Dry white wines from Bordeaux tend to excel in cooler years, so while it was a very promising early summer for them, the much-welcomed Indian summer of record temperatures, sunshine and dryness during September and October appears to have blunted their attractiveness in 2014.
Fruit is very ripe, and acidity highly effective in some cases, so the wines can be considered to be plump, generous, exotic and full of fruit. Some wines even have fresh, semi-tropical aromas, with lush stone-fruit and viscosity, but many also lack precision and definition on the palate, so the vintage falls short as a collective.
The top estates have avoided this feature however, and have made some very good wines. The natural acidity offers a real crispness and tension. These best wines tended to be harvested later, allowing for ripeness and an opportunity to develop this precision and minerality which defines the most excellent of wines. Sauternes has benefited from the searing acidity and many of the wines are very good indeed, extremely tasty, fresh and concentrated. Despite this initial appeal however, they are not particularly complex and they do lack the fresh, zingy crispness and body which characterises them in exceptional vintages.
The style we found amongst the wines is one of a complex, fresher appeal, rather than the opulent and overt sweetness of some of the classics. Conditions for the development of noble rot were ideal; it is just a shame that we weren’t able to take a more in-depth look at the Sauternes wines to form a more comprehensive opinion of their merits. Something of note is that Ch. d’Yquem will once again not be releasing their 2014 en primeur in 2015, instead releasing later in the day.
Weather Conditions 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. Max Lalondrelle, Fine Wine Buying Director