2017 Bordeaux – a collector’s perspective on the vintage

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-05-08


4 things to remember:

    1. An attractive vintage for second wines (if the prices come down and producers avoid ‘repositioning’)

    2. A truly great vintage for dry whites

    3. Finally, a broad-based success in St. Emilion!

    4. Best wines flow like a river…

2017 can’t be summarised at the commune level. There were notable successes everywhere. But those that were successful had a harmonious, infused, flowing texture to the wines.

The best are the antithesis of shouty wines, and if they were clotheshorses they definitely wouldn't wear shoulder pads. These are quieter, understated types that’ll turn around in a decade’s time, smile enigmatically and sotto voce say “I told you so’.

Economics to consider:

With few exceptions, this is not a red vintage where prices are likely to increase over the next 2 years. Several people have referred to 2007 as a modern day 1988. Prices of 1988 stagnated for several years after release. Not because it wasn’t an appreciated vintage at the time, but because it wasn’t a ‘great’ vintage, and got rather overshadowed by the ensuing duo of 1989 and 1990.

There are a few Chateaux which are increasingly sought after and will sell out, and those wines will probably be worth buying at first release. Subject to the all important caveat of price permitting.

For UK buyers, as at May 2018, sterling has sagged, and is close to historic lows against the Euro. In a year or two the picture could look very different depending on the nature of a EU settlement. The currency swing could be 20%. That is a major disincentive for UK buyers to buy 2017s during en primeur.

The same currency concern was of course present through the 2016 campaign, but the difference is that 2016 was evidently an extraordinary vintage from the get-go, and recent re-tastings confirm its potential greatness. The majority of brilliant vintages are expensive at first release, as was 2016.

Most good vintages that follow great ones, where prices don’t fall far enough from the heights of its precursor, suffer price stagnation for a long time: think 2006. In my view 2017 is not too dissimilar to 2006 in its vintage profile, certainly is not obviously better, and has a further parallel with 2006 in that it follows a great vintage (2016).

Target release prices

See our recent analysis of proto-prices – the level that we believe Chateaux will have to come down to in order for 2017 reds to find a market. On average we believe they will need to reduce release prices by -24%. Some wines would theoretically need to come down by as much as -40% whilst others may not need to reduce their release price at all (notably the dry whites).

We recommend you don’t get too fixated on that average figure of -24% but think in terms of a scale of 0% to -40%.

As an example, it’s worth remembering that Vieux Chateau Certan made a great wine in 2011 that vies for greatness with 2009 and 2010, yet a price reduction of -40% for the 2011 release wasn’t enough to stop it falling by another -25% before it recovered and started putting on gains versis its release price.

Admittedly the 2011 coincided with the Bordeaux market crash of 2012-2014, but even so, it’s a reminder of how even seemingly significant price reductions can still be insufficient reason to buy during en primeur.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

1. A vintage for second wines

Look at the quality of the second wines this vintage. Chateaux have been upping the ante over the last few years and there are some profoundly satisfying results.

The thing that stood out in respect of these second wines is the refinement of their tannins; something you used to see only in the Grand Vin. It means that many second wines are now worthy competitors to many classified growths.

All of the following merit scores of around 92-93.

Petit Mouton

Red fruited nose, great intensity and aromatics, super lift and energy and a long, vinous finish.

Le Marquis de Calon Ségur

Fresh, and with a tension that leads to a very fruity core of sweet raspberry coulis. There’s a notable purity to the mid palate, medium weight and a charming savoury finish.

Dame de Montrose

Saline nose, touch of cedar, then sweet pastille fruit, an elegant attack, red fruits and ultrafine tannins. A lifted, fresh, well defined finish that ends with a dab of clove oil.

Pavillon Rouge

Liqueur-like nose, great energy in the attack, with a suave mid palate. Superbly classic, dry character and a fine-grained textured feel to the tannins.

Petit Cheval

Pure nose of red fruits and kirsch, perfumed. Silky feel, cloves on the attack, mid weight, sweet mid palate, fine tannins, evidently structured towards the back of the palate, fresh with a touch of game-bird. Very structured finish: old school and impressive, with a tremendous mouth-watering finale.

