By Jeff Garneau with notes from Gary Westby (photos by David D)
Every customer who buys a bottle of Bordeaux asks one question more often than any other – “how soon will this be ready to drink?” We taste most vintages when still in barrel, and again two years later when the wines are released in bottle, so we are able to assess the relative ageworthiness of any particular vintage. There is no substitute, however, for retasting a vintage multiple times as it ages, at different points in its development. To that end, Clyde Beffa, K&L co-owner and Bordeaux buyer, assembled our northern California Bordeaux team – Ralph Sands, Alex Pross, Steve Bearden, and yours truly, Jeff Garneau – in comfortable surroundings at John Bentley’s restaurant in Redwood City, California Wednesday evening to taste a dozen or so wines from the 2000 vintage, 15 years on. We were joined by Molly Zucker, who directs K&L’s auction & library wine program, as well two of her loyal minions (Hey, Nick! Hey, Sean!). Also, joining us were most of the sales staff from K&L’s Redwood City store, some of whom were attending their very first such event.
The first critical reviews of the millennial vintage declared it to be among the greatest vintages ever in Bordeaux. Consumers clamored for cases of the top wines, and prices soared to record highs for that time. Clyde noted that the 2000 en primeur campaign was one of the most successful ever at K&L. Steve Bearden added that demand reached such a fever pitch at one point that some San Francisco customers had to be physically restrained from engaging in fist fights over the last remaining cases of their favorite wines. Even today the 2000 vintage continues to elicit a certain fervor. It is often compared to 1982 or 1990, and is considered to be – along with 2005 & 2009 – one of the finest vintages of its decade.
The reputation of the 2000 vintage is not mere “millennial hype”. There is no question that it was successful in every measurable way. However, what is missing from the many glowing accounts is the fact that, as late as early June, a “legendary” vintage was by no means a foregone conclusion. A warmer than average winter gave way to springtime weather that was mild and damp, leading to the worst outbreak of mildew in over a century. Scrupulous treatment of the vines and drier weather in June ultimately led – against all expectations – to a remarkably successful flowering and fruit set, even a few days ahead of average. The rest of June and July remained largely warm and dry but with occasional periods of cooler, overcast weather that threatened more rain. August arrived with a final reprieve, bringing hot weather and clear skies that prevailed well into the harvest season of September and October. As they say in Bordeaux, Août fait le moût, and the hot, dry conditions produced ripe, thick-skinned berries that made for deeply colored, tannic reds with surprising acidity and higher alcohol levels overall.
2000 was a very consistent vintage for Bordeaux, with most producers throughout the region making very successful red wines. The best of these are rich and ripe, yet very lively and fresh, with firm tannins that may need another decade or more to resolve. Others offer similar or even greater levels of ripeness, and perhaps even more richness of texture, but lacking perhaps the brightness of the finest examples of the vintage. For dry whites and Sauternes, the 2000 vintage was markedly less successful. The dry whites were almost too ripe, with many lacking focus and unsuited to long term aging. Only a very small amount of sweet wine was produced, of good though not exceptional quality. Most producers in Sauternes and Barsac enjoyed good weather for the initial passes through the vineyards, but heavy and persistent late October rains brought the harvest to an abrupt end.
After a palate cleansing glass of the Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne $99.00 (because even in Bordeaux they drink Champagne – thank you, Gary),we began our evening with the 2000 Laville Haut Brion Blanc, Pessac-Léognan $199.99. The wine had only mild acidity and an almost exotic ripeness, yet remained remarkably fresh at 15 years of age. The high proportion of Semillon (70%) no doubt contributed to its longevity. One of the great dry whites of Bordeaux.
Gary Westby: When Clyde told me we were going to do a dinner of 2000 vintage Bordeaux, I knew that the Champagne served had to be one of our very best. Ariston Aspasie’s “Cepage d’Antan” has incredible depth and complexity from the slow ripening Arbanne and Meslier, along with the incredible acidity and brightness that can’t be shaken from these ancient varieties. Not many wines have both the breadth and length of this incredible, electric Champagne. It was a “wower”, especially with the salmon appetizer. I couldn’t resist pouring also the Piper Heidsick from magnum, a gift from Kyle Kaplan, the Piper ambassador for California. It was toasty, rich and satisfying… And it said K&L Redwood City on the front!
2000 Laville Haut Brion Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. This soft, round, honeyed wine seemed kissed with botrytis. It had a dark straw color, a plush texture and plenty of length and detail. The wood was well integrated at this point and it did not seem overly heavy. Strangely enough, the scallop that was paired with it lightened the wine considerably. I think something with more acid would have paired better…but I am the Champagne guy!
