2004 Vintage for Bordeaux, a Snapshot at the Surprising Quality
Immediate disclosure- this is a brief snapshot and in no way is meant to challenge previous commentary that was based on much more extensive research, tasting and experience. It is nearly impossible to ascertain an in-depth perspective of an entirely complex subject form such a trivial encounter, but my two cents is certainly something of which I will enthusiastically share none the less.
Gary’s Wine and Marketplace put together their annual line-up of the best of the best in Bordeaux, w/ this year showcasing the aristocratic region’s top 2004 representations (sans Chateau Ausone, which disappeared mysteriously from the grassy knoll of the Madison hotel in New Jersey). As a side note to the gracious host, the wonderful buffet served raised the bar for these large tasting events and the generous offerings were well organized, w/ presentation arranged by appellation and body weight.
2003 was certainly a tough act to follow. Not necessarily due to its uniform quality, but the extreme heat and drought conditions that impose such severe stress to the vines of 2003 are inevitably followed by abundant production and vigor in 2004. Not only did growers have to aggressively manage canopies and green harvest without compromise, they also had to handle unseasonably cool weather in July, as well as a damp, washed out August. If it were not for the Indian summer of September, this vintage wouldn’t have been able to muster the successes that were poured forth last night.
Technology, experience and terroir trumped Mother Nature’s mediocrity in many cases, w/ a few surprises and disappointments in the mix. The flesh and succulence of 2003 was not duplicated in many of their 2004 counterparts, but several 2004 efforts had striking purity in the aromatics and a symmetry that any ambitious claret would aspire to attain. The quality of the fruit in the Pessac, Margaux, St. Julien and St. Emilion was unexpected, as some wines even seemed flabby and soft w/ too much fruit! Granted, this was the exception, but the ability of top Chateau to severely select and manage their vineyard and cellars is as top flight as ever.
The weaknesses of the vintage come from over-extraction, treating the 2004’s as if it were another 2000 left some wines w/ slightly hollow mid-palates and burly tannins that will no doubt out-live their modest fruit. Drying, chalky tannins were present in several wines, clipping their already short finishes w/ a sharply coarse bite. Care w/ the skin contact was essential in allowing a balance to be achieved in the final product. Surprisingly, I did not find too much angularity in these wines from expectedly higher acidities. Issues predominantly laid w/in tannin management, palate depth and length.
Judging by previous press, I would assume that these wines, in general, have put on quite a bit of weight following their barrel elevage. Bottling and transportation was not unkind to these wines, as very few were found to be in awkward stages and only a handful of chateau (mostly Pauillac) were forebodingly closed and difficult to assess. I encourage Bordeaux fanatics to prudently buy top names at will, considering this may be our last chance to load up on great quality claret at these prices. If the last gasp of a ‘drinkers’ vintage existed, it’s easy to label 2004 as such. With the strength of the dollar (somewhat of an oxymoron, eh?) having a questionable future, more favorable climatic change for transitional terroirs, and speculation on blue-chip Bordeaux rising, the future seems bleak for these types of buying opportunities to arise anytime soon. I will continue to hope for the best. On to the highlighted wines….La Vieille Cure, Fronsac
Sriking purity in the aromatics, typified by melted asphalt, roasted meats and hearty plumb scents. Although there is fine fruit in the palate, the firm, grippy tannins aren’t quite kept in check. Tobacco and toast undertones can be noted under the mouth drying finish. The Fronsac terroir obviously benefits from warmer vintages, and although ambitious, it simply didn’t have the raw materials to match up to it’s 2003 counterpart. 88-89 points.Gigault Cuvee Viva, Blaye
Sweet, ripe fruit typify this perennial best buy. Cherry pie filling, mocha and blueberry flavors are lacking in seriousness, but provide a delicious profile none the less. Again, slightly drying tannins clip the finish a bit, but this effort is sound.
