En Primeur’s 2014 Miracle Vintage Makes a Splash

European Editor Roger Voss tastes through barrel samples of this year's much-anticipated vintage and discovers excellence. Plus, he offers his top-scoring pours from Pessac-Léognan.

The buzzwords among producers at this year’s En Primeur—Bordeaux’s annual barrel tasting wine-futures auction—are “miracle vintage.”

And while they have been known to exaggerate, they may be spot on with their declaration of 2014, especially after the dangerously damp growing conditions.

I was among the wine journalists who sipped barrel samples of the vintage, presented by Bordeaux’s top producers and chateau owners. There are no doubt good red wines and impressive dry white and sweet whites on offer.

“It is one of those rare years when both the reds and the whites are good—very good,” said Philippe Dhalluin, executive director of Château Mouton-Rothschild.

While the wines won’t be bottled until next year, prices are set once industry professionals announce the verdict. For producers, 2014 is a blessing after mediocre 2011 and 2012 vintages, and a dire 2013.

“At one point, we thought 2014 would be as good as 2010 [the last really great Bordeaux vintage], but, in fact, it ended up just below,” said Florence Cathiard, co-owner of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan.

As damp July and August conditions worsened, growers feared another disastrous vintage. In late August, however, the clouds finally parted, allowing sunny skies and cool, dry nights to dominate the next two months. Red grapes ripened slowly and fully, allowing growers to pick at various times.

“We were able to pick one parcel that was ready and then wait for the next-door one,” said Dhalluin.

Now that Bordeaux producers are back in the game, they’re being bullish about raising prices. This is despite warning signs of a collapse of the en primeur system and demands from British importers for a return to reasonable prices last set in 2008.

“The price has to be positioned in relation to its quality and to the dynamism of the market,” said Christian Seely, managing director of AXA Millésimes, which owns Château Pichon Longueville in Pauillac, among others. “For me the price should be the highest possible at which my traditional customers are willing to buy the wine.”

As the week develops, we’ll see whether buyers agree.

For now, my thoughts on today’s Pessac-Léognan pours: This region, located just south of Bordeaux city, produces both red and white wines. While the reds show impressive structure and are very good, the whites are excellent.

“We have both weight and opulence on the whites, and have not lost a bit of the freshness,” said Séverine Bonnie, whose family owns Château Malartic-Lagravière.

Jean-Philippe Masclet, cellar master and enologist at Château Haut-Brion, concurs: “I have never seen whites with such richness and alcohol and yet so much acidity. It is fantastic.”

Here are my top-scoring whites and reds from Pessac-Léognan. Click to read my full tasting notes and find 35 more ratings and reviews in the Buying Guide.

Top Five Pessac-Léognan Whites

97–99 Château Haut-Brion 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
95–97 Château la Mission Haut-Brion 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
95–97 Château Malartic-Lagravière 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
95–97 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
94–96 Domaine de Chevalier 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).

Top Five Pessac-Léognan Reds

96–98 Château Haut-Brion 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
95–97 Château la Mission Haut-Brion 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
94–96 Château de France 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
94–96 Château Haut-Bailly 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).
94–96 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2014 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan).

See more ratings and reviews from en primeur 2014 vintage >>>

 

Published on March 30, 2015



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