2014 Region By Region Part 1 : Bordeaux

In the old Europe’s vineyards (especially the northern ones), the notion of vintage is critical. A vintage informs us on two things: the climatic conditions of that specific year and therefore the quality and longevity of the wines.

2014 was a roller coaster for plenty of vine-growers all over France. With the incredibly hot and dry month of June, the vine’s cycle started perfectly. Unfortunately, the last time July and August were so rainy was back in 1959! Finally, September and October turned out to be exceptional, dry and warm, which saved the vintage in most regions.

The first part of this article will focus on Bordeaux as most of the prestigious wineries have already released or are about to release their 2014’s “en primeur” (futures) and some of you might be interested in buying.

-Please note that the “primeurs” tasting reviews are a good opportunity to judge the overall quality of  a vintage BUT are NOT a sure way to determine the final quality of each bottle. With 12 to 20 additional months of  oak barrel aging, several operations such as racking, fining or filtration, a wine can change and evolve (positively or negatively) over time. Therefore, I recommend to be careful with scores given by well-known magazines or by many so called “experts” who come to Bordeaux once a year and try 400 samples over 3 or 4 days. Anyone can understand that giving a permanent and definitive judgement during a marathon tasting, on an hypothetical object in the making doesn’t make a lot of sense… –

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Grand Théâtre in downtown Bordeaux ; photo credit: http://daniellekonefal.blogspot.com/

Red Wine – Overall Score: 3/5

For the fourth consecutive year, a strong oceanic influence brought humidity and coolness to Bordeaux. A traditional month of July usually creates water stress in the vineyards. This water stress slows down and eventually stops leaves and vegetal growth, and benefits the grapes that capture all of the plant’s energy. None of that happened in 2014. Fortunately, unexpected heat and drought in September saved the vintage. Most estates started harvesting Merlots on September 20th, followed by Cabernet Francs and finally Cabernet Sauvignons on October 10th. Some châteaux took the risk to leave the Cabernets out a little more and were rewarded with summer-like weather until the end of the month. Those Cabernets reached great maturity and overall depth.

As a result, Cabernets based blends (both Sauvignon and Franc) are often superior, more complex and concentrated than Merlot-dominant bottles. Also, regions like Fronsac, Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac suffered less rainfall than Margaux, Saint-Emilion and Pessac-Léognan. Overall, the quality in those regions is higher and more homogeneous.

Here is in a nutshell what you need to remember:  2014 is a good vintage for red wines, superior to 2013 thanks mostly to the Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc). It is comparable to 2012, probably better and presumably the best one since 2010. Only time will tell.

Acidity levels are higher than recent years because of a very cool summer. Greater sugar levels than 2013 and deep colors (sometimes more than 2009!) are also characteristic of 2014.

Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien , the northern Médoc and Fronsac are among the best appellations. There are valuable bottles in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion as well, however it is more heterogeneous. Wine buyers should look into these regions first. On top of that, châteaux with a reputation of meticulous vine work, low yields, hand-picked harvests etc… performed really well.

Most wines from the region will age 5-6 years. The best bottles, with good acidity, balance and structure will easily have an aging potential of 10-12 years. The most prestigious labels will last 20 years and more.

Dry Whites – Overall Score: 4/5 

The grapes of Sauvignon Blanc were harvested around September 8th in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. Sugar levels were comparable to 2013, however the grapes were much more acidic with levels worthy of Chablis or Sancerre. Such acidity forced plenty of wineries to conduct partial malolactic fermentations (rare in Bordeaux) in order to soften that sharp acidity and to make wines rounder. The Sémillons also benefited fully from the September weather and were harvested later.

Tasting wise, the wines are very aromatic, fresh, lively and tight. Nevertheless, some bottles are TOO acidic and offer a vegetal character, they lack balance and “fat”.

Overall, it is an excellent vintage and the best Pessac-Léognan will offer more aging potential than the last few years due to that exceptional acidity.

Liquoreux (Sweet Whites) – Overall Score: 3/5

The dry weather of September delayed the arrival of the noble rot fungus. Winegrowers had to be very patient in 2014 to obtain those coveted concentrated grapes. Unfortunately, a lot of grapes had to be thrown away (sometimes up to 50-70%) because the quality wasn’t satisfactory enough. Therefore, the production was extremely low.

After such sacrifices, the wines are often excellent and very aromatic. They will age gracefully for years. Probably the best vintage since 2011. Barsac and its cold limestone-based soils produced great results.

I’ll cover the other French regions in Part 2.

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