Following the white wine, we tasted a dozen red wines in three flights of four wines each. The wines of our first flight were all from the Right Bank, two from Pomerol – de Sales and Certan de May – and two from Saint Emilion – La Gaffelière and Figeac. The Pomerols showed surprising delicacy and finesse. With its higher Cabernet content, the de Sales was a fascinating mélange of spice and savory notes. From the more rarified heights nearer to the plateau, the 2000 Certan de May, Pomerol $99.99 exhibited greater richness and sweetness of fruit but with a firmer finish. The 2000 La Gaffelière, Saint Emilion $99.99 was without a doubt the most generous of the Right Bank reds, notable for its exquisite ripeness and depth of flavor. And what can one say about the 2000 Figeac, Saint Emilion? Its unusual composition, roughly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, makes it a Right Bank icon. It combined all the lovely ripeness characteristic of the vintage with an almost silky texture, yet remained very bright and fresh. The Cabernet component makes its presence felt on the very savory finish.
De Sales: The largest property in Pomerol, this wine is composed of about 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. I found it to be very graceful for a Pomerol and the opposite of the big, oaky, heavy, high alcohol wines that have proliferated in the era of the big points wine critics. It had a pure plumy Merlot character with some new leather and basil like herbal elements. It was medium bodied and very easy to drink. Although it seemed to have time in hand, I think it might have been one of the most ready to drink wines of the night.
Certan: This wine is composed of about 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was an exotic, spicy wine that had dark fruit and chocolate both on the nose and in the mouth. While it was big, it didn’t come across as heavy, which was a surprise to me. The finish was long and detailed. It is great to taste Pomerol that can be a pleasure as well as impressive!
Gaffeliere: The Gaffeliere is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. This dark wine had a giant, oaky, vanillan nose, thick texture and strong tannins. It wasn’t pruney or hard however, and many at the dinner found it their favorite of the right bank flight. I would call this an extracted style, but it doesn’t go so far as to be over extracted. I would love to check in on this a few years from now.
Figeac: An exception for the right bank, Figeac is composed of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and only 30% Merlot. My favorite of the right bank flight, and a serious contendor for wine of the night! The Figeac was natural, effortless claret that had a lovely herbal boquet with hints of both olives and chocolate. This had the complexity, but also the drinkability that makes me want to spend more time and drink more of it. It was flawless texturally; layered, medium bodied and fresh and lifted on the back end. Lots of flavor and complexity can be had here without any cost to freshness… But your wallet will feel it! What a bottle!
The second flight featured four wines from Pessac-Léognan. We began with the 2000 Latour-Martillac, Pessac-Léognan, a contribution from Ralph’s cellar. Perhaps the most accessible wine of the flight, this was clearly a very successful vintage at this chateau. Round and ripe with plenty of sweet fruit and a rich, silky texture. Tannins very fine. This is drinking beautifully now and should continue to do so for some time. The 2000 Larrivet-Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (from my cellar) was a bit more “old school” with classic Graves minerality and a surprisingly floral nose. Still firm, this one needs a bit more time. Contrast that with the very modern 2000 Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan. Much more noticeable oak on the nose. Full-bodied and very ripe with loads of generous black fruits – blackberry and cassis. Still firm. Worth waiting for. Finally, my personal favorite of the flight was the 2000 Haut Bailly, Pessac-Léognan. Still very youthful and a bit primary but with all the right stuff. Ripe, sweet red and black fruits. Lively acidity. Absolutely classic, textbook Graves minerality. Tannins very fine but still quite firm. Needs time.
Martillac: Composed of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Petite Verdot. I love wines that are easy to drink like this! This graves open and generous and had the virtues of both dark fruit depth and red fruit freshness. The tannins were very nicely evolved and silky, giving the wine a special, supple texture. The finish did not lack for classic Graves minerality and had plenty of clean earth and lengthening acidity. This is great for now, but isn’t ticking… It should last very well.
Larrivet: A great old school Graves composed of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a clean earth and bright mineral nose that was nicely open and framed by a little bit of vanilla. The fruit was sweet and rich, the texture decadent, and the over all impression as big as a California wine. On the back end it focused into pure Graves minerality… I wish I had bought cases of this on release and will be looking out for it in the future!
Smith Haut-Lafitte: Modern, flashy this wine is composed of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. In the past I found this wine to oaky, but I am pleased to see that it is integrating very well, and the freshness of the vintage is providing real lift to this showy, new wave Bordeaux. I didn’t think it would last when it was young, and I am so happy to be wrong. The high quality, mineral laden acidity of the long finish makes for a very balanced wine and one that I look forward to having again.
