Bordeaux – red
A year of extremes with a very wet winter and spring, very damaging hail in some areas, severe down mildew threats in most. and a very hot, and dry, summer and autumn allowed vignerons to decide on their own harvest dates. Powerful, deep-coloured wines with no shortage of (generally well-managed) tannins suggest this may be one of the region’s longer-lived vintages.
Frost is the major headline for Bordeaux in 2017, resulting in the lowest yield in over 25 years across the region. What was left of the crop had very mixed fortunes. The top appellations in the Médoc generally fared well, while the right bank had much more variable ripeness levels. Even though some very good wines were made, and quantities were limited, this is a vintage that failed to sell well en primeur.
The quality of red Bordeaux in 2016 was universally lauded – although the response to the en primeur campaign was muted. Quantity was high too, with the equivalent of 770 million bottles of wine produced. An exceptionally dry summer with cool nights eventually, thanks to mid September rain, resulted in small, thick-skinned, ripe grapes, and the wines are marked by high tannin and acidity, with superb aromatic fragrance.
Will this vintage adhere to Jancis’ rule of five, whereby any vintage divisible by five is of good quality? It seems so, with particularly healthy, uniform fruit at harvest. A generous flowering and hot, dry early summer was followed by a slighty cooler, damper August. Harvest was generally earlier than in 2014. Optimists are already calling it the best vintage since 2010 with early reports favouring the right bank.
Exceptionally cool, damp July and August but the vintage was saved by an unusually dry, warm September and October that (just about) ripened the grapes though autumn concentration has resulted in relatively high-acid wines. Reds have fragrance, medium body and supple tannins but are not for long term cellaring.
A universally poor vintage, beset by uneven ripening and dilution. Rot forced relatively early picking. Even at their best, the wines are pretty light – though perhaps a benefit of this is lower alcohol levels, as compared with some of the 15% bruisers of recent years. The best of a bad lot can be found in Pomerol, St-Julien and St-Estèphe.
Tricky across many European wine regions, and none more so than Bordeaux. Generally speaking, it was a wet, late year with a hot mid-summer. Bad weather in October compromised quality at the crucial moment, meaning that the earlier-ripening Merlot-based reds were less adversely affected. Making good Cabernet-based wine was achievable, but only by those who had the resources for micro-management in the vineyard. Top properties made small quantities of outstanding wines but most have a lack of depth and persistence.
Generalisations are difficult in this variable year, but there is agreement that quality is back down to earth after the excitement of 2009 and 2010, with lower alcohol and generally higher tannins too. A forgettable year.
Another stellar vintage, with higher tannin and more freshness than 2009 but comparable intensity. More appealing to classical palates.
'Vintage of the decade/century'? This growing season seemed to have it all. A long, fine, warm summer but, crucially, with refreshing nights to help retain acidity. Dramatically ripe, voluptuous wines, especially on the left bank.
Another ungenerous summer saved by some better weather at the end of the season. Yet again, those properties at the top of the tree managed to field enough good fruit to salvage some pretty impressive grand vin but life was increasingly tough lower down the food chain.
An extremely difficult year for growers, with rampant mildew, not enough sun, too much rain until September. Thanks to an arsenal of modern techniques, not least rigorous selection, those who could afford it managed to make attractive wines for relatively early drinking but high prices left the primeur market as flat as a pancake.
This stop-start vintage suffered inevitably by comparison with 2005, although it produced some well-made wines which looked even better in comparison with the 2007s. Drought and high temperatures were the dominant characteristics until the end of July but August was unusually cool and wet and harvest was interrupted by rain. Pauillac and Pomerol seemed to perform best in a year that can taste pretty crisp.
Textbook perfection during the growing season in all respects other than price. Best kept for many a year. Quite marked tannins are too marked in some wines, notably the more modernistic St-Émilions, in which the then-prevailing fashion for extraction was taken to the limit.
