Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

The 2005 Vintage on the Right Bank – Part 1

November 2006


A while ago I dropped in on the right bank of Bordeaux (Pomerol, Saint Emilion) to get some idea of the 2005 vintage, reputed to be one of the greatest of all time. As well as tasting some magnificent ’05s there was also a vertical of Château Canon, a look at three top vintages of the Premiers Grands Crus Classés of Saint Emilion, and an overview of some splendid Pomerols from the house of Moueix. There were also tastings of some other great Pomerols such as l’Evangile and La Conseillante.




At Château Troplong Mondot I was received with warmth by the sympathetic maître de chai Jean Pierre Taleyson. All manner of plaudits have been showered on him in recent decades but he remains a modest and unpretentious person, radiating simplicity and humanity. Like most truly creative persons he is head over heels in love with his work and you feel he could talk about the subject all night without once repeating himself. “I try to combine the best of the new methods with the best of the old,” he says, giving as an example of the former the use of cold maceration of the grapes prior to fomentation, in order to extract more fresh fruit. As an instance of the old he cites the hand-picking of the grapes.

The terroir is the classic clay-limestone mix, with the clay dominating. The Merlot accounts for 90% of the vines, with the two Cabernets sharing the balance equally. “Twenty years ago we still had five per cent Malbec” – a more rustic variety which carries less prestige – “and there’s still a tiny bit left.” He gives a smile and a shrug.

The medieval town of St. Emilion where the vines grow to the very outskirts of the community.

Only 75% of total production went into the 2005 wine – yields were kept to a modest 30 hectolitres per hectare – and the proportion of new barrels used for maturation was 66%. M. Taleyson came to Troplong in 1976; of the 30 vintages he’s vinified he characterises the ’05 as “the vintage of my dreams”.


Almost black, this has a noble, restrained scent of great voluptuousness, crammed with utterly ripe, healthy fruit. Soft yet structured, laden with black fruit, raspberry, truffle, and cigarbox, it presages greatness. The restraint on the nose — an excellent sign in this vintage, when it was so easy to attain total ripeness – is found on the palate too.

Looking towards St. Emilion from the wall that encloses the Château Canon estate.

The sweetly fruity, round flavour is velvety, black fruits dominating but with truffle, liquorice, and sweet prune too. The fugitive hint of molasses is due to the near-overripeness of some of the Merlot. With perfect tannins, this great Troplong has spread, lift, and enormous persistence. It is good for at least 40 years’ steady Improvement.


Some time after my visit, Troplong Mondot was officially promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé status and is thus recognized as the peer of such distinguished properties as châteaux Figeac, Trottevieille, Clos Fourtet, the two Beauséjours, and Pavie.

A major tasting of the premiers Grands Crus classés awaited me at Clos Fourtet. Eight of the (then) 11 PGGGs were represented, from both the ’05 and ’01 vintages, as well as six of the ’98s.

Château Tropling Mondot, newly promoted to Premier Grand Cru classe status.

Canon was not present (I would be tasting it separately), nor Magdelaine and Pavie (the same applied to them). As for the two “A class” wines – Ausone and Cheval Blanc – they would be sampled at the Châteaux.

Colour is often a reliable indicator of quality. But the colours of most ’05s are almost uniformly dark, rich, and lustrous, and possess great “staining power” (lips and teeth quickly turn purple). Please assume, therefore, that most are almost black, have winking purple high-lights, with dark, viscous tears running down the sides of the glass. Colour will only be mentioned if it departs from the norm.



The full, round, homogeneous aroma exhales gusts of black fruits and cinnamon, with damson jam to the fore. Lovely flowery scents quickly show, with a clayey aspect too. The flavour, judiciously oaked, is refined and elegant, with plenty of body and good balance, suggesting black fruits (especially damson), chocolate, and roast chestnut, and one is struck by the great harmony of the long aftertaste. Real sinew shows behind the fruit and the tannins are of the noblest kind. This will improve for 30 years at least.


The two Cabernets each account for about one-third of Figeac’s acreage and this explains the wine’s tendency to remain closed up when young. It is also why it often outlasts its peers.


Darker than Figeac, and oakier, this has an almost unnervingly ripe, emphatically fruity aroma of great density. Black fruits dominate but red rose, raspberry, and chocolate have a presence too. Despite the wood, it’s an expressive, even poetic, perfume, probably strong enough to subdue the oak in the longer term. The flavour is intense and focused, the finish long, velvety, and spicy. The nose continues to expand in the glass and the acidity on the palate is of the freshest, fruitiest kind. Drink 2012-35.

