Bordeaux 2003 is in some cases better than the mammoth 2000 vintage, according to some UK merchants.
Last year produced a spectacular, if inconsistent, vintage. The general consensus is that the left bank crus in the Médoc have surpassed themselves. Producers in the Médoc had an easier task in the summer heat wave as the region’s main grape, the slower-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, was able to ripen fully.
‘There was a lot of hype in the French press, but burned fruit and burned skins do affect the style of the wine,’ said Berry Bros & Rudd’s Paul Milroy, with reference to the long hot summer of 2003. ‘But there are some real surprises. Château Montrose is a blockbuster,’ he added.
Steven Browett at London-based merchants, Farr Vintners, agreed.
‘The vintage is not as great overall – it is more up and down – than the 2000, but it is an amazing, unique year with some greater wines than 2000,’ he said.
This does not seem to be the case in Pomerol and St Emilion, where the early-ripening Merlot grapes had a harder time. Chateau Le Pin is not releasing a 2003 wine after producing only 8 barrels of what Fiona Morrison MW of Le Pin called ‘Le Pin grillé’ – punning on the French translation of ‘toast’: pain grillé.
Chateau Petrus, however, whose vineyards lie a matter of metres from Le Pin in Pomerol, has produced a wine that Decanter’s James Lawther gives an easy five stars.
‘Except for the producers who picked early, the Merlots were over-ripe,’ said Browett.
Some of the St Emilion and Pomerol châteaux have produced what some are calling New World-style wines (and others dub ‘wines from the south’) due to the high temperatures and sunshine – in August, rainfall was down by almost 50% whilst sunshine was up by 30 hours, on the 50-year average.
In many cases, the critics show as much inconsistency as the wines. Jancis Robinson gives St Emilion’s Château Pavie 12/20, calling it a ‘ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux’. Wine Spectator’s James Suckling gives the Pavie 95-100/100 and says, ‘Superripe and almost jammy. Very New World on the nose … Bordeaux-like on the palate. Got to like this.’ Château d’Angludet was also the subject of a heated discussion between critics, some reckoning it great, with richness and finesse, others calling it variously ‘overripe’ and ‘densely tannic’.
But American critic Robert Parker will have the last word as usual. Browett says that the final prices will reflect his notes.
‘The châteaux will hold back on announcing prices until Parker’s notes have been released, which is a shame. A good Parker tasting note could send a château’s wine price high above estimate, whereas a bad one will push the price under what is expected of it,’ he said.
The best wines of the vintage? The consensus seems to be that Château Montrose is the wine of the vintage, with Margaux, Lafite and the other first growths, Pétrus and Le Gay all marked highly.
Written by Oliver Styles, and Adam Lechmere