Harvesting Cabernet Franc in September 2003 at Château Corbin, St.Émilion GCC
FIRST IMPRESSIONS - 400 WINES TASTED
2003 is the vintage, where Gods of weather deserved to be nicknamed "crazy jerks"! Atypically warm March and April resulted in flowering ending two weeks before the expected time. May entertained with very little rain, while June and July got almost no rain. August was a case for itself.
The heatwave lasted three weeks with a temperature between 40-45°C, low humidity, and a few raindrops. At Château Palmer in Margaux, a temperature equaling 50°C was recorded at ground level between east-oriented vines!
The growing cycle of vines was halted because of rain shortage. It was especially the case for Merlot, which ripens first and which grew on gravelly/sandy and well-drained soil, where no "supply" with water was present.
Clayey soil and limestones in the subsoil keep, as everybody knows, a sufficient amount of rainwater back; that's why Merlot had it better here with rainwater not running deep down or far away.
Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, which all ripen later and in the mentioned order, experienced different problems than Merlot.
The two last-mentioned grape varieties could never be overripe. Luckily, sufficient rain came in the last week of August and at the beginning of September. Then splendid weather followed until the end of September with 25-30°C during the afternoon and a lot of sunshine.
"White" grapes, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle, were harvested perfectly ripe in the second half of August. On the 8th of September, the harvest of Merlot started at Right Bank (Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac/Canon-Fronsac), while Left Bank (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, and Graves) started with Merlot one week later.
Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot followed then, and they were fully harvested on the 19th of September at Right Bank and two weeks later at Left Bank. All these grapes were small ones with thick skin and enormously concentrated juice. Therefore, yield per ha was only 18-25 hl in many places.
Bordeaux's sweet district, Sauternes & Barsac, experienced perfect conditions for forming botrytis. Rain on the 8th of September got Botrytis cinerea fungus to attack grapes at rocket speed, so harvest was finished in three weeks. In most places, only three pickings in the vineyard were necessary!
2003 isn't the classic Bordeaux vintage, as 2001 and 2002. Furthermore, 2003 is highly uneven, with stunning and bad wines in every district.
We understand many wines in this vintage lack this delicate elegance and complexity as classic Bordeaux. 2003's "heatstroke" has left a "fingerprint" because the fruit is warm and, in some cases, overripe, while tannin is also marked by heat and is slightly dry.
The vigilant and courageous winemakers, who let nature go its way and interfered as little as possible in vineyard and vinification, produced splendid, well-balanced wines with aromatic fruit and silky tannin. Other winemakers, who didn't adapt to extreme weather conditions and removed leaves and grapes from vines in July, ended with grapes looking like raisins.
Vintage 2003 (red wines) is best on Left Bank (Haut-Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes & Barsac). On Right Bank (Saint-Émilion and Pomerol), there are far between goodies, and 2003 here can't match vintages 1998 and 2000 because Merlot found it very difficult to withstand this extreme heat.
Sauternes & Barsac have made an extravagant, rich, and concentrated vintage with an extraordinarily high level of sugar in grapes. Bordeaux' dry whites are also of very high quality.
Is 2003 worth buying? It depends on your taste preferences and which prices you will pay. Apart from that, it's sure that several wines (especially from Haut-Médoc) will keep for a long time (20-30 years). The time frame for other wines is close to 10-15 years.
BEST WINES OF 2003
Unless stated otherwise, the following tasting notes were sampled at tastings organized by Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. All wines were assessed according to a 100 points scale.
SAUTERNES & BARSAC
Climens was tasted in the château's cellar from seven different barrels (harvest days). It was a pure display of fantastic botrytis, sheer elegance, incredible richness, and refinement. 99p.
Raymond Lafon (tasted at the property) showed enormous nuances, sensual botrytis, and creamy fruit everywhere. Well-deserved 98p.
Rayne Vigneau improves all the time. 2003 displayed tremendously fine botrytis, a very nuanced palate, and 30 seconds long finish. 96+p.
The very honey-like and well-balanced Myrat (95p), the strong Broustet (94p) with splendid acidity, the incredibly refined and sublime de Fargues (94p), the sophisticated and incredibly elegant Coutet (94p), and the creamy and sweet Suduiraut were pure pleasure.
