Now that all the leading Châteaux have released the opening prices, the 2017 en primeur campaign is all but done. Disappointingly though, the year of the frost has ended up as ‘a damp squib’.
There are many good to very good wines at the top end, but a sub-premium vintage won’t sell at premium prices. The châteaux can charge whatever they like, of course, and no one is forced to buy (as far as I know). I agree though with the many UK merchants who reckon that the prices should be viewed alongside the 2014 vintage, as I said last month.
I’d also rather have 3 bottles of 2016 than 4 bottles of 2017 at this level, in most cases. My tables below, showing my en primeur scores for the leading wines from 2017, 2016 and 2014 and the opening and current market prices for each vintage, demonstrate, wine by wine, why the 2017s have failed to sell. Keep reading
The Bordeaux 2017 en primeur wagon is trundling on, with prices from many of the leading châteaux still to be released. (Update 21 June 2018: En primeur prices for the 2017s have now almost all been included below.)
It’s a long and fairly tortuous journey, as ever, given that the tastings from barrel of the latest vintage, for the trade and the press, took place back in early April. Here I take a look at how the top wines stack up against the 2016s – a great but fairly expensive vintage – and the more reasonably priced 2014s.
For those vineyards that weren’t hit by the April frost, 2017 is generally closer to 2014 in quality than to 2016 (even if different in style), so it’s potentially a useful comparison. Both are good, sometimes very good vintages.
The list includes my ‘en primeur’ score out of 100 for all the leading wines in 2017, 2016 and 2014, plus the en primeur prices for all three years, and current market prices of the two earlier vintages. Simply compare the scores and the prices and you’ll see if there’s value to be had. (It’s not as simple as that, in truth, because some names are worth so much more than others.)
Note that these are for the top 180 wines from Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, Pomerol, St-Emilion and Sauternes, which are sold by the châteaux to Bordeaux négociants now (a year before bottling) and then offered to wine merchants around the world, and on to consumers. Cheaper wines from less famous appellations are not included in my list: these are sometimes offered ‘en primeur’, of course, but for a vintage like 2017 the finished product, I’d suggest, can be re-tasted and purchased after bottling. You could argue that the same applies for the vast majority of the wines on the list – but that’s the game. Keep reading
Bordeaux 2017 was all about location. Most of the top vineyards were hardly touched by the devastating April frost, including almost all those in Pauillac, St-Julien and St-Estèphe. For those that weren’t impacted, it was a good and occasionally very good vintage, though not exceptional. How good was mostly down to how well placed.
All the First Growths on the left bank have made predictably fine wines, as did many of their neighbours, and there are some lovely, tiny-production Pomerols and classy, top flight St-Emilions. The same can be said for Pessac-Léognan and Margaux, and the whites meanwhile, both dry and sweet, can be excellent.
No one is claiming that 2017 is a great vintage. Yet it was a perfectly good one. Here are my top 20, featuring the outstanding wines. Keep reading
No two years are the same in Bordeaux but this one, with any luck, was unique. 2017 will no doubt be remembered as the year of the frost but it’s also a vintage in which many of the top châteaux produced some very good wines. It was, for sure, a year when location really mattered.
As well as that, and beyond the spring frost, 2017 was an atypical, early growing season, with an early and successful flowering in late May, sunshine in June then heavy rain at the of the month, followed by a dry and cool summer, some late August heat, and then rather too many damp days just before the red harvest in September. It’s rare for the red harvest to be wrapped up for many estates by the end of September, especially for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon – as at Château Montrose in St-Estèphe above.
Bizarrely, an unusual year all round has conjured up some classically proportioned red Bordeaux – and some excellent whites too, both dry and sweet.
Here are my previous articles on the vintage:
The ghastly frost damage in Bordeaux, 5 May 2017
The frost map of Bordeaux, 30 May 2017
The smallest harvest in France since 1945, 31 August 2017
Bordeaux 2017 – harvest and weather report, 2 Nov 2017
Bordeaux 2017 production figures by Appellation – the haves and have nots, 28 Feb 2018
Frost map of Bordeaux 2017 updated, 30 April 2018
Update: Bordeaux 2017 en primeur buying guide, May 2018
Many readers will be familiar with the original frost map of Bordeaux that I put together after driving around the region a year ago, shouting ‘oh my God’ as I travelled from one valley of vineyards to the next. Since the data was gathered in a somewhat haphazard fashion, here is a new version with some real facts and figures. There’s quite a bit of detail so I recommend downloading the map as a pdf.
