Bordeaux Vintage Guide – Left Bank, i.e. Medoc

2013

Reports are that this is the worst vintage in quite some time (1997?).  Things didn’t start well, with very cold June, then July was hottest for 100 years or so, every day over 30 degrees C.  Then more rain arrived for vintage I think.  Thanks to new technology and investment in the vineyards the wines are not a disaster, perhaps even quite good, but I haven’t tasted any.  I’m in no rush to try them.

2012

Another patchy cool vintage.  I’ve yet to try.  I ordered a few Grand Cru Classé because prices were down.  Probably a classic vintage with wines of moderate alcohol.  Said to be better than 2011.

2011

All the reports are that the Bordelaise pulled off a miracle thanks to the horrible wet Summer being followed by a dry Automn.  I’ve bought some because in Australia en primeur is the main way of buying Bordeaux, and I’m attracted by the reports of much lower alcohol this vintage.  I’ve only tried a single wine from Blaye and that was perfectly ripe, which bodes well.

2010

Almost another 2009, but a smaller crop, more obvious tannin – intense wines without the immediate accessibility and opulance of 2009.  Reviews continue to be glowing, these appear to be concentrated wines with lots of everything.  I haven’t tried many because the 2009 are more approachable and enjoyable now.

2009

Another “greatest vintage ever” according to some hype. Certainly the reports suggest that it’s something extraordinary, like 2000 but more concentrated wines with higher alcohol (e.g. 15.5% for Troplong-Mondet).

Having now tried a number of minor wines I’m very impressed.  It was hoped in 2005 that these petite Chateaux would be lifted into classed growth territory, but mostly that didn’t happen.  Whereas in 2009 it has.  Many succulent, rich yet fresh wines.  I’m not sure what the classed growths are like (other than very expensive).  There are quite a few minor wines that are very good value in this vintage – happy hunting.

2008

A classic vintage.

Again a vintage saved by a dry September.

The reds are fairly ripe quite similar to 2004.  Some wines are a bit austere, certainly far more austere than 2009.  But I expect them to turn out rather well with some age.  And a number of wines have a beauty about them, being well balanced, not showy.

Given the initial release prices this is the vintage that I wish I had bought more of.

Buy classed growths for cellaring, with age I expect them to be considerably more exciting than they are now.  Meanwhile drink the non classed growth 2009s.

2007

A difficult vintage (wet Summer saved by dry September), that by all accounts produced some good wines, but generally lightweight. An over-priced vintage even now when prices have come down somewhat. Buy with extreme caution, only if there are no alternatives.

White Bordeaux and Sauternes are a different story. A worthy vintage.

2006

A hot vintage early on, then cool, saved by a dry Autumn (as so often happens of late). Whites fresh and fine.

In general the reds are quite approachable at 6 years of age.  Unexpectedly they aren’t so classic as 2004, 2008 (or even 2000 and 2005), they have a touch of the baked dried fruit of 2003.  The best are fresh like Chateau Cantemerle which I prefer to its 2005, the worst tend towards 2003 or have hard green extract.  This sounds like a bit of a mine-field, although there are plenty of enjoyable wines, surprisingly easy to drink now.  I’m unsure of their aging potential, I think they are ageing faster than anticipated.

 

Personally I think this is contender for the most over-rated recent vintage.

2005

Considered on the the very great vintages for Bordeaux.  But then over-shadowed a bit by 2009 and 2010.

 

The promise of 2005 was high quality wine from the many non classed growth estates. Great value because these wines do not vary much in price vintage to vintage.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be uniformly, or even often the case.

 

It’s been reported that 2005 wines will drink well early on yet age well too, though I’ve found that many of the minor wines have closed up and even in 2014 don’t provide a lot of joy in drinking, they are dense plummy and ripe but a bit dull. The classed growths are better (less extracted?) but then they are very expensive, don’t waste money opening classed growths until at least 2015.

 

Sebastian Payne writes (Decanter 2014): “If some 2005’s have a fault, it is that some will have too much concentration, fruit acidity and alcohol, which might make them always unyielding, like a modern 1975.”

 

 

2005 seems to have produced an odd yet very useful Sauternes vintage, wines with less bortrytis but ripe fruit and low acidity, a quality but super early drinking vintage – not something to complain about really.

2004

A classic vintage.