Drink now, 88 points.Monbousquet, St. Emilion
Aromas evoke notions of cedar, spicebox, minerals and black raspberry fruit. Texture is lavish and silky, w/ roasted coffee, provincial herbs and crème de cassis laying a generously deep foundation for the tobacco tinged finish. Chalky tannins are buttressed by a wealth of character. Consistently my favorite Petit Chateau, Perse can do no wrong w/ this property. 92 points.Fleur Cardinale, St. Emilion
Mocha kissed blue and purple fruits in the aromatics are echoed nicely by the fleshy palate which is pure fruit and completely precocious. A wine that begs to be drunk, and still represents a sound value in Bordeaux. 90-91 points.Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol
Much, much more restrained on the nose than the St. Emilion line-up. Reserved and undelineated, but offers the most depth and weight in the palate thus far. Sweet fig, blackberry and chocolate are evident in the fat and well rounded palate. A backward, but seriously endowed wine that will blossom in the cellar. 93-94 points, drink 2010-2025.La Fleur Petrus, Pomerol
A wine that consistently has disappointed me, especially in 2003. I’ve found several efforts from this estate to be feeble, soft and w/o the feminine attraction it so claims to possess. Having said all that, I found the 2004 to blow away their 2003 effort. Beautiful nose of crushed strawberry preserve, lilac and rose petals dance up and down your nostrils w/ a sexy grace. The palate was polished and very classy, milk chocolate and raspberry ganache are pure cashmere as the tannin seems already dissolved! Suave and sophisticated, a great success. 94 points. Drinkable now and certainly will appreciate w/ bottle bouquet.Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion
The hot streak for this chateau seems to have no end, and 2004 carries the torch to 2005 w/ grace. Raspberry pudding, high toned cherry and cotton candy scents seduce in the sweet perfume of this lovely Pavie Macquin. The focus from attack to finish on this wine is admirable, as pure ganache and crème de cassis float over a bed of sound structure. Cellaring will reward. 94-95 points, drink 2011-2028.Troplong Mondot, St. Emilion
With all the hype over the 2005, do NOT pass up an opportunity to grab up the 2004 at nearly a quarter of the price! Dazzlingly complexity in the nose reveals different aromas w/ each passing scent. Graphite, currant, wild berry and a floral garden reveal themselves in this cornucopia of scents, hinting at what lies beneath. The palate contains an orchard’s worth of pure fruit, refined tannins and a powerful, long finish. Oustanding. 94-96 points.Clos Fourtet, St. Emilion
Wiffs of graphite are followed by beautiful bunches of red cherries evoking a trip through the bushes. A medium bodied claret that possesses sweet, jammy red fruits that doesn’t have the opulence or length of the Troplong Mondot, but fine symmetry. 91-92 points.Brane Cantenac, Margaux
Wonderful surprise. Pungent, Graves-like scents of tobacco, cigar pipe and protea tropical flowers cover an incense note pushing up beneath. Solidly built, w/ black currant and cedar notes in the palate submerging a bed of big time tannins. Needs time. 91-93 points, 2012-2025.Lascombes, Margaux
Irrespective of the Rolland controversy this Chateau has received recently (which estate hasn’t?!) and their oddly performing 2003 in the bottle, this 2004 is a powerhouse of a wine. Violet, BBQ, charcoal and campfire smoke scents soar from the glass, followed by a truckload of fruit in the palate. Black cherry, dark fruit and espresso roast notes are opulent and powerful. Tremendous effort, for any vintage! 94 points, drink 2009-2022.Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux
Another Chateau on a hot-streak, perhaps the long under-achieving appellation in general has finally hit it’s stride? Pure fruit upfront, in spades of black and blueberries, wild flower, brewed coffee beans and underpinning mineral sense can be made evident initially. The palate is pure crème de cassis, w/ floral flavors that are borderline exotic. What ripeness! 93-95 points, outstanding success.Branaire Ducru, St. Julien
Not up to par from its predecessor (2003), but no slouch either. Yet another candidate for the pure fruit category, almost reminiscent of a ripe rendition of Spanish Grenache. Fig, raspberry jam, and cassis flavors are well shaped, but without the depth and complexity of this estate’s best efforts. 91-92 points.Leoville Poyferre, St. Julien
Again, it’s unfair for this estate to be compared to it’s previous year’s classic performance, but one can’t help but make these types of contrasts. Sweet cherry, rose and sage hints are attractive and full of charm. The palate is round and full, with pretty red fruit and floral undertones that have excellent proportion. Not at all a blockbuster, but very well done. 92 points.Leoville Barton, St. Julien
