Bordeaux: the festive table classic
With some 650 million bottles produced on average each year, from 57 appellations and vineyards stretching 100km along its rivers, the vast Bordeaux wine region is not easy to pigeonhole when choosing vintages for best current drinking.
Consumer taste for young or older vintages, budgets (modest or prestige brands) and appellation variation all need to be considered. A fine vintage in St-Emilion on the Right Bank, for example, may not be as exciting in the Médoc on the Left.
And while young Bordeaux can be delicious, the holidays are a special occasion. And bottle maturation makes Bordeaux special: not only to soften tannins, but also to elicit intriguing tertiary aromas and flavours. From prestige St-Emilion grand cru classé to a more humble Médoc cru bourgeois, wine will benefit from ageing in the bottle.
But because holiday feasts have such robust flavours – gravy, cranberry and roast potatoes, puddings and stuffing – vintages made too delicate by their advancing years should be avoided. Your holiday wine needs some tannic backbone and primary fruit to stand up to your roast goose, turkey or prime rib of beef with all those trimmings.
For a good-quality vintage, about two decades of bottle age works well for the end-of-year holidays, as the wines retain some primary fruit and floral aspects while also beginning to yield such tertiary tones as truffle, wet earth, baked fruits and clementine orange freshness, which only inherently balanced wines with proper cellaring can reveal.
The 2001 vintage succeeds especially in Pomerol and St-Emilion, where Merlot-dominated blends today show juicy plum and blackberry fruit along with hints of earth and truffle. They are smooth, with refined tannin: ready to enjoy now, as opposed to, say, the 2000 vintage, which shows more long-term structure. Be sure to decant and give the wine air, not only to remove sediment, but also to let the wine breathe, as it has been cooped up in a bottle for nearly 20 years.
2001 is excellent, too, in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations, where Cabernets tend to be softer than in the broader Médoc. Although many 2001s have already been purchased and enjoyed, they were overshadowed upon release by the 2000 vintage, and for that reason, bottles and cases that do remain tend to command somewhat lower prices than the equivalents from the 2000 vintage.
In the northern LeftBank, seek out the 1996 vintage, which is drinking extremely well today from such appellations as Pauillac, St-Estèphe, St-Julien and Margaux. A vigorous vintage, with depth and full body, it benefited from a long Indian summer that optimally ripened Cabernet Sauvignon: the dominant grape in such appellations. One will often find gorgeously complex aromas of cigar box and graphite, primary fruit including cool blueberry and blackcurrant, aniseed, grilled red pepper and beguiling bright orange-rind lift on the finish, as I experienced over the past year with Pauillacs from this vintage, which are a textbook example of balance: neither overripe, nor over-intense, but rounded and graceful.
THE FRESHER APPROACH: 2009
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