Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur - Summary

I've often been asked: How would you summarize the 2015 Bordeaux vintage?

2015 Bordeaux Vintage Overall

Beautiful depth and color of Pontet Canet 2015
Drinkable and Structured: These wines are, on the whole, very approachable and yet possessing of great depth. I was surprised by how many of wines are drinkable even now, and we're talking pretty substantial wines here! This makes it all the more challenging to hold onto them to witness their evolution as they mature and develop more smoothness and complexity in the bottle. That said, some wines, like Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac), Palmer (Margaux) and Suduiraut (Sauternes), are beautifully made and will only truly blossom in years to come - they will be worth the wait!

Full and Generous: There was a lot of heat during the growing season, and many of the wines are full-bodied, with significant tannins. Don't let this put you off! The well-made wines (see my previous reports in the Blog Archive for April and May for recommended selections) are wonderfully balanced by generous fruit and the right amount of acidity to lend them a dazzling fresh quality. We're not talking big, sappy fruit bombs; rather, we have wines with heft, lifted fragrance and concentration. 

At the gate of Château Margaux
Alcohol levels are higher than usual for Bordeaux, but again, the excellent wines are so well balanced (fruit concentration, acidity, tannins) that they don't feel "hot" at all. And believe me, I've tasted 11% alcohol wines that set my face on fire, because they lacked the other elements in balance. 

For those who know their vintages: 2015 has the structure of 2005 and the fruit concentration of 2009. This makes for an approachable wine like 2012, but with even longer potential for aging and development of complexity in the bottle. This also makes for a distinctively sunny, yet poised character for 2015. 

Not All Are Created Equal: That said, take care: Wines that didn't show as well exhibited imbalances. What I noticed most in these wines were what I call the "whale tannins" - outsized tannins that surged up like a whale beneath a ship and nearly knocked me over (and left me with numb, fuzzy lips). I realize that this is a strange analogy, but that is exactly the imagery that came to mind during tastings!

Great for Fans of California Reds: As I tasted during En Primeur week in Bordeaux, I realized increasingly that 2015 is possibly the perfect vintage to share Bordeaux wines with folks who love California red wines! Their generosity and approachability are surprising and delightful for such baby wines, and the best will mature with plenty more rewards to come. 

The Top 10

Naturally, the other question I'm being asked is: What are your Top 10 wines for Bordeaux 2015? This is difficult, not only because there are many wonderfully well-made wines, but also because the châteaux have different styles. 

My criterion: Does the wine embody the château's signature style, while expressing the very best of their land, their grapes, and the vintage conditions? 

When a wine demonstrates this simple and challenging ask, and one is left with that distinct, ineffable imprint that indicates a superbly made wine - regardless whether the wine is to one's own personal taste - it is starred for "Outstanding" on my list. 

The incredibly smooth, fragrant La Violette 2015
Without further ado, in no particular order:

  • Pontet Canet (Pauillac)
  • Ducru-Beaucaillou (Pauillac)
  • Lynch-Bages (St-Julien)
  • Pichon Lalande (St-Julien)
  • Léoville-Poyferré (St-Julien)
  • Margaux (Margaux)
  • Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan)
  • Pavie (St-Emilion)
  • L'Evangile (Pomerol)
  • La Violette (Pomerol)

That was tough! There are so many excellent wines for Bordeaux 2015. Again, please see my previous reports (April and May in the Blog Archive to the right) for all my selections for Standouts and Excellent wines, along with tasting notes. 

At work (Belmont Wine Exchange), I'm working hard to get allocations for my selections of wines. Their futures are being released by the châteaux, one by one, day by day. (I have an elaborate spreadsheet that is gaining more columns every day as I track the campaign.) It is incredibly exciting to be able to secure some of the best wines of the vintage. I look forward to sharing and enjoying these wines with you, in the future! 

Thank you again, as always, for joining me in my journeys. There will be more adventures!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur - Sauternes & Barsac

2015 Château d'Yquem in the glass
What better way to cap off the Bordeaux En Primeur tour than with the famed sweet white wines (vins liquoreux) of Sauternes and Barsac? For the most part, the wines showed extremely well with each château having drawn out various tantalizing aromatic flavors from grapes affected by noble rot.

Yes, fungus does play a role in the creation of these beautiful, unique wines, and it is only under the most specific conditions that this strain - Botrytis cinerea - can cause the Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes to shrivel, leading the sugars to concentrate and the flavor compounds to intensify. The result: lusciously flavorful juice! When out of hand, however, the strain causes grey rot and the crop is no good for wine at all. How lucky for us that the villages of Sauternes and Barsac sit at the intersection of rivers that allow for just the right conditions for these sweet wines to be made!

The best wines I tasted possess an exquisite balance of complex fruit concentration and fresh acidity, so there is never a sense of syrupy heaviness. One is left utterly refreshed, with the lingering perfume of tantalizing fruits.

Standout Wines
2015 Château d'Yquem bottles on ice

d'Yquem: This goes without saying, but there is a reason that Chateau d'Yquem is the one wine with the classification "Premier Cru Superieur" ("First Great Growth") in the 1855 Classification of Sauternes and Barsac, commanding prices to match. 2015 boasts aromas of toasted almonds, hazelnuts, brioche, and an assortment of tropical and stone fruits: mango, kiwi, stewed peaches, apricots. Let's not leave out the floral notes of honeysuckle and jasmine. The unctuous initial palate bursts with pineapple, mango, fresh white apricot and resolves beautifully into an absolutely clean, smooth finish. Mango and apricot linger, with a hint of exciting mineral. This wine is at once extremely vibrant and concentrated, while incredibly poised and elegant.

Rieussec: Lush and rich with mango, honeycomb, and toasted almond with bracing acidity that at once makes you sit upright even as you luxuriate in all the luscious flavors. A finish redolent of mangoes stayed with me for so long that I had to walk around for awhile before I could try another wine.

With David Ornon of Château Guiraud
Guiraud: Beautifully rich butterscotch, marmalade, toasted almonds and hazelnuts, with apricots and peaches floating atop it all. There is a bit of almond skin on the end for a bit of a kick, which resolves into a satisfying smoothness. The acidity is just right to make Guiraud incredibly fresh. The flavors are generous and concentrated; it will last years, if you can wait that long before enjoying it!

Suduiraut: This beauty will take some time to bloom, but it's all in there: a subtle nuttiness, delicate citrus, apricots and pineapple, with showers of white and orange blossoms. 2015 Suduiraut has a strong, powerful body and structure that speaks to its longevity and potential for an outstanding wine. We only have to wait for it ...

La Tour Blanche: This is unabashedly full and rich, offering concentrated mango and pineapple with a peppery finish. For those who want a big, generous, yet complex and incredibly smooth Sauternes, this is the one!
2015 La Tour Blanche

Excellent Wines

de Fargues: Subtle white blossom, white apricot, stewed pears on the nose leads to a fresh palate that finishes with the fragrance of jasmine.

Clos Haut-Peyraguey: Demure, with light tropical fruits of mango, pineapple, and guava, and a hint of fresh apricot. Very smooth finish.

Doisy-Védrines: Very flirtatious yet poised with lifted citron, subtle orange peel, orange blossom, and apricot. This is perfect for a dainty, delightful sweet pick-me-up at any time.

Many of the 2015 Sauternes wines were well made, and the selections I've shared went well above and beyond. Each of these châteaux expresses itself in its own unique style, making the tasting journey all the more dynamic and rewarding. It is incredible how many different ways it is possible to create a quality Sauternes wine - never did one taste like the other.

After such a palatable tour, I have come to appreciate even more the value of these sweet wines. Some are perfect for drinking in the near term, and others can be kept for quite awhile. Luckily, they come in a range of price points, too, so you don't necessarily have to break your bank to enjoy them! We can be sure that whatever the occasion, every single sip is to be savored.