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Thoughts on My 2005 Bordeaux Tasting

Posted: Dec 19, 2007 10:37am ET

I have to say that I am glad it is over. I finished tasting all my samples of 2005 Bordeaux last Friday and spent the weekend in Paris not thinking about Bordeaux. In fact, I drank mostly Beaujolais during my free time with friends in restaurants and at parties. The thought of young Bordeaux almost made me sick!

Check out my video with a little "before" and "after" action and the cameo appearance of Jo Cooke, my tasting coordinator and loyal friend. I couldn’t have done it without him. I tasted close to 900 wines in the end during my 12-day trip to Bordeaux.

What a vintage. I can't believe all the wonderful wines, from first growths like Margaux and Haut-Brion to simple petite châteaux, or even wine merchants’ blends. It the sign of a great vintage when quality is high across the board. Moreover, the dry and sweet whites are excellent.

Off the top of my head, it’s hard to generalize. I can’t say that any one appellation is better than the other. Perhaps Margaux came through particularly strong, just as I remember when I tasted them from barrel in Spring 2006. I also have a real soft spot for Pomerol. The top estates on the clay knoll of the appellation made some monumental wines.

The top 2005s are not wines that blow you away with their concentration, like so many highly rated wines in the world. Instead, they impress you with their completeness. They seduce you from the start with their complex aromas of ripe fruit, minerals, and light earth. These enticing aromas seem to constantly evolve in the glass. They are mesmerizing, like subtle perfume on a beautiful woman.

Their palates are dense yet agile, with superripe, seamless tannins and long, fresh finishes. It’s rare to find such structured Bordeauxs so light-footed and crisp. That’s why many of the top wines almost seemed drinkable. In fact, Jo and I drank the rest of a bottle of 2005 Haut-Brion one night with a juicy grilled steak at our hotel.

I remember doing the same during my first trip to Bordeaux back in the summer of 1983. The late Alexis Lichine invited me to his château for lunch with some of his friends, including Anthony-Barton of Léoville-Barton, Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel, and Jean-Eugene Borie of Ducru-Beaucaillou.  It was my first lesson in tasting barrel samples and it was with the 1982. We drank some of the samples with lunch after the tasting.

That’s a telltale for a great vintage.  A great year is one that producers great wines that are always great, no matter when you drink it – young or old.

Tom Breneman
eau claire, WI —  December 19, 2007 2:36pm ET
Wonderful vlog! Thanks for your sacrifice ((stated somewhat sarcastically :-)))I have several cases in future, bought for my three boys, and am looking forward to tasting this with them in later years. Thank you.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  December 20, 2007 1:29am ET
That is an awful lot of Bordeaux to taste in one 12-day span. Is there a possibility that those you tasted early on get a slight positive bias as opposed to those at the end of the line? It only seems human, but what do you do to avoid the inevitable bias that comes when the thought of tasting that 900th wine almost makes you sick? Would it have been more prudent to split the tastings into three 300-wine sessions? Perhaps WS should indicate in what order each tasting score/note was assigned, whether it be a preliminary range or the final score. What say you Mr. Suckling?
James Suckling
 —  December 20, 2007 2:27am ET
Are you serious? Every wine is given its fair evaluation. Perhaps you're not familiar with the mechanics of blind wine tasting? (The wines are grouped into smaller flights, with breaks between flights, so our palates stay fresh.) Nor my professionalism in tasting...I have been doing this for 26 years.
Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  December 20, 2007 4:01am ET
The fact of the matter is that a professional tennis player, for instance, who has been a professional for 26 years (let's say), who has been playing a 5-setter for more than 6 hours on a single day, starts to make mistakes towards the end of the match. I am sure Troy does not doubt your professionalism, James, or that he assumes that every wine will not be given its fair evaluation, but if you write that you're sick of young Bordeaux, you may wonder how sick, and how tired your palate is of young Bordeaux wines, willing to go for fresh fruity Beaujolais... It's just too easy to say that there is no variation because you're a professional doing this for 26 years. There are elements that influence a taster, wherever, whenever. You have said it yourself: you're sick of young Bordeaux, now, that's one influence you got from tasting so many wines in such a short period. But you're still the pro, James, and I admire what you do, and I'm sure you will try to evaluate each wine independently and fairly, no matter what time of day.
James Suckling
 —  December 20, 2007 4:16am ET
Thanks for the comment Guus. I like the comparison to a tennis player because I played seriously when I was a teenager and was ranked in California. Perhaps "sick" was a bad choice of word. It was an euphemism for "tired." Obviously, I was not physically sick.. and a fruity Beaujolais with a steak at a wine bar in Paris really hit the spot.
Tobias Treppenhauer
December 20, 2007 8:54am ET
Just out of curiosity: what happens to those 800-900 opened bottles?
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  December 20, 2007 10:18am ET
Tobias; I was wondering the same thing. I'd take any the left over Margaux. Looks like he drank the Haut-Brion.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  December 20, 2007 10:27am ET
Very excited to hear the positive news on the 2005 Bordeaux. I'm looking forward to the official reviews. Paris sounds like fun after 12 straight days of work, interesting work, but still work. Enjoy the holidays James!
Pauline Decloedt
canada —  December 20, 2007 10:58am ET
Thank you James for bringing us the "inside track" and all your hard work. I bought 2005 futures and am looking forward to receiving them. My son is going to Paris - are they now available in wine stores?Pauline DeCloedtVancouver, British Columbia
James Suckling
 —  December 20, 2007 11:03am ET
Some minor ones but not the big names. Stay cool. Happy Holidays!
Jon Burdick
December 20, 2007 4:44pm ET
James - how much does Jo Cooke PAY to be your tasting coordinator? Must be a lot in a vintage like 2005 (smile).It would be interesting to learn how you organize such a massive tasting. Do you organize by appellation, then by sub-areas within an appellation, then by relative contents of a grape variety (or alphabetically, or some other sequence)??Also, do you have the analytics of each wine available to you, and do you look at this before you taste or after you taste? e.g. IPT, acidity composition, pH.
Aviram Turgeman
Manhattan, —  December 21, 2007 1:27am ET
James! Anywhere on the website to find the climatic conditions during the growing season of 2005, something that will show why those wines are so wonderful?? Thanks
James Suckling
 —  December 21, 2007 10:00am ET