Clarence de Haut Brion

Deep nose, saline with liquorice and cedar. Real complexity. Bright attack, creamy red and black fruits, and with drive to a medium long finish.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


2. A great vintage for dry whites

With greater focus and freshness than 2015, and much greater intensity and drive than 2016; 2017 is one of the most exciting white wine vintages for years.

Bordeaux white may not have the caché of Burgundy, but occasionally a vintage comes along that is an inimitable and compelling expression of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

That perfect expression should show great minerality (or stoniness), floral aromatics (choisya, elderflower, white jasmine) have bright intense citrus character, and may have background hints of soft fruits in the spectrum of peach, passion fruit and guava.

Great Bordeaux whites need to show purity, vibrancy, and length. The tropical fruited expression should be subtle, nuanced; a suggestion rather than an emphatic flavour.

Whilst Bordeaux whites don’t have a secondary market like the reds do, the quantities produced are relatively confidentielles so may not be easy to obtain in the future, or the blue chip examples may appreciate in value within the couple of years or so after the wines are bottled.

Superb whites (at a variety of price points) were made in the vintage at the following properties:

Haut Brion Blanc

Cool nose of stone fruits, pomelos, a dollop of cream. Burgundian in weight with a sense of scale/ broad dimensions. Huge freshness too. Pithy, firm, lemons and blood oranges with simply huge minerality. This wine represents the great heights white Bordeaux can sometimes achieve.

98+

Pavillon Blanc

Saline, creamy nose. Superb breadth and pithiness, spice and a salty, mineral finish that goes on and on.

95

Les Hauts de Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc

100% Sauvignon. In a word, terrific value! Refined nose, a little bit mute - but fair enough at this stage of its evolution. Energetic attack, great freshness and confit lemon mid palate accompanied by high notes of grapefruit.

92

Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc

An expressive nose in contrast, great intensity evident, then grapefruit and pomelos, and a fine line in mouth watering acidity. Bright powerful citrus character. Precise, pithy and long. Weight and intensity on the finish with background notes of guava.

96

Pape Clément Blanc

Grapefruit and pronounced kaffir leaf nose, intense and limey. Gorgeous attack of pomelos, sherbet, pith, candied lemons. Mandarine infuses the mid palate. Superb.

96

Malartic Lagraviere Blanc

Orange blossom nose, wild heather, with a mineral and herby attack (lemon thyme?). Just a hint of underlying sweetness. Harmonious. Confit lemon on the finish.

95

La Louviere Blanc (Good value)

Pithy nose, Seville orange and pomelos. Very good balance and purity on the mid palate, with good restraint, length and an attractive focused finish.

92

Chevalier Blanc

A floral nose; very interesting and a bit different to most other aromas in this vintage. Gorgeous attack of sherbet, mid palate dominated by grapefruit pith, accompanied by super acidity and attractive length.

94

La Tour Martillac Blanc

Grapefruit and kaffir leaves on the nose with a bright really intense attack. Fine mid palate, quite big scaled, but with tons of acidity to back it up. I’d nevertheless have liked a touch more restraint to focus the finish that ends broad. Maybe it just needs to settle down.

91+

Carbonnieux Blanc

Pithy nose, followed by a sherbetty attack. A little less pure in the mid palate than anticipated by the sparkling intro, although the finish is fine and nicely lifted, creating a pleasing finale.

90

 
©Nick Martin / Wine Owners


3. Broad-based success in St Emilion!

Not for some years have there been so few high alcohol monsters produced in St Emilion, and correspondingly so many balanced, attractive wines. St Emilion was a minor revelation.

L’If

Vinous, fruity nose. Dark fruit in the spectrum of mulberries on the attack. Grainy mid palate, fine tannins, crunchy fruit, a dab of clove oil, liquorice, all delivered with persistent, notable freshness.

93

Angelus

Refined nose, very progressive fruit. Really fine tannins underlie a silky texture. And it's drier than usual, not as sweet or as obviously powerful as before, yet still is large-scaled in the best sense of the term – and is all the better (and classier) for it. The first Angelus I have absolutely adored in a very long time.

96

Canon La Gaffeliere

Expressive kirsch nose, touch of pepper, crystalline fresh attack, creamy red fruits, some plushness in the mid-palate, yet without excess sweetness. Nice progression and finish, with good sucrosité throughout.

