Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)

General Introduction:
The first Library Tasting presented in the Hawkes Bay Food and Wine Classic (FAWC) festival in November,  2014,  set out to revisit the the great 2003 Ch Pavie debate,  some 10 years earlier.  We thought it would be fun to assess the wines for quality now,  from an antipodean and temperate-climate viticultural regime viewpoint,  far away from the centres of disputation in 2004.  Participants were nearly all Hawkes Bay winemakers.  My qualifications for presenting the tasting start out with the 1962 and 1964 Bordeaux vintages.  Serious study and case-lot-cellaring of the wines to further that study and understanding commenced with the 1966 vintage,  a year that produced some notably beautiful wines.

There is widespread agreement now that the Hawkes Bay district,  on the drier east coast of middle North Island,  New Zealand,  and Waiheke Island on the drier eastern side of the Auckland district,  are two places in the world closely matching Bordeaux,  both climatically and in the style of wines they produce.  This match is expressed in the key grapes,  cabernet sauvignon,  cabernet franc and merlot,  achieving full physiological maturity in the better years only.  They thus retain florality and subtlety,  and similarly mostly avoid the high alcohols which in hotter climates can so adversely affect tannin perception,  and nett beauty and finesse in the finished wine.

The key factor in the quality of red grapes ripened in a temperate climate just allowing full maturity,  is the grapes retain their floral precursors,  and hence the resulting wines display floral beauty,  complexity,  appeal  and enchantment.  Thus it is that European wine people and winemakers talk so much more about floral analogies in describing wine quality in wines from temperate climates.  Conversely winewriters from Australian-influenced (and sometimes Californian-influenced) climates often give the impression of being unaware of the floral dimension in wine beauty and wine assessment.  That is understandable,  if their wine horizons are set in climatic zones where floral precursors are simply baked out of the grapes,  in the vineyard.  The sad corollary to this dilemma is that since so many Antipodean winemakers are now educated in Australian (and sometimes Californian) wine-schools,  there is a tendency for many of these people to first be unaware of this dimension in wine,  and then later dismissive of even the concept of florality and beauty in wine appreciation.  All too often new world wine people are looking for size,  weight and power in wine,  and then as a concession to old world wine values,  they may allow for 'balance' as an important component.  Sometimes this distorted approach is then used to 'justify' excessive oak,  since the wine is so big ...

Likewise in climates too warm for the grapes to easily retain intrinsic floral and terpene-aromatic complexities,  there has been a tendency for winemakers to reintroduce aromatic qualities into the wine via oak,  and all-too-often new oak.  Since warm climates tend to go hand-in-hand with high sugars in the grape,  and thus higher alcohol in the wine,  and high alcohol plus new oak can easily become oppressive,  there is a two-fold probability of the resulting wines being 'impressive' but tending ugly,  rather than understated and beautiful.  Rather too many Australian wines with a given 14.5% alcohol on the label (often a euphemism for even higher values) will illustrate this tendency.

Thus it was when the warm 1982 Bordeaux vintage came along,  some conservative European winewriters were doubtful about the wines,  and their potential to cellar well and become classic clarets.  Some referred to it as 'the Californian vintage',  or these Napa Valley-style clarets.  Yet the wines are now fabulous.  And now,  more recently we have had the warm 2003 Bordeaux vintage,  where the British in particular have spent the last 10 years doubting the wines,  as noted below.  

Accordingly it was a great pleasure to present a small selection of carefully-selected 2003 Bordeaux reds,  including the contentious 2003 of the highly-regarded Saint Emilion Chateau Pavie,  to some of Hawkes Bay's leading winemakers.  The tasting was completely blind.  Tastings of good Bordeaux with even 10 years  of age are sadly uncommon in New Zealand.  The tasting attracted such interest,  it was fully booked out in 48 hours,  but not before one recent Waiheke Island winemaker secured two seats.

Introduction to the Tasting,  pre-circulated to participants:
This section includes the information backgrounder prepared for tasters.  It comprised an Introduction,  a quick summary of The 2003 Ch Pavie debate,  then a profile for each wine.  The latter material is now incorporated into the 'admin' section (in italics) of each wine review.  This hand-out was pre-circulated by email,  because of its length.

Classed-growth Bordeaux ... who amongst us,  I wonder,  has tasted all three Leovilles together,  and contemplated their differing styles,  even though for two of them,  their cepages are similar.  Or for that matter,  the two Pichons alongside,  very different in style but cepage varying only on petit verdot.  And in this vintage,  2003 Ch Montrose is in a class of its own.  This tasting therefore provides a rare opportunity to learn about Bordeaux,  especially now that in New Zealand,  with years like 1998 and 2009,  we need to know how the traditional Hawkes Bay-blend grapes perform in warmer years such as 2003 in Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is after all the home of the claret winestyle.

2003 was a wonderful warm summer in Europe,  and in Bordeaux in particular.  The Brits are funny about these things,  however,  and have spent the last 10 years saying how awful and feeble the wines are,  and they are destined for early collapse.  Meanwhile people from happier climates just love these beautifully rich,  warm,  ripe wines.  The vintage is famous for two things.  Some of the best wines came from the northern villages such as St Estephe,  which in typical seasons are sometimes a little cool.  Hence the great reputation for 2003 Ch Montrose.  Secondly it was the year in which the highly regarded but modern-in-style St Emilion Ch Pavie produced a wine which provoked a war-of-words between America's best-known winewriter Robert Parker,  and British authority and MW Jancis Robinson.  It is well-known that Parker likes big modern wines,  and Robinson seeks more traditional values in Bordeaux,  including 'refreshment' in the wine.