D'Arche (91-93p), Lamothe Guignard (91-93p), Lamothe (92-93p), Clos Haut Peyraguey (92p), Lafaurie Peyraguey (92p), La Tour Blanche (92p), Bastor Lamontagne (92p) and Rieussec (91-92p) showed splendidly shaped acidity and sweetness, distinguished botrytis and nuance-richness. A joy for the palate!
Doisy Vedrines (refined and with well-defined botrytis), Guiraud (sugary and delicate), and Nairac (honey-like sweetness and creamy fruit) received a well-deserved 89p.
De Malle (88+p) showed fine botrytis and honeyed taste, and Doisy Däene (88p) and Suau (88p) had fine acidity and sweetness. In contrast, Caillou (87p), Filhot (87p), Romer (87p), and Romer du Hayot (87p) showed elegance, lots of sweetness, and a friendly approach.
Haut Brion (95p) came up with a stunning wine, well packed with fruit, intense and concentrated, while La Mission Haut Brion (92-93p) seduced nicely with its elegant and sophisticated approach. La Tour Haut Brion (88-89p9 was robust.
De France (92p) offered ripe berries, sweetness, and a nice aftertaste, while Carbonnieux (91-92p) showed great structure and refinement.
Latour Martillac (90-91p) smelled beautifully of raspberries and had a velvety palate, while Les Carmes Haut Brion and Picque Caillou, both worth 90p, showed pleasant fruit aroma and splendid structure.
Domaine de Chevalier, Haut Bailly, Haut Bergey, La Louviere, Pape Clement, Rahoul, and Smith Haut Lafitte were all pretty and finesse wines worth 88-89p.
Ferrande and Malartic Lagraviere were both well-structured and tasty. 87-88p. Bouscat and Olivier (86p) were on the light side, nice and friendly, but anyway, only correct wines.
The very sophisticated and refined Laville Haut Brion (94-95p) with a beautiful aroma together with the strong and creamy Haut Brion (93-94p), tasted at château, was simply breathtaking wine and underlined the high quality of the vintage.
Domaine de Chevalier (94+p) was a pure revelation with fat, creamy fruit, great length, and 20 seconds aftertaste. Fabulous wine.
Haut Bergey (93p) looked like captivating beauty with its richness and many nuances.
Smith Haut Lafite (92-93p) showed intense peaches, citrus, and mango aroma. Lovely wine. Latour Martillac (92p) was also aromatic and hugely refined.
Bouscaut, Carbonnieux, de Chantegrive, de France, Malartic Lagraviere, and Rahoul impressed with a fine aroma of acacia, citrus, and apples, plus fine structure. 88-89p.
Useful wines – Olivier, Pape Clement, and Picque Caillou, all 86-87p.
Correct wines – de Fieuzal (86p) and Larrivet Haut Brion (86p)
Greysac and La Tour de By did surprisingly well, with ripe dark berries, fullness, fine structure, and long aftertaste. Both got well-deserved 88p.
In Moulis, Poujeaux (88p) was dense, juicy, well-structured, and long on the palate. Chasse Spleen (86p) was surprisingly not as good as in previous vintages.
In Listrac, Clarke (87p) made aromatic and tasty wine, while Fonreaud (86p) was too simple to impress.
Sophisticated and refined Camensac (92p), fascinatingly aromatic and delicious La Tour Carnet (90-92p), elegant and tasty Belgrave (89-90p), together with just as fine Cantemerle (89-90p), and seductive La Lagune (88-89p), impressed a lot.
Useful wines - Coufran and Malescasse, both 87p.
Correct wines – Beaumont, Citran and Lamarque, all 86-87p
Exceptional Château Margaux (97-98p) captivated immensely with unique richness of nuances and elegance, plus sensational depth and length on the palate.
Palmer (92+p) had an atypical blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 12%(!) Petit Verdot. Usually, it's 47% C.Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 6% P. Verdot. This wine was strong, intense, nuanced, refined, and long on the palate. It's neither the typical Palmer nor the wine for Margaux commune, but the quality is splendid.
