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Bordeaux 2003: Tasting in 2011

Bordeaux 2003: Tasting in 2011

Although I would not normally broach a maturing vintage until ten years of age, and probably not find true pleasure until the wines hit their 12th or perhaps even 15th birthdays, the unique nature of the 2003 vintage has prompted me to take a limited early look at some of the wines in the cellar. The heatwave vintage (for a more detailed assessment, see my Bordeaux 2003 vintage review) gave wines that were big and bold, and many questioned how well such wines, with their flamboyant flavours and occasionally substantial tannic build, would cope in the cellar. Would their tannic backbones propel them into competent old age, or would they simply fall apart within a decade? And, with that in mind, would they drink well earlier than usual? Should we be cracking open these bottles now, at just eight years of age?

If this all seems rather familiar, it may be that you have read my other earlier-than-usual Bordeaux assessment, concerning the 2002 vintage. There, as is also the case in 2003, I noted that several critics have been calling upon buyers of Bordeaux to pull these bottles from their cellars. And once again, in 2003, Jancis Robinson is one of the more vocal proponents of cork-pulling on this vintage, with her review of the vintage following a Farr Vintners tasting, published in October 2010, provocatively titled “2003 Bordeaux – drink up!“.

Bordeaux 2003: Tasting in 2011

Let’s pull a few bottles from the cellar then. But first, I can look back to other bottles from this vintage tasted over the last year or two, bottles that have – for some communes – reinforced the opinion that it was correct to be opening these bottles, and – for other communes – absolutely refuted any such belief. Surprise, surprise, in this most unusual of vintages some communes, especially those with gravelly and sandy terroirs, have coped with the heat less well, whereas others, those with cooler and more moisture-retentive soils, have faired better. There are two sides to the 2003 vintage, which has given us some early-maturing wines, and also some prodigious, structured, rich wines worthy of long cellaring. As a consequence there is, in my opinion, no single soundbite that can be applied to this vintage – other than it is suffering from a case of Multiple Personality Disorder.

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