Critical response to the 2005 wines of Bordeaux has been nothing short of orgasmic on the part of normally restrained critics. Said the Wine Spectator’s James Suckling, “These young wines seduce already with their complex aromas of ripe fruit, minerals and light earth. These enticing aromas constantly evolve in the glass. They are mesmerizing, like subtle perfume on a beautiful woman. You fall in love with them the moment you taste them.”
’Tis to blush.
Suckling is speaking primarily of the upper- echelon wines, of course — “the world’s most expensive young vintage ever.” And he justifies the cost by saying that, “They are magnificent, and touch your heart and soul the moment you put your nose in the glass.”
This did set Omniboire’s pulse to racing, but there was of course no way, even blowing the entire month’s budget on a single bottle, that we could approach the Mount Olympus that is Chateau Margaux, for example. Its 2005 pulled a perfect 100 from WS and sells — assuming you can get it now — for over $1,000. Yes, that’s per bottle. But the pundits have also posited that even the area’s lesser lights benefited from both the vintage’s extremely favorable growing conditions and constant improvements in viticulture and winemaking technique.
The rising tide, we hoped, truly did float all barriques. And as luck would have it, dentist and collector-connoisseur Richard Toupal offered a few bottles from his personal cellar to seed the event. The remaining wines were sourced from Joe Baker at Seazar’s Wine and Spirits and from Serendipity Wines. With none retailing for more than about $40, we were poised to probe the ’05s at the less patrician — but presumably still promising — level.
John Brand, the new executive chef at the Omni La Mansion del Rio graciously agreed to host the event and, being occupied in the kitchen, lent us the practiced palate of sommelier and maitre d’ Rudy Souberbielle, recently back on the floor at Las Canarias after years away at such wine-friendly establishments as Le Rêve and Francesca’s at Sunset. The quartet was completed by yours truly and Olivier Bourgoin of Serendipity Wines, who is also a wine commentator on KTSA radio. (It seemed necessary to have a genuine Frenchman in the mix, but it was an accident that we were tasting on Bastille Day, I swear.)
Though wines at this level are assumed to reach maturity earlier than their classified cousins, it was apparent from the get-go that it would have been good to have been able to open the wines much earlier than the half hour or so available before the blind tasting, but during the nearly two hours we spent sniffing, swirling, and spitting, we were able to witness the wines’ evolution in the glass and on the palate.
As is usually the case, even with practiced tasters, scores for some wines were all over the map. Only one wine didn’t make the cut, and it may not be accidental that it was the least pricey bottle of the day.
Under Omniboire’s quirky rating system in which label appeal and content also get points, all of these wines would have scored higher but for their obdurately French labeling featuring various shapes and sizes of chateaux and fragments thereof (if you’ve got it, flaunt it, is presumably the attitude) but no real information of use to most consumers — with one exception. The top-rated Château Meyney may have a discreet architectural fragment on the front, but it also has a back label with genuine content, including blend data (70-percent cabernet sauvignon, 20-percent merlot, 10-percent cabernet franc) and a modest evaluation of the wine’s characteristics.
It would have been good to find that, in the absence of information, you could throw a dart, figuratively, at 2005 Bordeaux and get a good wine, but our tasting suggested you still have to be cautious, despite the overall quality. Nevertheless, pick your favorite critical source — including this one, if you dare — and go shopping. This is a good year to be bedded by Bordeaux. Even with a plebian pocketbook.
2005 Château Meyney
Integrated, fragrant, round and velvety
The winning wine’s spread was just over two points on the 20-point scale. In calling it his favorite, Souberbielle found “chocolate, leather” and a generous roundness. “Loads of fragrance — after time,” opined Bourgoin. “This will age; there’s a lot going on,” pronounced Toupal.
2005 Château Coronne Ste. Gemme, Crû Bourgeois, $22
Intense, earthy, mature, yet supple
Nearly two points separated the second-place winner from the Château Meyney. Crû bourgeois is a collective term, used in the Médoc, for the 200 or so châteaux that didn’t make the cut in the 1855 Classification, and there are stirrings in the wine community about the reclassification of some of them due to their rise in quality over the past century and a half. The wine’s proponents found it “intense and pleasant” (Bourgoin) and “earthy and supple” (Souberbielle). Coincidentally, we had two bottles of this wine, one of which had been opened hours earlier by Toupal and kept cool with an ice pack in a wine carrier. We tasted this bottle after the blind tasting and found it superior to the warmer wine in play — even on par with the winner for some of us.
2005 Château Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Médoc, $24
Chocolate, currant and black fruit with some tar and earth
“It’s a classic, young Bordeaux,” said Toupal of the Château Cambon La Pelouse, adding that “the change in the glass `over time` shows what a great vintage it is.” Bourgoin called the wine “supple,” and Souberbielle noted “currant, black fruit, and chocolate.”
2005 Château Joanin Bécot,
Côtes de Castillon, $35
Young, tannic, fresh, yet accessible
From the emerging Côtes de Castillon appellation hard by St. Emilion came the Château Joanin Bécot, a wine that garnered comments ranging from “still green” (Bourgoin) to “my favorite — a lot of alcohol but big fruit” (Toupal). “It tasted the youngest,” mentioned Souberbielle. Omniboire found this one of the most improved wines after two hours, having initially called it “tannic, brash and a little short — though fresh.”
2005 Château Goudichaud Graves de Vayres, $15
Approachable, lingering finish
Another unsung appellation, the Graves de Vayre, produced the Château Goudichaud, the tasting’s number five wine. “I came back for more; it was lingering and assertive, said Bourgoin. (Note: it was one of his wines, though he didn’t know that at the time.) “Nothing special in the beginning,” offered Toupal. Omniboire found it mature beyond its age — and much helped by the cheese that was on the plate supplied by Chef Brand.
2005 Château Laland-Borie St. Julien, $30
Big fruit, mature nose, good balance and finish
Chateau Laland-Borie is the third label of Ducru-Beaucaillou, a Second-Growth producer. This was also Omniboire’s second-favorite wine on the basis of its maturity and integration. “Awesome fruit extraction and a great finish,” said Bourgoin in pronouncing it ready to drink now. “A good wine to buy,” suggested Toupal, apparently feeling it also had ageing potential.
2005 Château Haut Bessac Boedeaux Superieur, $19
Young and tannic, but easy to drink
The Château Haut Bessac, a Bordeaux Superieur normally among the least sophisticated of the Bordeaux, nevertheless managed a respectable 14 points and comments such as “easy to drink” and “a lot of promise.”
2005 Châeau Tour St. Bonnet,
Crû Bourgeois Médoc, $14
Light body, rose petals on nose, improves with time
Barely squeeking in at 13 points, despite Souberbielle’s evocation of “rose petals and strawberries,” was the Château Tour St. Bonnet, a Crû Bourgeois from the Médoc. •