Couldn’t help but have some fun w/ the descriptors for this one, it was made for me! Scents of bologna, cedar plank, chili powder and other categories of Indian spice hit the senses w/ pure lust! The palate has plenty of blackberry fruit, mocha and spice notes that the critics will claim are ‘over-ripe,’ but I found them completely in proportion. My notes mention “Holy crap, it’s approachable!” Anthony Barton is certainly fashioning a different style of claret these days, and this effort is certainly outstanding. 93 points.Ducru Beaucaillou, St. Julien
This wine was surprising and certainly disappointing. Although it was seemingly made from ripe fruit and certainly a wonderful terroir, the texture was flaccid and almost too milky & creamy, as if the malolactic was poorly managed. Even the blackberry jam aromas and flavors were simply overwhelmed by the array of cloying milk chocolate mess and in desperate need of verve and complexity. The promising cedar edge that struck me on the finish lead me to believe that this sample was either not representative, or simply in a disjointed evolutionary stage. I hesitate to assess. 88 points? (providing positive development)Haut Bailly, Pessac-Leognan
While there are certainly some sound elements to this good, but uninspiring effort, it is simply out-classed by its peers. There were detracting hints of greenness in the flavor profile, and the texture while not unappealing, was soft and feeble. The shortness of the finish left this wine in the simple picnic wine category. 82-84 points.Smith Haut-Lafitte, Pessac-Leognan
What a dazzling display of Graves scents! Ash, new saddle leather, cigar tobacco and scorched earth remind me what pleasures can be had in the southern realms of the Left Bank. Such flesh on the palate, w/ rich and complex dark fruits that have wonderful penetration and presence through the finish. Tremendous success. Bravo! 93 points. Drinkable now and certainly through 2020.Pape Clement, Pessace-Leognan
Magrez’s flagship wine has been edging it’s way closer and closer to the two rivals of Graves, La Mission and Haut Brion, and this vintage his territory is marked even more firmly in that lofty heir. Wonderfully pungent scents of truffles, wild flowers, underbrush, cedar and black fruits ascend from the glass. The palate is much more tannic and unevolved than the SHL, and patience will undoubtedly reward who ever is savvy enough to purchase this wine. Outstanding claret. 94 points. Drink from 2012-2030La Mission Haut Brion, Pessac-Leognan
Remarkably elegant wine, wins you over w/ finesse every sip (ignore the fact that this is supposed to be the powerhouse of Graves, the proprietors utilized Mother Nature’s gifts to their best ability in 2004 and it is certainly representative in the glass). Dried porcini mushrooms, high class tobacco smoke, cocoa and blackberry fruit are remarkably long and pure in a seamless texture that evokes the ethereal qualities of an aged red Burgundy. Slightly edges out the Pape Clement in singularity, but not by much! 95 points.Pavie Decesse, St. Emilion
Sweet, seductive and sultry temptress of a wine. A Perse trademark, and punctuated to perfection w/ his Pavie Decesse 2004. Scents of spicebox, black cherry, mocha, white chocolate and pepper hit just about every pleasure point through the body. Admirable length and sheer satin textures echoing raspberry ganache throughout the finish win this wine many points w/ this taster. 95-96 points, gorgeous.Pavie, St. Emilion
Ambitious, as always, w/ a waterfall of scents including BBQ spice, smoked game and cherry cordial liqueur brought immediate attraction to the wine. The palate is currently in a tight focus and very reserved, but copious amounts of sweet leather, fig and tobacco flavors can be discerned. The one hang-up is that the wine is currently showing its heat, most likely due to the palate not being as expressive as it eventually will be. Because of the track record Pavie has for showing irregularly post bottling, I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that the heat will dissipate and it will be a classic quality wine. 96 points, and I actually prefer to current potential of the 2004 to the 2003. Drink 2012-2030.Bellevue Mondotte, St. Emilion
One of my favorites of 2003, this vintage unfortunately did not show nearly as well as the previous. Aromas of incense, Asian spice and a lot of heat were immediate impressions, and the palate exposed the over-extraction w/ a lack of expected fat and unctuous sensations that this wine typically brings to the table. There was little charm and the tannins concluded w/ a chalky texture that punctuated the woody flavors of the wine. It seems that 2003 played right into Perse’s hands w/ this particular style of a micro-cuvee, but that type of vinification doesn’t seem to work w/ the 2004 set of climactic conditions. 88-90 points, in the hopes that the palate will fill out in time.L’Angelus, St. Emilion