Du Tertre (92-93p) was incredibly aromatic, sophisticated, and seductive. It's a very classy and classic wine that has continued its fine form since the stunning 2000 vintage.
Marquis de Terme, Ferriere, and Rausan Gassies had all fully deserved 92p. They showed distinguished aroma, exquisite structure, and big depth.
There was plenty of stuff and fine future in Giscours (90-91p), refined style in Dauzac (89-90p) and Malescot St. Euxpery (89-90p), lovely aroma in Labegorce (89p), power and strength in Prieurie Lichine (89p).
Lascombes, Marquis d'Alesme Becker, Montbrison, and Rausan Segla impressed with delicate fruit and fine structure. Well-deserved 88p.
Kirwan (86+p) was covered all over with tannin. Will it ever breathe fresh air?
Correct wine – Brane Cantenac (86p) and Siran (86p)
The fabulous Branaire (94+p) was the winner, who showed sheer elegance, finesse, and terrific refinement. It's an excellent buy.
Talbot (93-94p) was almost as breathtaking, while Leoville Poyferre (92p) tasted like a dream.
Leoville Barton (90p), Beychevelle (89-90p), and Gruaud Larose (88p) showed great class.
Correct wines – Langoa Barton and Lagrange, both 86p.
Pichon Baron (94-95p) came and won, with intense and creamy berry fruit everywhere, perfect harmony, and a long aftertaste.
Lynch Bages (92p) was delicate and aromatic, while Mouton Rothschild (91-92p) was lighter than usual but had a beautiful aroma. The latter could have performed better in 2003.
Batailley, Clerc Millon, Lynch Moussas and Pontet Canet (all 91+p) were strong and robust.
D'Armailhac (88-89p) invited to pure enjoyment.
Useful wines – Croizet Bages (87p), Haut Bages Liberal (87p)
Les Ormes de Pez (90+p) showed big concentration and fullness, Lafon Rochet and Phelan Segur (both 89-90p) showed vigor and tasty blackberries/blueberries, while Cos Labory (88-89p) was strong, robust, and well-composed.
Ausone is undoubtedly one of the vintage superstars with its wonderful red berries and creamy fruit aroma. Strong and fat simultaneously, very sophisticated and with many nuances. 98-99p. Ausone's second wine, Chapelle d'Ausone (90p), is an excellent buy with intense fruit and exquisite structure.
Among Premiers Grands Crus Classés, Cheval Blanc (92-94p) "looked" lighter than usual but had refinement and finesse, Beausejour Duffau (90-91p) stylish and well-composed and Trottevieille (90-91p) aromatic and sophisticated.
Angelus, Beau-Séjour Becot, Canon, Clos Fourtet, La Gaffeliere, Magdelaine, and Pavie were all of fine quality and got 89-90p. Belair was strong and marked by oak. 88-89p.
Tertre Roteboeuf (92-94p) offered fresh dark fruit and fat tannin. It was vigorous wine with no sign of over-ripeness and cooked fruit.
Other remarkable wines were Péby Faugeres (90-92p), Rol Valentin (90-91p), La Confession (89p), La Couspade (88-89p), Moulin St.Georges (88-89p), Corbin (88p), Corbin Michotte (88p), Franc Mayne (88p) and Sansonnet (88p).
Cros Figeac (87p), Petit Faurie de Soutard (86-87p), and Troplong Mondot (86-87p) did quite well with luscious fruit and good balance.
Ets. Jean-Pierre Mouiex had picked grapes at the right time for their impressive wines. Trotanoy (95-96p) was incredibly well put together with length and richness, while Petrus (94-96p) showed lighter texture than usual but also pure elegance and finesse.
The much nuanced Hosanna (92-94p), the quite sophisticated La Fleur Petrus (92+p), and the impressive Certan Marzelle (90-91p) were all worth a gold medal. Latour-á-Pomerol (silky tannins) and the old style Bourgneuf Vayron (not vinified by J-P. Mouiex) deserved thoroughly 88-89p.
Lafleur (93-94p) was dense and in delicate harmony with warm and spicy raspberry fruit. Not that classic in 2003.
Cantelauze (90-92p) showed an exquisite aroma of dark berries on the nose and was succulent and refined on the palate. It's an incredibly stylish wine. La Conseillante (90-91p) offered exquisite elegance and finesse. This wine is always very seductive.