I will answer your questions over the weekend. I am on my way to Southern California for Christmas. And I have to catch a Virgin flight to Los Angeles right this moment.

Eat, drink and be merry...
Doug Daniell
Ontario/Canada —  December 23, 2007 9:53am ET
I agree with Troy¿s comments. When I first read your Blog, I, too, questioned how so many wines could be blind tasted over such a short period of time, without getting ¿sick¿ or ¿tired¿ of the process. I believe we are all looking for a valid explanation, to ensure us that each rating is unbiased ¿ especially around such an important vintage with thousands of dollars invested. This is the reason we pay money for Wine Spectator ratings. I thought, to boast about being a professional with 26 years of experience, was not the response any of your subscribers were looking for. Thanks, Guus, for challenging Mr. Sucking on this¿
James Suckling
 —  December 23, 2007 10:36am ET
Hey Doug. I am certainly not boasting. That's how long I have worked for the magazine. I have been doing large and long tastings for many, many years and it's a matter of concentration and experience to maintain accurate results. I think unbaised is the wrong word. I intentionally spent close to two weeks in Bordeaux to make sure I gave myself enough time to taste all the wines properly. You will have to trust me on that.

You might be interested to know that some other tasters, such as Robert Parker, regularly tastes 100 to 200 wines a day -- which I think is too many. Granted, Bob doesn't taste blind.
Doug Daniell
Ontario/Canada —  December 23, 2007 2:30pm ET
Thanks, James. This is the kind of response that I was craving. After mentioning that you were tired of the process, I just needed to know that the last bottle tasted received the same concentration as the first bottle. I certainly do trust your years of experience to bring accurate results. This is why I, and many others, invest so much based on your recommendations.
Miguel Lecuona
Austin, TX —  December 23, 2007 3:02pm ET
I disagree with Doug's comments, he is not speaking for me as a subscriber. I recognize that you are a professional, but not a tasting robot. That said, consider the transparency you are providing in this process, it is unprecedented: Videos and photos; evidence of the blind process and the bagged bottles themselves, opened by a 3rd party; daily commentary; comparisons and impressions to prior vintages; commentary with local winemakers to add context; and even personal discussion about your own sensibilities with your readers. And all of this before the tasting notes themselves are even printed for the public --resulting in two notes per wine (barrel and bottle). What more could one ask for -- notary, perhaps? Under the circumstances, two weeks for 900 wines is a great service to WS readers. Since you are providing the notes, and have done so for 26 years, this helps, rather than hinders, the reader to ensure consistent tastings from year to year. I don't know what process Doug would recommend. But it appears he is looking for one which would probably cost WS, and therefore, us, more money, and demand more of your time, at some cost to other tastings and services you provide to your readers. And how would we know it is demonstrably "better"? What if you did it over 4 weeks? Or rated fewer wines? Seems like more time for distraction, fatigue, or a cold, or other external factor to influence the result. There is no perfect process, certainly not without other trade-offs and expense. We're talking about wine, even for investors, not engineering. At some point it is up to the reader to assume responsibility for his own tastes and investments. And readers can gather opinions from several sources to make an even more informed decision. PS -- what a great cheese table at Les Sources de Caudalie.
James Suckling
 —  December 23, 2007 3:59pm ET
Gracias Miguel y Felix Navidad!
William Delaney
Arlington VA —  December 24, 2007 1:09pm ET
