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.