The question is not ‘good or bad?’, the question is ‘how good?’. Shortly after harvest the growers and winemakers were invoking many superlatives; 1999 but better, 1990 etc., etc.
That some measure of indecision and revisionism was noted in recent weeks seems a little odd, that is until you look at the wider context – they are about to embark on a potentially ‘testing’ 2004 campaign, and, given the early promise of 2005 these wines should be easy to sell – but they naturally don’t want you and I to miss a vintage (2004) by over hyping 2005 – at least not yet…!
Apart from a few patches of hail very early in the year – before most grapes had formed – this was a year that was characterised by the sun and the rain – or rather the lack of rain. Whilst it was a hot one, the vintage didn’t come close to 2003-type conditions – almost no sunburned grapes this year. There was, however, some concern as there was very little rain and many vines were stressed by this. Two weeks before the harvest there was finally some rain, not enough to significantly affect the concentration of the grapes, but just enough to ripen the tannins in the skins and pips – almost all the grapes that I triaged had ripe brown pips.
When compared to 2004, the grapes were fantastic, only needing the removal of the occasional spot of rot – triage was minor and required fewer people to man the table. At this time the whites seem equally ‘endowed’ to the reds. Only one thing of note in the cuverie; for many, the wines just zoomed straight into malolactic fermentation, some are already expected to finish by the time you read this!
With this 2005 vintage I expect that I shall be buying both red and white, and across the hierarchy, but I’ll leave a few last words about the vintage to Aubert de Villaine – ‘2005 was actually much more like 1976 than 2003 was, except that there was more rain in 2005… these are easily the best grapes I’ve seen since 1999, the wines will have great potential, perhaps though, the rain came just a little too late to provide the same elegance in the tannins that we can see in 1999, but we shall see…’
A vintage where the wines went in opposite directions vs the initial expectations. The red and whites had quite high levels of malic acid in 2004 so these fermentations were very important for the end result. The whites had beguiling aromas and good acidity before malolactic fermentation – the expectations were quite high. Pre bottling the whites are good, but we’d been expecting ‘very-good’. That said, if you passed on 2003 whites then there will be plenty of fresh and concentrated wines to re-stock with, perhaps the average quality is somewhere closer to 2001 than 2000.
If the whites didn’t quite match expectations, for many people the reds exceeded them. The most important job in cuverie was triage; sorting the rot and sorting the unripe. Take away the dross and the grapes were interesting, without this key task it simply wasn’t possible to make a good wine. At the start it wasn’t really possible to say if one Côte was better than another because they suffered hail and rot almost equally. Tasting the wines shows that the good producers have some very nice wines indeed, perhaps better than 2001, if you’d offered them this result in August 2004, most would not have believed.
Many reds had quite long malos, and though now finished, some wines in barrel today still show some gas. The reds tasted at half a dozen producers are all clean, concentrated, quite elegant and show good differentiation between the vineyards – usually with finer tannins than 2002 if not quite the average concentration. I’d offer 2001 with a little more density as a comparison. At the good producers this is a very successful vintage, and so-far I’ve pre-ordered more wines than I already have in the cellar from 2003, mainly 1er and Grand Cru.
Let us be clear, my comments are aimed at the exigent producers, the ones who took the extra steps. I’ve spoken with a few other tasters, and while they have not met many rot or hail tainted wines, they have found quite a few instances of green, under-ripe wines. Be sure that these are out there and adjust your buying strategies to take this into account.
So, what is left to say about 2003? Apart from the late released wines (Rousseau, Leroy, Romanée-Conti), all the wines are now in the market for appraisal – so where are they vs all those early column inches? – let us start with the whites:
In barrel they were certainly wines of concentration, highish alcohol and sweetness from the ripe fruit, but where was the acidity to balance? These were not wines for me and it seemed that others concurred. I should add here the caveat that many from Pernand and Corton-Charlemagne (in particular) were quite successful, but they still have to compete for shelf-space with the (usually) better 2001 and 2002’s. Today in bottle, almost without exception, the wines are better – we seem much closer to ‘balance’ than ever seemed possible from barrel, but they still do not fit my own buying profile – I enjoy minerality and freshness, and find neither. If, however, you crave the voluptuous, give them a try – they could be your thing!
And the reds? Initially expectation polarised around who did what, when – i.e early or late harvesting! The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it seems that many from both camps made successful wines. Yields were very low – half or less than normal. The wines are very concentrated, and though they have relatively low acidity, the other side of the long-term stabilisation of the wines is very concentrated – these are the tannins. It is these tannins that are key to how the wines present and will age. Some say that the wines will not age, others say they will age magnificently(… ). My purchases are below most years in value, but higher in volume because I’ve centred on the regional wines (80%) which are, and will remain, great drinking in the medium term. The aromatics are somewhat marked by the vintage with lots of kirsch and almost gamay-style fruit notes, but they are fresh and concentrated. The other 20% are at the highest level as I daren’t be without these – ‘just in-case!’ – but nothing has be bought in the middle. The higher wines show more plum than cherry aromatics and a really concentrated dry extract on the finish – let’s see how they develop…