Bordeaux 2005: A Special Report, 4/7/06

Bordeaux 2005: A Special Report, 4/7/06

Bordeaux 2005 – Graves, Haut-Brion and Latour

At the tasting table
Bordeaux 2005 is a great vintage. There is no doubt about that. But is it, as the experts claimed initially, the greatest vintage since 1982, 1961, 1945? No.

The reason is simple. Only certain areas of Bordeaux were well-suited to handling the exceptional conditions of a dry, very warm vintage. Those were the areas which have high percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon. In other areas, it was down to the vineyard manager and the winemaker to take advantage of the conditions and not to lose control.

That’s why 2005 in Bordeaux has seen a classic division between the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Left Bank and the Merlot-dominated Right Bank. There’s no question: the best wines of the vintage came from Saint-Julien and Pauillac.

In Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the great estates made great wine. Others though, struggled. They over-extracted, because they were not used to handling such hugely tannic grapes, leaving wines that will probably never soften.

But at the same time, because there are intelligent winemakers at all levels in Bordeaux, there are also fine, even great wines at all levels. This is the vintage where even basic Bordeaux from a good property will be stunning.

The problem for the buyer at the top level is going to be price and quantity. Jean-Philippe Delmas of Château Haut-Brion said “we will likely return at least to the price of 2000, but we will probably go past that, because we believe the wines are better, and there is less of them.” First growths like Haut-Brion set the market.

Quantity is not just in the overall quantities produced. It’s also, in the case of the classed growth chateaux which also make a second wine, the proportion between first and second wine. This year, most of the top estates have made a lower proportion of first wine. “It was a question of selection,” I was told at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. “The tannins in some of the lots were too hard and we didn’t want to burden the first wine with such high tannins.” This was a comment echoed all over Bordeaux by those who made the great wines – some wines were too tannic and had to be excluded from the first wine.

So we have a great year, with some variability. Prices for the best wines will inevitably be higher, probably much higher. But all over Bordeaux, delicious wines have been made. If you are buying to drink, the choice has never been greater.

To end, I return to the weather of 2005. In front of me on the desk, is a small bottle of olives. It comes from the olive trees of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and was given to me by the cellar master, René Lusseau. It is a very special bottle because, said Mr Lusseau, “in 2005 the olives in the garden ripened for the first time in living memory”. That is the legacy of 2005 in Bordeaux.

Left and Right: The first growths in 2005
Year-in, year-out, these estates produce some of the finest wines in Bordeaux, from the finest vineyards. And 2005 was no exception. These are the wines that will be remembered, and admired for years to come. They are the first growths and their equivalents from the left and right banks of Bordeaux.

98-100 Château Latour 2005 Pauillac This is the wine of the vintage. It sums up all the positives of a great year: glorious fruit, power, elegance, acidity to balance. The tannins are enormous, but they are still brooding rather than extracted. With its 87 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon, this explains how great Bordeaux can be the best.-R.V.
97-99 Château Ausone 2005 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru A superb wine that brings together all the qualities of this vintage: its great fruit, layers of acidity, dark tannins and velvet texture, without losing the sense of place that sets great Bordeaux apart. -R.V.
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.
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 Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan A huge, muscular wine, big, almost foursquare and solid. It’s brooding, intense, but the tannins keep themselves in order. It is so different from its stable mate, La Mission Haut-Brion.-R.V.
95-97 Château Cheval Blanc 2005 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru A hugely dark wine, packed with very dry tannins. Initially a little hot from alcohol, but with layers of sweet acidity and the power of the vintage, but without losing the grace. An impressive, powerful wine. -R.V.
95-97 Château Pétrus 2005 Pomerol As always, a class apart, Pétrus is dense, but oh so elegant. It has the great wine combination of power and elegance. It has super-ripe fruit, a complexity of flavors, but wears all this with such style. -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.

On the wine road
The 2005 En Primeur wine road came to a close on Friday, 500 miles from tasting to tasting. More than 5,500 buyers (a 40 percent increase on 2004) sipped and spat at least a barrel of wine from each chateau.

Then, just as the cacophony of prices was reaching a crescendo, Mother Nature nipped the frenzy in the bud, literally. On Thursday and Friday mornings, frost hit a sprinkling of vineyards, particularly in the Graves. 

“Nobody wants to speak about prices now because of the frost,” said Gabriel Vailaud of Château Haut-Bailly in Pessac-Léognan. “If we have bad frost, that will push the price of 2005 even higher.”

