BARLOW IN BORDEAUX: THE 2017 VINTAGE

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I recently spent two weeks in Bordeaux with Bear tasting through and evaluating the 2017 vintage.  Here are my notes on the vintage with my TOP SIX WINES. I will write another blog about ‘The Best of the Rest’ very soon. As Always, a SPECIAL THANK YOU to Bear Dalton for allowing me to see this vintage from a perspective that few in this business are able to.

THE 2017 VINTAGE:

If I had to summarize the vintage in one word, it would be: Unique.

Bordeaux was hit by a devastating frost in late April.  Many Chateaux not near the Gironde estuary had crops that were down anywhere from 30-100%.  Spectacular Chateau such as Laplagnotte-Bellevue or Grand Corbin-Despagne had no crop in 2017 (Breaks my heart for these smaller Chateau).  Chateaux that were closer to the river or on higher elevations were moderately or not affected at all.  Many value areas such as Entre-Deux-Mers, Fronsac, Franc on the right bank or Listrac and Moulis on the left bank were heavily affected and had minimal crops.

The grapes spared from the frost were of very good quality.  The frost burn may have affected the grapes in quite an interesting way because the ensuing wines are some of the ‘freshest’ Bordeaux that I have had the joy of tasting.  The good Chateau that didn’t see frost produced very high quality wines that are stunning now but will have an ability to age due to the deliciously fresh acidity found in the bottle.

In conclusion, the wines that you will have the opportunity to purchase will be of good quality although you may want to buy quickly as the small yield of the vintage means that the wines will not last long on the market.

Quick Tip:  Buy the whites early and often!  They are some of the best I’ve ever tasted in Bordeaux.

STIGMA

I fear many critics will claim this vintage to be a ‘lesser’ vintage due to the frost complications.  Using this excuse as a ‘catch all’ is dangerous as there were many Chateaux that produced spectacularly fresh wines of amazing vibrancy, beautiful structure, and fresh red fruits.  For example, Chateau Carbonnieux produced the best red and white that I have ever tasted from them.  While this vintage may not live up to 2015 & 2016 or 2009 & 2010, it is definitely up there in quality with the likes of 2014, 2008, and 2001.  Hopefully pricing will be as such….

WEATHER

A cold winter that was much drier than usual lasted until February.  There was an increase in temperature and rainfall from February on, which led to an early bud break.  Everything was shaping up quite nicely until April 27th through the 29th.  A devastating frost paralyzed the region with temperatures dropping down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.  Chateaux in the lower valleys and plains were severely affected while Chateaux near the moderating rivers or on the hillsides or plateaus were hardly touched.  Warm weather in May and June encouraged vigorous growth.  July and August were drier, enabling the tannins to properly ripen.  A substantial drop in temperature and slight rain in September helped preserve the freshness and acidity for the vintage.

SPEAKING ON FARMING AND WINEMAKING

I saw a continued trend in Bordeaux towards sustainable, organic, or biodynamic farming, whether it be one or all three.  There is a definitive trend towards ‘natural’ farming practices now more than ever.  Chateaux are also starting to shy away from the extracted wines of the past couple of decades in favor of ‘fresher’ wines with more elegance and purity of fruit.  One that definitely stood out for me were the wines produced by Claire Villars-Lurton of Chateau Ferriere and Haut-Bages Liberal.

A name that kept popping up as a consultant/Oenologist for top estates was Eric Boissenot.  He produces wines that show a sense of place (terroir).  He ‘gets out of the way’ of the wines and allows each individual estate to show off its unique terroir.  Boissenot’s style is taking Bordeaux by storm and is now overshadowing the likes of heavy handed winemakers such as Michel Rolland and Stephane Derenoncourt. That’s a good thing!

TOP 6 WINES OF THE VINTAGE

  1. Chateau Petrus 2017– 100% Merlot aged in 50% new oak based in Pomerol.  I knew this would be the top wine that I tried as soon as it touched my lips.  Jean-Claude Berrouet is a rock star in Pomerol producing over 40 vintages with Petrus as a feather in his cap.  This wine is extremely aromatic with floral notes of violets and wild red roses.  Flavors of wild berries, red cherries and raspberries flow seamlessly through this sensuous wine.  The wine has lightning rod precision of tannins and acids.  The mid palate shows more raspberry with a creamy texture followed by touches of cedar and cocoa dust.  The finish offers an array of red fruits that are flying on a magic carpet of deliciousness.  Notes of vanilla bean and fresh bitter herbs lick throughout the long, tantalizing end.  James Score: 100 Points
  2. Chateau Margaux 2017– 89% Cabernet Sauvignon/8% Merlot/2% Cabernet Franc/1% Petit Verdot aged in 100% new oak based in Margaux.  Round and pure red fruits of red cherry and currant explode on the palate with a seamless purity.  The mid palate offers darker tones of cassis and blueberry with concentrated oak structure.  The tannins are integrated with vibrant acidity.  Hints of tea, tobacco leaf, and cream wrap around beautifully sweet red raspberry on the finish.  I cannot find a flaw in this wine.  James Score: 98-100 Points
  3. Chateau Haut Brion Blanc 2017– 56.2% Sauvignon Blanc/43.8% Semillon aged in 39% new oak based in Pessac-Leognan. The 2017 whites are some of the best I have EVER tasted from Bordeaux.  Brilliant color to this wine! Citrus and grapefruit sinew deftly through the nose with fireworks of white flowers.  Flavors of lemon lime citrus, lemon custard and pear gush into the palate with hints of cactus.  The wine has zesty acidity that is softened by a creamy backbone.  The finish is unbelievable with notes of hazelnuts, almond, stony minerals and vanilla bean.  James Score: 98-99 Points
  4. Chateau Le Pin 2017– 100% Merlot aged in 100% new oak based in Pomerol.  Silky and seamless.  Plush red fruit that has a purity that is second to none.  Velvety flavors of red cherry and raspberry play into a touch of candied wild berry.  The mid palate offers medium plus tannins and acids that are balanced with a creamy core with licks of cocoa dust and gravel on the outer edges.  The finish is round and supple with notes of cedar, cracked nuts, wild herbs and tinges of tea.  WOW!  James Score: 98-100 Points
  5. Chateau Cheval Blanc– 56% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc/14% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100% new oak based in St. Emilion.  The Cabernet Franc really shows in this wine.  Flavors of black tea, bright red cherry, raspberry and currant follow through the palate.  The mid mouth feel shows medium plus tannins and acids that are encompassed by creamy, silky oak notes.  Great mid palate!  The finish offers cocoa dust and coffee.  James Score: 98-99 Points
  6. Chateau Rieussec Blanc Sauternes 2017– Our 1st appointment was at Lafite Rothschild and would give us a clue to how exceptional the white wines of this vintage would be.  Wild, fresh fruits of Bosc pear and melon immediately flow into flavors of crème brulee and creamy vanilla extract.  The mid palate shows medium plus acidity to give the wine a purity of balance and precision.  Beautiful tones of candied beeswax and buttered caramel popcorn give a hedonistic plushness with hints of lanolin and peach cobbler on the finish.  (The Dry ‘R’ Rieussec Blanc was also highly rated)  James Score: 98+

Thank you,

James C. Barlow, CWE,CSS

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