The 2003 Pavie debate ...
In essence,  Robinson's first report on the wine [ dated 7 April 2005 on the website,  but surely 2004,  being the en primeur review ] described it as:
Deep blueish crimson. Completely unappetising overripe aromas. Why? Porty sweet. Oh REALLY! Port is best from the Douro not St Emilion. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late harvest Zinfandel than a red bordeaux with its unappetising green notes. [I should make it clear that these notes, like the great majority, were written long before I knew what the wine was - and I have witnesses, necessary since I have been accused of being prejudiced against Monsieur Perse's wines.]  12 / 20.  
Parker's first report also in April 2004 said:  
An off the chart effort from perfectionist proprietors Chantal and Gerard Perse, the 2003 Pavie was cropped at 30 hectoliters per hectare. A blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a wine of sublime richness, minerality, delineation, and nobleness. Representing the essence of one of St.-Emilion's greatest terroirs, the limestone and clay soils were perfect for handling the torrid heat of 2003. Inky/purple to the rim, it offers up provocative aromas of minerals, black and red fruits, balsamic vinegar, licorice, and smoke. It traverses the palate with extraordinary richness as well as remarkable freshness and definition. The finish is tannic, but the wine's low acidity and higher than normal alcohol (13.5%) suggests it will be approachable in 4-5 years. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2040. A brilliant effort, it, along with Ausone and Petrus, is one of the three greatest offerings of the right bank in 2003.  96 - 100 / 100.  
Parker then criticised Robinson's view,  leading to a war of words (and some insults) in which by the time it evaporated most USA and UK critics had a say.

Here are some excerpts from the wonderful London wine merchants Farr Vintners log for the 2003 Bordeaux Vintage.  [ Farr Vintners are the leading Bordeaux en primeur wine merchant in Britain.  Their documentation for each vintage campaign is unparalleled.]

13 April 2004: The controversy about Pavie 2003 hots up today with Robert Parker unable to stop himself from launching an attack on British wine writer Jancis Robinson's tasting ability and her honesty! Parker's keenly awaited Vintage Report will be published in the Wine Advocate at the end of April.

This debate seems to be coming to a head and it's not just about this one wine but also about the power of wine writers and the way that certain producers appear to be making wines to score points from the  "The most powerful critic of any kind anywhere".  To refresh your memory, Jancis Robinson (and many others with a "traditional" palate) hated this concocted wine that tastes more like Zinfandel than Saint Emilion and rated it 12/20 [ as shown above ]. It is widely anticipated that Robert Parker will love it and we predict a massive score. Read on ...

Robert Parker replies:
"All I can do is write what I truly believe and let the chips fall where they do. I have neither backed off the criticism of some of my favorite estates that faltered in 2003, or hid my enthusiasm for those wines I feel are compelling. I suspect most other writers have done the same thing."

"I had Pavie four separate times, and, recognizing everyone's taste is different, Pavie does not taste at all (for my palate) as described by Jancis. She has a lamentable and perplexing history of disliking not only all of Perse's wines, but virtually all of the garagiste wines of St. Emilion. The irony is that she seems to be very fond of Le Pin, which some of these wines resemble, and is the inspiration for many of them. That is her opinion, and she will have to answer for it as all of us do that practice this rather whimsical craft. These recent comments (assuming they are accurate) are very much in keeping with her nasty swipes at all the Pavies made by Perse (1998 onward), and mirror the comments of not only reactionaries in Bordeaux ..."

Francois Mauss and his jury of primarily Europeans reached different conclusions about the Perse wines in 1998 and 1999 because the wines are very classical, just more concentrated than many of their peers. Moreover, Perse is a lover of the great classic vintages of Bordeaux, and 1929 and 1947 right banks are his reference point ... he would never drink or even produce a wine such as described by Jancis.

14 April 2004:  The controversy over Pavie 2003 rumbles on with many others adding their views to the discussion. It seems to be developing into a Brits v. Yanks debate with Steve Tanzer backing the views of Parker and Suckling. There has also been much support for Jancis from many of our friends in Bordeaux as well as from many leading British wine tasters.

The American critic Stephen Tanzer writes
"This is the last specific comment I will make before the publication of Issue 114, but I would like to briefly comment on the 2003 Pavie. Basically, Jancis Robinson's note did not resemble the wine I tasted. (I did not taste the same sample she tasted, so I can't tell you if her bottle was representative.) Yes, Pavie was picked extremely ripe and very late (until October 10), but it's a hugely rich (14%+ alcohol) and impressive wine. I actually had the chance to retaste Pavie, blind, with the rest of the St. Emilion Premiers Crus Classés (minus Cheval Blanc and Ausone, which do not participate in these group events) on Friday morning (yesterday), and it was the best of the bunch. What struck me at this second tasting was that despite its obvious super-ripeness and high level of ripe tannins, the wine had plenty of energy in the middle palate."

