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Bordeaux 2004 – Vintage Guide


A good effort is expected from a commune with 9/10ths of its surface covered by cru classes, and as usual there were few disappointments, but neither were the heights reached in 2004. Neverthelesss, the better wines will drink beautifully from 2010-20.


A very heterogeneous appellation in recent years, quality was more regular this year and the elegant style of Margaux was encouragingly evident. Those chateaux which managed to preserve this elegance – Brane-Cantenac, Durfort-Vivens, Rauzan-Segla – reflected the vintage better than those – Kirwan, Prieure-Lichine – aiming for richer extraction.


In a commune dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, those chateaux which waited through the rain in the second week of October for perfect maturity – Philippe Dalhuillin of Mouton-Rothschild said he preferred some water on his grapes than some unripeness inside them – had the elements for making very good wines, and most did. Lesser growths are now performing well. Some of the best wines of the Medoc.


Long considered the poorest member  – with only five crus classes – of the major communes, Saint-Estephe has continued its success of 2003 into 2004, but showing two very different styles in the latter. While finesse and elegance shone out in some – Calon-Segur, de Pez – most wines were attractively robust and fleshy, with much riper tannins than in the 1990s.


In an appellation that runs from southern tip of the Medoc to north of Saint-Estephe, there can be no uniform pattern to the vintage. Certainly those chateaux with high proportions of Merlot made ripe, rounded wines, while those where Cabernet dominated sometimes veered on the side of extraction over fruit. As usual, well-established properties with highly managed vineyards came off the best. Some very good wines.


In 2004, normal weather conditions returned to Bordeaux, with Atlantic Ocean, rather than Mediterranean, influences prevailing. In Saint- Emilion, bud break took place in the first week of April, with rapid flowering between 5th and 9th June and very little gap between Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The crop size potential was enormous, necessitating drastic thinning – ideally, two times, to avoid the vine compensating. The mid-point for colour change was 6th August for Merlot and 13th August for Cabernet Franc. There was rain in August but September was hot and fine. Harvest dates in this late-ripening vintage varied considerably according to the properties, their sites in Saint-Emilion and their grape varieties, and picking was often long drawn-out.

Listrac-Moulis en Medoc

There is talk in the INAO of merging the two appellations Listrac and Moulis. The Syndicat of the former is in favour and that of the latter is not. To judge by some briary leanness in the Listracs, combined to the smooth ripeness of the Moulis wines, one can understand both positions.

Pomerol and Lalande-de-Pomerol

The 2004 vintage in Pomerol is clearly better than 2003. There was little or no heat stress and the harvest, although later, took place in ideal conditions towards the end of September/beginning of October before the rain. As in the rest of Bordeaux, work in the vineyards to curb yields was obligatory, otherwise dilution and lack of ripeness were the pitfalls for less successful producers. The best wines have deep colour, a racy fruit character, lively acidity and solid tannic frame. They lack the intensity and complexity of great years (1998, 2000) but appear to be in the good/classic mould of a vintage like 1996. If the price is right they’ll provide sound medium-term drinking. James Lawther MW

White Pessac-Leognan Graves and other whites

Pessac-Leognan has turned out some appealing wines this year. The dry whites are generally of a very high standard with intense fruit, pure, precise flavours and lively acidity, a total contrast to 2003. The very best have long ageing potential and parallel vintages like 1996 and 1998. The reds were something of a pleasant surprise. Classic in style, they lack the depth of great years but are poised and have well handled fruit, crisp tannins and the hallmark freshness of the vintage. If the price is right this could be a real consumers vintage. James Lawther MW

Sauternes & Barsac

Rain and warm weather in August favoured the development of grey rot and caused early anxiety, before perfect Sauternes conditions (morning mists and sunshine) arrived in September. This necessitated much cleaning up in the vineyard before the collection of botrytised grapes could begin. An average of four tries was spread out from 15th September to early November.

The star feature of the 2004 Sauternes is the beautiful freshness of the wines, which accentuates
their fruity richness. Young Sauternes is never easy to taste early and this year the problem is made more difficult by the length of the harvesting and very cold weather in February-March. Average yields were around 15 hl/ha, lower than in 2003 in many cases. After the exceptional richness of 2003, 2004 is a classic year of marked character. David Peppercorn MW

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