2005 CLOS FOURTET ****

Exceptionally dark, Clos Fourtet has a big, aggressive nose (you could almost say beak!) of black fruits and berries and (a by-product of toasted oak) sealing wax. But there are buoyant, flowery scents too, and no lack of lift. The flavour is weighty but fresh, with fine-grained tannins. The smoky oak imparts sootiness to the cinnamon finish. The finale, though chocolaty, is essentially fresh. Will last several decades.


The nose is reticent but all of a piece, conjuring up crème de mûre, dried fruits, chocolate, boot polish, and ginger. Real tannic back-bone lurks behind the emergent fruit, and the scent of cigarbox, coffee, and morel soon comes into play.


The flavour is smooth and chewy, giving a surge of Cabernet power to an almost Médocain structure. The middle palate is marked by clay-limestone terroir and minerals, and the focused aftertaste is classic. The finish, while sumptuous, shows little complexity at present. Should develop well. At best around 2015-40.


As is often the case with provisional samples of young wines, this is out of sorts and the jumbled aroma suggests damson, camphor, polish, and minerals, with toasted oak giving a hint of eucalyptus. An extra shake of the glass coaxes forth the core aromas – a nucleus of rich black fruits. I think fleetingly of the southern Rhône.


The flavour is rich, fresh, and clayey, with much vigour and a lot of persistence. The finish is decisive, if a bit clumsy. A weighty, brusque wine that needs time to resolve its many-faceted makeup. For long keeping.


The dense, compact aroma is chock-full of luscious black fruit and so pure you know that every single berry was picked at optimum ripeness and in perfect health. Think of all your favourite black fruits and berries and you have a notion of how this smells. Hugely powerful though it is, it has ample polish and poise too.


Suavity is the keynote on the palate also, with a cascade of black cherry, blackberry, and chocolate on the lingering, silky aftertaste. The finish, though slightly roasted, is tinglingly fresh, with good minerality and the oak is hardly noticeable (a hint of camphor). One of the best Angélus’ ever. Probably approachable when young, due to its excellent balance, it will nonetheless show best when fully mature, around 2020-40.


With a vivid beetroot rim, this has a big, oaky, juicy smell, of cherry, crème de cassis, and red rose and – as usual with La Gaffelière – is a powerhouse of vinous energy. Though very tannic on the palate, the wine contrives to be seductively lush, full of ripe fruit, and homogeneous. The tannic structure soon clamps down on the sumptuousness, but the aftertaste of red pepper, coffee, and raspberry manages to be both mouth-dryingly tannic and sensuously sweet. A typical La Gaffelière: an impetuous rush of fruit, a disciplined firmness, great dynamism. At best around 2015-35.


As dark as La Gaffelière, Belair has a big brooding California-style aroma, focused and disciplined, with great vigour. The big ripe Merlot nose carries a whiff of black fruits, red rose, and carnation. It grows apace, expressive and sensuous within a firm tannic frame.


Though fairly oaky, with hints of cinnamon and eucalyptus, the flavour is richly fruity and very persistent. The wood has been laid on thickly but does rest on magnificent material, there’s a rush of black cherry and damson fruit and saffron spice on the sustained finish. Re-tasted after a pause (dense wines need patient handling) the wine takes on a positively geological quality, with a gustatory descent through layers of stone, minerals, clay, et al. The ’05 Belair seems to signal a change of style – away from subtlety and elegance and towards power, body, and weight. A three-decade wine.


2001 CHATEAU FIGEAC ***(*)

Like all the other ‘Ols, this is noticeably paler. The sensuous aroma is packed with delectably sweet, ripe fruit – raspberry, fig, pomegranate. Only the ripest, densest grapes got into this. The flavour is fresh, elegant, and pure, and delivers a gorgeous mouthful of hedonistic fruit. Not extremely complex for a Figeac but very seductive. Enjoy around 2008-20.


This sample is out of sorts. The nose is odd: acidic, pruny, and smelling of old dry wood (foudre). A subsidiary smell of newly-sharpened pencil comes probably from Cabernet-Franc grapes. The flavour is lean, and the acidic smell is confirmed on the palate by a tart finish. There’s an impression of unripeness. This cannot be a representative sample from this good estate in a good vintage. Judgment is reserved.


