Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

A Look at Some 2005 Clarets

February 2010


Tasting young claret is gruelling and lonely work. But somebody has to do it. I myself have done it many times, starting in 1971 (with a look at some of the ‘70s – I still remember that smell and taste of the infant ‘70 Latour). In some later vintages I would spend two, even three weeks in the Bordeaux region, tasting my way from one château to another, spending the weekends relaxing in such resorts as La Rochelle and Arcachon.

 

In 1983 I devoted many hundreds of hours sampling the 1982s, and was one of the few judges who, at that early stage, identified the vintage as a great one. On my return to Sweden, I published novella-length diaries of my sojourn in Bordeaux, giving detailed appraisals of the hundred or two ‘82s that had crossed my palate. These appeared in the magazine Restauranger & Storkök, and were, so I was later told, read avidly by the all-powerful wine buyers at the state liquor monopoly. I also published a detailed article called “A Careful Appraisal of the Bordeaux reds of 1982″ in “Connoisseur”, the New York magazine.

 

Here is my description, written in 1983, of 1982 Château Latour :

 

“In a year when even minor châteaux wines have an impressive appearance, it stands out: virtually black, with intense scarlet high-lights – rubies on black silk – and fat glycerine “tears” that slowly run down the sides of the glass. The large scent of the dominant Cabernet-Sauvignon grape, often reminiscent of blackcurrants, combines real power with the sweetness obtained only from ripe and healthy grapes. The flavour, still in chrysalis, is persistent.”

 

And here’s my portrait of ‘82 Pétrus, which:

 

“exhibits a remarkable concentration and size, with a colour so dense as to be almost opaque even against a bright light. The smell is rich, conjuring up bilberries and fresh truffles, the flavour so full that it carries intimations of immortality…”

 

But back to future: the 2005 clarets. Late in 2009 I was invited to a tasting of 124 of the region’s top wines from that vintage but – as my train was late – had only time to taste around half. Such a situation concentrates the mind wonderfully, with each successive wine being sampled or ignored without the loss of a single precious second. My regrets to any serious producer whose wine I was unable to examine.

 

 

GRAVES

 

2005 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER **(*) This has the deep, lustrous colour found in all good ‘05s and a refined, fine-tuned aroma dominated by black fruits with hints of pine (I enjoy the thought that Chevalier is surrounded by pine trees). Elegant and polished, it has none of the blockbuster elements that can develop so easily in such a vintage. The tannins, of the ripe kind, give tautness and structure without the faintest harshness. The oak has been used with restraint. A subtle, medium-bodied Chevalier to enjoy 2020-32.2005

 

CHATEAU FIEUZAL ** The big, assertive aroma of damson, chocolate, and violet leads into a long, balanced flavour with lots of substance. The aftertaste of bilberry and blackcurrant is fresh but, at the last moment, turns slightly bitter, leaving me unsure. (If I’d had more time I would have retasted later).

 

2005 CHATEAU LA MISSION HAUT BRION **** The powerful, distinguished aroma of black fruits, clay, and chocolate has great spread and is wonderfully balanced. Very masculine, it expresses the very essence of this famous property – which I once called the Montrose of the Graves. The rich, chocolaty flavour is profound, with cinnamon adding spice to the black-fruit density. The acidity is of the best kind, bringing freshness and incisiveness, and the tannins are ripe. Finishes firm. At best around 2020-35.

 

2005 CHATEAU LA TOUR HAUT BRION *** This has a broad, briary aroma, very similar to La Mission’s, with distinct Merlot warmth and volume and a balsamic element. Weighty on the palate, tasting of ripe berries and plum, it has good freshness combined with power and volume but is only of medium complexity. To enjoy around 2018-30.

 

2005 CHATEAU LA TOUR MARTILLAC ** Fullish, vinous, and round, this is a good but simple wine with a touch of nectarine (doubtless from super-ripe Merlot) on the finish. To drink around 2018-28.

 

2005 CHATEAU MALARTIC LAGRAVIERE *** Fusing vitality with elegance, this has a balanced aroma of black and red fruits with a touch of saffron and cinnamon. You can smell the oak but it’s very fugitive. The delectably fruity flavour is streamlined but intense, with a long, nuanced finish. The oak is more noticeable on the palate and a decade will pass before it fades. A wine with lots of substance and good grip. 10-20 years.

