Bordeaux 2014 En Primeur

Vintage Report: Bordeaux 2014, the Marathon
Tom Jenkins - 06 April 2015

Emeline Borie from Grande Puy Lacoste aptly described 2014 as a ‘marathon’. ‘It was easy to start with… really tough in the middle… the last part was a breeze… and we were just elated when we crossed the finishing line’.

This captures the thoughts and experiences of vignerons up and down the Medoc, the Graves and in St Emilion and Pomerol. Usually one side of the river or a particular commune gets preferential treatment from the heavens; in this respect 2014 was even handed. Flowering was much easier than in 2013 and fine spring weather lulled Chateaux into thinking this would be an early harvest. July and August were drab; not wet, but cool and overcast. By mid-August early optimism had turned to despair. But as is so often the way in Bordeaux, an Indian summer rode to their rescue. Wonderful conditions continued until mid-October. Warm, breezy days and cool nights concentrated fruit and allowed wine-makers to wait and choose their moment to harvest.

Yields are healthy, but not bountiful. Many estates expected more juice from the weight of their musts, but achieved a few hl/ha less than their calculations. When asked why, they shrugged and said that there just wasn’t that much juice. This is not the scientific response we anticipated, but it probably points to the juice to skin ratio being quite low. Certainly, colours are good and there is the potential for substantial tannins. Analytically, the berries possessed high levels of sugar, acidity and tannin, so vinification had to be managed thoughtfully.

At its best, 2014 has produced gorgeous wines. There is not the fatness or concentration of great vintages, but these are not weedy. There is a real intensity and class with some of the best delineated flavours we can ever remember. To achieve this level of quality, wine-makers needed to understand the vintage and its limitations. Those who respected the vintage have prospered and made wines with wonderful aromatics and incredible clarity. Sadly, too many on our opinion have pushed the boundaries and have hollow, over-extracted wines with tannins that may never resolve.

In general, we are actually very upbeat about the 2014s. There are wines at all price levels that will offer wonderful quality and a style that we really enjoy. Shopping lists were being formed in the Justerini & Brooks bus, which I think is the best kind of endorsement. Our sales and buying teams have tasted extensively over four days and can advise on what offers the best quality and value. We strongly advise anyone buying 2014 to seek guidance before taking the plunge; and yes there is that rather vulgar word the Bordelaise don’t really like to talk about, ‘price’, that will be a major consideration.

Our tasting notes will appear on the website over the coming week, but for now, we will highlight, in no particular order our wines of the vintage.

Right Bank: Lafleur Petrus, Petrus, Lafleur, Le Pin, L’If, Grand Village Rouge, Champs Libres, Vieux Chateau Certan, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Grande Maye, Roc de Cambes, Le Chenade, Eglise ClinetMontlandrie and LaConseillante.

Left Bank and Graves: La Mission Haut Brion, Haut Brion, Haut Brion Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, PicqueCaillou (red and white), Margaux, Pavillon Blanc, Leoville Las Cases, Montrose, Calon Segur, Lafite Rothschild, Duhart Milon, Mouton Rothschild, Pontet Canet, Pichon Lalande, Ducru Beaucaillou, Grand Puy Lacoste, Cantemerle, ChasseSpleen, Meyney and Rauzan Segla.

UGC Week: Bordeaux 2014 - Day four, the road home
Tom Jenkins - 02 April 2015

Day four got underway with a trip to our perennial favourite Grand Puy Lacoste

This high flying fifth growth can do no wrong and again, Xavier and his team have excelled. This is a very stylish, refined Pauillac packed with noble Cabernet flavours. Not that GPL is ever lacking in the refreshment department, but the 2014 vintage adds even more energy and vibrancy than normal – a stunning wine for the purists!