It is the weather that made 2005 a great vintage. It is the weather in the next few weeks in 2006 that will dictate how expensive it will be.

Red Wines
Left Bank

Note: Château Latour, Forts de Latour, Château Haut-Brion, Château Mission Haut-Brion, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou were not tasted blind. All other Left Bank red wines were tasted blind.

98-100 Château Latour 2005 Pauillac This is the wine of the vintage. It sums up all the positives of a great year: glorious fruit, power, elegance, acidity to balance. The tannins are enormous, but they are still brooding rather than extracted. With its 87 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon, this explains how great Bordeaux can be the best.-R.V.
95-97 Château Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan A huge, muscular wine, big, almost foursquare and solid. It’s brooding, intense, but the tannins keep themselves in order. It is so different from its stable mate, La Mission Haut-Brion.-R.V.
94-96 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2005 Saint-Julien Huge black currant fruits dominate a wine that is powerful and showing very ripe. There are flavors of smoky, balanced tannins, bitter cherries, black figs. As all the great wines in 2005, it finishes with a delicious lift of acidity.-R.V.
94-96 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2005 Pauillac A superbly elegant wine, which hides its power well. There are dry tannins, blackberry fruits, elevated acidity and just a hint of raisins.-R.V.
93-95 Château la Mission Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan  A surprisingly gentle wine, almost delicate, with smooth flavors, a texture like deep velvet curtains and, dominating at the end, acidity.-R.V.
92-94 Château Carbonnieux 2005 Pessac-Léognan Big and bold, this wine may lack grace, but it has many other attractive elements with its ripe fruits, its Technicolor tannins and its dark flavors.-R.V.
92-94 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan There’s great fruit here, lovely ripe dark plums and black cherry flavors, pushing through the hugely sweet tannins. It’s very opulent, a great full-fruited wine.-R.V.
92-94 Château Pape-Clément 2005 Pessac-Léognan This wine has great spice, nutmeg and black fig flavors, full of deep, brooding tannins and packed with intense acidity. It’s fresh, but with good concentration.-R.V.
91-93 Château de Fieuzal 2005 Pessac-Léognan Lovely, delicious sweet fruit here, a ripe and generous wine, showing delicious black, almost raisin flavors. There’s a pile of richness, with the acidity just acting as the seasoning.-R.V.
91-93 Château Haut-Bailly 2005 Pessac-Léognan  Dark, very tough, this wine certainly lacks charm at this stage, with the fruit completely hidden by tannins. But it will come around because the weight is there, even if the pleasure isn’t at the moment.-R.V.
91-93 Château Latour-Martillac 2005 Pessac-Léognan With its dryness, this seems at first to be all tannin. There is, however, a black currant fruit flavor that shows through after the wine has been in the mouth for awhile and the aftertaste has fine acidity. This should develop well.-R.V.
91-93 Les Forts de Latour 2005 Pauillac Effectively a grand cru in its own right, Latour’s second wine is superb, ripe with hugely strong tannins and great, ripe acidity.-R.V.
90-92 Château Ferrande 2005 Graves This is rich, full of sweet and sour acidity, layers of sweet tannins, big ripe fruit. It’s powerful, intense and full of pure black currant fruit flavors. There’s great acidity to finish.-R.V.
90-92 Château la Tour Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan Very dense. There’s big fruit, rather juicy, but firm enough with black flavors that bring in a complex herbal element.-R.V.
90-92 Château Picque Caillou 2005 Pessac-Léognan A smoothly rich wine, layering ripe red fruits with some poised acidity. The tannins are dry, but well integrated into the generous fruits.-R.V.
90-92 Domaine de Chevalier 2005 Pessac-Léognan A charming wine that maybe lacks huge depths, but floats very attractively. The sweet fruits are approachable at this stage although the acidity, more than the tannins, suggest ageability.-R.V.
89-91 Château La Louvière 2005 Pessac-Léognan Ripe, juicy fruit flavors give this wine an initial lift. There are packed jelly and black fruit tastes, along with some tense tannins. The dryness of the tannins comes through to finish.-R.V.
89-91 Château Lalande-Borie 2005 Saint-Julien An intensely spicy wine with easy, soft fruit tannins. It’s ripe, and the acidity just pushes the wine forward.-R.V.
89-91 Château Malartic-Lagravière 2005 Pessac-Léognan A firmly tannic wine, but one which lets the intense fruit flavors just peep through. It’s certainly dark, but also has a pleasurable liveliness to finish.-R.V.
88-90 Château Haut-Bergey 2005 Pessac-Léognan The wine is tough, but there are also fine black flavors. The dryness is very dominant at this stage, a firmly powerful wine, but with perhaps too much extract.-R.V.
87-89 Château Rahoul 2005 Graves Very soft, this wine is rather fat, somewhat over-extracted and without the lively acidity that seems to mark 2005. Heavy, it needs more excitement.-R.V.
87-89 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2005 Pessac-Léognan There are very ripe fruit aromas, big, soft jelly-like fruit flavors and some soft, sweet tannins. This doesn’t seem to have the structure to age well.-R.V.
86-88 Château de Chantegrive 2005 Graves Firmly stalky, slightly green, with very dry tannins. A firm, hard wine, packed with dark fruit, but also a little green.-R.V.
86-88 Château Olivier 2005 Pessac-Léognan Tannins dominate here, hard, very dry. The fruit is hidden, so at this stage it’s hard to see whether it will ever tame the harshness of the tannins.-R.V.
85-87 Château Bouscaut 2005 Pessac-Léognan A very hard, over-extracted wine that seems to have missed the point of the freshness of 2005.-R.V.
85-87 Château de France 2005 Pessac-Léognan A wine where the tannins seems to have had a field day. They are all over the place, leaving no room at all for fruit or acidity.-R.V.
85-87 Château du Cluzeau 2005 Listrac Made by the same team as at Château Ducru Beaucaillou, this is pleasantly ripe, fresh fruit and deliciously juicy.-R.V.