16 April 2004:  Michael Schuster, an extremely experienced and thoughtful wine taster, adds a balanced and eminently sensible view on the 2003 Pavie debate:  
Ch Pavie 2003: there is, rightly, more than one view.  The new style of Ch. Pavie, made under the direction of owner Gérard Perse, has divided experienced tasters from his first vintage - 1998. The 2003 is no different. Here is my note from my 2003 report for The World of Fine Wine:
Ch Pavie 1er Grand Cru Classé St Emilion.  Deep purple; very strange nose for claret: a ripe, raisiny, slightly medicinal combination of port and the bitter almond of Amarone di Valpollicella, along with slightly herbal characteristics; fresh, concentrated medium weight with a very dry tannin and an alcohol 'hot' aspect; ripe, mineral backed fruit, pure, complex and refined, if faintly raisiny; excellent length, but spirity.
The issue here is not whether this is this good wine - it is. And indeed the class of the vineyard shows. But whether it is good claret, good 1er Grand Cru Classé St Emilion? If it is, then most of the top properties in St Emilion are out of step!
Why no score? I tasted this wine twice during the en primeur week, once at the UGC tastings, once with Gérard Perse at Pavie. Just as a wine I scored it 17/20 and 17.5/20. In other words it is good quality wine. But good quality what wine? I don't know. Which is why I don't give it a score in my report. I simply can't see how it represents top quality St Emilion. At least not St Emilion as I know it.
There IS more than one view about this wine, and it is absolutely legitimate that there should be. Not all, but many experienced tasters who have tasted, drunk and appreciated fine St Emilion over many years find that it is unlike any other top claret at this stage (from whatever commune), and for them it doesn't represent claret as in their experience.
That matters. It matters because when you or I buy a bottle of wine, especially at around £100 / $150, we are buying into a particular experience, a very particular set of tastes, smells, textures. And if those are not what is in that bottle, then we may well not want to purchase it. That is not the same as saying it isn't good, it is saying that's not the style we want or expect when buying a wine from this location - i.e. specific brand "Pavie, 1er Grand Cru Classé St Emilion", general brand "Bordeaux".

20 April: The "Pavie Debate" has been hotting up in the last few days with fellow US critic Stephen Tanzer supporting Robert Parker's view that Pavie 2003 is a great wine and attacking Jancis Robinson's criticism of it. Robinson, however, has received support from many other British wine experts including Tim Atkin, Steven Spurrier, Hugh Johnson and Michael Schuster. She is further backed up by a note on Pavie 2003 that we have just received from distinguished English wine critic Clive Coates MW.
"Pavie continues to produce wine which doesn't even taste like Bordeaux. Moreover the wine is undrinkable. Anyone who thinks that this is a wine of merit needs his/her head examined."

22 April: Those following the "Pavie Debate" might like to know that France's most influential wine critic, Michel Bettane, has now written about this controversial wine on the web site of "The World of Fine Wine". He comes out very much on the side of the American critics saying that the wine is
"superb" and "not at all made from overripe grapes"

Finally,  in a contribution to the debate on the World of Fine Wine website,  Ch Pavie proprietor Gerard Perse concluded his lengthy riposte thus:  In closing, I hope that as many of you as possible will get the chance to taste our 2003 Pavie once it is bottled and for decades thereafter. My own feeling is that we are in the presence of a most singular wine that will prove to be reminiscent of wines from the great vintages of the past, combining the early enjoyability of the best 1982's with the demonstrated age worthiness of such great (hot) vintages as 1929, 1947, and 1949. Indeed, apparently to the mystification of some critics, early drinkability does not preclude ageability.

... and so on ... hence the excitement about tonight's tasting !   Tonight offers the opportunity to form your own view,  by tasting 2003 Ch Pavie along with some the fine classed growths of the vintage,  including 2003 Ch Montrose,  regarded at one point as the wine of the vintage,   all three Leovilles from Saint-Julien,  one of which Las Cases is trying desperately hard to become a de facto first growth,  and both Pichons.  No first growths,  to keep the tasting affordable,  but SIX wines rated 95 or more by Robert Parker,  10 all told.  Incidentally,  opportunities to taste 2003 Ch Montrose in New Zealand will in the not too distant future be exceedingly rare,  since it was rationed here.  Since it is one of the most precise great wines of the vintage,  this wine alone makes attending this tasting essential for anybody who wants to learn about and understand the Cabernet / Merlot / Bordeaux-blend / Hawkes Bay-blend winestyle.  

The tasting will be presented at Trinity Hill winery,  and hosted by Warren Gibson,  Chief Winemaker at Trinity Hill.  It will be led by Geoff Kelly,  a former DSIR scientist with a long interest in wine and wine assessment.  He has been a senior industry wine judge for over 30 years,  was winewriter for National Business Review in the 1980s,  and inaugural winewriter for Cuisine magazine.  The tasting will be a working tasting,  presented blind,  with 30 ml pours only (to make it more affordable),  and presented in XL5 international tasting glasses,  not big glasses.  

This was a marvellous tasting,  bringing together skilled winemaker palates and a cross-section of wines which few had seen together before.  It illustrated that so many wine writers who have dismissed the 2003s as overly ripe,  overly developed,  not worth cellaring, etc etc are simply letting their analytical capabilities be swamped by popular chatter.  The best of the wines,  on this small (but not irrelevant) sampling are lovely samples of the claret style,  properly ripe.  Maybe they are not 40-year wines,  but simple observation suggests rather many people don't want that capability nowadays.  At best therefore,  it is an excellent Bordeaux vintage.  

On cost-efficiency grounds,  this tasting could not run to first growths.  But on this showing,  as in others in recent years which have included first growths,  Ch Montrose is indeed one of the top wines of the vintage.  For the 2003 Ch Pavie debate,  as in the tasting note for the wine,  both the original protagonists must now be regretting their impetuous early assessments.  The wine at 10 years of age bears little relation to either early viewpoint.  It is a perfectly reasonable silver medal merlot-dominant wine,  neither as great as,  or as poor as,  either said.  New  Zealand can make merlot this good,  in fact markedly better,  I would say,  in the good years,  and when the cropping rate matches grand cru Bordeaux.  I imagine preferred regions of California can too.  Most Australian viticultural regions are too hot for merlot floral beauty and absolute merlot wine quality,  and the distressing prevalence of eucalyptus taint in so many of their reds makes achieving the floral component of quality merlot-led wines doubly difficult.

