So the waiting is finally over and Robert Parker has bestowed upon the world what are likely to be his final significant judgements on the Bordeaux 2005 vintage (producer verticals and the odd tasting aside). Whilst it's safe to say we share his view of it as a very fine vintage - in fact, judging by the fact it now has more 100-point scores than 2010, one could argue it is one of the greatest ever - it would be a misnomer to say that our comprehensive view of the vintage is necessarily ‘shared’.
We have been fans of the 2005 vintage right from the off. The wines always possessed the ideal balance of structure, fruit ripeness and acidity to guarantee a long, long life of true, classical, typical freshness the likes of which utterly defines great claret in our eyes. They did not have the plush, up-front satisfaction of the 2000s or 2003s and so we were perhaps less surprised that Parker’s scores from barrel were slightly less flattering, but in our view there was no doubting their enormous potential. We believed that in the long run the overall quality would be recognised by the most influential voice in Bordeaux. On a number of occasions, we have alluded to this in our sales pitches.
Our belief in the potential of the 2005s was further enhanced at our own 2005 'Bordeaux 10 Years On' tasting, which featured over 60 of the very top wines including all the First Growths and their Right Bank equivalents. The tasting was attended by some of the best palates in the business, including Neal Martin, Jancis Robinson and a number of highly experienced writers and MWs. The overall ‘winners’ from this tasting, taken from all those who attended, were three of the First Growths (Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild) and two Pomerols in the form of Petrus and Le Pin. Our own wine school educator and vastly experienced taster Michael Schuster declared “for a majority of châteaux these are probably the most complete wines for a generation.”
From our own perspective, Latour was perhaps the pick of the bunch and, given we have had the good fortune to taste all the leading vintages of Latour (on several occasions) we could only conclude that this was a shoo-in for the perfect score. Likewise Petrus, and not far behind, Lafite Rothschild and Le Pin.
In the case of every taster, the list of top wines contained significantly more Medoc wines than Right Bank. It was on this basis that we really began to seek out the wines we believed would be ripe for upgrading (perhaps a poor choice of phrase). By contrast, Parker sought to award 10 new 100-point scores to wines either from Pessac or the Right Bank and whilst some Medoc wines achieved upgrades, they were considerably more modest than we expected. It seems that either we in the UK trade are collectively in the dark about what should constitute great claret, or as an organisation, we have fundamentally misjudged the palate of the Sage of Baltimore.
Essentially we believe that Parker has made a number of surprising, at times downright incomprehensible, decisions in his report. He states that “while St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estephe have produced many outstanding wines, for some reason, those wines seem to lack the "wow" factor.” I suppose it depends what it takes to make you say "wow"... When claret couldn't taste more 'claret-like', as is the case for many 2005s, this is surely the region at its very best; if one wants to drink Napa Cabernet, then one can always buy Napa Cabernet.
Then there is the elephant in the room: the downgrades. It's quite true that the first communications you will have seen from us post-Parker 2005 have been offers of the newly upgraded wines: Cheval Blanc and Pape Clement being primary examples. These are wines that performed brilliantly at our own tasting and the security of a high Parker score perhaps rushed us into finding and offering the wines which we know would see high demand. In our desire to get them to you early, before the prices had had too much chance to rise, we overlooked the fact that many of our predictions were incorrect and in many cases, a number of you had already placed significant faith in those wines. We pride ourselves on integrity and we hope that this honest review of the situation assesses some of your probable concerns. We are of course open to your thoughts and feedback.
There is one remaining point, of course: Mouton Rothschild. Quite simply, we are bewildered as to why the Wine Advocate should deem it acceptable for a single critic to award a new, significantly upgraded score to a wine and then backtrack dramatically within mere months. Let us not forget that Mouton Rothschild 2005 was only upgraded from 96 to 99+ in December of 2014, causing an unsurprising surge in demand and subsequently, price. Now, just half a year later, the wine is deemed worthy of 97 points. We have been huge believers in Parker’s ability and consistency over many years but this whole 2005 situation – in particular with regards to Mouton Rothschild– has caused considerable head-scratching. As regards the sudden swings in Mouton Rothschild scoring, we have taken this issue up with the Advocate ourselves.
There are two conclusions to this piece. Firstly, we are not suggesting that we should start ignoring Parker. He has for many years been a paragon of integrity, honesty and consistency and brought wine appreciation to millions just when it was most needed. He has undoubtedly helped many merchants such as ourselves to find and then sell many wines which would otherwise have been off our radar - good news both for ourselves and our clients. However we cannot ignore what we consider to be a very strange set of judgements on a particular group of wines in which we retain enormous faith, and for which we have a huge affection.
Secondly, and fundamentally, we recognise that you have a choice of where to buy your wine and that it is a privilege to have good quality, loyal customers in our organisation. Whilst we cannot, it seems, always accurately predict quite what a reviewer might say, when the dice do not roll in our favour, we should take that bad luck as equally as we would the good.
Thanks for reading and - as always - comments welcome either to your account manager or to [email protected]