 

2005 CHATEAU PAPE CLEMENT **** The Cabernet-Sauvignon is in the ascendant on the nose, which is why, perhaps, this has an almost Médocain feel. Black fruits dominate on the firm, dynamic aroma, which shows real polish. In the mouth, though, it has more Graves character (I think of La Mission), with hints of roast chestnut, chocolate, and – from the Merlot – fig and nectarine. This terrific wine is rich, masterful, and long, with a great tannic structure. A classic Pape Clément, at best around 2025-50.

 

2005 CHATEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE ***(*) The nose of black fruits and peony is fragrant, sensuous, and very feminine. The glossy flavour is long though excessively marked by oak (it’s almost sawdusty). The Merlot endows the aftertaste with flesh and generosity and the earthy finish promises real depth in a decade or two.

 

 

HAUT MEDOC

 

2005 CHATEAU CANTEMERLE **(*) After the Graves, this has a strikingly Médoc aroma, sinewy and vinous, of blackberry and pomegranate. The oak (a hint overdone) brings a hint of sealing wax. The tight-knit flavour, which has a Graves-like earthiness, carries a hint of clay, with a longish finish that is resolutely Médocain. To drink 2018-30.

 

2005 CHATEAU LA LAGUNE **(*) The nuanced, flowery aroma, almost Margaux in style, conjures up sweet damson, carnation, and red rose – a very Merlot type of nose. The velvety flavour, expressive in a feminine way, is ripe and lush, with good tannins lurking in the background. Not profound but full of charm, this will age gracefully for 25 years or more.

 

2005 CHATEAU LA TOUR CARNET * The black-fruit aroma has an almost Saint-Estèphe firmness, though without much complexity, and the flavour is fullish and has grip. At the very least worthy, this should improve steadily for 20-25 years.

 

 

MARGAUX

 

2005 CHATEAU BRANE CANTENAC ***(*) The dynamic, assertive aroma of black fruits also has a flowery side – wisteria and red rose – while the flavour, already expressive, shows great precision. Red fruits augment the black kind and the long, harmonious aftertaste is decisive but not over-emphatic. A lovely wine of true Margaux finesse, to be relished around 2025-45.

 

2005 CHATEAU CANTENAC BROWN *** This has a lovely, buoyant, almost voluptuous aroma of black cherry with a sudden surge of fig and chocolate. The rich, balanced flavour is distinctly chocolaty, with good freshness, and the prolonged aftertaste has a complexity that testifies to the great progress made at this estate in recent years. The unforced sweetness of totally ripe fruit shows in the finish. At best 2018-38.

 

2005 CHATEAU D’ANGLUDET ** (*) The nose, both earthy and mineral, suggests sweet prune and black cherry. The intensely fruity flavour shows sweetness and grip. The aftertaste is both long and structured, with real persistence. At best around 2020-35.

 

2005 CHATEAU DU TERTRE **(*) The nose is full and vinous (this is the first sample where I register high alcohol) with a hint of something ferruginous. Black fruits dominate. It shows lots of personality if not a great deal of finesse. There’s masses of flavour, though – blackberry jam, chocolate, prunes, and cinnamon. A wine, straight and true, that will give much satisfaction around 2018-32.

 

2005 CHATEAU GISCOURS **** This beautifully-fashioned wine has a close-knit, polished aroma of black cherry, cigarbox, and blackcurrant, showing a seamless meld of Cabernet and Merlot. Very briary on the palate, with specifically Margaux fruit on the concentrated finish. A wine of noble bearing, with classic proportions. 2012-35.This property has improved immeasurably in recent years; though it did sometimes perform beautifully in earlier decades (the ’70 is a great success in that severe vintage).

 

2005 CHATEAU D’ISSAN ***(*) Very flowery in an archetypically Margaux way, this has a graceful, balanced aroma of ripe black fruits. Already delicious, the flavour shows Cabernet-Sauvignon density and gloss, with real sweetness on the long, complex aftertaste. There’s a distinct whiff of truffle on the clayey finish – a trait that will grow as the wine ages. This will be a beauty around 2020-40.