92+

Soutard (Good value)

Liqueur and peppered nose, svelte texture. Very attractive griottes on the mid palate, super spiced, clove oil. Sappy, mouthwatering, extremely moreish and fresh. Will be great value mid-term drinking and with the zip to peak in 12-15 years.

90% Merlot with the remaining 10% a mix of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Malbec. Yes, Malbec!

93+

Troplong Mondot

Richly perfumed nose, in the aromatic wood spectrum. Very ecclesiastical. Quite big attack with a liqueur-textured quality, cloves coating the mid palate and a bright controlled finish. Fine and exciting to taste.

96

Canon

Sweet fruited nose. Super attack. Great balance, poised, fine grained tannins, and sappy, moreish fruit. Fruit pastille but not in the slightest bit overt, and a silky smooth delivery. It’s almost lush, almost sweet, yet in fact it’s quite firm, with liquorice notes and light spice. Good length. Will be very popular.

95+

Berliquet (good value)

Fruity nose with a touch of pepper. Powerful attack and a subtle mid palate. Flowing fruit and lots of energy with just a hint of firmness towards the back palate, but no dryness. Savoury and liquorice notes are introduced in the finish.

91+

Figeac

Raspberries on the expressive nose, with cedar notes. Liqueur-like texture, and an orange and raspberry infused attack. A vein of dry graphite runs through the fresh, racy, rich mid palate of pastille fruit, ahead of a firm finish. Once again rather lovely, if not delivering the sheer excitement of 2016, or the exuberance of 2015.

95+

©Nick Martin / Wine Owners


4. Harmony and substance.

The nature of the 2017 red vintage is one that wants to express itself without excess: in respect of weight, tannic structure and alcohol.

There is a classically dry character to the red wines. All of which speaks to the Atlantic, maritime pattern of the summer weather, and is also perhaps partly due to the very welcome trend back towards gentler extractions across Bordeaux.

2017 can’t be summarised at the commune level. There were notable successes everywhere. But those that were most successful had a harmonious, infused fruitiness, flowing texture to the wines.

The best are the antithesis of shouty wines, and if they were clotheshorses they wouldn't be seen dead in shoulder pads. These are quieter, understated types that’ll turn around in a decade’s time, smile enigmatically and sotto voce say “I told you so’.

Those that hit the mark included the following, with personal favourites scored excluding any of the wines aforementioned:

Calon-Ségur

97

Montrose

95

Ormes de Pez

91

Cos Labory

90+

Lafite

97

Mouton

97+

Cos d’Estournel

94

Latour

98

Pontet Canet

93

Lynch Bages

93

Grand Puy Lacoste

93

Haut Bages Liberal

93 (Good value)

Pedesclaux

93

Leoville Barton

95

Gruaud Larose

93

Branaire

92

Lagrange

93+

Talbot

92+

Margaux

96

Palmer

96

Rauzan Ségla

93

Cantenac Brown

92

Vieux Chateaux Certan

98

Le Pin

96+

Croix de Gay

93

Rouget

94

Gazin

94

Mission Haut Brion

96

Carmes Haut Brion

94+

Chevalier

93+

Smith Haut Lafitte

94+

Malartic Lagraviere

93

Olivier

93 (Good value)



Bordeaux 2017: Jacques Thienpont - Chateau Le Pin

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-05-04



Bordeaux 2017: Thibault Pontallier - Chateau Margaux

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-05-04



Bordeaux 2017 - Wine Owners' Proto-prices

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-19


Wine Owners created proto-prices (first published in this JancisRobinson.com article) to help consumers identify value among en primeur offers. The prices support consumers when buying en primeur, by providing a consistent baseline from which to make purchasing decisions. Confidence in en primeur has been damaged in recent years, by over-inflated release prices and by fraudsters posing as brokers (always check the data, and always check the broker!), so we saw a clear need for a remedy. Each proto-price is the price at which Wine Owners believes a wine should be released in order to make its en primeur offer attractive and worthwhile for the consumer. 


