Bordeaux En Primeur 2017
- A very good vintage in the prime growing areas of the Northern Medoc, Pessac/Graves, and in the two main appellations of the Right Bank, St Emilion and Pomerol.
- The third drought vintage in a row, with minimal rainfall counterbalanced by cooler than average summer temperatures – creating wines with excellent ripeness and a real sense of freshness and finesse.
- Volumes across the region significantly reduced by late April frosts which caused widespread damage amongst many less well-located estates.
- On the Left Bank from St Estephe to Margaux, quality was generally very good, with estates closest to the river estuary feeling minimal effects from the frost; these have produced the best wines, some of which are excellent.
- On the Right Bank, the limestone plateau of St Emilion was virtually untouched by the frost and the best wines are excellent, whilst vines on flatter, clay and sand soils were often badly hit.
- The flatter land on the Pomerol plateau was greatly endangered by the frost but most estates had the means to counteract the weather; the best are excellent.
- Graves and Pessac were more badly hit by the frosts than further north but top estates escaped, or coped with, the worst effects; the best are very good to excellent.
- First Growths and Grand Cru Classe 'A' wines all reach a very high standard.
- Very good to excellent dry and sweet whites.
- The closest vintage for quality comparison is 2014, although the best are better – and the profile of the harvest and the finished wine style is quite different.
Orders, Pre-orders and Wishlists
You can place an order when a wine is available for general purchase and has been listed
with a confirmed price. You can order in your preferred size format – the bottling
Before individual wines are released you have the option to pre-order or add the wines to your wishlist.
Pre-orders are the best way to get the wines you want as they represent firm commitments to purchase if the wine is released below the upper price limits we have provided. Select the wine you wish to pre-order using the search function in the top right of your screen or the regional listings in the box above and select the format and quantity you wish to pre-order. If sufficient stock is available, pre-orders will be invoiced when the price is confirmed and before the wines are released for general sale. If we are not able to fulfil all pre-orders when a wine is released, we will continue to search for stock at the best possible price. If a wine is released above the upper end of our predicted price range we will not automatically invoice pre-orders – each customer will be contacted to see if they still wish to go ahead with the purchase at the new price.
Wishlists are not firm commitments to purchase – when each wine is released, if there is sufficient stock available after pre-order commitments have been honoured, customers with a wishlist will be contacted and given the opportunity to purchase the wine before it goes on general sale. You can add and remove wines from your wishlist as often as you like. Customers with an online BI account can see their pre-orders and wishlists on their My Account page.
Bordeaux 2017 – The F Word
F is for... Four
The beautiful Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, who made a stellar 2017
2017 is the fourth successful vintage in a row. Within the group 2014 to 2017 there are four very different vintages with four very different growing seasons and resulting wine styles, with two (2015 and 2016) undoubtedly out in front; but time will bear it out that the leading 50 or so estates in whom we are collectively most interested have made 2017s that will stand up extremely well in any vertical tasting in years to come.
F is for... Frost
Let's get this part out of the way early on, as the rumour mill is grinding out negativity based on the very applicability of this word to the 2017 vintage. Indeed, from the local traffic during Primeur week, I suspect many (unwise) people stayed away because a) they heard old Jack had paid a visit, and b) even more ludicrously, because the vintage ends in a 7...
Yes, there was frost across the majority of the region. The cold, dry winter and warm, wet-then-dry Spring caused early bud-break – normally good news for a long, satisfying vintage. But the 27th and 28th of April saw two nights of exceptionally cold weather which caused widespread, albeit hugely varied, frost damage. The many thousands of properties outside the leading regions in the Medoc and the Right Bank appellations of St Emilion and Pomerol suffered dreadfully, with some being utterly decimated. There is no escaping this tragedy for those who can least afford to lose a harvest.
But the unavoidable truth is that on the most privileged terroirs, where our journey typically starts and ends, the effects were limited at worst and non-existent at best. It's interesting to note that the best sites and best soils don't just deliver mind-blowing wines in the uber-vintages; they look after their vines and fruits best in those which have the odd ‘hump in the road'. Their owners are indeed privileged, and boy after this experience, do they know it.
Properties on the Left Bank close to the estuary were spared in the main, with perhaps 10% volume loss on their least vaunted vineyard sites; on the Right Bank, the slopes of the St Emilion plateau fared best with almost no effect on volume or quality, whereas Pomerol (considerably flatter, and therefore more in danger of cold air settling at vine level) was blessed at least with the foresight and wherewithal to counteract the effects of the cold, whether through lighting multiple vineyard 'candles' or the use of mobile wind turbines.