Broadbent,  Michael 2003:  Michael Broadbent's Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.
Parker,  Robert,  2003:  Bordeaux.
Simon & Schuster,  1244 p.
www.erobertparker.com  =  Robert Parker and increasingly the associates
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson and associates
www.wineaccess.com  =  Stephen Tanzer (for Bordeaux reviews)

THE WINES REVIEWED – 2003 Bordeaux:

Prices shown below are the current wine-searcher values for the 2003 vintage.

2003  Ch d'Aiguilhe
2003   Ch Leoville-Barton
2003   Ch Leoville Las Cases
2003  Ch Leoville Poyferré
2003  Ch Montrose
  2003  Ch Pavie
2003  Ch Pichon-Longueville-Baron
2003  Ch Pichon Longueville Lalande
2003  Ch Pontet-Canet
2003  Ch Potensac

2003  Ch Montrose   19 +  ()
Saint-Estephe 2nd Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $316   [ Cork 50mm;  CS 62%,  Me 34,  CF 3,  PV 1;  Ch Montrose is one of the three finest wines in St Estephe,  a district traditionally sniffed at by the superior,  but now coming into its own with global warming.  The style of Montrose has tended to be more fragrant than Cos d'Estournel,  in the good years.  Vine density 9000 / ha,  and average vine age is around 40 years.  The 2003 was cropped @ 35 hl/ha (c. 1.8 t/ac),  against an average of 42 (2.2 t/ac);  the wine spends c.18 months in barrel with 50 – 70% new;  second wine Le Dame de Montrose;  at one point the 2003 was considered a likely wine of the vintage,  Parker marking it 100,  but it has settled back a little from that assessment;  however,  Farr Vintners report that 2003 Montrose placed fifth overall,  out of 100 wines tasted blind,  at the 2003 Farr Vintners Blind Tasting held in October 2010,  so that is still pretty elevated company;  and likewise Berry Brothers & Rudd,  another famous London wine merchant,  say:  “If ever there was any doubt that the wines of St Estephe had triumphed in 2003 then a taste of this magnificent wine immediately put the record straight.  A wonderful nose of ripe, pure Cabernet Sauvignon with layers of spicy oak introduces a palate that is at once intense, multi-dimensional, loaded with minerals, black cherries, firm acidity and powerful tannins, all singing in perfect harmony. This is possibly the best Montrose ever made, surpassing its 2000 and possibly even its legendary 1990.”  With assessments like that,  one has to think that the very severe team at Jancis Robinson are making something of a fetish of scoring wines low,  awaiting a perfection that perhaps can never be attained.  They have marked it half a point lower in each successive tasting since release,  the latest 17,  so here for interest is their first impression:  Robinson,  2005:  Very dark crimson, the deepest of all these wines with colour all the way out to the rim. Young, fresh, very frank aromas – still distinctly unevolved. Extremely dry, savoury and mineral – not a hint of the raisiny sweetness that dogs so many 2003s. Wonderfully rich and layered yet dry and savoury on the finish. A hint of unsweetened chocolate with a floral topnote. Great hit on the front palate, then something dry and scrunchily appetising on the finish. Very very long,  19;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  A candidate for a perfect score, the 2003 Montrose has been a superstar since the first time I tasted it in barrel. Showing no signs of weakening, it is an amazing wine from this fabulous terroir. It boasts a deep blue/purple color as well as a stunning perfume of blueberries, black currants, blackberries, licorice and camphor. Dense, full-bodied and rich with an unctuous texture, well-integrated, melted tannins, and a long, heady finish, this big, brawny, super-intense, gorgeous 2003 is just beginning to enter its plateau of full maturity. It should remain there for at least two decades,  99;   www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some garnet,  one of the more developed hues,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet however is quite the reverse,  being wonderfully fresh and fragrant,  and even violets-floral,  all rising from a cassis and berry-rich wine in which there is no hint of sur-maturité or excess oak.  Palate follows wonderfully,  the fruit melding with soft cedary oak to produce at 10 years of age a classic claret just embarking on its plateau of maturity.  Texture is superb already,  nearly as velvety as the Las Cases,  the flavour lingering long,  neither spirity or oaky.  Classic and very beautiful claret,  and clearly the most-favoured wine by the winemakers,  this warmer-than-usual-year St Estephe tasted like a fine Pauillac in a normal year.  Cellar 5 – 25 years,  maybe  longer.  GK 11/14

