Southwold: Bordeaux 2014 – very good, but not quite great

Southwold: Bordeaux 2014 – very good, but not quite great

Monday 19th February 2018
by Tom Jenkins

Last week, the great and the good of the British wine trade including journalists, merchants and multitude of MWs decamped to our new Southwold-on-Thames venue to dissect the 2014s.

After the demoralising 2013s, there was a palpable sense of anticipation. We have always admired this vintage for its classical style and elegance. As is custom, we start with several flights of St Emilion. The flights seem to get longer each year and usually feature unfamiliar names that leave us pondering, ‘why?’ There was no such bafflement this year. Vignerons appear to have used a lighter touch and coupled with the natural acidity of the vintage, the wines have a real sense of cohesion and energy. Top marks went to Francois Mitjavile’s Tertre Roteboeuf, such an unmistakable wine, there’s really no need to disguise its identity… My preference was Canon, John Kolasa’s last year at the helm – this is as classical and super-refined, and a mighty impressive showing from Troplong Mondot.

After the success of St Emilion, we had high hopes for Pomerol. There were indeed strong showings from L’Eglise Clinet, Gazin and many other of the grand names, however, they seemed a little flat after the pyrotechnics of St Emilion.

Down in Pessac Leognan there were successes from Domaine de Chevalier, the super-sleek Smith Haut Lafitte and Pape Clement, as well as a return to form from Malartic Lagraviere. Overall the quality in Graves is sound rather than spectacular. 

Then followed two flights from Margaux, not always the easiest commune to taste as juveniles. Outside the big names of Margaux, Palmer, Rauzan Segla and Brane Cantenac, there is a lot of variation… Experience tells us that patience is required. Alas, the sample of Margaux was corked, but the other big names shone, my personal preference was for Brane Cantenac, which seemed to out-Palmer Chateau Palmer. It was a suave, glossy, generous wine with notably more flesh and concentration than the competition. Overall, not a bad showing from Margaux, but many will benefit from time in the cellar.

The big names from St Estephe took all the podium places. In fact they all received 16.5/20 from this taster. 2014 is the year when Calon Segur started in a slightly different direction. This is noticeably darker and more Cabernet than the ‘classic’ Calons of old. Some may lament the revolution, but I found it hard not to be seduced by its newfound precision and sleek cassis scented fruit. Montrose will delight its fans with its handsome frame and enthralling purity of fruit. There was also an honourable mention for the sensational Capbern. The Calon Segur team has turned this property into one of the most impressive and best value Chateau in the Medoc – the 2014 is a stunner.

Now we were on a roll and felt that we might be reaching the pinnacle of the vintage. St Julien did not disappoint, in fact, there really wasn’t a bad wine in either flight. The Cabernet dominated vineyards of this commune clearly thrived and the wines boast tremendous purity, precision, noble Cabernet flavours, sophisticated tannins and a real sense of class. There are very handsome wines indeed, and I don’t mind admitting that we got these all wrong during the primeur tastings. The St Juliens we tasted at the chateaux all excelled, but the UGC tasting left us thoroughly perplexed. Hopefully our candid remarks didn’t put you off buying the wines. It certainly highlights the perils of tasting primeur. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Leoville Barton pipped Ducru Beaucaillou to first spot, with all the other big names not far behind. This was a really impressive line-up. Anyone looking for a modern day classic without breaking the bank should certainly consider the mighty impressive Langoa Barton, which easily mixes it with the top ‘super-seconds’.

And then the jump over the border into Pauillac, and to what is normally the best commune along with Pomerol. Well, 2014 dealt another surprise. While the very top wines from Pauillac certainly match and possibly just edge those of St Julien, the overall feeling at that St Julien had the edge this year. Pichon Comtesse was my champion and Reserve de la Comtesse was by far the best value, chapeau to Nicolas Glumineau, this is the start of something really special at Pichon Comtesse. Pichon Baron and Lynch Bages were also very strong contenders, but didn’t quite have the magic of Comtesse for me.

There is a group of wines that commands an elevated position in Bordeaux, so I think it’s best to speak about these wines in isolation. The First growths along with Petrus, Le Pin, Ausone and Cheval Blanc are not only the most prestigious wines from the region but also the most expensive. Mouton Rothschild achieved the highest average score, but in truth, we’re splitting hairs, all these wines have the breed and x-factor that does separate them from the ‘lesser growths’. My personal winners were the staggering Ausone and the athletic Lafite, both are splendid. On another day and in a different mood, it could conceivably be two different wines.

It wouldn’t be a complete tasting without some dry whites and Sauternes. 2014 is a spectacular white wine vintage in Burgundy. It may well be in Bordeaux, but there weren’t any spectacular wines, well maybe one… The first flight included four faulty wines (out of 9). Two to my palate were oxidized and two were corked. There wasn’t anything remarkable about this flight except for its faults. The next flight included the grander whites from Pessac Leognan, the Medoc and a small corner of Fronsac. The undisputed winner was the Guinaudeau’s exceptional Les Champs Libres. It is so vibrant and energetic with bags of personality. Its crystalline flavours and razor sharp precision beat off the competition from Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. Bravo Baptiste and Julie!

And finally to the sweeties. 2014 doesn’t really resonate as a Sauternes vintage on these shores, however, the Bordelaise regard this as a very good set, not in the top echelons of 2001, 2009 and 2011, but not far behind. I have to say, there are lots of charming wines with good sweetness, crisp acidities, and a nice sense of cohesion and balance. Chateau Yquem was my number one wine, but it wasn’t head and shoulders above the competition and nor did it win the flight. I’d describe this as a solid Sauternes vintage rather than spectacular.

Overall, the group was upbeat about the 2014s. There are lots of charming classically styled wines, with a modern day resemblance to vintages like 1996. The wines lack the flesh of ‘modern’ vintages like 2009, 2010 and 2015, and don’t have the concentration of the great vintages such as 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2016, but they are cohesive, beautifully structured and rather handsome. They are the sort of clarets that I know I will enjoy drinking and I’m sure my Justerini & Brooks colleagues would concur. As the late great Paul Pontallier rather neatly summarised, ‘2014 is an excellent vintage that sits just below the truly great years such as 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010’.

 Tom Jenkins