Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tasting Bordeaux 2004

Bordeaux producers from the Union des Grands Crus hosted a tasting a few weeks ago of their 2004 wines in San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and New York. Sandwiched between two highly hyped vintages, 2003 and 2005, and the fact that the usual wine critics haven't spent much ink, so far, writing up about this vintage, the Bordeaux producers have wisely seized the task themselves of spreading the joys of their 2004 wines.

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There were several hundred wines being tasted, mostly from stellar producers. Though the First Growths were nowhere to be seen and a handful of top tier producers like Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Pavie, and Leoville-Lascases did not make it, many of the best and brightest of Bordeaux these days were pouring their wines.

Overall, it was not a bad vintage. There is much variability in the quality of the wines, but non-Medoc regions like Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, and Graves showed the most consistency. Pauillac and Margaux appear to yield the least amount of exciting wines, which pretty much explains why this vintage is not getting its fair share of hype. I mean, Bordeaux is a huge place, with microclimates in each of its regions. Almost the entirety of Bordeaux can experience a bad vintage, but as long as key estates in Pauillac and Margaux come up with excellent wines one would hear mainly hype about the vintage from the wine media. Such is the prevailing bias. Pauillac and Margaux, Pauillac especially, hold the keys to the market success of the entire region.

From Graves, I like the wines in both colors that the regeion is famous for. In whites, Domaine de Chevalier produced a thrilling white, the best in the tasting, with very good concentration, freshness, and depth. The whites from this venerable estate are usually second only to the whites of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. Smith Haut-Lafitte Blanc showed very good balance and minerality and I liked it a lot. Other wonderful white are the ones from Fieuzal, Larrivet-Haut-Brion, and the little-known Chantegrive. Carbonnieux, whose 2003 blanc is one of the best from that difficult vintage for whites, unfortunately did not excite me this time.

Graves reds showed even more brillaince. This time I was impressed with Carbonnieux. But one of the most impressive was Haut-Bailly--seemingly forward in style because of its excellent balance, it's very classy. Larrivet-Haut-Brion and Smith Haut-Lafitte were also impressive. Both displaying the forward style of this vintage.

In St.-Emilion there is even more to choose from. My favorites include Beau-Sejour Becot, Figeac (stunning!), Clos Fourtet, Pavie-Macquin, Troplong Mondot, Grand Mayne, and the little-known Dassault. But I wasn't too thrilled about Angelus, which I found a bit too extracted for the vintage and trying too hard to please. 2004 is a vintage that rewards wines that are more relaxed in style.

The handful of Pomerol estates in attendance did not disappoint, with both Clinet and Gazin showing very good stuff indeed. But La Conseillante was truly spectacular--very ripe, very sweet; the tannins so rich and velvety.

As I mentioned, Margaux did not perform well, however, at least one that stood out was Du Tertre--it was perfumy, ripe, and intense. Its favored exposure at the top of a hill in Margaux plus the brilliant winemaking really paid off. This is one of the best buys of the vintage.

In Sauternes there is much to like. Rayne Vigneau and Lafaurie-Peyraguey turned out exceptional wines that are rich and layered and supported by good acidity. My top picks, though, are La Tour Blanche and de Fargues.

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La Tour Blanche picked brutally as a result of the rain during harvest, leaving as much as 70% of the fruit unpicked. The sacrifice was definitely worth it as the wine showed beautiful sweetness and freshness on the palate, with wonderful length on the finish.

De Fargues, which is a separate estate owned by Yquem, also sorted brutally as the hailstorm destroyed about 60% of the crop. This is a wine with much delicacy and charm; instead of wowing you with richness, whcih it has a good amount of, it also seduces with its finesse and elegance. A marvelous feat.

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