The 2005 vintage in Bordeaux was superlative in so many ways. The weather was a winemaker’s dream: a benign spring gave way to a hot — but not too hot — summer, with hardly any rain. What fell, fell at the right time. That led into an autumn so deliciously mellow that vignerons could amble into the vineyards and pick perfectly ripe grapes whenever they chose. The grapes were small, intensely flavored and with thick skins.
Last month, a decade past that dream season, the 2005s shone at the “Ten Years On” tasting at the London wine merchant Bordeaux Index.
From the first tastings in spring 2006, everyone loved it. Consider what they said then:
Robert Parker, the formidable founder of The Wine Advocate and its influential 100-point wine rating system, thought it “brilliant … one of the most singular years of the past five decades.” The British heavyweights – wine critic and journalist Jancis Robinson, MW, and Decanter magazine consultant editor Steven Spurrier – were bowled over. Simon Staples, the epicurean Bordeaux director for London-based wine merchant Berry Bros and Rudd, said he was “speechless.”
“It was a truly extraordinary year,” veteran Bordeaux wine merchant Bill Blatch said in the report he publishes after every vintage. “Easy to manage, without complications, and the almost permanently fine weather ended up by providing a wine of most unusual concentration.”
Now, as then, 2005 was a very good year
In January, at the Ten Years On tasting, I found that the 2005s were simply delightful, with succulent, rich, seductive fruit, and acidity that dances on your tongue. The wines are pure, but complex. A cornucopia of blackberry, cassis and red fruit is tempered with minerality and spiciness, then high notes of parma violet and florality.
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It’s as much a pleasure to describe them as taste them. Every wine of note is underpinned by powerful tannins that give it a structure that will ensure long aging — in some cases, for decades.
There are some clumsy wines — the Merlot in Saint-Émilion was very ripe, with high alcohol and big tannins — and some wines have developed an oaky dryness that won’t sweeten. But they are few and far between.
Unless you’re very unlucky, if you pick a 2005 off the shelf, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
A pricey caveat
The only fly in the ointment is price. Bordeaux knew it had something good, and the first generation of Asian millionaires were beginning to get a taste for fine wine, very expensive fine wine. The 2005 was the first Bordeaux vintage that launched its wines into the stratosphere of luxury goods. The top wines are very expensive. At the very top, Petrus is more than $4,000 a bottle, and the dozen top properties — Lafite, Mouton and their fellow first growths, then Cheval Blanc, Ausone and a few others — are never less than $1,500.
But that needn’t concern us. The joy of a really wonderful vintage is its consistency.
There’s an old saying: “In a great vintage, search out the lesser estates, and in a lesser vintage go for the great estates.” It’s never been truer than in 2005. You don’t need to spend three months’ wages on the great chateaux. At every level, from $30 Cru Bourgeois to the humbler Medoc fifth growths, there are some beautiful wines to be found.
If I had to choose one region in a vintage studded with gems, I’d say the wines of the little Médoc commune of Saint-Julien are most consistently lovely. Below are my top picks from 2005, for the priciest and for the best value from Bordeaux:
Two top-10 lists from Bordeaux 2005
Prices are the average per bottle, excluding tax. All wines are available widely at retail.
