April 13th 2016
Bordeaux is a complex region and any attempt to describe it in a single word or phrase is inevitably reductive. In 2015 there are some absolutely wonderful wines, with the vintage’s hallmarks of succulently ripe yet pure fruit, fresh acidity and fine supple tannins. Others were less successful and careful selection will be critical. Price will of course be a crucial factor too and, even if the chateau owners’ approach is reasonable, we are also contending with a weakened exchange rate. As in 2014 we will only be recommending wines we believe deserve a place in your cellar, and in 2015 there are some glorious ones.
We have another team heading out to Bordeaux next week to re-taste the majority of the wines we will be offering. Shortly after their return we will be sharing our full vintage report, including tasting notes and recommendations.
Overview of the vintage
Six days of intensive tasting, 450 wines later and the 2015 vintage has certainly produced some wonderful highlights. The very best will last the course of time and show themselves to be some of the finest wines in the last five years after the highs of 2009 and 2010.
Whilst no chateau owner would say that 2015 was the easiest of years climatically, the end result has been some spectacularly attractive wines. The top wines of Margaux, Pomerol, St Emilion and Pessac-Leognan are superb in 2015, but the best properties of the northern Medoc (Pauillac, St Estephe and St Julien) should similarly not be overlooked. Terroir and vineyard management have yet again been the shining beacon in this vintage.
Bill McLaren, rugby’s greatest commentator, would have described 2015 as a “topsy turvy vintage”. The seasons were all slightly out of sorts. The spring and early summer months of 2015 were extraordinarily dry however the vineyards had been healthily replenished with water following the heavy rains at the end of 2014. In particular the water retentive soils, such as the clays of Pomerol and parts of St Emilion, were able to nourish their vines throughout this period. June and July produced some of the hottest days on record; whisperings of another 1961 could be heard amongst some of the more senior members of the region. However it was during this period that concerns about the lack of rainfall were beginning to rise. The much needed rain arrived at last in August and temperatures began to drop, both day and night time. Many of the white grapes had been picked by the end of August. The Merlots were harvested during the third and fourth weeks of September and the Cabernets, which were slightly more affected by October rains, were all safely gathered before the end of the second week in October. The Sauternes producers were equally delighted as their vines exploited the much needed rain, turning the lovely golden berries into deliciously sweet noble rot affected grapes with the most glorious results.
Tasting this successful vintage, it was important to ignore the inevitable hype that always builds up in advance of the primeur season. There are some extremely good wines, which balance the ripeness of fruit and tannic structure with a very alluring lively bite of freshness. Whilst certain Merlot based wines are at the higher end of the alcohol spectrum, as a result of the intense heat in midsummer, it is the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc varieties which help to give life to the wines and makes them quintessential clarets.
I find it difficult to make a simple comparison. In terms of quality it stands alongside the delicious 2001 vintage, which was overlooked at the time but is now rightly accepted as one of the great right bank vintages and is giving such wonderful pleasure today. I heard some chateau owners likening the wines to the highly respected 1985 vintage, with its life and freshness, but the fruit is undoubtedly significantly more polished, as wine making techniques and expertise have progressed over the last 30 years.
The Pomerols and best St Emilions are glorious, with some estates having produced their finest wines in recent memory. Pessac-Leognan always surprises in such vintages, showing its versatility to produce both serious Merlot and Cabernet based wines. The Northern Medoc which was most at risk from a deluge of rain in early October, shows the quality of its unique terroir. Whilst it has its critics, I yet again found St Julien to be extraordinarily consistent and the finest vineyards of Pauillac and St Estephe have similarly performed in 2015.
We now await the releases and prices. As the accepted finest vintage since 2010, noticeably superior in quality to subsequent vintages, it is inevitable that owners will look to increase prices on last year. With the looming referendum and falling sterling, we are heeding caution as our view is that 2015 has produced some stunning wines, worthy of cellaring and buying en primeur, yet only at the right price. The market is very price sensitive, thus it is vital that the wines are priced correctly to deliver the true benefits en primeur purchasing should and can offer consumers. The majority of the releases are likely to be in May and we will keep you updated as and when the wines are released.
David Robert’s MW