2003   Ch Leoville Las Cases   19  ()
Saint-Julien 2nd Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $276   [ Cork 54mm;  CS 70%,  Me 17,  CF 13 in 2003,  no PV that year;  Leoville Las Cases,  often mis-rendered Leoville Lascases,  is one of the pre-eminent and most expensive second growths.  The wines can be a bit massive in youth,  and in earlier decades were sometimes tending-reduced as well.  Oak use varies with the year,  but the best vintages can see the wines spending 20 months in barrel,  with 80% new – emulating first-growth approaches.  Such years even in the modern era can be slow to unfold.  Production is 18,000 cases a year.  The chateau attracted some attention for being one of the first to use reverse osmosis to improve the concentration of the must,  in lesser years.  The technique is now regarded as part of the armoury of winemakers,  provided it is used only when the season demands.  Second wine now Le Petit Lion,  formerly Clos du Marquis;  Harding,  2013:  Deep garnet. Ripe fruit-cake aromas and spice but with some cedary herbaceous notes too. More leafy on the palate and uncharacteristically juicy. Fine grained and dense tannins but there's good fruit depth. Flavourful not elegant,  16.5;  Tanzer,  2006:  Plum, tar, cedar and nutty oak on the nose; less exotic than most '03s. Then massive and full on the palate; almost too big for the mouth. As silky as this is, it also possesses very good acidity for the vintage. Finishes with huge but lush tannins and superb length. The IPT [ Total Polyphenol Index ] here is 74, compared to 70 in 2005, and the alcohol is a tad higher, at 13.2%. A perfect vintage of Las Cases for tasters who normally find this wine too rigorous, but this still promises to be long-lived,  93 +;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  An incredibly fresh, lively 2003 (the pH is only 3.6 and the alcohol is 13.1%), this wine offers a dense ruby/purple color along with full body and a remarkable nose of black currants, kirsch, lead pencil shavings and vanilla. Opulent, full-bodied and close to full maturity, it is a seamless classic that will age for 15-20 more years. Kudos to the Delon family for such a brilliant achievement in a tricky vintage,  96;  www.domaines-delon.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a trace of garnet,  the lightest colour.  This wine has a beautiful bouquet too,  but it is quite different from the Montrose.  The floral component is sweeter and I imagine more vanillin,  and there is a suggestion of ripe red fruits as well as cassis,  in cedary oak which is sensuous – wonderful quality.  This is so different from the surly Las Cases wines of the 70s,  an older taster would never recognise it.  In mouth the fruit richness is simply velvety,  no other word for it,  a wine of great dry extract and therefore texture,  and the longer you taste it,  the finer it becomes.  Like the Montrose,  it is not big or impressive in any obvious way that the new world wine community might demand.  It is simply infinitely harmonious and beautiful,  and lasts and lasts in the mouth.  Those who have mocked the 2003s need to taste these two lovely wines,  now.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch Pontet-Canet   19  ()
Pauillac 5th Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $172   [ Cork 50mm;  CS 60%,  Me 33,  PV5,  CF 2;  the reputation of Pontet Canet now progresses in leaps and bounds,  compared with its standing a generation-plus ago.  Though classed a Fifth Growth,  its pricing now matches the better second growths.  The vineyard is now organic status,  though not much is being made of that,  and is moving towards a biodynamic approach as well.  The current proprietor Alfred Tesseron was out here recently with Glengarry wine merchants,  and emphasised they were not so much winemakers,  the key thing was the grape-growing;  the vineyard averages 45 years age,  and is planted at 9,500 vines / ha;  the wine usually spends 16 – 20 months in 60% new oak;  there are about 25,000 cases per annum.  Second wine is Les Hauts de Pontet,  but they aim to make less of that,  so the grand vin does reflect the vintage.  If it is not up to scratch,  it will be sold off in bulk.  They also make the wine for Ch Senejac;  Robinson,  Feb 2010:   Quite full and ripe and rich on the nose .... Succulent and juicy with sufficient freshness. Just a very slightly burnt note on the nose. A bit chewy on the finish. Sweet and flattering,  16.5;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  The spectacular 2003 Pontet Canet is still incredibly young and vigorous. This full-bodied classic boasts a dense purple color as well as a superb nose of graphite, creme de cassis, forest floor, licorice and a hint of truffles, low acidity, and extravagant richness. Most of the tannins have been resolved in this superstar of the vintage. It should continue to drink well for 10-15+ years,  95+;  www.pontet-canet.com ]
Ruby and rich velvet,  one of the youngest,  the second deepest.  One sniff,  and to anybody brought up on Pontet-Canet in the Cruse days,  this 2003 is a revelation.  It is a fractionally bigger and richer wine than the Montrose,  a wine showing great smoothness on bouquet,  and fruit and oak of great quality.  The cassis is a little riper / softer / less aromatic than the Montrose,  but it is the dominant fruit note.  Palate is younger than the top two,  the oak still not completely assimilated but the berry fruit is so rich,  clearly great pleasure lies ahead.  This is a classic example of a wine showing power and beauty without undue weight,  as alluded to earlier.  It will end up just as rich as the Las Cases,  even though it tastes much younger now.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/14

