2004 Red Bordeaux - Ten Years On
Thursday, 27 February 2014 by Stephen Browett
Every year we hold a comprehensive tasting, here at Farr Vintners, of the most recent Bordeaux vintage to reach ten years of age. Having said that, we tasted the 2003s much earlier than normal as we felt that they were maturing so quickly. The report on that tasting can be found here. I suspect that we might give the backwards 2005s another year or two before we re-assess them, but there was no concern about tasting 2004 in 2014 as this is a vintage that has matured at a classic Bordeaux pace and, after 2 years in barrel and 8 years in bottle, the wines are now ready to drink.
What we found with 2004 is that this is a vintage whose wines are neither too young - even at the top level - nor too old. You can drink them now or over the next few years knowing that there is no need to hold back or to drink up quickly. All in all, this is a decent vintage of classically structured proportions that is full of wines with medium body with well-balanced tannins. It's certainly got nothing in common whatsoever with the opulent, sexy and, in some cases, over-ripe wines of the low-acidity 2003 vintage that preceded it.
14 tasters assembled at Farr Vintners on the morning of February 25th 2014 to taste through 7 flights each of a dozen wines. The tasters included wine writers Jancis Robinson MW, Steven Spurrier, Derek Smedley MW and Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate. No doubt, you'll be reading their reports and tasting notes in the coming weeks. As is usual in our horizontal tastings, the wines were served strictly blind in geographical peer groups with the order chosen at random by my son Sam. Before identities were revealed, marks out of 20 were taken from each member of the team to produce an average score per wine.
We tasted all of the top wines of Bordeaux except for the First Growths - which we will be trying at a dinner later in the year.  The top three wines of each flight are shown below with scores being the average of the group.
The first flight to be tasted was Saint Emilion. For most of us there were three wines that stood out from the crowd and these were the only three to achieve average scores of above 16. Angelus and Pavie were very impressive and certainly they were the biggest and most powerful wines of the flight. But there was a great performance here by the beautifully balanced Canon which is a really sophisticated Saint Emilion. This is a wine that is both delicate and rich. At around one third of the price of the wines in first and third place, this is certainly one of the best value wines of the vintage.
We then moved  over the border to Pomerol where we had one of the biggest surprises of the day. Out-scoring Vieux Chateau Certan, L'Evangile and L'Eglise Clinet was an impressive performance from Gazin. This was a plump, rich Pomerol with lots of ripe, exotic Merlot fruit, but well defined too. Gazin has not won too many of our blind tastings before, so this was a great result for this Chateau.
Next up were the Pessac-Leognans. The top wines here showed very well. Typically they are an equal blend of Cabernet and Merlot grapes and it would not surprise many regular followers of these tastings to hear that, once again, Domaine de Chevalier, came out on top. This property has, over the last decade, performed brilliantly at these blind tasting events and repeated its flight-winning achievement of January 2008 when it won this flight at Southwold, when the 2004s were first tasted in their youth. In second place was Pape Clement a wine which, for me, can be almost too powerful in hot vintages but which showed lovely richness and warmth in a year where many wines don't have quite enough flesh on their bones.
We then moved to Margaux where, apart from Chateau Margaux itself, the dozen top Chateaux of the appellation battled it out. My own favourite wine here, by a considerable margin, turned out to be Rauzan Segla. This is a lovely claret that has a wonderful nose of Asian spices and cigar box. On the palate the ample weight of fruit is complimented by a polished, creamy and supple texture and rounded tannins. This is sophisticated and refined yet attractive and forward. A really classy wine with a long, lingering, smoky finish. A comfortable winner of the flight.
After Margaux we moved to Saint Estephe. This flight included all the top wines of the appellations and a few Chateaux from Haut Medoc communes (such as La Lagune) to make up the full dozen. It was here that we had the biggest surprise of the day. I can hardly remember the last time that either Cos d'Estournel or Montrose didn't win this flight but, remarkably, it was one of the lowest-priced wines of the entire tasting that stormed to victory. I was very impressed by wine # 4 (Montrose) and wine # 7 (Cos d'Estournel), both of which I scored 16.50. But, my winner (and that of the group overall) was the very impressive 2004 Meyney, which I scored 17 points. This is a black coloured wine with a big, meaty nose. Extremely dense and serious on the palate, this youthful Cabernet Sauvignon-based St Estephe has great depth and power. It is really well-stacked with crunchy cassis fruit. I must admit that I was pretty sure that it was Montrose!  At around £200 per case this is quite a bargain for a ten year old claret.
Our penultimate flight was Saint Julien. This was a slightly controversial flight as the big hitters that you would expect to perform well seemed to be very reluctant to express themselves. Leoville Lascases, Leoville Barton and Ducru Beaucaillou were all rather lean and if you are thinking of drinking these wines I would recommend a couple of hours in the decanter and a big slice of steak to bring them out of their shells. The best performing wines in the flight were those that are more immediately attractive. Overall, however, I must say that Saint Julien is normally one of the top flights of any Bordeaux blind tasting and I&rsquod have to admit that the 2004 St Juliens are perhaps a little too lean and angular and lacking in warmth and generosity. My own personal favourite was Léoville Poyferré.
We finished the tasting with a flight of Pauillacs which all received good scores. The average score here was 16.15 which was the highest of the day by a considerable margin (Margaux was second with 15.88). These wines certainly seemed to be a notch better than their neighbours in Saint Julien and any of the top 5 would have won the previous flight. With no First Growths present, this was a chance for some of their neighbours to shine. In fact, we were all rather shocked that it was a second wine that came out on top. Nevertheless there was certainly more than a touch of Mouton Rothschild itself about the impressive Petit Mouton 2004 whose stable-mate, Armailhac, also showed very well. My own favourite was probably Pontet Canet but Les Forts de Latour, the Pichons, Lynch Bages and Duhart Milon all showed well.
All things considered, 2004 is a good, solid vintage for the red wines of Bordeaux. It is more suited to those who don't like their claret too powerful or rich and appreciate red wines with backbone. The wines are all ready to drink (with a bit of decanting advised) and can be enjoyed over the next few years. There were no genuinely great wines in this tasting (only a handful averaged over 16.5 points). Solid, reliable and consistent are words that spring to mind.