Thomas Soubes shows Oliver Sharp the frost influence on La Gaffeliere in St Emilion
In some cases there was a reduction in available crops, both in the case of lower quality fruits (where fruits actually formed), and in the case of vines which didn't deliver 'first generation' fruit at all (a vine is capable of delivering a second or even third round of fruit during the growing season, but these cannot reach the necessary minimum 100 days of ripening required for quality wine production).
However, it is worth remembering that a) most estates have vineyards spread across different types of soils and aspects, and b) most estates make at least two wines from the fruit they have available. Such is the importance of brand to the very best producers that most have taken all the best fruit from their assorted vines and pumped them directly into their Grands Vins.
Take La Gaffeliere as an example. Located directly south of St Emilion centre ville, their vineyards are spread from the lower slopes of the plateau beneath Ausone and Belair Monange down to the flatter soils towards the railway station. The upper parts of the vineyard were untouched whilst those further down towards the plain were heavily hit. Even more crucial is that their prime Cabernet Franc is grown on the upper slopes, meaning their 2017 contains a massive 45% of this precious grape, up from 30% in a typical year, as none of their prime Cabernet Franc has gone into their second wine. The result is both idiosyncratic and impressive.
So Spring made the volume. But of course it's the remainder of the vintage that makes the quality and the style...
F is for... Fair Weather
The summer of 2017 was the third drought year in a row. After the wet Spring which filled up the soils’ reservoirs quite nicely, the summer saw very dry weather, creating even flowering and vigorous vine growth. As with 2016 the key to the character of the vintage is in part the relatively low summer temperatures which helped promote real freshness and even ripening. The arrival of rain in September gave vignerons a decision to make – pick before or ride it out and pick after. Many did both, with ultra-specific plans to pick plot-by-plot, with some taking around a month to actually complete the harvest itself. Whilst they were denied the opportunity to pick entirely at leisure, as was the case in 2016, the majority of vines nonetheless produced tight bunches of small, concentrated, evenly-sized fruit, along with skins and pips which were very satisfactorily ripe – leading to wines with excellent colour and perfect potential alcohol.
F is for... Finesse
The 2017 L’Evangile is a great example of the finesse and balance which characterizes the vintage
2017 is a vintage characterized by a sense of balance and a lightness of touch that results in a sense of true finesse. In fact, the key differentiator for Bordeaux particularly over these past four vintages is finesse. Whether the growing seasons are wetter (2014) or drier (2015, until August at least), longer (2016) or shorter (2017) the Bordelais have undoubtedly changed gear in terms of delivering wines based on elegance, balance and freshness. Even in bombastically fruit-driven years like 2015 the alcohol levels are satisfyingly low compared to the heady days of 2009/2010 and extraction, even in the previously most-guilty region of St Emilion, has been turned down several notches. 2017 at its peak delivers wines which leave the drinker intellectually satisfied but completely undaunted at the thought of opening another bottle.
F is for... Focus
If there is one other element that characterizes our favourite 2017s it is the sense of focus. What exactly do we mean by that? I would define it as a sense of precision delivered in a linear, easy-to-understand way.
In the mouth, the wines start with a fruit character that outlines both the grape variety and the ripeness. Merlot delivers more plum and strawberry fruit, Cabernet Sauvignon more blackcurrant, and Cabernet Franc more savoury spice. The less ripe, the more these lean towards red fruits such as redcurrant, and the more ripe, towards blueberry.
After the fruit character comes the sense of the vineyard, or what we might (perhaps clumsily) call 'minerality'. This can mean the gravelly character of Pauillac, or the warm clay notes found in Pessac, or the white-stone chalky elements found in wines from the St Emilion plateau.
Alongside these first two points we also find the tannin, which frames the wine in the mouth and gives the drinker an idea of its potential longevity; the lesser the tannin, the more approachable at first, but the less potential for ageing. Tannins create a sense of dryness in the mouth but ideally they should be fine-grained and allow the fruit and vineyard expression to come through, not hide them.
Pomerol in the early gloom during our 2017 barrel tastings
The acidity creates a sense of freshness in the mouth and is the driver of the finish, which should carry both the fruit flavours and vineyard expression long after the wine has been swallowed (or spat, in the case of tasting most En Primeur samples!).
Finally we have the alcohol, which rather like great hotel or restaurant service, is defined by its combination of effectiveness and lack of visibility. At no point should the alcohol stand out; the aim is for the wine to taste like wine, not grape juice, but the sense of warmth in the mouth or throat from the alcohol should never be noticeable. If all these things are done right, then the wines have balance – which is the key to quality.
