So what are the principal characteristics of the Bordeaux 2015 vintage? Firstly there is a real beauty to the fruit tones in the red wines this year. Time after time, especially on the Right Bank but also on the Left I kept writing ‘beautiful,’ ‘pretty,’ and ‘delicious.’ There is freshness, despite pretty high alcohols in the main. The vintage is almost a hypothetical blend of 2009 and 2010, but with less evident structure and weight than those vintages. For me it recalls 1985 in terms of that vintage’s early beauty and freshness – and ‘85 remains in great shape today. But the 2015 vintage is by no means homogeneous. In fact there is considerable variability. What is in no doubt is that ‘15 is terrific in St Emilion. There is concentration and delight in so many wines there this year. It has also been strong vintage in the surrounding Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, especially Castillon and Francs.
The vintage is very impressive at many properties in Pomerol too, though there is more variability at the lower levels. 2015 also appears to be very good in Pessac-Léognan where the whites and reds seem almost equally attractive. Haut-Brion has produced very impressive red wine, alongside La Mission [tannic], Haut-Bailly [very fine], Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clément and Smith Haut Lafitte. The whites at de Fieuzal [a beauty], Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte [another beauty] and Pape Clément are all very impressive. The whites at Haut-Brion and La Mission as you’d expect, are also terrific, though you’ll need millionaire status to afford them I’m sure.
2015 is, however, far less homogeneous on the Left Bank. While it’s a generalisation, the best wines come from the southern end of the Haut-Médoc – and Margaux in particular. Here Château Margaux itself and Château Palmer are thrilling, but there are exciting wines too from du Tertre, Giscours, Angludet, Labégorce, Monbrison, Brane-Cantenac and Rauzan-Ségla amongst others. Margaux’s near neighbours Chateau Cantemerle and Chateau La Lagune are also excellent. There are some impressive wines in St Julien [the Léovilles, Ducru and St Pierre] and Pauillac [especially Latour, Mouton and Pontet-Canet] at the top level but there is more variability [Lafite is a misfire for me].
The northern Médoc and St Estèphe have not faired so well. Once again there are exceptions on the best terroirs – I’m thinking Cos d’Estournel and Montrose especially which have produced excellent wine. The variability here is down to heavy rainfall on the eve of harvest in mid September which was more pronounced the further up the Médoc you went.
In terms of the Crus Bourgeois this weather pattern has led to considerable variability. Again those from the southern end of the Haut-Médoc show impressive fruit and richness. Margaux for example and the Haut-Médocs from near that area are good, but many from St Estèphe, usually a safe bet in a good vintage [and especially so in 2014] are lacking in concentration in 2015. Quite a few feel washed out. Likewise, the northern Médoc is a bit of a minefield, though Blaignan, Potensac, Greysac, Tour St Bonnet and Loudenne amongst others have impressed with good depth and attractive fruit qualities when I tasted them.
At the other end of town, Sauternes and Barsac have had [yet] another fine year for sweet wine with plenty of botrytis. Many are sublime. Château d’Yquem must surely be perfect, but there are a great many impressive Sauternes at all levels [I’m thinking Bastor Lamontange, d’Arche and Doisy-Védrines, as well as Coutet, Rieussec, de Rayne Vigneau and the like].
But for me St Emilion reigns supreme in 2015. Beautiful wines have been made at all the top properties. The other good news is that, by and large, the vintners here have stepped off the gas in the cellar, generally opting for greater purity and harmony, rather than power, over extraction and scale and late-picking. Yes, there are few monsters, but many are beauties. At the very top level these include Angélus, Cheval Blanc, Pavie, Belair-Monange, Canon, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Valandraud, La Mondotte, Figeac, Pavie-Decesse, Pavie-Macquin, Beauséjour, Larcis Ducasse, La Dominique and Clos Fourtet.
At the more affordable end amongst the St Emilion Grand Cru Classés, Soutard, Villemaurine, de Pressac, Bellefont-Belcier, Fleur Cardinale, Laroze, Fonplégade, Destieux, Fombrauge and Sansonnet are all potentially excellent. There are also some excellent wines at the Grand Cru level such as Clos Debreuil, Boutisse, Godeau, Patris and du Parc. These are all promising.
In Pomerol the top growths are very impressive, including Lafleur-Pétrus, Trotanoy, Clinet, La Conseillante, Gazin, and Petit-Village, as well as Beauregard, Le Bon Pasteur, La Pointe and La Cabanne. I sadly missed out on tasting Vieux Château Certan this year. I’d imagine it is brilliant.