2003   Ch Leoville-Barton   18 ½  ()
Saint-Julien 2nd Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $190   [ Cork 50mm;  CS 72%,  Me 20,  CF 8;  Leoville-Barton is regarded as the archetypal Englishman's claret by some,  to cellar every year almost irrespective,  by others as a little old-fashioned.  Either way,  its pricing has traditionally been conservative;  Leoville-Barton is now said to be the only classed growth from the 1855 classification that remains in the same family ownership;  the vineyard is planted 9,000 vines / ha,  the wine is usually aged 20 months in 50% new oak,  production is c. 20,000 cases.  Second wine, La Reserve de Leoville Barton.  Harding, 2013:  Lovely cedary black fruit aromas. Almost the first time I have written fragrant in this tasting. Some oak sweetness on the palate but it's fresh too and the tannins are fine and resolved, still with some density,  17;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  A spectacular success, the opaque plum-colored 2003 Leoville Barton is still on the young side of its plateau of maturity. It exhibits a striking bouquet of forest floor and black currants as well as a full-bodied, exuberant, youthful style, an opaque plum/ruby color, a lot of complexity, and striking depth and richness. This is a profound, stunning effort from Anthony Barton and his team. Bravo! It should continue to provide immense pleasure for 20-30 years,  96;  www.leoville-barton.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the fresher ones,  below midway in depth.  This wine too communicates as classical claret,  aromatic,  vibrant,  not showing any hot-year flatness,  more youthful than the Las Cases.  Again one or two noted trace-level brett (which has been not infrequent in this wine,  over the years).  This wine was set as number one in the blind sequence,  being high-cabernet to introduce that side of the claret equation.  Flavours in mouth are cassis-led,  ample berryfruit,  not the beauty or complexity of the Montrose,  more a straightforward good high-cabernet claret,  the oak still not quite knit.  In a warm year one might expect a little sleight-of-hand with tartaric adjustments,  but compared with so many warmer-country wines,  the thought scarcely arises in these 2003s.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch Pichon-Longueville-Baron   18 ½  ()
Pauillac 5th Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $196   [ Cork 49mm;  CS 65%,  Me 35;  minor varieties are used in the second wine;  The two Pichons jostle for supremacy between themselves,  but neither quite achieves the glamour of the so-called super-seconds such as Palmer,  Ducru-Beaucaillou and Leoville Las Cases;  Baron has traditionally been the bigger and riper of the two,  perhaps due to Lalande having a higher percentage of petit verdot,  which is harder to ripen.  Some consider that at its best,  Lalande is the finer.  The vineyard is planted @ 9,000 vines / ha,  average age 30 years.  Cuvaison extends to 30 days some years,  and elevage in the better years is 18 months with up to 80% new oak.  Production is 18,000 cases per year. The second wine is Les Tourelles de Longueville.  Robinson,  2008:  Much deeper than Pichon Lalande. The sexual stereotyping of the Pichons is alive and well in 2003. This is quite savoury and beefy on the nose. With good compact fruit, this wine seemed relatively concentrated when tasted immediately after Pichon Lalande. Pretty impressive! Lots of impact here though no excessive heat or ripeness. Still quite a charge of fine tannins but there seems to be quite enough fruit to hold the wine while the tannins subside. And there’s even some freshness on the finish,  17.5;  Parker's 2014 note is intriguing,  virtually identical to the more detailed forecast he made in 2004.  You have to hand it to this guy,  he has probably now tasted more wines than Michael Broadbent,  and with his famed memory,  he paints compelling word pictures of wine.  Here for interest are his two assessments,  10 years apart.  Parker,  Aug 2014:  A brilliant effort, this 2003 displays a vigorous, intact, deep blue/purple color as well as notes of scorched earth, barbecue spices, incense, creme de cassis and cedarwood. Long, lush, medium to full-bodied, round and generous, this opulent Pauillac can be drunk now and over the next 5-8 years,  94;  and Parker,  2004:  Reminiscent of Pichon Baron’s triumphant 1990, the 2003 is powerful and alcoholic (13.4%) for a cru classe Bordeaux, with a high pH of 3.85, and low acidity. Made from 31 hectoliters per hectare [ 4 t/ha,  1.6 t/ac ] , this blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot exhibits an inky/purple color along with a big, thick, juicy nose of soy sauce, blackberries, creme de cassis, minerals, and flowers. Full-bodied and powerful, with terrific fruit purity as well as depth, this beauty should become increasingly delineated as it evolves in barrel. The finish lasts for 45+ seconds. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2025,  92-94;  www.pichonlongueville.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a trace of garnet,  just below midway in depth.  In one sense this is more classic claret,  beautifully fragrant,  a great depth of berry,  a lot of cedary oak in comparison with the top three wines,  so much so I used it as a stepping-stone wine before the Pavie,  to more gently introduce that wine.  A couple of tasters (winemakers) noted trace brett,  but not to detract.  Palate quality is led by cedary oak,  but the fruit richness is so good,  it would be unreasonable to object to the level.  The fruit / oak interaction makes the wine long and lingering in flavour.  A more robust wine,  maybe,  some tannins to lose,  and a suggestion of the new world in the oak handling.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch Leoville Poyferré   18  ()
Saint-Julien 2nd Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $222   [ Cork 50mm;  CS 62%,  Me 28,  PV 8,  CF 2;  Michel Rolland has consulted for many years,  the leading British Bordeaux merchants Farr Vintners consider the chateau produces wines with “a smoother, more fleshy character than the seriously structured wines of the other Leovilles, but they still cellar well”.  Planting is 8,500 vines / ha,  production is c.20,000 cases;  22 months in 75% new oak;  second wine Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre.  Robinson,  Aug 2009:  Light, mild nose. Quite well balanced. Round on the palate with well balanced, non aggressive tannins, though they are certainly there and not yet fully integrated. Quite notable acidity and just a hint of greenness,  16.5;  Tanzer,  2006:  … Cuvelier [ owning family ] maintained that this vintage was not acidified. The cabernet acidity, he said, was healthy and the grape skins gave up their acidity slowly during the vinification. A very impressive showing, and built to last,  92;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  [ in another note,  until the 2009,  Parker of view the 2003 Poyferre perhaps the best ever ]  The spectacular 2003 Leoville Poyferre exhibits a dense purple color with a touch of lightening at the edge as well as notes of creosote, barbecue smoke, jammy black currants, licorice and spice box. This intense, voluptuously textured, full-bodied St.-Julien possesses low acidity and ripe tannin. Still fresh and exuberant, it is just entering its plateau of full maturity where it should remain for 10-15+ years,  96;  www.leoville-poyferre.fr ]
Ruby and velvet,  a hint of garnet,  the deepest wine.  This was one of two wines which showed just a hint of stalk in an aromatically complex bouquet.  Those who liked that found hints of lavender on the floral / aromatic side.  There was certainly a freshness to the bouquet,  pairing it with the Pichon-Lalande.  Palate is very aromatic,  clear cassisy berry,  but a complex interaction between stalk tannins and oak tannins makes the wine vibrant in mouth.  Fruit richness is good and length of flavour great,  partly on the tannins.  There is not quite the magic of the top wines,  though the Poyferré is more harmonious than the Lalande.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch Pavie   17 ½  ()
Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé [ A in 2012 ],  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $462   [ DFB;  cork 50mm;  Me 60,  CF 25,  CS 15,  hand-harvested and sorted,  cropped at an average yield of 3.75 t/ha (1.5 t/ac) giving (on average) 5,800 cases of the grand cru;  average vine age 43 years,  total area of vines (including second wine) 37 ha;  30% of the harvest de-classified to the second wine,  Aromes de Pavie;  cuvaison normally 21 days,  MLF in barrel,  time in oak varies with vintage but 18 – 32 months,  percentage new 70 – 100%;  referring back to the 2003 furore,  it is fair to note that Robinson has since retreated somewhat from her initial position,  but has not brought herself to publish another review on her website;  off-sider Harding,  2013 had this to say last year:  Deep garnet. Both raisiny and herbaceous. Very very dry grippy tannins. Hard on the finish,  15.5;  for another recent English view,  here is Neal Martin,  2013:  Tasted at Bordeaux Index’s “10-Year On” tasting in London. I must confess that this nose is disappointing. Compared against Clos Fourtet, it comes across as a little ersatz with superficial raisin, stewed fig and kirsch aromas, leaning towards the New World. The palate is medium-bodied and displays good volume, filling the mouth with ease and there is clearly more depth than its peers. However, there is an ineluctable monotony about this wine that is bereft of the delineation and tension, the complexity and personality that makes say, the 2000 Pavie so entrancing. It is not a bad Saint Emilion by a long straw, but to put it bluntly … it’s a bit boring,  88;  and finally Parker's latest view,  Aug 2014:  At its release, the 2003 Pavie was somewhat controversial in wine tasting circles, but eleven years later it is obviously a great classic. Its deep purple color is accompanied by notes of vanillin, lead pencil shavings, creme de cassis, plums, black currants and kirsch. Full-bodied, youthful and rich with terrific purity and texture as well as a striking opulence, its 40+-second finish, stunning purity and wonderful perfume suggest it can be drunk now or cellared for 15-20 years,  99;  www.vignoblesperse.com/en/chateau-pavie ]
Ruby and velvet with appreciable garnet,  as if more oak,  the third-deepest wine.  The initial impression of this wine tends to be out-of-line with the class,  alcohol being noticeable with oak and fruit both apparent,  the  oak / alcohol side more like a warm-country new world wine.  Fruit qualities are more plummy with some over-ripening to best (moist) Californian prunes.  Flavour is rich,  velvety in a merlot sense despite the oak,  but like another hot-year merlot,  1976 Petrus,  simply too over-ripe to show the floral black-fruits complexity and beauty which fine fresh merlot should display.  The oak / alcohol interaction in the freshly-opened wine introduces a hint of bitterness to the finish.  Well breathed that character attenuates to simply being a bit phenolic / leathery.  No sign of Robinson's 'unappetising green notes' on bouquet,  but the quality on later palate I attribute to oak / alcohol could well be a product of drought-affected or otherwise not fully taste-mature berries.  If so,  the Lalande is worse,  in this attribute.  At the safe distance of 10 years,  the early assessments of this wine by the two protagonists (12 points on the one hand,  99 on the other) both simply seem overstated,  telling us more about the cool-climate versus warm-climate proclivities of the two tasters than the wine itself.  The market-place (as measured by wine-searcher) seems to favour Parker's interpretation,  however.  Put this 2003 alongside a ridiculous example of the variety,  such as the Irvine Grand Merlot grown in a South Australian climate hopelessly too hot for merlot beauty (as opposed to size),  and this 2003 Pavie is simply serious merlot a bit too ripe and over-oaked.  For context,  the Aiguilhe tastes riper still,  but there is less new oak.  More than any other in this tasting,  this wine divided the winemaker-tasters,  three rating it the top wine of tasting,  and 10 their least.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch Potensac   17 ½  ()
Northern Medoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $50   [ Cork 50mm;  CS 60%,  Me 25,  CF 15;  Potensac is one of the agreeably reliable and affordable west bank clarets,  but it is well to the north,  near St Yzans,  so can be pinched in cooler years.  It is owned by the proprietors of Ch Leoville Las Cases,  and shares some technology with them.  Vineyard plantings average 30 years age,  cepage as above,  8,000 vines / ha.  The goal is to increase merlot,  and therefore hopefully soften the wine.  The wine has 14 – 16 months in oak first used at Las Cases;  25,000 cases per annum;  second wine, La Chapelle de Potensac;  included in the tasting to have an un-classed Medoc to match the Aiguilhe.  Harding,  2013:  Deep garnet. Exotic and slightly oaky. Warm dark fruit. Lighter and more lithe on the palate. Juicy finish and overall in balance,  16;  Tanzer,  2006:  Aromas of ripe plum, cedar and tar; superripe without being liqueur-like. Silky, fat and full, with atypical volume for this wine. There's enough healthy (natural) acidity here to give shape and freshness to the wine. Finishes with broad tannins that reach the sides of the mouth. It's hard to imagine a stronger vintage for this chateau,  89;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  A major sleeper of the vintage, the 2003 Potensac is a tribute to just how good this wine can be in top vintages. A blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc, it was harvested between September 13-25, and came in at 13.9% natural alcohol, which is higher than its more famous sibling, Leoville Las Cases. This elegant, fully mature 2003 exhibits lots of black currant and black cherry fruit intermixed with forest floor and underbrush notes, a plush, medium-bodied palate, and sexy fruit. Enjoy it over the next 4-5 years,  89;  www.domaines-delon.com ]
Ruby and some velvet,  the second to lightest wine.  The first thing that strikes you about this wine in the line-up,  is how fresh it smells,  with no hint of warm-year qualities at all.  The second aspect is how beautifully fruit-led it is,  more red plums,  a touch of cassis,  all fragrant and light.  Even on bouquet,  you can imagine a new world taster more accustomed to thick fleshy over-oaked wines dismissing it.  Palate is classic claret,  beautifully fresh yet no stalks (close, though),  and sparkling clean.  Even blind,  you wonder if there is no new oak at all – there is a little,  apparently – which serves only to illustrate the classic cepage smells and flavours even more.  Robinson values 'refreshment' highly in claret – this wine defines it.  Tasters agreed,  nobody could recollect a riper and richer Potensac – a lovely example of a bourgeois cru.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch d'Aiguilhe   17  ()
Cotes de Castillon,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $54   [ Cork 49mm;  Me 80%,  CF 20;  this is one of the most highly-regarded petit chateaux of this eastern district,  satellite of Saint Emilion.  It gives us the opportunity to taste a bordeaux blend with no cabernet sauvignon,  a winestyle several New Zealand producers are offering.  Merlot being more sensitive to heat,  the issue will be to what extent this wine retains finesse.  Proprietor Stephan Neipperg is increasingly moving towards a biodynamic approach to vineyard management.  Fruit is hand-sorted.  Cuvaison c. 28 days,  elevage in c. 50% new French oak.  The second wine is Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe.  Around 9,500 cases of Chateau d’Aiguilhe per annum;  Robinson,  2005:  This wine has always seemed dramatically superior to its appellation and in 2003, grown on limestone, it is a powerful wine: Merlot with 20 per cent Cabernet Franc. Super-ripe mulberry notes with fine tannins underneath. Opulent,  16;  Parker,  August 2014:  Here is another example of why some of the best value picks, especially from limestone soils in 2003, can offer not only longevity, but delicious drinking. Owned by Stephan von Neipperg, yields in 2003 were 28 hectoliters per hectare [ c. 3.75 t/ha = 1.5 t/ac ],  and the final blend was 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Copious notes of white chocolate, espresso roast, black currants and sweet kirsch jump from the glass of this exotic, spicy, fully mature, delicious, round, complex Cotes de Castillon. Consultant Stephane Derenoncourt said that the natural alcohol was 14%. Drink this beauty over the next several years,  89;  www.neipperg.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some garnet,  much the same hue and weight as the Montrose.  And there the comparison ends.  Bouquet is rich with fruit,  crammed with it,  but it is so ripe there is a hint of baked blackberry pie,  where some juice has come up above the pie crust in the cooking.  There is also an odd spearmint note.  Flavours follow,  clearly darkly plummy merlot over-ripened so a suggestion of prunes and char,  very rich,  but the whole wine more burly and tannic than the Pavie.  The tannins build on the tongue and become almost too furry,  whereas the Pavie is lighter and more new-oaky in that respect.  This is a quantitative wine,  almost tarry / a hint of creosote to the late finish.  As could be expected in a hot year,  neither of the two merlot-dominant wines illuminate the variety particularly well.  Nonetheless,  I placed this second in the blind line-up,  to introduce the merlot side of the claret equation.  Cellar 5 – 15,  maybe 20 years,  perhaps to fine down once it crusts.  GK 11/14