Reasonably priced, more consistent that 2002, but with similar fruit purity, more charm and accessibility. Particularly consistent and fine in Margaux. Many good wines are as ripe as I’d ever ask for.  That said, it is a vintage with few blockbusters and probably plenty of plain wines too (though if you read reviews there is no reason to have to buy these).

 

At 10 years of age some people are saying “drink now” but quite a few of the classed growths are in a twilight period, they aren’t young having lost the flush of youthful fruit, but they haven’t developed the complexity of age.  Enjoy minor wines now, leave the more expensive bottles (like Chateau La Lagune, Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste) in a cool cellar until 2016, and they may even improve for another decade after that.

2003

A heatwave, and a controversial, or at least confusing vintage. Early reports were glowing, especially from American reviewers. Prices leapt. This was reported to be a very great vintage producing low acid accessible wines that would still last decades.

My early tasting impressions were negative. Roasted dull flavours, it tasted like too many ‘dead grapes’ were harvested. It wasn’t that these wines tasted Californian, as many feared, no they were distinctly Bordeaux, but missing the currant and mineral flavours and fresh acidity that makes claret sing.

A vintage that produced wines without freshness. Atypical Bordeaux and all the worse for it.

However, now that I have bottles at home with a few years of age somewhat relived. The roasted flavours seem subdued somewhat 2003 at its beat seems to provide very forward, pleasant ripe claret. Not great, but useful drinking. The best producers made relaxed, open knit, not too tannic wines with a touch of opulent sweet oak.

That said, the prices are too high for 2003. And many of the minor wines, which don’t raise their prices much in great vintages, aren’t terribly good wines (many less well equiped Chateau struggled to handle the high temperatures). So it’s hard to find value. Drink now.

2002

Much better in the Medoc than most people realise. But you have to buy very carefully – fortunately it was probably the lowest priced vintage this decade. It was generally a poor vintage for Merlot, good for Cabernet in areas of the Left Bank, and particularly good for Cabernet Franc. This means Bordeaux as a whole was very very mixed. And is one of the reasons that prices were comparitively low.

So if you pick very carefully you can get some very good wines at bargain prices.

Pauillac did very well. On the Right Bank St.Emillion and Pomerol were reported to have faired as well as 2001, but that isn’t my experience. Perhaps amongst the top wines, but then these are very expensive – too expensive for the quality I think. Amongst the cheaper Right Bank wines there are some alcoholic and hard green wines as some producers tried to extract too much for the vintage.

What I particularly like about the best Left Bank 2002 wines is their purity of fruit, lovely acidity. They are classic, if a bit hard, and will last a long while. The best have balance with a level of concentration that is better than other good priced vintages 1999 and 2001. And some are better than some 1996 and 1998 too, possibly due to winemaking advances, and the fact that these vintages are now difficult to buy and expensive.

The wines that are really worth having in 2002 should not be consumed yet (I write this in 2012).

Outstanding wines I have tasted include Chateau Sociando-Mallet (where Cabernet is reported to have reached 13% ripeness without any winemaker intervention – so don’t let anyone tell you all 2002s are under-ripe), Chateau Ferriere, Chateau Pontet Canet, Chateau Haut Bages Liberal, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau d’Angludet, and especially Chateau d’Armailhac.

2002 produced some lovely Sauternes too, with marked purity of fruit.

2001

A warm early Summer that then turned cold, but unlike 1999 was dry. So should have produced a pretty good vintage, and certainly I have had a number of very good wines, Chateau Gruaud Larose, Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Chateau Rollan De By in particular, also the unusual Chateau Smith Haut Lafite. Though a slight lack of concentration seems to mark the vintage – that said Chateau Leoville Las Cases is very concentrated, and others such as Chateau Leoville Barton are fine.

Chateau Brown is a perfect example of the vintage amongst quality but well-priced chateaux.

I’ve sometimes felt that the vintage is marked by a degree of muddiness, in that the fruit doesn’t sing (as it does with the better 2002s and many 2004s). This may be particular to the cheaper wines. Certainly there are some that are pristine like Chateau Senejac.

Over on the Right Bank 2001 was pretty good, at least against the standard of recent vintages where, 2000 excepted, there has been great inconsistency and yet prices have held up. This is one of the reasons I’ve stayed away from Right Bank wines. I recall enjoying Chateau Troplong Mondot 2001 earlier on in its life (but can’t find my review) but now it has lost its freshness – not so much a reflection on the vintage as on the winemaking style. I didn’t like Chateau Pavie for the same reason.