 

2005 CHATEAU LABEGORCE * This dark, briary wine is dense and earthy in an almost Graves-like way, and has a vigorous, weighty flavour with vinosity and some depth. A very decent wine for medium-term drinking. May well exceed expectations in due course – the ‘89 was nothing less than delectable some years ago, when sampled in a Paris restaurant.

 

2005 CHATEAU LASCOMBES * Dense, oaky, chocolaty nose, suggesting damson, flint, and boot polish (a by-product of highly toasted oak). The flavour is rich and concentrated, New World style, with vanillin and spice from the near-scorched oak. Lascombes has great potential (I remember a wonderful ‘64 at a dinner at the château) but in this brash form lacks Margaux subtlety and finesse. Nonetheless, it’s a solid wine that will improve with keeping.

 

2005 CHATEAU MONBRISON * The aroma, vital and nuanced, is full of berrylike fruit, and promises roundness and smoothness. The flavour is, initially, “straight” and serious, with Margaux character (restraint fused with grace), but grows a little harsh, almost stalky, on the finish. I’ve no doubt this would show better if re-tasted in a few months.

 

2005 CHATEAU PALMER ****(*) A particularly deep and lustrous colour, with a superb aroma that’s balanced, profound, and crammed with fruit. Cherry, truffle, blackberry, coffee, and chocolate come to mind in succession. The wine has a wonderful mouth-feel, conjuring up all manner of ripe fruits. Rich, velvety, yet with classic restraint, it has a long, mellow, structured aftertaste that half conceals, and half reveals, a myriad sub-flavours. A great Palmer that will live 40 years or more.

 

2005 CHATEAU PRIEURE LICHINE **(*)
The aroma is broad and enveloping, with typical Cantenac lushness, and verges on voluptuousness. But it’s assertive too, with plenty of tannin. Liquorice dovetails with black cherry to give a long, agreeably sweet aftertaste. At best around 2020-35 (the ‘70 is still absolutely delicious!).

 

2005 CHATEAU RAUZAN SEGLA ****(*)
Noble, complex aroma, flowery and full of nuances – damson, sweet black cherry, blackcurrant, raspberry, peony: a beautifully balanced, complete aroma, with a quality found only in the greatest wines: finesse. The flavour positively explodes on the palate, showing great complexity and refinement. Viscous yet not oily, the wine feels almost tremulous in the mouth, as new sub-flavours separate into delectable rivulets. Though of great presence, it is classically understated. With huge reserves that will reveal their exact form as the wine matures – a process that should take three to four decades.

 

One great admirer of Rauzan Ségla was Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. He’d spent five years in France as the U.S. ambassador and had become a great expert on the wines of France (he acted as wine consultant to four of the other early U.S. presidents). “This is what I import for myself, and consider as equal to any of the four crops [first growths]”, he wrote, referring to this property.

 

 

MEDOC

 

2005 CHATEAU POTENSAC **(*)
Not as dark as some, but with a noble, expressive aroma of black fruits and pomegranate and a long, smooth flavour, nuanced and harmonious, with chocolate tones. A very good medium-full wine to leave aside for 6-7 years and enjoy for a dozen.

 

 

MOULIS

 

2005 CHATEAU CHASSE SPLEEN **
The nose, full of Moulis energy, is broad, round, and compact, with ample fruit and characteristic Chasse Spleen generosity and sweetness. Well-balanced if not strikingly complex, it’s only medium-full at present but will doubtless fill out in time. Same life-expectation as Potensac.

 

2005 CHATEAU POUJEAUX **
The nose is elegant, if oaky (the whiff of boot polish comes from toasted oak), with vinosity and ripe-grape sweetness. The flavour is vigorous and earthy, with characteristic Moulis sinew (the commune is a kind of rustic cousin of Saint-Estèphe) and is longish and structured. This forthright wine would make an excellent partner to roast shoulder of lamb around 2020-35.

 

The 1928 was still impressive just a few years ago.

 

 

LISTRAC

 

2005 CHATEAU CLARKE **
Unusually dark, even for an ‘05, this has a full, oaky nose, weighty, dense, and all of a piece. Very homogeneous on the palate, it is Rhôneish in structure if not in varietal character. The firm tannins are counterbalanced by the ripeness of the fruit. At best around 2018-30.