The key to the vintage, the key to any vintage, lies in the weather, the terrior [the vineyard location, soil and microclimate] and the diligence of the producer. The good news in 2015 was that the weather was excellent in June for flowering. This allowed for a healthy, good sized crop, and also good fruit set, especially important for the Merlot – by far the most preponderant grape variety across all Bordeaux. June and July were also very hot and dry, which ensured ripe seeds in the grapes and burnt off any potentially vegetal or herbaceous [pyrazine] aromas in the nascent fruit.
Then, right on cue, the temperatures cooled and ‘useful’ rain came in August. The cool conditions helped retain freshness in the grapes, which would have been lost if the heat had continued, and the rain aided phenolic ripening and veraison [the colour change in the grapes] which in some cases had become blocked in the heat and the drought. September was dry but not overly hot, in fact slightly cooler than average also with cool nights, so a little similar to 2010’s ‘cool maturity.’
So by mid-September Bordeaux was on the eve of a great vintage across the whole of Bordeaux had not rain then intervened in a number of places and made the picture more complex. It wasn’t heavy, sustained rain that threatened rot, but heavy showers in and around mid September that dented hopes of a remarkable vintage in the Left Bank at least. Rain was light on the right bank, which is why St Emilion has had such a good vintage. Hence the complexity.
So to buy or not to buy Bordeaux 2015? It will be difficult for Bordeaux enthusiasts to avoid the great beauty of the wines on the right bank this year, as long as prices don’t rise much. So St Emilion should be your first stop, alongside Castillon, Francs, Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol and Pomerol. There are also a great many wines to consider on the Left Bank in Margaux especially, as well as at the top levels in St Julien and Paulliac. Pessac-Léognan should also prove a source of very good reds and whites in this vintage. Many Sauternes and Barsacs look to be excellent, but there is no hurry to buy en primeur as there is a lot of 2009, 2010 and 2011 still around – a trio of excellent vintages already in bottle and drinking wonderfully.
The key question on purchasing remains price. Most proprietors were talking modest increases of 10-20% on 2014. Given last years Euro exchange rate and the quality of the 2014 vintage [very good in my book on the Left Bank] I’d not necessarily be rushing out to buy 2015s, except perhaps some Right Bank wines. With fears over Brexit affecting the UK/Euro exchange rate as well as the general level of worldwide economic uncertainty châteaux owners need to price attractively in 2015, ideally as they did with 2008.
The en primeur system has yet to recover its purpose after the price hikes of 2009-2010 which left many who bought those [glorious] vintages early feeling hard done by. Both vintages are now generally cheaper on the markets than at their release prices of five and six years ago. Since then subsequent vintages [2011-2014] were not offered at significant discounts to warrant much more than lukewarm interest en primeur. A real opportunity was missed to correct pricing 2013. This small, poor vintage could have been offered much more cheaply than it was, giving more room for 2014 last year and now 2015 this.
So only buy Bordeaux 2015 when it is being offered at a substantial discount to any comparable physical vintage in bottle [such as 2009, 2010 and 2005]. And let’s just hope prices won’t be up much on 2014…
Tags: 1985, 2009, 2010, Barsac, bdx15, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2015, Castillon, Chateau Angélus, Chateau Angludet, Chateau Bastor Lamontagne, Chateau Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse, Chateau Belair-Monange, Chateau Bellefont Belcier, Chateau Blaignan, Chateau Boutisse, Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Chateau Canon, Chateau Canon La Gaffelière, Chateau Carbonnieux, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Coutet, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau d’Arche, Chateau de Fieuzal, Chateau de Pressac, Chateau de Rayne Vigneau, Chateau Destieux, Chateau Doisy-Vedrines, Chateau du Parc, Chateau du Tertre, Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Chateau Figeac, Chateau Fleur Cardinale, Chateau Fombrauge, Chateau Fonplégade, Chateau Giscours, Chateau Godeau, Chateau Greysac, Chateau Haut-Bailly, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau La Dominique, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Chateau Labégorce, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Larcis Ducasse, Chateau Latour, Chateau Léoville Barton, Chateau Léoville Las Cases, Chateau Léoville Poyferré, Château Loudenne, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Monbrison, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Palmer, Chateau Pape Clément, Chateau Patris, Chateau Pavie, Chateau Pavie Decesse, Chateau Pavie Macquin, Chateau Pontet Canet, Chateau Potensac, Chateau Rauzan-Ségla, Chateau Rieussec, Chateau Sansonnet, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Chateau Soutard, Chateau St Pierre, Chateau Tour St Bonnet, Chateau Valandraud, Chateau Villemaurine, Clos Debreuil, Clos Fourtet, Côtes de Bordeaux, Cru Bourgeois, Haut Médoc, La Mondotte, Lalande de Pomerol, Margaux, Pauillac, Pessac-Léognan, Pomerol, Sauternes, St Emilion, St Estèphe, St Julien