Enthusiasm for buying the 2017 vintage is restrained. After the deafening “must buy” clamor that surrounded the En Primeur campaigns for the 2015 and 2016 bottlings, this year’s barrel samplings appear to lack the same buzz.
Even though it’s not a noteworthy vintage like the previous two, it’s still a good one. But there are mixed opinions from the people who decide what will end up in your local wine shop.
Dan Greathouse, president of Heidelberg Vineyards in Cleveland, Ohio, says, “The vintage has produced some unexpectedly high-quality wine, but in expectedly small quantities.”
John Desteian, Managing Director of Lompian Wines in Saint Paul, Minnesota, praised some appellations. “I think the best wines for our market will be from Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, [and] Sauternes will be fantastic.”
Ralph Sands, Bordeaux specialist at K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, California, was typically forthright: “I am not very excited at all. I’m just not impressed.” He cites a lack of fruit and says, “There are very few wines I will buy for my customers.”
They all have worries. A weak dollar will add to costs, increasing the price. That, in turn, will cause negative headlines after the high prices of the 2016 vintage. Add to the mix that there is a seriously small quantity available for some of the wines.
There are even concerns about the quality and quantity of the less expensive wines bought to satisfy the market for basic red Bordeaux. As with most importers, Greathouse does buy moderately priced bottles for his clients. “I am going to have to go up the scale and buy Bordeaux Supérieur or even Côtes de Bordeaux instead of simple Bordeaux. That means the price I charge will go up.”
What’s a drinker to do? You can buy 2015 bottles now. It’s a great vintage top-to-bottom and you will love them. The 2016 vintage, with more taste and price drama, will be on the shelves beginning in autumn. Both vintages were bountiful. Looking forward, 2018 is off to a good start.
Could there just be no need for 2017, as was the case with the 2013 vintage?
Of course, importers and distributors will continue to supply Bordeaux, as it’s still extremely popular. What’s not clear is whether they do that by using 2017.
However, with wine and taste, it’s never all gloom. Desteian is a man on a mission to buy the second wines of top chateaus that will suit his market. Greathouse will be buying some of the “extraordinary wines that have great precision” to put in his personal cellar. Even the underwhelmed Sands admits to liking some of the wines he’s sampled this week, especially those from Châteaus Léoville-Barton, Figeac and Pontet-Canet.
Also, don’t forget the whites, many of which are turning out very fine for 2017. And, of course, there’s always the impressive dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac.
The clear takeaway has been to not expect your favorite wine retailer to be flooding you with massive en primeur offers for 2017. Rather, they will be strictly selective, either with must-haves and/or delicious surprises.
My 10 favorite wines from the Médoc so far
Château Pontet-Canet 2017 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 95-97 points. Firm structure supports the luscious fruit flavors—this is a richly generous wine. Finely integrated tannins are layered with ripe black currant notes. As often with this biodynamic estate, the purity of the fruit is outstanding and concentrated. It will age well over many years, but is enjoyable young.
Château Montrose 2017 Barrel Sample (Saint-Estèphe); 94-96. This wine is powered by its tannins, creating a concentrated texture, dry at the core and solid. It is a serious, complex wine that is likely to develop slowly. Weighty and dense, it is impressive and intensely rich at the end.
Château Brane-Cantenac 2017 Barrel Sample (Margaux); 94-96. While the wood flavors are palpable in this wine, so are the firm tannins and dense black fruit. These elements suggest a wine that will have power and great concentration while also generous blackberry fruits. Drink from 2024.
Château Palmer 2017 Barrel Sample (Margaux); 94-96 points. Ripe black fruits are held aloft by a core of firm tannins. The juicy black-currant flavors are full, rich, generous and structured. This wine is already beautifully balanced, harmonious and with a fine, medium-term future, nothing in excess. Drink from 2024.
Château Pedesclaux 2017 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 93-95 points. This generous wine revels in its ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. It has firm tannins already fully integrated into the ripe blackberry fruit notes. Drink this fine wine from 2024.
Château Clerc Milon 2017 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 93-95 points. Finely structured, there is an excellent balance between fruit and tannins on this ripe and juicy wine. It is elegant, harmonious and poised. It will develop easily and over time will be an impressive wine.
Château Fonbadet 2017 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 92-94 points. Dense with layers of black currant, this is a fine wine that is full of opulent tannins and rich fruit. Ample acidity cuts through the richness expressing the freshness of the vintage. Drink from 2023.
Château Branas Grand Poujeaux 2017 Barrel Sample (Moulis-en-Médoc); 92-94. Dense and concentrated, this wine has great richness, spice, sweet tannins and layers of opulent black fruits. It will be ready to drink relatively soon, so enjoy from 2022.
Château Cissac 2017 Barrel Sample (Haut-Médoc); 91-93 points. This is going to be an excellent early-drinking wine. Its wood and rich, dark fruits are already well-integrated, giving it a dark, spicy character. It will need several years to be drinkable, certainly not before 2023.
Château Clément-Pichon 2017 Barrel Sample (Haut-Médoc); 91-93 points. This wine is full of black fruit notes that are balanced by ample acidity. It has fine, firm tannins as a background to the generous fruit. Drink this ripe, smoky wine from 2022.
See more en primeur barrel tasting ratings and reviews.
Learn more about Roger Voss’ first impressions of En Primeur in Day One coverage.
Read about the unique blends at En Primeur in Day Two 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.