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Bordeaux 2003 blind tasting

Picture courtesy Keith Prothero

This was one of the most interesting and fun tastings Iíve been to in a long time. Cassidy Dart (of Lay & Wheeler) and Gareth Groves (of Bibendum) put together a bunch of leading Bordeaux wines from the 2003 vintage, and nine of us (including Keith Prothero, Neal Martin of the excellent www.wine-journal.com and Linden Wilkie of the equally excellent Fine Wine Experience) gathered for a wine dinner to drink them. Great idea.

All these wines were tried blind, in flights of two. I knew the theme was Bordeaux 2003, and I figured that they would be reasonably serious examples, but beyond this I had no knowledge of the specific wines that were to be included. I was told that there might be a ringer or two. The notes are as written before the identity of the wines was revealed, and comments made with the knowledge of these winesí identities are added after the notes.

This tasting was fascinating on a number of levels. First, there was the discussions we had about the wines, both before and after we knew what they were. You learn a lot discussing like this.

Then there was the comparison between several of these wines that Iíd tasted a year ago, and their performance now. 

Finally, there was the comparison of the notes made here, blind, on this eveningís showing, and the notes on these wines from Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, which the organizers provided to us later (it should be pointed out that it's much easier to taste the wines now, while they've been in bottle for a while, than it was at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux).

I guess what brings us together is the belief that wine can be special and thrilling, and itís fun to discuss our perceptions of interesting wines. [I guess itís a shame where differences of opinion become anything more than an interesting discussion point.] There are few occasions as fun as a wine dinner with a small number of nice people in attendance, all curious about wine.

We were drinking these wines rather than just tasting them. I suppose this is why the notes get a bit shorter towards the end. Also, knowing that these wines are Bordeaux 2003 automatically switches our critical faculties in a certain direction. Perhaps the scores would have been higher for some of these wines if we were tasting blind Cabernet/Merlot blends from around the world, without a Bordeaux focus. 

Conclusions? Hard to draw any firm ones, but it emphasized that 2003 wasnít a straightforward vintage in Bordeaux. It wasnít simply a matter of heat resulting in riper, sweeter wines. Rather, in many wines there is a combination of sweet fruit with rather unresolved, and in some cases hard tannins, because of problems with phenolic ripeness caused by the high temperatures causing the vines to shut down for prolonged periods. The result, in some cases, is wines lacking the right balance.

Ch‚teau Kirwan 2003
Delicious forward, ripe, intense nose with red fruits and a minerally, smoky, spicy edge. Very ripe and full, and quite delicious, showing good complexity. On the palate it is very ripe and full with lots of sweet red and black fruits. However, underneath this there is some alcoholic heat and grippy, drying, dusty tannins. Itís an impressive wine, enchanting at first, but then thereís an imbalance between the sweet fruit and firm, almost austere tannins. Very good/excellent 92/100

Ch‚teau Pontet Canet 2003
Sweet aromatic nose with a lovely refined minerality. Thereís some lovely freshness to the nose, which is quite complex. The palate is concentrated and full with good density, together with a nice minerally structure. Thereís quite a bit of heat here and a tough, tannic finish, with some unresolved tannins that let this otherwise impressive wine down a bit. Lovely nose though. Very good/excellent 90/100

An interesting flight: I guess I was at odds with many of the others on this in preferring the Kirwan. It shows much more aromatic precision, and despite the problematic tannins seems a more interesting wine. Jancis Robinson didnít like the Kirwan (15); Robert Parker did (93). Jancis didnít like the Pontet Canet, either (16.5), while Robert Parker did (95/100).

