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James Suckling says it all:
‘The 2015 vintage is an extremely exciting year for Bordeaux producing wines with exuberant fruit character and plenty of tannin backbone to give the wines form and tension. They have a unique ripe fruit character yet remain cool and fresh. Merlot-based wines are amazing quality’.
Why is 2015 a seriously great vintage in Bordeaux?
There’s a truism in Bordeaux that the best years seem to end with a 5 or a 0, and whilst I’m certainly no believer in astrology, this seems to fit the 2015 vintage.
Bordeaux has seen four disappointing vintages, the bursting of the Asian investment bubble and notwithstanding this, the relentless pushing of En Primeur at ever higher prices. At last the combination of excellent winemaking and a favourable growing season have conspired to yield wines that remind us what Bordeaux can deliver. Early reports on the wines demonstrate that improved winemaking technique has resulted in fresh and elegant wines with good concentration, rather than jagged bruisers. And I’m writing this as a Pinot freak.
Interested in registering your interest in our Bordeaux 2015 package? Click here
What was the growing season like in 2015?
Forget essays on the weather – we’re more interested in the wine! The keys to a great Bordeaux vintage are (1) no disasters and (2) a long and dryish Autumn. The first gives the grapes the chance to bud and develop in sufficient quantity. The second enables the grapes to achieve their full ripeness without succumbing to rain or rot in the moderate (for grapes) and damp climate of South West France.
January and February were cold and rainy, with the vines budding in a sunny early April. The Spring was favourable with March to June dry and sunny, and sufficient intermittent rain to promote healthy growth. It was very dry and hot from late June through July, with drought threatening the vines. August was troublesome, with an uncharacteristic amount of rain. Critically, late August to early September was dry again, and this allowed for ripening of the red grapes and harvest of the grapes for dry whites. Tom visited various producers over the summer to get a read on the vintage and by this stage things were looking very promising. Another spell of intense rain and wind threatened the harvest in early September, affecting the northern Left Bank much more than the Right Bank. It dried up just in time for the critical fortnight of the red grape harvest in late September before October rains punished those growers who had left their picking too late. That’s the story of a great vintage.
Which parts of Bordeaux really over-performed?
At this early stage, it’s easier to make general comments based on very early barrel samples tasted by winemakers and commentators. However, there are a number of common themes:
- The dry whites are bright, fresh and fruity, with concentrated flavours and more Sauvignon Blanc in the blends than usual. Winemakers are letting that fruit shine through by continuing the trend towards less overt new oak.
- Sauternes experienced a top vintage, with a perfect combination of rain and drought and without the presence of bad rot. The wines are better balanced than in recent years, with richness and more fruit and a little less residual sugar than recent vintages. Acidity is well balanced.
- The reds vary from acceptable to outstanding, it’s not as even a picture as some would have you believe, and this has made it more difficult to select the pick of the bunch. In general, the Right Bank Merlot-based wines are outstanding, with sumptuous fruit, power and elegance on the best plots and a more limpid style in cooler areas. Jonathan Maltus said in 23 years in St Emilion he could not recall harvesting in better conditions, one of the reasons we are so excited about our single vineyard project with him - Le Pontet. The Left Bank varies much more strongly, with Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines having increased intensity and interest from North to South. This makes the Médoc somewhat more tricky in selection and favours Margaux and Péssac-Leognan. I’ll be looking closely at Pauillac and Saint-Julien to see what balance they achieve.
As Burgundy fans, we put much more emphasis on terroir and quality of winemaking than on heritage and 1855 classification. Whereas generalist merchants offer everything and leave you to your own expertise and selection, we focus on estates that meet these Burgundian criteria and offer the best value for money at each level. This results in a more select list of Châteaux where you can be confident that we would drink the wines ourselves.
We have great connections across Bordeaux and we’re happy to secure allocations of wines not on our list on request.
Where’s the value for money?
You’ll remember that last year we were brave enough (I’d say honest enough) to scoff at the merchants pushing the En Primeur con. We just didn’t rate 2014 as worthy of selling to our members, and indeed only Lynch Bages and the Teyssier stable found their way onto our list.
And let’s face it, there’s something seriously ballsy about growers persuading us to part with our money when the wine they’ve made has only been in barrels for a few months. As buyers, we’re financing the maturation of these wines until their release sometime in 2017. Even then, the wines won’t be ready to drink until the mid-2020’s at the earliest. When I’ve tasted barrel samples of wine, it’s a difficult judgement as to how the wine will taste when it’s finally in its’ drinking window. We only make the barest few percent margin in selling the wines, so it all feels like a pretty big bet on a capricious and untamed stallion.
Contrast this with Italy and Spain, where good wine is matured at the estate, and released in the early part of its drinking window. We’ve recently released San Leonardo 2010 and Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino 2011. Bad for cash flow for the Italian winemakers this may be, but the wines are capable of proper tasting on release, and we feel confident in letting our members know whether the vintage is average, good or great.
OK but should I go long on Bordeaux 2015?
So are Tom and I succumbing to Bordeaux fever by encouraging you to go heavy on this vintage? We don’t think so. The reason we’ve called our approach ‘Bordeaux Select’ is that, like Burgundy, we feel that it’s worth being picky about the choice of wine, even in a vintage as lauded as the 2015. We’ve avoided the general approach of offering every Château under the sun. Instead, we are putting together a careful selection of those estates which offer the best verve and value for investment in your future drinking pleasure. We’ll be reporting back on the various samples tasted and making our recommendations shortly.
If you’d rather buy Bordeaux for immediate drinking, we have a lovely range on our web site, and access to private collections of fine Bordeaux from vintages that are already ripe for enjoyment.
Are we expecting 2015 to be great elsewhere?
Watch this space. Burgundy 2015 is said to be a great vintage and we’ll certainly be testing that proposition in detail when the time comes. If you are interested in registering your interest so you are first to hear about the new wines, click here.
Honest Grapes Executive Chairman
Published on: April 6, 2016