It is Wednesday morning and I am pleased to say I am now past the halfway mark in my marathon of tasting the barrel samples of the 2017 Bordeaux vintage.
It has been a busy few days. I flew into Bordeaux last week, on Friday. The journey here was, as football pundits might say, “squeaky bum time”. I flew down from Edinburgh to Stansted on a 6:30am flight, followed by a 9:15am flight from Stansted out to Bordeaux. I take the 6:20/6:30am flights from Edinburgh to London airports quite frequently, and they are very rarely delayed. Of course, the one time it really mattered, an air traffic control restriction moved our departure time back by half an hour, wiping out a large chunk of what time I would have on the ground at Stansted.
When we landed I was off the plane like a rocket, leaving the other passengers far behind. This confused the airport’s security staff who saw a lone passenger exiting the gate area and they quickly assumed I was lost. Having reassured them I knew exactly where I was going, I made my way out of the front of the airport, back in through fast-track security, and I made it to the gate with about five minutes to spare. Phew!
Next year, I think I will have to come up with a different travel plan. Back in 2016 an air traffic control strike meant I ending up living in Gatwick airport for two days before being able to get a flight to Bordeaux. I have no desire to repeat the experience.
The rest of the day was uneventful. I picked up my hire car, drive over to St Emilion, found my accommodation, and so on. I spent the first few days tasting on the right bank, with a few visits to those willing to see me over the weekend, such as Jonathan Maltus, Château La Dominique and Château Pavie-Macquin, several large tastings and a Sauternes extravaganza. By the time Monday morning came I had already tasted hundreds of wines, and the weather had changed from sunny, to cool and cloudy, and it seems to have steadily worsened since then. I spent Monday in Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes, starting the day in a drizzly, foggy rush-hour gridlock (rail strikes in France have made the roads even busier than usual) en route to Château Haut-Brion, finishing the day at Château d’Yquem, when the sun came out momentarily, both above my head and, seemingly, in my glass. On Tuesday I made a marathon journey through the Médoc, with fifteen visits in one day, the most I have ever managed. But I started at 8am at Château Calon-Ségur, and I finished at about 7:30pm, having meandered south as far as Château La Lagune, and there were only a few minutes drive between most appointments, so I had plenty of time not only to taste the wines but to talk about the vintage. By Tuesday evening the weather had degenerated into heavy rain, with thunder and lightning.
The 2017 vintage is a fascinating one to taste, because quality is so variable this year. It isn’t an easy vintage that can be summed up in one word like we might try with a washout year like 2013, or with a great year such as 2005 or 2010. It is a complex vintage, one with highs and lows; there are wines that feel profound, composed, exciting and desirable, while others are simply everything that you don’t want in Bordeaux, with overtly green and vegetal fruit, light and loose textures, and bitter tannins. The vintage has been unkind to some in this region, frost and the response to it being a major driver (but it certainly does not act alone) of style and quality this year. And those that escaped the frost know this only too well. “We were very lucky, very lucky indeed” has been one of the most commonly heard refrains when visiting domaines where the frost did not bite.
During the week I won’t be making behind-paywall updates, but will be posting on Instagram and Twitter so it will be easy to keep track of my progress. My full reports, with weather report, harvest and tasting overview, soundbites and then my region-by-region tasting reports, will kick of on Tuesday 17th April.