The route back to Merignac included three UGC tastings. Our first stop was at the 11th century Chateau Lamarque. The beauty of the fine courtyard didn’t transcend into the wine, but we did find a couple of real gems. Cantemerle and Chasse Spleen are really excellent efforts, oozing class and sophistication. Both possess lovely cool cassis fruit flavours and have a refinement that one doesn’t expect at this level - kudos to their wine-making teams.

We approached Chateau Dauzac with trepidation. The Margaux UGC has not been a happy hunting ground for us in recent years… Once again, the stand out performer was Rauzan Segla, head and shoulders above the others. Brane Cantenac has some nice sweet fruit, but it is quite simple and Giscours exceeded expectation, but from a very low base… Too many wines are brutal, tannic and dry – what has happened to Margaux elegance?

And finally to La Lagune for the Sauternes and Barsacs. There are plenty of well-balanced, well-made wines, but a constant criticism was a lack of complex botrytis flavours. Doisy Vedrines was again our pick. Olivier Casteja and team continue to produce wonderfully intense, crisp wines which appeal to the Justerini & Brooks' pallet.

After four days of intense tastings it is fair to say that 2014 is a fascinating vintage. It is not particularly consistent and it certainly isn’t easy to make comparisons with, it is unique. It doesn’t favour any particular commune or grape variety (well possibly Cabernet Franc) and the style of wines produced is unlike anything we have tasted before. At its best, the wines perhaps have better clarity and precision than the greatest vintages, but not the density or length of flavour. The profile is similar to 2008 and 2012, but the fruit is more seductive and sumptuous. 2014 is 2014 and it will find lots of friends. Let’s hope that prices are sensible and this will become a vintage and a campaign for Claret drinkers to get excited about en primeur again! 

UGC Week: Bordeaux 2014 - Day three, the Bordeaux rollercoaster continues
Tom Jenkins - 01 April 2015

To coin an overused Bordelaise phrase, the wines of the Medoc are not ‘homogenous’. 

There are stars and there are stinkers. Let’s start with the good. Lafite is regal, a really aristocratic wine with beautifully delineated flavours. In very much the same mould, Pichon Lalande backed up their wonderful 2013 with a spellbinding 2014. They utilized their Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in the 2014 and the result is spectacular.

Hervé Berland looked supremely confident, and well he might; Montrose is a beauty: precise, pure and refined. Pontet Canet is back on form and mixing it with the very best  – chapeau Alfred, a great sport for playing along with our Chairman’s April fool’s ruse and a restrained, classic, handsome 2014 in his cellars. Duhart like big brother Lafite is a beauty – this is tense, defined and very impressive. Bruno Borie’s wines all excelled. Often we just focus on Ducru Beaucaillou, however, Lalande Borie is possibly the best effort we have tasted from this estate and Croix de Beaucaillou is a notable effort too. Calon Segur 2014 is a slight change of direction. The Denise Gasqueton era is over and the new style seems to be for more power and extraction, but there is still a Calon charm. It didn’t sit well with some of the traditional Calon fans in our team, but it is mighty impressive. One other wine from the northern Medoc which deserves special mention is Chateau Meyney. This wonderful terroir close to Montrose and Phelan Segur, owned by the Credit Agricole group is finally realising its potential. This will be one of the best value buys of this campaign!

Now, in true Buyers’ Blog tradition, we remain balanced. There were divisive wines, which split the team. Mouton Rothschild was either near the top of people’s lists or considerably further down. Likewise, Pichon Baron didn’t do it for everyone, and then there was the St Julien UGC, which was frankly disappointing, save for Gruaud Larose, Leoville Barton and Leoville Poyferre. Perhaps we need to give the other St Juliens the benefit of doubt. We tasted them at the end of a long day and maybe the samples were not as fresh as they should have been. Other merchants and members of the press that we spoke to had very different experiences, with some suggesting that St Julien was their favourite commune in 2014. Time will tell if our experience was blip. 