Haut Bailly: The youngest wine of the flight, and perhaps of the whole evening, this pure bred has so much in store for the future. It is composed of about half and half Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was elegant and understated, with stunning, pure cassis fruit and shimmering minerality. While not showing the generosity of the others, this has what only the real greats ever can hope for: concentration and depth without any hint of heaviness. I will return in another five years!!!!
Our final flight featured some of the best wines of the Médoc, one from each of the four principal appellations. We began in the south with the 2000 Malescot-St-Exupéry, Margaux $149.99. Quite ripe with plenty of sweet fruit. Alex loved it for its rich, silky texture. Still very firm and primary. Next up was the 2000 Ducru Beaucaillou, Saint Julien. This was Clyde’s favorite wine of the night and, I admit, I kind of lost my head here, too. Very impressive wine with loads of dark fruit perfectly complemented by toasty oak. Very muscular with surprising weight yet very graceful and elegant. Ripe, dense and concentrated. I got notes of blackberry preserve and fig compote. I could have spent all night with this wine alone. I sure hope I remembered to buy some for the cellar. On to Pauillac and the 2000 Lynch Bages, Pauillac. This was the most youthful wine of the night and the hardest to assess. Lovely nose, but the oak and fruit are still coming together. Very bright and fresh but closed with very firm tannins. This might turn out to be one of the wines of the vintage but will require extraordinary patience. Time will tell. Finally, our final wine of the flight, the 2000 Montrose, Saint Estèphe. I had this wine a couple of years ago at one of K&L’s Fete de Bordeaux dinners, and was impressed enough I bought a few bottles for the cellar. If last night was any indication I won’t be reaching for a bottle any time soon. Some sweetness of fruit here and lively acidity, but still monolithic and very primary with firm tannins. Another ten years?
Malescot: A very large scale Margaux composed of about 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petite Verdot. This wine had generous aromatics, with everything from dark cassis to green peppers on the nose. In the mouth it was the sweetest of the Medoc wines, and among the sweetest of the whole tasting, with lots of rich fruit, full body and big texture. This also has a big backbone of tannin, and drinks well right now with richer dishes like the short ribs that we had with it.
Ducru: If I had to pick one bottle as the wine of the night, this would be it. Composed of about 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, this Ducru was timeless. It drinks so well right now, but doubtless will make an excellent 50 year old, not because of its size, but because of its exquisite balance. My notebook was full of questions rather than observations on this bottle: How does so much perfectly pure Cabernet cassis flavor and aroma come across so effortlessly? What can I say about this wine? It seemed light and easy to drink, but it was also so long, complex and concentrated. The acid and tannins are in perfect balance with the fruit. I think Cinnamon said it best as we drank it together: this bottle has pedigree.
Lynch Bages: Some Bordeaux’s are just too young at 15 and this Lynch-Bages is one of them. It is composed of about 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. Tightly wound and packed with pencil lead, black as night fruit and backed by a strong spine of tannin, this super wine will reward the patient… And punish the impatient!
Montrose: Given that some of the Montrose from the 1960’s is only just now starting to drink, this exotic 2000 drank very nicely this evening. It is composed of approximately 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. The wine was very dark, full of spice and kirsch like fruit on the nose. In the mouth it had lots of richness, more dark fruit and a powerful tannic punch. It will no doubt be even better in another five or ten years.
At the end of our official program we couldn’t resist uncorking another couple of bottles. Sean brought a bottle of the 2000 Gruaud Larose, Saint Julien $179.99 to share with the group. The wine opened a bit funky with a hint of brett (a not uncommon experience with many older bottles from this estate). However, it was bright and fresh with trademark tobacco notes and ultimately quite enjoyable. I brought a 2000 Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc. This reliable and well-priced classed growth is a staff favorite. The 2000 was surprisingly accessible. Tannins were fairly well-integrated if still a bit coarse. A delightful claret – lovely weight, medium to full-bodied. Bright and fresh with red currant and cherry notes and a hint of spice from the oak.
Gruaud-Larose: This bottle was a generous contribution from Sean Fernandez in our old and rare department and was a real contender for wine of the night. It is composed of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot. The Gruaud was the earthiest, most savory bottle of the whole tasting, and had a little bit of bret that in no way detracted from my appreciation of the wine. It had dark fruit and leather flavors and one of the best supple, medium bodied textures of the whole evening. It was seamless and beautiful wine that drank great now with balance for the ages.
Cantemerle: A very nice contribution from Jeff Garneau, this wine was more “Margaux” than the Margaux that we drank! It is composed of approximately 60% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petite Verdot. It was a beautiful charmer, generously aromatic, strikingly pure and effortlessly natural. This wine had no hard edges at 15 years old, and was very long and lively. Given how well the 1966 showed recently, it should also have a very long life!