My tour of the top Bordeaux chteaux this year was enjoyable. The 2013 en primeur campaign has been a strange one. Early reports of the dire quality of the wines were misjudged while this is by no means a great vintage (2009 and 2010 set the bar very high), it is a very enjoyable one.
The weather during the growing season was appalling, but many decent wines were made. I love old-fashioned claret lower alcohol, slimmer-structured, gently oaked reds. There are many great examples in 2013.
I cannot remember a wine with above 13.3% alcohol. The weather was not hot enough, nor the hang time long enough to raise sugar levels any higher.
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Aside from a brief heat spike in July, which accelerated ripening, the weather was poor. The start of the year saw cool, wet weather and late flowering. Rain affected fruit set, resulting in aborted flowers, uneven grape sizes and far lower potential yields.
By the end of June, the vines were three weeks behind the 15-year average. July and August were warm, but in mid-September the heavens opened.
Rot affected many of the bunches and judicious sorting was essential to make clean wines. Harvesting took place in the first two weeks of October amid bad weather and rampaging rot.
The best wines were down to the calibre of the terroir, the viticultural skills of the teams, and the speed with which the harvest was brought in. Tiny quantities of Grands Vins were made by many and a lot of wine will be sold in bulk. These financially painful decisions made or broke the final wines.
On the Left Bank, merlot suffered dreadfully, so the percentage of this grape in most blends is slight. On the Right Bank, Cabernet Franc was problematic for many. With lower potential alcohols on the cards, it required gentle extraction of colour, flavour and tannin, and careful use of oak.
There are far too many wines with unripe fruit notes layered with harsh tannins and raw oak. But a host of Chteaux got it just right: slim, calm wines with bright fruit notes, sensitive oak, refreshing acidity and allure we haven't seen for decades.
These wines hark back to a bygone era, a time before massive oak, extraction and high alcohol, when slender clarets aged gracefully and confidently.
Dry whites, which were picked early, worked nicely as long as they are not overoaked. The best wines are lithe and tangy; the worst, hard and sour. Sauternes are a qualified success.
Botrytis (noble rot) occurred everywhere, but because of the timing of the rain it happened on bunches with much higher acid as opposed to later-ripened, sweet grapes. This gives the best wines sweetness balanced by thrilling, natural acidity. But it is clear that many estates misjudged their picking times, resulting in dilute, sloppy, gloopy wines.
But in the end, the conversation will not be about the quality of the wines. It will be about price. A lot less wine was made this year than last, but the quality is not, on the whole, as good as the 2012 vintage and the campaign last year was a damp squib.
There needs to be realistic pricing for all of the wines this year I would suggest about 30% lower than the 2012s. Unfortunately, amid the first flurries of releases, some have dropped a little (10%-15%), but these gestures are not brave or deep enough. The arrogance with which the Bordelais routinely dismisses their audience is likely to become untenable.
I will not be buying en primeur this year. I will wait for a few years, let the market settle, then go shopping. There will be a dearth of stock and you can see from my full report on Matthewjukes.com that there is lots of terrific wine to choose from.
|Chteau Lafite Rothschild (1er Cru Pauillac)
|Vieux Chteau Certan (Pomerol)
|Chteau Haut-Brion (1er Cru Pessac-Lognan)
|Chteau La Conseillante (Pomerol)
|Chteau Ducru-Beaucaillou (2me Cru Saint-Julien)
|Chteau Latour (1er Cru Pauillac)
|Tertre Roteboeuf (Saint-Emilion)
|Chteau Ausone (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Class A)
|Chteau Pontet-Canet (5me Cru Pauillac)
|Chteau Grand-Puy-Lacoste (5me Cru Pauillac)
|Chteau Rauzan-Sgla (2me Cru Margaux)
|Chteau Calon Sgur (3me Cru Saint-Estphe)
|Roc de Cambes (Ctes de Bourg)
|Chteau Angludet (Margaux)
|Chteau Chasse-Spleen (Moulis-en-Mdoc)
|Chteau La Serre (Grand Cru Saint-Emilion)
|Chteau Le Crock (Saint-Estphe)
|Chteau Desmirail (3me Cru Margaux)
|Chteau Larmande (Grand Cru Saint-Emilion)
* My mark out of 20
Matthew Jukes has worked in the UK wine business for well over three decades and during this time has written 14 wine books.
Matthew regularly lectures, judges, speaks at wine conferences and runs masterclass tastings for both corporate and private clients all over the world. Matthew is also the creator of his ground-breaking initiative, the One Day Wine School, an indulgent day of tasting and learning first performed in 2006.
He has been the MoneyWeek wine correspondent since 2006 and has written a weekly column for the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine since 1999. His four highly-acclaimed, annual wine reports – the Burgundy En Primeur Report, the Bordeaux En Primeur Report, the Piemonte Report and the 100 Best Australian Wines – are published on his website, www.matthewjukes.com.
Matthew is one of the world’s leading experts on Australian wine and, with Brisbane-based wine writer Tyson Stelzer, runs an annual competition in Australia to find ‘The Great Australian Red’. He was made Honorary Australian of the Year in the UK at the 2012 Australia Day Foundation Gala dinner.
Matthew is a winner of the International Wine and Spirit Competition's Communicator of the Year Trophy. His thoughts, recommendations and tastings notes are followed very closely by the wine world at large.
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