Bordeaux 2001 shouldn't be overlooked in the stampede for 2000s, says STEVEN SPURRIER. He tastes wines from the Left Bank, while JAMES LAWTHER MW takes the Right

Bordeaux 2001 shouldn’t be overlooked in the stampede for 2000s, says STEVEN SPURRIER. He tastes wines from the Left Bank, while JAMES LAWTHER MW takes the Right

The hype around a new vintage in Bordeaux peaks in the 12 weeks after the end of the following March. From wines debuting to the trade and the press, to the en primeur campaign running its course, early reputations are won and lost. The 2001 vintage was relatively well reviewed by the press, but the trade bought modestly, its clients having emptied their pockets on the 2000s. Since then, little has been heard of the 2001s, with most retreating into the shadows of their stunning predecessors. The chance to taste a range of crus classés and crus bourgeois in Bordeaux in late February provided a welcome opportunity to judge them just months before bottling.

The Vintage

However good the work in the vineyards , the innate quality of a vintage depends on one, imponderable variant: the weather. Climate is integral to the ultimate success of a vintage, from the moment picking ends in the previous year until the final bunches are in the fermenting vats.

Broadly speaking, 2001 suffered from too much rain and not enough sun. No two vintages are ever the same, but perhaps a decade ago red wines made under such conditions would have produced average quality, along the lines of 1993 or 1994. Yet Clive Coates MW stated in his June 2002 edition of The Vine that ‘with the exception of 2000, 2001 is the best red wine vintage since 1990’.

The dry whites were floral and fruity with vineyard character not smothered by over-ripeness. Better still, it was a great year for Sauternes and other sweet whites. The reason for such quality, in a difficult year climatically, lies in the vast investments undertaken by most châteaux following the high prices they have commanded since 1995; that, and attention to detail in the vineyards, resulting in lower crops for those set on high quality.

Rain fell in the Gironde region almost daily from mid-October 2000 to January, a period that was unseasonably warm. Pruning was delayed until the vines shut down during a late February cold snap. March, April and May yo-yoed between cold and warm until a May sunny spell stimulated flowering. Fine conditions extending into June prompted expectations of a late September harvest. Summer varied from very hot to cold and wet. Splendid weather at the end of July raised hopes of another 2000, but August – the key month in Bordeaux – brought such temperature swings that it was clear growers with too many bunches on their vines would have problems ripening the grapes. Early September was cool – but at least dry – and grape sugars rose frustratingly slowly, underlining the need for a longer “hang time” than in any of the previous half dozen vintages. The grapes finally ripened in their own time, the longer gestation, though risky, bringing added complexity.

VINTAGE STYLE

Initially – Coates apart – the 2001 vintage for reds was compared to 1999, 1981 and 1979. Through gaining character in the barrel, comparisons have now moved to 1996 and 1988, but in a suppler, faster maturing style. The fruit is pure and each commune clearly delineated, an aspect that was diminishing with today’s richer, more concentrated wines.

THE MARKET

If the celebrated names of Bordeaux are seen as expensive and out of touch with the market, this is due to a few ambitious owners who equate reputation with high prices. The truth is that Bordeaux has never been more quality conscious. This is born out of necessity but has only very recently been the case for the lower end.

As always, the drive for quality is led by the crus classés and the top crus bourgeois. After the high prices paid for the 2000s , prices for the 2001s opened at 10–15% below the first tranche of the 2000s, to a lukewarm reception. They have not moved since.

Despite international upheaval and declines in the pound and the dollar against the euro, business is still being done in Bordeaux. But, according to négociant Pierre-Antoine Casteja of Joanne, the only vintage buyers are interested in remains the 2000.

2002’s Indian summer saved this vintage and the Medoc has reportedly made superb wines. Yet according to Casteja, prices must fall by a further 20% to attract en primeur buyers, due to the the euro’s strength and economic uncertainty (for en primeur pricing news on 2002, visit www.decanter.com). Those 2001 stocks lying in châteaux or in négociants’ cellars must be financed while they approach drinkability. Some, no doubt, will be sacrificed to provide cash flow, meaning bargains for claret lovers.

Who would have thought, after those late 1990s prices, that Bordeaux would become a buyers’ market?