Wine Owners Bordeaux 2017 en primeur;
©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


Symbiotic EP

En Primeur must be symbiotic to continue thriving; it must benefit both chateau and consumer. Chateau benefits from smoother cash-flow and up-front guaranteed sales. Consumer benefits from a better price – significantly lower than buying two years later at general release. The symbiosis has lost balance slightly in recent years, with release prices rising apparently out of control. We created our proto-prices to help restore some of that balance, by creating informed consumers and collectors. We can't (and shouldn't try to) control the chateaux; they must release their new wine at the price they think best reflects the market, and their position within the market. What we can do, though, is give consumers the data they need to make informed purchasing decisions.


Not If But Which

Proto-prices address each wine individually. The decision is not if to buy wines en primeur, but which ones. If wine X doesn't look like good value, move to wine Y (no, that isn't an encoded hint to buy premier grand cru Sauternes!). And if none of your favourite wines look like good value this year, see below...


Back Vintages to the Future

Proto-prices support en primeur purchasing, and will hopefully help the tradition continue (on a stable path which benefits everyone involved). But if the new vintage of your preferred wine doesn't offer good value this year, adjust your gaze slightly. Caught up in the excitement of buying the new vintage en primeur, many of us forget to check availability and price of back-vintages. The Wine Owners Exchange is brimming with back-vintages you can buy instead. And hopefully, next year, you'll find the 2018 vintage at a more attractive en primeur price (the likelihood of which will significantly increase if enough consumers follow the buying advice in this article).

Proto-prices are based on a combination of solid wine market data and fine-grained knowledge. Last week in Bordeaux, one half of our team tasted tirelessly (well, almost tirelessly) through hundreds of 2017 Bordeaux wines, while at London HQ the other half was busy crunching market data. The combined result of these two efforts is the below table of 2017 proto-prices, featuring the seventy(ish) Bordeaux wines most commonly bought en primeur.

Happy en primeur purchasing, and...let the games begin!


