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Vertical of the Century's First Decade

It seems like only minutes ago that we were deciding what Champagne we were buying to drink in the new century while worrying whether we were going to catch the millennium bug.  But already we have raced through the first decade of the 21st Century and are well into the second.

For the most part, Bordeaux has put that first decade into bottles – the vintages 2000 to 2009 – and what a decade it has been!  I thought about that last week in New York as I tasted the vertical from Château d’Issan, the well-respected third growth from Margaux.  As director Emmanuel Cruse joked, we’ve already been through at least three “vintages of the century.”

Of course, what happened at Issan is not necessarily typical of what happened in each vintage throughout Bordeaux, or even in Margaux, but it does give some good testimony to their relative quality.

2000 Issan.  Cabernet Sauvignon usually dominates at the estate in the 60-70% range, with the rest being Merlot.  In this first vintage of the century (figuratively and literally) Cab is at 70%, and the resulting wine is delicious – well-structured with lots of minerality and rounded, dark, intense fruit.  It’s almost useless to talk about how long to cellar, because the fact is most good Bordeaux these days is drinkable within five years and will easily still have some freshness at 20. 

2001 Issan.  Satisfying wood notes on the nose followed by loads of fruit, ripe and deep.  Very full and rounded.  Cruse comments that this wine was under-rated “as it was in the shadow of the 2000,” and I agree – It’s my second favorite of the vertical.

2002 Issan.  Tight, with a lot of Cab (78%) structure that ripened late.  This to me is a classic lean, leathery vintage with enough fruit to last forever.

2003 Issan.  Tight and lean, though a big wine bespeaking the hot vintage that Cruse tells Americans is “your vintage,” as the weather that year was more Californian than French.  Strangely, there is a bit of a “fade-way” feeling, as the wine doesn’t linger.

2004 Issan.  Merlot is up to 40% in this vintage.  Cruse likes to joke that the “Right Bank of D2 did well in this vintage,” referring to those vineyards on the river side of the Medoc’s iconic wine route.  The Merlot is reflected in the soft creaminess of the fruit, although it is still well-structured.  Some gaminess, some chalkiness, a touch of mint.

2005 Issan.  Lots of long, supple tannins, lots of perfume, some good vegetal notes, minerally, though perhaps falls off a little too quickly at the end.  I would like to have tasted this one the next day.  “It was an easy vintage,” Cruse reflects, saying all key growing events were spot on.

2006 Issan.  My favorite – deep and delicious with a touch of earthiness and lots of dark chocolate.  A great balance of fruit and structure.

2007 Issan.  My least favorite at the moment – everything isn’t quite knit together – but even an average vintage at a good château can keep you quite happy.

2008 Issan.  Needs to round out a bit, but very nice chocolate and mint notes.  Cruse calls this vintage a “classical” one, while he dubs the 2009 an “exurberant” one.

2009 Issan.  Lots of depth, very long, complex, lots of tannins, good fruit, notes of coffee.  An excellent wine, and in a year or two it could displace one of the other two as my favorite of the decade and a wine of the century.




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