Bordeaux En Primeur 2015
- A very good to excellent vintage throughout
- Very good quality in the Medoc, with quality generally higher in the South than the North
- Very good to excellent First Growths and Grand Cru Classe ‘A’ wines
- Very good to excellent wines in Pomerol - in some cases these are sublime
- Excellent quality in St Emilion with many estates exhibiting a return to restraint and finesse
- Excellent quality throughout Graves and Pessac – some wines here reach exceptional levels
- In a nutshell, this is the best vintage since 2009 and 2010 and certainly sits in the top group alongside these two vintages, plus 2005 and 2000. However it sits quite apart from these in profile, sporting sweet, fine tannins, bright acidity and exceptional purity of fruit. It is distinctive and extremely attractive and there are wines we highly recommend at all price levels.
The 2015 Vintage in Style - Reds
Cynics would have us believe that there are three types of Bordeaux vintage: ‘great’ (meaning huge, powerful and backward), ‘classical’ (meaning fresh verging on green but with pretty fruit) and ‘claret lover’s’ or ‘restaurant’ (meaning pretty dreadful).
2015 does not adhere to these stereotypes. In general it has the succulence, sweet tannins, full mid-palate and fruit purity of a great vintage; it has the freshness, balance and digestibility of a classical vintage; and there is no doubt if you are a claret lover, there are plenty of wines you will adore.
The vast majority were remarkably easy to taste, the easiest we have ever encountered (since 2000 for the more experienced in our team), and we suspect they will remain approachable throughout their lives. But make no mistake – in the best examples, everything is there to guarantee a long life: density, fruit weight, tannin and acidity. In the main they are balanced and if a wine starts life balanced it will end life balanced.
Dry and Sweet Whites
The conditions which proved so successful for reds also provided an excellent platform for whites, both dry and sweet. Dry white volumes are small but the sweet white harvest was relatively plentiful.
Should you buy them?
We believe it is likely that release prices will rise, compounding for UK buyers the negative influence of the EUR:GBP rate. At this point we have rated the wines solely on quality and will only pass a final judgment as to whether or not they are worth purchasing once we know the sell price. In some cases, for wines we found truly exceptional, we may recommend them against our better judgment - but we will tell you if this is the case.
If you are less price sensitive than some, then you can comfortably buy everything we recommend and we are confident you will never be disappointed to own them and drink them.
If you want to acquire some exceptional 2015s but are wary about price adjustment over the coming few years, then by all means wait to pick up wines from the Left Bank; they make plenty of wine and it is quite possible you will be able to find most things further down the line. However there is no guarantee that the price will be favourable. As always with futures, there is an element of risk and prices can go both down and up even before the wines are physical; whilst some wines from 2009 and 2010 declined in value post-release, those who bought 2014 First Growths have seen positive returns at this stage.
The Right Bank is a different story and even with higher than average yields, there is nowhere near as much wine with which to satisfy global demand so we would recommend a little less caution here. Be bold; you won't regret it.
If your appetite is larger than your wallet then fear not, as there are many wines across the region which deliver superb quality at a lower price than the Grands Vins of famous estates. Second wines are superb in many cases, and satellite vineyards in Cotes de Castillon, Lalande de Pomerol and Fronsac often give amazing bang for buck - especially those which are owned and managed by grander producers, such as Denis Durantou of L’Eglise Clinet fame.
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.
Bordeaux 2015 by key region
Margaux has had a hard run over the past few vintages. Since 2010 there has not been a vintage which has delivered a full vegetal cycle for the vines, with either too much rain or not enough rain, summers too hot or too cold, and all the issues of quality and quantity this brings; fundamentally there has not been complete phenolic ripeness across the commune - until 2015.
The year began cold with late budding, but a warm spring brought the timetable back on track. Early to mid summer was warm, then hot, but consistently dry, providing ideal conditions for flowering and fruit set. There was below average rainfall in every month bar August, when the rain thankfully counteracted potential drought which was already causing vines to shut down. The dry weather returned in September with warm days and cool nights which promoted evenly ripened bunches of grapes with soft, silky tannins and perfectly balanced sugar and acids - with little or no rot.
2015 has delivered Margaux wines of exceptionally typical style, with fine floral perfume, silky textures and fine, fresh fruit. It is also abundant, with the highest yield since 2007. However 2015 will be remembered as the final vintage of Chateau Margaux prepared by our dear friend Paul Pontallier. His loss weighs heavily on us all. He should have seen so many, many more fine vintages produced from the beautiful new winery in whose design and construction he was so closely involved. It is no consolation but at least a fitting tribute that Paul’s last wine should display the magical, looking-glass purity for which Chateau Margaux is so prized.