WINE NAME

2017 PROTO-PRICE 2016 EP (IB) btl % CHANGE 17 Vs. 16 V-AVG * Actual release price
Alter Ego de Palmer£46.6£46.600%£53.00£48.75
Angelus£232.05£298.00-22%£238.00 £280
Ausone £423.5 £590.83 -28% £385.00
Beausejour Becot £39.1 £52.00 -25% £34.00 £42
Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse £55.58 £85.50 -35% £57.00 £77
Belair-Monange £71.4 £115.83 -38% £51.00 £93
Beychevelle £56.3 £56.30 0% £68.00 £52
Calon-Segur £71.5 £78.30 -9% £65.00 £61.50
Canon £65 £90.80 -28% £50.00 £67.50
Canon La Gaffeliere £44.85 £64.17 -30% £46.00 £54
Cheval Blanc £344.3 £533.30 -35% £313.00
Clerc Milon £49.16 £49.16 0% £52.00 £52
Clinet Pomerol £49.73 £72.00 -31% £51.00 £57.50
Clos Fourtet £60.5 £91.67 -34% £55.00 £73
Conseillante £96 £155.00 -38% £80.00 £123
Cos d'Estournel £79 £110.00 -28% £79.00 £109
de Valandraud £87.75 £129.15 -32% £90.00 £100
Domaine de Chevalier £36.08 £53.50 -33% £37.00 £43
Ducru-Beaucaillou £92 £140.00 -34% £92.00 £124
Duhart-Milon £47.78 £53.30 -10% £49.00 £47
Durfort Vivens £34.65 £40.33 -14% £33.00 £38
Figeac Saint Emilion £113.4 £155.00 -27% £81.00 £123
Gazin £44.85 £60.50 -26% £46.00 £58.75
Grand Puy Lacoste £40 £60.83 -34% £40.00 £54
Gruaud Larose £40.95 £51.67 -21% £42.00 £52
Haut Bailly £52 £87.50 -41% £52.00 £74
Haut-Brion £310.2 £400.00 -22% £282.00 £355
Haut-Brion Blanc £583.33 £583.33 0% £557.00 £615
La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion £48.4 £63.33 -24% £44.00
La Fleur Petrus £129.68 £165.83 -22% £133.00 £149
La Mission Haut-Brion £184.6 £324.16 -43% £142.00 £245
La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc £451.43 £466.67 -3% £463.00 £490
La Mondotte £126.75 £199.00 -36% £130.00 £119
Lafite Rothschild £398.72 £491.66 -19% £498.40
Lafleur £348.075 £430.00 -19% £357.00 £445
Lagrange £29.25 £35.00 -16% £30.00 £31
L'Aile d'Argent Blanc £54.17 £54.17 0% £53.00 £56
Lascombes £47.78 £56.67 -16% £49.00 £52
Le Petit Mouton Rothschild £133.3 £133.30 0% £171.00 £149
Le Pin £1574.63 £2,083.00 -24% £1,615.00
L'Eglise-Clinet £115.5 £216.67 -47% £105.00
Leoville Barton £48.75 £62.50 -22% £50.00 £54
Leoville Las Cases £113.3 £175.00 -35% £103.00 £148
Leoville Poyferre £49.73 £67.00 -26% £51.00 £55
Les Carruades de Lafite £125 £125.00 0% £215.00 £135
l'Evangile £82.88 £131.67 -37% £85.00 £180
L'If £147.23 £175.00 -16% £151.00
Lynch Bages £74.1 £95.80 -23% £76.00 £74
Malartic-Lagraviere £33.6 £40.00 -16% £28.00 £33.30
Malartic-Lagraviere Blanc £41 £41.00 0% £32.00 £42
Margaux £351.9 £428.60 -18% £306.00 £360
Monbousquet £33.15 £36.67 -10% £34.00 £38
Montrose £72.6 £95.00 -24% £66.00 £98
Mouton Rothschild £334.43 £411.60 -19% £343.00 £360
Palmer Margaux £171.6 £236.60 -27% £156.00 £195.75
Pape Clement £88.73 £129.16 -31% £91.00 £63.30
Pape Clement Blanc £98.33 £98.33 0% £68.00 £100.45
Pavie Macquin £39.98 £58.33 -31% £41.00 £52
Pavie Saint Emilion £194.03 £298.00 -35% £199.00 £280
Pavillon Blanc £145.83 £145.83 0% £150.00 £147
Pavillon Rouge £133.58 £115.00 16% £137.00 £135
Petrus £1642.88 £2,666.00 -38% £1,685.00
Pichon Baron £79.2 £115.60 -31% £72.00 £98
Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande £84.7 £122.50 -31% £77.00 £93
Pontet Canet £68.4 £111.67 -39% £57.00 £82
Quintus £58.5 £95.80 -39% £60.00 £93
Rauzan Segla £46.8 £61.30 -24% £48.00 £54
Smith Haut Lafitte £50 £78.00 -36% £50.00 £69
Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc £73 £73.00 0% £57.00 £83
Troplong Mondot £66 £100.00 -34% £55.00 £72
Trotanoy £119.93 £193.33 -38% £123.00
Vieux Chateau Certan £128.75 £196.67 -35% £103.00
AVERAGE REDUCTION FOR A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN -23%


* V-AVG: avg current mkt value 04,06,08,12,14



En Primeur - DAY FOUR: A Pine for Sore Eyes

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-13


Slightly weary after several busy days of tasting and driving, we were very happy to start today with a blissful treat; Jacques Thienpont hosting us to taste his 2017 Le Pin. Well-tailored and welcoming, Jacques greeted us with his son Georges, and took time to explain a little of the history behind the two wines we were about to taste: L'If and Le Pin. Both wines were stunning, and L'If - one of the newer additions to the Thienpont collection - shows a clear family resemblance to its legendary big brother. (It's upwards price trajectory does, too). What stood out most in both wines (beyond elegant fruit aromas and a cool-silk mouthfeel) were the feather light, super-ripe tannins. When we asked Jacques how he achieved these, he modestly gave all credit to the vineyard, saying “Fiona (Jacques' wife Fiona Morrison MW) can't believe how little I do to the wine”. Whatever the case, we have seen tannins like these at only one other winery (Cheval Blanc) in all of our tastings this week. ‘Extremely svelte, no hint of excess', say Nick's 2017 Le Pin tasting notes.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