 

In the 1980s I used to make yearly visits to this property, which had been completely replanted in the previous decade. Progress was rapid, with each vintage giving progressively better wines. That progress has been maintained.

 

 

SAINT JULIEN

 

2005 CHATEAU BEYCHEVELLE ***(*)
Fine aerial nose, with multiple elements, elegant and inviting: a lovely upthrust of refines scents – damson, fig, blackberry. The flavour, fleshy yet taut, owes its smoothness to the Merlot grape, while the Cabernet-Sauvignon supplies muscle and sinew. The chocolate aftertaste shows real depth, the finish is long and refined. A lovely wine, to enjoy around 2020-35.

 

2005 CHATEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU ***(*)
The nose – a medley of black cherry, fig, and roast chestnut – is sweet, flowery, and refined. This poised aroma is matched by a flavour that is long and nuanced. To enjoy around 2017-37.

 

2005 CHATEAU GRUAUD LAROSE ****
The huge, voluptuous aroma leaps out of the glass – a gorgeous nose, showing sensuousness and rectitude. The full, velvety flavour of black fruits and nectarine is long and complex, the tannins are of the most refined kind. Deeply satisfying, sweet, and profound, this is one of the great G.L.s. A 40-year wine.

 

2005 CHATEAU LANGOA BARTON **(*)
The seamless aroma is crammed with black fruits and there’s only the barest, most subtle hint of toasted oak on the long, elegant aftertaste. A truly excellent wine full of Saint Julien poise and elegance.

 

2005 CHATEAU LEOVILLE BARTON ****(*)
No matter how good Langoa is, Léoville Barton always surpasses it. The complex aroma exhales greatness, with pronounced minerality and ripe, very pure fruit. The four varieties meld seamlessly together. There’s tremendous held-in power on the palate, with the Petit Verdot (the world’s most underestimated great grape) bringing a hint of truffle. The powerful aftertaste has an almost Pauillac thrust, with a lot of minerality, and if the finish is very closed, you cannot miss the wine’s near-perfect balance. This great L.B. will live a half-century or more.

 

2005 CHATEAU LEOVILLE LAS CASES *****
The noble aroma of berries and black fruit contains multiple elements and new ones show by the second. A panoply of fruit is counterbalanced by an array of flowery scents, including carnation from the Merlot. The concentrated flavour fills the mouth with substance, yet seems almost weightless. The intricate finish is stippled with minerals and its tannins are perfect. Both solid and buoyant, this wine makes one think of Latour, which is only a few metres away. Not to be touched, ideally, for 20 years, it will improve for at least 20 more thereafter.

 

 

PAUILLAC

 

2005 CHATEAU CLERC MILON ***
The vital, expressive nose – very Pauillac – suggests black cherry, fig, date, and plum. The weighty, buoyant flavour is crammed with ripe Cabernet fruit, the Merlot adding a touch of opulence. A round, juicy wine – a kind of mini-Mouton – to relish around 2018-33.

 

2005 CHATEAU D’ARMAILHAC ***
Another beauty from the Mouton stable, if initially less seductive. The nose is vital and with rectitude, redolent of berries, plums, and pomegranate. The flavour is chewy but also voluptuous, with good structure, the finish very fresh. To enjoy up to 2035.

 

This wine can develop beautifully. The ’60 – which I still remember with nostalgia – was a bit dull at 10 years but bewitching at 20-30.

 

2005 CHATEAU GRAND PUY LACOSTE ***(*)
The huge juicy nose vaults out of the glass, full of delectably ripe, sweet fruit. The beautifully balanced flavour is long, dynamic, and all of a piece. It has copybook Pauillac character and, more specifically, is archetypically GPL. The flawless balance testifies to the wine-making skills of the owner, Xavier Borie. One of the best ever from this property. Drink 2020-40.

 

2005 CHATEAU LYNCH BAGES ****
One of the most sensuous of all Médocs, Lynch Bages is at its best when that quality is counterbalanced by a firm tannic structure. That’s the case here. The lush smell and flavour of black fruits and minerals is mouth filling, long, and profound. This will be truly delicious over the decades to come.

