James Davy visited Bordeaux last week to taste hundreds of wines from the new 2017 vintage. Here are his thoughts on a fascinating year. You’ll find our full Bordeaux 2017 En Primeur offer here.
“Visiting Bordeaux for the April en primeur tastings is something I have been doing for 20 years now, a milestone for brief reflection. My first visit to taste was the 1997 vintage – overpriced and initially disowned, but a useful comparison for several reasons. The wines were lighter, the acidity lower, the tannins less pronounced. Coming on the heels of brilliant ’95s and ’96s, prices for the ’97s dropped (ever so) slightly; but not nearly enough, so the UK campaign was not a great success.
A couple of years later many ’97’s came back on the market, at virtually half their opening price. A buying frenzy ensued; beautiful young wines (not all but many) to enjoy in the short term or up to a decade in the finest examples. These were affordable to everyday consumers, bars, restaurants and hotels – not just to collectors with rarified tastes and deep pockets. The best ’97s were sublime, lovely wines. Bravo Bordeaux, et merci. Although actually, Bravo the market, et merci.
Back to the present day. Bordeaux ‘en primeur’ week has been and gone and what a week it was. Expectation was low and I confess I hoped to be able to return to announce, to anyone caring to listen, that 2017 was “just not good enough“, providing a much needed opportunity to say non merci. The back story to the vintage? Vineyards ravaged by April frosts, some Chateaux making no wine, others just 50% of their potential. Surely the wines that made it through would be awful? A drought followed the frost, how could anything survive? Green and mean, or fat and blousy – surely anything but sublime and tasty?
And so here we are twenty years on with a touch of déjà vu. 2015 & 2016 are properly great vintages which saw prices soar after the comparatively well priced, good quality 2014s. Despite that rise in price, demand increased too. Fill your cellars with these wines as they will surely please you in years to come. A decade from now, wines which appeared expensive will turn out to have been a value purchase. Just don’t tell the Bordelais that, please!
So here we are and here it is… 1997 all over again? At the top level (which in the main is what the wine trade tastes ‘en primeur’) the wines are delicious. Lighter, lower in acidity, with silky soft tannin and plenty of yumminess. Actually way better than 1997 ‘s, yet the comparison is fairly made I think. To be a real success prices need to be lower – much lower – than in 2016. The best 2017s are wonderfully balanced and will age gracefully, but these are not ‘cellar wines’ in the true sense – wines to lay down and forget for many decades, whilst drinking something else, with all the enjoyable ‘anticipation’ that a great vintage delivers.
Can I recommend buying 2017? absolutely I can. At similar prices to last year – absolutely I cannot.
So far during April we have had a number of ‘lesser great’ Chateau release at 5% to 10% down on the previous year. This could still be a value proposition. These are wines for drinking sooner and will be lovely, and the percentages they rise and fall are on smaller numbers. The only really big gun to have fired so far is Château Palmer with a 20% drop on last year, a serious, note-worthy release. Although not the 25% – 30% drop I am hoping for, it is a welcome indication of a trend. Palmer is very good in 2017, in fact Palmer is very good full stop. If you can get some – do. I am afraid there is not a lot to go around, but if you can get 3 or 6 bottles then put them in the cellar.
My favourite 2017 left bank appellation? St Julien. Favourite from the right bank is Pomerol. The Graves has some stars but is mixed. Sauternes are good.
We await more prices!
JD April 2018