La Croix St. Georges (90-91p) gave, as usual, perfectly ripe berries, fruit sweetness, and breed. La Clemence (90-91p) and La Fleur de Gay (90p) offered lots of sweet blackberries/blueberries and well-shaped texture.
Certan de May, Guillot, Mazeyres, and Montviel got their very nice contribution honored with 88p.
Bon Pasteur (87-88p), Clinet (87-88p), La Croix (87-88p), La Croix du Casse (87-88p), and Rouget (87-88p) were all perfumed (dark berries) and aromatic. It will undoubtedly improve.
Beau Soleil (86-87p) and Bonalgue (86p) offered dark fruit and a soft, round texture.
From Bordeaux Superieur came the fruity and tasty Mouton and Le Conseiller, both worth 88p.
From Côtes de Bourg, I tasted impressive Roc de Cambes (89-90p), intense, spicy, and aromatic. Francois Mitjavile can be proud of this one. Fougas Maldoror was just lovely at only 86p.
Côtes de Castillon offered quite good Veyry (87p) with ripe and tasty fruit.
From Fronsac came CarlMagnus (89p) with intense and exquisite structure. Fontenil (88p) was dense, concentrated, and well-made. Moulin Haut Laroque, de la Riviere, and La Vieille Cure were correctly made but on the light side. 86p.
Lalande-de-Pomerol offered delicious de Chambrun (89p) and tasty La Fleur de Bouard (88p)
From Entree-deux-Mers, I tasted an interesting red wine, Launay. Modern style, a lot of extract, only two bunches of grapes per vine (!), vines there are only five years old. Sweet and delicious, but not showing the character of the soil. 87-88p.
Unless specified, all wines below, which are listed alphabetically, were tasted in September 2004.
2003 ANGELUS: More ripe and more balanced than 2002. 89-90p.
2003 D'ARMAILHAC: Lot of dark fruit and relatively fresh with no sign of warm fruit. Nice balance and aftertaste. 88p. Tasted in September 2009.
2003 BASTOR LAMONTAGNE: Well-balanced wine, very sugary, with a lot of tropical fruit like mango and guava. A nice treat for Sauternes fans, and the price is more than reasonable! 90p. Tasted twice - last time in September 2007. Consistent notes.
2003 BEAUREGARD: Better than in April 2004, but still well dry, light, and edgy. 86p.
2003 BEAU-SÉJOUR BECOT: Strong and concentrated, complex, maybe less aromatic than 2001, but still a really good catch. 90p.
2003 BEYCHEVELLE: Aromatic and elegant wine, round and pleasant. What this wine doesn't have in power, it surely has in finesse. A really fine and attractive wine. 89p.
2003 BRANAIRE: This wine is a winner! Fabulous one with sheer elegance, finesse, and sophisticated touch. A true and delicate St.Julien and textbook Bordeaux. 94p.
2003 CANON: Quite oaky on the nose and palate but lightly constructed. After some time in the glass, the fruit came forward and saved the impression of the wine. 89p. Tasted in June 2007.
2003 CANTEMERLE: Successful wine for the vintage with fine structure, depth, and well-defined ripe fruit. This wine draws one's attention with its elegance and taste. 89-90p.
2003 CARMES HAUT BRION - nice nose with chocolate and cocoa, charming and round. Perfect to drink now. 89p.
2003 LA CLÉMENCE: Stylish and well-crafted wine. It offers a lot of luscious blackberries/blueberries and is extremely enchanting and delightful. This wine is among the best wines in Pomerol in this difficult vintage. 91p.
2003 CLOS DE QUATRE VENTS: Very aromatic with violets, strong fruit, and ripe tannin. This wine was well made, with fine structure and a long aftertaste. 89p.
2003 CLOS FOURTET: Aromatic wine with fine length and weight. It tasted nice. Has improved since April 2004. 88p.
2003 DESTIEUX: From the owner of La Clemence. This wine offered a lot of ripe raspberries and blackcurrants, well supported by strong but ripe tannin, a nice balance, and a fine aftertaste. It's a success for the vintage. 90p.
