Bordeaux En Primeur 2017
The 2017 Bordeaux vintage will forever be known as the forgotten vintage, but should it? The winners of 2017 were champions in both the vineyard and the winery. However, only a few really pulled this off.
The years of 2015, 2016 and 2018 produced some of the highest regarded wines this century and probably in the history of Bordeaux. The weather was near perfect and with improved knowledge in the vineyard and cellar, it was difficult to produce bad wines during these years. 2017 was a different story, it will always be remembered for certain frosts that hit the region late in April, and it did not get any better from there. Some estates had access to Helicopters, heaters and windmills to prevent these frost from damaging the vines, however, most lost significant crop, some lost up to 90% of their crop. The total wine produced was down by around 40% compared to the 2016 Vintage. A moment of thought should be spared for those smaller estates who lost 90% of their vintage, and hence income for that year. Imagine earning only 10% of your salary in 2017? Well, this is what the situation was like for a significant amount of small producers without the means to combat the frost. Following the frost, the second fruit started to germinate, which caused uneven ripeness later in the season. Does it get better in the second half? No!
The summer was dry, sunny but cool which did not help to ripen the grapes, September had more rain than average, which in turn caused issues for potential dilution in the final blend. The right call was not to pick early and pick as late as possible, for those who did, they were able to get the ripeness as good as it could get. Once the fruit arrived at the winery, grape selection was critical, along with slow extraction of flavours. This was the most challenging vintage since 2013, however, winemakers learnt valuable lessons which they applied during this vintage. So how did it all turn out?
Most wine critics believe that 2017 turned out quite well, not as impressive as the surrounding years but still a very good effort. I tend to disagree. I tasted close to 60 2017s last week and I left feeling the wines produced were in general drinkable, yet showed very little character, and at the price at which they were selling was unreasonable for the consumer to pay. In general the wines were selling around 15-20% less than 2016. Hence you would expect the quality was around 15-20% off right? Nope, I would say around 40% which means the price should be corrected accordingly. This certainly gets under my skin, Bordeaux is struggling to properly price off-vintage wines and I believe they will seriously struggle to sell these wines through, and I expect the secondary market will show a significant drop in price.
So the wines were bad? Nope the wines were good, enjoyable and showed potential, yet not to the level at which consumers were paying. There were some exceptions though, I was highly impressed by Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and Léoville Poyferré who were able to produce wines full of character and true to their names.
Bordeaux is of course known for its reds, however, their whites should not be overlooked. 2017 was one of the best years for its whites in recent memory. Chateau Haut Smith Lafitte showed how it was done and produced a stunning white, full of character and elegance. The Sauternes showed good concentration, however, less impressive than other recent vintages.
2017 was, in general, an underwhelming vintage with most wineries producing average wines. However, for me it was not the quality of the wines but the prices which really got to me. Bordeaux needs to really start thinking about the price of their wines in off-vintages, if they do not, then consumers will go elsewhere. There were some success stories as you will see below, and the Bordeaux dry whites should not be missed!