Viticulture consultant Kees van Leeuwen describes this as the greatest Cheval vintage since the stunning 2000. Inky blackcurrant with a purple crimson rim. Intense cassis becomes gradually more fragrant in the glass, but very tight - like buried treasure. Tannins are well-defined yet very smooth, fanning out to fill the mouth, and Cabernet Franc (55%, Merlot45%) lends freshness to the concentration. Fruit and oak perfectly balanced.
Bordeaux is France's largest quality wine region, indeed producing almost as much wine as Australia. Its westerly position ensures a mild maritime climate, a long growing season and mild summers; rains in the autumn are the primary threat to the harvest, dampening expectations in around one year in three. Red wine predominates - indeed many white wine vines are being uprooted today - with Merlot the dominant variety. The region is dissected by the Gironde estuary, with on the Left Bank the district appellations of the Médoc and the Graves and on the Right Bank, those of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol amongst others. Sauternes is made in the south of the region. The notable red and sweet wines were classified in 1855 according to their then status. At that time not a single Pomerol or Saint-Emilion was deemed worthy despite their historic traditions, and only a single Graves wine. In the last few decades first Saint-Emilion and then Pomerol have become intensely fashionable, their usually small production guaranteeing a premium for scarcity.
2004 - Bordeaux
Reminiscent of 1988, a vintage where the last to pick secured the best results. A damp, cool mid-season slowed down the maturity process and resulting wines are crisp and scented rather than rich and opulent. Recent tastings indicate that 2004 marks a return to classic values of restraint and balance. In the prevailing conditions there is, inevitably, a gradient from average to good to excellent, the high points to be found in the Médoc appellations of Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux. Graves did not enjoy the same success, however its top growths are poised and succulent as are the wines of Pomerol and St-Emilion. A stylish, mid-weight vintage which will give much pleasure in the years to come.
A grape which has become immensely popular around the world in the last 20 years, initially as a purveyor of the flavours of claret in a fleshy, accessible and inexpensive form. Subsequently it has developed a following as a varietal in its own right and often finds itself the recipient of lavish winemaker attention. Most celebrated as the principal 'Right Bank' grape, underpinning most Pomerols and Saint Emilions with its sweet plum and currant fruit and fleshy, soft textures. These qualities have proved ideal as a foil to the drier, more astringent Cabernet Sauvignon and in the rest of Bordeaux, notably the Médoc, it is a contributor to the blend. Indeed so well does it 'round off' Cabernet Sauvignon that it is now rare to find a single Cabernet, even where marked only as such on the label, which does not include a small percentage of Merlot as compensation. The compliment is played the other way round and many varietal Merlots today are seasoned with a little Cabernet to give backbone. Merlot is a major player in Chilean wines, and plantings have overtaken those of Cabernet in California and indeed in Bordeaux, such is the popularity of this easy to admire variety.
A grape variety of growing importance, Cabernet Franc is today found throughout the world. It is best known as a contributor to most Bordeaux blends from the Médoc to Pomerol. Normally a minor element bringing keen scents and a herbal twist, it provides backbone to the fleshier Merlot in many a Right Bank wine. For small number of top Saint-Émilion Châteaux it is the heart of the blend. In the Loire, Cabernet Franc is the sole variety for such wines as Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, Chinon and Anjou-Villages. It is also found as a varietal further afield, in Italy and in the New World; it has found a home in the cool coastal regions of North America and Canada and, more recently, in South Africa and New Zealand. Cabernet Franc produces lighter and less tannic wines than its cousin Cabernet sauvignon, with subtler fruit, herbaceous and spicy characteristics and, especially in the Loire, can smell of pencil shavings!