Bordeaux 2017: A Problem of Perception

Bordeaux 2017: A Problem of Perception

Monday 12th February 2018
by Tom Jenkins

2017 is probably the most misunderstood and poorly represented vintage we can recall. Before a single grape had been picked, major broadsheets were taking swipes at the poor old '17s. 

It’s true, many vignerons were left heartbroken after the frost of the 27th of April. The unlucky ones had their entire crops wiped out, but in parallel with life itself, the most fortunate, through a mixture of toil and often just good luck, went unscathed. And for those who had a crop, there was everything to play for. But good news doesn’t sell newspapers; the pejorative voices of the press would rather declare this the ‘worst vintage since 1945’. Those who’ve tasted Mouton `45 are probably pricking their ears up… Negative terminology has created a huge misunderstanding. 2017 is a very simple vintage, it’s about the haves and have nots. You either have a crop, and judging by what we have tasted, it’s a very smart crop, or you have nothing, which is a travesty for many small growers. ‘Worst’ in terms of quantity, by all means, but don’t allow this sweeping statement to influence your view of the quality.

We cannot comment on wines that don’t exist. We visited many of the great names in Pomerol, St Emilion and the Medoc, and the mood was one of cautious optimism, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Those we saw where supremely confident about their wines, but they don’t want to appear too chipper in recognition of those who lost everything. There was almost an air of embarrassment, that not only had they got away with it, but they’d also had such success.

The frost will obviously be focal point of the vintage. The plateau of Pomerol was turned into the set of a Vietnam War movie; helicopters and turbines overhead, and the vineyards ablaze with bouges. Everyone watching the mercury sliding, waiting for the apocalypse, which thankfully never occurred. Their elevated position and human intervention prevented any real damage. Those with the natural protection of the Gironde were also spared.

2017 was blessed with a very sunny and dry summer, so much so that chateaux were talking in terms of a ‘great vintage’ at the end of August. Rain in early September initially brought relief from the drought, and then downgraded their expectations. Most in the Medoc will admit that their Merlots are a little lacking, probably not Grand Vin material. However, the rain stopped and the later ripening Cabernets show tremendous purity and power. Tasting with Nicolas Glumineau at Pichon Comtesse, Nicolas Audebert at Canon, Denis Durantou at L’Eglise Clinet and Francois Mitjavile at Tertre Roteboeuf was a real epiphany. The proof is in the barrel. We tasted some exceptional 2017s with concentration and real class. And for most of these estates, the crop is absolutely normal.

We shall return to Bordeaux in April to taste the 2017s in more detail and more comprehensively. Watch this space!

Tom Jenkins, Bordeaux Buyer