Wine Opinion

Bordeaux 2005: how 'vintage of the century' drinks at 10 years old

Gems from Medoc's left bank, some ready for uncorking, and the pick of the 'big four' appellations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2015, 7:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 11:19am

We’ve spent so much of the past five years extolling the virtues of the 2009 and 2010 vintages in Bordeaux that the previous “vintage of the century” has been languishing a little in the corner, hidden in the shade of those two more recent blockbusters.

But this all changed at the start of 2015, when the secondary market – which means the buying and reselling of bottles a few years down the line – woke up to the possibilities of 2005 and values started rising.

Why? Because 2005 has reached that magic 10-year birthday, the traditional time for good-quality Bordeaux to start being uncorked and drunk, or put back in the cellar after having confirmed its prowess in ageing potential. And the 2005 has that in spades. The Liv-ex 500, a fine wine index that tracks these things, moved upwards in January 2015 after a flurry of purchases for key 2005 wines. Four of the five top movers were from 2005, with La Mission Haut-Brion rising 20.7 per cent, Mouton Rothschild 12.8 per cent, Latour 7.9 per cent and Haut-Brion 7.4 per cent.

 If you bought the wines en primeur, you would have seen an average rise in values of 59 per cent.

This sense of momentum, with the long-simmering excitement over the quality of the vintage, meant that the recent Ten Years On tasting held by wine merchant Bordeaux Index in London at the end of January was well attended  by journalists and collectors. Key wines from both banks were laid out, but I focused on the Medoc 1855 classified wines, which I was tasting blind for Decanter magazine.

And I’m pretty sure that I got the best end of the deal. From what I tasted from the right bank, there are some wonderful bottles but also several over-extracted, high alcohol wines from Pomerol and, particularly, Saint Emilion that played a little too fast and loose with the incredible generosity of the weather in 2005. Wines from the left bank, on the other hand, were a joy to taste. It was in many ways a journey back in time to when Bordeaux wines didn’t feel the need to attempt to outdo their neighbours with alcohol levels and tannin. These are wines that are still full of firm structure and ripe fruit, but balanced by beautiful acidity that gives a feeling of freshness, helped by reasonable alcohol levels. The 2005 Medocs rarely head over 13.5 per cent alcohol by volume; a sense of restraint that is sorely lacking in both 2009 and 2010, even if both of these more recent years have some magnificent wines among them (it was interesting to note that even in 2005 nearly all the right banks were higher than 14 per cent or 14.5 per cent).

The reasonable alcohol in no way deters from their ageing potential. Of the wines I tasted, perhaps 20 per cent at most of the left bank wines are really ready to start drinking soon (special mention here – with an hour in a carafe first – to Chateaux Camensac, Cantermerle, du Tertre, Prieuré Lichine and Lafon Rochet). But the rest will be worth the wait.

From the triumvirate of “vintages of the century”, I’m not sure either 2009 or 2010 have such consistency in pure enjoyment – 2009 majors on fruit-filled pleasure but has some high-extraction wines that coupled with low acidity give rise to a risk of brett or barnyard aromas, while the 2010 for me has the clear win over 2009 for overall quality potential but is just so big that it’s going to need at least another decade before going anywhere near a cork.

On the other hand, 2005 has the staying power of 2010 but is a less virile, turbocharged version. My two first-growth picks would be Châteaux Margaux and Mouton Rothschild – ripe, supple, wonderfully expressive reflections of their appellations, while from the Lafite Rothschild stable I strongly recommend Duhart Milon. It is beautifully tight and smoky and offers excellent value.

To pick the best value wines that I tasted from the "big four" appellations, I would suggest the brilliant Chateau Pédésclaux in Pauillac for its elegant, well-worked tannins and blackcurrant leaf floral notes. Up in Saint Estèphe, Cos Labory – an estate that is opposite Cos d’Estournel and comes at a fraction of the price – was delicious.

If there is such a thing as value in classified Saint Julien, I would go for Langoa Barton as it was probably the best I have tasted from this property. In Margaux there is plenty to choose from, as the whole appellation did exceptionally well, but perhaps for value I suggest Rauzan Gassies or Cantenac Brown, both excellent wines, although the Cantenac, at least, is too young right now.

You get the picture – this is  a vintage to get to know. And if you need any more proof, this was one of the rare tastings when the words I heard exchanged most often by the tasters were, “Well, this is fun.” 

Jane Anson is a Bordeaux-based wine writer