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2005 vintage guide for Médoc and Graves

See Decanter's vintage guide for Médoc and Graves 2005.

The vintage

2005 was an almost perfect growing season in the Médoc. The period from November 2004 to October 2005 was the driest since records had begun, more than a century earlier. Moreover, the vines had experienced a lack of water since 2003. This meant that they had to push deeper and deeper into the subsoil for nourishment.

Yet in 2005, there was no heatwave as in 2003. The days were warm and dry, and the nights were cool, which helped preserve freshness and acidity. On top of this, as if by magic, the Médoc got the right amount of rain just when the vines required it.

In April it occurred at budbreak; in May for flowering; in July for veraison; and in September to sustain the vines through the final ripening period.

As a result, the 2005 harvest took place in ideal conditions, with both the Merlot and the Cabernets ripening to perfection.

The berries were small and thick-skinned, and were so good that the sorting tables were rendered virtually redundant. No wonder it was described as the ‘deckchair’ vintage. In 2006, Alfred Tesseron of Château Pontet-Canet proclaimed it ‘the best Bordeaux vintage of all time’.

At the primeur tastings, it was clear that the Médoc crus classés were stunningly good. Steven Spurrier wrote that they were ‘balanced, fresh and not over-extracted’. The figures for acidity, tannin and alcohol confirmed what everyone had tasted. It was a truly great vintage with wonderful lift, lush fruit, tannic grip and long-term potential.

The tasters’ verdict – 2005 Médoc, 10 years on

Having tasted the wines, what were our tasters’ immediate reactions? John Stimpfig conducted a round-table discussion with Jane Anson, Stephen Brook and Steven Spurrier.

Did the tasting meet your expectations?

JA: Very much so. Lots of these wines made me smile and that’s an indication of how good they are. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had here.

SB: Virtually everything was very good to terrific. That is extremely rare in a Bordeaux tasting.

SS: Absolutely. These were wonderful wines with lovely fruit and real vibrancy. A classic vintage: the Médoc at its best.

Their drinkability and ageing potential?

JA: Only 20% of these are starting to drink now, whereas the top wines clearly have a very long life ahead of them.

SB: The top wines will age up to and beyond 2030. But not all these wines will keep that long, and nor should they.

SS: There’s a certain bulk about some of them at the moment because they are seriously structured wines.

When should the top wines be opened?

SB: There are quite a few wines where it would be better to wait four or five years.

SS: They’re not waiting 30 years to pull corks in Bordeaux, where 2009 is already an old vintage. My view is that if you’re drinking them with food to absorb the tannins, they will all be fine now.

How do these 2005s look stylistically?

JA: Balance was a word that repeatedly cropped up in my tasting notes.

SS: For me, they really stand out as great and classic Left Bank wines. Nothing needed to be exaggerated in this vintage.

Any critical comments?

SB: Some were a bit soft and forward, although there’s nothing wrong with wines that are drinkable after 10 years.

SS: There were two or three wines that were a bit green. And a similar number that were a bit too bulky and chunky. But otherwise, it was beautiful, classic claret.

So how does it compare with other great recent Médoc vintages?

SB: Put it this way – if I could stock up on one vintage, it would be 2005.

SS: At the Southwold Bordeaux 2011 tasting with 20 merchants and journalists, the 2005 came top, ahead of 2010, 2009 and 2000. It is a benchmark.

Did the lower alcohol levels have an effect on how you found the wines?

JA: That’s one of the things I loved about these wines. The alcohols were around 13%. It is the last great ‘old school’ vintage. And it’s absolutely lovely.

SB: I had almost no problems with alcohols. In 2009 and 2010 there are wines that are almost undrinkable.

What about the individual communes?

JA: St-Julien was strong, but it didn’t wow me in the way that Margaux did.

SB: For me, the big surprise was Margaux, which can be patchy because it is so large. The other commune that really impressed me was St-Estèphe.

SS: I picked two or three very good wines in St-Julien. Pauillac had some very strong wines, as you’d expect, but it was also more varied. And some of the St-Estèphes were stunning.

And the Haut-Médocs?

SB: There was a big difference. Some were quite evolved. They were good, but clearly not as great as the best wines.

On the strength of this tasting what advice would you offer to consumers?

JA: You can buy a lot of 2005s at far lower prices than the 2010s. Plus you can start to drink them within the next five years. Overall, these wines are thrilling and thoroughly recommendable.

SB: There are some fantastic wines here and some of them will still be reasonably priced and offering very good value.

Shouldn’t the first growths and super seconds have achieved higher ratings?

JA: I’m disappointed that a few of my most highly rated wines didn’t quite make the cut as ‘Outstanding’. But that’s sometimes inevitable in panel tastings.

SB: I’m afraid we’re notorious for not giving the first growths the highest marks. But there were some very highly rated wines, including all the firsts. Overall, there’s no question that it was a great endorsement of the vintage.

SS: Perhaps, but this isn’t unusual in blind tastings. Given its reputation as a great vintage, I was more critical and exacting in my scoring and less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. On a different day, you would undoubtedly get a different result.

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