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2005 Merlot Madness in Bordeaux

Posted: Sep 26, 2006 3:45pm ET

The dusty streets of Havana are a long way from the vineyards and cellars of Bordeaux, but I was thinking this morning over a café con leche about the Merlots I tasted from barrel last week while in France. I am on assignment for Cigar Aficionado, a sister publication for Wine Spectator, for which I am also European editor.

The 2005 Merlot-based reds I tasted in Bordeaux last week from barrel were superb. I have never tasted such powerful Merlots. They have the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon with their powerful chewy tannins, and at the same time, they have the opulence and richness of Merlot, with violets, berries and black olive character.

One of the most obvious examples was the 2005 L’Evangile, which I tasted at Château Lafite-Rothschild, which shares the same owners. Here is my note:

I love the aromas in this wine of orange and lemon peel, blackberries and raspberries. The nose is like a wine from the 1950s or 1940s. It’s full-bodied, with racy silky tannins and a powerful palate. It goes on for minutes. It’s layered and structured. I don’t remember many young Pomerols like this.

I gave it the same score as I did in my barrel tastings this spring. It should be classic quality when it finally goes into the bottle.

I asked winemaker and Lafite director Charles Chevallier what he thought about the Evangile, and he couldn’t agree more with my assesment. “The 2005 has incredible structure, but it is so round and refined,” he said, shaking his head in slight disbelief. “What a beautiful wine. It is it really straight and angular. It is harder than the Lafite. It’s funny. You don’t see structure like that often on the Right Bank.”

My quick visit to Le Pin, the mother of garage wines, was a similar experience. The tiny-production, pure Merlot was incredible, better than I remember it being in late March. Here is my note:

This shows a powerful nose of wild berries, spices and forest leaves. It’s super fresh. Full bodied and racy, it has powerful tannins yet a great freshness – loads of lively chocolate and orange peel character. Mind-blowing.

I tasted the wine from barrel with owner Jacques Thienpont, who was getting ready for his harvest the following day, and he said this about the wine: “This is the most structured Le Pin I have ever made." (The first vintage of Le Pin was 1979.) “It is very powerful. You don’t see Merlot like that. Le Pin is usually more silky and refined. But this year is the exception.”

It’s still too early to declare that 2005 is a Right Bank year, better than it was the Left Bank. But the Merlots were clearly exceptional. Wait and see.

Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  September 27, 2006 2:02am ET
We poured a '95 L'Evangile last night for a guest. Georgeous color & nose as we decanted. Tonight an '01 Cheval Blanc. I'm not all that familiar tasting Right Bank wines. Do you think any top CA Merlots can compare. Maybe do a '76 type tasting? On paper(wine mags), it doesn't seem like CA Merlots would stand a chance. BTW: the above mentioned wines are where I rely on trade mags like yours because they don't give me a tasting btl on these. Favorable response on both wines so the ratings & reviews must be spot on.
William Delaney
Arlington VA —  September 27, 2006 9:58am ET
Careful James, some conservative nut job may report you to the Bush administration for travelling to Cuba, assuming you are a US citizen. If they do, just tell them you were burning Castro's crops! Cheers, Bill
Tristan Sjoberg
London —  September 27, 2006 2:11pm ET
Apj, try the '96 l'Evangile. Much underated and drinking fantastically well now. Or the 2000 La Conseillante, if you want to push the boat out!

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