There has been no shortage of interest in Bordeaux 2017 with some individual estates such as Haut-Brion reporting 1,600 visitors booked into appointments during ‘primeurs week’. With the UK campaign in full swing, every day now brings a succession of new releases and prices, as well as critics and major importers releasing their own reports and conclusions. Here is a wine buyers’ digest of what the top UK importers have said so far about Bordeaux 2017.
If there is one thing that everyone can be agreed on it is that Bordeaux 2017 is a hugely variable vintage. If there is one comparable vintage then the majority of importers are likening it to 2014.
Not all the wine critics have submitted their Bordeaux 2017 reports yet, Neal Martin being one of the most notable absentees at this stage. What is immediately clear, however, from those that have done is that there is no consensus on which estates performed the best. Chateau Lafite, for example, topped Jane Anson’s report, whereas it was 8th in Jeff Leve’s and did not appear in the top 10s of Jeb Dunnock, Julia Harding, Lisa Perotti-Brown or Rebecca Gibb. Figeac topped Julia Harding’s scores and didn’t feature in any of the above critics’ top 10s, likewise Cos D’Estournel topped Perotti-Brown’s and wasn’t in any of the above critics’ top 10s.
Never before has there been such lack of agreement amongst the critics, almost as if there is a Parker vacuum going on with various people trying to fill it.
The subjectivity of critics’ tastings is thrown into even sharper relief by the variability of the Bordeaux 2017 vintage itself caused largely by the weather and, in particular, by the frost of late April, the first time that frost has damaged a Bordeaux harvest so badly since 1991.
As Bordeaux-based wine consultant Bill Blatch remarked: “From this moment on, Bordeaux 2017 was going to be running three separate vintages at once: the totally frosted one, the partially frosted one and the unaffected one.” The sad fact of the matter is that the best sites – through proximity to the rivers or with altitude – were the least affected or, as Blatch said so eloquently: “The well-to-do red wine properties were the least affected; there is no justice in this world…”
Justerini & Brooks picked up on this point when they called Bordeaux 2017 ‘a Darwinian vintage’ in that a good deal of natural selection took place. The full report can be read here.
“In 2017 there’s no avoiding the ‘F’ word… However, cruel as the frost was on some, it doesn’t really determine the quality of the vintage.”
“Statistically, 2017 does not make good reading for Bordeaux as a whole; appellations that produce bulk wine were hit hard. Total output was 3.5m hectolitres, some 40% lower than 2016. However, yields at the top Chateaux are relatively normal and if they are down, it is generally attributed to the small berries caused by the drought conditions in July and August. 2017 is best summarised as an early vintage with significant hydric stress.”
The report then tries to capture the class of the wines – using 2014 and 2016 as reference points:
“One hesitates to use the term ‘classical’ as this expression has been hijacked as a euphemistic idiom for a wash out. 2017 certainly isn’t weak, which will no doubt disappoint those superstitious about vintages ending in seven! There is nothing excessive, they are perfectly mannered, understated yet handsome, rather like a perfectly tailored Saville Row suit. They ooze charm, grace, sophistication and elegance. Some would say they are somewhere between 2014 and 2015, but we didn’t really detect the flamboyance of 2015 in many wines. Perhaps they are more in the image of 2014 with a little bit of the class of 2016. As with the 2016s, there aren’t any real reference points. 2017 is uniquely 2017. Nature has done its own selection, and the results are rather special.”
Those that did think Bordeaux 2017 was inbetween 2014 and 2015 were critic James Suckling and importer Farr Vintners who summarised 2017 in three key points at the start of its vintage report:
“A very good vintage, between 2014 and 2015 in quality for reds, with excellent dry whites. Best in Pauillac and Pomerol, where the hearts of the appellations were untouched by frost. Classic, refined wines with bright fruit, fine balance and moderate alcohol.”
“What is clear is that, overall, we have a good vintage but not a great one. In the heart of Pauillac and the plateau of Pomerol, the two best performing appellations, there are some very good wines indeed.”
Like J&B, Farr avoids using the term ‘classical’ in relation to Bordeaux 2017 but points out the lower alcohol character: “This is a year for those who prefer their claret at 13 degrees alcohol rather than 15, and who like balance, structure and freshness rather than opulence and power. The best are ripe, compact and vibrant wines of finesse and elegance.”
“It is hard to compare this vintage to previous years, but it is certainly not a blockbuster like 2016, 2010 or 2009. Nor is it a fleshy, ripe year like 2015. The tannins make the wines softer and more approachable than 2014s, but they have higher acidity than the charming, easy-going 2012s.”
Farr predicts prices of Bordeaux 2017 will be coming down as does Guy Seddon at Corney & Barrow in his report here who starts his vintage report by saying that “After three good vintages, the 2017 campaign may yet prove to be something of a quandary.”
Going on, Seddon gives reassurance about the price levels: “We see no reason for Bordeaux 2017 release prices being anything other than lower than those in 2016. Rumours of another round of price increases were interestingly dispelled by some, including Jean-Philippe Delmas of Clarence Dillon, owner of the Haut-Brion stable. Time will tell, but this is a good early indicator for the campaign.”
In a later report C&B goes on to point out: “We love vintages like this, in which there is a job for us wine merchants – the 2001s, the 2006s, the 2012s… This is agriculture, after all – we are aiming for personality, not perfection.”
BI‘s report also hints at prices coming down: “As ever during the Primeur preamble there is much talk and speculation over release prices. We’ve already discussed how the vintage overall is varied, and how it stands generally at a level below 2015 and 2016 (in the case of the latter, this will be true of almost EVERY vintage; we might never taste another like it). The average quality is better than 2012, 2008 and 2006, and certainly ahead of 2011, 2007, 2004 and 2002 (I’m leaving out 2013 because it was so much further down the scale, and 2003 because it is just so divisive). The closest comparison in quality terms is 2014, or going back further, 2001.”
Fine + Rare’s report highlights the inconsistency of quality in Bordeaux 2017 against the 2016, pointing the finger at the wet September in addition to April’s frost: “In this vintage it is important to identify who managed to not only escape the frost but those who also used the wet weather in September to their advantage and who did not. Irregular ripening was an issue for some Chateau and those that managed to be strict with their selection produced excellent wines. In this respect it is important to take each Chateau’s performance on a case by case basis rather than writing off one appellation over another.”
“This is not a power house vintage but who needs power when you have great balance of concentration and finesse, the Chateaux that achieved this are well worth seeking out.”
Berry Bros & Rudd‘s overview on Bordeaux 2017 concludes “although quality was more mixed than 2015 and 2016 in 2017 there are many good wines. This is undoubtedly the case. The wines perhaps lack the concentration of great years but the best examples are attractive. Those that were hit by the frost less so.”
Goedhuis also zooms in on the finesse of the Bordeaux 2017 wines opting to use ‘classical’ to describe the vintage: “The general trend for a lighter touch in the winery with less extraction was a perfect match for 2017. The result is a vintage with much greater consistency than we had anticipated: a classical balance of fresh fruited aromas, medium weight, moderate alcohol, and in many cases fine, silky tannins.” Goedhuis’ full report can be read here.