Bordeaux 2003 at Ten Years: St Estèphe & Pauillac

With one leap of Marcel Aymé’s bottes de sept lieues (actually I think a lot of other authors – some much earlier – also lay claim to these boots, but I like Aymé’s story the best) we can leap from Pessac-Léognan up to St Estèphe. Here we begin a brief journey down through the major communes of the Médoc, as far as Margaux. In this first instalment, I look at the wines of St Estèphe and Pauillac.

St Estèphe 2003

The difference between Pessac-Léognan and St Estèphe is not, in this vintage, simply a matter of distance. Where Pessac has gravel, St Estèphe has more clay (that is not to say there isn’t plenty of gravel as well) and there is a bedrock of fissured limestone, the calcaire de St Estèphe, deep underground. Put it all together and this means better moisture-retention; in the very recent 2012 vintage, which saw a minor six-week drought in August and September, such soils were certainly of benefit. So imagine just how important they were in 2003, when the temperatures soared to above 40ºC, and stayed there, for week after week after week. While vines elsewhere shut down, the leaves shrivelling to a yellow crisp and eventually dropping from the vine altogether, here in many of the vineyards of St Estèphe they remained green and active.


Little wonder then that St Estèphe quickly gained a reputation as being one of the stronger communes (if not the strongest) in the 2003 vintage. Certainly the wines were some of the more confident and substantial in this tasting. Even so, there was still a clumsy solidity to their style, even at the very top end; these are not the elegantly precise and balanced wines of a truly fine vintage. None among them, in my opinion, achieve anything near perfection.

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