This is certainly one of my favorite estates, and this vintage represents a great buying opportunity. The wine is broodingly backward, full of massively fat black fruits, graphite and cold steel. A heaping load of extraction w/ amazing persistence, this is probably one of the most unevolved L’Angelus’ I’ve ever tasted. Patience is a must. 2014-2034, 94 points.Cheval Blanc, St. Emilion
A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde show from nose to mouth. The deceptively subtle nose is alluring, w/ soft hints of red plumb, cherry and spice, and then the palate hits you w/ a resounding thud! Unmistakable opulence and unctuous textures of sheer power are delivered like a right hook from a southpaw in the 11th round of a prize fight. Authoritative grilled herb, tobacco and blackberry reduction sauce flavors are long and plush. Admirable ripeness, and even though it is certainly approachable now, I can only imagine it will evolve effortlessly for close to 3 decades. Wow! 94-96 points.Palmer, Margaux
While there was certain promise in the nose, exhibiting floral garden, forest floor and plumy fruit, the palate was a blatant disappointment. Over-extraction left this milk chocolately monster left to bleed it’s oak and attacking pierce of tannin rupture through the palate. Overwhealmingly disjointed and I currently will not apologize for ‘tasting it at an awkward stage,’ but may be proven wrong in the future. An optimistic 85-88 points.Leoville Las Cases, St. Julien
Now this is a classic wine (doesn’t it get old to hear LLC is producing first growth quality juice?!). Wonderful proportioned nose, Pauillac-like scents of lead pencil, tobacco, cedar and black currant are subtle, but superlative. The mouthfeel is genuine and caressing, w/ spot on integration and subtle power that screams of it’s pedigree. A persistence and elegance all Bordeaux dream to attain. 95 points.Haut Brion, Pessac-Leognan
I reserve my judgment on this wine because the sample size was simply too small to make a true assessment. While I couldn’t get a true sense of quality, I could make out the tobacco, cigar smoke and blackberry flavors that are undeniable of it’s terroir and pedigree….making me wish I had the patience for the second bottle to open up ;)Margaux, Margaux
Smoked cedar, mineral tinged currant and cured meat are pure poetry in a classy Margaux nose. Unfortunately the somewhat drying, slightly astringent tannins lacked the mid palate flesh to escalate this wine into the level it can consistently achieve, but there is no shortage of charm and finesse in this year’s effort. 91-93 points.Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
Elegant and classically polished in pure Lafite style. The scents of crushed berries, sweet tobacco, spice box and cedar had a lovely lift to bring great introduction to the palate. Although this is not a blockbuster of a wine, it is silky, refined, well rounded and a presentation of perfect proportion. Like a ballerina in Swan Lake that simply can’t be imitated, nor can the strength be measured in size. Commendable. 94 points.Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac
Violet, purple fruits and blackberry toast fill the air w/ sweetness. A body that is nicely rounded and laden w/ sound fruit to submerge its plump tannic backbone. Not at all showy or flamboyant, but a sound representation and crafted w/ care in relation to the vintage. 92-93 points.Latour, Pauillac
Similar aromatic and flavor profile to Mouton, w/ an echoed violet, purple and blue fruit nature to its demeanor. There is brightness and lift, w/ perfect acidity carrying it’s symmetrical flavors that are characterized w/ more depth and presence than the Mouton. 93-94 points.
As an interesting finish to the night, a 1999 Latour was opened, perhaps to showcase how this Chateau can evolve under less than ideal conditions. Needless to say, I found it breath-taking:Latour 1999
A smorgasbord of sweetly earthy elements began to settle into a poetic maturity, right on cue. Dried mushrooms, truffles, damp earth, and cracked peppercorns brought my toes to a tingle. While the palate brought forth elements that evoked dried meats, heady black chocolate, blueberries and crème de cassis that were so suave and rich, and oh so long. I couldn’t help but think of a plump, low acid Brunello for comparison sake (coming from me, that is a quintessential complement!). Beginning it’s bottle bouquet period of maturity w/ style and grace, but aint goin’ anywhere soon! 96 points!
If the Latour is any indication as to where the best of the 2004 is going, then be well assured your top ‘04s are heading in the right direction. Also be aware of the over-extractors, seemingly a cardinal sin of the vintage.
All in all, a buyer’s vintage may be a thing of the past…so exploration in this year is prudent. Don’t pass up an opportunity that may not exist in the very ambiguous Bordeaux future!