Dry White
Left Bank

Note: Château Haut-Brion Blanc, Château Laville Haut-Brion, Pavillon Blanc de Margaux and Aile d’Argent were not tasted blind. All other dry white wines were tasted blind.

93-95 Château Haut-Brion Blanc 2005 Pessac-Léognan Rich, hugely ripe, intense fruit flavors with layers of spice, acidity, but also full-bodied, well-integrated fruit. As always, Haut-Brion’s white is at the top.-R.V.
92-94 Château la Louvière 2005 Pessac-Léognan A big, generous, rounded wine which has great ripe fruits but balanced with acidity. This is full, open and will be delicious.-R.V.
92-94 Château Laville Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan Hugely citrus in character, this delicious wine has layers of wood, spice and intense acidity. A powerful wine, which retains delicacy.-R.V.
92-94 Domaine de Chevalier 2005 Pessac-Léognan A crisp, citrus wine with good fresh fruit flavors. This has clean acidity, along with its ripe fruits, tempered with a touch of wood. As it develops, this wine will become bigger and more important.-R.V.
91-93 Château de Fieuzal 2005 Pessac-Léognan This is soft, open, but hiding very ripe, generous fruits. With flavors of tropical fruits and green plums, this builds on its fruit rather than the wood that is also there.-R.V.
91-93 Château Malartic-Lagravière 2005 Pessac-Léognan A ripe, but finely poised wine, with its spice, its acidity and its freshness all in harmony with the full fruit flavors.-R.V.
90-92 Château Carbonnieux 2005 Pessac-Léognan Lemon, almost honey and spice dominate this attractive wine which is poised, light and fresh. There is a little structure of gooseberry tannins which add to the pleasure.-R.V.
90-92 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion 2005 Pessac-Léognan Attractive rosemary and thyme aromas lead to a very fresh, wine with the herbal element still there. Good, delicious fruit.-R.V.
90-92 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2005 Pessac-Léognan Very citrus, fruits, with spice, new wood and delicious, almost tropical flavors. Great poise and acidity.-R.V.
89-91 Pavillon Blanc de Margaux 2005 Bordeaux Blanc Château Margaux’s white wine is very rich in 2005, with fruit that is almost sweet and tropical. The fruit, though, is fresh and citrusy.-R.V.
88-90 Château Pape-Clément 2005 Pessac-Léognan Lemon flavors give a lift to a wine that is otherwise rather fat and heavy. The spice is from the wood, but this is a little hot.-R.V.
87-89 Château Olivier 2005 Pessac-Léognan A very big wine, packed with fat fruit and ripe, soft flavors. This is a powerful wine, allowing little room for freshness.-R.V.
86-88 Aile d’Argent 2005 Bordeaux Blanc The white of Château Mouton-Rothschild. A simple, fresh, lemony wine which is veering to fat, but has attractive acidity for a lift.-R.V.

Published on April 7, 2006

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