Bordeaux expert DAVID PEPPERCORN MW has been lucky enough to taste the 2000 vintage in bottle around the world. Here he reflects on his favourite wines

Bordeaux expert DAVID PEPPERCORN MW has been lucky enough to taste the 2000 vintage in bottle around the world. Here he reflects on his favourite wines

Such is the interest in the much-lauded 2000 Bordeaux vintage, there has been a rush to taste these wines after only a few months in bottle.

The first major tasting was held by the Union des Grands Crus at London’s Royal Opera House in November 2002, with similar tastings in Paris and Brussels. Decanter then held a tasting in January 2003 (the results were published in the April issue) of the Médoc classified growths. In March, I journeyed to Singapore, where Dr N.K. Yong organised a tasting covering the major appellations, plus a few lesser ones. This contained some wines not seen in either of the earlier tastings.

These events confirmed that this is an outstanding vintage with some great, and many excellent, wines across the whole region. Whereas in 1989 and 1990 some areas and châteaux did better in one vintage than another, with few performing especially well in both years, 2000 is conspicuously consistent. It is a measure of progress made during the 1990s that the region’s ability to harvest ripe, healthy grapes has transformed quality, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Had today’s standards been upheld in 1989 and 1990, or notably in 1982, quality would have been much higher than it was. In short, the conversion rate has vastly improved.

WINES OF THE VINTAGE

My general impression is that the wines tasted blind at Decanter in January tasted better than those sampled a few months earlier at the Royal Opera House. The wines tasted in Singapore in March, meanwhile, were at least as good as those at Decanter in January. A taster in Singapore, who had just attended a similar event in the US, also said he thought the wines tasted best in Singapore, though such opinions are necessarily subjective. But in spite of this inconsistency, I found my own marks across the tastings to be reassuringly consistent, with few exceptions. Anomalies can be explained by differences in how samples tasted, or by evolution over a period of months. Having carefully analysed my notes and scores, the following are my “Wines of the Vintage”, listed in alphabetical order:

Ausone Only tasted in Singapore, where I tasted it last of the “firsts” immediately after Cheval Blanc and the Médocs. This wine was hors de concours; more focused than the sumptuous Cheval, with great character and complexity.

Cheval Blanc Aromatic and succulent, with some wonderful Cabernet Franc. Only tasted in Singapore.

Cos d’Estournel Tasted blind at Decanter where I gave it a five-star rating, and in Singapore, where it impressed again with its superb flavour and length, richness and power; a real classic.

L’Eglise-Clinet Only tasted in Singapore. In spite of great depth and massive fruit, the wine finished fresh on the palate. The nose had wonderful aromatic, spicy fruit. A wine with a great future.

Haut-Brion At present, it seems lighter in texture and volume than La Mission, and still tight. But it has rich, dense fruit, great length and elegance; a classic Haut-Brion. Only tasted in Singapore.

Lafite Sadly, the Decanter sample was badly corked, but the Singapore one made up for it. Still tight, but after a bouquet combining concentration and elegance, there is a wonderful core of flavour and length which does not seem massive. It is, however, elegant, with all the elements of a classic Lafite.

Latour Tasted less impressively in Singapore than at Decanter. Tasting blind in London, I was impressed by the ripe Cabernet fruit on the nose, beautiful flavour and length, and well-covered tannins. I gave it five stars. In Singapore it seemed more closed, still massive but less fine. Surely poised for a great future.

Léoville-Barton Consistent at Decanter and in Singapore. The sheer quality, breed and power, beauty of fruit and balance proclaimed this a real grand vin.

Léoville-Las-Cases I gave this five stars at Decanter and again in Singapore. Majestic with its scent of violets, wonderful fruit flavours and great complexity and breed. The stuff of first growths!

Margaux Tasted well at Decanter but failed to shine among a host of seductive wines. But in Singapore, what impressed was its beautifully spicy, scented fruit and elegance, and its combination of attractive fruit, depth and length with restrained power.

La Mission Only tasted in Singapore. 2000 seems to be a real La Mission year. The richest, most densely textured of the great Graves, with expressive fruit, length and power. A big wine of first growth quality and presence.

Montrose Outstanding both at Decanter, where it won an award, and in Singapore. More Cabernet than the Cos, with lovely ripe tannins overlaid by both succulent fruit and length.

Mouton-Rothschild A more flattering, evolved style than Lafite or Latour. The heady perfume, breed and elegance, plus the enormous charm and length came through in both tastings. It clearly should have had an award.

Vieux-Château-Certan Only tasted in Singapore, alongside L’Eglise-Clinet. As usual, the wine is tighter and less showy than L’Eglise-Clinet due, in part, to its higher proportion of Cabernet Franc, as well as having some Cabernet Sauvignon. But the quality and elegance of the fruit, as well as its length, speak of the classicism that lovers of this cru expect.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Of course, the previous list only includes wines tasted at one of the tastings I attended. No doubt wines like Lafleur and Tertre-Rôteboeuf would be strong candidates for a universal 2000 list.

When I arrived in Singapore, copies of the April Decanter were already in the shops. The contingent of Bordeaux proprietors attending the tasting had seen the results and comments as well. Their persistent question was: ‘How competent were the tasters?’ And, ‘How could Croizet-Bages (mechanically harvested) receive the same mark as three first growths?’

I couldn’t answer that question, since I didn’t taste Croizet- Bages. But one feature of that tasting was the success, in terms of awards, achieved by a group of châteaux which before 1995 would not have featured; most notably, a quartet of Margaux: Dauzac, Ferrière, Giscours and du Tertre. So my answer was, with so many attractive, quality wines on offer, the ones most tasters went with were those which showed most flatteringly. Montrose was the most tannic wine to get an award, but the sweet fruit did the trick, while by the same token, Mouton was unlucky; I certainly gave it an award mark. But I doubt Lafite would have got one even had it not been corked, it is still so tight.

The Margaux situation is different; it was only bottled in November, while virtually everything else was bottled over the summer period, giving them a three-month head start. Differences between the January and March Margaux samples were marked.

But 2000 is not just a fine vintage for top wines, it is also a marvellous year for value lower down the scale. Among the wines in these tastings offering the greatest price/quality ratio were: Domaine de Chevalier, Pontet-Canet, Langoa-Barton, Dauzac, Ferrière, Giscours, du Tertre, Cantemerle, La Lagune, Batailley, Haut-Batailley, Branaire, Talbot, d’Issan and Sociando-Mallet. Then there’s the top crus’ second wines. The great values in 2000 were: Bahans Haut-Brion, Carruades de Lafite, Clos du Marquis and Réserve de la Comtesse. At the November tasting, La Tour-de-By and Fourcas-Dupré showed how good these inexpensive wines are in 2000.

One interesting sideline at the Singapore tasting was the “cult” wines. One could see why Valandraud is so sought after, with its supple, rich fruit and harmony. The very Cabernet Franc Le Dôme was already quite evolved, although I preferred the more classic Laforge. But looking at what else can be bought at these rarefied prices, one wonders what price instant gratification, and what will these wines be like in ten years’ time?

In conclusion, it’s worth noting how well wines can taste soon after being bottled these days. Now, more sensitive handling, less – or no – filtering, and gravity feeding make bottling less of a shock. Not to say wines tasting well today may not close up at some point in the future. It’s also not true to say that today’s wines are not for the long-haul. 1986 disproved this and I am sure the great 2000 will also age majestically. But while we must be patient with the greatest wines, there are plenty in the lower ranks that promise enormous pleasure in the meantime.

David Peppercorn MW is a world-leading expert on Bordeaux wines

Written by DAVID PEPPERCORN MW