Vintages in the Shadows

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-03-05


We would like to echo the sentiments of Lisa Perotti-Brown – the new face of Bordeaux at The Wine Advocate – who revels in reviewing great wines from vintages less hyped than the universally celebrated ones.

A review of past vintages is so much more pleasurable than one of a current vintage. It can be pursued at leisure, far from the madding crowd of en primeur set-piece campaigns. The wines have been in bottle for some years, and have grown into their skins, allowing them to express themselves and harmonise. There is none of the guesswork required when evaluating young wines. And it is not done as part of a tasting Megathon favouring the most obvious, richest wines…

Here follows a spotlight of vintages which hide truly great wines, many of which still represent good value.

Burgundy 2013

Let's start with 2013, the worst climatic year Burgundy has experienced in a long time, characterized by a dreadful summer of cold, sodden weather. But that’s the thing with Burgundy; its growers refused to give up. They never do. They spent the summer in their Aigle wellies desperately battling the filthy elements and sticky, sucking mud. Coaxing what they could out of their precious vines - their livelihood - trying to make the best of a seemingly bad lot. The coaxing process involved leaf thinning, and sacrificing bunches to give the rest a chance at maturing properly. And that is the thing with Pinot Noir; it responds exceptionally favourably to low yields.

Now, if you like dense, sweet fruit with generous alcohols, 2013 may not be the vintage for you. But if you enjoy intensity of flavour without the weight of a hot year, red Burgundies from 2013 will positively surprise you. All the more so if you first tasted barrel samples back in January 2015; the wines are now positively transformed from that first recalcitrant showing.

It’s well known that a warm, accommodating, crisis-free growing season will result in wines that are generous and velvety-textured in their youth. But these aren’t always the wines that develop into fine, complex maturity. Take 1999 for example, lauded as one of the greatest Burgundy vintages of all time. Indeed, some of the wines are astoundingly good. But just as many others are really quite average. Why is that? Over-generous yields. It’s a fine line with Pinot, between harvesting as much ripe fruit as nature provides and allowing the fecund vine to produce as much as it’s wont.

Back to low-yielding 2013, and the best wines are beautifully crystalline, intense and transparent. Think a cornucopia of red fruits, blackberries and gooseberries: the essential ingredients of a refreshing summer pudding – a balancing mélange of sweet and sharp. Add characteristic Burgundy high notes of salinity (and a mineral-tinged, geological nod-in-the-glass to the inland sea of which the Cote d’Or was once a part) and hopefully you’ve formed a fair mental image of 2013 red Burgundy.

It’s no coincidence that blue chip stalwarts such as Eric Rousseau and Christophe Roumier love their 2013s. Aubert de Villaine sees his Domaine de la Romanée 2013s as long distance runners (in contrast to his more ‘forward’ 2014s). And they are delightful.

2013 is also one of the last sensibly priced vintages before Burgundy prices became vertiginous.

Burgundy 2006

Wines from cooler Burgundy vintages often start out rather awkward, and out of kilter. Their acidity may add definition and length, but can also close the wine down, or conspire with tannins to suppress the essential grape characteristics in a wine.

2006 was one such vintage. Its wines were initially hard to taste, and broadly speaking, unlovely. Many of us viewed 2006 Burgundies as unwelcome magpies in our collector’s nest of more comely vintages.

But now, after a decade in bottle, the wines are starting to show very well. They exhibit well-defined fruit, great length and energy. Next to the 2005s, they may lack heft and powerful tannin structure, but they are nonetheless serious, intense wines. And they are beginning to drink well now. You’ll have to wait at least another decade for your 2005s to come around, but 2006 is a fine emerging vintage that will give pleasure now and for the foreseeable future.

Bordeaux 2011

For Bordeaux, 2011 was always going to be a tough sell. On release, the wines seemed scrawny and mean in comparison with the monumental 2009s and 2010s.

Yet a recent dinner event hosted by Wine Owners showed how dangerous it is to tar a whole vintage with the same presumptive brush, or to judge a more classic vintage too early. The highlights of that tasting were Vieux Chateau Certan 2011 and La Mission Haut-Brion 2011. They were both easily the equal of their counterparts from better-regarded vintages, and represent great value compared with any more recent vintage.

Bordeaux 2006

In Bordeaux, 2006 was a vintage that attracted more than its fair share of negative press, the effects of which are still in evidence today, judging by the affordability of 2006 Bordeaux on the Wine Owners Exchange. The success of a Bordeaux vintage depends on sentiment, and in 2006 combination of negative factors came into play.

First, it came on the heels of stellar 2005. Second, Bob Parker’s favourable rating of the vintage attracted criticism from many pundits, attracting further negative attention. Third, the release prices were too expensive– due at least partly to the high Parker scores. Why else would La Mission Haut-Brion be ready to trade at £1,550 per 12x75cl, yet be overlooked?

