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Bordeaux 2002: Tasting in 2011

Bordeaux 2002: Tasting in 2011

I normally begin to derive real pleasure from Bordeaux in most vintages when it hits twelve or more years of age, with guaranteed joy even more likely at fifteen. I know this is a massive and sweeping generalisation, and that it is bound to vary from one vintage to another, and from wine to wine, but it is a useful starting point for me. I know many others find ten years to be the moment when the first cork is pulled, and that seems fine, the wines are increasingly likely to be approachable at that age, and they will certainly give a good indication of what sort of pleasure they will be giving over the decade or two that follows. To set up a tasting of a Bordeaux vintage at little more than eight years, though, to me seems a little foolhardy. This is surely asking for trouble, isn’t it? Why tackle the wines at a time when they are – in my experience – likely to be sullen, closed down and ungiving?

There is one simple explanation; both the 2002 and 2003 Bordeaux vintages are unusual, 2002 having been afflicted with a very mean summer, short on sunshine and heavy on rain and rot. Meanwhile 2003 sits at the other end of the spectrum, a hot, super-baked vintage with big, rich and sweet wines as a result. Both perhaps merit earlier inspection than is usual, to see if these rather distinctive vintages also have distinctive drinking windows. For 2002 this seems especially relevant in view of the published opinions of a number of critics. Take for example the words of Jancis Robinson, who wrote in her review of the vintage after a tasting held by Farr Vintners in October 2009, “The wines were never going to be particularly long lived, so many should be starting to drink well now“.

Bordeaux 2002

And yet I do find this a curious concept; as I recounted in my vintage review in their early reviews of 2002 Bordeaux a number of critics pigeon-holed the vintage as lean and tannic, perhaps more along the lines of 1994, 1986 and 1996 (perhaps all rolled up into one) than any other year. And yet by contrast others wrote that the wines would drink well in “five to fifteen or more years’ time” which, as I have stated above in my opening paragraph, suggests a drinking window which closes (save for that teasing “or more” added at the end) at just about the time I open my first bottle. So, confusingly, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the vintage. Is this a tannic and classically structured year that I should leave in the cellar until 2017, content with my fifteen-year starting point, or is it a light and early-drinking vintage to be broached sooner rather than later, before the wines all fall off their perch?

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