To fully understand the 2017 vintage, you have to digest the unique weather conditions during the growing season. A series of distinct, but interlinked, climatic occurrences shaped this vintage such that it cannot be compared with any other year. This means that the wines made are also singular in their silhouette and resonance. The year 2017 presented Bordeaux with a volley of viticultural challenges and, while some chteaux coped admirably, others fell well short.
The deadly grip of Jack Frost
Mild winter temperatures marked a relatively dry start to the year. Rain in February and March gave rise to an early bud-burst, which initiated rapid growth in the vines. With an early season on the cards, devastating frosts (the worst since 1991) ravaged the region at the end of April. The impact on some vineyards was complete annihilation of the crop. Other estates suffered partial losses and some lucky ones escaped the deadly fingers of Jack Frost completely. Many estates close to the Gironde were relatively unscathed thanks to this large body of water ameliorating temperatures. Others used giant fans, candles and helicopters to agitate the cold air in the vineyards in order to try to save their vines.
Estimates are that the harvest is down by 45% on 2016. Spring was fine and flowering was early, but second shoots, which replaced many of those taken by the frost, in most cases failed to produce grapes worthy of inclusion in the wines. Those chteaux that used second shoots can often be distinguished by overriding green notes in the wines.
Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
The summer was cooler than the seasonal average and fruit continued to ripen apace in near-drought conditions, which helped tannins to ripen to maturity (this is not a tannic vintage). By early September many vineyards were ready to harvest some two weeks ahead of the norm. Acids were keen and bright on account of the cool summer, fruit was juicy and bold owing to the early season coupled with the dry August, and rain in September refreshed the vines, bringing them back to balance.
The role of hoodoo
Left Bank reds are most successful in Saint-Estphe, Pauillac and Saint-Julien, with early budding merlot being hit hardest by frost. Margaux, the Haut-Mdoc and greater Graves are all patchier. The Right Bank seems strong in Pomerol and Fronsac and less reliable in Saint-Emilion, where only the elevated sites stood a chance of avoiding frost. Dry whites are rather lovely, but not necessarily long-lived. Those wines with lots of sauvignon blanc seem to be crunchier than usual and they will drink early and reward greatly.
Much has been made of the "vintage-ending-in-a-7" hoodoo, which usually puts the mockers on red wines and rewards sweeties. I can report that there are some lovely Sauternes in 2017, but it is not a truly great year. Sauvignon blanc ripened earlier than semillon and then it spent nearly a month on the vine, waiting around before botrytis set in. During this period, it appears to have lost its vivacity. While the luscious botrytis-affected semillons are plush and succulent, many lack an extra level of poise. Having said this, some flamboyant wines were made.
What about the price?
Most chteaux were open about assessing this vintage as a "lesser" year than both 2016 and 2015. I suppose, in absolute terms, this is true, but some of my notes for 2017 are superior to both 2016 and 2015 for a few of the astute estates. Granted, the wines are not likely to be as long-lived, but they are brighter, less tannic, lower in alcohol and also fresher than both of these famous years. Early indications are that the prices will be somewhere between the 2014 and 2015 vintage releases.
I am not alone in thinking that Bordeaux En Primeur is awash with lovely wines, but bereft of excitement. Recent vintages have been prohibitively expensive and the EP specialist merchants have not really had their heart in it. My advice to Bordeaux is to inject the element of drama and excitement back into this annual event. If you would like to download my full report I would be delighted to direct you to MatthewJukes.com.
|Row 0 - Cell 0
|The ten highest-scoring 2017 red En Primeur Bordeaux
|Ten great-value 2017 red En Primeur Bordeaux*
|Row 1 - Cell 0
|My score out of 20
|My score out of 20
|Chteau Ausone (1er Grand Cru Class A, Saint-Emilion)
|Chteau Calon Sgur (3me Cru, Saint-Estphe)
|Chteau La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Lognan)
|Chteau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge (Pessac-Lognan)
|Alter Ego (2nd wine of Palmer, Margaux)
|Vieux Chteau Certan (Pomerol)
|Carillon d'Anglus (2nd wine of Anglus, Saint-Emilion)
|Chteau Ducru-Beaucaillou (2me Cru, Saint-Julien)
|Chteau Branaire-Ducru (4me Cru, Saint-Julien)
|Chteau La Conseillante (Pomerol)
|Chteau Haut-Brisson (Grand Cru, Saint-Emilion)
|Tertre Roteboeuf (Grand Cru, Saint-Emilion)
|Chteau La Lagune (3me Cru, Haut-Mdoc)
|Le Pin (Pomerol)
|Chteau Lafon-Rochet (4me Cru, Saint-Estphe)
|Chteau Haut-Brion (1er Cru, Pessac-Lognan)
|Chteau Montlandrie (Castillon Ctes de Bordeaux)
|Chteau Palmer (3me Cru, Margaux)
|Chteau Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Mdoc)
|*assuming prices fair
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.
One-year savings accounts beat the Bank of England’s base rate - should you fix your cash?
Several savings providers have upped their one-year rates meaning you can now earn more than the bank rate for the first time in over a month. Is now a good time to fix?
By Vaishali Varu Published
How likely are Spring Budget tax cuts? What the economists say
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce some tax cuts in the Spring Budget. But analysts warn they may come at a price for the UK
By Henry Sandercock Published