Bordeaux 2017 can resemble 1985

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

26 April 2018

In assessing the 2017 vintage, some have conjured the dreaded -7 digit, with images of aquatic 1987 reds, or – heaven forbid – insipid 1977 vintage reds. 1967 is not as bad as some would say (as I found out at a -7 vertical at Château Smith Haut Lafitte earlier this month, reaching back to the splendid 1947), but the point is taken. Most recent vintages ending in -7 have been at best “pretty good” as in 2007 or 1997.  But I submit that with 2017, the -7 series (in a bad sense) ends. At least for some wines from the vintage. Now, it is not a blockbuster, as in 1947, either.

And, as I had written previously in these pages, 2017 encapsulates not one, but “several” vintages. Informed observers – from Bill Blatch, who writes superb harvest reports, to rising star winemaking consultant Thomas Duclos – note that the vintage can be divided at least into three categories: totally frosted, partially frosted, or not frosted. Then you have different reactions to the two latter situations, with variations according to producer. And of course stylistic winemaking preferences.

Not to mention how regions and microclimates (and grape varieties) handled a somewhat sunless summer and September rains. Some properties have quicker ripening soils so that their Merlots – for example – were not as affected by the rains (Haut Brion, anyone?).

But, one can find a general characteristic for the reds, and it resembles more a vintage ending in -5. No, not 2005. As Blatch wrote, many 2017s have an “underlying gentle nature” that brings forth charm, moderate alcohol levels and pleasing aromatics.

So, what comes to mind?

After tasting hundreds of red wine barrel samples from 2017 earlier this month, I began to think of a tasting in Oslo a couple of years ago with Norway-based wine friends Christer Byklum and Roger Kolbu. I stayed over at Roger’s place one night, and brought Château Léoville Barton 1986 to enjoy. Some 30 years later, the 1986 came across as (still) foreboding, its tannins prominent, so Roger pulled out a Léoville Barton 1985, which was charming, supple and delicious. And 2017 comes to mind…  Read More


Bordeaux 2017

Bye-bye big buzz, hello nuance

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

11 April 2018

It is mid week of the official en primeur week, when thousands of merchants and hacks like yours truly descend to Bordeaux to taste, swirl and spit hundreds of wines in a mad rush to get tasting notes and impressions published. But gone are the days when one palate dominated the news to create “big buzz” as we had seen in 2000, for example, when Robert Parker said it was the best thing since the invention of the wheel, or something along those lines.

Then came 2003, 2005, and – crescendo – 2009 and 2010. Big buzzing Bordeaux? Bye-bye.

The 2015 and 2016 vintages did not get the market frenzy comparable to those earlier vintages.

And yet, thousands of people are coming to taste 2017. Some estates report record numbers of visitors. And this for a vintage that is – for the most part – hardly big and buzzing, but rather fine and refreshing. And complicated.

C’est compliqué

And those two words are hardly euphemisms for a weak vintage. Indeed, it is a complicated vintage, as I wrote initially a few days ago. Having tasted through a few more appellations, with fellow wine writers, we are beginning to put the puzzle together, and it is a pretty puzzle. Some producers are weaker than others, some were hit by frost who managed that better than others, if they had wine to produce.

As far as appellations and areas go, some are weaker than others. One could say that the more inland wines of the Médoc, further away from the river, had a more difficult time dealing with frost in late April and the somewhat sunless July, so that grapes were more difficult to ripen optimally. Read More

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Bordeaux 2017

The “multiple” vintage

8 April 2017

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

“The only candle I lit was the one at church,” quipped Guillaume Thienpont of Vieux Château Certan, where the terrible frost of late April that struck many other estates in Bordeaux did not reach his estate. Some estates used large candles (or bougies) to raise temperatures. Special windmills were used to bring down hotter air onto the surface (useful for Spring frost, but absurd for Winter frost, because there is only cold air). Anyway, we get it: frost was an issue in 2017. But not everywhere. Thienpoint thus had one massive worry off his mind, and 2017 basically completed a fine trio of vintages starting with 2015. I would make it a quattro because the Vieux Château Certan 2014 is excellent, and may better the 2015 for lovers of freshness and elegance.

Indeed, as some writers have already stressed, some with excellent humor, like Yves Beck, 2017 “does not exist,” as it is several vintages in one. For those who had to deal with frost – and deal with it efficiently – that not only reduced their yields, but also increased their work load.

Not too far away at Château Evangile, director Jean Pascal Vazart calls 2017 “the best vintage ending in 7 since the 1947.” But it was not free and easy for him and his team: in May and to mid June – 45 days of meticulous work – they marked vines with paint to differentiate even parts of single vines damaged from the frost and parts which were not, so as to avoid harvesting under-ripe, second generation grapes.

At Château Palmer across in the Médoc, Thomas Duroux and his team also had to deal with some frost damaged vines (not as many as at Evangile), but they opted for green harvesting those that were not as quickly ripening so as to avoid putting them into the wine.

