As the jamboree of the Bordeaux En Primeur tastings begin this week, the message from La Place de Bordeaux is that, despite the reduction in yield, the Bordeaux 2017 vintage is very serious, if not an exceptional one. Geoffrey Dean attended the La Place tastings and caught the mood of the châteaux owners, brokers and importers as an entrée to the following fortnight’s main course of sampling.
Some producers worry that the reduction in yield will see the top houses keeping 2016 prices which will put pressure on the entire market.
A “very serious vintage, if not an exceptional one” was the view taken last week of the 2017 vintage by La Place de Bordeaux, the collective made up of the region’s negociants and brokers after their annual sampling of Left and Right Bank wines ahead of the primeur tastings next week.
Budin reported back to The Buyer after attending La Place’s tastings: “This vintage will surprise a lot of people. Except 1947, years ending in a ‘7’ have not been special but 2017 is much better than 2007, and maybe even better than 2014.”
Certainly, Château Kirwan, the Margaux third growth, produced a stunning 2017 (13.3% abv). Made up of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (35) and Cabernet Franc (10), it also contained some Petit Verdot and a dash of Carmenère. Some 3,000 Carmenère vines were planted at Kirwan by Rodrigo Laytte, the chateau’s Chilean technical director in 2014. The fruit went into the 2016 grand vin (0.5%), with this being increased to 1% for the 2017. “Carmenère contributes some blueberry and violet notes, and adds more creaminess, giving the blend a little touch of personality,” Laytte said.
Another Margaux classed growth, Château Prieuré-Lichine, likewise produced a fine 2017, with lovely freshness, elegance and smooth tannins.
Although neither Grand-Puy Ducasse nor Meyney’s yield was affected by the devastating late April frost of last year, it hammered other parts of the Medoc and St-Emilion, in particular, and should cause Bordeaux’s overall production to fall by a third or more on 2016, a year of admittedly above average yield. Certain producers, such as Chateau Reverdi, in Listrac-Medoc, lost their entire 2017 crop to the frost.
Paulin Calvet, owner of Château Picque-Caillou in Graves, who lost 15% of his black and 10% of his white grapes, fears the lower production could lead estates to set 2017 primeur prices at 2016 levels. “2017 was not dry nor hot enough to be another 2016,” he told The Buyer. “We won’t be able to produce the same quality as 2015 and 2016, but if the top names don’t move their prices down, then it’s not fair.”
Calvet thinks 2017 will be a better white than red vintage, notably in Graves. His white 2017 blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon, aged in wood with 25% new, showed superbly.
Château Lagrange, the Saint-Julien third growth’s white Les Arums de Lagrange, also impressed, while Yves Raymond, winemaker for Château Saransot-Dupré in Listrac, a well-known area for quality whites, said 2017 could be one of his best whites.
The quietly-spoken Raymond won the annual Cru Bourgeois Cup last year for his 2014 Saronsot-Dupré, a coveted award run by the French magazine, Le Point. A Merlot-dominated Bordeaux blend, it saw off more than 150 other entries and, alongside his excellent 2016 white (50% Sauvignon Blanc; 50% Semillon), is newly available through Vindependents.
In Sauternes, Château Climens did not make any of their first wine last year, so bad was the frost damage. In nearby Cadillac, however, Château Biac, which looks resplendently down on a turn in the Garonne suffered no frost damage at all thanks to its proximity to the river. Their sumptuous botrytised sweet wine, Secret de Château Biac, made predominantly from Semillon, is available through Sheldon’s Wines in Shipston-on-Stour.