2003  Ch Pichon Longueville Lalande   17  ()
Pauillac 2nd Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $218   [ Cork 50mm;  CS 65%,  Me 31,  PV 4;  cepage is evolving from the former CS 45%,  Me 35,  CF 12 ,  PV 8,  to more CS,  less CF and PV,  plus a move to organic / biodynamic viticulture;  see introductory remarks for Pichon Baron;  to complement them Jeff Leve (The Wine Cellar Insider) considers:  For many wine lovers, at its best, Chateau Pichon Lalande is one of the best examples of Bordeaux wine from Pauillac. Sensuous textures, deep concentrated layers of ripe fruit and a perfume filled with earth, tobacco and cassis ...;  vineyard planting is 9,000 vines / ha;  the wine is raised in 50% new oak for 18 months,  most years.  Production is 15,000 cases.  The second wine is Reserve de la Comtesse;  Harding,  2013:  Inviting with a cedary aroma and some toasty sweetness. Lots of sweet juicy fruit on the palate. Far from complex but slips down with far less friction than most. Moreish,  16.5;  Parker,  Aug 2014:  Made from a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot, this spectacular 2003 hits all the sweet spots on the palate. A glorious bouquet of cedarwood, jammy black currants, cherries, licorice and truffle is followed by a dense, opulently textured, full-bodied wine with terrific purity and freshness as well as deep, velvety textured tannins. Enjoy this beauty over the next 10-12 years,  95;  www.pichon-lalande.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some garnet,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet is quite different in the set,  very fragrant but the intensity of bouquet augmented by stalky even verging on green notes in the berry.  The nett impression is clean,  cool and aromatic.  Palate shows good berry now much more clearly cassisy,  cedary oak in a  slightly tannic way,  and considerable appeal for those more used to 1970s Medocs,  or earlier-style New Zealand cabernet / merlots.  With its green hints,  it is simply not the contemporary style,  for much of the cabernet / merlot world.  One taster commented on a tarry note,  others on black olives – these may be differing interpretations of the same cue.  One has to wonder if the high percentage of petit verdot is not  influencing this wine unduly.  What a strange wine Lalande is.  Its reputation is so high,  as the current wine-searcher value shows,  yet most bottles encountered are a little lacking,  at least relative to the 1982 of this label,  for example.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/14