Bordeaux 2013 – Our View

Published by Roberson Wine on 07/04/2014

April 2014 and Bordeaux once again shows off its latest vintage to the waiting world, although in truth the level of anticipation this year has not been terribly high. The last few campaigns have disappointed, with some eye-wateringly high pricing leading to a great deal of unsold wine sitting on merchants’ books, both in Bordeaux itself and in the wider world, and consumers have sometimes been left with wine that is worth less than they paid for it. Allied to this is the nature of the vintage itself – the well-trailed difficulties faced by the vignerons in 2013 hardly promised an exciting set of wines to be tasted. There was a certain weariness apparent as the trade made their way towards the Gironde, and over the course of the week tasting rooms were noticeably quieter than usual, the customary phalanxes of tasters thinned down to ones, twos and threes.

The difficulties of the growing season are fairly well documented: a wet and cool May and June were followed by a hot summer and a humid and rainy autumn. Ripeness was difficult to achieve before rot laid waste to the vineyards, and picking generally took place a good week or so earlier than many would have deemed ideal. In certain cases this may have produced a pleasing freshness, but for many wines the result has been a distinct lack of mid-palate presence and an overall impression of textural disharmony: alcohols (though not that high by recent standards) and particularly acidities stand out markedly.

It is dangerous to make too many generalisations about the reds by commune or position in the classification. However, we can say that the best wines are the result of the best terroirs, effective vineyard management coaxing maximum ripeness from the fruit, and the nature of said fruit being respected in the winemaking. The most successful have worked with the fruit they have in order to make refreshing, light, attractively perfumed wines of not a little elegance and refinement, which nevertheless lack the richness and intensity of a greater vintage. Where the winemakers have pushed too hard the results have been drying and bitter. It is a year to look to those who generally prioritise balance over power (the delicacy of the wines also appeared to lead to a bit of sample variation over the week with more disagreement than usual among tasters as to the relative merits of some grand old names). The whites are generally good, with some notable successes, and the Sauternes are excellent. Yquem is, as usual the ne plus ultra (and probably the wine of the vintage), but fantastic sweet wines can be found at all levels.

The Campaign Ahead

As for the campaign itself, who knows? Yields and production were low, and where they have been able to the châteaux have made some very drastic selections in order to maintain a semblance of quality. They will not have much wine to sell and this may compel some pricing decisions that will make little sense to the consumer. What we do know is that, while the vintage is a bit of a curate’s egg – there are some genuinely lovely wines to be found among the less successful – the indications are that pricing will not be low enough to compel the consumer to buy heavily. The most commonly heard word from the négociants we spoke to in regard to pricing is that it promises to be ‘complicated’, a choice of words which does not inspire too much confidence.

The likely situation is that wines will be offered at a premium over some physical vintages, 2007 being the most obvious analogue, and we will offer a comparison where applicable. It is only fair that we also inform you where Roberson thinks that pricing is attractive enough for us to buy for stock (and, perhaps of greater use, where it is not). Pontet Canet and Gazin are already on the market and, while both wines are good, it is possible to buy physical vintages more cheaply, both ex-Bordeaux and on the secondary market.

Technical improvements in the vineyard and modern winemaking techniques allow much better wines to be made in challenging vintages than in the past and while there are certainly differences in quality there are very few total failures. Some may also find the early-picked freshness to be a plus and it is true that there is a certain classicism to some wines that will be of appeal to the drinker who prefers a more traditional style. If particular châteaux are of interest then please let us know and we will contact you when they are released. Aside from that we will happily recommend based on quality and release price as the campaign progresses.

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