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Bordeaux 2003

Decanter brings you the latest news and notes on the Bordeaux 2003 barrel tastings.


Earlier ripening Pomerol took the full blast of this hot, dry year. The vine stressed and blocked in zones of sandy-gravel soils, the leaves withering and in certain extremes even falling off. Maturity was thus affected resulting in some wines with hard, dry tannins, dilution or occasionally an alcohol ‘burn’. That being said it’s certainly not a disaster as had earlier been predicted. There are few wines with aggressive, vegetal notes and the harvest appears generally clean. Those who worked assiduously in the vineyard have produced attractive fruit, even in the ‘lesser’ terroirs off the Pomerol plateau (Bellegrave, Taillefer). The stars, generally with a greater percentage of clay soils (Petrus, Trotanoy), have produced truly stunning wines. It’s a year to be selective.

Margaux, Pauillac, Saint Julien & Cru Bougeois

From the first taste of the lowly appellation Bordeaux Rouge at Le Cercle Rive Droite’s presentation at Chateau Laroque on March 28th, to the last sip of Chateau Smith–Haut–Lafitte 1961 – purchased at Christie’s by the the Cathiards – at lunch on April 1st, I don’t think I have had a more interesting en primeur experience. Even on the Right Bank, where the drought conditons had burnt out many parcels of Merlot, producers were raving about the quality of their Cabernet Franc. In the Graves, the white wines were fabulously ripe, Sauternes had notched up another great vintage and in the Medoc, the further north one went, the better the wines. 2003 was an exceptional vintage in weather terms and will be one of the most interesting vintages for the Bordeaux lover.

 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

Terroir and grape variety played a crucial part in the quality of the wines in Saint-Emilion and other Right Bank appellations in 2003. The clay-limestone soils had better water reserves than sand and gravel and thus the vine stressed less in the heat. A number of estates on Saint-Emilion’s limestone plateau and  produced some exceptional wines as a result – rich, full and generous, but also long and balanced. It was also a great year for Cabernet Franc, and those wines with a liberal percentage in their blend have the edge. Otherwise, a patchy year of peaks and troughs – dry tannins, lack of sparkle or dilution – though on the whole more positive than negative.

Sauternes & Barsac

The outstanding feature of the 2003 vintage in Sauternes was the exceptional rapidity of the harvest and the extraordinary richness of the musts and the high residual sugar levels that resulted. The exceptional heat of August had produced extremely ripe grapes so that when showers in early September gave the necessary humidity, the botrytis exploded. It was like 1990 all over again, except the vintage passed even more rapidly; many harvested 80%-90% of their grapes in one `trie’ in 10 days. While 1990 produced residual sugar levels in the finished wines of between 120-135 grams, and 2001 saw levels around 140g, in 2003 levels of 150g up to 200g were recorded. One would need to look at 1929 for any comparison.

The extraordinary concentration of these wines has meant a slower than usual development, and so makes them harder to taste and evaluate; while some wines are clearly outstanding, the balance of others is still hard to judge. One must be cautious about making anything more than provisional judgments at this stage.

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