2014 Bordeaux : love them, like them, or leave them alone ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to make of Bordeaux 2014?  This is an interesting time to assess the wines, as they are about to ship, yet they are still available as futures.  Recently there has been a perceptible uptick in interest in Bordeaux.  A colleague from the auction market speculated last night that Bordeaux had gotten so uncool that it was beginning to be cool again.  For my part, I have been drinking the wines all along, in good vintages and bad, the best wines and the best value wines. However, since I did not attend the en primeur tastings of the 2014 or 2015 vintages, I now rely on tasting them closer to when they arrive on our shores, and thus the tastings organized by the Union des Grands Crus is very important.  This report only assesses those wines poured at this tasting, which occurred Monday in New York.

The grape growing year started well, with auspicious weather in the spring and a very good flowering that set the stage for a large-ish harvest.  Unfortunately, the three months that followed saw a cool, rainy growing season that made for some very morose winemakers.  After all, the quality of the vintages could hardly be anything but disappointing following the absolutely stellar 2009s and 2010s, and in August of 2014, growers feared another wash-out.  Luckily for all concerned, record levels of dry, hot weather came through in September and lasted through the first week in October.  Only a bit of rain on 8 October prevented a perfect arrière-saison.  A bit later in the year the conditions were also right for a solid formation of botrytis in Sauternes.   All in all, a good year, if not a great one.  There is decent ripeness, but one of the hallmarks of the vintage generally is a lively acidity that one finds either refreshing or a bit green according to personal preference.

Faced with a situation, the growers put their best possible face on it at the tasting.  When I asked Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier what he thought, his response was well rehearsed: “It’s like ’08.  Good quality, great prices.”  A nice sound bite, although it may be just a bit disingenuous.  In 2008 prices were at uniformly bargain-basement levels.  The Bordelais, petrified of the congealing global economic meltdown were desperate after two soft vintages to shore up sales, and they slashed prices.  Prices in 2008, in fact, were probably cheaper than they needed to be in hindsight, as the global economy got back on track rather more quickly than anyone had hoped.

The situation in 2014 is quite a bit different.  Following the discounted ‘08s, prices in 2009 and 2010 climbed to extravagant levels.  This coincided with the Asian fascination with Bordeaux, and there were prodigious orders pouring in from the Far East.  Bordeaux-mania stalled, however, and a number of large orders never shipped, leaving négociants holding large, expensive stocks of these delicious wines, which are selling at auction today at prices below their en-primeur offering.  Oops.

Next followed three mediocre vintages, one worse than the next.  None of them sold very well.  Merchants nearly ceased the en primeur trade.  Dire times indeed.  The news following the harvest of 2014 was fairly encouraging.  It seemed at the time that the wines would be good – fairly good if not outrageously good – and that the Bordelais could make friends again among wine drinkers by pricing the vintage at reasonable levels.  Some did, others—not so much.  The ultimate decision on 2014, I believe, will lie in the confluence of those two factors: is the quality good enough to excite, and is the price reasonable enough to ensure a reasonable appreciation in time.  It’s important to keep in mind that this is a much better vintage than 2013, and thus some increase over those levels is warranted.  However, the hope is that futures will represent a bit of a bargain.  It’s still possible to get futures pricing now before the wines ship, so with this in mind, I offer my impressions of these wines just tasted along with some thoughts about the prices.

My top ten:

Château Pichon-Baron ****(*)

A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot, the 2014 Pichon Baron was among the best wines of the tasting, with a forceful blackberry and cassis fruit, a floral note and a firmly mineral undertone that highlight firm tannins, a dense, compact structure and marvelous length.  In terms of price, the wine is +22% to the trade against the 2013 vintage.  In spite of this, at a starting price of $85/btl en primeur, it is on par with the 2013 at most U.S. retailers and significantly less than the 2012, where it is routinely over $100.

Château Lynch-Bages ****(*)

Another standout of the tasting, the 2014 Lynch-Bages was superb, certainly among the very top wines.  With a marvelously expressive dark blackberry fruit, firmish tannins, plenty of extract and a lingering, complex finish, this was particularly elegant.  Even better, with $78 as an entry-level en primeur price on wine-searcher.com, this is definitely among the winners in a price/quality comparison.

Château Léoville Barton ****

Delicious wine, a bit more my style.  There is a very expressive marvelous fruit component here but without exaggeration.  The ripe plummy fruit is elegant and on the palate the wine is very fresh and lively.  Prices to the trade were up a fairly modest +3.5% against the ’13 and the ’12 vintages; retail offers are coming in at less than $60/btl, significantly less than the last three vintages.

Château Léoville Poyferré  ****

Another classic wine, with an impressive concentration of blackberry fruit, spice and smoke.  The wine is also very structured, tannic and fresh – it should live quite some time in a proper cellar.  Proprietor Didier Cuvelier also opined that the wine was similar to 2008, although in fact the price has jumped +15.9% compared to last year.  Still, the lowest futures price from a reputable merchant on Wine-Searcher.com is only $57/btl, compared to $90 for the 2008, and the mid- to high-$60s for the 2011 – 2012 – 2013 trio.

Château Coutet ****

A massively dense Sauternes with a pungent, lovely  botrytis nose and a rich, sweet tropical fruit character along with the mandatory oak spice and buttery, creamy notes.  Textbook Coutet, at a great price – futures offers start under $34/btl in New York.

