying to find -literally—a case here and a case there. Paul Sharp, who works with U.S. buyers for Europvin, a prestigious Bordeaux-based negociant, says he is seeing a lot of new buyers coming into the Bordeaux market, and still others who quit selling Bordeaux years ago that are coming back. The keys are the wine, the currency and the price. How does $600 a bottle sound for the top wines? “Look at the prices for the top 2003 wines and that will be just the starting point for the same wines in 2005,” said one négociant who asked not to be named.

Remember, you buy the wines now and get them in 2007. But if there was ever a vintage in the current scheme of things to cellar, this is the vintage.

Red Wines
Left Bank

Note: Château Margaux, Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux, Château Palmer, Alter Ego and Marjoallia were not tasted blind. All other wines were tasted blind.

97-99 Château Margaux 2005 Margaux. Year after year, Margaux makes great wine simply because of its vineyard. This year, with the high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine has stunning ripe tannins, very pure black currant flavors, but also a density from the ripeness of the fruit. It’s a classic already, and is sure to age beautifully. -R.V.
94-96 Château Brane-Cantenac 2005 Margaux. Initially this wine seems soft, but then it becomes obvious that the tannins are very present, dry and massive. But they are already well integrated, going together with the herbs, spice and pure black fruit flavors. Impressive wine. -R.V.
94-96 Château Palmer 2005 Margaux. A fine, dry, very complete wine with all the elements in place. It is dense, with black chocolate opulence, with very pure acidity and dark plum fruit flavors underneath. -R.V.
93-95 Château Giscours 2005 Margaux. A poised, beautiful wine that brings together fine, black fruits but also seems just ready to spring forward. Soft, dusty tannins round the wine. -R.V.
93-95 Château Rauzan-Ségla 2005 Margaux. A hard, powerfully dry wine, that packs big tannins over the fruit. The wood element is certainly there as well, but it’s the almost Napa-like fruit tannins that drive this wine. -R.V.
92-94 Château Kirwan 2005 Margaux. There is excellent balance here: the fruit is dark, opulent, but it also a good freshness from the acidity, piled with firm but generous tannins. A wine with excellent potential. -R.V.
92-94 Château Labégorce 2005 Margaux. Rich, ripe fruit that also has elegance, is balanced with spice, ripe tannins and some new wood. For a six-month old wine, this is already well balanced, but that’s a positive, considering the density of the flavors. -R.V.
92-94 Château Poujeaux 2005 Moulis-en-Médoc. An intensely fruity ripe wine, which is already well integrated. The intense dark fruits are supported by some new wood, but more by the grainy tannins. This is powerful and, with its acidity, should age well. -R.V.
92-94 Château Prieuré-Lichine 2005 Margaux. Spice and ripe fruits are the main characters of this wine, which shows the fruits of the considerable investment that has gone into this estate. Impressive, modern in style, but still keeping its harmony. -R.V.
92-94 Château Siran 2005 Margaux. A delightful wine, with its delicate fruits, ripe tannins and fine, black plums. This is going to mature with grace and ease – a pleasure to drink. -R.V.
91-93 Château Chasse-Spleen 2005 Moulis-en-Médoc. Great spicy new wood flavors are balanced by the intense, solid fruits and deep, almost brooding tannins. This is a big wine, but it still preserves a good sense of proportion. -R.V.
91-93 Château Dauzac 2005 Margaux. A powerfully fruity wine, full of black fruits, soft tannins and new wood spice. Modern in style, this is still managing to retain some good firm tannins, and freshness. -R.V.
91-93 Château Lascombes 2005 Margaux. There’s beautiful fruit here, vibrant, black plums and a touch of cinnamon. This has real Margaux elegance and character, with a fresh style, just supported by the open tannins. Lascombes seems to be coming into its own at last. -R.V.
91-93 Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry 2005 Margaux. Big, ripe and juicy, a Dolly Parton wine, with exuberant fruits, this is attractive now, but there are good solid, firm tannins, so the wine will perhaps grow up. -R.V.
