Bordeaux 2005 - 12 Years On
Wednesday, 1 March 2017 by Stephen Browett
As many of you will know, I have been a member of the “10 Years On” tasting group for many years. This annual blind tasting was established in the 1980’s by the late, great Bill Baker who was one of the British wine trade’s most respected and knowledgeable experts until his untimely death in 2008. Bill had an encyclopaedic wine knowledge and lived an amazing gastronomic life. Before he left us, he had undoubtedly tasted most of the greatest wines ever made and racked up more Michelin starred meals than most people have had hot dinners.
Bill used to take away the second “reserve” bottles from our annual Southwold tasting of the latest Bordeaux vintage and a tradition was established of tasting the vintage again once the wines were 10 years old. These “10 Years On” tastings were originally held at Bill’s home near Bristol, or sometimes at The White Horse at Chilgrove, and they are now usually held at Farr Vintners. A vastly experienced panel of experts from across the wine trade joins us to judge the wines in this unique annual blind tasting. On this year’s panel were wine writers Jancis Robinson MW, Neal Martin, Derek Smedley MW, Steven Spurrier and Joss Fowler of vinolent.net. They were joined by the buyers for many of Britain’s leading wine merchants.
We had decided in 2015 that the 2005’s had not reached maturity (certainly at the top level), so we broke with tradition and decided to postpone this tasting for a couple of years and tried the forward 2007’s at 8 years old. We tasted the 2006’s, as per normal, in 2016 and now we were ready to try the 2005’s, at 12 years old, in February 2017.
This was to be a two-day event and over the course of February 23rd and 24th we worked our way through 180 samples which were served blind in “peer groups” in flights of 12 at a time. It was a fascinating tasting that had many high points but a few low points too. I will run through the wines by appellation.
Dry White Wines – We only tasted nine wines and these were a mixed bunch. If I had any in my cellar I would drink them up pretty quickly as most are fading away with some nutty, almond notes creeping in. My own favourites were Domaine de Chevalier Blanc and Larrivet Haut Brion Blanc but the group’s overall winner was Bouscaut Blanc. My view on dry white Bordeaux is that it is at its most attractive soon after bottling.
Sauternes – We tasted 21 of the top Chateaux and the winner was Suduiraut. There were notable performances from de Fargues, Guiraud, Rieussec and Climens which were all ranked close behind. Whilst Yquem, in 6th place, was a very good wine you would have hoped that it would stand out more prominently than this - bearing in mind that it was released at ten times the price (or more) of most of the other wines. It’s clearly an excellent vintage for Sauternes and these wines can be drunk now or they will keep for decades. My personal top scorer was Climens.
The Lesser Reds – As 2005 is such an important vintage we didn’t just try the usual top 100 or so red wines of Bordeaux. We also tried wines from Chateaux that don’t normally make the cut. These tended to have the vintage’s characteristic tannin structure but many were lacking the flesh and body required to match the tannins. The best of these turned out to be La Tour Figeac, Clos de l’Oratoire, Larrivet Haut Brion, Latour Martillac, Prieuré Lichine, Branas Grand Poujeaux, Haut Batailley and Phelan Segur.
Saint Emilion – These were controversial wines. Leaving aside the First Growths for now, the winner here (yet again!) was Le Tertre Roteboeuf. This was my own top scorer too. In a dead heat for second place were Canon (which I also loved) and a very good effort from Figeac. I don’t normally name the wines that scored badly, but the likes of Pavie Macquin, La Mondotte, Troplong Mondot, Larcis Ducasse, Beausejour Duffau, Pavie Decesse and Gracia received low scores from most of us – none failing to average even 15.5 out of 20. These had clearly been over-extracted at birth and they suffered now from excruciatingly dry, rasping, woody finishes. Despite high scores from some critics, I would be very wary of buying these wines unless you like power above finesse. For me, they are charmless, soulless wines that could come from anywhere in the world and have none of the class and sophistication that one looks for in great Bordeaux wine.
Pomerol – These were generally much better than the Saint Emilions. Our winner by a nose was the drop-dead gorgeous La Conseillante but the outstanding Vieux Chateau Certan, L’Eglise Clinet and L’Evangile were only just behind it in a very tight pack. I also loved Gazin and Lafleur. These top Pomerols had fabulous but unforced concentration, smooth silky textures and finely balanced tannins. The best 2005 Pomerols are truly great wines and clearly amongst the very best of the vintage.
