Andrew Jefford Column

  • Wednesday 24 January 2007

2005 Bordeaux: I wish I could say it’s rubbish

2005 Bordeaux: I wish I could say it’s rubbish

One of the few Bordeaux topics commanding universal agreement is that the moment at which the wines are unveiled, namely the spring after the harvest, is a little too soon. Hence, some say, the fashion for malolactic in barriques (it softens the wines more swiftly); hence, too, the accusations of the ‘cuvée du journaliste’ – that specially prepared sample, perhaps kissed by just a little interloping American oak, that may not necessarily be 100% representative of the blend which will eventually be bottled.

So, with the already legendary 2005s, I thought I’d take a look later than usual, in the last week of October 2006. I was expecting winter to be hardening the earth by then; in fact Bordeaux was experiencing one of the most dazzling ‘St Martin’s summers’ in its history. The owners of Château Canon were kind enough to lend me a bed for a couple of nights. In the morning I’d open the shutters to see the sun pinkly rising through a milky tide of mist, pierced only by the admonishing finger of St-Emilion’s church spire; by lunchtime, it had flooded the vineyards, and those out wrestling with the roots of doomed vines did so in T-shirts. One evening I walked down through the ramparts of St-Emilion and then up the hill again to dine with consultant winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt and his wife Christine in their house adjacent to Pavie-Macquin. Darkness fell quickly, starless and catacomb-black, yet I still arrived in a sweat. The chrysanthemums may have been massing for All Souls’ Night, but the weather was wafting up from Algiers.

‘If you write a piece saying the 2005s are rubbish,’ said Frédéric Engerer of Latour with a diabolical smile, ‘you will get a lot of attention.’ My apologies to Decanter’s headline writers, but I can’t. The 2005 vintage is indeed gorgeous. And tasting it a year after it was made was a treat: the wines were calm, settled, at ease with themselves, the oak plumping them up like Renaissance angels. Don’t, though, expect a 1982, a 1989, a 1990 or a 2000. It’s not a busty, open-lipped vintage, where bloomy ripeness pushes out from between every stitch; the dry, serene but tempered heat of the season has delivered something more athletic, more vigorous and more sinewy. There’s an inner tautness to the wines, created by the close weave of fresh acidity and powdery tannin, which gives the rich fruit a ruffled, provocative character; one year on, the best wines can pin you to the wall with their shocking, multi-layered intensity. Being assaulted by a succession of legends-in-the-making was a treat. I didn’t taste every contender, but the drama of Ausone (carnival, circus and stormclouds, all in one seamless wine); the chic and panache of Latour, full of the forceful energy and grace of a Nureyev; and the almost choking seduction of Troplong-Mondot, which lingers creamily in the mouth like an obsession, were unforgettable.

‘You can tell it’s a great vintage,’ said Jean-Luc Thunevin matter-of-factly, ‘because all the little wines are good.’ And he’s right. Maybe, like me, you haven’t bought a bottle of 2005 Bordeaux yet; maybe, like me, you know that Ausone, Latour and Troplong-Mondot will always be out of reach. Don’t despair. I took as much pleasure in the cru bourgeois tasting I did at Château Brillette in Moulis, or the Cercle Rive Droite tasting hosted by Jean-François Quenin of Château de Pessac, because it was packed full of pleasant surprises. Wait until these have settled further; wait until the post-bottling tastings; then pounce on the laureates. A few names among many? The floral power and depth of fruit of d’Angludet is truly extraordinary; I’ve rarely tasted a Canon-Fronsac with the aromatic complexity of Haut-Mazeris or a Fronsac with the creamy depths of Haut-Carles; chunky slices of plum and sloe in Brillette itself made for a hugely rewarding Moulis; St-Estèphe’s Le Crock crackled with dramatic intensity, while the bubbling blackberry of Cap de Faugères offered some of the best value in the already attractively competitive Côtes de Castillon. And between the big fish and the minnows? Clerc-Milon is impressive, full of loping, thrusting, old-vine power; Clos Fourtet is truffley, earthy, the St-Emilion plateau not only on song but singing with perfect pitch; and as for La Conseillante… Would you say no to a remorse-free assignation in 15 years with the most sensually alluring figure ever to flit through your daydreams? That’s the kind of treat those who have managed to stash away a case can look forward to. I’d revelled in its succulent side before, but never come across a young Conseillante lit by such inner fire. Right Bank, Left Bank; top to bottom: there really should be enough good wine to go around in 2005.

What Andrew's Been Drinking This Month

2003 Bordeaux & old sherry

I tasted some great older vintages in Bordeaux, but none struck me as offering quite such good value as the 2003 Lafon-Rochet: pounding wealth and depth, yet with seductive aromatic power, too, and evidently great staying power. Buy! Now I’m home again, and

hugely enjoying a VQRS oloroso from Bodega Dios Baco called Baco Imperial: an old blend, substantially from the 1960s, whose balsamic, dried-fruit aromas and perfumed yet mouthwateringly austere flavours just gallop out of the glass.

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