Note the contrast in fortunes between the famous appellations at the northern end of the Médoc – Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe – and those on the ‘Right Bank’ of the Gironde estuary, such as Saint-Emilion and its satellites.
This was also published on JancisRobinson.com and on Liv-ex
The 6,500 growers in Bordeaux had to submit their 2017 harvest declarations in December and the numbers have now been counted up. While Bordeaux enjoyed the largest crop for over a decade in 2016, 2017 was 40% down on the previous year and 33% lower than the 10-year average. And with Bordeaux, 40% is a lot of wine – the equivalent of over 300 million fewer bottles from one year to the next.
The figures also confirm that 2017 was a year of dramatically mixed fortunes for those viticulteurs, and this was chiefly down to the varying levels of impact of the late spring frost at the end of April 2017. In an article entitled Epic crop fail made it a bad year for bulk wine, the Financial Times picked up on a counter-comment from my harvest and weather report last Autumn: “For enthusiasts, buyers and collectors of fine wine, it’s first worth noting that 80 per cent of the top 150 châteaux enjoyed a good harvest; there was minimal (frost) damage to the plots which provide the grapes for their first wine or ‘grand vin’. So, at the top end, there should be reasonable volumes, and good quality, from many of the blue chip names.”
In fact, the three leading appellations of the northern Médoc, Pauillac, St-Estèphe and St-Julien, actually had a larger crop in 2017 than the average of the five preceding vintages:
They were the lucky ones. The Drinks Business magazine referred to my harvest report above as a ‘now annual deep-dive into the recent growing season and harvest across the Gironde’ (thanks, Rupert), so here I’ll plunge even further with a look at the production figures.
All the appellations above escaped or suffered the least damage thanks to the benign influence of the Gironde estuary during the late April frost. Further south, many vineyards in Margaux and Pessac-Léognan were not so fortunate, though some were hardly hit, but overall figures in St-Emilion and Pomerol across on the Right Bank were fairly devastating. However, it should be noted that, despite the low production overall here, many of the top estates escaped the worst of the damage – especially those on higher ground. Here are the yields, expressed in hectolitres (100 litres) per hectare, over the last 12 years for the most prestigious red wine appellations:
The 2017 harvest in St-Emilion
Bordeaux 2017 will go down as the year of the frost. But now that the harvest is complete, it’s clear that this really is a vintage of haves, have-nots and somewhere-in-betweens. For those growers and châteaux with vineyards that weren’t hit, there has been every chance of making very good wine. Here is a look at how the weather stamped an indelible mark on the vintage, along with numerous images of the harvest.
Contents and highlights
Introduction – a small crop
45% down on last year due to April frost (update Feb 2018: 40% down on 2016)
The growing season
Pretty good – rain end of June, dry summer, hot August, damp start to September, fine finish
The harvest – a view from the top
80% of top wines from 150 leading châteaux not impacted by frost
The harvest – Left Bank
A good year for Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe
The harvest – Right Bank
A year of contrasts, in photos
The harvest – AC Bordeaux appellations
Mixed bag, an early harvest
Opinion – ‘très hétérogène’
A good, bad and ugly year
Opinion – a note on prices
Bulk prices up, not so for top wines
The en primeur tastings
Second not first week of April 2018
The weather charts
Comparisons with previous years
Frost map of Bordeaux 2017
Introduction – a small crop Keep reading
September is usually quite full-on, what with the start of the harvest and a new school year, but the 2017 edition has been bonkers. Not only have we completed the white harvest – which would normally be the case – but, as with the rest of Bordeaux this year, the reds are almost all in too. We’ve also hosted so many events at Bauduc we’ve had to recruit a live-in chef – what we’d have done without Elly, Lord knows. Keep reading
When Bordeaux sneezes, France catches a cold. As the white harvest begins at leading châteaux this week, and before a red grape has even been picked, here’s an update to the one statistic that the 2017 vintage will be remembered for: it’s a shockingly small crop, which in Bordeaux is down to that sharp frost in late April. Keep reading
Download a detailed pdf of this map here
As wine maps go, this isn’t the jolliest. The overnight frosts that swept through Bordeaux at the end of April 2017 were devastating for some vineyards but not for others, so – given the conflicting reports about price rises and chateaux ’holding back stock’ – I thought a map showing the levels of impact in different areas would help provide a clearer picture.
As I mentioned a week after the worst of the frosts, we lost about 50% of our potential harvest at Château Bauduc (near Créon on the map), comprising most of the lower slopes of our 25-hectare/63-acre vineyard.