The yearly unveiling of Bordeaux’s new vintage at the Union des Grand Crus tasting on the West Coast is usually a pretty serious event. Serious concentration on the faces of the American tasters, many tasting the wines for the very first time, and taking serious notes. The Bordelais pouring the wines are also a bit intense as they listen politely to comments about their wines and wonder if people really understand them. This year was completely different with 2003 Bordeaux; it was a lovefest! Smiles abounded from everyone’s faces. The wines showed fabulous ripe fruit, rich textures, and they tasted great, which solidified the fact that this vintage will be legendary in America, without question the best-tasting high-quality young Bordeaux vintage since 1982. With this kind of appeal the assumption of course is that the wines will be very expensive, and this is true for the most famous estates in wine. But the reality is that there are also plenty of great wines and many are fine values. The 2003s are trickling in, and here are some of the early examples of these superb wines. 2003 Ch. Fontenil, Fronsac ($21.99) The estate is owned by the world’s most famous enologist Michel Rolland, so it is no surprise that it has huge amounts of sweet, ripe merlot fruit with nice backbone. Flat out delicious. 2003 Ch. Bernadotte, Haut-Médoc ($20.99, $42.99 1.5L) We call it baby Pichon-Lalande as it is owned and made by the great second growth. It captures the hallmark characteristics of Pichon: freshness, elegance, and in 2003 the ripeness brings the berry flavors to the forefront and raises the wine up to another level of quality. 2003 Ch. Reignac, Bordeaux Superior ($24.99) This estate went from bulk wine producer to being the superstar of all Bordeaux Superiores! Smoky berry fruit dominate, with hints of dark chocolate, not overdone or over extracted as it has been in some vintages, a real winner. 2003 Ch. La Couspaude, St-Emilion ($45.99) From the Aubert family in St-Emilion. If you love flashy, exotic, ripe merlot fruit and heavily scented new french oak, you will love this wine. Its bold character really reflects the need to be cellared for a few years, if you can stay away. Claire Villars brings generations of winemaking knowledge to her craft and could be the hottest winemaker in all of Bordeaux. She makes the wine at the smallest of all the classified growths, the 5,000 case production 3rd growth, Ch. Ferriere. The fruit in her 2003 Ch. Ferriere, Margaux ($28.99) is so attractive it’s almost tropical with hints of raspberry jam, soft and round in the mouth with silky tannins. Wow! Her Pauillac estate, 5th growth 2003 Haut-Bages-Liberal, Pauillac ($26.99), located next to Ch. Latour and Pichon Comtesse de Lalande is more masculine and firm, of course, but has good ripe, bright middle fruit and will drink earlier than most Pauillacs. The time is now to get on board with Claire’s wines before she gets too popular. Please feel free to contact me anytime with questions or advice on the wines of Bordeaux at ex 2723 or Ralph@klwines.com. Cheers and Go Giants! —Ralph Sands
Tax time is here, and not many of us are in the mood to take a chance when it comes to spending money. But we still crave good wine, so what should we do? By sticking to the most consistent producers we get great value without feeling like we have to gamble with our tax return. 2002 Pagodes de Cos, St-Estèphe ($22.99) Cos d’Estournel is one of the best and most consistent wines of St-Estèphe, and their 2nd wine is always a delicious value. This shows a bright, smokey herbal nose and lots of firm, ripe berry fruit with supple texture. Decant this rich and versatile bargain tonight or cellar some for several more years. 2002 La Fleur de Bouard, Lalande de Pomerol ($25.99) Run by the folks at Château Angelus, this property always seems to craft incredibly tasty wines that are easy to drink as soon as they are released. This silky wine displays lots of rich, ripe fruit and toasty oak in a flashy style that remains elegant and balanced. This wine is always a crowd favorite at my monthly tastings consistently beating out Bordeaux that costs twice as much. 2002 l’Eglise Clinet, Pomerol ($74.99) At a recent event in San Francisco the 2001 vintage of this wine was my choice for best of the 60 Bordeaux poured, beating out several First Growths and two super expensive Right Bank “garage” wines. Despite boasting some of the oldest vines in Pomerol, microscopic production (only 12,000 bottles) allows this château to fly under the radar. Yet it has one of the most consistent track records in all of Bordeaux. Super refined and complex, showing silky raspberries and mineral. This satin-textured wine is truly profound. 1998 Pichon-Lalande, Pauillac ($57.99) Our favorite Bordeaux hits the mark year after year, even in difficult vintages. The big firm cabernet shows in the aromatics with complex herb, cedar and smoke that leap from the glass. The high percentage of merlot shines on the palate giving this round, silky wine a lushness you won’t often find in 1998 Médocs. Pichon-Lalande is the closest thing to a slam dunk regardless of the vintage, and this is a shining example. Enjoy now or age 15 more years. —Steve Bearden
As you read this month’s newsletter, Ralph, Chip, Steve and I will be in Bordeaux, tasting the newest “vintage of the Century,” the much-heralded 2005 Bordeaux wines, already said to be better than 2003 and 2000, more of a combination of 1982, 1986 and 1996 ... great Cabernet year, etc, etc. We will beg for a few cases and we will be happy with what we get. It looks to be a sellers’ market, and you know that means high prices. Our report should be out by the end of April. Now’s the time to put your name on the waiting list for any wines you may want. There will be severe allocations for some of these wines. Meanwhile, the absolutely delicious 2003 Bordeaux wines are arriving daily. We have 6000 cases coming from Bordeaux, so please be patient while waiting for these to arrive. Our Pichon-Lalande dinner at Cetrella on March 2 was superb: great crowd (sellout), fabulous wines and delicious food. These are the best bargain dinners in the U.S.A. —Clyde Beffa Jr
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