Bordeaux lovers, this is it. With the Euro soaring against the dollar, we may be about to see the last attractively priced, quality Bordeaux vintages for some time. With the very good 2002s still aging at the chateaux, the vintage of the moment is the equally fine 2001. This is the first in a series of columns looking at the fast disappearing '01s.
Like other good vintages that follow extraordinary years, the 2001s were initially overshadowed by the monumental 2000s. However, like other such years, the top 2000s will need at least a decade in the cellar to reach their full potential. By contrast, the 2001s are built for the mid-term. While most will benefit from seven to nine years in the cellar, many are thoroughly enjoyable as young wines to drink today.
The first stop is the Margaux commune, which produces the most fragrant and elegant wines of Bordeaux. Because they tend to be a bit lighter and less tannic than the other great appellations of the Medoc, such as Pauillac and St.-Esteph, they are also relatively approachable in their youth. Moreover, the Margaux commune performed particularly well in 2001.
The Margaux wines below are listed in order of preference. Because most Bordeaux chateaux have multiple importers, I have listed only the source of the wine I tasted. Prices are approximate.
Chateau Palmer 2001 ($99-$125; Margaux; Grand Cru Classe): Once or twice per decade, Chateau Palmer outperforms its illustrious first-growth neighbor, Chateau Margaux. Like 1983 and 1989, 2001 is one of those years. The '01 Palmer is a glorious wine, full, generous, muscular on the palate, extravagantly spicy and complex, with the hallmark Palmer bouquet of violets, vanilla and black cherry. Where the 2001 Margaux is a bit stern by comparison, Palmer exudes warmth and joy. It's entirely possible that in 20 years, the more tightly wound 2001 Chateau Margaux will be the better wine, but in the meantime Bordeaux doesn't get much better than this. (Imported by NDC)
Chateau Malescot-St.-Exupery 2001 ($44-$55; BEST BUY; Margaux; Grand Cru Classe): I felt only slightly lame when I identified this wine as Chateau Margaux in my blind tasting, because the owner of Chateau Margaux, Laura Mentzelopoulos, remarked to me years ago that she considered Malescot-St.-Exupery to be the closest in style to her property. Moreover, its vineyards are superbly situated near those of Chateau Margaux on the best gravelly soil of the Margaux commune, which explains the stylistic similarity. The 2001 Malescot is a highly perfumed, thoroughly seductive, Margaux of great breed. It can be drunk now, but will be at its best in five to seven years, and held for five or more years beyond that. (Imported by NDC)
Chateau Margaux 2001 ($160-$200; Margaux; Premier Grand Cru Classe): Make no mistake. While Chateau Palmer has outperformed it in this vintage, Chateau Margaux 2001 is a wine of impeccable first-growth quality. To the credit of winemaker Paul Pontallier, who has vinified every vintage of Chateau Margaux since the monumental 1983, Chateau Margaux has eschewed the winemaking tricks employed at some prominent chateaux to impress wine critics, because he believes that such techniques sacrifice aging potential. In the case of Chateau Margaux, that potential is almost unlimited. Because the 2001 is so tightly wound, I expect it to perform like the 1986 or perhaps 1996, well-structured wines that will continue to improve for 20 years after the vintage. If you are looking for a Chateau Margaux to drink sooner, the 2002, available only for future delivery at this time, would be a better choice. However, no true Bordeaux collector will regret holding a stash of the 2001 Chateau Margaux. (Imported by NDC)
Chateau Lascombes 2001($55-$60; Margaux; Grand Cru Classe): Made in a somewhat bizarre style, this massive Lascombes tastes more like a new wave St.-Emilion than a Margaux. While it will not appeal to those seeking the elegance a Margaux can offer, it is nevertheless a thoroughly delicious wine, which should be enjoyed now for its boatloads of ripe fruit. (Imported by NDC)
Chateau Brane-Cantenac 2001 ($39-$45; Margaux; Grand Cru Classe): Chateau Brane Cantenac is once again producing wines that come close to justifying its classification as a second growth in 1855. The 2001 is built for the cellar, with firm cassis and plum fruit, excellent complexity and somewhat dry tannins that will melt away with seven or more years in the cellar. Patience is required, but this will be an impressive bottle when it matures. (Imported by MacArthur Beverages)
Chateau d'Angludet 2001 ($27; Margaux; Cru Bourgeois): Owned by the Sichel family of Chateau Palmer, cru bourgeois Chateau d'Angludet is made to classified growth standards, and has long been considered among the top dozen of the hundreds of crus bourgeois. The deeply colored 2001 has a full bouquet of spice and cassis, with appealingly dense, focused, cedary fruit. While this well-structured wine needs two or three years in the cellar to smooth out, it will evolve splendidly. (Imported by Calvert-Woodley)
Chateau La Gurgue 2001 ($24; BEST BUY; Margaux; Cru Bourgeois): This gem of a vineyard, enclosed by some of the best vineyards of Chateau Margaux, has produced a supple, fragrant wine of genuine Margaux breed. Though too small to allow enough selection to make a wine of cru classe quality, La Gurgue remains a special favorite of mine. IMPORTER?
Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux 2001 ($40-$45; Margaux): Made at Chateau Margaux from young vines and declassified vats, Pavillon Rouge captures a fair quotient of the Grand Vin's remarkable violet and spice bouquet and graceful fruit. However, because it lacks serious aging potential, its prime customers should be restaurants looking for a refined, drink-now Bordeaux. Retail consumers would do better to forego the Chateau Margaux name in favor of one of the better classified growths, which sell for about the same price. (Imported by Calvert-Woodley and various importers)
Chateau d'Issan 2001($30-$40; Margaux; Grand Cru Classe): I'll have to retaste the 2001 d'Issan, which showed an odd green note in the nose in this tasting. That said, the lovely 1999 and powerful 2000 Chateau d'Issan show a renewed commitment to quality under owner Emmanuel Cruse. With vineyards superbly positioned adjacent to Chateau Palmer, d'Issan made legendary wines in the 1920s, and seems to be on the verge of doing so again. (Imported by Calvert-Woodley)