Bordeaux 2003 – 40 wines tasted en primeur

This is a report on Bordeaux 2003, based on trade and press tastings held in Bordeaux from 29th March to 2nd April 2004. Marcus Edwards was there to cover the event for wine-pages, and assess the quality of this vintage, which saw extreme weather patterns in the region. As the “en primeur” campaign offering these wines for sale as “futures” starts to hit its stride, Marcus highlights the best-performing wines from his extensive tastings.

marcusHaving worked for one of the UK’s leading fine wine merchants for over 10 years, Marcus knows a thing or two about the wine trade. So much so that he decided to start Albany Vintners, where he is responsible for buying and selling fine wines from around the world. Since starting Albany Vintners, much of Marcus’ spare time has been spent tasting wines and improving his knowledge of fine wines, especially from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône and Italy. Marcus remains a passionate enthusiast, and it is as such that he files this report from Bordeaux.

bordeaux 2003

by Marcus Edwards

Everybody in Europe will remember the summer of 2003. Whilst in the UK we struggled to cope with extremes of heat most of us had never experienced before, The bemused Bordelais scratched their heads – the history books had never before recorded such an unrelenting heatwave. But still the estates had to produce wines worthy of their reputation. Have they succeeded?

In some cases the answer is a resounding yes. 2003 is not an “across the board” great vintage like 2000, but there are indeed some great wines.

chateauMany people travelling to Bordeaux at the end of March were unsure of what to expect; stories of a very mixed vintage were already filtering through. However, the reality was quite different, and in the Northern Médoc in particular 2003 is being hailed as an exceptional vintage. The further North one tasted, through St Julien, on to Pauillac and up to St Estèphe, the more frequent the success stories became.

Indeed, in these three appellations it became difficult to taste an ‘average’ classed growth wine. The wines here really are quite exceptional. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape performed superbly in the hot conditions, due to its skin being much thicker in comparison to the Merlot grape. Those that were not panicked into picking too early, because sugar levels had soared, have been rewarded. The extra hanging time allowed for true phenolic ripeness; ripeness of stalks, pips and skins.

The best wines of 2003 have concentration and power, but they are also very fresh, well balanced and show classic Bordeaux structure. Acidity is lower than average, but Bordeaux has often made great wines in hot, dry years, including 1990, ’89, ’82, ’59, ’47, ’45, ’29 and ’28.

In Margaux, the Graves and the southern Médoc, the quality of the vintage is slightly more mixed. Whilst some good wines have been produced, buyers should take more care to seek recommendations from their merchant. For Sauternes, the wines will be approachable young and have a softness to them, intermingled with high levels of sweet fruits.

On the right bank, however, good wines are harder to find. In some cases it becomes apparent that the thinner skins of the Merlot grape could not cope with the record heatwave. The clay-limestone soils of St Emilion fared better than in Pomerol overall, where the latter’s soil was generally unable to provide enough water for the vines.

Best of Bordeaux 2003

The first 2003 en primeur releases are currently finding their way to market. These are the best wines we tasted in Bordeaux, with a score awarded out of a possible 25 marks.

St Estèphe
Montrose (24)
Cos d’Estournel (23)
Calon-Ségur (22)
Meyney (21)
Les Ormes-de-Pez (21.5)
Lafite (24)
Latour (23.5)
Mouton Rothschild (22.5)
Pichon Lalande (22)
Pichon Baron (22)
Lynch Bages (22)
Pontet Canet (22)
Margaux (23)
Palmer (22)
Kirwan (21.5)
Du Tertre (21)
Ferrière (21)
St Julien
Léoville Las Cases (22)
Ducru Beaucaillou (21)
Léoville Barton (22)
Lagrange (21.5)
Langoa Barton (21.5)
Southern Médoc
Potensac (21)
Cantermerle (21)
La Lagune (21.5)
Haut Brion (23)
La Mission Haut Brion (21.5)
Pape Clément (21)
Sauternes and Barsac
Coutet (22)
Rieussec (22)
Nairac (21)
Doisy Védrines (21)
St Emilion
Ausone (24)
Lafleur (24)
Canon La Gaffelière (22.5)

The en primeur campaign from wine merchants across the world is just starting to take off, as the first prices for these wines begin to be released. wine-pages will be providing a databank of offers from the leading UK merchants, including, of course Marcus Edwards’ Albany Vintners.