2001 CLOS FOURTET ****

The excellent nose of black fruits and truffle is broad and focused, and has a similarly seductive quality to Figeac’s but is more complex. It is generous, ripe, and harmonious. A small but crucial percentage of Cabernet-Sauvignon gives a searching quality to the balanced and profound aftertaste. The dominant flavour is of damson jam and roast chestnut. The aftertaste lingers and there’s a lovely finish. Very good indeed. Drink around 2009-25.


Like its peers in this vintage, Trottevieille is sumptuous and has an inner core of ripeness, with a creamy aroma that conjures up black fruits, peony, cinnamon, and cigarbox. The fine flavour is full of fruit and is fresh and buoyant, the finish is very mineral. Drink 2010-25.



The firm aroma is masculine and assertive, with a distinctly Cabernet accent. Grape and wood intermesh, with the oak imparting spice (cardamom), sealing wax, and chocolaty density to the ample fruit. The vigour of the nose carries through on to the palate, which shows good sinew and a lingering minerality. Clovey spice shows on the slightly roasted finish. Will last a good 30 years.


Darker than its peers, this has a huge, concentrated nose of ripe autumn berries, chocolate, smoke, and cinnamon. There are other, incipient aromas too, which promise further complexity in the future. The flavour is dense, rich, and fresh, and leads into an aftertaste that’s both generous and harmonious (you feel it’s been shaped by an intelligent mind). Flavours become more defined and you can pick out elderberry and black cherry on the mineral aftertaste. A splendidly built wine to relish around 2014-30.


The expansive scent of bilberry, black cherry, and minerals betokens excellent balance (I think fleetingly of Léoville Las Cases – a real compliment!). The opulent aroma quickly expands to encompass minerals and crushed stones too, without loss of opulence and fruit. The flavour is a little Médocain too (the last thing I’d expect from this property) with a vinosity and thrust which is disciplined but not austere. A hint of graphite can be picked up on the balanced aftertaste. A wine with sweep, to drink around 2014-25.


The nose is round, opulent and structured. There’s a buoyant, even floating quality to this noble aroma of plum jam, morel, and chocolate. Cedar and clove show too. The round, succulent flavour makes me think of plum jam with the skin; but it suddenly goes flat, as if the sample had been standing around for a time. This example suggests that the wine should be drunk soon; but I suspect that a fresher one would promise greater longevity and merit a fourth star.



We’re into tertiary aromas now, with an evolved scent of damson jam, leather, raspberry, and oriental spices. It’s a noble, voluptuous bouquet, with a hint of saffron. One could almost be in Burgundy.

The flavour of plum jam is fresh, round, and sensuous, with hints of cinnamon and saffron. Vibrantly fruity, it has the kind of delicious acidity found in ripe cherries. This gives length and incisiveness to the mineral finish. A delectable Figeac to enjoy around 2009-25.

1998 CLOS FOURTET ***(*)

The big, smooth, oaky nose is crammed with black fruits and shows lots of depth and minerality. Broad and vigorous, it grows more and more focused, with pronounced cherry scents. The flavour is luscious and fruity, with a suggestion of graphite, and the finish is long and nuanced. The tannins are very fine. A well-balanced wine in the classic mould, to drink around 2013-28.


The nose is full but reticent, all of a piece and densely fruity. Clearly there’s lots of volume and richness. A couple of swirls of the glass brings forth more density and ample fruit. This carries on over on to the palate, with black fruits dominating. Big and brooding, but unaggressive, the wine has a long sweeping aftertaste but lacks acidity. A sound wine, but so great a vintage should have given better results. Will develop over 20 years or so.


The big, characterful nose is an amalgam of elderberry, damson jam, and lead capsule. Brooding, with a core of emphatic vinosity, it also smells of smoke and molasses. I think fleetingly of Beaucastel in Châteauneuf. The full, dynamic flavour has a roasted element and is chocolaty. It fills the mouth with dense fruit. The clovey finish has a bitter quality and this assertive, even violent wine should live long.

1998 CHATEAU BELAIR ***(*)

Paler than the rest but with a more nuanced colour, Belair has a round, sensuous aroma of luscious black fruits and pomegranate. The Merlot, in its truffly mode, makes its presence felt, bringing roundness, flesh, and spice, and I’m briefly reminded of a Bonnes Mares from Burgundy. The mid-palate carries hints of plum, fig, and caramel but one has the impression of a wine bottled a little too late for long keeping – the oxygenization process seems well advanced. Drink 2010-20.


© Frank Ward 2006

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