Category Archives: Bordeaux 2013

Bordeaux 2013 from barrel – en primeur article

Here’s my article for Harpers Wine & Spirit magazine, May 2014 issue.

Harpers Wine & Spirit

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2013 is turning out to be the vintage that nobody wanted.

Certainly not the growers, who experienced the most difficult growing season in years and the most fraught of harvests. Yields too were well down.

The Bordeaux negociants and wine merchants around the world aren’t too happy either. At the bottom end, they’re paying 25% more for bulk wine for their brands and own-label lines because of the small crop, and at the top of the pyramid, the majority of leading chateaux have failed to breathe life into another subdued en primeur campaign by not reducing prices enough. Consumers, meanwhile, haven’t shown much interest from the day the grapes were picked.

Picking Cabernet Sauvignon at Ch Lynch Bages, 11 October 2013

Picking Cabernet Sauvignon at Ch Lynch Bages, 11 October 2013

There is, however, some good news. The dry whites are very good and many sweet whites are excellent. White vines, though, only make up 11% of the vineyard area, so the real money is on red. There’s some good news here too, as most professional tasters discovered during the en primeur barrel tastings in late March and early April. While the wines are relatively light, they’re not let down by green, unripe tannins (thanks to good weather in July and August) and a great many will provide attractive drinking over the next decade. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – 10 things about the weather and the wines

10 highlights about the weather

  • 2013 was the most difficult growing season in Bordeaux for 20 years or more.
  • It was the smallest crop in Bordeaux since 1991 and 27% down on the low crop of 2012.
  • An unusually cold first half of the year held up growth in the vineyard.
  • A cold, wet May and June culminated in late, uneven flowering. Many Chateaux had much lower yields as a result.
  • July was hot and dry and August quite sunny – one of the plus points of the vintage.
  • An August hailstorm hit more than 10,000 hectares, mostly in the Entre Deux Mers, but none of the top châteaux.
  • Harvest conditions for both dry and sweet whites were good.
  • It was a late red harvest but it would have been later still, given the chance.
  • Rain and humidity at the end of September and into October forced Chateaux to pick their reds as rot set in.
  • Picking at the right moment was critical, as was the ability to eliminate unhealthy and unripe grapes.

Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 en primeur off and running

Pontet Canet 2011 - 144When Jancis Robinson asked me on Tuesday to write a piece setting the scene for the annual en primeur tastings next week, I don’t think anyone was expecting the first release of the campaign so soon.

Alfred Tesseron of Chateau Pontet Canet surprised more than a few people by releasing the price of his 2013 to the Bordeaux trade on Wednesday. It’s the first time a leading Chateau has put its wine on sale before the world’s wine merchants – and most critics – have had a chance to taste it.

Given that Pontet Canet (above right) has been on a hot streak of late, all the Bordeaux negociants I spoke to will be taking up the offer rather than risk losing future allocations. Most importers – who buy in turn from the negociants – are (quite rightly) saying that they’ll wait to try the wine first before committing themselves.

Palmer, 6 Oct 2010 - 47’It caught everyone by surprise’ said Charlie Sichel of Maison Sichel, who part-own Chateau Palmer (left). ’In view of the strength of the brand, and assuming the quality of the wine is approved by our customers when they come to taste next week, it might be quite clever. It’s a move that the entire Bordeaux trade will focus on; but there are very, very few Chateaux with such strong brand equity as Pontet Canet and any message to proprietors to release a small amount of wine at the same price is dangerous.’

Pontet Canet’s 2013 yields were ’lilliputien’ according to winemaker Jean-Michel Comme, about half the norm at 15hl/ha and a fraction of the 40hl/ha or so of the outstanding 2010 vintage. Allocations of the 2013 to negociants are therefore 50% down on last year. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 yields down 27%, bulk prices up 27%

Most fine wine merchants are looking for lower prices of the top Bordeaux 2013s for the wines to have any chance of selling. At the lower end of the market, meanwhile, bulk prices have shot up because the crop was much smaller than previous years. We’ve paid special attention to this as we’ve sold off some wine that didn’t make the cut, thanks to the dreaded hail.

004278-05As you can see, the yield for 2013 is dramatically down across Bordeaux. 2011 and 2012 were both thought to be smaller crops at the time but 2013 is 27% down on 2012.

