The 2017 Bordeaux vintage is now in barrels, and reports are beginning to emerge from early tastings. We will also leave for Bordeaux next week, to tour the Châteaux and make detailed notes to share with you. What we know for certain already is that 2017 was a different vintage in many ways:
The difficult weather has been well documented. Spring frost damaged vineyards to various degrees. The Right Bank was severely hit including Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, as well as Barsac and parts of Sauternes. Castillon was almost entirely lost. The dark red areas on the agriculture map mark the most severely damaged regions.
However, with the exception of Figeac and Cheval Blanc, most of the top properties on the Right Bank were spared. In fact, at early tastings, Château Troplong-Mondot was considered one of the top wines of the vintage. Aymeric de Gironde, who left Cos d’Estournel to manage Troplong-Mondot is receiving accolades all around. Also receiving high praise is Château Clinet, whose signature blend always uses Cabernet Sauvignon.
On the Left Bank, properties along the River Garonne in the Médoc were barely affected. Vineyards close to the river banks had the benefit of a warming fog. Here again, follow the river on the map and note the yellow and light orange areas, indicating little or no frost.
Indeed, Château Léoville-Las Cases, in Saint-Julien, produced as usual. But the property is located on a promontory between Châteaux Léoville-Poyferré and Latour. In contrast, Léoville-Las Cases’ second wine, Clos du Marquis, suffered a great deal more. This property is across the street, another 100-yards from the water. Also, vineyards located below forests suffered from moisture that turned into frost.
Meanwhile, vineyards in Pessac-Léognan enjoyed the proximity of the city with its houses and buildings. Perhaps in this case, global warming was actually beneficial. At any rate, a big part of the story in 2017 is location, location, location….
What Was Done to Help Prevent Frost
Much experimentation continues, as viticulturists and plant specialists develop methods to help deal with weather patterns. Interestingly, many Châteaux purchased fans, which displaced air and provided fairly positive results. Wealthy properties hired helicopters to fly all night over the vineyards, with the intent of displacing cold air as well. Some producers thought that this actually created an adverse situation for adjacent properties who received the displaced cold air.
What’s Worse, Rain or Frost?
With frost, estates lose some of their grape output, so it’s not so pleasant. However, after the frost, it’s business as usual and vintners can continue to make good wine.
Rain, on the other hand, generally has the ill effect of diluting wine, creating a lack of structure and density. The most poorly made wines will have green, leafy aromas and a short finish. Winemakers have a tendency to overly oak the wines to make up for the lack of ripeness of fruit. Unfortunately, in addition to the frost, the 2017 vintage was also troubled with rain at harvest time, adding to producers’ difficulties and creating uneven results.
Top Varietals in 2017
Merlot ripened inconsistently, more bad news for the Right Bank, while Cabernet Sauvignon was the varietal of the vintage. A nice surprise was the performance of Petit Verdot. Château Lynch-Bages, for example, used a larger percentage of Petit Verdot to the wine’s benefit. Alcohol, for the vintage, will be somewhere between 12.5%-13.5%.
Also worth noting is that the white Bordeaux are showing extremely well. Antonio Galloni recently lauded Château Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc and verified that 2017 will be a strong vintage for white Bordeaux.
An Historical Perspective
There just aren’t three great vintages in a row! 1928 and 29, 1989 and 90, 2009 and 10, 2015 and 16 were all followed by somewhat lesser vintages. This turned out to be true yet again. Other outstanding vintages such as 1959, 1961, 1982, 2000 and 2005 did not even have a companion vintage of quality.
2017 is obviously not a blockbuster like 2015 and 2016 were. However, it is not a disaster like 2013, either. Château Latour compares their 2017 wine to the 2012, while Lafite thinks theirs is more like 2001. The consensus seems to be that the vintage is closer to 2014, with some wines slightly better and others slightly inferior. Additionally, professionals who tasted the wines three weeks ago are reporting that the oak is blending nicely into the wine structure, adding roundness and good aromatics.
To Buy Or Not To Buy
The wine professionals and journalists are on the ground sampling and many ratings (in barrel, of course) are starting to come out. While the First Growths have not been rated yet, many of the other classified properties are getting ratings of 92 to 95 points. Similar to 2014.