The Right Wine for the Job

The Le Pin tasting highlighted a really basic wine investment tip - one which may easily be overlooked. In the excitement of buying a super-expensive wine like this, an investor may well neglect to factor how many years the wine will actually last. Expensive wine is not necessarily long-lived wine. The world's most expensive wines cost so much because they're excellent and sought-after, not because they take forever to mature. Jacques estimates that the Le Pin 2017 is a wine to drink within ten to fifteen years. That's great if you can get hold of it en primeur and turn it around within a few years, but that really isn't particularly long in investment terms. At the opposite end of the spectrum are two wines of similar stature: Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Latour. These two are completely different in style - both from Le Pin and from one another. They are chalk and cheese stylistically, but they are clearly similar in how long-lived they are. The longer the maturation period, the more time there is for speculation and anticipation, and the more time you have to find that well-heeled and motivated buyer.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


En Primeur Alive and Kicking

From up-close here in Bordeaux, En Primeur as a buying mechanism (with all its associated practices and processes) seems alive and well. The tasting rooms here are packed and buzzing, all the traditional conversations are happening (again), and tannin-battered tongues are wagging as always. Hopefully this energy will be complemented by sensible release prices in a few weeks' time, and by a decent level of commitment from consumers. And investors...

Watch this space in coming weeks for our thoughts on hot buys, once the producers begin to announce their prices.


En Primeur - DAY THREE: Saint-Julien Delivers

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-12


A late return tonight (past midnight) and a long day, waking at 05:00. But there's still gas left in the tank, so to speak. Over the course of the day we gathered thoughts in advance for the below.


Saint-Julien Delivers

JR has been looking for patterns all week - some form of shape around which to build recommendations for wise en primeur purchases. Until this afternoon we failed to find anything solid, but then...Saint-Julien delivered. At the UGC (Union des Grands Crus) Saint-Julien tasting hosted by Chateau Beychevelle at its modern-looking new winery, we noticed a clear consistency in the wines; there wasn't a dud among them. Well, maybe there was one, but we don't need to talk about that as it wasn't really that bad. Either way, this was the first appellation we'd seen where quality was reliably high in these en primeur tastings. Everywhere else had required dedicated tasting to work out what was hot and what was not. So thank you Saint-Julien, and bravo!


Bright Whites

Of course, as soon as this pattern had been spotted, we remembered another that we wanted to talk about yesterday(but ran out of time). It's the incredible purity to the whites this year, all around Bordeaux - not just in Graves where we were today (starting with Haut-Brion, Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte) but everywhere. Lovely balanced wines great concentration and acidity, and pithy, chalky tannins. Our tasting notes are full of descriptors like kaffir lime leaves, sweet sage, gooseberry, sherbet and candied lemon. Even lemon verbena made it in there. 2017 looks like a really great year for Bordeaux whites.


©Nick Martin / Wine Owners

The Cold Shoulder

Frost - the running theme of conversations all around Bordeaux this week - was as much as issue in Graves as it was in the right bank. The frost pattern here in the Graves seems to have been much more black and white than over in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. For some producers, there is a glittering silver lining to this rather painful situation, in that they adapted to it by significantly changing their blend and have come out smiling. Larrivet Haut-Brion is a gleaming example of this; the team there turned their blend around to use three times the usual amount of Cabernet Franc, and one third the amount of Merlot (which got severely hit by the frost). Les Carmes de Haut Brion is a similar story, and a similar success.

We have been focusing a lot on the frost topic (both here in the blog, and in our conversations with producers), but in fact a key point we'd like to make is that the frost is not something that consumers and investors should really focus on. What really matters, ultimately, is what each of the producers has managed to create. There are no strong patterns that consumers can reliably follow with regard to the frost.


Softly Softly Catchy Monkey

After a morning on the right bank, we returned to the Medoc, to the UGC tasting at Lafon Rochet. There, Basil Tesseron told us that 2017 was a vintage where it was extremely important not to over-extract, not being a super-ripe or sunny vintage. Over-extraction would just lead to mean, green bitter compounds leaching into the wine. This echoed a sentiment raised earlier in the day at Smith Haut-Lafitte, where the team did 4 pigeages per day, but no pumperovers, in order to keep the winemaking relatively gentle. 2017 was a year to be patient for picking and gentle in the winery.

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

Less (Wine) Does Not Necessarily Mean More (Money)

Despite indications given by some chateaux that smaller harvests will mean higher release prices, we see no justification for this. Traditionally, in vintages which are not 'stellar' -particularly those which followed relatively good vintages (as 2016 was) vintages, prices have tended to drop or remain roughly stable. Even in 2006 prices didn't significantly rise; they stayed roughly the same as 2005 even though the vintage clearly wasn't quite as impressive.

