Bordeaux 2003 Vintage in the Rearview Mirror


In 2003, many Bordeaux wine barons made a lot of noise in the media about the supposed excellence of that vintage even though the region had suffered through such a heat wave that, in Saint-Emilion for example, harvesting needed to be done very early. Some grapes were burned up, others under ripe, causing their critics to scoff at the proclamations of a great vintage. So looking back, let’s see what became of it all.

At, Chris Kissack reviewed some wines from the vintage two years after the fact, and remarked that surprisingly “the red wines do not, on the whole, suffer from low acidity” and that tannins are prominent in many of the wines, but that “at this stage, offer typical mineral-blackcurrant flavors of Bordeaux.” So judging by Chris’s thoughts, it was still hard to pin down the verdict on these wines in 2005.

Then again, in 2011, Chris took another look at this unique “heatwave vintage”, as he called it. Chris pointed out his curiosity on the shelf life of these wines, which has had critics split into camps – but more on that further down – and himself found the vintage to have a multiple personality disorder in this regard. His take is thorough and I recommend you to read both his article sin their entirety.

Simon Woolf at The Morning Claret referred to the steep criticism of the vintage as “scaremongering” in his 2011 review of Phélan Ségur 2003, and 8 years on from the vintage, found the Phélan Ségur to be impressive and even a value, which is as he mentioned, more often than not difficult for Bordeaux wine. But this is only one wine, so on we go to find more clues.I wonder what some of the big fish have said…

Well, Robert Parker wasn’t handing out 100 point scores like bronze medals in Olympic boxing as he has more recently. He gave the highest school grades to Ausone (St-Emilion), and the first growths Lafite and Latour, then Margaux (and Jancis Robinson panned the lesser Margaux’s for over-oaking, so there is a clear falling into camps here), Montrose (St-Estèphe) and Pavie (St-Emilion), which surprised many European tasters who were especially surprised by Pavie’s grades. This all resulted in a war of words between Parker and Jancis Robinson (in the press) and created what Robinson humorously dubbed the “mid-Atlantic rift”. Robinson labelled the wine ‘ridiculous’ and Zinfandel-like. As Decanter’s James Lawther also bestowed praise, perhaps the heat had molded 2003 into a wine fit for that niche of the American market where big Cab, Zins and Oak Monsters dwell. Perhaps to support this theory, it should be noted that Parker marked down wines such as Canon La Gaffelière, which he said ‘lacks depth, concentration and length’, and Gazin while Steven Spurrier, who called the same wines ‘the successes of the vintage’, diplomatically responded that ‘This shows Parker appreciates the ripeness of St-Emilion more than the Brits do,’.

A portion of critics, among them Jancis Robinson (see her article 2003 Bordeaux – Drink Up!), have suggested that wines from the 2003 Bordeaux vintage are for short to mid-term drinking, while others have thought these wines could hold for up to 30 years. But I like Chris Kissack’s take on it – that this vintage has multiple personalities – though Chris’s slant when it comes to the reds from 2003 appears to be more for aging than immediate drinking (his stance was in 2011).

So in looking at all this, it could be said that the 2003 heatwave gave to the Bordelais something different in their bottles. Not worse overall, but a wine geared perhaps for a different audience, or giving something else – daresay even foreign – to the traditional audience. Difference and change always breeds resistance and criticism, and the initial pontifications of the Bordeaux wine growers added fuel to the fire at a time when in France the larger region as a whole was suffering from the same heat wave, and crops were being culled to make the best of a bad situation. And yet the elite among them insisted this would be a fantastic vintage.

Think what you may though, it is wonderful to see such passion for wine. Bordeaux 2003 engendered stronger feelings than probably any region’s vintage has in the past, and I look forward to the next vintage that entrenches the passionate critics and winos across the planet.

One Comment
  1. lNovember 10, 2011 I just picked it up for $11.99 on sale and went back to buy more. It is an atboluse steal at this price. Smooth mouth feel chocolate. It looks heavy but it is not which I like. Enjoy this wine.

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