Bordeaux on track for ‘best vintage since 2010’

The rain that fell over much of the Bordeaux region last weekend appears to have been too little and too late to spoil what is being predicted by many Bordelais to be the best vintage since 2010, writes Geoffrey Dean.

Saint-Emilion, Gironde, Bordeaux, Aquitaine, Frankreich

St Emilion

It is still too early to make a definitive assessment, and parts of the Médoc received unwanted heavy rain in the second week of September, but weather conditions have been near-perfect elsewhere, notably on the Right Bank, where Cheval Blanc have already finished picking all their grapes. Their technical director, Pierre-Olivier Clouet told the drinks business on a visit to the château last Thursday that he regards this as an “incredible” vintage.

“We have had outstanding climactic conditions in St-Emilion in 2015,” he said. “After nice flowering, water status was perfect. It was very warm from mid-June till the end of July when the vines needed some rain, and we got 10mm, exactly the right quantity. August was also hot and we had another 10mm in the middle of the month at the right time. Never forget that in Bordeaux, late season weather is the key, and we had a lovely September without any rain.”

A wide diurnal range has also been highly beneficial this year, with cool nights, even in August, ensuring that pH levels are low. Small berries have brought “amazing concentration”, in Clouet’s words. Overt tannins (‘croquant’ or crispy ones), deep colour, fragrant aromas, vivid acidity and around 14% abv have helped provide ‘everything you need’ in Clouet’s view. Cheval Blanc’s yield of 38.7hl/ha for their Merlot and 36.1 for their Cabernet Franc is also up on their average.

The winemaker of another Premier Grand Cru Classé A estate in St-Emilion, Emmanuelle Fulchi of Angelus, declared that “you can’t take the smile off my face”, while cellar master, Jean Dugos, said flowering had been exceptional – ‘the best I’ve seen in 16 years.’ No wonder, then, that Peter Shakeshaft, the head of wine investment company Vin-X, who was in Bordeaux last week, is priming his clients to buy Right Bank wines en-primeur, as long as prices are right.

Selective buying will be advisable after the 150mm rain that fell in Pauillac and St Estephe over the weekend of 11/12 September. Some dilution of concentration can be expected here, but Margaux and St Julien escaped the deluge as did Graves. Christian Seely, managing director of second-growth, Pichon Baron, admitted that excitement is “high” on his estate about the vintage.

“I’m always reluctant to say it’s a great year before the wines are made, but at this stage, everything points to it being outstanding,” he told the drinks business. “It looks like a very beautiful work in progress. The bit of rain we got in July and August was very positive after some very hot weather. The wonderful August has given a fullness of palate, and we’ve had very good conditions for harvesting.”

In Graves, too, optimism was palpable. Olivier Bernard, owner of pre-eminent white wine producer, Domaine de Chevalier, reported unusually high acidity for what were high alcohol levels for his Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (13.2% and 13.9% respectively). Balance, therefore, should not be an issue. Paulin Calvet, owner of Château Picque-Caillou, 95% of whose production is red wine, also pointed to encouragingly low pH levels, and declared that this would ‘definitely’ be the best vintage since 2010. “We have small berries and strong skins, with deep colours, quite strong tannins and wonderful concentration,” he said.

At Château Paloumey, the cru bourgeois estate in Haut-Médoc, Pierre Cazeneuve, the vineyard manager, also predicted a stellar vintage.

“I know everyone wants to hear this, but this has the potential to be as good a year as 2010,” he said. “The quality of the fruit is exceptionally high. It’s the first time our Cabernet Franc has reached 13 degrees in 25 years, but the pH is low due to the cold nights.”

Further south in Cadillac, in the Cotes de Bordeaux AOC, Youmna Asseilly, co-owner of leading boutique producer, Château Biac, revealed she had never experienced such heat in June and July, but said the vines coped due to the notable temperature drop at night.

“We are very, very happy with both the quality and quantity of our dry and sweet wines,” she said.

Her views were echoed by Herve Grandeau, owner of Château Lauduc and president of the Bordeaux Superieur appellation, which accounts for 46% of all wine produced in the region. “We’ve had incredible September weather,” he said, “and I think it will be an exceptional year for red Bordeaux Superieur and a very good one for the whites.”

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