Tomorrow is a final look at the top producers we've not yet visited, all around the region. Lots of driving, between Le Pin, Angelus, La Conseillante, Eglise-Clinet and then back over the river to Latour, Leoville Barton and Palmer. Here's hoping for good driving conditions!



En Primeur - DAY 2: "The First Rule of 2017: There is No Rule..."

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-11


Reflecting on day two, with the heady aromas of Pavie and co still flickering around our mouths, and a hard day's tasting behind us, we searched for patterns and rules. But, on reflection, there really is no rule that we can suggest.


Chateau Pavie - Bordeaux en primeur, ©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

An Unexpected Guest

Cabernet Sauvignon made an larger-than-usual appearance in several top wines we tried today, most noticeably Vieux Chateau Certan and Cheval Blanc. Typically, VCC contains just 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, but in 2017 that was increased to 5%. Although there was no overt Cabernet Sauvignon aroma profile in the wine, its freshness and focus almost certainly added to the completeness of the mouthfeel. Cheval Blanc is a quite different story; 2017 is the first vintage in many years that the wine will contain Cabernet Sauvignon.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

Shining Examples of Franc

Cabernet Franc is absolutely not in the dog house in 2017, despite the general impression that it had a tough vintage. Three stand-out wines from today's line-up contained substantial levels of Cabernet Franc; Chateau Troplong- Mondot, Chateau Canon and Cheval Blanc's Petit Cheval. The former pair included around 25% Cab Franc, and Le Petit Cheval put on a blinding performance with a relatively massive 48%. So, while the variety may have had a very tough vintage in some parts of the right bank, it is showing admirably in others.


Frost Patterns

There is a lot of emphasis this week on The Frost (27th and 28th April 2017), and rightly so; it was absolutely devastating from some producers, and has had clear repercussions in their 2017 wines. But not all vineyards were affected, and some seem to have escaped entirely unscathed. Chateau Canon, for example, was almost completely untouched by frost. The wines are suitably excellent - refined, bright, tight and focused. Vieux Chateau Certan - our second tasting of the day - is another example of a winery seemingly undaunted by the frost. It tasted magnificent, silky and balanced this morning, all those tannins ago. But many of those right bank producers who did experience frost have found ways to produce good, and even excellent wines. Some adjusted the blend of grapes they use. Soutard is a fantastic and successful example of this; their 2017 is very good, and will be a great value buy when released. Their 2017 blend was 90% Merlot (significantly higher than the 65% normally used), with Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Malbec making up the remaining 10%.

Chateau Gazin was untouched by frost, but the team there nonetheless felt that their Cab Franc wasn't quite up to scratch. They took the decision to boost their blend up to a fat 95% Merlot, resulting in a 2017 grand vin with a silky mouthfeel, great balance, and an enticing touch of kirsch dancing around on the nose.

On the left bank yesterday, the story was quite different. The frost was relatively indiscriminate there, affecting most vineyards to some extent. But here in the right bank, the hillier landscape allowed the freezing air to drain away from some places...and to gather catastrophically in others. Thus the distribution of frost damage was much more patchy here. Clay-based areas and lower-lying sites were obviously hit very hard by the frost. We do feel for those producers hit hardest - it was clearly not an easy vintage for them, and they face challenges ahead when the wines are released to market.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

So the rule really is that there is no rule here. Which makes exhaustive primeurs tasting all the more valuable. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head to Graves and Pessac-Leognon in the morning, to taste the Haut-Brion wines, and then on to Pape Clement and Malartic Lagraviere. We shall see if, and to what extent, the gravel soils helped mitigate the frost impact here...


Wine Owners 2017 Bordeaux En Primeur Week - DAY ONE

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-10


Starting early, we hit the Monday-morning Bordeaux commuter congestion armed with laptops, phones and an excellent pain au chocolat. Day one launched us headlong into the Medoc grand crus, starting at Lafite, then moving through Mouton, Cos d'Estournel, Pontet-Canet, Calon-Segur, Montrose, finishing at Chateau Margaux.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


Tongues still tingling from untamed tannins, we are now reviewing the day from the wine-free environs of our rented loft- conversion apartment. There is blue sky peeping through the skylights.