2001 was an excellent Sauternes vintage producing wines of considerable depth.

2000

This was widely declared an extraordinary vintage. Comparable to great vintages like 1961, but with the benefit of superior wine making technology. I recall that Parker said something like that possibly better wines were made this vintage than ever before.

I have tried very few Classed Growths from this vintage, one reasons being that it was an expensive vintage. It is the sort of vintage that attracted a lot of investment buying, pushing prices up.

My general assessment is that 2000 produced wines of greater depth than usual. Apart from this it is hard to describe the vintage. It wasn’t distinquished by incredible reliability, and awful lot of good wine was made but mistakes were made too, and the minor wines (which my opinion is mainly based on) aren’t particularly outstanding. It’s not a super seductive, low acid vintage, nor is it particularly tannic or acidic. It’s a very good, well balanced vintage, far less showy than the other exceptional vintages that follow it.

I particularly enjoyed Chateau Ferriere which showed classic Margaux freshness along with considerable depth.

The best wines have a charm, and lightness, that I don’t think will be seen in the other three great vintages of this decade (2005, 2009, 2010).

1999

An under-rated vintage. It was warm but then hit by rain at the last moment. So many wines show some dilution, yet they are also usually ripe. The result is a vintage that easier to drink early than many. And prices are quite good due to it being overlooked – massively overshadowed by 2000.

I think I once wrote that I had never had a disappointing 1999, every bottle was reasonable value. I’m not sure if that run of good fortune has kept up, but I do want to reinforce the point that this vintage is more dependable than many vintage reports make out. The best show supple fruit and no obvious dilution. While many others are soft but flavoursome, for early drinking.

I’ve enjoyed Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Chateau Leoville Barton, and many minor Chateau such as Chateau Coufran. I recently (2009) tried Chateau Gloria 1999 alongside a good concentrated 2006 from the South of France and the Gloria equalled it in concentration and density, that’s in spite of its age and what 1999 is supposed to be like!

1998

After the great 1990, 1996 and 1998 are considered the best vintages of the 1990s, though I suspect that 1999 really deserves as much praise as 1998 and 1996 when prices are factored in.

I haven’t tried many 1998s. My impression is that they are a bit harder, less charming than 1996, but I understand that there are some very good wines.

1997

I’ve not encountered any red Bordeaux from this vintage that was worth buying. It’s not a dreadful vintage but there is not much to commend it. Too many overpriced dilute uncharacterful wines.

Sauternes showed a lovely purity of fruit, a clarity not that marked them from the previous vintage.

1996

Classic. This quote from Clive Coates is insightful “Most people in Bordeaux, and almost everyone elsewhere, pretended that 1996 was better than it was.” It helped justify the prices. The Northern Haut-Medoc (with cabernet) did best. UPDATE after 15 years the left-bank wines are looking quite lovely. I aim to try as many as I can.

1995

Much better than preceding vintages but priced high for what it is.  Chateau Rauzan-Segla is surprisingly burly and oaky.

1994

Another very patchy vintage.

1991, 1992, 1993

Poor vintages that I did not buy.

1990

A great year. Big wines, but not as hot as 1989, better acidity and consistency.

1989

A very good year. Very hot, though the wines are not like 2003, but rather just very ripe versions of normal Bordeaux. Expensive vintage, also risky, not all Chateaux were able to handle the conditions.

1988

A good vintage.

1985

A charming vintage. Great consistency, hardly anyone made bad wine. The wines are fresh, superbly well balanced. More feminine than in some great vintages. Some critics considered that these wines were pretty but would not age. They have been proven wrong. I wish I had been able to buy and drink more wines from this vintage, but at the time I was a poor University student. I have none at all in my cellar.

Recently (2014) I’ve had the pleasure of trying Chateau Haut-Batailley (nice, more than pleasant), Chateau Leoville Poyferre (good but straightforward), Chateau Cantemerle (faded but surprisingly complex, interesting, delicious), Chateau Rauzan-Segla (outstanding).  1985 really has been a long distant runner even though it started as a beautiful easy-to-drink vintage, proving the adage that great wines start with great balance.  Warning: The wines are now old, and it’s easy to get a bottle that is past its best.

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