As buyers look for value or, rather, merchants look for some Bordeaux that they can actually sell, the 2004 Bordeaux vintage has got a bit of attention recently.
Retrovision is invariably rose-tinted. Buyers look back to 2004 as the last affordable Bordeaux vintage with the same nostalgia that I have for the Routemaster. But take off your tinted glasses and the nostalgia for 2004 is more to do with price than quality (whereas the Routemaster is all about quality). Indeed it’s all about price. 2004s were cheap. I bought Haut-Bailly, Roc de Cambes and Lynch-Bages. And sold my old man some double mags of Batailley, which brings a smile to my face just thinking about them. Haut-Bailly was £222 per dozen. Those were the days.
And, at the time, I liked the vintage. Fresher and cleaner than the vintage that preceded it, 2004s were, I thought, “proper wines”. And maybe I was right. But when I hear buyers say “they need to be priced at 2004 levels” when talking about en-primeur releases I do grate a little, because this was not a vintage that sold well at all en-primeur. No one wanted them, and at the time the noise was very similar to that which surrounded the 2013s, 2012s and 2011s: too expensive, what are the Bordelais doing, blah, blah, blah. 2004s sat on stocklists and only started to shift once the 2005s were released and the 2005-2008 boom kicked in. And then they were largely bought on “relative value” more than anything else. “Is 2004 Lafite a quarter of the wine that 2005 Lafite is?” was the sales line (mea culpa), and the buyers rode in.
My point is that most buyers bought 2004s because they were cheap, rather than because they thought they were any good. It’s a vintage admired for its integrity, its honesty, rather than its quality. And even then the passing of time has smudged the facts a little.
I tasted eighty or so of these honest wines in February courtesy of Farr Vintners. And came away, well, just bored really. 2004 is, in my opinion, average. Not just in terms of overall quality, but in character. It’s dull. It’s a Vauxhall Vectra of a vintage: you’ll get from A to B but unmemorably. Even my Dacia has more appeal: at least it has some idiosyncracy, some character.
There are some decent wines (nb we didn’t taste the big guys), notes on which are below. You can probably add half a point to a few of the scores and I should add that the same wines apparently showed much better at a second “ten years on” tasting a few weeks later. Maybe it was a root day, maybe the vintage doesn’t suit an academic style of tasting, maybe the air pressure was too low that day: who knows? But what these wines aren’t, or rather what this vintage isn’t, is exciting.
Would I buy any of these? There are a few tempters. Mmmm. But you can still buy 2010 Batailley for £300 a case, and that is my current benchmark. Gruaud, Rauzan, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith-Haut-Lafitte got my motor running, and I’m looking forward to opening one of those double mags of Batailley.
Scores are out of twenty, which I’m not very good at. Anything under 16.5 I haven’t written up. If you prefer scores out of a hundred, which I do, these are all hovering between 92 and 95.
Initially sweet then quite scratchy nose. Then again in the mouth. Cassis then creamy modern Pauillac. Finishes nicely. This is well-executed stuff. Nicely done. 16.5
Forts de Latour
Maybe a bit more depth here but a tiny bit austere. More punch in the mouth and classically Pauillac with no bells nor whistles. Decent length and nicely put together. Good. 16.5
A bit of bang here on the nose. And some punch in the mouth, with a savoury edge to the sweetness of the fruit. A bit of class here. Length. Good. Pichon-Lalande? 17
More here. Bit of punch. And this is quite serious. A bit of breeding here. Good wine. Proper. Long. 17
A bit of poise here. A touch of cassis and more than a touch of class. And in the mouth this is rather good. All up there and a more Pauillac than St Julien. Good. 17.5
This is rather punchy too, if a little anonymous on the nose. Some weight, and this is rather good. A bit of depth here. 16.5
A touch of dirt on the nose. Some mint, then some cool class in the mouth. This is rather good if a little bit more developed than expected. Good again. Long. 16.5
Some fresh bounce on the nose. Clean. Some austerity. And in the mouth purity and poise. Real wine, and very attractive. Long. Good. 17
Pagodes de Cos
Lift followed by austerity. There is some weight here and the impression of some terroir underneath. Long. Good. 17
Rather difficult austere nose. Some development and some proper fruit in the mouth. Real lift here. And complete, and a little depth. Goes on. This is rather decent. Cool. 16.5
More here? Some terroir here, I think. This does have a feminine Margaux edge to it. Good wine. Goes on. 16.5
Something here on the nose. Some chunk. Some gloss and some extract. And again in the mouth. Glossy weight. Length. Very good. 17
And up here again. Bit of roast coffee on the nose. And some weight and richesse in the mouth. A touch of bacon. Breadth. And length. Maybe a little over-made but very good. 17
Not as fat. And again in mouth. Sweet and pure and this is real wine. Focussed. Proper. Very good. 16.5
Punchy nose with a surgical bite to it. Something here. Rich and broad choccamocha mouth. Fat. Ripe. And well-crafted. Complete in a kind of bubble gum Pomerol way. Goes on. Energy. Good. 17
Vieux Ch. Certan
More here. Chocolate biscuit nose. Weight. And some chunk in the mouth with some fresh lift at the end. Pure. Good. VCC? 16.5
Bit of something here. Bit of gloss. Nicely done. And again in the mouth. Fresh, and quite complete. Some fat here and some cream. Decent length. All in all quite proper. 16.5
This is very dark. Staining the glass. And lots here on what is a bit of a scorched cardboard nose. And some punch in the mouth. Rich fruit and some fat. All set against a background of barrel tannin. Angelus? 16.5
Fresh raspberry ice cream fruit on the nose. A bit of bright bounce to it. And some energy in the mouth and some bouncy lift. Youthful. Bright. Not entirely my bag but good. 16.5
A darky, and some rich mocha on the nose. Some weight. And a bit more grown up in the mouth. Some weight here and a little depth too. Maybe pushed a little too much but good nonetheless. Finishes a tad bitter. 16.5
A little closed on the nose. Clean. Very pure and straightforward in the mouth. Proper wine.The most complete wine here. A tad of porty heat going back to it. 16.5
Proper claret nose. Bit of gloss. Rich. And sweet and glossy in the mouth. Chunky and rich. This is rather good. Comfy. Well made. 17
La Mission Haut-Brion
Slightly drier white paper nose. And a return to classicism in the mouth. Very little gloss. Firm fruit. Fresh. Clean. Good. Goes on. Gets better. 16.5
Domaine de Chevalier
Back to some sweet and complete fruit. A bit of gloss which follows on in the mouth. Chocca polish with depth and richesse underneath. Very good. 17