After Bordeaux 2003, which was the subject of so much hype, 2004 seems to mark a return to a more classic Bordeaux vintage. There was no easily identifiable marker, such as extreme heat of 2003, to predict the eventual quality of the wines, and the harvest seemed to pass without any great fervour. It is down to the first tasters to describe the quality of the wines and the vintage as a whole, and to guide hopeful buyers. Two years on from the en primeur season and the wines are now in bottle, and this is our first chance to assess the finished product. The wines are presented by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux in a series of tastings across Europe, Asia and North America. Here I present a quick review of the weather that made the wine, followed by my overall impressions, and over the coming days I will publish my tasting notes for the wines I have assessed.
Winter saw lower than average rainfall, but otherwise passed uneventfully until February 2004. Cold weather through to March delayed the budding of the vines by up to three weeks, an event which is almost certain to have a significant effect on the vintage. The budding date is directly related to the harvest date; a delay in the first puts back the latter, having a direct influence on the style of the wine, and also increasing the risk of wet and inclement weather before the fruit can be harvested. It was mid-April before there was convincing budburst, at which point another issue became apparent; after two small volume crops, the vines were sprouting buds everywhere, and the 2004 vintage was set to be massive. Careful attention to yields would be necessary if quality was to be maintained.
This started in May when many estates saw the excess buds pinched off; those that didn’t attend to this here simply faced a huge green harvest in June. There was also some oidium, and the vines were stressed by the lack of precipitation, but otherwise things proceeded very well. July and August were beginning of the 2004 frustration; these were warm, damp but unconvincing months with average or just-above-average temperatures and rainfall. The crop remained huge, the risk of rot was high, and despite the widely practised debudding and green harvest earlier in the year some bunch thinning was still required. In addition the veraison was uneven.
Fortunately, the weather turned, and there came several weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather, carrying the bountiful vines along in good health up until the harvest. As is usual the first grapes to be harvested were the Pessac-Léognan whites, which came in in perfect condition in the first two or three weeks of September, swiftly followed by those in Sauternes. The heat helped the red grapes to lose their excess water, and in late September the Cabernet Francs and Merlots were harvested, up to ten days later than usual, in dry conditions or sometimes a little light rain. The Cabernet Sauvignons came in with a little rain too, not sufficiently wet for this to be of any great consequence, but in less admirable condition than the Merlots. Gentle handling of the fruit would be necessary in order to maximise potential, with the best outcome being a return to a style more readily identifiable as Bordeaux after the exuberance of the 2003 vintage.
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