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Château Brown Blanc 2014

Château Brown Blanc 2014

The Bordeaux vintages I will be talking about most this year will be led by 2017, of course, a vintage hit by frost (so that doesn’t just happen in the Loire Valley then?) which we will get a first glimpse of at the primeur tastings, this April. Then there will be tastings of the 2016 vintage, once it has been bottled, later this year. There will be 2008 of course, now ten years of age, and I have reports on the 2015 and 2000 vintages coming up. Let us not, however, overlook the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux.

They say a rising tide lifts all boats, a commonly heard metaphor when the Bordeaux 2010 reports were being published. But there was no rising tide in the 2014 vintage, just a lot of summer rain. This was a vintage which, in late summer, looked like it might be a re-run of the catastrophic 2013 Bordeaux vintage. July was more than damp and August was marked by heavy rainfall. Mildew and oidium were a constant threat, and the vines required a lot of work, leaf-plucking, spraying, green-harvesting, sometimes repeating the crop-thinning after the véraison. Despair set in, but then the vintage was saved by a superb Indian summer, with brilliant sunshine from late August through to early October. At last, the vines could set about ripening the fruit, and the grapes were picked under excellent conditions.

As a consequence there were good wines made in the 2014 vintage, but I have long felt the red wines in particular have been talked up a little too much. It is a vintage characterised by freshness, lightness of touch and acidity, the red wines sometimes rather delicate in terms of texture, fresh and acid-bright, much more like 2012 than 2010, and they feel like the wines of a saved vintage, not a great vintage. This does not mean there are not good wines in 2014, as some are excellent, while some are merely good or what I might regard as ‘useful’. And yet, compared to my thoughts, some commentators seem to have over-egged the pudding on this vintage.

Château Brown Blanc 2014

Why might this be? Was it, perhaps, an insufficiently critical reaction to the first really decent wines after the awful 2013 and difficult 2012 and 2011 vintages? Were the wines talked up out of a desire to please Bordeaux taskmasters? Is it that some critics look to praise wines and give out high scores because they know that is the way to gain traction with merchants (who then quote your scores) and thus with consumers (who read the scores and are prodded, once again, to subscribe to your publication)? Or is it just that I see the wines differently to others? It is quite acceptable, after all, to hold a different opinion of a vintage to one’s peers.

I certainly can’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. Nevertheless, I do seem to have a little less love for the 2014 Bordeaux vintage than some of my wine-swirling peers. For me, the wines seem just a little too crystalline in character, and are a little too light in the way they dance across the palate, for me to rave about them. In this there is an analogy with the same vintage in the Loire Valley, where Loire purists who like their reds on the piquant side (and maybe a bit green!) love the 2014 vintage for reds, but again I find some wines just a little too old-school and acidic for my tastes. A handful are certainly excellent (such as those recently featured from Domaine Ogereau, Château de Minière and Serge et Bruno Sourdais), but on the whole there is more consistent joy to be found in 2015 and probably also 2016, I think. One other analogy between the two regions in this vintage is their success with white wines. There is no doubt that the 2014 Loire vintage is the best for white wines since heaven knows when, and the whites from Bordeaux in 2014 are equally delightful.

Here, crystalline purity and an acid-fresh poise is to be celebrated, and the 2014 Pessac-Léognan Blanc from Château Brown is a case in point. This wine has an unprepossessing lemon-gold hue in the glass, but this is followed by a very convincing aromatic profile, pungent and expressive, an intertwining of honeyed oak, passion fruit freshness and lemon curd with a lime twist, all very creamed and concentrated. It is classic Pessac-Léognan, a distinctive style which should convince anybody of the fact that Sauvignon Blanc and oak work well together (yes, there is Semillon here too, but the aromatic contribution from Semillon at this early stage is usually rather slim). The palate is cool (crystalline, even), tense, bright and fresh, yet it carries a waxy depth of fruit, curdy lemon and custard apple freshness, and plenty of peppery energy in the middle and finish. This depth and substance is countered with a tingling central acidity and great length. Overall, this is a delicious wine, with great acid-sour intensity. There were great wines made in Bordeaux in the 2014 vintage. It just so happens that I suspect many of them are white. 94/100 (19/2/18)

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