So, our overall impression after day three is that Pauillac and St Estephe have the edge over St Julien. With the exception of the spectacular Leoville Las Cases (which is pretty much Pauillac anyway) and the magnificent Ducru Beaucaillou, the best wines from the northern Medoc are concentrated further north. Although many of the top wines have come from the best terroirs, this is not the whole story. Understanding the vintage and respecting the high levels of sugar, tannin and acidity was key. There are wines at all price levels that offer outstanding quality and a really appealing style that is unique to 2014. However, we implore buyers to be cautious and listen to their merchants to navigate their way through this capricious vintage.

UGC Week: Bordeaux 2014 - Day two, a day of transition
Tom Jenkins - 31 March 2015

We started under gloomy, leaden skies in St Emilion and have finished in St Estephe with the odd flicker of sunshine. 

As Neal Martin has already pointed out, the car park at UGC Pomerol resembled Glastonbury `97. Our loafers squelched through the mud and we tasted some rather less inspiring wines than we did on day one. Gazin has beautifully delineated fruit and lots of promise; the rest are forgettable. Then to Clos Fourtet for the St Emilion UGC for some audacious winemaking. Tasting conditions were not ideal, but even taking that into consideration, the wines in general were disappointing.

It was time to bid adieu to the Right Bank and cross the Gironde for our visit to La Mission Haut Brion. Prince Robert greeted us and presented an ever growing number of wines from their numerous estates. The whites were stunning; vivid, precise, voluptuous and very fresh. There was a lot of conjecture as to which wine was better out of Haut Brion and La Mission. In truth both were spectacular – La Mission has a more Cabernet character, whereas Haut Brion has an atypically decadent Merlot style, but still shows a bit of its classic chalky minerality. In short, a great tasting and some great wines.

We moved deeper into the Graves for the UGC tasting at SmithHaut Lafitte. This was a mixed affair with one or two highs: Domaine de Chevalier (red and white), Smith Haut Haut Lafitte (both again) and Pauline Calvet’s exceptional Picque Caillou (again, red and white). Some estates didn’t quite understand the vintage and have extracted, dry, unattractive wines. Our next stop was Haut Bailly for another divisive wine. Some loved the bright, focussed fruit others were less convinced.

Back on the Rocade and into the Medoc. Our appointment at Chateau Margaux with Paul Pontallier was definitely the highlight of the day. The clouds parted and a few beams of sunshine greeted us. The wines have effortless class, real precision and wonderful purity. Bravo.

We popped in to see our friends at Ulysse Cazabonne to taste Chanel’s Rauzan Segla and Canon.  John Kolasa continues his fine work at both these estates. Back over the D2 to Chateau Palmer and our tasting with Chris Myers. There is something of a revolution afoot at this estate. They are now 100% biodynamic (though certification will have to wait until 2017) and they are reducing the use of SO2 in the winemaking. The grand vin has lost some of its exoticism and decadence and has more gravitas and tannic structure. Fans of the old style were left a little puzzled – time will tell whether the experimentations have paid off.

Our final tasting of the day was at Leoville Las Cases. We persevered through the junior Delon wines and our hard work was rewarded with an exceptional Las Cases. This is as serious a wine as we have tasted so far, a wonderful expression of Cabernet Sauvignon: deep, complex and long term. It has put us in a positive mood for a big day in the Medoc tomorrow.

UGC Week: Bordeaux 2014 - Day one, what a difference a month makes
Tom Jenkins - 30 March 2015

If you’d visited one of the many Chateaux in Bordeaux last August, you would have been greeted by despondent propriétaires and vignerons. 

After a promising spring and relatively uniform flowering, hopes were high. Then June was hot and dry; Baptiste Guinaudeau reported average temperatures at Lafleur a full three degrees higher than in 2005 - more cause for optimism. However, as the last few years have proved, this is a marginal region and a period of cool, dull weather gripped Bordeaux. It was not especially wet, but there was a distinct lack of sunshine and what had promised to be an early harvest had to be revised… By mid-August wine-makers’ moods had most likely turned from frustration to despair, but as is so often the case, an Indian summer rode to their rescue. Two months of perfect conditions ensued. Warm days, cool nights and plenty of breeze turned things around, ripening and concentrating fruit. The meteo remained fine, allowing estates to wait for optimum ripeness and pick the perfect moment to deploy their harvesters.