Ch‚teau Sociando-Mallet 2003
Smooth, soft, sweet nose with ripe fruits and a bit of spicy oak. Not much definition. The palate is sweetly fruited with some spicy structure. Quite alcoholic and rich. The fruit is sweet and full, with interest being provided by the spicy oak. Some firm tannins on the finish. Overall, this lacks definition. Very good+ 88/100

Ch‚teau Gruaud Larose 2003
Sweet, ripe full nose with some chocolatey richness. The palate has an olivey green, rather meaty richness to it. Thereís a hollowness on the palate and some green tannins. Not really ripe, and not very nice. I wonder if there is some brettanomyces here? Very good 84/100

A disappointing flight. I was very surprised by the Gruaud Larose, which impressed when I tasted it non-blind almost a year ago. Neither wine really worked for me. Jancis didnít like the Sociando Mallet (15.5); Robert Parker did (94). But then Jancis really liked Gruaud (17.5) while Robert Parker didnít much (88).

Ch‚teau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2003 
Nice sweet nose: chocolatey, spicy and rich. Itís quite intense, sweet and full. The palate is bold, concentrated and full with rich spicy fruit and some tannic structure. Itís an interesting, serious wine with great balance. Very good/excellent 92/100

Ch‚teau Cos díEstournel 2003
A striking wine. Rich, fudgey, chocolatey, toasty nose thatís very rich and bold. Quite seductive: a very rich wine with plenty of ripeness and fruit sweetness with a chocolatey, coffee edge to the fruit. Bold and full; quite oaky and modern with lots of richness. Striking, extracted, enormous. Classy in its style. Very good/excellent 93/100

A very strong flight: both wines are pretty serious. Pichon Baron is superb and well balanced and has a long future ahead of it. Cos has been touted as the wine of the vintage, and I can see why Ė itís certainly striking. Two wines which Jancis rated very highly (18 and 18.5, respectively) as did Robert Parker (94 and 98).

Turley Tofanelli Vineyard Zinfandel 2003 Napa
Odd, open nose with hints of oxidation and lots of volatile acidity, along with bright pure fruit. Intriguing, sweet, raspberryish fruit. A bit Port-like. The palate is sweet and open with dark cherry fruit Ė now it tastes like amarone like. Evidently not Bordeaux, but quite thrilling with ripe, dark, sweet cherry fruit. A delicious wine in a striking, rather extreme style. Very good/excellent 93/100

Ch‚teau Pavie 2003
Weíre back in Bordeaux territory again. This one has a nose with rich, chocolately, roast coffee notes and some very sweet dark fruits. The palate is bold, full and concentrated lots of oak influence, along with the sweet fruit. Apart from slightly excessive oak (at the moment) this is otherwise delicious. Very good/excellent 91/100

Very naughtily, the organizers paired the controversial Pavie with a big Zinfandel (16%), after Jancis Robinson described it as more reminiscent of a late-harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux. She gave it an alarmingly low score of 12/20, while Robert Parker gave it 98/100. We all thought it tasted like Bordeaux, albeit in a rather modern style. I donít really want to get involved with the argument, but itís not beyond the realms of possibility that this will develop into a pretty serious wine with a decadeís bottle age.

Other wines tasted included:

Ch‚teau Pavie 1976
Evolved, spicy, quite rich and bold. Itís open with lots of evolution Ė evidently quite old. Tastes like old wine, and in this sense itís drinking OK without being anything special. Not dead just yet. Very good 80/100

Ch‚teau Pichon Lalande Comtesse 1975
Dark, chocolatey, spicy evolved nose. Quite robust and full; ripe and bold. The palate is rich and full with some spicy tannins. Very intense and concentrated still: a bold wine with lots of weight. Meaty, dark and rich. Very good/excellent 93/100

Ch‚teau Gruaud Larose 1990
Green herbal edge to the slightly meaty vegetal fruit, and shows some evolution. The palate is vegetal and herby with a sweetness to the fruit, but greenness is the overriding character. Not that nice. Very good 82/100

Interestingly, this wine seems to have been well received in the past by Neal, who was present at the dinner (http://www.wine-journal.com/message_guessing_game.html, and http://www.wine-journal.com/gruaud_tasting_notes.html - where he describes it as one of the best ever Gruauds). Not on this showing. Perhaps this is the lottery of brettanomyces? Who knows. Or maybe everyone just got it wrong, which is less likely.

Wines tasted 08/06
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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