2003 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER red: Ripe and aromatic fruit. Tasted better than in April 2004, with more concentration, length, and depth. 91p.
2003 DURFORT VIVENS: Wet and moldy aromas. Corked?
2003 FERRIER: A big surprise with distinguished aroma, exquisite structure, and plenty of ripe and tasty fruit. This wine was real Margaux wine, unmistakably catchy. 92p.
2003 LE GAY: Mirabelle plums and truffles, surprisingly fine for the vintage, acidity was maybe a bit upfront, but the balance was intact. 89p. Tasted in October 2007.
2003 GISCOURS: Less aromatic and elegant than du Tertre 2003. And the fruit here had a slight touch of heat and dryness. 89p. Tasted twice - last time in August 2006. Consistent notes.
2003 LA GURGUE: This wine had earthy tones, ripe fruit, nice balance, and fine structure. It's quite good for the vintage. 88p.
2003 HAUT BAGES LIBERAL: This wine tasted better than in April 2004, when it appeared disjointed. Time will tell if it improves even more. 87+p?
2003 LABEGORCE ZEDE: Strong wine with ripe fruit and ripe tannin. This wine was very well-composed. Fine quality. 89p.
2003 LAFAURIE PEYRAGUEY: Very stylish and sophisticated wine with perfect botrytis. Full, nuanced, and long on the palate. This wine offers so much. Stupendous. 92-93p.
2003 LAGRANGE: This wine tasted better than in April 2004, when it appeared disjointed. Time will tell if it improves even more. 87+p? Hasn't improved since September 2004. When tasted in November 2007, this wine was marked by heat (dry fruit and dry tannin).
2003 LEOVILLE POYFERRE: Strong wine filled with perfectly ripe fruit and tannin. Multilayered and with stunning length. Stunning quality. 93+p.
2003 MONTROSE: I can't understand all that hype about this wine. For my taste, it was too dry, both in the fruit and tannin and without the usual structure and richness. Not typical wine for the property at all! 87p. Tasted in August 2007.
2003 PETIT VILLAGE: Aromatic but light. This wine tasted, however, quite well, better than in April 2004. 88p.
2003 PICHON BARON: This wine was a true winner with its delicious creamy berry fruit, perfect harmony, strong structure, many layers, and mega length on the palate. It's the perfect combination of old and new style. 94-95p.
2003 PICHON COMTESSE: Deep red. Delicate aroma of sun-dried raisins, fresh, succulent, and well-proportioned on the palate, with plenty of tannin. No sign of overmaturity, jammy character, or cooked fruit here. One of the better 2003 wines I have tasted. 91p. Tasted twice - last time in August 2007. Consistent notes.
2003 PONTET CANET: This wine fared very well! Strong, robust, well-structured with plenty of perfectly ripe fruit, supporting tannin, and perfectly balanced. It will satisfy many wine souls in 15-20 years. 93p. Tasted twice - last time in October 2007. Consistent notes.
2003 RAUZAN SEGLA: Quite plummy and cherry on the nose, nice depth, packed with berry fruit on the palate with fine aftertaste. Successful wine here for the vintage. Tasted in June 2007. 91p.
2003 SMITH HAUT LAFITTE red: Strong, powerful, and well-structured. Spicy fruit. Very intense and concentrated wine. Excellent work here. 91p.
2003 SMITH HAUT LAFITTE white: Deep and sophisticated. Aromatic, pure elegance, and great length on the palate. Very classy and fabulous wine! 91p.
2003 SUDUIRAUT: Pure botrytis combined with richness, finesse, and great length. This wine is stunning. 93-94p.
2003 DU TERTRE: Medium red. It had a very aromatic nose and an enjoyable taste of ripe blackcurrant and raspberries. Unlike several wines in this vintage, the fruit had no sign/touch of heat. It was an exquisite wine, gracious, seductive, and full of finesse. 92p. Tasted twice - last time in August 2006. Consistent notes.
2003 LA TOUR BLANCHE: Yield here was 16 hl/ha. Dark golden, aroma of dried raisins, Muscat flavors, intense, rich in nuances and alcohol. Splendid wine for the vintage. 93p. Tasted in March 2006.