|On day one of my trip I bumped into an old friend, Veronique Sander, proprietor of Chateau Haut-Bailly (right), a very level-headed and honest vigneronne who told me that she though the quality of the
2005 vintage was "extraordinary." Veronique's 87-year-old grandfather was involved in making the wines for over 60 years at Haut-Bailly, and apparently he too thinks it is the best, most complete vintage he has ever tasted,
with the combination of ripe, full fruit and perfect structure. Veronique says she asked him "so even better than 1961?" and he replied, "Oh yes, easily."
An overall sense of the vintage emerged quite clearly: this is without doubt an excellent year for Bordeaux, where the season-long drought through spring and summer led to berries much smaller than usual, meaning a higher skin-to-juice ratio so plenty of colour and tannin, and very ripe, sweet fruit. Acidity was good too: though a very dry year, it was not exceptionally hot. A burst of late summer sunshine in October allowed the red harvest to be completed in perfect condition, and set the scene for good Botrytis in Sauternes.
Without doubt this was a year when winemakers in just about any region of Bordeaux had the best raw materials they could hope for: exceptional quality of fruit with great natural concentration. Very little could go wrong in the vineyards, but in the winery it was a different story. This was a year to allow these vineyards their most natural expression: a year in which any techniques for increasing extraction or concentration - from long skin macerations to more interventionist methods - should not have been necessary. If used, these techniques had to be applied very carefully indeed.
In general this was done very successfully. I was delighted with the majority of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, two appellations where over-extraction has been a problem in recent years in particular. But here, and in other appellations, there are some wines that have been over-worked and over-extracted. In my notes you will find references to "inky" and "paint-box" aromas, and to "inky" and "beetrooty" flavours. These are all indications of wines with too much dry extract, where the pigment and tannins have been allowed to dominate the fruit too much. The management of tannins and extraction was the great challenge, and one of the few problems, in this outstanding vintage.
My tasting notes on 200 wines follow. In all cases I have given a score out of 100 for the wine, but please note: these scores come with the caveat that these are unfinished wines that still have a year or more in barrel ahead of them. 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 © 2006 Tom Cannavan