Steven Spurrier comments on the Bordeaux 2006 vintage...
Left Bank 2006 Vintage Guide
With 90% of its appellation made up of classed growths, it is not surprising that this is always the most regular commune in the Medoc. Described as “quintessential claret” by Harry Waugh forty years ago, there could be no better expression today. With very few exceptions, the chateaux maintain the same level of quality as last year.
While the three First Growths were absolutely superb, Pauillac as an appellation was very varied: whereas many of the Saint-Juliens were the equal of, in some cases superior to 2005, only rarely did these wines come within range of last year’s quality. They are, nonetheless, classic Medocs.
On paper, the weather pattern favoured Margaux rather than the northern Médoc, but although there was overall good quality in this usually very diverse appellation, there were very few outstanding wines.
Gonzague Lurton of Durfort-Vivens said that the winter had not been cold enough to allow the wines to ‘decant’ properly and that they would benefit from a really cold spell next winter to brighten them up. There were some over-extracted, raw wines and those chateaux going for elegance came off best. Quality is certainly better than 2004, the very hot 2003 where many of the wines were cooked, and the rather light 2002. There will be some interesting comparisons over time between 2001, which was a success for the appellation.
These are the unsung wines of the Left Bank, producing wines with good colour and fruit, generally from a little over 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest mostly Merlot. Experience (many of the Medoc estates are in their third or fourth generation) and hard work has paid off to produce some good wines.
The Haut-Medoc appellation runs from well south of Margaux to north of Saint-Estephe and is perhaps the surest bet for classic Medocs that are often as good as the minor classed growths. Some of the properties are large enough to allow for investment and a rigourous selection, both being important in 2006. Here were a series of reliable wines with an attractive freshness and good aging potential.
Right Bank 2006 Vintage Guide
There’s no doubting this was a difficult vintage in St-Emilion. Up to 150mm of rain fell during a two week period in September provoking the rapid onset of rot. Growers were therefore faced with the decision of either picking before grapes were physiologically fully ripe with a resultant toughness of tannin or running the risk of rot with the consequential loss of crop and wines that can be a little heavy and tired.
Much depended on the work in the vineyards and how particular locations reacted to the conditions. All told it’s a question of individual success rather than any set pattern. A deft hand in the cellar was also required.
Pomerol could well be the success story of the 2006 vintage. This doesn’t mean it’s a brilliant year (more good to very good) but that harvest conditions in this earlier ripening zone were as near to optimum as anywhere in Bordeaux.
Merlot from the young vines was ripe for harvesting the week of 12 September with grapes for the grand vin harvested mainly the week of 18 September in between bouts of heavy rain. Sugar levels were high as was the tannin count. The effects of rot and dilution were felt less than in other areas. The Cabernet Franc had more difficulty gaining full maturity and was less exciting this year.
This was also a year where terroir played its part, top estates on the warmer gravels of the plateau producing the outstanding wines. These are gently aromatic (red fruits), full-bodied (13-14° alcohol) but balanced by a refreshing zip of acidity and pronounced minerality. Growers are making comparisons with 2001.
As usual quality in Pomerol should be measured on a varying scale with at the bottom end of the table wines that should not even be allowed the Pomerol label. by James Lawther MW
2006 Vintage Guide
Pessac-Leognan and Graves
The earlier-ripening Pessac-Leognan and Graves districts generally suffered less than the Medoc from the difficulties of the late season weather.
In common with the rest of the wines of the region, the defining characteristic of the Pessac and Graves 2006s is their structure. In both reds and whites, there is beautiful fresh acidity, thanks to the long and rather cold August that followed the protracted heat wave of June and July. This was perfect for the white wine grapes, which ripened slowly, building up complexity of flavour and aroma. Sauvignon Blancs are particularly expressive this year. The whites are almost uniformly good and may exceed the 2005s in quality. Certainly, they have higher acidities and many show considerable finesse.
While the whites were mostly harvested before the heavy September rains, picking the reds was a more nail-biting affair. Alternating heat and rain provided ideal conditions for rot. In some cases the Merlots were picked in advance of optimum ripeness to avoid losing the crop, leading to some green tannins. On the whole, though, there is sufficient ripeness and density of fruit. This, combined with the mouth-watering acidity of the vintage, combats the high tannin levels found in all the wines. Many of these wines will be approachable young, but the best have the structure to age very well. by Beverley Blanning MW
Fronsac, Cotes de Castillon and the other Right Bank satellites suffered the same problems as the rest of Bordeaux – heavy rain in September, the outbreak of rot in the vineyards and a complicated harvest. Quality is therefore extremely varied.
Curiously Fronsac seems to have come out of it rather well with some fresh, clean, minerally wines. This could be the result of three factors: a great terroir (limestone-clay, hillslopes) and the amount of investment and work that is now going into the region. 2001 is again being quoted as a similar vintage. Look out for a number of new, upcoming names.
Castillon had more rain than anywhere else in the Libournais and this is reflected in the inconsistency in the wines. The vineyards had to be in good condition and even then severe selection was needed. Thierry Valette of Clos Puy Arnaud reckons he put 40% of the crop on the ground while yields at Stephane Derenoncourt’s Domaine de l’A are 10hectolitres/hectare.
Producers in Lalande de Pomerol were successful if they handled the fruit with care. This was not a year for over extraction. by James Lawther MW
The leading chateaux in this appellation have created a benchmark that others are striving to follow. The smooth, supple Moulis style manages for the most part to dominate the lack of Cabernet ripeness, creating very reliable wines.
Eternally playing catch-up to Moulis, Listrac is now producing wines of elegance and quality, with less of a tendency to over-extract than in the past. A reliable appellation in 2006 due to increasing quality of winemaking.
Sauternes and Barsac
This year the weather conditions presented growers with both great opportunities and challenges. There was very ripe fruit, thanks to the heat of July and early September and very fresh fruit from the cool August, but also `aigre’ grapes (the bad rot), which had gone volatile, as in 1997. The night of 11th September saw 17 millimetres of rain in Barsac, while from 14th to 18th September, 100 millimetres of rain fell in Sauternes, but less in Barsac; then more rain between 16th and 22nd in Barsac and between 21st and 25th in Sauternes. As Yquem put it, the challenge was `to reflect the full potential of a year with complicated weather patterns.’
It was also a challenging year for the preparation of samples and for tasters. I, personally, found the wines the most difficult to judge for a number of years. The UGC tasting this time was split between two centres with some very different experiences of samples between them. by David Peppercorn