At their best, the 2017s do all of these in just such a step-by-step, effortless way. They are fruit-ripe, clearly expressive, fresh and effortlessly balanced. They may not have quite the hedonistic breadth of the 2015s or the extraordinary (I would venture to say almost unique) tannin texture and drive of the 2016s, but they are fantastic expressions of their individual terroirs and will prove to be textbook examples of their vineyard and appellation in years to come.
F is for... Fickle
The news isn’t all good, even within the hallowed confines of the top producers on whom our business naturally focuses. Such was the variability of localized weather and the challenges the latter part of the harvest presented, not everyone has made a brilliant wine. Within the context of the vintage some have underperformed. However, some have over-performed and produced wines that stand closer comparison with 2015 and 2016 than they do with 2014. Our scores and notes will make this all quite clear.
F is for... Financials
As ever during the Primeur preamble there is much talk and speculation over release prices. We’ve already discussed how the vintage overall is varied, and how it stands generally at a level below 2015 and 2016 (in the case of the latter, this will be true of almost EVERY vintage; we might never taste another like it). The average quality is better than 2012, 2008 and 2006, and certainly ahead of 2011, 2007, 2004 and 2002 (I’m leaving out 2013 because it was so much further down the scale, and 2003 because it is just so divisive). The closest comparison in quality terms is 2014, or going back further, 2001.
Naturally we wouldn't dare second guess the chateaux's intentions nor would we pretend to know where the exchange rate will be when the campaign is in full swing. All we can say is that when a specific wine is released our in-house analysis will point out quickly whether it offers what we consider a good deal. It is worth pointing out, however, that value is, more often than not, in the eye of the buyer and those who avoided the negative mood music over pricing in the last several vintages will have every reason to feel very smug indeed!
So there are many wines you'll be thrilled to drink. When release time comes, we'll give you a better idea of whether they are wines you'll be thrilled to own.
Whilst the best thing for consumers is an early, well-paced campaign, with scores from The Wine Advocate not due until April 27th (and Neal Martin’s Vinous scores due around the same time, we imagine) and the major trade event Vinexpo in Hong Kong from May 29th-31st, we cannot necessarily expect this to happen. And this is where the importance of pre-ordering comes in...
It is worth reiterating that two salient facts remain about buying EP. Firstly you guarantee provenance and condition 100%, leaving you happy in the knowledge that you have owned your precious cases from new. Secondly, you have the opportunity to bottle in formats as you desire from lunchtime halves to celebratory imperials - or bigger.
Finally don’t forget that as soon as the wines become physical, the key ones are added to our LiveTrade platform, which means they will have LIVE buying prices. We purchase from any professional storage facility but wines bought through and stored with BI do not have to be transported or condition checked – so you get paid much more quickly if you choose to sell!
Margaux enjoyed much the same conditions as their neighbouring estates further north up the Gironde estuary. A cold dry winter was followed by a usefully mild damp spring, leading to the expected early bud-break. The frost which arrived on the 27th of April and lasted two nights was less expected and arguably less well prepared for – many estates further from the moderating influence of the river were hit hard and volumes as a result are well down. The leading Chateaux Margaux and Palmer, with their best vines situated on the first gravels of the estuary, were the most fortunate and losses were restricted to smaller, lesser vineyard holdings further inland – with 10-15% in overall production volume the general impact. Very little of this reduction has come from the Grands Vins.
The remainder of the harvest was successful with just enough rain to keep the vines active and cooler than average summer temperatures which helped promote freshness and the slow ripening of attractively tight bunches of small, even berries. Rain in early September created a potential debate; the extra precipitation would ‘finish’ the softening of the grape skins, but can cause dilution – and too much heat after the rain would create the risk of botrytis. Stick or twist? Most top producers opted to wait, reassured by good forecasts, and gave the grapes an extra week or so before picking at optimum balance with no rot danger. Harvests continued until early October in some estates and yields are actually quite generous.
Central Medoc - St Julien and Pauillacopen
Similar conditions to further south in Margaux, with the finest terroirs located on the estuary gravels protected from the worst impacts of the frost. Harvests here tended to start a little later than in Margaux, with most waiting until mid-late September before starting their Merlots, then moving onto the Cabernets in late September. Most were fully completed within the first week of October.
Not atypical here was the practice of multiple ‘tries’ or individual harvests throughout the same plots, marking the vines that were not entirely optimal on the first sweep, and returning to them a day or two later. This of course means double pay for the picking team, and thus represents an option only available to the leading estates with the deepest pockets. The results are impressive however with deep colour, fine tannins, ripe fruit and excellent freshness.
