Bordeaux 1961: Tasting in 2007
What is it that makes some vintages great, and others less so? With very mediocre vintages there is usually one or even several easily identifiable reasons for the poor quality of the wines – often harvest rain plays a part – and it quickly becomes apparent that the wines are likely to have problems. But when the weather is favourable it becomes much more difficult to determine whether the vintage will be merely very good, or a great one, and even when all appears to be going well it only takes one thunderstorm to ruin an entire crop. Thus it is only when the fruit has been harvested, preferably in a rain-free environment, that the régisseurs begin to get really excited. As might be expected, an examination of the weather for the 1961 vintage reveals the promise that the vintage must have held at the time.
A spring frost reduced the efficacy of flowering, thereby reducing the potential size of the harvest. This was followed by the prerequisite warm, dry, sunny summer which gently carried the fruit along to a perfect ripeness. This pattern was seen throughout most of the Bordeaux communes, and the resulting quality throughout was exceptional, with perhaps only Sauternes and Barsac letting the side down. This is not that unusual nor should it be surprising; the conditions required for making great sweet wine are very specific and quite distinct from those required for red. There are many vintages renowned for their sweet wines, more recent examples than 1961 being 1997 and 2001, where the reds were less prodigious. In the case of 1961, the warm and dry weather did little to engender the development of botrytis.