History, whether through divine intervention or sheer dumb luck, tells us that in recent decades, Bordeaux vintages ending in “5” are pretty damn good. The latest in the series has a lot to live up to, especially given the challenges of the last four harvests: the better years such as '12 and '14 lack uniformity, '13 generally lacks quality, and '11 suffered from a pricing hangover.
As always, we followed the vintage conditions very closely throughout the year, observing each key occurrence in the vines' vegetal cycle to see how things were shaping up. As 2015 passed by and each milestone, from budburst to flowering and fruit set, was met with positive noises, it was clear that the first pieces were in place for a healthy, relatively abundant yield. The summer was one of the hottest in history but mercifully free from the dangerous heat spikes (which can cause damage to the bunches) thus allowing even, complete ripening. The one element of inconsistency was regionalised rain, affecting the northerly reaches of the Médoc more than anywhere else; but in most areas, precipitation was no more than was welcome and nothing that couldn't effectively be dealt with. Harvests were done in comfort, with superb levels of ripeness and the freedom to pick as required, with no desperate rushing or panic. The result was a harvest of high-quality, thick-skinned grapes with ripe tannins, excellent sugar levels and fantastic acidity.
We were therefore understandably hopeful of some good wines to taste and it's fair to say that by the end of Day One we were pretty satisfied with what we encountered.
Despite a certain level of hype around the vintage generally, with some very high scores already published, everything started with a real sense of calm. The weather gods had smiled, delivering beautiful warm sunshine and gentle breezes which made for ideal tasting conditions. As always we made our way up to St. Julien and Pauillac to kick off and within a few visits it was clear that some very, very good wines have been produced. They have a natural sweetness and suppleness of texture, which, combined with the delightfully vibrant, juicy acidity and super-fine tannins, allow very clear terroir expression. Most are delightfully unforced, with immense purity of fruit, allowing the vintage to truly speak out; this makes them not just easy, but a pleasure, to taste – very rarely the case at such a nascent stage in their (in this case, potentially very long) lives.
At all price levels there is joy to be found: Les Ormes de Pez from the team at Lynch-Bages is richly fruited and dense; Haut-Batailley from François-Xavier Borie is a true, clear expression of fine terroir. Further up the scale there are truly fantastic wines from Lynch-Bages, Léoville Las Cases, Pichon Baron and Léoville Poyferré.
Atop the tree the two Firsts we have tried so far have split the camp – but only in terms of personal preference. The messages coming out of the region thus far might be that 2015 is a fantastic Merlot year but boy-oh-boy are there some superb expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon; you will find few better executions of this noble grape than in the 2015s from Lafite and Mouton. Both will make old bones and deliver a vast amount of pleasure, intellectual stimulation and lip-smacking enjoyment.
Around and in between discovering this delightful vintage, we managed to squeeze in our regular relaxed (and relaxing) lunch in the kitchen of Ducru Beaucaillou with Bruno Borie where we enjoyed a particularly good bottle of the '86 Ducru, amongst others. Unlike in previous years, Bruno has not picked a 'star' to compare his 2015 to: "This year it is the vintage that is the star..." he grinned, and in the case of Ducru he makes a very good point, with its astonishing clarity, balance and purity.
It's often during trips like these that we are reminded of how far BI has come. Few things illustrate this like receiving the hottest invitation of the week – a private dinner at Château Latour. We will doubtless elaborate on the specifics of the evening on another occasion but needless to say, from the first glass of Salon 1996 to the array of stunning vintages of the Grand Vin we enjoyed, it was a truly memorable night with our generous and genial host Jean Garandeau. There's no doubt that we are spoiled by the wines we get to enjoy on a regular basis but even for the most hard-to-please among us (you know who you are) this was an unforgettable evening.
And the 2015s?
Well of course, we won't be able to buy them until they are deemed ready by the estate and more's the pity as they are very, very good indeed. What you can buy however is the estate's current release, the star of which is arguably Les Forts de Latour 2009 – a truly monolithic, sensuous, powerful yet effortless example of exactly how hard this wine can punch, and how ludicrous its perception as a 'second wine' really is.
Onwards and upwards into Day Two which kicks off up in St. Estephe and winds its way back down the Médoc to Margaux and on to St. Emilion for dinner. Until then...