So, is 2014 worth buying 2014 Bordeaux vintage or not? Compared to previous vintages – not least 2013, relatively little has been written about 2014 Bordeaux prior to the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings in April 2015; but seeing is believing, so we kept our minds open as we made our annual pilgrimage to taste the new wines.
We know that all vintages are different, each winemaker has their own style and the vineyards of Bordeaux cover more hectares than most other wine-producing nations, or regions across the world. They are therefore unlikely to produce wholly uniform wine. Each Bordeaux vintage is different and, while you may typically find some stylistic consistencies from properties in recent times, it is the subtle changes in characteristics of each wine that provide intrigue and excitement.
The ripe, fleshy fruit, finesse, elegance and focus that we found in the wines was in stark contrast to the vintages we have tasted since 2010, where wines showing this favourable style and flavour were few and far between.
Any assessment must begin with the weather, and the conditions were curious to say the least.
Read more about the white wines vintage assessment for the 2014 vintage
Red Wine Assessment
So what of the style of the wines? There is a lot of quality, that’s for sure. There is real elegance in classic red Bordeaux this year. The Clarets of 2014 are more typical Claret than they have been in recent vintages. Very few have got it wrong in 2014 and there are only mere hints of over-extraction – a negative theme of the 2013s.
A recurring list of descriptors we used for the 2014s is pretty, rich, elegant, soft, approachable and beautifully balanced with fresh fruit, cooling acidity and wonderful silky tannins.
The bright colour and purity of the young wines that we tasted from barrel in April 2015 was particularly noticeable. At this early stage, many of the wines had beguiling aromas of juicy fruit. They were, in fact, delicious with a lively acidity, fine tannin and appropriate structure.
This character of the wines makes it a rather unusual vintage. The wines are so open and approachable young; but they’re not missing anything, as this remark may suggest. Acidity; tannin; fresh, ripe and juicy fruit; layered complexity; cool, long finishes are aplenty, so we are certain that the wines have aging potential. All the component parts are singing: it is just not like anything we have tasted en primeur before. The wines certainly showed the structure one would expect of wines which will age well in bottle. Most will be best enjoyed during the 20 years following the vintage, although several will likely be excellent well beyond that.
It is not possible to find a comparable vintage for 2014: it is somewhere between the greats of the 21st century (2005, 2009 and 2010) and the others – some of which were good, some more challenging. We are all agreed that the wines are very good, almost exceptional in some cases, and, on the whole, there is much to enjoy. We are enthused by the quality; it is not a blockbuster, but is a significant improvement on 2013 and we were really impressed by many wines.
We found the greatest consistency of very good wines in Pauillac, where some estates really harnessed the fruit from their Cabernet Sauvignon. However, we could also cherry-pick two or three estates from Margaux, St Estèphe, Pessac-Léognan and St Julien where there is real quality as well.
The vintage is really made by the success of the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wines. These wines offer excellent density and complexity, alongside a very concentrated and precise finish. The Merlot offers aromatic freshness and a sweetness that allows a generous finish.
As is often the case in Bordeaux, 2014 was full of unexpected developments due to erratic weather conditions. From an early stage, winemakers sensed something special could have been happening and it was indeed very promising until the summer arrived. Both the vegetal cycles of the vine and the precision of work carried out in the vineyard were particularly closely managed this year.
The winter was exceptionally mild, the mildest for 10 years; but it was also very damp. The early season months of January and February were amongst the rainiest and warmest on recent record. At the beginning of April, budbreak took place under good conditions – but much earlier than usual; however, later in the month the vines were ahead of their usual vegetal cycle. The weather was starting to have an effect.
After a cool period in spring, good weather in early June encouraged an even flowering. July brought average weather conditions for the month, but August’s cool temperatures created the real challenges. This cold and gloomy month, one of the coldest seen on recent record, heralded the start of a difficult period as the vines began to shrink back and the grapes struggled to ripen. The grapes also took longer to change colour, pushing véraison nearer the usual dates. The late-developing bunches were rigorously removed by the vine workers and vigorous growth of the foliage prompted many estates to de-leaf their bunches, thus ensuring air could flow and encouraging ripening.
Then, from the end of August, everyone benefitted from the longest Indian summer on record. Temperatures were above average and the region saw 30 percent more sunshine than usual. September was the warmest since 1921 and 1961 and it is during this month that the vintage regained its qualitative potential. The combination of heat and drought enables the grapes to ripen perfectly. The first maturity checks were very positive with potential alcohol levels and IPT (Indice de Polyphénols Totaux or TPC, Total Phenolic Content) were high.
October was a long succession of dry, sunny days, with some storms, which were unusually welcome. The harvest began deliberately late, to guarantee optimum ripeness, and climatic conditions during harvest were ideal. This allowed the vignerons to pick when they chose without urgency and ensure each parcel achieved ideal maturity. Flesh and sweetness of the berries suggests that most were picked at perfect ripeness.
At some estates sugar levels in the ripe Merlot grapes were lower than average for the 21st century, and, unusually, the Cabernet Franc grapes were richer in sugar than the Merlot. These two grape varieties were on average picked mid- to late September. Acidity levels in the ripe grapes were significantly higher than average. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot took especial advantage of the beautiful late autumn, with these two varietals tending to be picked in early to mid-October.
Overall yields were back to average levels at most estates. This is a significant improvement on 2013 and a relief in some cases for the estate proprietors and winemakers themselves.
The technical teams observed that the 2014s would be harmonious with the finesse of their tannins and aromatic richness providing immense reward and satisfaction.