Bordeaux 2003 at Ten Years: Pessac-Léognan

At a dinner in Bordeaux a few years ago I encountered a bottle of 2003 Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte; looking back at my notes I see it was only three years ago, although it feels more like six or seven. The bottle sticks in my mind as it was one of the most overtly forward bottles of Bordeaux I have ever tasted. At seven years of age the flavour profile was rather more reminiscent of a wine fifteen or perhaps even twenty years older, full of tertiary tobacco, dried leaf and undergrowth-like aromas. And yet it did not feel like a twenty- or thirty-year old wine on the palate, because at that sort of age many wines begin to show some attenuation of texture, and yet this wine had all the sweet, fleshy substance of youth still, a phenomenon no doubt enhanced by the fact the wine started out imbued with all the fat sunshine and low acidity of the 2003 growing season.

Bordeaux 2003

Despite this rather paradoxical display, one which prompted me to re-examine my opinion of the vintage, I found I rather liked the wine. Returning to it here, however, I was not so enamoured; the wine showed good texture in the midpalate, as indeed did many of the wines, but it did not seem to have the mature appeal of the wine I tasted three years ago. Is there a more worrying sign than a wine that is already heading downhill at just ten years of age?

After that tasting of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte a few years ago I pulled some other bottles from the cellar, and concluded – based on fairly flimsy evidence admittedly – that gravelly terroirs such as those that characterise Pessac-Léognan had fared worst in the vintage, the well-drained nature of the soils having left the vines vulnerable to the hot drought that marked the growing season.

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