Vintage Matters

With collectors buzzing about the 2005 Bordeaux wines, we uncover a few hidden gems.
A few months ago, the 2005 Bordeaux wines from France arrived in the United States. But that doesn’t mean the best ones will be easy to find.

Collectors gobbled up bottles of the much talked-about vintage — via a speculative process called wine futures or en primeur — even before they hit our shores. Futures buyers invest while a vintage is still in the barrel, paying up to 18 months before it’s bottled.

And if buyers are willing to pay for it up front, then vintage — which refers to the year the grapes were picked and is reflected on the label — matters.

Like the rest of the label information, the vintage can be an indicator of quality. Some wines, such as Port and Champagne, only carry a vintage date in excellent years.

So just what makes a vintage good or bad? In a word: kismet.

If Mother Nature provides a moderate spring followed by a sunny summer and dry fall, the grapes ripen at a steady pace, picking up flavor while maintaining balance to age gracefully in your cellar. Marked changes in weather patterns, such as a heat wave or drought, directly affect the ripening process, which ultimately changes the quality of the wine in the bottle.

While some regions, including Napa Valley, are blessed with consistent weather patterns, others are prone to “vintage variation.” Bordeaux, one of the finest classic wine regions in the world, is located near the coast in southwest France. Its maritime climate fluctuates year to year. So in Bordeaux, vintage is a big deal.

The reds are crafted by blending several grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, into a balanced wine. Since each grape ripens at a different speed, the ratio of grapes may change depending on vintage conditions.

In 2005, the weather of Bordeaux was dry and warm, resulting in ripe fruit with high tannins, high alcohol content and moderate acidity. A brilliant vintage, the wines from the top châteaus are selling for record high prices. Lucky for us, vintage success is not just for the priciest châteaus; a good year at the top is a good year all over. Great values can be found by buying wines from lesser known estates as well. Designed to age 10 to 15 years in your cellar, these wines offer the high quality of the 2005 vintage at reasonable prices — so grab them while you can.

2005 Château de Candale, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France ($39): Deep color with concentrated aromas of ripe strawberry, cherry, cinnamon and nutmeg. Medium acidity and velvety tannins are ripe, resulting in a long finish. Enjoy with grilled lamb or beef.

2005 Château Belgrave, Haut-Medoc, France ($35): Dark ruby and full-bodied with black currant, smoke, licorice, coffee, oak and tobacco. Concentrated ripe tannins are velvety and offer a good length. Try a bottle now and save another for five years.

2005 Château de Bel-Air, Lalande de Pomerol, France ($26): Dark purple ruby with intense black cherry, tobacco, plum and oak spice aromas. Merlot based with a good dose of Cabernet Franc, giving firm tannins and long finish. Good now or hold a few years.

2005 Château Fonplégade, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France ($60): Full-bodied, dark ruby purple with black fruit, oak, tobacco and gravel notes. Intense fruit, firm tannins, moderate acidity and alcohol result in a long finish. Definitely age-worthy.

2005 Château Lagarosse Les Comtes, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($24): Merlot driven with ripe tannins and refreshing acidity. Baking spices and a hint of mineral supports plum and cherry aromas. Try it with grilled beef.

2005 Château Cadillac, Bordeaux Supérieur, France ($13): A driven, dark ruby hue with lots of aromatic aromas. Lush red fruits, spice, tobacco, a hint of cocoa and vanilla. A great value wine with a long, tasty finish.Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by her tasting consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
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