Bordeaux 2013: Twist or Stick?

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2013 is a Bordeaux vintage that has been challenged from the start. Challenged by the weather that made the vintage, challenged by the naysayers since the grapes were picked, challenged by a wine market disenchanted by Bordeaux and challenged now by those with the job of selling it. Asked earlier this week by the maker of one of the year’s very few successes for our view on a pricing strategy, the conclusion was: well, whatever you do, it will be the wrong thing. This is a vintage that has been brushed with negativity from the start.

Which is a bit of a shame, for whilst it is clear that 2013 is, on the whole, a long way from being a great, or even a good vintage, there are some very nice wines. There are very few “grand vins” – you can count them on one hand – though there is no shortage of attractive, easy and soft claret which, if priced correctly, will appeal. Over the course of a week I tasted many wines that had me looking forward to drinking them in a few years’ time. It’s just that I’d probably be buying them in a few years’ time too. This is, with a few wines excepted, not an en-primeur year.

St Estephe

To my palate this is probably the most successful appellation of the vintage. St Estephe missed most of the July storm that took out the church tower in Pauillac, and suffered less from the September rot that set in. St Estephe is beautifully desolate and exposed to what little wind there was in the hot and humid September. Calon Segur have made one of the best wines of the vintage: cool, svelte and with an energy that borders on the spiritual; Montrose have made a crunchy, mouthfilling wine and, notably, the best Tronqouy Lalande I have ever tasted. Cos d’Estournel have made a wine that returns to a classical St Estephe style and all of these wines are worth considering if the price is right.

Pauillac

The appellation where the big boys live, and where price will be so, so important.

Question one: is Pontet-Canet worth it?

Answer: if you are a fan of Pontet Canet then yes. The wine is idiosyncratic, in a flamboyant style that is incongruous with the vintage itself. As with the 2012, the style is so atypical that I do wonder how it will develop, but I can’t argue that it is anything other than delicious. That said, for fans of Pauillac rather than Pontet, there are better buys.

Still in Pauillac, my wine of the vintage is Pichon-Lalande, though the bad news is that there is very little of it. There is no Merlot in the 2013 and the selection for the Cabernet was so strict that the property has produced about a fifth of their usual production. We were so struck by this wine that we returned the next day to retaste: this is “grand vin” and, along with Calon Segur, one of the wines that is genuinely special in 2013.

Lynch-Bages, Pichon Baron and “the usual suspects” have all made decent wines in 2013, and some of the second wines, notably Tourelles de Longueville and Echo de Lynch, are delicious “bistro claret”. There is probably little point in buying them now unless they are very attractively priced, but they are lovely nonetheless (and this is a theme which is repeated throughout the vintage: lots of nice wine, especially for those that like a lighter and more elegant style, but from a purely financial point of view, you may as well buy them once they’re bottled, shipped and ready to go).

St Julien

St Julien was true to form in what was easily the most consistent appellation on the left bank. Leovilles Poyferre and Lascases stand out (with a delicious Clos du Marquis), as do Gruaud-Larose, St Pierre and Ducru. Potensac is lovely, and I may have some magnums of this for myself (for me, if the prices are right, this is a large format year. Wine should be shared, no?)

Margaux

Margaux was the maze of inconsistency that it often is. Always the most varied appellation in terms of quality, it can be a minefield. In a year like 2013 the mines are very easy to spot. Margaux itself is excellent – Bud and I tasted the component parts of the blend in February and tasting the assembled cuvees was a little like hearing the choir sing having met the individual singers. Palmer and Rauzan-Segla both impressed though the issue of price will no doubt raise its head here and Rauzan will most likely be the most interesting buy.

Graves

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In Graves it starts to get tricky, very tricky. Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly both did well as one would expect, though the only real standouts for me were Haut Brion and Smith Haut Lafitte. The latter, both red and white, is one of my picks and there isn’t much of it in either colour.

Across the river:

Pomerol

Pomerol was all relatively easy to taste. The weaker wines are simply dull at this stage as opposed to poor, and the winners are clear. Denis Durantou’s Eglise Clinet is wonderful and this is a wine to secure when you can. And his “little” wines are, as ever, vibrant, fresh and full of pleasure. Bravo. Other winners are La Conseillante, Clinet and VCC: one of the prettiest wines of the vintage. Tasting VCC was like being gently kissed on the cheek: lovely. Lafleur have made something quite exceptional as one would expect and Feytit-Clinet, a F+R favourite, is quite, quite lovely and a wine to buy.

St Emilion

St Emilion is always a challenge. Can they not turn the turbochargers off? Tasting at the Union des Grands Crus in St Emilion is invariably a comparison of extraction rather than one of terroir though thankfully there are some winners. Ausone is just fantastic – a normally-aspirated V12 rather than a twin-turbo V10 and a similar sentiment popped up in my note for Angelus: these are both wines for drinking rather than for scoring. Cheval Blanc have made an equally laid back yet very “proper” wine, though one can only guess at this stage as to the price. Followers of Ch. Canon will be pleased: John Kolasa and his team have yet again crafted a lovely, balanced wine that for me is the epitome of what St Emilion should taste like. No turbochargers at this address.

Whites: dry and sweet.

We tasted a handful of sweet whites and probably should have tasted more. They are excellent. Suduiraut in particular is stunning. The dry whites are very, very good and our standout wine was Smith Haut Lafitte – very “Smith” in style this year and a wine of remarkable precision and depth.

Prices and what we will offer

Not wishing to join the negativity that surrounds 2013 Bordeaux, this is a relatively easy year to sit out. Many wines, delicious or not, will be available once bottled (and will be easier to judge at that stage). We will list wines as they become available, and if you have particular interest in any wines please do let us know. Subject to pricing, we will recommend our favourites and our picks of the vintage, especially those wines that may well sell through (which is rather the point of buying them early).

If you would like to discuss the vintage further then please contact us.

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