Bordeaux 2017: Whites get the nod in Martin’s scores

With a smattering of releases continuing from the châteaux, this week has mostly been about the last of the major critical reports, with Neal Martin having now released his first set of scores since joining Vinous.

Martin’s slightly maverick (it begins with a reference to the straight-to-video delight that is Sharknado 3) but in-depth report is available to read here, although those who have been following the vintage commentary will be well aware of the general warp and weft of the narrative – from frost to either victory or despair.

In summing up he makes the point others have made that, “it is not a Left or Right Bank vintage,” with top quality wines to be found on both sides although he confesses a certain fondness for St Emilion.

That said, he points to Saint Estèphe and Pauillac on the Left Bank and the plateau and côtes in Pomerol and St Emilion as producing the best, largely frost-free wines.

Stylistically he was struck by the perfume of many of the wines, “a facet of winemaking that has vastly improved in recent years thanks to fine-tuning techniques in the winery”, especially the floral notes and also the freshness of the wines and their, “strong but not grippy tannins.”

He adds there is, more black fruit compared to recent vintages and, “they are not dense or weighty wines and are often linear in style.”

He describes them as “approachable” and with “medium-term” ageing potential with only “the very top wines” being worthy of any long-term cellaring and, anyway, there are the 2015s and 2016s which will serve that purpose.

All in all, “in banal terms” he concludes that he likes the vintage and while it may not be the best, the wines were “mostly a pleasure to taste and fascinating to learn about”.

In terms of pricing and the market’s interest in these wines however, he was less chipper.

He would agree with the remarks of many that 2017 is closer in style and quality to 2014 (slightly better in some cases) but now that many leading châteaux have become global luxury brands, while merchants may wish for pricing to fall back in line with 2014 levels, “I suspect that some châteaux will limit releases in 2017 in order to maintain that all-important price differential with competitors, a price point that fits in with the image they wish to convey, often one of luxury, aspiration and exclusivity.

“They are hemmed in by a mixture of shareholder expectations, marketing demands and, in some cases, ego, so that the notion of slashing the price to ignite demand is completely untenable.”

 

Scores

In scoring terms it is noticeable that Martin has given no potential 100-pointers to any wines in 2017 but, on the other hand, his top scores contained a good smattering of dry and sweet whites.

Both L’Extravagent de Doisy-Daëne and Yquem were rated in the top most bracket of 95-97, along with Lafite, Lafleur and L’Eglise-Clinet; Lafleur becoming something of a regular feature among the otherwise very varied choice of top-scorers which may be of note.

The biggest range of wines fell into the 94-96 point spread and there was a real mix of estates and appellations included with perhaps a slight swing towards the Left Bank.

In the mix were several wines that other critics have rated highly such as: Angélus, Ausone, Cos d’Estournel, Haut-Brion, Montrose, Mouton Rothschild, Petrus and Vieux Château Certan.

Coutet, Fargues, Haut-Brion Blanc, Rayne Vigneau and Suduiraut were the other whites in this top level, Martin always keen to give credit to this largely overlooked area of Bordeaux production despite its continued unpopularity – he warned that the Sauternes were not “mind blowing” this year but would still appeal to fans as they are “rich and mellifluous”.

His proselytising is shared this year by former Wine Advocate colleague Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW who rated Haut-Brion Blanc very highly in her notes (97-100) and described the whites overall as, “wow!”

Martin’s fellow critic at Vinous, Antonio Galloni, is due to release his notes and scores tomorrow (3 May).

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