Central Medoc - St Julien and Pauillacopen
Conditions were generally as per Margaux, with excellent growing conditions all year. Rainfall in August was slightly higher than in Margaux, and again, considerably above average; however this served to kick-start the vine growth which had ground to an almost complete halt due to the very hot dry weather of June and July (where temperatures peaked at over 35C). Consistently sunny days, warm but not hot, followed, creating superb ripeness with balanced acids. A week of light rain in mid-September prompted the harvesting of the Merlot, which was in superb condition, followed by the Cabernets over the end of September and early October.
Fruit quality is excellent, with fleshy mid-palates and some of the purest expressions of Cabernet tasted in years. Acid balance is very good, giving the wines freshness and long finishes. Yields were good, with St Estephe the highest for 8 years and Pauillac only just behind 2009 and 2010. There are some serious, wonderful clarets here, such as the hugely impressive Ducru Beaucaillou (created by the dapper Bruno Borie, pictured) and the First Growths are very fine.
Northern Medoc - St Estepheopen
The most northerly growing region of the Medoc took the brunt of the bad weather which followed Storm Henry, with mid-September experiencing much higher rainfall than further south - 118mm versus the typical average of 35mm. This caused some dilution of the grapes which were just days away from harvest, creating slightly short finishes and mid palates which lacked the power and flesh of their southerly neighbours. Yields were still very high, the highest since 2006.
This was perhaps the only region which consistently fell a little short of 2014; this isn't all bad news of course - it served to remind us exactly how good Cos and in particular Montrose were in 2014. Calon Ségur was the best of the bunch in 2015, with fine quality across all their range.
St Emilion and Pomerolopen
The story of the vintage doesn't change on the Right side of the river; superb conditions abounded. However it was here that the key factor of the year's success comes into clearest focus, specifically the variation against average of both rainfall and temperature in August, September and October.
Following the hot, dry conditions which persisted up to the end of July (temperatures in parts of Pomerol exceeded 40C at the turn of June/July) rain was required for vine hydration, along with moderate temperatures so as to minimise rot and mildew; August delivered on both counts, albeit with the rain in far smaller quantities than over the river. Then in order for the grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness and to ensure that harvesting could be done at ease without time pressure, September needed to be warm, but not hot, and dry; again, September delivered with rainfall and temperatures below average.
Then came the coup de grace - the easy continuation of September's conditions into October, with below average rainfall and temperature. This allowed not just extra hang time for those who those who wanted to harvest their Merlot at peak ripeness, but gave final crucial hours and days to perfect the late-ripening Cabernet Franc.
The best wines were made by those who adopted the same mind-set as L'Eglise Clinet's Denis Durantou (“Getting your grapes into the vat in good time is better than prolonged indecision and handwringing about when to pick, based on protracted procrastinating and tasting in the vineyard by which time the grapes are too ripe.
For good Bordeaux anyway!”) The very best wines verge on perfection in both communes. From the ethereal, layered, crystalline, astonishing 49% Cabernet Franc Lafleur (fashioned by Baptiste Guinaudeau, pictured), to the rich, intense, succulent power of Ausone, to the mind-bending structure, focus and outright Amazonian beauty of Pavie, these are wines not just to be admired, but enjoyed.
Given their relatively small production, we believe these are the wines with the most compelling reason to buy at this early stage: you may not see them again - those who own them are unlikely to part easily with them.
Graves and Pessacopen
It was said in the run-up to the tastings that 2015 was going to be a Merlot vintage and whilst it is true that in the majority of cases, especially in Margaux and St Emilion/Pomerol, that Merlot has really performed for the first time in a few years, this dramatically overlooks the quality of the Cabernet. As mentioned before, the Cabernet Francs certainly add an extra dimension to the character and style of the vintage - but Cabernet Sauvignon also benefited from the perfect September conditions and nowhere does this show better than in the South.
At Haut Brion and La Mission (pictured above, tasting with owner Prince Robert of Luxembourg) Cabernet was being harvested at between 14.1% and 14.9% potential alcohol, truly jaw-dropping figures, and with the true, complete phenolic ripeness to render this technically high level qualitatively irrelevant. Whilst all the wines we tasted throughout this commune were superb it was at La Mission that we had our religious experience; alongside a potentially perfect Haut Brion sat not only a magical La Mission but perhaps the best-ever second wines from each estate.
Sauternes and Barsacopen
Harvesting for dry whites was the earliest since 2011, and delivered both a high level of potential alcohol (13% - the highest in 5 years) and excellent acidity slightly lower than last year (a very high acid vintage) but otherwise above the past 5 years. The wines are perhaps marginally less dramatic than 2014 or 2011 but have a fruit richness that makes them both highly approachable and yet with the capacity to age – much like their red counterparts.
Sauternes and Barsac are very good thanks to a consistent outbreak of botrytis across the region following the July and August rains. In the latter month each outbreak of rain was followed by a few fine days, allowing the botrytis to take hold without turning into bad rot, and giving pickers the opportunity to work through the vineyard selecting the ideal grapes in fine conditions. As a result the wines are unctuously rich and yet, thanks to the early summer ripening and subsequently early harvest, have a great clarity of fresh fruit and bright, fine acidity.