Bordeaux 2015 Report with Andrew Caillard, MW
Tuesday, August 21, 2018 in News
More than a few times the phrase “a vintage of the decade" has been mentioned. I have tasted through most of the top wines, some on more than a few occasions, and feel confident that this is a vintage worth supporting. It is a very successful vintage.
2015 is a wonderful Bordeaux vintage without the hype or hysteria associated with 2009 and 2010. The wines are generally expressive and generous with marvellous concentration and structure. Given another year in barrel, the wines should gain more fruit complexity and volume. The Châteaux, across all sub-regions, are excited by the beautiful fragrance, clear fruit flavours and brisk energy of the wines, and believe the vintage to be the best since 2010.
Weather conditions were generally ideal with perfect flowering and set during Spring. A hot dry and sunny spell during June and July kept the vines in balance; the near-drought conditions resulted in excellent cluster development. Veraison (in which the grape berries turn from green and hard to coloured and fleshy) began towards the end of July. Light rains refreshed the canopies and hydrated the clusters. Cooler weather arrived in August with above average rainfall. The northern Médoc was exposed to heavy rains, but no berry splitting or significant disease pressure was reported. The cooler conditions running up to harvest in September allowed the grapes to conserve their aromatic potential and ripen relatively evenly.
The red wines across the right bank and the left bank are generally impressive in concentration, vigour and freshness. While all the wines are tasted extremely young, it is easy to see the quality and dimension of the vintage. Merlot performed particularly well, with many Châteaux picking intermittently over a three-week window to achieve optimal freshness, fleshiness and ripeness. Cabernet Franc, its companion in many of the wines, gives an attractive “tannin seam" and structural vigour. Already observers are calling it a right bank (Saint-Émilion & Pomerol) year. Château Vieux Château Certan, described as “La Force Tranquille," and Château Petrus were my top two right bank wines followed by Château Ausone. All have a buoyancy and precision that augurs well for the future.
The southern left bank (Margaux and Pessac-Léognan) also stumped up some beautiful concentrated wines. The alcoholic strength and tannin ripeness seem to correlate with this impression. Cabernet Sauvignon, typically “needing to takes its time", brought wines of lovely aromaticity, concentration and vitality. The success of this variety has been dependent on the sophistication of harvesting and selection at blending. Château Margaux and Château Palmer are amazing wines. Château Haut Brion and Château La Mission Haut- Brion made dense chocolaty styles. Château Haut-Bailly is particularly refined and beautifully balanced.
At Château Batailley, the introduction of a second wine and closer attention to differentiation, led to one of the best vintages in its history. Many of the small refinements and decisions in the vineyard and winery allowed several top Châteaux in Saint Julien, Pauillacand Saint-Estèphe to make beautiful wines too. The hard selection process is particularly evident on the left bank. Château Margaux and Château Cos d’Estournel chose to rigorously defend their first wines by very detailed picking and selection. Only 35% and 39% (respectively) of the harvest went into their Grand Vin. Saint-Émilion’s Château Cheval Blanc on the other hand comprised 95.1% of the harvest, leaving no reason to make Petit Cheval in 2015.
Attention to detail in the vineyard, especially after the August rains, and huge investment in optical sorting machines (at a cost of around 200,000 Euros each) at harvest ensured the grapes were in good condition before vinification. It is quite incredible how the fruit arrives into the winery these days. Meticulous attention to detail has become the norm within the Grand Cru Classé community. The First Growth Estates with their huge financial investments in vineyard and cellar practices, all made impressive wines this year. Perhaps the most evocative of all is Château Margaux. The death of the estate’s longstanding winemaker Paul Pontallier, on Easter Sunday from cancer, rocked Bordeaux’s wine community. He was a man for all seasons. He brought the best out of his people and his wines, whatever the vintage offered. 2015 Château Margaux, in all likelihood, will be the greatest vintage of its modern history.
Despite the sombre mood at this year’s 2015 En Primeurs tastings, the energy of Spring brought a sense of renewal. Budburst in the vineyards, white and pink blossom in full bloom, the pure chirrup of fledglings and the vibrant new wines of the vintage promised the animation and maturation of life. The colours, densities, flavours and tannin quality of the young red wines all suggest a great vintage in the making. It is one of the wine trade’s most curious practices to make comment on unfinished wine, yet somehow the predictions become more or less right. Over the next year the wines will develop more fruit complexity, richness and volume in barrel. The tannins, oak and fruit will further integrate.
The sweet aperitif/dessert wines of Sauternes and Barsac have also fared extremely well. The combination of even ripening and optimum outbreaks of botrytis cinerea has brought some magnificent wines. Some are calling it the best vintage since 2001, arguably the greatest vintage in recent memory. While Château d’Yquem looked gorgeous, the elegantly styled Château Climens, still in many parts, will be wonderful. Typically this wine is tasted out of several barrels, and my notes are a composite of eight different elements. The fragrance, vibrancy, freshness, and line are amazing. The dry whites, mainly Sauvignon Blanc or Gris dominant are refreshing styles with attractive freshness and drive. Château Haut-Brion Blanc is an amazing wine, but its release price will reflect its rarity.
The Châteaux will likely bring out the vintage in two tranches to capture the appetite of the world’s wine trade. The first offers will probably be a touch higher than last year’s opening prices. This will be against the advice of the negociants who have been running on very low margins for many years now. The weakening of the British Pound and the Australian Dollar against the euro may be a stumbling block for some buyers, but there will be value and opportunity in this forthcoming primeur campaign. For Australian buyers, this is absolutely the best way to buy Bordeaux. Provenance is guaranteed, allocations confirmed and the price will still be less than future imports, by virtue of the structure of the Place de Bordeaux.
Better market conditions in China and the US, together with a significant vintage in both quantity and quality, will see momentum return to Bordeaux after a four-year period of stagnation and uncertainty. The cat and mouse game between the Châteaux, the negociants and wine trade now begins. Regardless of the outcome, Bordeaux will continue to be the fine wine reference for many decades. There is something utterly unique, invigorating and evocative about mature Bordeaux wines. The best of the 2015 will be transformative and delicious to drink. All you need is patience, moderately deep pockets and the will to buy.
Andrew Caillard, MW.