Chateau d’Yquem was decked out in shimmering pink for the start of one of the most hotly anticipated En Primeur campaigns for years, or decades – or centuries, if the excited buzz is anything to go by.
This year in the fabled Sauternes chateau, was all very un-Bordeaux, with the entire courtyard lit up in pink, pink orchids hanging from the austere iron columns of the chai, and pink tablecloths offset by black chair covers and racy black napkins. The catering staff completed the effect with pink neckcloths.
The party, thrown for the international press, traditionally opens the week of Bordeaux barrel tastings.
Yquem’s director Pierre Lurton opened the dinner by congratulating the assembled hacks. ‘Last year there were 92 – this year you are 115. Every year the tastings attract a larger audience.’ This year, he implied, would be worth it ‘like no other’.
To add to the impression that Bordeaux has suddenly gone Las Vegas, there was an American film crew – cameramen, presenter, and several gorgeous assistants with perfect teeth – there to make a documentary about ‘the passion for wine’ as producer Mark Garrison put it.
Slated for ‘a major national network’, this is going to go coast to coast and will be a series. Garrison has celebrities in his sights: Kevin Bacon and Al Jarreau – both allegedly wine fans – are on his hit list.
The TV people were mobbed. Garrison didn’t need to cast his net wide to catch first of all Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus, eminent consultant Denis Dubordieu, and any number of other Bordeaux stars.
As to the wine, the international press has tasted so far parts of St Emilion and most of Sauternes, and pronounced it extraordinary.
Decanter’s veteran critic Steven Spurrier told decanter.com he thought 25 words far too long for the tasting notes. ‘It’s going to be boring – they are all going to be the same thing because the wines are all perfect.’
The right bank wines he has tasted so far, he says, are fresh, lean and tannic – and uniformly good. The Sauternes is ‘pure – the botrytis is absolutely clean, with no hint of any other kind of rot in the wines.’
The proprietors are also upbeat. They are optimistic every year of course, but this year, as with everything else about 2005, there is no defensiveness.
Veronique Sanders of Haut-Bailly, for example, said even the weakest parcels on the property had turned in the highest-quality fruit. So blending was interesting: ‘Normally you build up the blend, but this year it’s been a question not of what you put in, but deciding what you are going to leave out.’
Paul Pontallier of Margaux said, ‘This is a dream vintage.’ The alcohol and tannin levels in the merlot and cabernet are the highest since they started keeping records in the early 1900s. But the depth of fruit is such that the tannin and oak is absorbed, leaving the wine ‘ethereal’, perfumed and with an intensity that caused Pontallier to be ‘slightly moved,’ as he put it.
At Chateau Palmer the maitre de chais, who is in his 80s, compared the vintage in greateness to the legendary 1945.
There are notes of dissent, however. Some tasters consider that Sauternes, for example, while uniformly good is not perhaps ‘great’ as they had expected. Even so, it’s difficult to find anyone who can speak of the red wines with anything but hyperbole.
Of course, it must be remembered that while the classed growths of Bordeaux are confident that with the greatest vintage for decades they can sell their wine many times over, vast swathes of the region have been in economic crisis for over two years. In parts of Bordeaux, banks are threatening to foreclose on many properties and across the region other, even quite respectable, properties are up for sale, their owners unable to sell their wine.
Written by Adam Lechmere in Bordeaux