The Forgotten Vintage

The Forgotten Vintage

Friday 18th October 2019
by Tom Jenkins

Sandwiched between a pair of excellent vintages, 2017 has always been in danger of becoming an overlooked crop.

It will be remembered unfavourably for the great frost that devastated many vineyards. The first such frost since 1991, the 2017 wave was at least a little more selective. While it ravaged the less auspicious terroirs, it left the best plots on the plateau of Pomerol, the high ground in St Emilion and the vineyards closest to the Gironde unscathed. Apart from this freakish weather in April, the growing season wasn’t that remarkable. The water table was high after spring and early summer rains, then there was a prolonged drought, but the vines were not tested with excessive heat, and there was sufficient moisture in the soils to sustain photosynthesis. So, for those who survived the frost, 2017 was a relatively straightforward year.

Re-tasting the 2017s yesterday was hardly a revelation. We liked these wines when we tasted En Primeur. They are not luxuriant and heady like the 2015s, or as exquisite as the 2016s (which, in our opinion is a vintage that will or indeed has eclipsed 2010 as our reference point for Bordeaux), and neither are they as flamboyant as the sumptuous 2018s or, if the information coming out of Bordeaux is to be believed, the excellent 2019s. However, there is much to admire. These are drinkers’ wines; balanced, refined and in many cases rather handsome. Some may label them as something to drink while you wait for your 2015s, 2016s and 2018s, but that would be a disservice to what is a charming vintage. We loved Rauzan Segla and Brane Cantenac, both are quite lavish yet poised and classy. In St Emilion, Canon and Figeac are exquisitely refined expressions of their terroir. Beychevelle continues its fine run of form as does the Barton pairing of Langoa and Leoville. The latter is certainly one of the most profound and ageworthy wines we tasted at the UGC. And in Pauillac there are a string of star performers: Duhart Milon marked its return the Union with an impressive showing, as did the striking Lynch Bages, the gorgeous Pichon Comtesse, the seductive Clerc Milon, and a much improved showing from Pichon Baron – elevage has really helped this wine to blossom.

 

One needs to put 2017 in context. It is not a blockbuster, powerhouse of a vintage – those who are looking for trophies to put away for fifty years should look towards 2016, 2018 and possibly 2019. Smaller chateaux in less fortunate appellations may prefer to forget about this vintage - frost damage and working with second generation berries was not straightforward - many of the wines won’t amount to much. But, if you pick wisely, you will find precision, balance, clear expressions of fruit wrapped in effortless tannins. They will be a pleasure to drink in the short to medium term, and perhaps the best will still be providing enjoyment in twenty to thirty years’ time.