2014 Bordeaux En Primeur – A Great Opportunity

by David Porter

2014 – A Great Opportunity

Having just got back from the wonderfully busy week that is Bordeaux during the en primeur tastings, we are pleased to report that some lovely wines have been made in 2014. However, as we keep saying, price remains the key to the success or failure of this year’s campaign. We have opened with this thought for the last three years, which is incredibly dull but sadly since 2011 – not much has changed. This morning some properties have started to ‘come out’ at the same price as last year.


‘At the right price this could be a great vintage to get the primeur system back on track.’


It is hard to understand who thinks this is the right message to the market, which is still reeling after 5 years of very poorly performing investments. Yes, this is a better vintage by far than the last three – and with a weaker Euro this year, UK and US buyers will be getting more for their money – but is this enough? Is there still a need to buy early – or will the wines still be available at a good price in a year or two?


The last vintage from which the end consumer has seen any advantage for buying early was 2008. This is not the point of the primeur system; there is little point in buying early if you can buy the wines later for the same price or less. Let’s hope the Chateaux realise this is their time to make a correction to the way the pricing has been going for the last 5 vintages – and then we can have some fun!


2014 The vintage – Saved by an Indian Summer

On the back of 2013 – which for the Bordeaux’s winemakers was an ‘annus horribilis’, there was not much to be happy about by the summer of 2014. The season started well, a very mild, damp winter was followed by quite a warm and early spring, this meant that the flowering was early and the fruit set well.


However, as spring turned to summer the weather never really moved on. May and June were wet and cool and so ripening of the fruit simply never had a chance to get going. A real issue was the low levels of light which almost halted the grapes development completely. The best estates worked hard in the vineyards at this stage, clearing under-ripe bunches and removing much foliage to try and maximise the light and warmth for the fruit. By the end of July things were looking bad. Chateau Haut Bailly’s technical director – Gabriel Vialard – told his boss, the wonderful Veronique Sanders, to expect the worst.


‘This Indian summer meant all the grapes had a long, steady time to ripen’


Things remained cool and wet until just after the 15th of August when the sun finally came out – in most zones it did not stop shining until the end of October. A lifeline that saved the vintage.


This Indian summer meant all the grapes had a long, steady time to ripen, in most cases perfect phenolic maturity was achieved in all varieties. Acidity in the fruit, from the cool start to the season remained in the juice, and was filled out nicely by the slowly ripened fruit. Conditions for harvesting were almost luxurious, with no sign of rain, the grapes were brought in exactly when they were ready – growers had as much time as they liked – with many like Chateau Latour still harvesting the Cabernets well into the middle of October.


The Wines

There was much talk last week in Bordeaux about where 2014 ranks and which vintages it most resembles.


Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier explained to me that he felt 2014 was in the second tier of recent great vintages – just behind 2000, 2009 & 2010 – but with better balance than 2005 and greater density than 2003.


Denis Durantou of Chateau L’Église Clinet, one of our favourite characters on the right bank, not to mention a super winemaker was typically more poetic when he said to me “ this is the best, good vintage – I wish all vintages were this good when not totally great.


Where done well the 2014 wines are really good. There is a wonderful intensity to the juice. Concentration of flavour is high, with super ripeness and brilliant balance. Gentle maceration was needed to avoid any over extraction of flavour, and when this was not done with a soft touch there are some overly exuberant wines, more noticeably with the wines of the right bank.


There are, however, great wines in all communes but those with good levels of Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc often show greater elegance and sophistication than some of the more Merlot heavy wines.


‘Where done well the 2014 wines are really good.’


These wines are already very attractive to taste – this exuberant dense fruit will of course hide away as the élevage continues – but for many these wines will offer fantastic drinking in the short to medium term, but for many there is enough density of matter, such concentration of fruit and such super tannins that they have all they need for the longer term too. Steven Spurrier sees a bright and long future of 20 to 30 years for many wines, but there is much to appreciate sooner too.


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