Blatch on Bordeaux 2015 – the wines


Following yesterday's Bordeaux 2015 – the vines, today Bill Blatch takes us into the winery for the second part of his detailed, comprehensive and unbiased report. This photo was taken by Gavin Quinney last year in the arresting new building in St-Julien where Chx St-Pierre and Gloria are made.   

The dry whites, harvested in the most perfect conditions possible after invigorating August rainfall and during the brilliantly sunny coolness of end  August/early September, have an extraordinary fresh, grapey appeal, enhanced by the generally greater proportion of Sauvignon Blanc in the blends since the Sémillons had reacted less well to the wet August. They are well-concentrated, having yielded less volume than the reds of the same estates, are absolutely pure and have similar refreshing acidity to the very sprightly 2007s and 2012s. The objective was also, in line with the times, to reduce the new-oak influence to less than that of those two vintages.

The reds range from acceptable to outstanding, depending on a whole pile of factors, not least of which is the amount of mid-September and early-October rain and how the grapes reacted to it; also how stressed the vines were in June and July. It is a very complex picture, but generally speaking, left-bank Merlots are lighter and less fleshy than their right-bank counterparts. Left-bank Cabernets gain in intensity from north to south, meaning that Margaux and Pessac-Léognan did very well. Right-bank Merlots range from a more delicate style on the thinner, cooler soils to an extremely impressive dark, thick, powerful style on the St-Émilion côte and parts of the plateau, especially in the micro areas of lower rainfall.

Largely due to the regularity of flowering and véraison, there were few wide variations of ripeness dates from each estate’s norm. Because the condition of most Merlot grapes allowed them this luxury, some growers spun out their picking, but virtually all the top Pomerol Merlots were ready in the same last four days of September and virtually all the top Médoc Cabs were picked in the first eight days of October. In addition, with the possible exception of some very prolific young-vine Merlots, yields were virtually all in the same 40-50 hl/ha range (which was much more than could be hoped for in July!).

As a result of all this regularity, the wines are beginning to show a real vintage identity, however light or full they may be. This identity lies first in their naturally quite high alcohol levels, then in their aromatic complexity and in the silkiness of their suave tannins. It was puzzling at first that such small, thick-skinned grapes could take so long to deliver their tannins during fermentation. Maybe the skins had hardened so early in the cycle that they didn’t ‘tanninise’ at the usual rate after véraison, especially during the shock of the wet August after all those months of drought. At the time there were many allusions to the burgundy style, beautifully ripe and velvety but not tremendously extractable, and the press wines generally didn’t add much either. In addition, there was a general tendency towards very gentle extractions in order to preserve all the potential features of the vintage’s finesse.

At first, the acidities were thought to be too low, but they caught up naturally during vinification and the pHs ended up more balanced than in the similarly hot vintages of 1990, 2003 and 2009.


This was a dream vintage for Sauternes. The origin of its quality is to be found in the extra very localised June and August rainfall which precipitated a very early start to the botrytis process. Most estates picked in a series of four tries, each time with the botrytis set in motion by four patches of wet weather and each perfectly concentrated into rôti stage by four subsequent perfect sunny, dry and cool days. For each, pickers were spared the tedious task of weeding out the bad rot, because there just wasn’t any – and nobody had to pick in the rain either. So everything came in beautifully pure and fine. Sometimes the sugar levels got too high and had to be calmed down by the addition of golden un-botrytised grapes, but generally they were in the magic window of 20-22% potential alcohol throughout and there was a most unusual evenness between the different lots.

The first trie, in some vineyards as early as the weekend of 5 September, occasionally contained a few shrivelled grapes, but thereafter it was full botrytis all the way. The body of the harvest came in during the second and third tries of the first two weeks of October and for once the final tries during the week of 19October were just as pure and fine. One or two estates carried on picking into the first days of November and even that late managed to obtain the same kind of rich purity.

The style of these wines is of course very rich but, with a few notable exceptions, less absolutely sweet than the more ‘spherical’ 2005s or the very powerful 2009s. Very generally the average sweetness for the crus classés of the 2015s ended up at around 130 g/l rather than the 140-150 g/l more characteristic of the 2009s. But their main feature is the great definition of fine, fresh fruit, even more so than in 2007 and 2011 but a little less dense than the latter. They are softer and have slightly less acidity than the 2014s. They will be lovely in their youth but have low volatile acidities and are not combining sulphur, so are expected to age very well.

Yields were well above the average of the last five years with most crus classés well above 15 hl/ha, some over 20. There were not that many grapes on the vines (it had been a small flowering) but then nothing needed to be discarded.


Even before the 2014s had been made, people were saying that a vintage ending in a 5 was destined to be great: 2005, 1995, 1985, 1975, 1945. During the whole year, the 2015s were almost willed along into being great, and in June, even greater than great, after four consecutive months of heat and drought, an early budbreak and an efficient flowering had seemed to set it on that path to greatness. But what happened next had some consequences that caused considerable regional variation: July was the fifth month of drought and, for some, a month too many; August was the suddenly-wet month; and above all September and early October were the fickle months of rain in some places and not in others. Some really great wines have been made, but by no means everywhere.

Yet, lighter or richer, the vintage seems to have a hallmark very harmonious and succulent style. Every vintage is unique, but it is customary, and sometimes useful, to draw comparisons with others. Even though such an exercise is very difficult this time due to so much variation, here is an attempt:

If the most important feature of this vintage is the extreme drought and heat from March to July, then meteorologically, the closest previous vintages are 1985, 1989, 1995 and 2006. Of these, 1985 and 1989 seem the closest. They both had extreme summer heat, and even though these earlier vintages didn’t have quite the same extreme drought conditions, there seems to be a great resemblance in style. The vintages 1995 and 2006 had a very similar summer to 2015 but a much wetter September that accelerated the harvest into a much harder style. When in early summer 2015 everyone was feeling exuberantly optimistic, the three recent vintages that were the most often evoked (apart from the 1961s) were the 2005s, 2009s and 2010s. Later, such flattering allusions ceased – except in the very few most favoured sites.

In general, all growers are extremely pleased with their wines, some exceptionally so. Quite clearly 2015 is by far the most concentrated of the last five vintages and, in line with the times, and contrary to the year’s weather, the wines are beautiful rather than excessive.

And now, here’s to the 2016s, the year of the biggest El Niño event of all times, typically producing record winter rains and totally mild temperatures, both of which make the vines want to get off to a very early start. Thereafter, since the El Niño effect is supposed to be finished by May, the only certainty is the ever-increasing temperature curve.