[ Top tip: buy La Mission Haut-Brion at this level – half of its opening (mis)price. It is considered a ‘wine of the vintage’, rivalled for this accolade only by the (much more expensive) Mouton. ]

We are fans of the Bordeaux 2006 wines we’ve tasted. They don’t have the powdery tannins and powerful black fruit of the 2005s, but they do have superb energy, and a sappy character that compels you to take the next sip. We see many wines from 2006 as more interesting than their counterparts from 2004 or 2008. Notable examples include Mouton, Pontet-Canet, Leoville Barton, Leoville Las Cases, La Conseillante (just a sampled tip of the iceberg). Whenever tasted comparatively, these showed extremely well alongside relative other vintages.

In our experience, where 2006 performs particularly well is its consistency. Simply put, we’ve never had a poor one. Other low-rated back-vintages produced a number of successes (such as 2007, 2011), but none are as consistent as 2006.

Bordeaux 2002

2002 is another Bordeaux vintage which suffered from poor reputation. The year’s poor weather consigned the vintage to the status of ‘restaurant wine’ before any of the wines were even bottled. But it’s easy to forget that the wines were very well priced; first growths were released at around £800 per case (just one-sixth of their 2015 release prices). If you had invested in 2002 Bordeaux 15 years ago, you would be feeling rather smug right now. 2002 is the vintage for the contrarian that lurks inside every wine enthusiast!

While they were never going to be the most profound expressions of Bordeaux (in the light of the meteorological conditions), the 2002s have consistently tasted savoury, fruity, and sweetly spiced with cloves, cinnamon sticks and liquorice root. At all levels of classification, we’ve yet to stumble across a disappointing example.

Piedmont 2002

In 2002 Piedmont, like Bordeaux, suffered from rotten summer weather. Wine commentators have described 2002 in Piedmont in such terms as ‘wiped out’, ‘disastrous’, ‘severely compromised’, ‘a washout’.

But despite all of this, one wine survived the vintage’s humid gloom (and the hailstorms which repeatedly strafed Barolo) with enough salvaged bunches to benefit from perfect autumnal conditions. This is a wine made with such severe selection that yields were just 12 hl/ ha, and which epitomises viticultural triumph against the odds. The wine in question is, of course, the now-mythical Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2002.

Take a moment to consider the sacrifice involved in making wine with yields as low as 12 hl/ ha. Burgundy considers 25 hl/ ha to be painfully low, and in Bordeaux anything under 40 hl/ha is a very short harvest.

Giovanni Conterno – Roberto Conterno’s late father – called 2002 the greatest Monfortino of his lifetime.

The last word must surely go to Antonio Galloni, whose tasting note and review of this wine encapsulates why it’s so rewarding to seek out the greatest wines within those vintages in the shadows:

“…the 2002 Barolo Riserva Monfortino, a wine that may very well turn into a modern-day legend… 2002 was a cold, rainy year that in many parts of Barolo culminated with violent hailstorms in early September. The weather then turned picture-perfect for the rest of the growing season, but by that time most vineyards were severely damaged. The late-ripening Cascina Francia was an exception. Conterno green-harvested aggressively, which gave the fruit a chance to ripen. …The Conternos were so upset by the poor early press reaction to the vintage they announced they would let no one taste their 2002 Barolo. Conterno has fashioned an old-style, massive Monfortino that pays homage to the great wines of decades past. …It is a deeply-colored, imposing Monfortino loaded with dense dark fruit that today is held in check by a massive wall of tannins…classic, old-style Barolo the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again any time soon. Antonio Galloni, October 2008.

Wine Owners - Vintages in the shadows Barolo Riserva Monfortino Conterno


2011 Bordeaux – speed tasting at the UGC Vinexpo Asia.

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2014-06-06


The most noticeable aspect to many of the 2011s is the hole in the middle. Sappy, fresh flavours upon entry, bland characteristics and dry finishes with a tendency to fade away. Red Graves seems to have had a particularly poor time of it, whilst many St Emilion wines suffer from especially dry finishes. Margaux hit the heights for the vintage, as well as some of the depths.

 The wine that proved to be my fine wine initiation was Prieuré Lichine 1986, a young wine in 1989 bought for £6.80 from Laytons. I was happy that their 2011 was so pretty, floral and aromatic: near-term drinking in a well constructed package that’s the epitome of what the vintage can offer. There was no shortage of elegant examples from the Margaux appellation including Rauzan-Ségla and Siran.

 St Julien flew the standard for homogeneity as it so often does. Léoville Poyferré was exceptional, St. Pierre svelte, integrated and very smart. Gloria, Lagrange, and the Bartons showing some complexity and all very pleasant. Beychevelle was forward, cheeky and easy-going.

Pauillac excelled in the vintage; the Pichons both lovely, with a delicious Lynch-Bages occupying the next rung down.

Finally, a special mention for La Conseillante, which stood out from the blandness and dry finishes of so may of the Libournais. A superb wine. Still too expensive at £680, so worth waiting for the secondary market to wreak its inevitable damage on a vintage, like 2012 and 2013, that nobody really wants or needs.

La conseillante


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