Top 10, Money No Object
1. Château Petrus, Pomerol, $4,986
Discreet smoky nose leading to powerful blackberry, black cherry and minty, spicy tar on the palate. Dry length releasing fresh gouts of juice. Drink 2020-2040+
2. Château Lafite Rothschild, 1st Growth, Pauillac, $1,461
The bright, lifted blackcurrant and blackberry fruit is sweet and fresh, the tannins ripe, the acidity mouthwatering, the whole complex, charming, assured. A triumph. Drink 2020 to 2040+
3. Petit Mouton, Pauillac $233
Plum skin aroma, then palate has multiple strands of juiciness through the tannins, intense and vibrant sour mash plum. Minerality and power. Drink 2018 to 2030+
4. Château Pontet Canet, 5th Growth, Pauillac, $188
Sweet and savory, bacon with plum skins, very fresh and open, discreet powerful tannins. Linear, classic, confident. Drink 2018 to 2040+
5. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 5th Growth, Pauillac, $135
Savory nose with minerality, pencil lead, very linear and precise, very fresh, essence of blackberry and damson, fine sophisticated length. Drink 2018 to 2035+
6. Château Léoville Las Cases, 2nd Growth, Saint-Julien, $397
Fresh, savory, bacony nose, tannins holding blackberry, cassis and coffee flavors in an iron grip; restrained, fruit releases juice, fills the palate. Very fine. Drink 2018 to 2040+
7. Château Palmer, 3rd Growth, Margaux, $383
Very dark in hue and viscous. Discreet perfumed violet nose, incredibly subtle but exotic, lovely weight, constant interplay of dryness, juice, tannins and acidity. Drink 2017 to 2040+
8. Château La Lagune, 3rd Growth, Ludon, $102
Lovely complex savory nose, bramble and truffle, crushed coffee beans, superb opulent sweetness. Palate fresh and perfumed with secondary flavors of dusty rose petals and elegant decay. Tannins dry and dissolving to juice. Drink 2017 to 2035+
9. Château-Figeac, Saint-Émilion 1er Grand Cru Classé, $172
Restrained sour black fruit, fresh-picked plum and hints of sloe. Closed, brooding and tannic. A keeper. Drink 2020 to 2040+
10. Château Calon-Segur, 3rd Growth, Saint-Estèphe, $123
Nose very restrained, closed, palate with (at first) dry, austere tannins. Then classic briar fruit, tannins become silky. Very pure, arrow-straight acidity shows how this will mature. Masterful finesse. Drink 2018 to 2040+
Top 10 best value
1. Château Poujeaux, Cru Bourgeois, Moulis, $53
Violet perfume and sweet briar. On the palate damson and cedar, sour plum with cloves. Mouthwatering acidity, soft length. Drink 2015 to 2025+
2. Château du Tertre, 5th Growth, Margaux, $79
Sweet sugared damson and plum with perfume on nose. Palate very open and fresh with lovely tobacco and truffle, tannins releasing great gouts of juice. Drink 2015 to 2025+
3. Les Pagodes de Cos, Saint-Estèphe, $62
Cos d’Estournel’s second wine is often more restrained than its big brother. Lovely meaty peppery nose, hint of violet perfume on palate with herb, restrained. Drink 2018 to 2040+
4. Château Gloria, Cru Bourgeois, Saint-Julien, $70
Bacon savory nose with hint of old velvet tapestry. Confident, juicy uncomplicated weight, plum and damson fruit , very nice length, good balance. Drink 2015 to 2025+
5. Château Talbot, 4th Growth, Saint-Julien, $79
Rich mineral, savory nose with great charm. Defined blackberry and coffee, discreet, old-fashioned like the chateau itself, tannins dry but dissolving to sweetness. Drink 2015 to 2030
6. Château Les-Ormes-de-Pez, Cru Bourgeois, Saint-Estèphe, $59
Fresh peppery notes on nose – very fine open juicy acid on palate, fresh, uncomplicated. Drink 2015 to 2025+
7. Château Malartic-Lagravière, Cru Classé Pessac-Léognan, $82
Very savory beef-stock nose with ripe plum. Tannins release juice and sour-sweet plum and damson flavors. Fresh, defined, not opulent, but fine. Drink 2015 to 2025+
8. Château Langoa-Barton, 3rd Growth, Saint-Julien, $85
Fresh sugared blackberry, savory mineral undertones, open and fresh with such suave tannins and juice on the finish. Very fine length. Drink 2015 to 2025+
9. Château Potensac, Cru Bourgeois Médoc, $47
Perfumed briar and tobacco nose. Fine, fresh, mouth-watering acidity and bright cassis. Grainy grip to tannins, juicy and opulent. Drink 2015 to 2020+
10. Domaine de Chevalier, Cru Classé Pessac-Léognan, $105
Rich creamy nose, blackberry compote, truffle, licorice. Palate develops fine damson, violet perfume and fresh acidity. Delicate tannins with dry grip. Incredible quality for the price. Drink 2017 to 2030+
Main photo: Harvesting grapes at Domaine de Chevalier, an estate in the Bordeaux appellation of Pessac-Léognan, just south of the city of Bordeaux. Credit: Copyright Domaine de Chevalier