Bordeaux 2013 has been a challenge for everyone and considering that the vintage was written off by some, even before a wine was tasted, it is pleasing to find that good terroir and good winemakers have created good wines.
Our Chairman, Simon Berry, in his blog about the potential of this vintage, reflected on how " we may never see a bad vintage again. The weather conditions in 2013 were truly dreadful: only a hot July and August bucked the trend. Some estates – anything between 20 and 50, depending on whose palates you trust – had the terroir, the technology, the money or the mastery to come up with wines which are truly worthy of their brands."
Simon Berry concludes that a new pattern emerges in the way Bordeaux vintages are assessed. "There will be no more highs and lows, peaks and troughs, triumphs and disasters – now we will have great years, and perfectly decent years. So perhaps we should treat Bordeaux like we treat our music: looking out for the latest release from our favourite artist, and buying it expecting to be surprised at their development, or a new interpretation. We could use painting as an analogy, or a favourite actor if you prefer. But the concept of sticking to a group of your favourite châteaux, buying a case or so from each vintage and watching their development over the years is not such a strange one. "
Bordeaux Red Wines Assessment
Historically low yields, historically different blends (Ch. Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac have produced a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time in 2013), and the requirement for rigorous selection, were recurring themes that winemakers were keen to discuss with us during our visit to sample the vintage in late March and early April 2014.
This, plus the effect of weather patterns during the growing season and the differences in terroir have caused great inconsistencies in style between appellations and even between wines from the same commune or indeed vineyard. Take for example Ch. Margaux, who used no Merlot for the first time in their Grand Vin for 2013, and Ch. Palmer who had 49% Merlot in their blend. These two properties from Margaux have different terroir with Paul Pontallier of Ch. Margaux explaining how theirs is perfectly suited to Cabernet Sauvignon and Thomas Deroux of Ch. Palmer being very happy with his Merlot harvest. Good terroir and having plantings of the most suitable grape varieties upon it made the creation of good wine a bit easier.
However, winemakers still had a crucial role to play with the most successful wines of the vintage being able to preserve the balance between the wines’ aromatic expression and a precise, silky structure. Rich, fleshy fruit was hard to find and quite simply came from properties who were able to conduct slow, gentle extraction during vinification. Handling the fruit gently was very important as the grapes were more fragile than in recent years.
2013 is not a great vintage and, across the board, we may not even be able to class 2013 as a good vintage. But what is unfair, is to judge every wine as a collective. In years such as these it is important to taste as many wines as possible and judge them on their merits, while meeting the winemakers to hear about the difficulties they face and learning how they overcame them.
Read more about the white wines vintage assessment for the 2013 vintage
All vintage assessments have to begin with understanding how the weather influenced the winemaking process and it is quite clear that 2013 was a complicated vintage. Spring was long and cold, with the first six months of the year seeing very heavy rainfall. In fact, the rainfall was so high in St Estèphe that Ch. Calon-Ségur recorded an extraordinary 230 days of rain during 2013, compared with a 30-year average of just 124.
Average temperatures in April and May were the lowest of the decade and this all caused great concern, with many seeing flowering severely delayed and others fearing that their vines may shut down completely. In almost all cases, this lack of sunshine caused coulure and millerandage, which reduced the yields.
Vines don’t tend to prosper in cold, damp conditions so it was fortunate that the summer weather improved, with July proving to be particularly hot, and followed by some extremely high temperatures and stormy weather in August, especially in the earlier part of the month.
At the end of the summer and moving into September, the weather became even more unpredictable with a mixture of humidity, rain and warm temperatures causing concern.
Ripening isn’t necessarily affected by this type of weather pattern, but it does increases the likelihood of botrytis, which was found at many estates. Where severe attacks of botrytis took place, and indeed in many cases where predicting the optimum period for grape ripening and thus harvesting wasn’t possible, estates had to harvest very quickly and relied upon the responsiveness, perseverance and hard work of their grape pickers tremendously.
In many cases the grapes did ripen fully, but the unfortunate mixture of unpredictable weather during the key early and late months, meant that many properties struggled to provide a richness and flesh to the fruit on the palate, something which is found almost across the board in the exceptional and warm vintages such as 2009.
Having been difficult to predict throughout the growing season, and generally arriving very quickly and requiring fast responses, harvest arrived late, with some properties harvesting in late September and others during early-mid October. This of course varies from estate to estate and indeed across the variety of different grape varieties which are planted. It should be noted however, that whilst the harvest should be classed as late, we are only talking about a difference of a week to ten days in some cases.
Preventative methods proved their full worth once again. With canopy management, de-leafing, green harvesting, and in many places bunch selecting in August, having a positive effect on the outcome of the wines. Despite this, ripening within bunches was still uneven, so a lot of work was required in the vineyard and in the cellar, carefully selecting and carefully managing the fruit throughout the winemaking process.
Max Lalondrelle, Bordeaux Buying Director