We are now relaxing with a well-earned Kronenbourg and a pack of pretzels listening to some Barry White, digesting everything we have tasted. Our first impressions are positive. There are some wonderful Cabernet Francs, which have clearly benefitted from the late ripening season. Chateaux such as Lafleur, Cheval Blanc, VCC and Le Dome have Cabernet aromas that leap from the glass and possess a vibrancy and freshness that makes them so appealing. But you can’t simply say it’s a Cabernet year, the Merlots at Le Pin, Petrus, Eglise Clinet and Lafleur Petrus are also spectacular. Despite the appalling weather (not ideal for barrel tastings), there have been many highs; wines with real class and poise, classically styled, elegant Bordeaux with lots of complexity, but not the concentration of great years like 2009 and 2010, and perhaps one or two wines that lack a bit of precision and finesse. It has been a very positive start – we are all enthusiastic about what we have tasted and are looking forward to what lies ahead in the Graves and the Medoc.

Harvest Report: Bordeaux 2014 from the Guinaudeau
Justerini & Brooks - 27 October 2014

The 2014 vintage is providing us with so much pleasure… As we told you in the last email on 17th September, we were in a sunny disposition, and we still are. We finished the harvest with the Cabernets Franc plots from Grand Village on the 8th October in excellent conditions…

We worked hard throughout the summer to keep the grapes healthy. We must say that the weather in September and in October has been exceptional. Optimum ripeness was reached in all the different terroirs.

We have to harvest at just the right moment when the grapes are very ripe. It is a key success factor to harvest each parcel at the right time. If the harvest is done too early, phenolic maturity would not be reached, however with a late harvest the result would be too heavy, without enough freshness and precision.
Concerning Lafleur, we harvested:

- The Merlots from the lot A on Friday 26th September

- The Merlots from the lot B on Monday 29th September

- The Cabernets Francs from the successful lot D on Sunday 5th October

- The Cabernets Francs from the lot E and F on Monday 6th October

We have just started the running-off (lot A and B from Lafleur). The Merlots combine power and delicacy, with a mind-blowing balance and freshness. Cabernets Francs from the lot D, are macerating, but we have already achieved a complexity and aromatic intensity we associate with the great millésimes…

The maceration is done for the white; they are now digesting the lees which are particularly rich this year, and we are doing a batonnage every two days. The framework is getting there, the tasting from the barrels confirms our first impressions. The white should be on another level for the 2014 vintage…

We will share our impressions about the vintage very soon.

Bien Cordialement,

- Les Guinaudeau
Harvest Report: Guinaudeau's 2014 update
Justerini & Brooks - 19 September 2014

"We have just started the harvest for the Blancs de Grand-Village following a period of glorious, warm, sunny weather. We are happy, because the grapes are very ripe, the aromatic level is amazing, both for the Sauvignon and Sémillon. 

After a tough summer, once again we had to work hard, but the first two weeks of September were brilliant, as a consequence the vendage has a surprising potential… At the moment the grapes are in excellent condition and we can therefore take our time. We have been harvesting in the cool early mornings for the last three days and have collected all of our Semillon and half of our Sauvignon.

Regarding our red grapes, physiological maturity has largely been reached in Pomerol and we are taking advantage of the nice weather to further improve the tannic structure. We may take some secateurs to the very young vines in the parcel of Lafleur called La Sieste this week. We will see… In any case we should start harvesting the best Merlot plots in Lafleur by the following week. The Cabernet Francs grapes have tasted well in the vineyard, and should be ready at the beginning of October. 

We will let you know how the 2014 harvest is going, but it has started under excellent conditions."

- Les Guinaudeau