Grapevine Archive for 1995-2005 clarets
When preparing an article for Decanter magazine, I was able to compare a run of older vintages at two outstanding but very different Margaux châteaux.
Palmer, which now sells for very top-end super-second prices, was long a favourite of Wine Society members originally because of its outstanding record in the sixties and seventies when many of its neighbours were under-performing. The 1966 was one of the wines of the vintage and its 1970 outshone first-growth Margaux by a long way. One of the secrets of Palmer’s success in cooler years was the quality of its merlot planted on great terroir.
Rauzan-Ségla, whose place at the top of the second-growth in the 1855 classification is testimony to its potential suffered because its succession of owners lacked the means or the will to invest in vineyard and cellar. Since its purchase in 1994 by the Wertheimer family, who own Chanel, and their considerable investment in draining, restructuring the vineyard, rebuilding the cellar and far greater selection for the first wine Rauzan-Ségla has been steadily regaining its rightful place.
Here are some recent tasting notes for members lucky enough to have older vintages from either property.
All wines were decanted two hours in advance.
1995: A big wine with rich tannic structure without a trace of astringency, but currently not quite ‘married’. Seems to be in a dip. Good keeper till 2020 plus but leave now for a couple of years. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 51% merlot, 9% cabernet franc. Now–2025.
1996: Much more expressive than 1995 now with silky texture, lovely middle palate and freshness and vitality. Lots still to give but delicious now. The last year cabernet franc was used at Palmer. 55% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot. Now–2020.
1998: Lovely ‘blackcurrant’ fragrance. Glorious rounded fruit. A great Médoc success in this vintage. Still in its first phase of maturity. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 52% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Now–2020.
2000: Pure salivating fruit. Firm long palate with minty touch. Wonderful to taste now, but probably a mistake to drink with food because almost too ‘big’ and will be finer in ten years. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot. Now–2025.
2001: This vintage is completely ready with fragrant bouquet, creamy texture and peppery finish. Good rather than great. Would go well with chicken and mushrooms. 51% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 7% petit verdot. Now–2022.
2004: Has just ‘opened’ up in spring 2014. Serious dark fruit, succulent, with body and fruit and highly enjoyable now with a real touch of class too. First phase of maturity. Thomas Duroux arrived this year and changed the way the vineyards were worked and made stricter selection. 46% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 7% petit verdot. Now–2025.
2005: Absolutely gorgeous with an abundance of fragrant fruit, dense ripe, rich and naturally sweet. This will close up and should be kept. 2017–2030.
Palmer will be 100% organically cultivated from 2014, after beginning with a one hectare trial in 1998.
Since manager John Kolasa arrived in July 1994 with the Wertheimer purchase, huge long-term improvements have been made to vineyard, cellar and in precise vinification. Such changes take time to show but are now fully effective. Second wine Ségla is an excellent buy.
1995: A big wine which smells evolved but remains powerful and tannic-structured. Very good merlot this year. Will be better still from 2016. 60% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 4% cabernet franc. Now–2025.
1996: Delicious claret to drink now, in 2014, with vivacity and liveliness. Would go well with a juicy steak. 60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot. Representing 42% of the crop. Now–2020.
1998: Ready to drink but best decanted two hours in advance as quite slow to ‘open’. Blueberry bouquet. Chicken and mushroom wine. 65% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot. Now–2018.
2000: Serious, rich, big-style claret, ‘like 1986 but better made’ with power and structure. The petit verdot helped fill the middle palate. 61% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 3% petit verdot. From 2019–2025.
2001: Tastes a shade pinched and at this stage the 2002 is better. Maybe better in two years; from 63.5% cabernet sauvignon, 33.5% merlot and 3% cabernet franc. 2016–2022.
2004: Enjoyable now with fresh, soft fruit and elegant Margaux finesse. 52.5% cabernet sauvignon, 42% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1.5% cabernet franc. Now–2022.
2005: Great wine. Ripe and very classy but worth holding till 2020. 2017–2030.
Sebastian Payne MW
Ducru-Beaucaillou, owned by the Borie family since 1941, has been a byword for elegance, finesse and longevity since the 1950s, with only a blip in quality between 1985 and 1990 because of a cellar problem.
Léoville-Poyferré, a very famous part of the Léoville trio of vineyards in the early part of the 20th century, went off the boil then took on new momentum with the arrival of Didier Cuvelier in 1978. He made major changes to the vineyard, completed in 2000, and the property has since been making consistently fine wine.
1996: Real Médoc class and charm, just beginning to open and will be better still in five years. Big success in this year. Elegance rather than power. Now–2040.
