Bordeaux 2014 Primeurs: An Allegorical Ending
It would be lying to say that Friday was relaxed, but it certainly felt less hectic than Wednesday and Thursday. More lengthy appointments helped; an hour here, another hour there, makes for a less frentic timetable than the string of Pomerol visits for which, because there are so often just one or two wines up for tasting (e.g. Petrus, Le Pin, Vieux Château Certain, L’Évangile), I usually only schedule thirty minutes each (including travelling time from one venue to the next, although to be honest you could walk between most of them in just a couple of minutes).
It was another strange Pomerol-St Emilion hybrid day though, starting at the Moueix offices in Libourne to taste their wines, from less famous St Emilion cuvées such as Château La Serre, up to the more serious wines from Pomerol. Of note, this year the St Emilion Château Bélair-Monange was poured last of all, after Château Trotanoy and all the other wines from Pomerol, which perhaps says something about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the vintage.
Then it was on to Vieux Château Certan, where the king of the vintage comparison floored me with his response to my reuqest for a vintge which matched the weather patterns seen in 2014. “There isn’t one”, replied Alexandre Thienpont, so both weather and wines were/are unique. In saying this Alexandre was only reinforcing what others have said though, such as Pierre Seillan at Château Lassegue. I tasted with Pierre last Sunday, and he told me that in 49 vintages worked (I confess I didn’t write down the number, but I seem to recall he said 49, certainly 40-something anyway) he has never seen such a dramatic turn-around during a growing season.
Next up was Château Cheval Blanc, with Château d’Yquem as well of course, followed by a string of other interesting tastings. These kicked off at Château Pavie-Macquin, where I have never tasted before (I usually pick up the wines somewhere else), then Château Figeac (on their first time away from the UGC tastings) and then back into St Emilion again to meet up with the Thunevin portfolio, followed by Château Pavie, where the Perse portfolio (now ten in number, if we include his winemaker’s own estate always included in the tasting) grows ever more broad. And then it was time to wind down, first with a little left-bank interlude, as I tasted the Delon range at Château Nenin, before I finished up at Château Tertre Roteboeuf. And suddenly, that was that. My tasting was done. Before heading back to my accommodation I swung by a few châteaux to take some photographs, and eventually (after a bit of investigative work, because it isn’t obvious which it is) I found Château Bellevue-Mondotte, part of the Perse empire. What a sad sight this was. While Château Pavie, down on the côtes, is now a golden palace of marble and gilt (during a visit to Bordeaux in 2014 I was told, but it might just be rumour, that this was built partly using EU funds, now reminded of this I shall have to check this out to see if true or mere hearsay), this château (pictured above) lay in a dilapidated state.
This has been a fascinating vintage to taste en primeur. After a dismal summer the Bordelais were thinking this might be 2013 all over again, but then they were saved by six or more weeks of beautiful weather. Naturally, they are keen to point to this period of warm weather and stress its beneficial effect on the ripening of the fruit, and the resulting wines, but in reality this has been a far-from-perfect vintage. Some varieties did better than others (because some took advantage of the warm weather while others were picked), some terroirs did better than others (all to do with how the soil interacts with water this year), and some appellations did better (i.e. had less rain) than others. And as a result of this complex matrix of influences quality is very variable, running the full gamut, from the superb down to the disappointing. It is a vintage where buying decisions must be informed. Critics dishing out high scores across the board and ‘best ever’ comments have clearly been tasting very different wines to those I have encountered. It is certainly not a great vintage where you could buy blind, or buy from your favourite châteaux, safe in the knowledge you will have something good. There are wines to buy in this vintage though; but those who have made the top wines know it (they said so – there’s confidence for you!), and I think my prediction that prices will rise seems likely to be correct. Many are in the mood for a rise, with the weak Euro being the most commonly cited influence on this. If that happens, I can’t see how the en primeur system can continue to work. Perhaps Château Bellevue-Mondotte is a suitable allegory for the state of Bordeaux today? It is all gilt palaces and smiling confidence at the front, but behind it things are perhaps a bit broken? I wonder, can the négociants soak up another vintage of over-priced wines?
My reports begin on Tuesday next week (April 7th). I don’t think it is appropriate to wait any longer, simply because I suspect the campaign may kick off quite soon. I have a fairly rigorous schedule for publishing the reports, in order to get them out as soon as possible, and will do my best to keep to it (but I haven’t signed that promise in blood – there is a lot of writing to do!).