Bordeaux 2000, 2001, 2002 & 2003

The first four vintages of the 21st Century reaffirm that weather conditions contribute dramatically to the final wine

BORDEAUX 2000, 2001, 2002 & 2003
CLIMATE • WEATHER • TEMPERATURES

The first four vintages of the 21st Century – assuming you consider 2000 as belonging to the 21st rather than as the final vintage of the 20th entury – conclusively reaffirm that weather conditions in the annual life cycle of a vineyard contribute dramatically to the final wine.

While the climate of the vineyard remains immovably determined by geography ­– with due allowances for climate change – the weather and temperatures of the same dates (minute day and night) in those four years can never be identical.

Bordeaux red 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 are very different expressions of the same terroirs and vineyards.

2002 • UNDERATED & GREAT VALUE

Exactly 20-year old today, 2002 is the lightest of the four vintages. As a result, seemingly the freshest too. The vintage is also the most under the radar and overlooked vintage. Price wise, 2002 is a steal. 

Simpler minds imagine that because a wine is light and fresh, it does not have ageing potential. This is like saying an unripe, highly acidic tomato or pineapple will not keep as long as one that is fully ripened. Or that a lighter, leaner, slimmer human being will not live as long as someone bigger, rounder and heavier. Incidentally, sumo wrestlers have relatively short live spans.

While wines of lesser terroirs of the vintage may have entered the tertiary plane, most good to very good 2002 are really only in its secondary evolution. And need about two hours of decanting for the fruit to rise above all that freshness. Most 2002s show a peppery/capsicum aspect which sometimes border on greenness. This is because the lesser ripeness of the vintage gives the wines a lot of lift and zest. 

Although not a great year, 2002 is a delicious vintage. Decant about two hours. 

2000 • POWER & CONCENTRATION

Round-number 2000 is considered a great vintage.

There is no denying the concentration and power of both the fruit and tannins of 2000. There is also freshness but not of a hop-skip-and-triple jump nature. More of a pumped up surging long jump with an emphatic, powerful, pounding landing.

2000 is an impressive, but in most cases not a charming, vintage. Decant about three hours

2003 • AUSTERE & SHORT

In 2003, nearly 15,000 people in France died from causes attributed to the heatwave in July and August where temperatures in some regions were above 40° Celsius for eight consecutive days. It’s a paradox but the vine and other plants shut down when it gets too hot. Consequently, the ripening process is retarded. That’s phenolic ripeness we are referring to, not the alcohol level of ripeness which will be very high. Just now, the current 2022 heatwave conditions in France and Europe are reminding us of 2003.

Apart from a lack of freshness, most 2003 tend to be austere and short on the finish. The wines lack completeness, as if their tracks were stopped abruptly on their march to fuller phenolic expression. 

Some wines, though, have indeed recovered freshness. I have found this to be the case particularly of those in the northern Médoc including Saint-Estephe and Pauillac. Last May for example, at the estate over dinner, Chateau Pichon Baron 2003 was a delicious, lifted revelation.

2003 can be austere and short on the finish because many wines are singed. Decant one to two hours. 

2001 • POISE & SAVOIR FAIRE

What, for me, is the inaugural vintage of the 21st Century was up and running as soon as it hit the ground.

The 2001 wines have so much flight, poise, tenacity, confidence and savoir faire. Nothing in excess – fruit, structure and freshness (which, of course, is also part of the architecture of the wine) – everything in effortless harmony. 

2001 is exactly 21 today, the age of teenage to adult liberation in most countries. The wine is just that, so very liberating. And will stay that way for a long time.

2001 is the most charming of this quartet of red Bordeaux vintages. Like 2002 and 2000 it will continue to evolve and improve. So too will 2003 but not with the same stamina. Decant 2001 about two hours. 

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