THE WINES

MEDOC CRUS CLASSES

The wines all had a fine colour and well-defined fruit, and most will drink well from 2006. The best will last a decade or more. Tasting the range of wines below at Patrick Bernard’s Millésima cellars brought to mind the belief that here were perfect Bordeaux blends – the style of wine that Cabernet-Merlot vineyards in the New World strive to produce under the name “Meritage”. These wines are perhaps not so darkly extracted or so plummily rich, nor even so flashily presented. But they are elegant, speak of where they are grown, and will be eminently digestible.

NOTE THAT WINES (SHOWN HERE WITHIN THE FIVE-STAR SYSTEM) ARE ALSO RANKED IN DESCENDING ORDER OF PREFERENCE

HAUT-MEDOC

****

Château Latour-Carnet

ig smoky extraction, top class oak, ripe sweet fruit, lovely middle palate and good length. 2006-15.

Château Belgrave

Masses of cassis and a touch of leather on the nose. 2006-15.

***

Château Cantemerle

Pretty, floral nose, supple southern Medoc style, elegant and soft. 2005-12.

Château La Lagune

Medium colour, light, oaky, forward fruit, supple and easy. 2005-10.

MARGAUX

****

Château Brane-Cantenac

Ripe fruit, fine balance and very Margaux. Elegant florality and violets, attractive, long finish. 2006-18.

Château Rauzan-Ségla

Lovely, ripe, complex fruit, real vineyard expression, long. 2007-20.

Château Giscours

Deep colour, attractive, ripe cassis fruit, rich, complex, flavoursome. 2006-15.

Château d’Issan

Ripe cassis fruit, pretty style, long, silky and very Margaux. 2005-12.

Château du Tertre

Superb colour, oak dominates the rich cassis fruit, good length and complexity. 2006-15.

***

Château Cantenac-Brown

Deep, extracted colour, ripe cassis/cedar wood nose, ripe fruit, and more finesse than is the norm from this property. 2005-12.

Château Prieuré-Lichine

Very good colour, ripe cassis fruit, quite fleshy and chunky, could have more length. 2006-15.

Château Rauzan-Gassies

Deep colour, quite meaty with good extraction but a little short on elegance. 2006-12.

SAINT-JULIEN

*****

Château Léoville-Barton Classic dense colour, lovely impression of fresh oak and lively fruit, less cassis and more vineyard than most, great elegance. 2007-20.

****

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou

Pronounced oak and lovely cassis/cedar wood nose, silky and powerful, finely controlled ripeness, but showing a little forward. 2006-17.

Château Gruaud-Larose

Meaty wine in the château style, robust and needs time to settle down. 2008-20.

Château Léoville-Poyferré

Lots of fruit with an attractive violet edge, good length and very good ripeness. 2006-18.

Château Lagrange

Floral and violetty, with quite meaty fruit, very Cabernet and lovely oak. 2006-15.

Château Branaire-Ducru

Concentrated cassis/cedar wood nose and very ripe fruit, good length and balance. 2006-15.

***

Château Saint-Pierre

Deep colour, with extremely good, Cabernet-dominated nose and good oak. 2006-15.

Château Talbot

Deep colour and ripe smooth fruit, succulent and seductive. 2006-15.

Château Beychevelle

Good colour and cedary cassis nose, nice Cabernet fruit but a little bit short. 2005-12.

PAULLIAC

*****

Château Pontet-Canet

Dense but not heavy, rich floral extraction of fruit, good oak and long Cabernet flavours with violet edge and great length. 2007-20.

Château Duhart-Milon-Rothschild

Good vineyard fruit with violets. Floral, almost lissom for Pauillac, shows the class and purity of classic claret. 2006-20.

Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron

Big colour, deep chunky fruit, sweet and ripe. 2007-20.

****

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste

Beautifully textured, violetty, cassis fruit. Quite forward for this château. 2007-18.

Château d’Armailhac

Fine floral fruit, charming balance and flavour. 2006-12.

Château Lynch-Bages

Deep colour, lots of concentrated cassis fruit, but not very expressive. 2006-15.

Château Haut-Batailley

Good colour, a soft and floral Pauillac, seductive fruit, good length. 2005-12.

Château Haut-Bages-Libéral

Lots of oak and cassis, floral, not powerful but good expression. 2006-15.

***

Château Clerc-Milon

Quite ripe but seems a little forward for the appellation. 2005-12.

Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse

Lots of extraction, but a little chunky and over-oaked. 2005-12.

Château Lynch-Moussas

Nice oak and good cassis fruit, not very complex. 2005-12.

Château Croizet-Bages

Good colour and extract, and more finesse than usual. 2005-12.

SAINT-ESTEPHE

*****

Château Calon-Ségur

Lovely ripe fruit with smoky oak, good extraction, elegant and floral with great harmony. 2006-20.

****

Château Montrose

Shows deep smoky cassis ripeness, lovely texture and length. 2006-20.

Château Lafon-Rochet

Dense but not heavy, excellent concentration, meaty yet elegant, a very good future. 2007-20.

PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

****

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Deep colour, attractive fruit, firm, long, fresh finish. 2008-2020

Château Pape Clément

Lots of ripe fruit extract, smooth unctuous texture, mocha-vanilla oak still evident but underpinned by Graves minerality. 2008-2020

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte

Ripe and spicy with an exotic edge, generous fruit, firm but rounded tannic structure. 2007-2016

***

Château Haut-Bailly

Reserved as always at this early stage, fresh, blackcurrant fruit on the palate, with a good length, and grippy tannins. 2007-2016

Domaine de Chevalier

Notes of cedar and dark fruit, firm palate, with an earthy nuance. 2008-2016

Château Malartic-Lagravière

Elegant, medium-bodied wine with attractive red berry fruit and nicely judged toasted oak. Fine tannic structure. 2006-2015

Château La Tour Haut-Brion

Attractive fruit but lighter density, firmness on the finish. 2006-2012

Château Latour-Martillac

Medium-bodied, fragrant, quite forward, fine tannic structure. 2005-2010

SAINT-EMILION (JAMES LAWTHER MW)

****

Clos Fourtet

Lovely ripe red berry fruit, rich texture, fine tannins, super maturity, excellent definition. 2008-2020

Château Canon

Discreet but refined expression of the limestone terroir. Attractive fruit, fine tannic structure, balance and length. 2008-2018

Château Pavie Macquin

Intense cassis-dark fruit aroma and flavour, solid weight and structure. 2008-2020

Château Canon la Gaffelière

Ripe dark fruit aromas, fresh, fragrant palate with just the right extraction of fruit, great balance. 2006-2015

Château Troplong-Mondot

Very ripe dark fruit extract with notes of liquorish and spice, rich and intense on the palate, big extract, mocha oak still evident. 2008-2018

***

Château Figeac

Fine, fragrant, with a hint of mint, medium weight and intensity, and good balance. 2008-2016

Château La Gaffelière

Finely honed, medium-bodied wine with attractive fruit, length and freshness on the finish. Chocolatey oak, which is a little intrusive at present. 2008-2016

Château La Couspaude

Dark hue, fruit on the over-ripe, confit side, rich, a little chunky but not without length and balance. 2006-2015

Château l’Arrosée

Attractive blackberry-blueberry nose, fine texture, elegant style. 2006-2015

Château Larmande

Deep colour, very ripe, almost confit fruit, note of orange zest, sweet, round and plummy on the palate, tannins a touch dry on the finish. 2006-2012 POMEROL (JAMES LAWTHER MW)

*****

Vieux Château Certan

Wonderful purity of fruit, finely textured with great length and balance. Close to perfection for the vintage. 2008-2020

****

Château Le Bon Pasteur

Lots of rich jammy extract, full and generous on the palate with an overlay of chocolatey oak and plenty of fine-grained tannins. 2007-2015

*** Château Gazin

Fragrant red berry fruit, even a little spicy and exotic, ripe and meaty on the palate with good length. 2007-2015

Château La Conseillante

Notes of dark, confit fruit, vanilla and spice, oak rather present on the palate at present but with a clean finish. 2007-2015

Château Clinet

Dark hue, ripe, aromatic fruit, soft fleshy texture. 2006-2012

Château Certan de May

Medium-bodied, firm texture, with tannins that are maybe a bit hard on the finish. 2006-2012

Château Vieux Maillet

Sweet, plump, round, notes of dark fruits with a trace of vanilla oak. 2005-2010

Steven Spurrier is Decanter’s consultant editor. James Lawther MW is a contributing editor to Decanter and is based in Bordeaux.

Written by STEVEN SPURRIER, JAMES LAWTHER MW