Bordeaux 2007 – far from compelling


A version of this article was also published by the Financial Times. See also my tasting notes in full and this 2009 report on 2007.

For some time now, two or three years, my vintage of choice from a restaurant wine list whose prices are not too rapacious has been 2007. The 2007 red, and white, burgundies are currently drinking beautifully. All but the finest are at their peak. They are not the most concentrated but they have no excess of tannin or acidity at this stage and tend to be attractively balanced, medium-bodied, fruity wines.

Recently enjoyed have been Meursaults from two of the most accomplished producers of white burgundy, the simple (but by no means simply priced) village bottling of Coche-Dury and, at the other end of the status ladder, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey’s Meursault Perrières.

The 2007 red burgundies I’ve enjoyed recently that spring most readily to mind include Mugnier’s Clos de la Maréchale, Ponsot’s Morey-St-Denis Cuvée des Alouettes, Lafarge’s Volnay Mitans and Marquis d’Angerville’s Volnay Taille Pieds.

Writing this while girding my loins for the onslaught of Bordeaux 2014s from cask at the end of this month puts me in mind of Bordeaux vintages divisible by seven. Over the past few months I have enjoyed the odd 2007 red bordeaux in isolation. Trotanoy, La Fleur Morange Cuvée Mathilde and Tour du Haut-Moulin bear witness in our tasting-notes database, although each of these tasted as though they didn’t have a particularly long life ahead of them.

It was because the 2007 vintage of red bordeaux was always notably low in tannin and concentration and therefore very early-maturing that our group of professional tasters who meet annually at Farr Vintners to taste an old Bordeaux vintage changed the usual timetable. We customarily taste the vintage that is 10 years old but, as I wrote in my account of a recent look at this magnificent vintage organised by Farr Vintners’ rivals Bordeaux Index, most of the 2005s are nowhere near ready. It was therefore decided that our annual tasting two weeks ago would focus on the much more evolved 2007s instead of the 2005s.

In the event we were very glad that we had not waited to taste the 2007s until they were 10 years old. Most of the wines, all tasted blind in peer groups, are ready to drink now – which is quite unusual for Bordeaux classed growths under eight years old. The only exceptions among the 94 wines we tasted, which included virtually all the most famous names, were the first growths from the left bank (Médoc and Graves) together with Châteaux Lynch Bages, Lagrange, Pape Clément and most of the wines from St-Estèphe, the commune whose wines are notoriously slow burners.

Most of the right-bank (St-Émilion and Pomerol) 2007s are easy to drink already but I would wait a few years before tackling La Conseillante, La Mondotte and Figeac. I suspect that because this vintage was so unusually forward, we tended to slightly overvalue the less evolved wines with our scores.

I was looking forward to the tasting, not least because 2007 is currently the least expensive drinkable bordeaux vintage on the market, often less than half the price of the exuberant 2009s, for example. (Relatively) low prices plus drinkability makes this a vintage that should in theory appeal to those assembling restaurant wine lists – although the proportion of wine lists that feature or even include red bordeaux has plummeted over the last few years.

As it happened, there were too many wines among those we tasted whose producers seemed to think it was enough to carry a famous name. These were dry red wines that had spent some time in good-quality French oak but had no real charm, drive or vivacity. For example, the average score given to the Margaux flight by the 17 professional tasters was a seriously lacklustre 15 out of 20 – and yet the average price of these wines was well over £50 a bottle, more than Mugnier’s delicious Clos de la Maréchale from Nuits-St-Georges. This is appalling value.

(The most attractive set of 2007 bordeaux came from St-Julien, but even their average score was under 16 out of 20.)

As someone who has just returned from Napa Valley, I can’t help comparing this run of wines with the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernets I tasted there recently. The 2011 vintage in California was, like 2007 in Bordeaux, unusually problematic but most of the Napa Valley wines at least tasted as though their producers had put some effort in (even if it was occasionally misplaced). If ever we needed evidence of Bordeaux’s current complacency, this tasting provided it.

It is true that nature did not co-operate with Bordeaux’s vignerons in 2007. Like 2011 in Napa Valley, the season looked like a complete write-off . At the very end of August, however, the sun began to shine on Bordeaux’s vineyards and good weather replaced what had been a miserable summer with 10 to 15% fewer hours of sunshine than usual. April had been unusually warm so the flowering, in inconveniently unsettled weather, was particularly early. But the grapes struggled to ripen in the dreary, cloudy, often damp, arguably non-existent summer, with the result that 2007s had the longest growing season Bordeaux has seen: 140 days from flowering to harvest rather than the usual 110. Let no one argue that a long hang time equates to quality.

After the wet summer, September, when sugar levels desperately played catch-up, was exceptionally dry – which may explain why some of these 2007s, especially on the right bank, were marked by uncomfortably dry finishes. (It could have been evidence of the right-bank producers’ notorious love of over-extraction and new oak, but in general they were over it by 2007.)

This same group of tasters had recently completed a similar exercise for the much younger 2011 Bordeaux vintage (I escaped to South Africa instead). They concluded that the 2007s were looking a bit better than the 2011s that the Bordelais are having such trouble selling. The 2007s are more obviously fruity than the 2004s, also rescued by a fine September, but I think the best 2004s have a bit more concentration and class than most 2007s.

Overall, after this tasting I concluded that Bordeaux producers need to get out more, do more blind comparative tasting of wines made in the rest of the world, and get real with their pricing. As for 2007, it’s a much safer bet in Burgundy. And Italy. And California.

These were the wines I scored at least 16.5 in the blind tasting. Few 2007s are still on sale but this list may be useful for those with 2007s in their cellars.

St-Émilion  Ch Angélus, Ch Cheval Blanc

Pomerol  Ch Clinet, Ch Clos l’Eglise, Ch La Conseillante, Petrus, Le Pin, Pomerol

Pessac-Léognan  Ch Haut-Brion, Ch Malartic-Lagravière, Ch Smith Haut-Lafitte, Margaux Ch Margaux

St-Julien  Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou, Ch Lagrange, St-Julien

Pauillac  Ch Lafite, Ch Latour, Ch Mouton-Rothschild, Ch Pichon Baron, Ch Pichon Lalande

St-Estèphe  Ch Calon-Ségur