The second of three vintages that the Bordelais promptly declared the "Vintage of the Century," nobody questions that 2003 was an exceptional year, if perhaps one destined to generate controversy (as shown by Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson's dispute over Pavie). But how does this hot vintage stack up? In September I arranged a wine tasting for some friends, and it just so happened that 2003 Bordeaux worked well for the event. All three major styles of Bordeaux were represented, as well as a good spectrum of composition in the reds. So what do I think? Based on this small sample, the character of the vintage is remarkably evident. But, first the notes, then my reflections.
Chateau Graville-Lacoste, Graves Blanc 2003
Pale but clean straw in color. Nice nose. The wine has a pretty typical but quite nice Bordeaux Blanc personality of lime, honey, hints of melon, and perhaps a bit of pear, with herbal notes. Not much acidity, but very fresh, and quite pleasent. Very Good (85 - 87)
70% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Muscadelle.
Chateau Etoiles de Mondorion, St.-Emilion 2003
Cherry and cassis. Not a great deal of fruit in this one, but has nice tannins and structure, while still managing to be somewhat mellow and easy drinking. Somewhat light. Enjoyable, but could be more concentrated. Very Good (85 - 87)
Second wine of Chateau Mondorion, St.-Emilion Grand Cru. 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc.
Chateau Callac, Cuvee Prestige, Graves Rouge 2003
Cherry, cassis, some black raspberry, perhaps a touch of plum, and nice tannins. Good balance, with very nice fruit and structure. Very Good (85 - 87)
60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc.
Chateau La Tour de Mons, Margaux (Cru Bourgeois Superieur) 2003
Good color. Lovely but structured black cherry and black raspberry. Sweet, aromatic, and a bit spicy. The first Margaux I've tasted, but with the textbook perfumey quality. A very nice wine, with a long, persistent finish. Should probably drink very nicely for another 3 - 5 years. Excellent (87 - 89)
48% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc.
Chateau Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 2003
Good color. Intense black cherry and raspberry, with the classic pencil lead notes toward the finish. Big, structured; quintessential Pauillac. At this stage more impressive than pleasent, but give it another 3 - 5 years or so and it should show elegance. Exceptional (90 - 93)
Second wine of Chateau Pontet-Canet, Medoc Grand Cru Classe. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot.
Chateau de Myrat, Sauternes (Grand Cru Classe) 2003
Bright golden color. Gorgeous, gorgeous nose of apricot, tropical fruits, honey, and flowers. On the palate, apricots, tropical fruits, nice orange notes, pear, honey, flowers, and a huge, wondeful finish of honey and nutmeg. So much honey and boytritus! So complex, so full, so gorgeously rich! Although I had doubted it could be true, it is in fact better than the sensual 2001. My God, what a wine! Has perhaps another 20 - 25 years ahead of it. Outstanding (95 - 97)
90% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc.
Now, my reflections.
The warmth of the vintage is quite obvious even in this small sample: the Graville-Lacoste is rich in fruit, but would benefit from the greater acidity that would have developed with cooler nights; the reds all had an attractive warmth to their fruit, especially the La Tour de Mons, although the Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet isn't expressing it as much at this stage - and they are not with good structure; finally, the Myrat is every bit as flamboyantly rich as the vintage has been praised for.
Suprises: the Etoiles de Mondorion isn't as rich as I would have expected from St.-Emilion in a hot vintage; the Myrat has loads of boytritus, contrary to the general description of the vintage as not having much boytritus.
Comparisons: the dry whites are nice but nowhere near the increadibly consistent, vibrant, and rich 2005's; the reds aren't as classical and structured as 2000, although they are more attractive upfront. Based on my limited experience, I would agree with the general critical evaluation that they won't age as long. The Sauternes are almost as good as, although in a completely different style than, the classy, elegant 2001's, and it seems, as more skilled folks than I have suggested, that they will be equally long-lived. Although it should be said that the Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2003 (which I tasted in December) has both the richness of the 2003's and the impressive class of the 2001's - it is ultimate the better, and certainly the more 'impressive' wine, but the Myrat does give it a run for its money in outright flamboyance. On a different note, the La Tour de Mons and Les-Haut de Pontet-Canet are the perfect pair for contrasting and exemplifying the feminine character of Margaux and the masculine character of Pauillac.
Overall, I think Sauternes is better in 2003 than the reds, and will certainly be longer-lived. I like the attractive warmth of the reds, but love the Sauternes much more. I highly recommend the La Tour de Mons and Pontet-Canet, which are both great values, and much more strongly recommend the Myrat and Lafaurie-Peyraguey, which are just damned good wines, and at reasonable prices.