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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
19 Apr 2008
 

This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.

See hundreds of tasting notes with scores and suggested drinking dates here.

What was extraordinary when tasting hundreds of samples of young 2007 bordeaux earlier this week was how good the whites looked. Along with hundreds of other wine commentators and wine merchants I spent a long week in Bordeaux as usual in search of some of the world’s most exciting ageworthy, firm, dry reds but found instead a gaggle of soft, gentle little things which struggled to make much impact on the palate. Whenever I went from tasting reds to whites however, the order most producers of both colours prefer, it was difficult not to be struck by how much more guts the whites had - particularly but not exclusively the sweet whites for which 2007 was such a good year, even if without perhaps the finesse of the 2001s.

 

But when I think about the all-important reds, I find it difficult to think of wines I felt I absolutely had to buy. And when you are told even at a first growth such as Château Margaux that you could think about drinking the grand vin almost straight away, then it is difficult to see why wine collectors who already own much older wines would be keen to fork out first growth prices for the 2007s – especially in currencies such as the pound and the dollar that have lost so much value against the euro.

 

Because, as I explained last week, 2007 was such a difficult vintage, the cost of making it was high in terms of manpower in the vineyard. Furthermore, conscientious producers, and those who could afford it, have selected only relatively small volumes for their grands vins. The last time so little Château Palmer was produced, for example, was in the severely frosted 1991 vintage. As at the highly successful Château Haut-Brion, only a third of production, the produce of the very best plots, went into the grand vin at Château Margaux. This very damp summer favoured well-drained soils which in general meant gravels rather than clays. At Château Margaux they sold off a full fifth of production in bulk. I saw owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos grimace as her director of winemaking Paul Pontallier articulated this figure.

 

So, unfortunately, I fear that the producers of Bordeaux’s top wines will not reduce their prices to reflect the shortcomings of the 2007 vintage as much as we wine lovers would like – particularly in view of the fact that they are pinning such hopes on emerging wine markets, especially in Asia. I found few proprietors who were not thoroughly and personally conversant with the intricacies of China’s burgeoning love affair with fine wine.

 

The fact that there is no established tradition of buying wine en primeur in China, and that import taxes are now punitively high in so many new markets, particularly India on whose growing middle class so many hopes are pinned, did not seem to diminish the hopeful gleam evident in most Bordelais eyes whenever they mentioned Asia. But I fear that experienced buyers and tasters of red bordeaux may well find the 2007 prices laughable when they are announced. I would not like to be responsible for selling large quantities of these wines, although if were a Bordeaux merchant I would be stressing the significance of the number eight in China, and warning leery potential buyers that the forthcoming vintage in Bordeaux is likely to be valued highly whatever the quality, so they should perhaps think twice about prejudicing their allocations of 2008s by declining the 2007s.

 

To judge from the Sunday flight from Gatwick to Bordeaux at the beginning of primeurs week, as usual overloaded with Britain’s fine wine merchants, there was no shortage of interest in this unusual vintage in the UK trade, even if that interest may turn out to be more academic than commercial. But I heard fewer American accents than usual in Bordeaux this year, and did not see any more Asian buyers than in the last few years. (Perhaps they were hidden away in specially luxurious quarters being spoon-fed foie gras and caviar.)

 

I would say that the top wines of 2007 will be of most interest to those for whom money is no object and who feel that they must drink bordeaux at all costs – which indeed does boil down to Chinese plutocrats. The best examples of 2007s from a rank or two down should be of interest to airlines, who need to fly easily drinkable, therefore preferably early-maturing, versions of smart names. And for the same reason, the vintage is perfect for restaurateurs without the space and budget to mature wine for the decades that some of Bordeaux’s more typical vintages require. 

 

The Merlots and the Cabernets had particularly different characters in 2007, with the Cabernets in general rescuing the much weaker Merlots. This often meant that second wines were even more different from their grands vins than usual. I have noted some of the most successful in my list, although these juicy little numbers are for drinking very young indeed. Cabernet Franc played a particularly important part in many wines such as Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion and du Tertre.

 

Many of the less successful wines seemed to have a streak of green, underripeness to them even though acid levels were generally low. Those who succeeded tended to be those who picked out individual underripe berries. Évangile had two sorting tables after destemming, outside in the strong sunlight so that the sorters could pick out the merest hint of green.

 

As for the all-important first growths, it was interesting to see which seemed best suited to the particular qualities of 2007. Latour nowadays always makes a very fine wine, but I found the evanescent style of 2007 particularly hard to reconcile with my conception of that great, long-lived growth, whereas it seemed to suit my vision of the fragrant, more delicate Ch Margaux particularly well. One might have thought that the fragility of 2007 fruit would have suited Lafite better than Mouton, but Mouton is currently on a roll thanks to the efforts of winemaker Philippe Dallhuin whereas Lafite seemed a bit too austere.

 

I have listed all those wines I gave a score of at least 17.5 out of 20 (although only sweet whites got more than 18) but there was no shortage of wines I thought worthy of 17 and, if the prices are not too high, I could recommend them for delicious, uncomplicated short term drinking. I have also cited three second wines that should provide particularly good early drinking.

 

Top scoring 2007s

 

SWEET WHITES

Ch d’Yquem

Ch Rieussec

Ch Raymond Lafon
Ch Clos Haut-Peyraguey

Ch Climens

Ch Doisy Daëne

Ch Coutet

Ch Rabaud Promis

Ch de Fargues 2007

Ch Lamothe Guignard 2007

 

DRY WHITES

Ch Haut-Brion Blanc

Pavillon Blanc de Ch Margaux

Ch Laville Haut-Brion

Ch Malartic Lagravière

 

REDS

Ch Haut-Brion

Ch Mouton-Rothschild

Ch Margaux

Ch Latour

 

Ch Lafleur

Ch Cheval Blanc

Ch Pétrus

Ch l’Évangile

 

SUPERIOR SECOND WINES

Le Petit Cheval

Le Petit Mouton

Alter Ego de Ch Palmer

Blason de l’Évangile 

 

See hundreds of tasting notes with scores and suggested drinking dates here.