Investing in Bordeaux 2014
The opportunity to invest in wine before it enters the bottle is a special one, especially when it comes to Bordeaux. En Primeur is a long and storied tradition of the Old World. It also has been adopted in New World regions such as California and Australia. Tasting young barrel samples two years prior to a vintage’s release is a palate-twisting exercise that employs both skill and intuition. Master of Wine Christy Canterbury is taking us to the frontlines of Bordeaux En Primeur 2014. Will these wines be worth your time? Find out now. – Snooth Editorial
The best line at last month’s en primeur campaign was, “Two thousand fourteen is the best of the recent, non-exceptional vintages.” Bordeaux’s crème de la crème remain the world’s finest spin-masters. Still, this statement rings true. Bordeaux pulled through well in 2014, especially in reds where Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc dominate. The wines far exceed 2013 and are the best since 2010. The best reds offer freshness and refreshment as well as good mid- to long-term potential.
The key was the lengthy Indian Summer. Indeed, Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer said that he was swimming at the beach with his daughter on October 27th! However, the sunshine and warm weather took their time to come around, which is why earlier ripening Merlot fared slightly less well. For this reason, many Right Bank producers incorporated a higher than typical percentage of Cabernet Franc. Additionally, the late-ripening Petit Verdot performed very well, proving that maturity really did come through in the end.
The year started with a rainy winter that allowed water retaining soils to stock up for the growing season. Yet, it turned out there would hardly be a need as the monthly rainfall exceeded the 30-year average in every month except September, October and December.
The spring rains caused weakened fruit set in Merlot in certain spots, which proved helpful as the summer turned dreary and it seemed the fruit would never ripen. Vines needed lower fruit loads were they to get anything respectable in shape for harvest, and many estates - even some that have moved away from systematic green harvesting - dropped fruit.
Summer was tropical at the outset. However, temperatures dropped in July, and August registered some of the coolest temperatures Bordeaux has seen in a long while. The heat at the beginning of the growing season required careful vineyard work – debudding, hedging, leaf plucking - to keep the vines from becoming overly focused on producing leaves, secondary shoots and tendrils rather than ripe berries.
Berries swelled during August’s veraison (grape color change), but September and October brought on rapid concentration with higher than average temperatures, plentiful sunshine and near drought-like conditions in gravelly vineyards. Duroux said that in one month, clusters lost 15% of their weight. The Right Bank received even more rain; being Merlot-dominant and hence earlier ripening, this made their work even tougher. Soils with better drainage – namely the plateau of Pomerol and the limestone sections of St. Émilion – fared best.
What are the wines like?
The reds show great fruit and acid freshness with rather sweet tannins and reasonable alcohols. Granted, the samples tasted last month were far from “finished” as they won’t be released onto the market for another two years. Nonetheless, they almost seemed ready to drink today.
White and sweet wines also fared well. Both have good acidic lift and finessed aromatics. The sweet wines are particularly exciting as they are not as heavy in residual sugar and alcohol as they usually are in fine years.
What to do?
Nothing, unless you’re a Sauternes lover. Yields there were miniscule, so the best will sell out quickly. As for reds and whites, plenty will be available and there’s no reason to fork over your cash two years in advance.