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Bordeaux 2001

This is a multi-part report on my trip to Bordeaux for "en primeurs 2001" - the wine world's very first chance to taste Bordeaux's new vintage and report back to Bordeaux-lovers. Wine buyers and press from around the globe descended on the Gironde on March 25th 2002 for an intensive three or four days of tastings organised by region, and presented in the Châteaux.

This ritual, after which the Bordelais will release their prices for this new vintage, happens every year and is a major event on the region's calendar. The Châteaux are dressed in all their finery, with flags flying and marquees erected, and this year the weather got into the celebratory mood as the sun shone constantly.

 

go straight to tasting notes:

Large bodies representing the vast majority of the top Châteaux - like the Union des Grands Crus or the Syndicat des Crus Bourgeois arrange huge tastings where all the wines of a region are gathered together in a few of the Châteaux. Others - the elite like the first growths of Lafite, Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, Margaux and Haut-Brion - do not take part in these events, and visitors must arrange to visit the individual Châteaux at a specific time.

I spent a few days as the guest of Château Preuillac, a very interesting up and coming Cru Bourgeois under new ownership (report to follow), and then another couple of days hurtling around Pauillac, Margaux, St-Emilion and Pomerol to attend the best of the large tastings. Given that a day spent this way can allow tasting of 75 wines or more, I elected not to make appointments with the individual Châteaux, where a day's efforts would gain access to only a half dozen wines. I was not short of top wines however, with many "super-second" growths and top Crus Classés tasted.

I sampled everything except the wines of Graves in a packed but delightful few days, from the Crus Bourgeois, to the best of the right and left banks, Sauternes and Barsac. It must be remembered that these wines were still grapes on the vine less than six months ago; they are very far from the finished product that will appear in the bottles in another 18 months time. For a start, the influence of oak-ageing has only started to take effect, and there are fining and filtering procedures to go through.


  Most importantly of all, these may not be the final blends that are made by the winemakers: almost all will have vinified tanks of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec separately, and will not make a final selection and blending of these for 15 months. The samples here are prepared specifically for the shows, so human nature suggests that the blend will be the most flattering at the moment. It will also use only the very best tanks; not the wine from younger vines, not the wine from remaining patches of S04, an over-productive rootstock that was widely planted in the last few decades. These factors must all be taken into consideration when looking at my, or anyone else's notes.

Having said all that, many visitors will be keen to know what the early impressions are. In a few weeks these wines will be offered for sale, and every fine wine merchant in Britain will be doing all they can to entice customers into buying "en primeur"; committing themselves to purchase at this stage for delivery in 2004. These notes are as honest as I can make them at this stage. All of these wines are inky purple in colour, tannic, and pretty one-dimensional - tertiary aromas and nuances have yet to develop. What I was looking for was four basic things: 1) Fruit quality and ripeness, 2) concentration (Bordeaux had a little rain immediately before harvest), 3) structure and, most importantly, 4) balance. The latter means that even given the young and tannic nature of the wines, there appears to be quality and sufficiency of fruit and acids to guarantee a positive evolution. I also searched hard for any nuances which suggested the wines had already a little complexity about them.

In general I found this to be a very good vintage. There seems to be no lack of concentration, and the fruit quality is pure and good. Tannins are ripe and acid levels are fine. For me, the left bank is probably the star this year. The wines of Pauillac and St-Julien are delightful, with Margaux and St-Estèphe not far behind. On the right bank, I was disappointed in the St-Emilions, particularly on a stylistic basis: wines seemed over-extracted in several cases, with inky, dry, bitterness about them and very dense, impenetrable tannins. Pomerol was better and more joyful. In Sauternes the botrytis and sweetness levels varied dramatically, but there was lovely fruit and good acidity.

In all, I would say this vintage is good to very good. Whilst it may not be quite as fine as 2000, and may always be in that vintage's shadow, I would suggest 2001 will ultimately turn out to be a fine year. All that remains now is for the Châteaux and wine trade to give the customer a break, and keep already high prices pegged back.

 

My tasting notes on some 150 wines follow. In all cases I have given a score out of 20 for the wine, but please note: these scores come with all the caveats mentioned above, and I would like you to mentally bracket every score plus or minus one point: so a 17-point wine might easily be 16 or 18, and a 16- to 17-point wine might be anything from 15 to 18. This is the minimum tolerance that I would suggest for such young, unfinished wines.

all text © Tom Cannavan's wine-pages 2002