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Bordeaux 2014: Martin unveils his notes

Neal Martin has unveiled his first set of futures notes on Bordeaux for The Wine Advocate since taking over from Robert Parker as the lead reviewer of en primeur.

Having promised a more “funky” approach to the TWA’s en primeur coverage, Martin (pictured) began his report with a quote from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (about wands) and ended with a tongue-in-cheek- “disclaimer” that any reference to Bordeaux-bashing in the article was “purely coincidental”.

Beginning with a harvest report he also had some strong words for the state of the en primeur system which he said he believed was “salvageable” but only when the châteaux owners “stop equating success with monetary value, understand that high prices are not necessarily a measure of appreciation of their wine, but rather an appreciation of potential profit.”

He noted as well a “hardening” of opinion among négociants towards the “bullying tactics” of some châteaux and considered what might happen if a major French bank saw fit to “pull the rug” from one of the bigger names.

He concluded that only something drastic will right the ship, “because Bordeaux will only get the message once cases start gathering dust in their own warehouses and not someone else’s.”

He also described, briefly, his methods for en primeur tastings and how he prefers to “get under the skin” of a vintage and never tasting wines blind.

Ultimately though his overall view of the vintage was thus: the wines are good, better than the 2008s and 2012s and, ergo, the best vintage since 2010 although it is not as good as that particular year.

He said the wines were more “consistent” on the Left Bank – especially in Saint-Julien, Pauillac and St. Estèphe – but that there are also “splendid” wines to find on the Right Bank if one treads carefully.

He picked out Montrose, Pichon-Lalande, Pichon Baron, Pontet-Canet and a few others as giving the first growths a “serious run for their money” but also thought Ducruc-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Las-Cases and an “unusually Merlot-driven Beychevelle” fell a little short in this regard – although they were still scored solidly.

As has been remarked on elsewhere, the late summer sunshine allowed the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc varieties to come to full ripeness while a lot of Merlot remained diluted by earlier rains.

As such, Martin wrote, there are many 2014s which are “pleasant to drink” but ultimately “lack density and substance”; attempts to “force them into something more” in the winery in some instances was “self-defeating”, “like putting go-faster stripes on an Austin Allegro.”

He also cautioned any urge to buy into second wines as an alternative to the grand vin, except in certain instances such as Montrose or Lafite, as “this is no 2009” and the selection process will have ensured the best fruit wen to the top cuvees.

Similarly he said that there is some “great dry white Bordeaux,” but nor was he “blown away by their quality,” with some dilution from the rains in evidence and those wines produced on better draining gravel the only wines to shine through (Haut-Brion’s blanc and a “sensational” Domaine de Chevalier being two examples). He did rate many Sauternes highly, Yquem most of all (96-98) alongside names such as Suduiraut, Doisy Daene and Climens.

There were no potential 100-pointers in either white or red however, the highest rated red was Cheval Blanc on 95-97 points, alongside Montrose, Latour, Vieux Château Certan and La Mission Haut-Brion.

Also highly rated were Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Pavie, Ausone, Margaux, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Figeac, Cos d’Estournel and La Violette.

He concluded that it was an easy vintage to taste but “deceptively more complicated to understand.”

They may not be as consistent as he initially expected nor reach the heights of 2009 or 2010 but he predicted there was and would be much drinking pleasure to be gained from the wines.

Martin’s full report and notes can be read here.

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