Bordeaux En Primeur 2017

Vintage Summary

  • 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 charge is already included.
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!

Central Medoc - St Julien and Pauillac
Northern Medoc - St Estephe
St Emilion and Pomerol
Graves and Pessac
Sauternes and Barsac