The bell of Château Angélus
Time and distance are very useful differentiators when it comes to critiquing wine. Since our return from Bordeaux last week, the wines that rose to the top in the tastings are the ones that have persisted in my mind, their reputation enhanced by absorbing all of the literature the châteaux provide about rainfall, sunlight, harvest dates and so on. Tasting wine can easily be such a personal exercise: if you don't like Cabernet Franc then how can you hope to judge the many great right bank wines in a fair and balanced way? What tasting en primeur requires, I realise more and more each year, is the ability to spot success now, yes, but also to look out for wines bursting with potential: structure, tannin, acidity.
In that sense, the wines which rose to the top from our trip to Bordeaux were the wines which demonstrated the opulent freshness of the 2017 vintage, but which also have steel beneath, strong mineral or graphite cores on the left bank, lots of acidity and terroir-driven minerality on the right bank. There were many of the 200+ wines I tasted which demonstrated pleasing fruit and freshness but felt, at best, thin and, at worst, vapid with no mid-line structure. This then, for me, was the key differentiator in judging wines from the 2017 vintage: which wines had captured the best of 2017 (lots of fresh fruit, acidity and opulence) but due to a combination of superior terroir, skill in the vineyard or winery and careful blending had something more to offer - a pandoras box for the future?
For what it is worth, here are my top 10 wines of the vintage from the many that we tasted over three days in Bordeaux:
For me Canon and Haut Brion stood out as the outright stars of the vintage, with Mouton Rothschild and Angélus not far behind. These are wines we should all be so lucky to have in our cellar, or our Fine Wine Portfolio!
Lemon trees at Château Canon
We were all in agreement that this was a very good vintage. Yes, certain châteaux were badly affected by frost, but in all cases the affected parcels of vines made it nowhere near the final wine, with the frost only actually affecting production levels. On the left bank the warming influence of the Garonne negated the threat of frost and on the right bank elevation on the plateau was everything, with parcels lower down being damaged and discarded. The long, dry summer (remember, seventy days without rain at Haut Brion!) allowed the grapes to develop hugely and added much complexity and perfume to the fruit. Across most of Bordeaux the harvest took place earlier than usual to preserve the wonderful fresh acidity of the fruit. Many winemakers showed just how far advanced wine-making techniques in the region have come by bringing all of these core vintage elements to the fore with the grapes that they did have to play with, and the results have been fantastic. This is 2014+ in terms of the quality of the vintage - a more opulent and developed version of wines from 2014 and in some cases, like Canon & Haut Brion where weather and vineyard conditions allowed, they are seeing 2017 as the final piece of a glorious oenological triptych of vintages, following on from the superb 2015 and the sublime 2016.
As always, the outright success of this vintage for investors will depend more than ever on how the Bordelais price their wines. If they price sensibly and fairly, at a reduction (we suggest) of 5-10% on the 2016 vintage, then there will be a huge number of wines that will be worthy of inclusion in portfolios for investment. We are unequivocal in our view that, price-dependent, this is a very good vintage and that there will be much for investors to enjoy.
I shall summarise our thoughts, as ever, in our Bordeaux en primeur 2017 booklet and will keep clients updated as the wines are released with out investment tips.
Inside the immaculate Château Pontet Canet