91-93 Château Rauzan-Gassies 2005 Margaux. Solid, dry tannins, very firm and hard, but they are also ripe. The wine has high extraction, very dark fruit flavors, but resists being too huge. This could well turn out to be a very elegant wine. -R.V.
90-92 Alter Ego 2005 Margaux. Château Palmer’s second wine is appropriately named. While the chateau wine has the opulence, this has delicacy and a grace that is immensely attractive. -R.V.
90-92 Château Ferrière 2005 Margaux. Dark, dry and tannic this wine currently offers little in the way of fruit. The tannins are firm, solidly based and only hinting at the fruit underneath. It’s a tough wine at the moment, but the structure will certainly see it into a good maturity. -R.V.
90-92 Château Monbrison 2005 Margaux. A smooth wine, with vanilla wood flavors, very creamy. The fruit is almost incidental at the moment, but it’s black and firm enough, and with its juicy character should come through well. -R.V.
90-92 Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux 2005 Margaux. Because of the high proportion of Merlot, this is opulent, sweet, ripe, more new world than Margaux. It’s less of a second wine than a beautifully polished wine in its own right. -R.V.
89-91 Château Clarke 2005 Listrac. A ripe wine, heavily dominated by new wood, spice, herbs and dry tannins. The fruit tannins are somewhat harsh, tough, but the ripe fruit will certainly develop. -R.V.
89-91 Château Durfort Vivens 2005 Margaux. Very ripe blackberry, almost juicy fruits dominate this wine. But at the same time, there is a very comfortable layer of tannins, not huge, leaving an attractive wine that is more fruit than structure. -R.V.
89-91 Château Fourcas-Hosten 2005 Listrac. A delicious wine, packed with blackcurrant juice aromas and tastes. The fruit is balanced with excellent very ripe tannins and just a touch of new wood. -R.V.
89-91 Marjoallia 2005 Margaux. The micro property, vinified by Jean-Luc Thunevin, has produced a dense, huge wine, powered by black tannins. It’s an impressive wine, even if it has little connection with Margaux. -R.V.
88-90 Château Cantenac-Brown 2005 Margaux. A finely balanced wine, showing every aspect – fruit, tannin, wood, density – well and simply. A lovely, ripe wine that will develop well. -R.V.
88-90 Château Fonréaud 2005 Listrac. This is a ripe, fruity, well-balanced wine, with delicious firm fruit tannins and fine, almost classic acidity and blackcurrant flavors. A well-balanced wine. -R.V.
88-90 Château Fourcas-Dupré 2005 Listrac. Ripe, fruity blackcurrant aromas, a fine, ripe element of new wood and dusty tannins give this wine a polished, but also elegant appeal. There’s great depth of flavor as well as an excellent aging potential. -R.V.
87-89 Château d’Angludet 2005 Margaux. Here’s a big bruiser of a wine, almost northern Médoc, not Margaux, and surprising for d’Angludet. The dark tannins fight the huge fruit and, as at now, it’s hard to know which will win. One thing’s for sure – this will be immense. -R.V.
87-89 Château du Tertre 2005 Margaux. Rich, open fruit, almost red rather than black, with intense acidity. This is a wine which has new wood spice, relative softness and will develop quickly. -R.V.
87-89 Château Maucaillou 2005 Moulis-en-Médoc. A big, generous wine, with intense black fruits, but also too much dominance with new wood. This could develop, but the balance is already missing. -R.V.
86-88 Château la Tour de By 2005 Médoc. New wood, dark black fruits and spicy tannins dominate this wine. While the new wood is very obvious, the wine also has enough ripe fruits to balance out. -R.V.
86-88 Château Marquis de Terme 2005 Margaux. There’s too much wood here, at least to smell. And even to taste, the flavors of pine shavings are too dominant. But there is fruit there even if, at this stage, not rich enough to balance out the wood. The wine misses elegance. -R.V.
85-87 Château Greysac 2005 Médoc There are very ripe red fruit aromas, layered with acidity. The palate is very ripe, but with tannins that are dry, solid and dominant in the aftertaste. A wine that is pretty tough at this stage. -R.V.

Published on April 4, 2006

The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories