After tasting hundreds of reds and whites, as I do during en primeur each year, the Wine Enthusiast Wine of the Vintage 2007 is Château Haut-Brion Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. It sums up the conditions that made the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc ripen superbly. For once, and astonishingly in Bordeaux, the red wines took a back seat in making the reputation of the vintage.
96-98 Château Haut-Brion Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. A beautiful wine, rich but also poised, with nutmeg, apricots, white peaches, underlined with a firm minerality. It manages to be fat, super-rich but also intensely fresh. —Roger Voss
Vintage 2007 in Bordeaux is a white wine year, both for sweet wines and for dry wines. The sweet Sauternes have richness and potential aging. The dry whites are fresh, fruity and, in some cases, as rich as white Burgundy.
Overall, en primeur 2008 was a tough week for chateau owners and tasters alike. The chateau owners were putting a brave face on a difficult vintage. Tasters, all 14,000 of them, were battling their way through too many wines that were either soft and juicy or tough and fruitless in order to find the gems that are always there.
In the final analysis, the producers in the Médoc are blaming the Merlot for the huge variations in quality in the red wines. “It just didn’t have time to ripen,” I was told by more than one cellar master. “It was ready to pick too soon. We couldn’t leave the grapes on the vines any longer.” Patrice Pagès of Château Fourcas-Dupré in Listrac, said they treated each grape like a baby.
Pomerol was the only region of Bordeaux where the Merlot had a good chance. It is a precocious region, always the among the first to pick for red wines. Here the Merlot got the chance it didn’t have elsewhere. That’s why the en primeur ratings of Pomerol look so good for the 2007s.
In the Médoc, the Cabernet Sauvignon in the deep gravel soils of Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien and Pauillac produced fresh, fruity wines, sometimes with good structure, depending on how ruthless the vineyard owner was in taking out bunches and taking off leaves in the summer. In Margaux, all the problems of the vintage came out, with tough, sometimes green wines showing that there was never time for the grapes to fully ripen.
The vineyard came first for every producer, more than in any other recent year. Great vineyards produced the best grapes. That’s hardly a surprise, but it was truer than ever in 2007 at all levels, from classed growths down to the most basic Bordeaux. Medium and poor vineyards were selected out of a chateau’s best wines more severely than ever.
“It was a good year to rediscover our vineyard,” said Phillippe Delfaut, director general of Château Kirwan in Margaux. “What we did in the vineyard reflected our willingness to do the right thing. More than usual, the right moment to pick was crucial. After that, vinification had to be gentle, delicate.”
So, it is back to the delicious dry whites of Pessac-Léognan, and the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac to give 2007 a good reputation. There is no doubt that these are the stars of the vintage. That is why the white wine from Château Haut-Brion is the wine of the vintage.
Global economic conditions, which are putting sales in jeopardy, hung over all the tastings. A medium vintage and tough trading is making a hard-sell vintage even harder, said Patrick Maroteaux, outgoing president of the Union des Grands Crus. “If we didn’t have the economic problems and the poor exchange rate, people would be saying that 2007 has produced nice wine. But we can’t escape the economy. This is the year in which we will just have to live with it.”
How the Bordeaux First Growths rated in the 2007 vintage
The first growths, apart from Château d’Yquem, are all red, either from the 1855 classification of the Medoc and Graves, or by assimilation from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. The white of Haut-Brion was not classified as a first growth in 1855. So, in the 2007 vintage, the Wine of the Vintage, Château Haut-Brion Blanc, is not found among the first growths.
96-98 Château Pétrus, Pomerol. Immense, deep wine, packed with firm tannins, the tannins and wood in great harmony. This is always an iconic wine, and once again it has shown why it has this status. —R.V.
96-98 Château d’Yquem, Sauternes. Impressively balanced, with new wood giving spice and the elegant fruit giving orange marmalade tastes. It’s rich, unctuous, but also restrained, the richness balanced with great acidity. —R.V.
95-97 Château Ausone, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. It’s a big wine, of course, but this year’s Ausone has elegance, roundness, and intense fruit. The fruitiness is rich, sweet, with blackberries backed up by its structure. —R.V.
95-97 Château Cheval Blanc, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Very pure, perfumed with Cabernet Franc, flavors of coffee. The fruit is ripe, the structure square, angled, giving the fruit a definite shape and a future. —R.V.
95-97 Château Latour, Pauillac. A wine with great density, brooding, dark and vaunting its great juicy blackcurrant flavors. A fine example of fresh Cabernet, but with the acidity very obvious. —R.V.
94-96 Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan. Severe, with dense fruits. It’s almost austere and mineral initially, but there are also blackberries. The perfume is enticing as well, along with the hints of spice from the new wood. —R.V.
94-96 Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac. Although of course it is dense, the fruit is sweet, blackcurrant juicy, ripe plum flesh, generous. The wine opens into a series of red fruits and spices. Only gradually do the tannins creep up. —R.V.
94-96 Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac. With only 42% of total vineyard production, this is the smallest production of Mouton since 1969. The severe selection has given a finely structured wine, dense but also fresh. The wood, just a hint seems to be well judged. The finish is bitter chocolate, smoky. —R.V.
93-95 Château Margaux, Margaux. This is elegant Margaux, not powerful, soft, chic, with its exceptional balance, fresh acidity and soft tannins over some dense fruit. It is restrained, delicious already, a fine response to the difficult year. —R.V.
Ratings of wines from Margaux, Listrac-Médoc and Moulis-en-Médoc
92-94 Château Palmer, Margaux. Fresh, jammy, soft wine, with delicious sweet tannins. The freshness goes right through, giving life to the aftertaste of generous ripe fruits. —R.V.