The last affordable vintage? Large, late crop needed meticulous summer supervision. Grapes were often picked in the rain but healthy at the top end. Not massive but the best really are that rare breed, classic claret. Best on the left bank where sappy tannins suggest they might be ready to enjoy from 2010.
Exceptional heatwave resulted in many raisined grapes and uncomfortably dry tannins. A handful of stunning wines for the long term but most are probably best drunk while the bloom of youth can distract from that dryness.
Smallish crop dogged by an uneven flowering and a grey, humid summer which meant uneven ripeness in far-from-uniformly healthy grapes. Growers concentrated on the rescue effect of pretty fine weather from 9 September. The wines are correct and, in a 21st-century context, are not expensive, but they may not last all that long.
Extremely varied, large crop which depended on crop-thinning and extremely careful selection to produce exceptional wines. Hot August was followed by dangerously wet September, which sometimes resulted in dilute Merlots and tart Cabernets. Some good value to be found here, and with time the 2001s showed better and better – especially on the right bank where it can be superior to 2000.
Nature's benevolence coincided with the commercial imperative to have a good vintage in this numerically exceptional year. Great consistency and balance. The petits châteaux represented some of Bordeaux’s best value for many years though most are ready to drink or even starting to decline. The best wines should last well into their second or even third decades.
Good potential created almost exclusively by three weeks of sunshine from late August was diluted by rain at harvest time. Hail also devastated some St-Émilion vineyards in early September. A cool, humid start to the growing season led to excessive vegetation initially. Fairly early maturing wines with better potential on the left bank.
Very good on the right bank but a less starry performance in the Médoc, whose 1998s are a bit stolid, means that these wines, and their equally successful counterparts in Graves have tended to be overlooked.
Far from dramatic and early developers, these wines were ludicrously overpriced initially but provided some easy drinking in the early years of this century. Few show any possibility of improvement.
Some very fine, potentially long lived wines, especially in the Médoc, although robust tannin levels recall 1986s in many cases.
Hot, dry summer resulted in early harvest of healthy Merlot grapes. Relatively tannic Cabernet Sauvignon was picked after a week of mid-September rain. Generous crop levels, best in Pomerol and Pauillac.
The best year since 1990 (which is not saying that much). Nicely ripe but September rains were a problem again for less conscientious producers.
Another wet harvest. Picked earlier, the right bank a better bet than the left.
Light, fruity, simple wines that needed drinking early.
The start of Bordeaux's run of bad luck. Spring frosts decimated the right bank, but the top Médocs are not bad.
Second scorching year in a row. Very ripe, alluring wines at all levels, many outstanding. The vintage character of velvety texture and luscious, almost overripe fruit is one of the easiest to spot and tends to impose itself over any geographical characteristics.
Seemed an unusually hot summer at the time, producing a huge crop of rich, opulent, expensive wines, drinking astonishingly well young. Some very good right bank wines indeed. And an exceptional year for Haut-Brion.
Overshadowed by 1989 and 1990. 'Classic' style ie firm and initially a bit austere. Chunky and chewy.
Simple, fruity and pleasant but unexciting. Early maturing.
Dense, brooding and viciously tannic at first. Some may impress in the end but have required enormous patience.
Uniformly lovely, fragrant wines especially but not exclusively from the right bank. They drank well for years but most are losing fruit or showing slight herbaceousness now.
Good but less concentrated and opulent than 1982. Their lesser amount of stuffing meant that most have peaked although it was a banner year for Margaux for once.
Legendary year, the first of the modern era. Horribly expensive but very concentrated and so delicious. The best are still going very strong.
Patchy quality, with a lack of guts but attractive balance. Most are well over the hill.
Graceful, suave and well-balanced for a time but they should have been drunk in the 20th century.
A perfect autumn saved the crop. The big left bank names are strongest.
Frequently overwhelmed by dry tannins. A few Pomerols and Pauillacs are huge and magnificent.
These firm, sturdy wines, very much of their era, have lasted well but are generally pretty short on flesh.