We’re off! The samples are coming in. The Zoom chats are being had. The wines are being released thick and fast. Shortly I’ll be reporting my on first thoughts on Bordeaux 2019. Do watch this space! The hype says it’s another great vintage, less baroque than 2018 perhaps, more a foil like 2010 was to 2009, or 1990 was to 1989. In some cases properties believe the vintage is better than 2018. It certainly continues a pattern of talented twins in the past decade, which most recently featured 2015 and 2016. We seem to be set sail on a sea of fine vintages of Bordeaux these days. Climate change, modern winemaking and viticultural developments are all playing their part, genuinely raising the bar in this blessed wine region, in every fine vintage. But climate is more extreme too. There is more frequent drought, reversals of season, devastating frosts or hail. Things are getting Biblical the world over, as we wake up to the realities of global warming. Then in swings COVID-19, devastating us with loss of life and economic paralysis. With primeurs tastings cancelled this year in Bordeaux, my coverage will be necessarily more episodic than usual. Many properties are happy to send samples, some not. I have good tasting set up at home, but obviously it’s a poorer facsimile than darting about Bordeaux and tasting in situ, especially given the fragility of infant wine.
There is certainly a lot of freshness to the wines in Pauillac in 2017. This is not a generous vintage here for me though. There is a degree of austerity in this vintage, and some properties are decidedly on the angular side. The picks? An impressive wine has been made by Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste. It stood out in the appellation at the UGCB tastings last autumn. I’ve scored the other leading properties slightly below GPL, including Château Duhart Milon, Château Lynch-Bages, Château Pichon Baron and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. They have all made good wine but they must be seen as modest in relation to the quality of the wines made at these properties in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Château Batailley is also up there for quality, alongside Château Haut-Bages Libéral and both have made decent Pauillac. I was particularly disappointed by Château d’Armailhac and Château Clerc Milon to a lesser degree. Both lacked middle and felt on the austere side. Château Grand-Puy Ducasse also lacked flesh.
St Julien produces wine typically of high quality and in a consistent style. This is true of its wines in 2017. In terms of the left bank, it feels like the high point for me in this vintage on this side of the Gironde. Château Branaire Ducru has succeeded well and the Léovilles are very good as you’d expect. Amongst the Barton stable, there is a wonderfully fresh Château Langoa Barton and a very complete, and serious, Château Léoville Barton. Château Léoville Poyferré feels somewhat pent up but it is evidently concentrated with great texture. Siblings Château Gloria and Château St Pierre are both fantastic. What a marvel Gloria always is and St Pierre tops the lot, admittedly in a field sans Ducru and Las Cases. Château Beychevelle also looks impressive in 2017 for the vintage. Good wines have also been made by Château Gruaud Larose, Château Talbot and Château Lagrange, though they lack the depth of the very best. Still this is a particular achievement for Lagrange whose crop was especially affected by the April frost.
Margaux was an appellation that was also affected by the frosts in April 2017. Château Angludet, for example, made no wine at all. Others properties have had volumes reduced, but more importantly, blending components affected. This variation in experience will amplify the appellation’s overall diversity of style. Margaux is a large geographical district and covering such diverse terroir the wines are always somewhat heterogenous. The best at the UGCB’s 2017 in bottle tasting last autumn showed freshness but also substance. Some lacked middle and flair. Across a pretty big sample [16 wines] Château Brane Cantenac and Château Rauzan-Ségla were tops with Château Lascombes and Château Kirwan not that far behind. Very good wines were also made at Château Cantenac Brown, Château Monbrison and Château Siran [in very different styles]. Château Marquis de Terme, Château Dauzac and Château Ferrière produced good wine too [again in contrasting styles]. That said, do search out 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 over 2017 which are finer and generally more consistent vintages. 2015 and 2016 are especially fine in Margaux and worth the premium.
It is a tribute to the dedication of the top estates in the Haut-Médoc that so many respectable wines have been made in 2017. In some cases that might also be a little of the luck of the draw. Some properties will have been less frost-affected than others because the best sites are often those that also offer some degree of frost protection by virtue of geography or aspect. Others will have made wine by sheer force of effort and wherewithal. Château La Tour Carnet, for example, lost well over 70% of their crop due to frosts. The very respectable red they have ended up producing has also been underwritten by the resources of owner Bernard Magrez. Smaller, less well financed properties, would have probably faired less successfully in the circumstances. Of the eight wines shown last autumn by the UGCB, Château Belgrave and Château Cantemerle led the pack. These are really stylish and complete wines which show a lot of flair. For the moment Château La Lagune shows less well. Though it has considerable purity, it felt a little sulky, but I would expect this wine to eventually find its stride. Excellent wines have been produced by Château Beaumont and Château Citran and both will offer good value. Château La Tour Carnet and Château Coufran are also good.
In the Haut-Médoc, the 2017 vintage doesn’t quite play as well as perhaps I’d hoped back in 2018 during my primeurs tastings. A lot of sites inland from the Gironde, such as Listrac and Moulis, suffered from the April frosts, and this has obviously affected the choices of blending elements, as well as volumes [as elsewhere in Bordeaux in this vintage]. I’m a great fan of these two appellations as sources of good value, vigorous wines, that have plenty of zap and life. Unfortunately, there is a certain angularity to some of the wines here in 2017. While the best terroirs have made the best wines here – Château Poujeaux is the most convincing – 2017 is not a vintage to particularly seek out here over 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. All these vintages are fuller and more complete than 2017.