Collectors and investors will be tempted not to buy, unless it is with the intent of owning a vertical, that would include this vintage. Others who drink wine, rather than sitting on it, should remember that the best drinking Bordeaux of the recent past have been vintages such as 2001, 2004 and 2008. Why? The wines were not quite as dense as the 2000s, 2005s, but they were pleasurable within a few short years…and they didn’t cost a fortune. They were quite inexpensive in comparison to the more highly-touted vintages. Do remember, 2017 will be a drinking vintage!
So What Is the Answer?
Pricing is the answer. Will there be good deals? Will producers decide to lower their prices in relation to the previous vintages? Tough questions to answer…Producers who made great wine will not feel that they should be penalized. Others, who lost 50 % of their crop, will not want to discount what they have left to sell. However, the public at large, and certainly consumers in the U.S., will not buy unless the prices make sense.
We have reason to be optimistic, however. Two top wines have just come out. Both priced 20% less than last year. Available to order now are:
Châteaux Palmer. JS 97-98. $266.99 per bottle
Châteaux Valandraud. WE 95-97. $140.99 per bottle.
This is a year to play it smart. If you decide to avoid the vintage altogether, you may miss out on some very cool drinking wines at good prices. On the other hand, you know that you cannot buy indiscriminately. So, do your homework. Read the wine reports and check the ratings. Here at Michel Thibault Wine, we will honestly try to provide you with the best deals of the vintage.
Wines getting good press that are also great buys.
Pessac-Léognan: Bet on Châteaux Les Carmes Haut-Brion and Haut-Bailly.
Pessac-Léognan Whites: Pape Clément and Smith Haut Lafitte.
Margaux: Malescot St. Exupéry, Brane-Cantenac and Issan.
Médoc: La Lagune, described as juicy, ripe with round tannins.
Saint-Julien: Good reviews for Léoville Barton and Beychevelle.
Pauillac: Look for Pichon-Baron and Pichon-Lalande and a notch below, Haut-Batailley and Armailhac.
Saint-Estèphe: Calon-Ségur, Montrose and Cos d’Estournel had superlative vintages.
Saint-Émilion: Troplong-Mondot, Beau-Séjour Bécot, Pavie Macquin, La Gaffelière, and Barde-Haut.
Pomerol: Vieux Château Certan, Rouget, La Conseillante, Clinet, Bon Pasteur, Croix de Gay and Cabanne
In the meantime, while we wait for more information on the 2017s, we can sip a few of these Bordeaux greats from previous years! Call 850-687-1370 or write firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
2015 L’Evangile, Pomerol. JS 99-100. $219.99.
2015 Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien. AG 98. Magnums. $369.99.
2009 Langoa-Barton, Saint-Julien. WS 93. $68.99.
2014 Poesia, Saint-Émilion. WA 94. $49.99.
2012 Fleur de Gay, Pomerol. WA 92. $78.99
2015 Puygueraud, Francs – Côtes de Bordeaux. JS 94. $16.99.
2012 Fleur de Boüard, Lalande de Pomerol. JD 92. $35.99.
2009 Bernadotte, Haut-Médoc. IWC 90. $25.99.
Full Cases Available
2010 Larrivet Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan. JS 94. $39.99.
2008 Du Glana, Saint-Julien. WE-92 $29.99.
2010 Teyssier, Saint-Émilion. RP 92. $29.99.
2008 Barde-Haut, Saint-Émilion. WS 92. $38.99.
2015 Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc. JS 95. $33.99.
End of Bin – Only a Few Bottles Left!
2008 La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan. WA 95. $229.99. 4 bottles.
2006 Leoville-Barton, Saint-Julien. WS 94. $89.99. 5 bottles.
2005 Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac. VN 98. $599.99. 1 bottle.
2005 Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac. JS 100. $999.99. 1 bottle.
2005 Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe. JS 99. $229.99. 1 bottle.
2005 Palmer, Margaux. RP 98. $299.99 1 bottle.
2004 Latour, Pauillac. WA 95. $549.99. 3 bottles.
2002 Clos l’Eglise, Pomerol. RP 92. $85.99. 4 bottles.
2000 Clos Dubreuil, Saint-Émilion. WA 91. $75.99. 2 bottles.
2000 Berliquet, Saint-Émilion. WS 91. $52.99. 3 bottles.
1996 Léoville-Poyferré. Saint-Julien. WA 93. $179.99. 4 bottles. Also available in magnum at $359.99.
1993 Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien. $99.99. 1 bottle