“A curate’s egg ... but the best are excellent” was my en primeur description of 2006 Bordeaux. And on last week’s Ten Years On tasting of seventy or so clarets from Cru Bourgeois to all the First Growths, this seems as fair a summary today as it was then.
Ten years is still young for fine red Bordeaux and (depending on your taste of course) most of these are still ‘young’, indeed many seem to be in a state of hibernation in their shells at the moment.
The wines are not big or powerful – they are a long way from 2009/2010, but none the worse for that. On the Left Bank there is hardly a wine above 13% and on the Right 13.5% is typical, 14% or more a rarity. Their overall balance is one of moderate density, firm tannin, and fresh to crisp acidity, and in general their flavour is ripe red fruit fresh rather than black fruit sweet. These are clarets which will refresh at table rather than ‘flatter’ on their own, but which will provide plenty of drinking pleasure in due course.
The very best are really fine wines, but the nature of the vintage, where absolute ripeness as measured by today’s ideals was difficult, has resulted in a compression of the quality range, so that whilst there are plenty of good wines, there are few really outstanding ones.
Is there are sweet spot in the vintage? I don’t think so. The performances of the communes remains much as it was when the wines were still in barrel. St Emilion is still overall the trickiest commune to navigate for quality, Pomerol and Pauillac are the most reliable, and St Julien looks overall better than it seemed early on. But there are some lovely wines in all the communes. It is a vintage in which to cherry pick, and there are indeed cherries to pick!
2006 will always suffer from being in the shadow of 2005, and from the ambivalent reputation that its variability imposes. But this tricky reputation creates a buying opportunity too, for those wines (and there are more than a just few) whose quality is not far from their respective 2005s, but whose price is well below that for the earlier vintage. These wines have a delicious core fruit, they are both fresh and juicy in flavour, they are mostly accessible already, and their prices represent good to excellent value in the current claret market.
I have listed my Top Quality and Top Value wines below (I have exceeded the ‘five’ limit for the latter!) but there is a trio of wines which seem to me to be the cherries to pick in the current market. For succulence of taste and, one might say, of value. Both La Conseillante and Figeac stand out on the Right Bank, at a quality very close to their 2005s, but at half the price! They are perhaps particularly undervalued because of the Right Bank’s trickier reputation in the vintage. And on the Left Bank Léoville Barton is a star, also very close to the quality of its 2005, but at two thirds of the price. Have a look at the price/quality ratio of your favourite châteaux!
Dark red, bricking rim; ripe and fine and cedary Cabernet Sauvignon to smell; beautifully balanced midweight, finely tannic, fresh in acidity; long, even and graceful to taste, with particularly supple tannins for the year; a fine pure Cabernet flavour, long in the mouth, long, sweet fruit and gently gravelly to finish. A notable success in the vintage. Not grand scale, but harmonious and complete. Lovely wine! Ideally 2022-35. (18.5+)
Medium depth, brick-hued mahogany red; surprisingly mature to smell already, mature merlot ‘fruit cake’ in character, with clear underlying minerality; rich and relatively supple for the year, very fine in tannin; warm and ample in flavour, generous for the vintage, ripe, long and complex, gently powerful and spicy; with the property’s typical mouthcoating combination of gentle density, clayey ‘matter’, its subtle sinew. Nice complexity, fine aromatic length, complete in a more restrained register for Petrus. Drink 2020-40+. (18+)
Medium depth, brick hued mahogany red; a particularly distinctive bouquet for the year, raspberry sweet, a touch of merlot caramel, a hint of mint – complex and beguiling; medium full, fresh, finely tannic, fairly supple wine, very seductive in texture; sweet in flavour, long and refined across the palate; not big, but graceful and fine, subtly complex, gently racy, caramel sweet, aromatic, and long and fragrant (in fruit and minerality) to finish. Its usual, most individual, distinctive and seductive self. Not long term, but with noticeable charm and pleasure for the Right Bank in 2006. Drink 2018-30+. (18+)
Dark, youthful red; backward, lightly oaky, marked by its characteristic ‘gravel’ aromas; nicely balanced middleweight Latour, fresh, finely tannic, harmonious; long and gentle and even in flavour, freshly ripe, gently gravelly, refinedly aromatic, long and subtly gravelly in aftertaste. Complete in a quieter register and with a surprisingly caressing tannin texture. Drink 2022-35+. (18+)
Dark red, early bricking rim; refined, fragrant, gently aromatic, finely gravelly nose; medium full, fresh in acidity, finely tannic; long, complex, crisply red fruit to taste, refined in aromas, but still fairly tight. Crispness, great aromatic finesse, and fine length. Drink 2024-34. (18)
Dark, brick-rimmed red; lovely blackberry sweet, refined, early bouquet, subtle and stylish; rich, fresh, gently fleshy, finely tannic Pomerol; crisply sweet, ripe red fruit, long and subtle in flavour, gently complex and aromatic, Lovely Conseillante. Drink now-2026+. Excellent Value. (17.5)
Dark red; crisply ripe red fruit and gravel nose; crisp, medium full, finely, firmly tannic; sweetly ripe core fruit, long and tasty and complex, and with a very long aftertaste; typically firm Leo B, but complete, and savoury, and excellent drinking. Just about accessible, but clearly even better with four or five more years in bottle. Classic fine St Julien. Drink 2019-30+. Excellent value. (17)
Dark, brick-edged red; rich and sweet to smell, ripe, cedary, attractive early bouquet; full, fresh, very finely tannic, a lovely 2006 balance; a noticeable fruit ‘core’ without a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon greenness; sweet, pure, long in flavour, complex, aromatic, and with fine fruit and gently mineral persistence. An excellent top St Emilion, accessible early because of its particularly fine texture. Drink now-2028+. Excellent value. (17)
Brick-rimmed red; soft, sweet, Merloty nose, early bouquet; medium full, fresh, supple, finely tannic; crisply ripe and sweet in flavour, flowing within the gentle tannins, long and savoury Margaux, accessible already, better with time. Neither particularly rich or grand, but fine Margaux, fine claret. Very good value. (16.5+)
Dark, brick-rimmed red; oak-cedary dominated nose; rich and generous, firm and finely tannic; plenty of sweet fruit, and sweet oak, here; flattering flavour for the vintage, both complexity and good length. Will be very attractive in its more modern style. Accessible, if tannic, already because of its abundant fruit, but better with time to allow the tannins to mellow. Drink 2021-35. Very good value. (16.5+)
Dark red; tight, cedary; medium full, fairly concentrated, firm and tannic, but well balanced; this has plenty of flavour within a still slightly chewy texture, but there is complexity, aromatic interest, length of flavour and length of aftertaste too. It just needs a few years, and it will be a very satisfying glass of claret. Fine Lagrange. Very good value. (16.5+)
Dark, brick-rimmed red; cedar oak and gravel nose; medium full, fresh, supple, very finely tannic, nicely balanced; sweetly ripe, even, savoury St Julien, with a nice gentle complexity and good length. Classic middleweight claret, fresh, gravelly, complete. Accessible now, plenty of time in hand. Very satisfying St Julien. Drink now-2025. Very good value. (16.5)
Canon La Gaffelière
Mature mahogany red; ripe, sweet, cassis and caramel, a typically open, attractive, early bouquet; full, fresh, finely tannic; a crisp, sweetly ripe fruit, pure, linear, gently complex flavour, with a fine, fruit dominant, length of finish. Stylish and appealing, attractive early because of its fruit emphasis. Drink now-2026+. Very fair value. (16.5+ )