Well after tasting hundreds of wines across all of Bordeaux’s major appellations last week, generally 2013 faired a bit better than expected. That may not seem much of an achievement given how subterranean expectations were at the outset. Truly miserable weather during flowering, and rain and humidity at the end of the growing season, meant it was a battle between rot and ripeness for almost all growers regardless of appellation. These conditions only benefited Bordeaux’s sweet wine producers in Sauternes and Barsac, who qualitatively have produced the best wines of the vintage.
There is attractive fruit and acidity to be found in many of Bordeaux’s dry whites in 2013, especially Pessac-Léognan and elsewhere [and in those rare Bordeaux whites from the Médoc]. These were harvested before the weather turned nasty. It’s a different story for the reds. Overall the best are elegant and unforced with bright, crunchy fruit and light bodies. It may be early days for comparisons but qualitatively, if not stylistically, perhaps they are akin to 2007, maybe even 2008 in certain cases, but with fresher acids and lower alcohols.
Still there are very disappointing wines knocking around, wines with almost no flavour, that feel pinched, mean and puckering on the palate. There are casualties in all of Bordeaux’s red wine districts and some properties have not released any wine at all. Financially that is disastrous, but perhaps better than turning in something thin and acidic that you are unable to sell. Clearly 2013 was also not a vintage to over-extract. The ingredients were often simply not there. That said, each appellation has produced its surprises.
Bad weather during flowering particularly affected the fruit set of the Merlot, Bordeaux’s most preponderant grape. This led to substantial reductions in the size of the crop and also very heterogeneous ripening. Strict selection necessitated by the outbreak of botrytis [rot], which threatened, and in some cases delivered, disaster during the harvest, further reduced volumes. In some cases in St Emilion and Pomerol production has been more than halved.
Conditions did perhaps favour the left bank over the right with Cabernet Sauvignon being more resistant to the rot. Still when you look at what is in the glass it is a very complex picture and not at all easy to categorise. Much depended on the individual terroir, the experience of the grower and the cash available. Aymeric de Gironde at Château Cos d’Estournel in St Estèphe summed it up: ‘Usually we make wine to make money – this year you needed money just to make wine.’ And even with their plentiful resources they admit it was a struggle in the conditions. More detailed reports by appellation and on the leading the producers will follow shortly.