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Bordeaux 2000

March 2, 2010

We had an excellent dinner on 23 Feb 2010 at Jade Palace featuring the Bordeaux wines of vintage 2000, with a representation from each commune (except Sauternes). As much as we know that Bordeaux wines only begin to enter their peak drinking period some 15-20 years after vintage, particularly if it was especially outstanding, it can be highly educational to chart the wines’ evolution at an earlier time point, even more so when the order of wines drunk follow the geography of the region, moving northwards, thus allowing one to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of differing terroir.

The vintage of 2000 is, of course, legendary by now, and so it seemed logical to assess these wines at the 10 year mark. The original intention was to drink a horizontal of Second Growths (or the equivalent) across the different communes, but it quickly became clear that the 1855 classification is not quite applicable. Firstly, the Right Bank and Graves do not follow the same classification. Secondly, quality has shot up across almost all estates. Thirdly, the old classification is something of a joke for the commune of Margaux: how could Rauzan-Gassies be a Deuxieme cru while Palmer continues to languish as Troisieme? Lastly, the wines of Graves and Margaux offer quality often at prices that are substantially lower than their counterparts in St Julien and Pauillac. Without the means to assemble a Hardy Rodenstock kind of tasting, we decided on a more modest line-up around the SGD200 mark. But it seemed we’re not the only ones with the same idea, for the usual retailers were extremely low in their stock of 2000 Bordeaux, save for Premier cru which are obviously out of reach. In the end, my friends had to resort to buying the wines off me at cost price (dammit), but we still managed to assemble a highly respectable lineup that represented the kind of wines we’re more likely to purchase.

We kicked off with a Bollinger Grand Cuvee NV as an overture, purchased at the lowest price of SGD79 from Bob Rees of WEA, which was pale-golden, fresh and lively with mild notes of citrus, yeast and peat, not too dry, revealing good body, fairly rounded, ending with a slightly sweet finish. Preferable than a Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV. Very good indeed.

The first Bordeaux to be poured was 2000 Domaine de Chevalier (courtesy LW), a perenial favourite. Often described as the connoiseur’s claret, but on this occasion, it seemed rather dull and uninteresting. Dark red, the nose very muted and restrained. Medium-bodied, soft, finishing with some sweet tannins with a hint of potential depth and greatness beneath, but one can’t escape the dour and austere impression. It’s obviously going through a very awkward phase right now. A bottle tasted last July, popped and poured, was absolutely on song. I’m confident it’ll show its full colours after this pubertal phase. Will rest my remaining 13 bottles for now.

We then swung over to the Right Bank, pairing the 2000 Ch Bon Pasteur (courtesy Kieron) with the 2000 Ch Beausejour Duffau Lagrosse (courtesy KP, and not to be confused with Beausejour Becot). The former exhibited all the hallmarks of a Michel Rolland wine (this being his personal estate): deep purple, substantially more  extracted than a “traditional” claret, intense, yielding notes of soy with traces of alcohol still discernible, giving it a New World feel. Nevertheless, in spite of the density, it was expertly balanced, the fruit never allowed to dominate. It opened up further after a couple of hours, becoming very well integrated, broad and lush, finishing with superbly-managed velvety tannins and a note of sweet licorice. My first encounter with this label, and I must say I’m impressed. It’d have been difficult to place if tasted blind, but that in itself is a hallmark of a Pomerol. In comparison, the Beausejour was actually more impressive initially – deep, ripe and lush right off the starting block, offering sweet dark berries with an alcoholic trace. But it failed to develop further and, in fact, became somewhat flat and disjointed on the mid-palate, whereas the Bon Pasteur, by then, had begun to sing.

We moved back again to the Left Bank, pairing wines from Margaux and Saint Julien, the 2 communes that you come to as one moves up north on the D2 highway away from Bordeaux city. One of the first estates to be encountered in Margaux is Ch d’Issan (courtesy Vic), a Troisieme cru which lies adjacent to the main road, enclosed by its clos. The wine made in 2000 is deep dark red, restrained, but nevertheless exhibits more than a hint of a perfumed nose, with lifted notes of fig, dark berries and dried herbs, instantly recognisable as a Left Bank. Medium-full, smooth and well-integrated, lush with lovely ripe fruit, not at all assertive. It opened up further as the evening wore on, yet to develop secondary flavours but the potential is huge. This is a wine that’s unmistakably true to its Margaux roots, and the one that’s drinking best right now amongst the evening’s line-up. Excellent. Drunk alongside, the 2000 Ch Gruaud Larose, a Deuxieme cru showing a deep purple, was absolutely glorious, deeply inviting and seductive, offering loads of deep dark fruit and notes of tobacco and graphite. Broad and expansive on the palate, lush, suitably complex at this stage, full of subtle nuances, finishing with luxurious tannins. Brings back memories of the 1986 and 1990, although I’d say the 2000 surpasses both. Gets my nod for the Wine Of The Night. The reason this wine was showing so well could partly be due to the fact that it was the only one in the line-up that was decanted, as its cork had disintegrated.

The final pairing saw us moving further up north, through Pauillac and finally Saint Estephe. One can’t ask for a more quintessential Pauillac than the 2000 Ch Pichon Baron Longueville (courtesy Hiok). Deep purple, throwing off a classic Pauillac nose of dried leaves, tobacco snuff, lead pencil shavings amidst its glorious fruit. Rightly masculine, rich and opulent, lush yet elegant within its superb cabernet frame. Great density and concentration. This Deuxieme cru is within touching distance of a Premier cru. It has all the trappings of a great wine in development and eventually will achieve greatness, just as the 1989 and 1990 did.  In contrast, the 2000 Ch Calon Segur (courtesy HPP), dark red with a slightly rusty edge, was a tad more rustic and gravelly, betraying its northerly origins. But there is no mistaking its top drawer quality – the excellent density, richness and concentration. Posseses good depth, beginning to develop layers of secondary flavours, ending in a long finish. Has a certain “warmth” and charm that I attribute to the fact that it’s so well integrated and harmonious, with a real feel of the terroir. I always feel that Calon Segur, together with Montrose, is more true to its Saint Estephe roots than Cos D’Estournel, which tend to be more extracted and “international” in feel.

This tasting has been highly educational. Terroir does really matter, and it really does communicate with you through the wines that come from the vines. And the wines of 2000 seem to say that everything clicked together beautifully that year. I found myself repeating the same superlatives for almost each of these wines of 2000, perhaps with the exception of Domaine de Chevalier that seemed shut, proving that one doesn’t need to bust the bank in search of excellent wines even within such a stellar vintage. All are characterised by the right degree of ripeness in the fruit, matched with excellent concentration, depth and weight, yet effortless in retaining a wonderful balance and sense of lightness. No wonder there remains precious little of these on the shelves. I feel the Left Bank has the edge even within such an uniformly outstanding vintage, or perhaps we weren’t drinking the correct wines from the Right. But no matter. Just buy any 2000 you come across that’s friendly to your bank account.

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