2015 has been said to be another outstanding vintage after 2009 and 2010. I was in Bordeaux for the past two weeks to taste the En Primeur wines and have got some ideas about the vintage. Before going in depth into each region/ winery, I’d like to compare 2014 with 2015 vintage in general.
2014 is a vintage that people may easily forget- not because of the challenging weather like 2013, but because of the quite different style of wine than normally expected Bordeaux ones. The weather of 2014 in general was on the other way round compared to 2015, that in my humble point of view, creates the differences but also similarities.
How was the weather in 2014 and 2015?
The summer was a bit dull and cool in Bordeaux in 2014, cloudy and rainy for most of the June and July. Only a few days were over 30 degrees. However from mid-August onwards, the weather turned totally different. Critics and winery owners were calling the August to mid-October the Indian summer in Bordeaux. The average temperature in September was around 27 degrees. Sun was shining for almost 2 months with barely any rains on the left bank (right bank suffered a bit more in September). Only quick showers came and went away during the period. This had absolutely saved the vintage to ensure the fruits were ripened with concentration during the harvest, with cool nights to give the beautiful acidity: most of the harvests were starting one week later than that of 2015.
2015 was a different story. Summer was very hot and dry in June and July. There was for example 47.6mm rainfall within 4 days after flowering in Medoc in June, and a total of only 22mm of rainfall in Saint-Emilion mainly in second half of July. This gave perfect conditions for fruits to gain their concentration and avoid further vine growth during the growing period. Heavier rainfall started to come in August to irrigate the almost raisin-alike grapes and continued in early September with warm weather, providing the freshness, juiciness and acidity to the fruits. However the rainfall in Bordeaux has never been evenly distributed. The difference of rainfall mainly in August between regions resulted in larger deviation of the styles in this vintage. These deviations were quite easy to detect when tasting the wines and that will be discussed in the later part. Meanwhile, some wineries decided to harvest for red wines slightly earlier than normal years as the fruits were ripened enough. They wanted to keep the freshness in the wines without being over-ripened, over-powerful or tannic.
What were the styles in 2014 and 2015?
In general the style of 2014 reds was elegant, fine and red fruit driven. The wines were silky, fresh, pure, long finishing and with good acidity. They can be drunk young but with aging potential. There were many wines that were already very ready to drink at Primeur. 2014 red was for sure an ‘outstanding-second’ and almost reaching the first grade if quality of vintages are divided into 3 grading. It reminded people of 2008 and 2001. For the white and sweet, they were very fresh and aromatic with a lot of acidity. Botrytis (noble rots) were well appeared in October and 2014 was a year for white and sweet. It was a stunning vintage for long aging potential for white and sweet. Some wineries compared the sweet of 2014 to 2001.
In 2015, the red wines were generally more powerful, firmed structure and more tannic. A mixture of ripened and intense red and black fruit can be detected but with freshness due to high acidity. Right bank was generally producing a bit higher alcohol compare to the left bank. 2015 reds were meant for aging but some can be drunk young. There were wineries producing really big wines but many were still very elegant- tannin is sufficient but too much, and in a round and silky way. 2015 red would be no doubt at first grading but it will not be as like the super vintage of 2009 and 10. The style would be closer to 2005 in my opinion. How about the white and sweet? Grapes were fully beneficial from the hot summer to get really ripened. Sauvignon blanc and semillon were very fruity, rich and sweet. White wines were softer in aroma and you can barely find the sharp gooseberry grassy smell from sauvignon blanc. There were better fruit and sugar structure compare to 2014 due to the richness but wines still maintained a balanced acidity. For sweet wine, they were extremely rich and luscious because botrytis were formed nicely in the juicy grapes by the September rains.
Winners of the vintage
As mentioned above, white and sweet wines were the winners of 2014. If I need to compare the vintage, I like both generally more than 2015, but I particularly like some from 2015 as they had been doing a great job. Some of the 2015 sauternes were too sweet without enough acidity to balance the heavy body and richness. You can see from the tasting reports later for all the comparisons.
Red wines were a bit complicated. Cabernets were the winners in 2014 and merlot was also good for 2014. However, right bank suffered a heavy rain in 2014 September which affected a bit the quality. St. Estephe was the best region from my taste of 2014, and followed by Pauillac. 2015 was again a totally different story. St. Estephe and northern Pauillac were having the heaviest rainfall in August and September. They were ‘a bit difficult’ in the production compare to other regions. Merlot and Cabernet Franc were no doubt the winners which enjoyed the whole summer sunshine for its full ripening. Therefore, regions using a bit higher percentage of merlot were generally more expressive and outstanding in 2015- namely Pomerol, St. Emilion and many of the Margaux wineries. Cabernet sauvignon was pretty good and elegant but merlot got the eye-catch of the vintage. Nevertheless, the richness and ripeness of merlot did give some adverse effects to the wines. Tannin were not handle well enough in some of the wineries because of over-ripeness that created somehow over-powerful wines with astringent tannin and lack of balance.
One thing to notice, a lot of wineries had reduced the production percentage of Grand Vin in 2015 vintage. On the one hand the harvest and general yield of grapes were high in the year, they were on the other hand pickier in the quality of grapes to be selected into the Grand Vin. The quality of second wines for this vintage were wonderful because some of the grapes could already be classified to Grand Vin in other vintages. In short, 2015 was also a good vintage for second wines of many wineries.
Detailed report from each region and wines I have tasted will be released very soon.