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Bordeaux - the 2004 vintage

by Tom Cannavan. all photos copyright Cephas.

This is a multi-part report on my trip to Bordeaux for "en primeurs 2004" - 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 April 4th 2005 for an intensive five days of tastings organised by region, and presented in the Châteaux.

go straight to tasting notes:

Each year the Union des Grands Crus arranges huge tastings where all the wines of a region are gathered together in one of the Châteaux. I spent a full week in Bordeaux, and managed to taste in all the major communes, from Sauternes, to the Graves and into the Médoc, then crossing over the Gironde to the Right Bank, to taste Pomerol and St-Emilion. In all I tasted 150 wines, and full notes on each are given.

  This was a packed few days, but an overall sense of the vintage emerged quite clearly. 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 just started to take effect, and there are fining and filtering procedures to go through. Having said that, many visitors will be keen to know what the early impressions are.

Over the next few weeks these wines will be offered for sale "en primeur": customers commit to purchase now, for delivery late in 2006. These notes are as honest as I can make them at this stage. All of the wines are deep in colour, tannic, and comparatively one-dimensional at this stage. What I was looking for was four basic things: 1) Fruit quality, 2) concentration 3) structure and - most importantly - 4) harmony and 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 good to very good vintage. There is no lack of concentration here, and in many ways the trick has been to manage the high levels of extraction and tannins naturally present in this vintage. Despite a wet August, an Indian summer meant fruit ripened fully, and the quality is generally pure and good. For me, the left bank is probably the star this year, particularly the wines of Pauillac and St-Julien. On the right bank, I was pleased to find the St-Emilions had a good deal of finesse - in previous vintages recently I have complained that the St Emilions were rather over-extracted as a group, with too much concentration and too much oak. Pomerol was also good this year - perhaps not quite so deep and lush as in some years, but well-balanced and delicious.

In Sauternes the botrytis and sweetness levels varied greatly - all wines have very good sweetness thanks to late harvesting, but several display a lack of Botrytis and a slightly one-dimensional quality. 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 150 wines follow. In all cases I have given a score out of 100 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 a couple of points: so a 90-point wine might easily be 88 or 92. This is the minimum tolerance that I would suggest for such young, unfinished wines.

Links to the tasting notes are below:

all text © 2005 Tom Cannavan