Château Haut Bailly ***(*)

Not overly forward but absolutely classic, with a ripe blackcurrant fruit and just a hint of mint and mineral.  The wine is firmly structured and should age well in the time-honored Haut-Bailly style.  Truly wonderful wine, and with futures prices starting at just $57/btl, this should be on everyone’s shortlist.

Domaine de Chevalier Rouge ***(*)

The red from Domaine de Chevalier was superbly elegant, with marvelous density and loads of ripe red and black fruit, although the wine is not lacking either structure or length, and certainly shows none of the acerbic qualities of some wines in this vintage.  A very fine effort.  In terms of price, it is +22.2% against last year.  The best offer at retail in the U.S. is $48/btl, on a par with the past three vintages, and surely better in quality.  As for the much-loved white from white from Domaine de Chevalier, this shows a marvelous tropical fruit nose and a lush, accessible structure.  It is perhaps a bit softer than I’d expected but very seductive.

Smith Haut-Lafitte Rouge ***(*)

Here, as at Pape Clement, the wine is rich, with lush blackberry and fig fruit, a fairly good lashing of oak spice and some smoky aromas that should integrate nicely with time.  Big, dense and long, the wine is a consistent favorite of the critics.  Although the price to the trade was +18.8% over last year’s price, the least-expensive futures offer in the market this week is a fairly interesting $59, on a par with the 2013 and less expensive than the 2012 or the 2011.  The white from Smith Haut-Lafitte is done in their popular, hugely drinkable style, with a forward fruit that balances citrus and tropical aromas and a nuanced elegance on the palate that leads to a classic finish that balances sweet fruit and tangy freshness.

Château Rauza-Ségla ***(*)

A bright spot in an otherwise curiously flat showing by Margaux properties generally, this was spicy and richly nuanced on the nose with cassis fruit and a very pleasant silky texture and supple tannic structure.  Well done.

Château Guiraud ***(*)

Extravagantly forward yet still racy, with a juicy acidity and loads of finesse.  This has all of the exotic coconut-pineapple-guava fruit that one could desire yet retains an almost citric edge on the palate.  Lovely.

Other Impressions

Saint-Estephe

Château Phélan Ségur ***

With neither Montrose nor Cos d’Estournel present at the tasting, Phélan Ségur was the most attractive wine from Saint-Estephe, showing a pretty raspberry / blackberry fruit touched with a fair bit of oak spice on the nose and a supple tannic structure with bright acidity and decent length.

Château Ormes de Pez Nice density showing well dark plummy fruit and surprisingly good length ***; Château Cos Labory A lighter, bright red cherry fruit on the nose and a juicy, almost green edge on the palate **; Château Lafon-Rochet is a bit dried out.  Old school and slightly bitter.*

Pauillac

Château d’Armailhac showed a supple blackberry fruit, silky texture, and good length yet failed to impress with its concentration ***; Château Clerc Milon ws more red fruit than black—pleasant if not too concentrated **(*); Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste was closed on the nose, a bit hard.  Forgettable.  *

Saint-Julien

Château Beychevelle showed a bright red cherry and plum fruit, fresh, attractive and fairly open yet not lacking weight ***; Château Gruaud Larose was well balanced and showed a lush, elegant fruit, yet was a bit light on the palate and short on the finish ***; Château Langoa Barton displayed a ripe red berry fruit on the nose, but it was a bit on the lighter side if still quite pleasant ***

Margaux

Château Cantenac Brown makes a nice showing with a lovely, rich, complete wine with plummy fruit balanced by good freshness and a supple texture. ***; Château Marquis de Terme is surprisingly lovely with a silky texture and good concentration; the fetching blackcurrant fruit is spoilt slightly by a bit too much oak **(*); Château Kirwan is fresh and bright if a bit light and lacking in weight **; Château Lascombes is pleasantly fruity but a bit light and fairly short on the finish.

Médoc & Haut Médoc

Château Camensac shows bright red currant and cherry fruit with a fresh acidity and firm tannic structure.  Pleasant and lively ***; Château Cantemerle has a forward fruit that turns slightly acerbic perhaps even a bit green on the palate **; Château La Lagune is fruity and forward if a bit light **

Pessac-Léognan

Château Pape Clement ***

The wine is ripe, a bit sweet, and soft, with none of the green character found in some wines.  In fact, it compares quite well to recent releases, including the 2012 which I tasted two days prior.  One imagines it will be popular.  As to price, the 2014 Pape Clement was the same as the 2013, and €0.20 cheaper per bottle than the 2012.  This translates in the trade to a least-expensive futures offer here in the U.S. at $63/btl, which is considerably below the price for any of the past three vintages.

Saint-Emilion

Clos Fourtet lovely freshness and a bright plummy fruit with just a hint of black tea and licorice.  Brightly fresh on the palate, it should integrate well with a bit of age *** Château Beau-Séjour Bécot shows a dark fig and plum fruit on the nose and a compact, elegantly balanced feel on the palate with very good length and a rewarding finish ***; Château Canon-La-Gaffelière is very forward, with a rich plum and fig fruit, notes of smoke and wood – a large-boned wine without the density to support it **(*)

Pomerol

Château Clinet has impressive richness and an almost chocolate note to the warm cassis fruit.  There is plenty of fresh acidity but enough density to carry it to a good long finish.  Well done  *** Château Beauregard is lovely, plummy fruit but a bit light **(*)

Sauternes

Château de Fargues is in the rich, slightly fat mold, with seductive notes of toffee and cotton candy and a richness that wants just a bit more acidity to balance it **(*)

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