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Clos Fourtet 2003

Last week I published my notes from a fabulous dual vertical tasting of the wines of Richard Leroy, looking at five or six vintages of both of Richard's wines, Les Noëls de Montbenault and Les Rouliers. The inevitable result was that one of the wines, the superb 2009 Les Noëls de Montbenault, was the focus of my weekend wine report. It is a superb wine, and I will remain true to it, even if Jancis Robinson subsequently described it as "almost stomach clenching." As you can perhaps tell, I still haven't quite recovered from that assessment.

This week we have another wine that has emerged from a recent tasting, although I suppose the truth of that statement depends on your definition of 'recent'. Earlier this year I attended a tasting of the 2003 Bordeaux vintage, hosted by UK merchant Bordeaux Index. It was back in March, so not tasted as recently as the wines featured in my Richard Leroy report. This week I will be publishing my notes from the tasting, which featured a really impressive array of wines, including Château Ausone, Petrus, Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour and plenty of other exalted first growths and similarly ranked châteaux, as well as more down-to-earth wines such as Château Lafon-Rochet, Château Gloria, Château Lagrange and the like. Altogether I have 72 notes lined up, having augmented those from the tasting with notes on wines pulled from my own cellar, including a few reds not shown by Bordeaux Index, and a handful of Sauternes.

It was quite a curious tasting; the range of quality was very wide, from supremely confident, textured wines at the top end, wines showing solid structure but with the fruit and balancing acidity to cope, and these will last for many decades yet in the cellar, down to some rather dysfunctional bottles at the bottom, with mature tertiary flavours, spiky acidity (perhaps added - although usually forbidden in France, it was permitted as a one-off in this vintage) and with fading textures. It is not a vintage amenable to a describe-all soundbite; whatever the message, any critic who dares to 'sum up' the vintage, whether they declare it brilliant, or rubbish, for drinking now or for cellaring, I can guarantee they have got it wrong. Because you can find everything in this vintage.

Clos Fourtet 2003

I have previously alluded to this broad range of quality in previous tastings of the 2003 vintage, when I described it as a vintage with a personality disorder. This most recent tasting seemed to confirm some of my previous conclusions, which is a relief as these earlier thoughts came after tasting a very small sample of wines from the vintage. Certainly the left bank had it best, with plenty of good wines to be found in the northern Médoc communes, stretching down to St Julien. Margaux did not fair well, nor did Pessac-Léognan, although the latter showed better than I expected. A rather decrepit 2003 Smith-Haut-Lafitte tasted three or four years ago led me to worry that the whole appellation was falling apart, but having tasted Domaine de Chevalier, Château Haut-Bailly and a few others I can see that isn't so.

Where I will moderate my opinion of the vintage is on the right bank; having previously been impressed by a handful of wines from St Emilion, I have before now postulated that the moisture-retentive clays in this appellation may have aided the ultimate quality of the wines, just as the clays of St Estèphe did. As it turns out, I think I just got lucky with the wines I tasted, because this broader tasting with Bordeaux Index showed many of the wines of both St Emilion and Pomerol are not holding up well. Happily some are though, and indeed some are plain delicious, this weekend's wine from Clos Fourtet being one such example. As I have already mentioned, since the tasting in March I have been pulling 2003s from my cellar in order to bolster the usefulness of my report. Although this allowed me to add a few extra tasting notes here and there in most cases - as with the wine here, the final bottle to be pulled, this weekend - this was purely to double check my findings. I think, especially with an unusual vintage such as 2003, validating the opinions I formed at the tasting by opening bottles from my own cellar seems essential, and hopefully communicates my commitment to sensible reporting on Bordeaux, rather than the unquestioning hyperbole found in some quarters, and the let's-kick-Bordeaux attitude found in others.

The 2003 Clos Fourtet has a dark, concentrated hue, with some freshness to the pigment; this is typical of the better wines of the vintage I find, the lesser wines often displaying signs of premature age on inspection as well as on tasting. The aromatics are dark, exotic, roasted but with some very fresh, smoky and savoury fruits. Although clearly densely concentrated, it feels defined. The palate has a fleshy yet elegant texture, with some substance to it but it does not feel over the top, and it feels appropriate for the exotic black fruits. There follows rather a soft middle, with ripe tannins and firm substance running into the finish. A very typical structure for the vintage here, rather solid which feels correct for the vintage, grippy and with the acidity taking a back seat, but there is definition, spice, substance and freshness. With that in mind, this is a real success. 17/20 (1/7/13)

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