Drinking a Vintage: 2003

December 16, 2008 at 4:37 pm (French Wine, Travel, What we are thinking, What we're drinking) (, , , , , )

2003 was hot. I remember. It was the summer before I entered college (to date myself horribly), and I was touring around Europe with my family. Heat records were set in every country we visited, and my sister and I took every opportunity to complain about it. Little did I know, that a few years down the line, I would be contemplating what that sticky, sweltering summer meant for the wine I was drinking.

A lot of people will tell you that 2003 was, overall, a sub-par year: too hot, too ripe, too tannic. And, to some extent, this is true. There is nothing too subtle or delicate about most 2003s. But the vintage also managed to produce some extraordinary wines; when and where acidity could be kept high to balance the fruit and tannin, the wines were brilliant, stunning even.

Here is a quick run-down of the 2003 vintage in a few areas that we currently carry at LUSH. I have to say, it is pretty fun to read about a vintage, then try wines from it. You can really see how the weather and conditions that year affected the wine you are tasting. Just think: As I was running around Europe, being a brat on walking tours, some vigneron just miles from me was laboring to save his crop from the same hot sun. And today, I can literally taste the fruit of his labors.

Chateauneuf du Pape: This famed region in the Southern Rhone is no stranger to heat and dryness. These, to some extent, are the conditions every year. Because of this, the weather in 2003 was easier to deal with here. James Molesworth, of Wine Spectator, says that in Chateauneuf du Pape “2003 is an exciting vintage with some explosive wines that rank among the best of the recent run of superb years.” Expect high quality wines, with lots of muscle and layers of plush fruit. Try at LUSH: 2003 Domaine Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape ($62.00), 2003 La Mirande Chateauneuf du Pape ($42.00)

Burgundy: White Burgs in general are a bit risky in this vintage. Some are beautifully voluptuous, and some teeter just on the other side of flabby. However, there were a few regions that managed to extract some minerality and freshness from this vintage, namely Pernand and Corton-Charlemagne. Reds were much more successful overall, though still a bit lacking in acidity. Rich concentration and thick tannins make them delicious for drinking in the medium term (i.e. in the next five years), but these wines might not have the acidity to hang in for the long haul. The best examples, like Ghislaine Barthods lovely Chambolles, are still earthy and fresh, but with a good dose more fruit and structure than in most years. Try at LUSH: 2003 Mischief and Mayhem Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru ($62.50), 2003 Barthod Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras ($100), 2003 Barthod Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras 1.5 liters($240.25 — yes, it’s a magnum! If anyone reading wants to get me a Christmas present, look no further.), 2003 Barthod Chambolle Musigny ($64.50), 2003 Barthod Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Veroilles($100.00).

Portugal: 2003 was a spectacular vintage in Portugal. Early rains reduced the crop size, but the hot, arid summer didn’t affect Portugal like it did other parts of Europe. Like Chateauneuf, this kind of weather is the norm here. Perfect conditions during harvest ensured a small yield of perfectly ripe grapes. A vintage year was declared by Port producers, but non-fortified wine experienced the same high quality. In fact, Barros, a famous Port producer, decided to make a non-fortified wine this year because the conditions were just that good. These wines are lush, deep, and vivid, but with enough tannin and acidity to lend good structure. Drink today or hold onto for quite a few years to come. Try at LUSH: 2003 Conde de Vimioso ($32.50), 2003 Barros Touriga Nacional ($30.50).

Tuscany: In a word — inconsistent. In vintages like 2003, it is more important than ever to know thy producer. In 2003, the producer couldn’t count on the fruit to take care of itself: everything had to be done right and at the right time to avoid disaster. But, when this happened, some glorious wines came about. The best of 2003 Tuscany came from hillside vineyards that provided a backbone of minerality as well as, you guessed it, lots of ripe fruit. Try at LUSH: 2003 Uccelliera Castellaccio ($37.00).

Bordeaux: Like most of Europe, Bordeaux was certainly hit or miss in 2003. The concentration of ripe fruit gives these wines a more New World flavor, although the texture is still decidedly (and grittily) Bordeaux. Cab based wines are faring better, as Cabernet Sauvignon generally endures heat better than Merlot or Cab Franc. Because yields were super low, thanks to storming and cold temperatures in the Spring, these wines tend to be a bit more expensive, although there are still deals to be found. Try at LUSH: 2003 La Grave de Guitignan ($24.50).

Does anyone have any experiences with 2003s that they want to share?

Thanks for reading!


Posted by Jane.


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