Bordeaux 2014 – our methodology


16 April I have just been asked by a Bordeaux négociant whether a score of, say, 17/20 for a cru classé has the same value as a 17/20 for a premier grand cru classé. Just to clarify, I try to ignore the classifications and just score on the basis of what I find in the glass (not least because I try to taste blind as much as possible). This sometimes has some unexpected results.

13 April To accompany the beginning of our two-week series of tasting articles in which more than 450 of these baby Bordeaux are described, it is probably sensible to outline our methodology.

The first encounter between and these (often carefully prepared) embryonic barrel samples took place in London in mid March when Julia tasted 42 of the wines brought over by Le Grand Cercle, Alain Raynaud’s organisation of ambitious if generally unclassified properties that qualify for the ‘trying harder’ epithet. We include those tasting notes in the tasting articles published this week and next.

On Friday 27 March I flew out to Bordeaux for an intensive pre-Easter week of tasting, ever-fearful that, as for the 2011 and 2012 vintages, Nick’s health might at the last minute affect my plans. (Last year, Richard manfully tasted the 2013s en primeur while Julia and I were hard at work on the forthcoming 4th edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine.) This year there were no medical alarms and primeurs week coincided with a lull in proofreading so off I went.

As I outlined all those years ago in The Bordeaux primeurs circus, whenever possible I tasted blind. (Indeed, you may wish to put 'primeur circus' in our search box, choosing the 'Everything else' option, to find other, related articles on this topic.) This means that I was able to taste many of the classed growths blind against each other in the press tastings organised with great efficiency by the Union des Grands Crus. We writers are assigned groups (which don’t seem to change much from year to year) according to whether we want to taste blind or not. We tiptoe into the large, quiet tasting rooms of the châteaux that have been bludgeoned into hosting us and taste from masked bottles, being given the crib only at the end. These are the rooms festooned with cables for our laptops, although the increasing flight to Macs with their extended battery life means that these are less vital than they used to be. Glasses, spittoons and white tablecloths are still very necessary though. My group usually includes Bernard Burtschy of Le Figaro, Abi Duhr of Luxembourg, Fiona Morrison MW, Jeannie Cho Lee MW, Yohan Castaing of Bordeaux, who contributes to, Raoul Salama and Eric Riewer of Paris, Roy Moorfield of Melbourne and Cathay Pacific, and many more.

This year, for practical reasons, I for once tasted the Sauternes non-blind care of Vintex from a collection of samples amassed by Bill Blatch (ex Vintex, now of Bordeaux Gold). He and his associate Steve Webb withdrew the samples of Chx Filhot, Guiraud and Nairac because they felt they were not showing well, so I tasted these wines later in the week at the superb tastings organised by négociant Dourthe at their Ch Belgrave in the Médoc. (Here invitees, including many of the world’s best-known wine writers, are presented with booklets in which they just have to indicate which flights – of most of the well-known and many of the lesser-known names – they want to taste.)

But an increasing number of estates are withdrawing from the UGC tastings, alas, so it is necessary to book appointments at specific châteaux as well. To minimise the amount of time that their staff have to devote to us, Steven Spurrier of Decanter and I tend to taste together with a large group of Anglophones that changes a little every year but this year included Stephen Brook and James Lawther of Decanter, Fiona Morrison of Le Pin, who writes for Wines & Spirits magazine in the US, Caroline Matthews of Uncorked Wine Tours, Nellie Salvi, Robert Gorjak of Slovenia, Vasily Raskov of Simple in Russia and various other Decanter team members who seemed to come and go.

But you would be amazed by how little time we have to discuss the wines. We usually have such a packed programme and so many different cars (because we tend to stay in different locations from each other; I prefer to arrange my own accommodation rather than be lodged by the UGC in specific châteaux) that we are too busy dashing off to the next appointment to compare notes.

Because of Easter, the main part of primeurs week was squashed into four rather than five days this year. This means that I tried to taste as many wines as possible once – although you will spot the odd duplication – rather than the same wine several times, as I’m sure that the wines will in any case continue to evolve and there will be considerable development between now and when they are bottled. (All this, quite apart from the question of how truly representative the samples we are shown are...)

In general, the 2014 wines are on the light side at the moment and I hope for their sake that they take on weight in barrel. Please do not take our tasting notes as definitive. They give some indication of relative performance of individual wines, but are perhaps most useful as a guide to the character of the vintage overall, which I will outline in more detail on Saturday.