Random Musings

Reflections on the 2003 Vintage in France

The heatwave vintage of 2003 has always been a controversial one, especially for two of my favorite regions, Bordeaux and Chateaunef du Pape. Much of Europe, France in particular, suffered under a brutal heat wave and drought.

In Bordeaux the grapes were picked earlier than ever before. The levels of sugar, and therefore resulting alcohol, reached record levels, but the grapes did not go through the normal ripening process. The tannin levels were also very high. Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate was an early fan of the vintage. In particular he sang the praises of the Left Bank including St. Estephe, St. Julien and Pauillac with a vintage rating of 95 points. The Wine Spectator scored the Left Bank at 95 points, the Right Bank at 94 points and said the wines had many of the attributes of other great vintages including 82, 89 and 90.

The Southern Rhone also suffered under excessively high temperatures. The grapes had high sugar levels and low acidity. Robert Parker gave the vintage a conservative score of 90 points while the Wine Spectator weighed in at 93 points.

It is not surprising that a growing season like no other would engender strong feelings among collectors and consumers of these regions. I’ve had many great 2003’s from both Bordeaux and Chateauneuf du Pape but thought as the vintage reached ten years of age that it might make sense to check in on a few bottles from my cellar. Both of the wines below were purchased upon release.

2003 Léoville Poyferré – Decanted for two hours. Black in color. Licorice, leather, espresso and blue fruits on the nose. Blueberries, cassis, graphite, cigar box and chocolate on the palate. Rich, lush, smooth and full bodied. Assertive tannins. The finish on this wine goes on forever. Flat out fantastic. Still just a baby. I expect this will age effortlessly for another decade. My rating: 97 points.

2003 Vieux Donjon – Light in color. A spicy, gamey nose with lots of ripe red fruits, kirsch, garrigue, baking spice, raspberry, plums, stones, cherry liqueur and olives on the palate. This wine has long, fine grained, silky tannins and should age effortlessly for another 3-5 years. My rating: 93 points.

Tasting these wines verified previous impressions I had of the vintage from both regions.

I have little doubt that top Bordeaux from the Left Bank will become classics. Wines like Leoville Poyferre and other classified growths including Pontet Canet, Leoville Barton, Pichon Baron, Montrose, Ducru Beaucaillou and Cos d’Estournel will age gracefully for decades to come. My oldest son was born in 2003, and I can’t wait for him to reach the age where we can adopt the tradition of sharing a bottle of  ’03 Bordeaux on his birthday.

The best wines from 2003 in Chateauneuf du Pape are still drinking well and will continue to do so for a few more years, including Pegau, Clos St. Jean and Clos des Papes. Still, I think most ’03 CdP’s should be enjoyed sooner rather than later.

For every collector who sings the praises of the ’03 vintage in France there is another collector who says the wines are undrinkable. As always I enjoy hearing your thoughts.

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