As a result, Good Ordinary Claret just got more expensive. Here are the figures for the Bordeaux appellations that make up the bulk of Bordeaux by volume.

004267-09 Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 weather report

Here’s my weather report for Bordeaux 2013. A word of warning – it’s quite long and there’s no shortage of graphs. Strictly for geeks, freaks and Master of Wine students trying to understand why 2013 has a reputation for being such a crap vintage.

10 highlights about the weather and Bordeaux 2013

  • 2013 was the most difficult growing season in Bordeaux for 20 years or more.
  • It was the smallest crop in Bordeaux since 1991 and 27% down on the low crop of 2012.
  • An unusually cold first half of the year held up growth in the vineyard.
  • A cold, wet May and June culminated in late, uneven flowering. Many Chateaux had much lower yields as a result.
  • July was hot and dry and August quite sunny – one of the plus points of the vintage.
  • An August hailstorm hit more than 10,000 hectares, mostly in the Entre Deux Mers, but none of the top châteaux.
  • Harvest conditions for both dry and sweet whites were good.
  • It was a late red harvest but it would have been later still, given the chance.
  • Rain and humidity at the end of September and into October forced Chateaux to pick their reds as rot set in.
  • Picking at the right moment was critical, as was the ability to eliminate unhealthy and unripe grapes.

Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – Parker delays primeurs verdict

DSC_0745 - Version 2The American wine critic Robert Parker will not be publishing his report on Bordeaux 2013 until the end of June 2014, two months later than usual.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, editor in chief for Parker’s Wine Advocate and erobertparker.com, confirmed that ’Bob will be doing his tastings slightly later this year’ and will publish his notes in the summer.

The release of Parker’s scores at the end of April is traditionally the focal point of the en primeur campaign. He normally comes to Bordeaux in March to taste the barrel samples provided by the châteaux, and his ratings can have a significant impact on the price that the wines are sold for in the second quarter of the year. The en primeur campaign – the sale of wines as ’futures’, a year or so before bottling – is usually wrapped up before the summer break.

The last time Parker did not attend the primeurs tasting season was in spring 2003 when he eschewed tasting the embryonic 2002 vintage due to concerns over the Gulf War. The 2002 First Growths were released at a knock-down consumer price of £60 a bottle.

Meanwhile, in Bordeaux, many producers are increasingly enthusiastic about their reds after the most difficult growing season in years (’here we go again’, I hear you say).

Christian Seely, managing director of Axa’s estates, has eloquently written about his ’moments of intense relief’ when tasting the wines at Châteaux Pichon Baron and Petit Village for the first time. Read more about the ’joyous triumph over adversity’ on his blog. ’But don’t just take my word for it. Come and taste them. I think you will be agreeably surprised’, he writes. Keep reading

Le Pin closes doors for En Primeur week

Le Pin, 24 May 2012 - 04 - Version 2Le Pin, one of Bordeaux’s most sought after and expensive wines, will not be available for tasting during the en primeur week next Spring.

Fiona Morrison MW, who owns the tiny Pomerol estate with her husband Jacques Thienpont, mentioned the feeble amount of wine that they’d made this year when I bumped into her recently.

“We have 13 barrels for 2013 of which probably 7 are up to scratch, instead of the usual 25-30. There will be no tasting of Le Pin during en primeur week.”

DSC_0745 - Version 2 Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – the end of the harvest

Also published on JancisRobinson.com and Livex.

The 2013 Bordeaux harvest is drawing to a close as the last of the Cabernets and final Sémillon selections for sweet whites are picked. Sighs of relief all round.

Fleur Cardinale - 02Few grapes are left on the vine now, although they only finished the Merlot at Chateau Fleur Cardinale in Saint-Emilion on Saturday. They hadn’t even started the Cabernet Franc (right).

’C’est pas mûr (ripe)’ said the cellar master as he gestured towards the unpicked vines; the bunches were admirably free of rot, thanks to the colder, later-ripening terroir.

I’ve tasted a lot of red grapes in the last few weeks around Bordeaux and he just about summed it up. Most reds have had to come in before they were ripe. This should have been a late October harvest, by rights, given the extremely late flowering in June and retarded colour change that dragged on into early September. (In between, we had a hot July and a pretty good August – but don’t mention the hail).