1998: Elegant, stylish with an old-fashioned touch of freshness from less fully ripened fruit. At its best now but will keep to 2020.
2000: Wonderful potential but closed. Satin-like texture. Serious quality but not ready. Keep till 2020–2050.
2001: Fresh, elegant, scented and open. Why wait? Perfect now. Now–2035.
2004: Potentially a huge crop, so half the grapes were cut off in the vineyard to concentrate the rest. Classic cedary Saint-Julien to drink now. 2015–2040.
2005: Sensational bouquet. Fresh, beautifully balanced. Like 1961, you can drink it young but it will be better left 15 years. 2020–2050.
1996: The cabernet sauvignon was excellent giving a lovely supple texture. Still youthful but some irregularity with bottling.
1998: Fresh, a bit strict and a touch dilute. The merlot was great but the cabernet was a bit fluid. The 1999 is better balanced. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 38% merlot.
2000: Great year for merlot. A rich powerful, massive wine with lots of matter and fully ripe tannin. 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Will keep and improve. Now–2020.
2001: 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Balanced, fine, ripe, round and charming. Lovely now. Now–2020.
2002: 80% cabernet of excellent quality. Great now but still a baby. A much underrated vintage in the heart of the Médoc. Now–2022.
2004: Open, ripe, ready to drink. Generous if relatively uncomplicated. Balance is good and wine is ready. Now–2024.
2005: Wonderful bouquet. Lots of sunshine and light but never too much. Fresh too. Decant four hours in advance if you drink it now but better to keep. 2010 is in the same mould. 2017–2030.
Sebastian Payne MW
I recently took the opportunity to taste back vintages of a fine clutch of favourite Bordeaux châteaux with their winemakers. The excuse was a piece I was writing for Decanter Magazine’s July Bordeaux supplement.
Here are some vintage notes for those lucky enough to own any of these wines.
Sebastian Payne MW
The two Pichons face each other across the D2. Pichon-Lalande’s château on the Gironde side overlooks first growth Latour, though most of its vines are further inland. Its reputation and popularity with Society members is founded on excellent vintages of the eighties after the charismatic May-Eliane de Lencquesaing took over the property in 1978. She sold it to Champagne Roederer in 2006.
1995: 40% merlot gave this charm and softer, gentler mid-palate than some wines of the vintage and 15% cabernet franc, unusually high for Pauillac, has kept it fresh and lively if a touch herbaceous. Quite ready.
1996: Very blackcurrant cabernet-sauvignon bouquet (75%), though less ripe than modern vintages and less rich and more forward than their 1986. Midweight. Drink now.
1998: Fragrant, delicate, cabernet franc elegance (15%) and charm. Use now.
2000: Now showing a touch of green pepper and boxhedge on the nose, though the palate is fine and stylish. Keep 5 to 10 years and hope this mellows. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 34% merlot, 6% cabernet franc, 10% petit verdot.
2001: Seductive, creamy, expressive and lovely to drink now. One of the best Médocs of the year and finer than its opposite neighbour Pichon. Now to 10 years.
2004: Another super success of the year with classy bouquet and style. In its first phase and still improving. Now to 10 years.
2005: Closed and unexpressive now but concentrated. Keep at least 8 to 10 years.
Pichon-Longueville (previously known as Pichon Longueville Baron) is quite a different Pauillac, more muscular and massive. The heart of the vineyard, and since 2000 the only part that is used for the first wine, is recognised as one of the finest terroirs in the commune. Pichon Longueville was bought by AXA Millesime in 1987, who brought much-needed investment to a sadly run-down estate, and who also added more vineyard between 1991 and 1993. Yields in the nineties were much higher than today and it shows in the wines. Since Christian Seely arrived in January 2001 selection has been rigorous and quality has risen in an exciting way.
1995: Fully mature, full traditional Pauillac. You can feel the tannins still but it will not improve further.
1996: More complex than 1995 with sweeter cabernet fruit (70% cabernet sauvignon) and more charm. Now at best.
1998: Old-fashioned style, not fully ripe with noticeable acidity. Use now.
2000: Classic Pauillac with rich ripe fruit. In its ‘first phase’ and still improving.
2001: Fragrant ‘cedar-box’ bouquet. Quite forceful but fresh and very enjoyable now though just outshone by Pichon Lalande. Drink now.
2002: Insider’s tip. Proper Pauillac, dense, rich, restrained but ‘grown up’ and good for 20 years.
2004: Delicious to drink now, though still improving with lovely balance and freshness.
2005: Will be a great wine but now closed. Balance, fruit and freshness and vitality were kept in a big tannic year. Wait until 2020.