So, in a nutshell, what’s the vintage like? Frost is the obvious first point to deal with and one that it was clear producers had been asked repeatedly. Sadly, there are many who have lost a lot of their crop from this vintage, though generally the top properties and the left bank were less affected. Drought the next consideration; it was very hot in the later part of the growing season, the vines started to be too stressed with heat. Rain the next cab off the rank in 2017; this fortunately came at the right moment for the Cabernet, which, if then left, was excellent in 2017. These conditions didn’t favour Merlot on left bank, with higher proportions of Cabernet this year. The right banks plateau around Pomerol and blue clay fared well. Overall, the wines are very classic, they are not fruit forward, they are wonderfully ripe and with a burst of fresh acidity. These are not wines for long term cellaring, they are wines that will be short to medium term wines. A standout from this year is Sauternes, it’s a lovely sweet vintage. For more on the vintage, do check out my vintage report here.
This was a pleasurable vintage to taste En Primeur. Precise, balance and classic are the words that appeared over and over in my notes. In some recent years the ripeness of the vintage has, for me, been a deterrent to the wine exploding its individual site character. This year, the appellation character was clear. This is something that for me is very important in fine Bordeaux. I love a good Margaux that screams Margaux from the glass; too much sameness does not appeal. For this reason, I really did like the 2017 wines. What’s for sure though is that these wines are not going to need a huge amount of time in the cellar, they are not big wines. These are wines for early drinking, short to medium term cellaring wines. For those with 2010 in their cellar (and expecting 2015 and 2016 to join them), this is good news, as these wines are going to need a lot more time yet and the 2017 will represent something to enjoy before then.
As with any reflection on En Primeur, price and market condition considerations are key. I was delighted while in Bordeaux to have discussions at the chateaux around respecting the order of the quality level. This referencing that the 2017 are not as good overall as the 2015 or 2016 and thus need to be priced lower than these vintages. They are though better than the 2011, 2012 and 2013 vintages, similar to the 2014, though many are better. The general feeling is that the pricing needs to sit below 2015 and 2016, and similar to 2014 would be ideal. If this is what unfolds as the campaign progresses, this could be just what is needed to restore some faith in the whole market. When you talk to the négociants, they are certainly worried as to what will happen, as they’ll be the rock in the middle and fear they will get left with high priced stock.
The general mood was positive and there were more conversations re sensible pricing than not, which is encouraging, as is Château Palmer’s early statement with a well-priced release, below 2015 and 2016.
Moving back to the wines, as well as trying the usual suspects this year, I tasted broadly and focused on many wines that we expect will be released En Primeur between $60 – $140 NZD. There’s great buying from Bordeaux at this level. An excellent way to establish an interesting cellar of Bordeaux. A good place to start is our list of value recommendations online.