 

The ’85 – tasted only a few days ago – is one of the most delectable clarets I’ve come across in recent years.

 

2005 CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE BARON ****(*)
The broad, muscular aroma of black fruits and pomegranate is among the most opulent I’ve experienced from this property – one of the most archetypically Pauillac (in the stern mode) of them all. The massive volume, without a scrap of austerity, is underpinned by ripe, taut tannins. In this vintage they’ve extracted minerals from the subsoil as well as cushiony fruit from the perfectly ripe grapes. A wine to follow with awe over the half-century to come.

 

2005 CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE LALANDE ****
Yet again, the “Comtesse” shows herself lither, more suave and (let’s face it) more feminine than the Baron. The nose of black fruits and berries has a flowery aspect and classic precision. The flavour, with the Cabernet-Sauvignon in the ascendant but the Merlot in evidence too, has a truffly undertone – from the high (8%) proportion of Petit Verdot. For once, the Comtesse, while as feminine as ever, is less sensuous than the Baron. A 12-year wait would be rewarded with delicious drinking up to around 2045.

 

2005 CHATEAU DUHART MILON ***
The gorgeous aroma, in the Lafite mode, fuses surging fruitiness with classic restraint. Great care has been taken to let subsoil minerality show through while attaining just the right level of supportive tannins. The long aftertaste might appear a bit austere, but the ample fruit, in tandem with the tannic structure, will produce a splendid wine in the years to come. The finish is very mineral. Drink 2020-40.

 

2005 CHATEAU PONTET CANET ****(*)
Another archetypical Pauillac, with a big, distinguished nose of black cherry, roast chestnut, and cigarbox. It’s a fabulous aroma, only slightly let down by a faint, cosmetic touch of toasty oak. (which I’m pretty sure will be absorbed by the fruit). The flavour is long, many-facetted, and profound, with a lovely sweetness on the finish. A great Pontet Canet and one of the most dynamic wines in the whole tasting. 2012-50.

 

 

POMEROL

 

Of the communes sampled on the day, this was the most disappointing – with a few notable exceptions.

 

2005 CHATEAU CLINET
This opaque wine has a strangely dead aroma of molasses, black cherry jam, and liquorice. The flavour is sweet, heavy, and super-concentrated with a burnt aftertaste.

 

2005 CHATEAU DU DOMAINE DE L’EGLISE
With an identical look, this has a huge, alcoholic, portlike smell of liquorice, prune, elderberry, and burnt cork. The flavour is heavy, sweet, and cloying.

 

2005 CHATEAU GAZIN
Nearly black, this has a fraction more lift on the nose but still smells more like a liqueur (Vieille Prune) than a wine. The fruit is abundant but is of a heavy, cloying kind. Despite the fleshiness, the mouth is scoured by the kind of tannin one should never find in so ripe a vintage as this.

 

2005 CHATEAU LA CONSEILLANTE Darker still, this has a huge, concentrated nose of molasses, syrup of figs, and liquorice. Impenetrably dense, thick and liqueur-like in the mouth, and noticeably alcoholic. The aftertaste is certainly long but overly dense and sweet. More like a port than a wine.

 

2005 CHATEAU LE BON PASTEUR *(*)
An altogether better-balanced wine, with a rich, nuanced aroma of black cherry, truffle, and fig. The flavour is full and tannic but not heavy. One could imagine ’47 Pomerols showing like this in infancy. 8-10 years then 20 or so.

 

2005 CHATEAU NENIN **
The nose of black fruits and ripe berries is the subtlest and most inviting so far. The briary flavour is dense without harshness. The aftertaste hints at damson and roast chestnut. To drink 2022-35.

 

2005 CHATEAU PETIT VILLAGE *(*)
Blackish in appearance, this has a vital, noticeably mineral aroma of blackberry jam, chocolate, and roast chestnuts. The excellent flavour is crammed with superripe fruit, with a molasses-like finish testifying to the great heat experienced at harvest time. Just a little heavy. Drink 2020-35.

