Has the 2005 vintage produced the most perfect, the most gorgeous, the greatest Bordeaux the world has ever seen? If you believe all the extravagant praise coming from producers and media alike, you might believe that's true. But it's better to separate hype from reality and look at the wines themselves.
To begin with, it appears that this will be the most expensive vintage in history for those who are buying Bordeaux futures. And by the time the wines are actually bottled and shipped in late 2007 or early 2008, I suspect that barring some sort of global economic collapse, prices will be even higher. But will the wines be worth the money? And what will buyers actually be getting?
A Vintage Perspective
Historically, the finest Bordeaux vintages (including 2000, 1990, 1982, 1961, 1959, 1949, 1947 and 1945) have resulted from dry, hot weather in the summer and fall. And while Bordeaux experienced relatively severe, even droughtlike conditions in 2005, there were no periods of torrid heat, even in July, August and September. Other notable facts about the 2005 wines: They have some of the highest tannin levels in modern-day red Bordeaux, extremely high levels of dry extract (in other words, these are seriously concentrated wines), high alcohol levels (even higher than 2003—a vintage of record alcohol levels) and moderate acid levels (which give the best wines a fresh, lively, almost tangy character).
Northern Médoc (St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe) and Margaux
The 2005 wines were especially tannic in the northern Médoc communes of St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe. But, unlike the best wines of 1982, 1989 and 1990, most of the 2005s will not be approachable for 10 to 15 years—at minimum. However, past experience suggests they will require many years of cellaring—30 to 50 years, in fact. The good news is that even these tannic monsters are fresh, concentrated and well balanced.
Meanwhile, I thought the wines of the Margaux appellation were the finest I have ever tasted in my 28 years of assessing Bordeaux vintages in the early stages of development. The wines have sweeter tannins than their northern Médoc neighbors as well as greater breadth of flavor. They should also be approachable while relatively young—in six to eight years. Consequently, they may also be quite high-priced.
Graves, Pessac-Léognan, St-Émilion and Pomerol
Standouts of the 2005 vintage include the Graves region on the Left Bank and the Right Bank appellations of Pomerol and St-Émilion. In all three of these areas, the wines are concentrated, massive and high in tannin. However, because there is very little Cabernet Sauvignon in most of the blends (Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the favored grapes, especially in Pomerol and St-Émilion), the tannins are sweeter and the wines more approachable. In fact, many of the wines will offer compelling drinking in six to eight years, although they will continue to evolve for three decades or more. Another advantage these wines possess is that the lower-level St-Émilion and Graves offerings will not be nearly as expensive as the more famous and aristocratic names of the northern Médoc.
The Final Word
Overall, the 2005 Bordeaux have turned out brilliantly, and 2005 does appear to be one of the most singular years of the past five decades. But it would be reckless to claim the finest 2005s will surpass the top wines of 2003, 2000, 1996 (in the northern Médoc), 1990 or, for that matter, the legendary 1982 vintage. If wine drinkers are willing to forgo the most prestigious châteaus, they will find an ocean of high-quality 2005 wines at reasonable prices from lesser appellations and little-known subregions such as Côtes de Castillon, Montagne St-Émilion and Listrac. Generally designed to be consumed within 10 to 12 years of the vintage, in a year such as 2005 these wines also offer remarkable value.
Robert M. Parker, Jr., an F&W contributing editor, is the editor and publisher of The Wine Advocate.