Who is Felix Navidad?I appreciate James' palate, his TN's, as well as his honest assessment coming back from Bordeaux a bit burned out after tasting all those wines.The process is not perfect, as we all should know. How many times have you tasted the same wine on two or more occasions and had different impressions? It happens a lot, and on a given day, a given wine can show good or bad to a particular taster depending on a host of factors. Personally I wish people would get away from the 100 point system that gives the facade of scientific precision, and more to a 20 point or five star rating system, but it is what it is. James, thanks for getting many more right than you get wrong, and thanks too for letting your readers know that you are human. I love wine, but there are plenty of days when the prospect of tasting dozens of raw young wines would not be appealing.Merry Christmas to everyone, and here is to a great 2008, which is only two years removed from 2010, when I can start drinking my 2000 Bordeaux!!Bill
Kevin Andrews
houston —  December 29, 2007 4:14pm ET
James-I like the St.Julien wines and especially Gruaud Larose. There is something very distinctive about the wine that repeats itself vintage after vintage. It has a barn yard smell that my friends often comment on but I can't quite put my finger on. Is this generally true of St.Julien wines? What other Bordeaux areas have similarly styled wines?Thanks, Kevin
Harold A Graziano
Charlotte, NC —  January 1, 2008 8:40pm ET
James: When can we expect to read your official review of the 2005 Bordeauxs? Also, someone mentioned buying 2005s in Paris. I bought my 2005 futures from wineex.com...when my wife and I visited Bordeaux and Paris in June 06, we found them more expensive in France??? Seems counter-intuitive, but its true. Just thought I would mention it.
Bernard Mclaughlin
Chicag,Il —  January 12, 2008 10:32am ET
For me the answer to any possible error is simple if you combine the scores of WS, RP, and Tanzer. Say 89, 96, and 93 point = 279 divided by 3 = 93 points. Anyone want to bet I didn't just buy a great bottle of wine? This system for purchasing wine blind has worked well for me. Thank you James for your work.
Arshavir Kouladjian
Los Angeles, California —  February 11, 2008 6:16pm ET

WOW! This will be my first comment to any of your blogs James, and it comes with great pleasure. I now have over 8 cases of 2005 bordeaux coming in this year, most of which came along side your notes and critique.

I would like to say thanks for all your hard work. That could not of been easy by no means. If I can ask you a question, it would be; When should i first attempt to taste a bottle of 2005 Bordeaux, mind you that they are averaging price/bottle of $150? I have 3 Sauternes labels and about 6 different red labels across the board.
Magie Di Bacco
Switzerland —  February 14, 2008 3:19pm ET
I haven't tasted 2005 Bordeaux, however I understand that the wines, even as perfect as they must be (after also other wine journalists comments) it confirms why the wine world (crazy) is so beautiful.Nature every year is different and many times in particular vintages we really discover how the vintage is only after years. Bordeaux 2005,after you wrote it's open with ripe fruits already, can close again maybe later. Let's have a look at 1997 for example, it's not at all the same vintage, but it changed so much in better, nobody wanted to put his money on it, but today the wines are beautiful to drink. I look forward to get my 2005's and taste them. The only thing is that I beleive that if there is some opportunities still to buy for those who did not, now it's the time, before the next ratings are out. Now I keep smoking my maduro outside my flat with my rum, write this note, and wait for the time coming.
P R Mitchell
New Zealand —  February 19, 2008 4:53pm ET
For countries with a weaker dollar than the $US!! how about for 2005 Bordeaux, Twenty Five properties for under $25, or even Fifteen under $15.00?

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