According to Vazart, labeling with paint was essential because harvesters could not taste every single grape to detect the difference: this was meticulous work – and it paid off. How is Evangile in 2017? Very silky, with opulent ripe red and dark fruit, and touches of fine dark cocoa powder. The alcohol? 14.6%.

Now some may say: “Hold on a second; is 2017 not a ‘classical vintage’ of lower alcohols?” Well, hold on a second. Or a minute or an hour.

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Is Bordeaux “the new Burgundy”?

By Panos Kakaviatos for

31 March 2018

What in the heck prompted this title? Believe it or not, a dear friend who has been on allocation lists for the last 15 years or so of some of the top Burgundy producers.

When I went to Burgundy earlier this month for a tasting of Clos de Vougeot wines (notes coming soon), I also visited domaines with decent price/quality ratios to get some Burgundy wine. Producers like Sylvain Pataille or Domaine Bart come to mind as Marsannay is a great choice for getting more bang for your Burgundy Pinot Noir buck in this day and age of ever higher (some would say “crazy”) pricing for Burgundy wines.

I also went to Domaine de Varoilles for a few bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin. The producer is solid, and I liked some of the 2015s. I actually wanted to purchase the 2016s, as they seemed better, when tasted at the Grands Jours de Bourgogne, also earlier this month, but they had not yet been bottled. Of course prices have gone up, as the appellation is more famous to consumers than Marsannay: it includes premiers and grands crus, as well. A premier cru purchased at this domain costs about $60 today but not too long ago, it was less. Price differences here however are not like they have been at, say, Clos des Lambrays, especially since it was purchased by LVMH. I can no longer afford it. That goes for many other domains in this great wine region.

Reasonable pricing, at least for today – and for Gevrey

Domaine de Varoilles – and others – have been more “fair minded” in pricing, considering (a) recent below average harvests, with less wine and (2) increasing worldwide demand for Burgundy. Domaine de Varoilles actually lowered prices for their 2016 offerings over 2015: “Because we made more wine,” said a friend of the domain, who was lending the owners a hand, when I purchased a few bottles.

But the image of Burgundy is changing.

Which brings us back to my friend, the long time Burgundy buyer. “In Bordeaux, the image has been of very well dressed people buying expensive wine, but not knowing so much about it; in Burgundy, people are less well dressed, but more in tune to terroir and wine,” he quipped.

Of course this description is a simplification that does not reflect the many serious wine fans of Bordeaux, who also may not bother to dress all that well. And, as it turns out, Burgundy is seeing an increasing number of nouveau riche (well heeled, well dressed and full of cash) buying grands crus from Burgundy as a status symbol or “luxury product” (Indeed, that last term has been so overused to justify ridiculous pricing for top tier Bordeaux, that has become a de facto synonym for such Bordeaux). But this has been happening in Burgundy more recently, my friend pointed out. My friend recalled a recent visit to a famous domain where one buyer asked if the red wine had any Pinot Noir in it. “I never saw that before,” he said. Read More

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Tasting 2017 Bordeaux barrel samples: Coming soon!

Press Release from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux

28 March 2018

En Primeur Week, organised by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux – an intense time for wine producers and Bordeaux négociants – will be presenting the 2017 vintage to the international wine trade from Monday the 9 to Thursday the 12 of April 2018.

Yours truly will be there one week before to taste wines from other organizations and non members, but at two weeks from this important event, some 5,000 professionals and journalists from 60 different countries (1. China, 2. UK, 3. Switzerland, 4. Germany, 5. United States, among many others) already have confirmed their participation in this essential event for Bordeaux wine.

The schedule for tastings restricted to professionals in the trade: 

Monday, 9 of April: 115 crus representing all appellations will be tasted at H14 in the heart of the city of Bordeaux (173 Quai des Chartrons), during a first day of tasting that has already been booked by 1,000 professionals.

From Tuesday the 10 to Thursday the 12 of April: Tastings for each appellation are organized at the following châteaux:

– Ch. Malartic-Lagravière
– Ch. La Couspaude
– Ch. Gazin
– Ch. Citran
– Ch. Siran
– Ch. Beychevelle
– Ch. Lafon-Rochet
– Ch. La Lagune

The schedule for tastings restricted to journalists accredited by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux:

Monday, 9th of April

– Tastings of crus from Sauternes and Barsac at Château Coutet and Château de Rayne Vigneau, presentation of the new vintage by the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences at Château Guiraud and dinner with Union des Grands Crus members and journalists at Château Kirwan

From Tuesday the 10th to Thursday the 12th of April: Tastings by appellation restricted to 100 journalists at H14.

About the UGCB

The Union des Grand Crus brings together 134 estates in prestigious Bordeaux appellations. Benefiting from the diversity of its members as well as its shared values, the Union and its members pursue their primary mission in conjunction with distributors, brokers, and the Bordeaux trade: to meet nearly 50,000 professionals and wine enthusiasts a year in order to present their recent vintages. From Tokyo to Montreal, by way of New York, Shanghai, London, and Paris, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux organises nearly 80 events a year in 65 cities around the world.

Further information? Consult their webpage:

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