91-93 Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux. Initially a very dry wine, but there is depth, complexity here, with some good rich fruits. It has a proper structure, with a dark core of tannin. —R.V.
90-92 Château Dauzac, Margaux. Starting dry, this begins to open with some spicy fruit. It has some good richness which offers blackberry flavors. Good fresh aftertaste. —R.V.
90-92 Château d’Issan, Margaux. Deeply color, followed by solid fruit, black flavored, the tannins firm, showing licorice and some richness. —R.V.
90-92 Château Giscours, Margaux. Spicy, peppery wine, dominated by its new wood flavors. The toast is great, the fruit suggesting richness but certainly not yet. —R.V.
90-92 Château Marquis de Terme, Margaux. Good juicy fruit at the core of this wine, showing freshness, but also hard-edged tannins. There is some good density here. —R.V.
89-91 Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux. Soft, juicy wine, showing relatively soft tannins and plenty of blackberry flavors. —R.V.
89-91 Château Kirwan, Margaux. Dry textured wine which is focussed on its fruit tannins, some green pepper, the wood spice coming through towards the end. —R.V.
89-91 Château Labegorce-Zédé, Margaux. Dense, relatively balanced wine, maybe without much power, but with attractive soft tannins. —R.V.
89-91 Château Siran, Margaux. Tannin, tannin and more tannin. The weight is there, there are some blackberry flavors, but it’s very hard to get through those extreme tannins. —R.V.
88-90 Château Cantenac-Brown, Margaux. Dark, dense, hard textured wine, very dry, firm, missing the fruit. Only a sign of future pleasure. —R.V.
88-90 Château du Tertre, Margaux. Spice, new wood, the fruit totally dominated by the new wood. At least the aftertaste has some freshness, new wood and acidity. —R.V.
88-90 Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry, Margaux. This has some good depth, complexity, with spice and finely structured tannins. The acidity is well integrated. —R.V.
88-90 Château Monbrison, Margaux. Fruity wine, with some green flavors as well as the soft acidity. Blackcurrants and some cranberry tannins, give a juicy aftertaste. —R.V.
88-90 Margaux Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux, Margaux. Very perfumed, soft wine, balanced already, fresh but delicate. The aftertaste is fresh, hints of spice from the wood. —R.V.
88-90 Château Rauzan Gassies, Margaux. A layered wine, dry and firm initially, but there are also good plummy fruits, the tannins round out, even though the aftertaste is firm and dry. —R.V.
87-89 Palmer Alter Ego de Palmer, Margaux. There is some concentration, but there’s also a green element, with bitter chocolate, spice and very soft tannins. —R.V.
87-89 Château Desmirail, Margaux. Structured wine, dry, firm tannins, with plenty of juicy fruit under all this. The finish is tough, spicy, dry. —R.V.
87-89 Château Durfort Vivens, Margaux. Fresh, fruity wine, with light acidity and soft tannins. There are blackcurrant fruits, and only some light structure. —R.V.
87-89 Château Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux. With blackberry jam aromas, it is not surprising that this is a soft wine, pleasurable fruit, but only a hint of tannin. Soft, bramble jelly aftertaste. —R.V.
86-88 Château d’Angludet, Margaux. The dry core of this wine is dominant, the tannins showing toughness, and some green pepper flavors come through. —R.V.
86-88 Château Labegorce, Margaux. Thin, lightweight wine, supported only by tough tannins. It never shows much balance or fruit intensity. —R.V.
86-88 Château Lascombes, Margaux. Licorice and bitter acids don’t set this wine off well. It is all about hard tannins afterwards. —R.V.
85-87 Château Ferrière, Margaux. Extracted and tough, here is a wine that has farmyard flavors, and plenty of rough edges. —R.V.
88-90 Château Clarke, Listrac-Médoc. Rough-edged wine, all angular tannins. The fruit is there, some blackcurrant acidity, but the structure is very solid. —R.V.
87-88 Château Fourcas-Hosten, Listrac-Médoc. With its considerable new wood aromas, this is a wine which shows some polish. The fruit is more lean than the rich wood. —R.V.
86-88 Château Ducluzeau, Listrac-Médoc. Soft, simple and rich, good wood, spice and blackberry fruits. —R.V.
86-88 Château Fourcas-Dupré, Listrac-Médoc. Has some depth, but the tannins give it a lean character, finishing with light acidity —R.V.
85-87 Château Fonréaud, Listrac-Médoc. Dark tannins, lean fruit, with some rough edged structure. —R.V.
89-91 Château Chasse-Spleen, Moulis-en-Médoc. Bone-shakingly dry tannins surround fruit that is certainly extracted. There is some depth of flavor here, but you need to dig deep. —R.V.
88-90 Château Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc. Concentrated wine, the tannins bearing up some fresh fruit, the acidity vibrant. It is not powerful, but has some potential pleasure. —R.V.
90-92 Château Potensac, Médoc. Very dark, dense, showing solid fruit and structure. There is definitely power here, but the aftertaste, soft and round, shows the character of the vintage. —R.V.
88-90 Chapelle de Potensac, Médoc. This is about fresh, delicious, perfumed, relatively light fruit. There is ripeness, but the tannins are muted, the wine ends sweetly. —R.V.
86-88 Goulée, Médoc. This wine is designed to taste very new world. To that extent it succeeds well, very fruity, full of forward blackberry flavors. The wood is generally too dense for the fruit, finishing with fruit and licorice. —R.V.