In Pauillac, the frost effect was increasingly felt the further away from the mollifying powers of the river, but the result was primarily one of volume rather than overall quality. Many estates were still harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon into early October, indicating a more than suitable number of ripening days under pretty benign conditions. September caused a few sleepless nights as the maturation of the grape skins gained rapid pace following the rain, but these Bordelais are nothing if not overcautious and those with the financial capacity to make rapid decisions (and put teams into action swiftly and on command) have emerged with wines of great precision, concentration and balance.
Northern Medoc - St Estepheopen
Often the victim of a more extreme version of the weather conditions felt further south, in 2017 St Estephe actually did rather well – the top wines suggest that in fact, conditions may have been a little better ‘up north’ than further down the Medoc. Again, the top estates were spared the worst effects of the frost, and with the rain and heat coming at the right times, there was little to prevent the primary terroirs from delivering excellent fruit. Indeed, some of the purest, most powerful, intense and stylish wines came from this area in 2017 and it is no coincidence that the most northerly Pauillac, Lafite, which sits on the border of the two appellations, delivered arguably the greatest wine from that region in this vintage.
St Emilion and Pomerolopen
There is something of a divide between the two sides of St Emilion – those on the plateau and those on the plains. The lucky few on the limestone slopes suffered minimal effects from the frost, both in quantity and quality, and delivered beautifully ripe, fresh Merlot and Cabernet Franc which could comfortably be harvested into early October. Many of these properties, including Canon, Angelus and Pavie, have delivered wines perhaps closer in quality to 2015 than 2014.
Properties on flatter St Emilion land, such as Cheval Blanc and Figeac, had to work considerably harder both during the frost period and subsequently. The vines which got through the frost had to be managed meticulously – Figeac identified over 20,000 individual vines for specific, separate harvesting, in order to gain homogeneity of ripeness across the piece. Of course this also meant individual vinifications for many plots too, with a number of new, small vats being rolled into certain properties in order to facilitate a successful outcome. The good news is that for the properties that we work with, these measures worked. Rather like the analogy of the duck moving serenely across the water while the legs underneath go like the clappers, the wines have a calm, cool freshness which belies the sheer volume of work undertaken to produce them.
The best news of all is the continued shift in style away from late harvested, over-extracted, over-oaked wines and into a sense of real purity, finesse, precision and mineral-driven terroir interest. A very welcome turn of events.
A ‘strong deliverer’ over the past few years, Pomerol would seem to be at most risk from the frost, given how flat and open it is – and some distance from the body of running water. Well, yes, this is true, and so it proved… however, most of the properties here have both long memories (1991 was the last time such a dramatic event occurred) and the financial capability to deal with the issue. We heard multiple stories of the steps taken in late April last year when it was clear that the temperatures were set to plummet, from sending up helicopters, to investing in giant wind turbines, to the use of old fashioned vineyard candles or ‘smudge pots’ to generate air flow and stop the cold air from settling at vine level. So once this short, nervous, two-day window was closed, the story was history and it was back to dealing with the season at hand.
This chilly hiccup aside, the season was very good in Pomerol – in the words of Denis Durantou it was ‘ideal’ and the Guinaudeau family at Lafleur called it ‘marvelous’ (and their wine was pretty marvelous, it has to be said). Most harvests were completed quickly between mid- and late-September with both Cabernet Franc and Merlot reaching very good ripeness. The fruit is pure and concentrated, the vineyard expression clear and precise, the tannins are ripe and yet there is considerable freshness to the resulting wines.
Graves and Pessacopen
The story south of the city is much the same as elsewhere – one of the ‘haves and have nots’. Whilst the yields overall in Pessac are well down on the past few years (the lowest in over a decade in fact) much of the damage was done at a rather more humble quality level than where we tend to look and buy. The grandest terroirs were, in the main, spared, and went on to enjoy the same dry, mild conditions as their neighbours to the north and north-east.
Again, the heterogeneous nature of the vintage did make for complexities at harvest both in the vineyard and winery, with multiple passes required for picking the maximum number of grapes at optimum ripeness (the harvest at Haut Brion and La Mission started at the end of August and ran virtually to the end of September – for the reds!) and sorting in the winery was vital. We were introduced to an amazing new robotic sorting machine at Haut Bailly which identifies and picks out grapes with any greenness, leaving the winery workers to focus on far more intellectual tasks.
Sauternes and Barsacopen
Yields in Sauternes and Barsac were massively reduced, with 2017’s production just half the 5 year average. The wines that have been made, however, are pretty exceptional with a beautiful balance of zesty freshness and rich botrytis.