Last week my former employers kindly let me into their grand tasting of 2013 Bordeaux.
I have, or rather had, unfinished business with 2013 Bordeaux. A vintage born and released into a miasma of negativity. A vintage that was always going to get a kicking, a vintage that was getting bullied before even nursery. I tasted the wines in April and, whilst it was immediately clear that 2013 was never going to be grand, a lot of the wines were ok: they tasted nice. And whilst “they tasted nice” is hardly grand praise, it’s what wine is supposed to do.
Moreover: those that had made these nice wines had, well, worked ****ing hard to do so. Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux used an hospital analogy, suggesting that twenty years, or even ten years, ago this was a vintage that wouldn’t have made it, that would have been carted away in a black van rather than walking up the aisle. To knock these wines, to knock the vintage seemed to me like kicking a stray puppy. I wanted to give it a pat instead.
Back to the tasting: I tasted twenty or so of the fifty or so 2013s on offer. And the verdict is unchanged. The weaker wines should be served in a carafe on Paris or Provence bistro pavements. The better wines will make delicious Sunday Lunch Claret in short time – give them a couple of years after they’ve been shipped. With a few exceptions there is little reason to buy them now other than for the pleasure of owning something you like. Many of them are too expensive: Beychevelle at £216 per six bottles would appeal if the list read £216 per dozen. There are a few special wines: Calon-Segur has something sylph-like to it, though I didn’t taste Pichon-Lalande, which was my pick of the vintage along with Calon and Lafleur.
And this is all pretty boring, and I was getting bored. And then I got excited about Bordeaux again. I haven’t been excited about Bordeaux for ages.
With an idea so good it should have been mine, the chateaux were asked to show another vintage of their wine. Not just some other shite they had to sell, but one which had sold well, one which many guests might or would own. A few players showed 2009s; those that really wanted to play brought their 2005s.
I usually like to sit on the fence like a cat and watch both sides but, and let me be totally clear here: 2005 is the vintage. I’ll give you that 2009s are pretty good, and that the best 2010s are on another planet, but viewed holistically, 2005 makes these other two look like Britney Spears and Take That. You want to have some bouncy with Kim Kardashian? Or do you want to loop the loop with Audrey Hepburn? You want Andy Murray? Lewis Hamilton? Wayne Rooney? Or do you want McEnroe, Senna and Best? You want Robbie Williams? Or do you want Frank and Deano? There is no competition as far as I see it.
I tasted a dozen or so 2005s. Enough for a verdict? Yes. And: here’s the thing. They’re not very pricey. 2005 Pichon-Baron – a baby first growth – comes in at £910 per dozen. 2005 Leoville-Barton – a quite brilliant wine – comes in at £658. Calon-Segur? £598. And all three of these are the wines that demonstrate why a bottle of wine is worth £100 or more.
2005 Ch. Beychevelle, St Julien
Lots of eucalyptus on the nose. There is depth and character here. This is what makes wine interesting. More developed than I would have expected. A core of fruit to this. A saline edge. Excellent. Character.
2005 Ch. d’Armailhac, Pauillac
This is more like it. A touch animal on the nose, though there is some pure fruit under here. And in the mouth this is just starting to develop into stage two. A slight saline edge to the finish. Good. Proper wine.
2005 Ch. Calon-Segur, St Estephe
There is some purity of fruit here. Some definition and some punch. Depth, and a real thickness to it – but not heavy: lifted. Deeply concentrated and ethereal at the same time. Excellent.
2005 Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Moulis
A touch of mint and a touch of meatiness on the nose. Developed. Meaty. Proper wine. Very good.
2005 Ch. Poujeaux, Moulis
Again that slightly salty edge. Pure and clean fruit. Proper. Intense. A bit like 1996 but more complete. Two bottles in one.
2005 Clos Fourtet, St Emilion
Touch of mint on the nose. These (2005s) are brilliantly complete. Proper again. No force, just power, strength. Depth. Length.
2005 Ch. Ferriere, Margaux
Again a touch of delicate farmyard with a saline edge. Not punchy: more about cool and minty lift.
2005 Ch. Langoa-Barton, St Julien
Touch of mint again. And some real St Julien chunk to this. Complete, full, and very good indeed.
2005 Ch. Leoville-Barton, St Julien
A touch of mint though this is a little reticent and not giving much away. Very pure. Lift. I want to drink this. Excellent. This, and these (2005s) are very special.
2005 Ch. Petit-Village, Pomerol
A touch of confected spice on the nose. But genuine purity and a touch of herb in the mouth. Sweet,
2005 Ch. Pichon-Baron, Pauiilac
Much more serious. There is a great deal going on here. Baby first growth. Depth. This goes on. Seriously, seriously good. Excellent. Flawless.
The notes are short. Good wines don’t need long notes plus (a) I wanted to get away before I was recognised and (b) I wanted to have a pint with Big Phil.
In January I walked down Southwold High Street with a rare smile on my face having just tasted the flight of my life. It was the last time I had been excited by Bordeaux. Last week I jumped onto a 507 to Waterloo with the same grin. I remembered what it was all about. Bordeaux, just briefly, stopped being a commodity. It was something beautiful. It was what the whole thing was about.
Frenchie and Clarethound: thank you.