Pessac-Leognan – There was one clear winner here and that was La Mission Haut Brion. It was actually the highest scoring wine of the entire tasting and is a wine of awesome concentration and balance. I also rated Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte very highly. With their high proportions of Merlot in the blend, these wines showed the best characteristics of both the Medoc and the right bank with stylish, smooth tannins giving balance to the impressive weight of fruit.
Saint Estèphe – There were some hugely powerful wines here with dark colours, rich fruit and firm tannins. I don’t think that the likes of Montrose and Cos d’Estournel are ready to drink yet. They scored well but with a few more years in bottle they will be even better. Calon Segur just won the flight and there was a very impressive performance once again by the modestly priced (if you can find it) Meyney.
Margaux – There was a runaway winner here with Rauzan Segla coming out on top – as it does so often. The real surprise was the amazing performance of its second wine – Segla – which finished in second place! Rauzan Segla was also my own winner but I also gave good scores to Issan, Palmer, Giscours and Brane Cantenac - which are all very attractive wines.
Saint Julien – This was a cracking flight of classic Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. Remarkably our top 4 wines of this 12 wine blind flight were exactly the same as they were when we first tasted them at Southwold back in January 2009. Leoville Poyferré was our winner this year – maybe because it is so exuberant and forward compared to some of its peers. Everything was good in this flight and many of them were great. I would pick out Langoa Barton as one of the great bargains of the vintage as it came in 4th - only a fraction behind Ducru Beaucaillou – and it sells for less than a third of the price! I have to admit that Langoa was actually my highest-scoring wine of the entire flight, so I’ll be buying a case of this myself.
Pauillac – We were very impressed with Petit Mouton and Les Forts de Latour in 2005. Leaving these aside, the top rated wine by both the group and myself was Pichon Baron. This Chateau does seem to win blind tasting on an incredibly regular basis. It is a wine of near First Growth quality with masses of black, cassis infused fruit, cigar box notes and impressive depth and length. A Latour-like wine at a fifth of the price. Excellent wines too at Pontet Canet (still tasting like a classic Pauillac in 2005), Lynch Bages and Grand Puy Lacoste. The rather controversial Pichon Lalande is a good wine but doesn’t match the Baron in this vintage.
The First Growths –The 5 First Growths were all excellent and were separated by only half a point. Our winner was Latour which is a reassuringly monumental, classically proportioned Pauillac. As I mentioned earlier, the First Growths were pipped to the post this year by a stunning La Mission Haut Brion. This is one of the most opulent wines of the vintage with amazing richness yet classic balance. One of the greatest La Missions ever made! On the right bank, Ausone received the second highest score of the entire tasting and it’s certainly a stunning wine – maybe the best Ausone since 1961. This powerful wine has incredible richness with a firm (but not too firm) structure and is sure to be a long-distance runner. More approachable and already voluptuous and downright gorgeous was a smooth as silk Cheval Blanc. Petrus and Le Pin showed very well but couldn’t compete with the two Saint Emilion First Growths.
To conclude, this is a great, classic Bordeaux vintage. The dry whites need drinking up, the Sauternes are very good. The lesser reds have a tendency to be maybe a bit too tannic for their own good. The over-extracted St Emilions are out of balance but the naturally concentrated ones – Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Tertre Roteboeuf, Canon and Figeac – are showing their class. The Pomerols are wonderful. The Pessacs (led by La Mission) are very good and the leading Medoc Chateaux made superb claret with wonderful balance and grip. The question that is often asked is - is this the greatest vintage of modern times in Bordeaux? I would say that in the last quarter of a century we have had 4 truly great vintages 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010. (Maybe 2015 and 2016 will join them, we’ll have to wait and see). For me 2005 is better than 2000. It is not as great across the board as 2009 where everything is beautifully ripe, but if you like traditional claret then I think that you might prefer 2005 to the more sexy, decadent 2009’s. I think that there are some absolute blockbusters in 2010 that potentially may beat the best of 2005 once they have reached maturity, but they are certainly a long way off being ready yet. That’s another vintage that I suspect we may be postponing tasting 10 years on.
Wines of the Vintage
Modestly priced Wines of the Vintage
An excellent review of this tasting can be found here : http://www.vinolent.net/2017/03/03/2005-bordeaux-blind/
And here from Jancis Robinson (subscription required) : http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/bordeaux-2005-winners-and-losers