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The First Sip of 2005 Bordeaux

Early indicators are promising

James Suckling
Posted: September 15, 2005

No one can say that they beat me this year. I am pretty sure I was the first to taste Bordeaux's 2005 vintage.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, I visited châteaus Haut-Brion and La Mission-Haut-Brion, researching a story. While I was there, I tasted the first vats of 2005 Merlot, plus Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon from barrel. And the newborn wines were of surprisingly good quality.

Granted, I am no expert in tasting day-old wines, still fermenting. I am not sure anyone is. I am also not sure what you can ascertain from tasting such raw wines, other than perhaps the quality of the fruit and alcohol levels. The 2005 red and dry white Bordeaux certainly have beautiful fruit and plenty of alcohol, because the grapes were very ripe.

"We are incredibly impressed with the pureness of the fruit," said Jean-Philippe Delmas, the technical director for the two estates, as we tasted together with Prince Robert de Luxembourg, whose family owns the properties. "The grapes were in perfect condition when we picked them. We have never seen such grapes in such perfect condition. We didn't have to make a selection of any type."

Delmas said that his father, Jean, who recently retired as the head winemaker of the properties, told him that he had never seen such wonderful grapes in his winemaking career, which spans six decades. If this is true, it is very impressive indeed. But it's early days still.

A lot can happen. Haut-Brion is almost always the first to pick of the big names in Bordeaux. Most of the top châteaus have not picked their grapes yet. They didn't plan to start until next week. Some of the wineries I visited this week said that they were expecting rain on Friday and Saturday, but they hoped the wet weather would clear after that. "We need some water anyways," said Delmas. "It's been a very dry growing season."

Delmas, and others, said that besides the dry weather, one of the key features of this year's growing season has been a big difference between temperatures during the days and nights. I found the same conditions during my stay in Bordeaux. The days were short-sleeve weather, with temperatures reaching 85 degrees F, while nights dropped to just under 50 degrees. This pattern allows the grapes to ripen fully, yet maintain a high level of acidity and aromatic intensity.

For instance, the Merlot vats at Haut-Brion and La Mission were close to 15 percent alcohol, yet they had very high total acidities, with pHs of about 3.6 to 3.7. Traditionally, ripe, high-alcohol wines in Bordeaux show low acidities and high pHs, but not in 2005.

"We are going to have rich and ripe reds, but they are also going to be very fresh and balanced," said Christian Seely, the head of Pauillac second-growth Pichon-Longueville-Baron.

Of course, this could all change. Seely and others were keeping their fingers crossed that the weather would stay fairly dry and sunny for another week or so, before the major harvesting began. "But it looks very good all the same, and we hope to make something special," he said.

Just how special the 2005 wines in Bordeaux are will be better understood in late March, when the wine world descends on the region to taste the new wines. However, the first indicators of Bordeaux 2005 look very exciting, even if it was only sips from a few vats and barrels.

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