Bordeaux 2005 from the bottle

From the archives; I’ve backdated this post to when the article was published.

Here’s my article in Wine & Spirit, December 2007. The wines were tasted in the Autumn, about six months after the wines were bottled.

Wine & Spirit – 2005 In Bottle

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The real deal: Bordeaux 2005 from the bottle

In case you hadn’t heard, 2005 was the greatest vintage in Bordeaux in living memory. And, having tasted 450 of the leading wines from the bottle – the first ‘critic’ to have done so – I urge you to catch some of these wonderful wines before prices rise once again, or before many become impossible to find.

Whether you are looking to invest in a few cases for the long term, or are looking for a tasty drop for a tenner a bottle, there are still stocks available from UK merchants.

Unlike the mad stampede of the barrel tastings last April, when the press and the trade from the world of wine come to town, my tasting marathon of 2005s has been a personal labour of love. I have been to almost 100 chateaux and tasting rooms around Bordeaux between September to November 2007, and listed here is a summary of the best wines, each scoring at least 88 out of 100 points by my reckoning.

No other vintage has produced so many brilliant wines across the region as a whole. But there are some mediocre wines too, so my advice is not to think, “2005 – this must be good”, but to choose carefully.

The best wines have come from the best run estates with the best vineyards – which may sound like the bleedin’ obvious, but in such a warm, dry year like 2005, terroir played a crucial role. Vines deliver what matters when they are on the edge, with access to just enough moisture in the subsoils to sustain them at the crucial stages. It’s no surprise then that the top spots were the gravelly mounds overlooking the Gironde, whether in Margaux, St Julien, St-Estephe, Pauillac or the Haut Médoc, the precocious soils of Pessac-Leognan, the clay and limestone as well as the gravel terroirs around St-Emilion, or the famous plateau in Pomerol. Great values can also be had from excellent sites – such as in Fronsac and in the Côtes, especially Castillon.

The vast majority of wines that I tasted from the bottle were true to the barrel samples that I tasted in April 2006. Indeed, many have improved in the barrel, while only a handful wines have fallen slightly short of my original assessments for the Top 100 wines of the vintage in last May’s issue. Now that the wines have been bottled, which took place between April and September this year (except Chateaux Margaux, Yquem and Pavie, who have held on for longer), the hallmarks of the vintage are again evident: stunning wines with deep colour and a core of delicious ripe fruit, amazing balance and length, and extraordinary freshness given the high counts of tannin, alcohol, and acidity.

What about the exorbitant prices? The First Growths, despite some enormous increases over previous vintages, have proved a sound investment as re-sale values are up between 30% and 100% in less than 18 months. Meanwhile, some highly rated wines have continued to rise in price, but there are still some values out there.

The lists over the next few pages are designed to be a buyer’s guide, not an in-depth tasting analysis, wine-by-wine. If you take up my suggestions in the selections for the 3i’s – Investors, Insiders and Imbibers – you will not be disappointed. I have included the current price of the wines as of November 2007, per case in bond, and the price on release in 2006, since it’s good to know that you’re not paying over the odds.

Track down where to buy the wines on www.wine-seacher.com. As always, buy from a merchant you can trust as delivery may be some months away, and if you are buying for investment or your storage space is next to the boiler, keep the wine in bond.

Investor’s choice

Even at current prices, I believe that these outstanding wines will prove to be good investments in the long term.

Angélus, Cheval Blanc, Cos d’Estournel, L’Eglise Clinet, L’Evangile, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Léoville Barton, Léoville Las Cases, Léoville Poyferré, Margaux, La Mission Haut-Brion*, Palmer, Pape Clément, Pavie, Pavie-Macquin, Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pontet-Canet, Vieux Château Certan.

Insider’s choice

Pure pleasure from £250 a case

Branaire-Ducru, Brane-Cantenac, Calon Ségur, Canon La Gaffelière, Clerc Milon, Clinet, Clos Fourtet, Clos du Marquis, La Clotte, Giscours, Fleur Cardinale, Haut Marbuzet, d’Issan, La Lagune, Lagrange, Malartic-Lagravière, Pavillon Rouge, Rol Valentin, Saint Pierre, Smith Haut Lafitte, Sociando-Mallet, La Tour Figeac

Imbiber’s choice

Affordable wines for drinking (from £60 to £250)

Aiguilhe, Aiguilhe Querre, d’Arsac, Beaumont, Bel Air La Royère, Belgrave, Berliquet, de Camensac, Cantemerle, Cap de Faugères, Charmail, Clos Marsalette, Clos Puy Arnaud, Clos de l’Oratoire, Cos Labory, Côte de Baleau, Le Crock, Destieux, Faugères, Ferrand Lartigue, Ferrière, Les Fiefs de Lagrange, Fougas-Maldoror, Gloria, Grand Corbin Despagne, Grand Destieu, Grand Pontet, Haut Bages Averous, Joanin Bécot, Labégorce Zédé, Laforge, Larrivet-Haut-Brion, Moulin Riche, Pibran, Picque Caillou, Potensac, Poujeaux, Sarget de Gruaud Larose, Sénéjac, La Tour Carnet, Villa Bel Air

Final thoughts

Comparing 2005 with other great vintages, we shouldn’t underestimate the advances in viticulture and in the winery – and the commitment and investment required. As Jean-Michel Comme, the winemaker at Château Pontet Canet, puts it: “Before 2005, our last great vintage was 2000, and after we had made that wine, we looked back to consider what we had done in the ten years since the previous great year, 1990. In a decade, we had changed everything – from what we did in the vineyard to the way the wine was made. After the 2005, we looked back over the previous five years, back to the 2000, in the same way. We then realised that we had upgraded everything again.”

‘Has there ever been a Chateau Margaux that’s as good as this?’ I asked Paul Pontallier. ‘Maybe’, he said, before pausing to consider the great vintages of the past. ‘But I don’t remember one’.

*The email that got away: Majestic’s offer of La Mission Haut Brion at £1350 a case, en primeur. Considering that I had rated it in the top six wines of the vintage, at 96-100 points, and it was at the lower end of my price estimate (Top 100 wines, W & S May 2006 issue), I should have reached for the credit card. Mr. P. had rated it 95-97, before upgrading his score to 96-100 this April. And today? £4000 and rising.