This is a longer version of an article also published by the Financial Times. For full tasting notes, see Bordeaux 2005, 10 years on.
It's not often that tasting 70 powerful red wines energises me, but the showing of 2005 red bordeaux 10 years on organised by London fine-wine trader Bordeaux Index recently was a joy.
This is surely Bordeaux 's best vintage of the century so far. The 2005s were always chock full of everything - fruit, acidity, colour and tannin - and the worry was that, thanks to red bordeaux's tendency to close up for a few mid-life years, they could now be showing so much tannin that they would be too tough to taste at this stage. But in fact it did not prove a painful experience, just slightly frustrating as I thought only one of the 70 wines was already broachable, one of the cheapest, the petit château Ch Poujeaux. And most of them tasted as though they should probably not be opened much before 2020, particularly those on the left bank, although a couple of the first growths, Chx Lafite and Cheval Blanc, are so charming that they give the impression that they could be enjoyed within three or four years – even though they will probably last for decades.
When I taste wine I try to suggest a window during which it will probably be sensible to drink it. I think many of these wines will still be going very strong in the middle of this century. In general there is such great balance, even if the resolution of the tannins varies enormously from wine to wine. If I owned some Ch Pavie 2005 for instance, I wouldn't think of opening it until 2030, although I'm not sure I'd choose this super-concentrated, tannic wine to celebrate my eightieth. Many other right-bank wines, on the other hand, those from St-Émilion and Pomerol, tasted as though they might start to provide pleasure from around 2018 but the stunningly brooding Ch L'Église-Clinet is probably best kept until the next decade.
It would be difficult to argue that 2005 is either a left-bank or a right-bank vintage. Both have their stars even if winemaking exaggerations are generally more evident on the right bank. This phenomenon has been lessening, however.
The most impressive thing about this vintage, particularly when compared with the other 'vintages of the century' 2009 and 2010, is how consistently exciting it is, although admittedly our tasting included the great majority of the finest wines – all of the first growths and most of the prominent classed growths. There were only 10 wines selling at under £400 a dozen in bond (which equates to about £50 a bottle on a UK shelf), but these 'lesser' wines were also extremely good.
Yes, there is a major drawback with this vintage. For many châteaux it is the most expensive vintage of this century, although at least, unlike the similarly expensive 2009 and 2010 vintages, the wines have benefited from a considerable period of valuable ageing in bottle. Most first growths are currently trading for about £4,000 to £6,500 a dozen, with the Pomerol micro-châteaux Le Pin and Petrus commanding multiples of these eye-watering prices.
In view of this, it was good of Bordeaux Index to fill in the most obvious gaps in the line-up when château owners declined to supply two bottles for this tasting for the press and Bordeaux Index's best customers. This involved tracking down bottles of Lafite from Asia, a particularly magnificent magnum of Haut-Brion, and bottles of La Mission Haut-Brion, Margaux and Latour. We were not able to taste the usually stunning Vieux Château Certan 2005 because there is apparently not a single bottle left at the property, with a similar story at its neighbour Lafleur, which proved impossible to source on the market. Bruno Borie of Ducru-Beaucaillou declined to participate so we didn't taste his St-Julien either.
When I look at the prices of the top wines, Cos d'Estournel at 'just' £1,400 a dozen looks like a bargain relative to the first growths for it is at least as good as some of them.
The last time I tasted a major range of 2005s was six years ago when, over three days, I tasted a couple of hundred of them blind. At Bordeaux Index all the labels were on show, which may help to explain why some wines seemed to show better now than they did in 2009. Ch Figeac is a case in point, although this St-Émilion is a notorious under-performer at primeur tastings, its old owner refusing to play the game of presenting especially flattering samples of his young wine. Two Pessac-Léognans were also much more beguiling recently than they had been when tasted blind in 2009. They were the generally slow-to-develop Domaine de Chevalier and Ch Haut-Bailly, which usually shows very well but had seemed a little mean when tasted blind five years ago. Montrose also looked much more impressive than it had done blind.
I gave a much-improved score to the modest Ch Poujeaux too, partly because it was so much more evolved, especially aromatically, than most of the wines. This could be a good buy for drinking but would be no good for those who wish to retain the option of selling some eventually. You really need a classed growth rather than a cru bourgeois to play in the saleroom. The best value I found among the classed growths shown at Bordeaux Index was Gruaud Larose, a solid St-Julien offering more complexity and pleasure than many a wine selling at more than its current approximate price of £540 a dozen in bond.
Very few wines showed worse last month than they had done when tasted blind six years before, which is hardly surprising since blind tasting is a particularly unforgiving activity. Ch d'Armailhac from the Mouton stable seemed a little less glamorous than it had done when tasted blind, as did its counterpart and neighbour from the Lafite Rothschilds Ch Duhart-Milon, whose 2005 has always shone. It's just a shame that its price has been inflated by China's love affair with all things Lafite-related.
I took note of the alcohol levels on the labels. Admittedly there is at least 0.5% tolerance so these stated percentages should not be taken too literally but it interested me that every one of the left-bank wines tasted claimed to be either 13 or 13.5% (with most of the first growths at 13%) except for Chx Palmer, Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, for which 14 or 14.5% was stated. Most of the right-bank wines carried either 14 or 14.5% on their labels except for the less potent Chx Clinet, La Conseillante, Figeac, Gazin, Magdelaine, Providence and Trotanoy.
MY TOP SCORERS
Haut-Brion (in magnum) £4,660
Cos d'Estournel £1,400
Gruaud Larose £540
Approximate prices per dozen bottles in bond. Stockists can be found on wine-searcher.com. For full tasting notes, see Bordeaux 2005, 10 years on.