Three main themes emerged from today's en primeur 2017 tastings:


Cabernet Cornucopia

The most obvious pattern is that 2017 was clearly a Cabernet vintage in Pauillac and Saint-Estephe. Almost all of the wines we tried have a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends than in 2016. The particular weather patterns of the 2017 growing season meant that Merlot was tricker in 2017, and Cabernet performed well. Lafite, Montrose and Calon-Segur particularly exemplified this - their wines glowing from the healthy Cabernet. The Calon tasting demonstrated this most clearly; comparing side-by-side the Marquis de Calon and the Calon-Segur (Cabernet was particularly higher in the latter) it became clear how a higher percentage of Cabernet has worked wonders in 2017. The Calon is fresher, brighter and more defined than the Marquis, has more-focused acidity, and will be by far the longer-lived wine.

A noteworthy exception to this pattern is the grand vin at Chateau Margaux, where the team are obviously very happy with their Merlot this year. In fact, their Merlot was apparently so good that it was used worthy of a greater dose in the grand vin this year - a move which brought production levels of the grand vin up to almost 2015 levels (impressive from the smaller 2017 vintage). This is an unusual moment of glory for Merlot, which is typically the ‘insurance policy' grape.


House Styles

One obvious pattern showing in day one's tastings was house styles. These are very much in evidence in 2017, and most obvious at the Mouton stable, where d'Armailhac, Petit Mouton, Mouton and Aile d'Argent all shared the house's exuberent, borderline-exotic richesse. This continues right down to the house's entry-level Baronarques brand from Limoux, which we were also warmly invited to taste. The four Cos d'Estournel wines also had a family feel about them, being clean, bright and focused, without being overly ‘new world'. The pattern was most pleasing, perhaps, at Montrose, where both the Dame de Montrose and the grand vin showed brilliantly, and shared a distinctive style; cool, fresh wines (yes, high Cabernet content) with lots of tightly wound potential, and a whiff of something herbal (along the lies of nettles and lavender) marking them out from the crowd.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners
Past and present

References to the past, as a means of promoting the present, were frequent in the presentations today.

Lafite's new director, Jean-Guillaume Prats (previously of Cos d'Estournel), pointed to technology as being significant in the quality of this 2017 vintage. Thirty years ago, he said, given the same vintage conditions, it would have been 'very tricky' to make a wine of such high quality as they have managed this vintage with both the Carruades and grand vin. Of course, his job is to say such things, but his demeanour was very real, honest and open. And the wines spoke for themselves; the Lafite was its usual elegant, impressive self even at this early stage in its life.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


Also illustrating progress by pointing to the past was Thibault Pontalier of Chateau Margaux, who highlighted that the blend of Pavillon Rouge today is exactly the blend of the grand vin thirty years ago. A strong part of his reasoning for this was the ever- increasing quality of Cabernet Sauvignon that Margaux is able to produce, thanks to investment in technique and technology. This was in evidence for more than just the reds, however; Margaux's stunning Pavillon Blanc 2017 ended today with a refreshing flourish of beautifully concentrated, linear Sauvignon.

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


Comparing 2017 with 2016, the majority of wines from day one appear to be a notch less intense and refined than 2016. We're interested to see if this continues on the right bank.

Tomorrow we visit Nenin, Vieux Chateau Certan, Cheval Blanc, Gazin, La Couspade, Canon and Pavie. Watch this space tomorrow, for reflections on the right bank.



En primeur week: our schedule

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-04


Follow us on Twitter and Instagram next week as our team will be sharing their first impression and analysis on the new vintage live from le Bordelais. 

Here's a taste of our week:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Lafite

Mouton

Cos d’Estournel

Pontet Canet

Calon Segur

Montrose

Margaux



Nenin

VCC

Cheval Blanc

Château de Ferrand

Gazin

La Couspaude

Canon

Pavie


Haut Brion

Pape Clément

Malartic Lagravière

Smith Haut Laffite

Haut Bailly

Lafon-Rochet

Beychevelle

Siran

Lagrange

Le Pin

La Conseillante

Figeac

Eglise Clinet

Angelus

Latour

Palmer

Ulysse Cazabonne

Leoville Barton




Chateau Margaux - Wine Owners



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