If there are any successes, and there will be some, they are triumphs over adversity. This has been the most difficult growing season for red Bordeaux that I’ve seen in fifteen harvests, capped by nerve-jangling conditions for the picking.

Cheval Blanc Oct 9 - 56The threat of rot at harvest time is also the most acute I’ve witnessed. Many chateaux have picked healthy-looking grapes in the nick of time, or sorted them as best they could. Seeing so many botrytis-affected bunches discarded beneath the vines has been a sad but necessary image.

It’s not that the 2013 harvest has been blighted by days on end of incessant rain. What we’ve had is a series of two-day stints of rain, starting with the last weekend of September (27-29), then 3-4 October (we had 75mm in two days here, 20 kms south east of Bordeaux) and more downpours over the weekend of 12 October.

In between we’ve seen the windows for harvesting and, simultaneously, dangerous periods of warmth and humidity which are ideal for the spread of botrytis. (Even now, in the third week of October, it’s a clammy 19°C this morning.) The picking schedules have largely been determined by the staying power of the grapes in any given parcel. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – the harvest so far

Cos Oct 2 2013 - 020 - Version 2

Also published on JancisRobinson.com and Livex.

A complicated year, a complicated harvest. After a fraught growing season in 2013 (see my pre-harvest report for a detailed overview), most Bordeaux chateaux and vignerons have had to bring in their Merlots rather sooner than planned, before the dreaded rot sets in. Some Cabernets are following in quick succession (as at Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac, below) but now that the sun has come out, there’s a ray of hope for those that can hold on for a little while longer.

It’s all a far cry from the à la carte harvests of 2009 and 2010, when you could pick and choose at leisure. ’Une année compliquée’ is a polite way of describing 2013 and can be used by owners and managers without giving their public relations people a headache. It’s really code for a bit of a shocker.

Lafite 2 Oct 2013 - 024 - Version 2

The weather at the end of September and for the first days of October proved, unfortunately, to be ideal for the development of botrytis – otherwise known as rot. Sultry heat and too much rain over the weekend of 27-29 September was perfect for the champignons in the bunches to thrive and forced growers on both banks to be extra vigilant and, for most, to take swift action.

In many cases they’ve had to harvest red grapes long before they had had a chance to ripen, and only the tiniest estates in places like Pomerol can bring in everything at the same time. Out in the vineyards, it’s been all mud-clogged wellies, short sleeved shirts and waterproofs. Until this week that is, with the welcome boost of chilly, bright mornings and warm sun in the afternoon. Keep reading

Bordeaux 2013 – pre-harvest report

Harvest survey - 62This article also appears on JancisRobinson.com and Livex – the fine wine trading exchange.

As the Bordeaux harvest begins, here is a detailed report on the weather so far this year and its impact on the vines.

It’s fair to say that my earlier updates on the 2013 growing season in Bordeaux have been less than enthusiastic. Running late in May, The flowering and Soggy Vinexpo, sodden vines in June, Lafite’s weeping willows in July and then, in August, the Hail in Bordeaux series of posts hardly paint a rosy picture.

Yet even at this stage at the end of September, this roller coaster vintage is still too early to call. The weather in October for the red harvest (Bordeaux is 88% red) will be crucial. Even before then, storms are forecast for this weekend, after a week of sunshine.

To follow my harvest updates on Twitter, type the following in the Twitter search box:   from:gavinquinney #bdx13

TEN THINGS WE DO KNOW

1. 2013 is an exceptionally late harvest. (Or should be.)

2. 2013 will be a small crop in Bordeaux overall.

3. A cold first half of the year held up growth in the vineyard.

4. An unusually cold, wet May and downpours in June led to late, uneven flowering.

5. July was hot and dry, August sunny, September up and down. October is key.

6. An August hailstorm hit more than 10,000 hectares – about 10% of the Bordeaux vineyard – but none of the top châteaux.

7. Quality and yields will be extremely variable – the contrast is evident in the vineyards.

8. The dry white harvest has started well, while prospects for sweet whites are ‘promising’.

9. The red harvest is likely to be a race against time (and rot) as the autumn weather draws in.

10. The advantage lies with those who have the resources and equipment to be highly selective. Keep reading