 

2005 CHATEAU TROTANOY ****(*)
Head and shoulders above all the preceding Pomerols: deep but limpid (they could have easily made an opaque wine but chose not to over-extract), with a fabulous aroma of great roundness, ripeness, and depth. Damson, black cherry, and roast chestnut dovetail seamlessly. The flavour is smooth, succulent, and flawlessly balanced, flesh and muscle in perfect harmony. A complex wine of optimum density, with great vitality and freshness. A great Trotanoy to gloat over around 2024-40.

 

 

FIRST GROWTHS

 

2005 CHATEAU HAUT BRION ****(*)
A typical Haut-Brion nose : big, round, spicy (cigar box), with the Merlot in the ascendant. Chocolate, cocoa, truffle, prune, and black fruit produce a wonderful composite aroma. This impression carries through to the palate: a warm, enveloping flavour of restrained sweetness, and ample body. The finish is long, stylish, and mineral. A great Haut Brion for long keeping.

 

2005 CHATEAU MARGAUX *****
A monument to pure classicism, this has a truly arresting presence without a scrap of flamboyance. The aroma, all of a piece, suggests black cherry, ripe plum, and damson, with hints of cigar box. It exhales understated power and authority. The Petit Verdot grape, always the last to declare itself, adds a scent of truffle. The Cabernet Sauvignon dominates on the palate, though, with a powerful undercurrent of vinosity. The aftertaste, still closed up, is very mineral and of great complexity. A profound and masterful Margaux of exceptional subtlety. 2030 to 2060.

 

Emile Peynaud began the transformation of this previously neglected estate in 1978, managing to fashion what was probably the best Médoc of that vintage. “Château Margaux,” he once told me, “is one of the most tannic of all Médocs. In structure, it’s more a Pauillac than a Margaux.”
In structure, yes. But in spirit the very soul of Margaux.

 

2005 CHATEAU LAFITE *****
Lafite has an innate tensile strength that makes it one of the most long-lived wines of all. It can also exhibit the highest degree of finesse – a quality found only in the greatest wines. That’s the case in this vintage. The subtle aroma conjures up damson, raspberry, and carnation (Merlot) and marries unforced concentration to steely power. The flavour is close-meshed and full of energy, with raspberry and damson reprising on the phenomenally long aftertaste. Though one of the most closed-up wines in the whole tasting, it nonetheless declares itself a very great wine. Best around 2030-60.

 

2005 CHATEAU CHEVAL BLANC *****
The big, generous aroma hints at plum and plumstone, cherry, and strawberry compote. Expansive from the word go, it continues to grow richer and fuller, augmented by scents of truffle, fig, and cinnamon. The chocolaty flavour (Cheval Blanc is one of the most chocolaty of clarets) is long and unfurls fresh nuances all the time, coating the palate with luxuriant fruit. While doubtless approachable in a decade or so, it won’t give of its all for a further 25 years or so.

 

2005 CHATEAU PETRUS *****
As a Cheval Blanc, the Merlot grape dominates here – 95% and sometimes more. The wine is therefore less dark than the Médocs (where the black Cabernet Sauvignon dominates), but just as lustrous. The delectable aroma, of exceptional quality, has the natural sweetness of perfectly ripe grapes, and suggests cherry, raspberry, and nectarine. A nose that’s so round as to be spherical. There’s a reprise of nectarine (a trait I associate with superripe Merlot) on the palate and the velvety aftertaste is phenomenally long. At present, this great wine seems “simple” in much the same way that a Sung vase, with little or no embellishment, can seem simple. “Simple” until you suddenly begin to register its utter perfection of form and the endless fascination that stems from its contained energy and flawless harmony. A 40-year wine.

 

The oldest Pétrus I ever tasted – and this was blind – was the 1917. Though it showed its age it was still eminently drinkable. But more important, it was so full of Pétrus’s unique personality that I was able to exclaim, without a moment of hesitation : “Pétrus!” I had no notion of the vintage, only that the wine was very old. Of more recent, mature vintages I’ve sampled the 1964 was the most impressive. One of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted. Oddly enough, the father of Christian Moueix, Jean-Pierre Moueix, never liked the ’64, which he thought lacked finesse. Sadly for him, he never tasted it when fully mature.

 


© Frank Ward 2010

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