It’s En Primeur week in Bordeaux. Wine industry professionals from all over the world have descended on the city and region to taste the latest vintage, 2017. Though it’s still in barrel, the wine is already for sale for the trade members who have arrived with their taste buds and checkbooks.
Normally, this is happy time for Bordeaux wine producers, but this year, they’re being asked about the worst frosts since 1945. The cataclysmic weather took place over three nights in late April 2017, after precocious warm spring budding. By the end of the season, production was cut by about 40 percent compared to an average year.
Fewer grapes, less wine
Some producers lost their entire crop. Lilian Barton Sartorius, whose family owns Chateaus Léoville and Langoa Barton in Saint-Julien, lives at another estate, Château Mauvesin Barton in Moulis. Though Léoville and Langoa had no frost, “We had 100-percent frost at Mauvesin. We just don’t have any wine at all this year.”
Further south in Pessac-Léognan, Irishman Lochlann Quinn owns Château de Fieuzal. “We lost almost everything. We have made a few bottles because we had grandchildren born in 2017, but we are selling nothing.” He shrugs at the loss from one year, but says, “If it happens again, I’ll have to start praying.”
In Saint-Émilion, Otto Rettenmaier of Château la Tour Figeac talked to me of the cold wind that exacerbated the frost. “We have made 10 barrels, so we have lost 95 percent of normal production.” Twelve of the top estates in Saint-Émilion made no wine at all. Some producers even left town this week to avoid the heartbreak.
Location, location, location
Producers with estates close to the mile-wide Gironde estuary were possibly saved by their proximity to the water. They include top names in Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien and Margaux. José Sanfins, who manages Château Cantenac Brown in Margaux told me, “We had an almost normal crop, just a small amount of damage in random parcels.”
At Château Pontet-Canet in Pauillac, owner Alfred Tesseron’s daughter Justine Tesseron says, “We had a bigger crop than usual.”
What’s left is good. Areas where there was no frost have resulted in an overall fine crop of early-drinking wines.
What about prices and your 2017? That’s coming later this week.
European Editor Roger Voss reports live from Bordeaux En Primeur to talk about what areas where hit hardest with frost and the vineyards that no only survived, but thrived.
Top wine recommendations from Pomerol and Saint-Émilion
Château la Conseillante 2017 Barrel Sample (Pomerol); 95–97 points. This is a very rich wine, with opulent Merlot fruit and generous tannins. There is a spicy, perfumed character to the nose, speaking to the Cabernet Franc in the blend. Fine acidity pierces through the ripe black fruits. It will certainly age well and should be enjoyed after 2023.
Château la Fleur-Pétrus 2017 Barrel Sample (Pomerol); 94–96 points. This fine wine from the central plateau of Pomerol has a beautifully structured character, rich in layers of tannins and black fruits. Juicy and full in weight, it has power and density and great aging potential.
Château l’Evangile 2017 Barrel Sample (Pomerol); 93–95 points. This dense wine is packed with intense tannins. The secret to the wine, which is 100% Merlot, is not just the structure but the immensely ripe black-plum and -berry fruits that envelope the dry core, lending opulence and richness. The wine has a lift of freshness on the finish. It will age, and should not be opened before 2024.
Château Angélus 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 95–97 points. Big tannins and powerful fruit go together in this finely perfumed wine. It has a smoky backdrop, with intense fruits and juicy acidity. It is so fruity and juicy now, though the tension behind the fruit suggests that it will mature quickly and then be at its peak for many years.
Vieux Château Certan 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 95–97 points. Rich yet fresh, this is a beautifully balanced wine. Its tannins act as a support to the great fruit and juicy acidity. Ripe, classic and sophisticatedly rich, it will certainly age well and shouldn’t be opened before 2025.
Le Dôme 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 94–96 points. A generously perfumed wine, this has great tannins, spice and intense black fruits on the palate. It’s powerful, rich and smoky, fueled as much by its fruit as its tannins. A fine wine for aging; try after 2024.
Château Bellevue-Mondotte 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 93–95 points. This wine has great fruit, minerality and a dark, dense texture. It is powerful, rich and concentrated, just hinting at its great potential fruitiness. Give it many years, and certainly try to hold until at least 2025.
Château Fonroque 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 92–94 points. This biodynamic estate has produced a rich, dense and generous wine, with solid yet fine tannins and powerful, pure black-fruit flavors. Drink from 2024.
Château Poesia 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 91–93 points. Located in the east of Saint-Émilion, this estate was formerly know as Haut-Villet. It is a powerful expression of ripe Cabernet Franc, giving a perfumed character that is already well established in this rich, fruity wine. It should age well, so drink from 2023.
See more En Primeur barrel tasting ratings and reviews.
Learn about the unique blends at En Primeur in Day Two coverage.
Read about which white and dessert wines shined at En Primeur in Day Three coverage.
Find out which wines surprised at En Primeur in Day Four coverage.
Follow @wineenthusiast on Instagram #WEtasteBDX #EnPrimeur for more of my updates from the frontlines.