Under the Weather
The cold, wet spring of 2013 and hail before the harvest made for terrible growing conditions in Bordeaux. Yet the region still managed to produce some wines that shine, writes James Suckling
hat has to be the toughest vintage in Bordeaux for two decades produced some superb dry and sweet wines, including such great Sauternes as Yquem, Rieussec and Suduiraut, and some excellent Pessac-léognan whites such as Haut-brion, Domaine de Chevalier and Pape- Clément.
I wish the same could be said for the reds, although I was not expecting 2013 to make many memorable ones. “Considering what happened, it’s a lot better than anyone thought,” says Stéphane Derenoncourt, one of the leading consulting oenologists in Bordeaux, who makes his own estate-produced wine, Domaine de l’a, in Côtes de Castillon.
I couldn’t agree more after tasting about 400 bottled wines in Bordeaux in late January. I rated more than half of them 90 points or above. I obviously tasted the best wines of the vintage because the majority of reds made in Bordeaux in 2013 were very weak. Many wineries did not bottle wines and sold them in bulk to merchants.
The growing conditions were terrible for most of 2013. It was too cold and wet in the spring and early summer. It was atypically cold in June. July and August were hot and sunny. But there was hail before the harvest in many parts, and then it was rainy for most of September and October. It was difficult to pick ripe grapes.
Yet the fact I rated about 200 outstanding reds in such a problematic vintage underlines the viticultural and winemaking prowess of the top wineries and oenologists of the region. It also shows the top estates have the economic means to make sacrifices to produce outstanding wines in a terrible vintage.
“I hate to think what 2013 would have been like 20 years ago,” says Jean-philippe Delmas, the technical director of Haut-brion and La Mission Haut-brion. He made a superb Haut-brion red in 2013, one of the best reds of my tasting. “We did everything we could to make the best wines. It was very costly.”
They certainly did pay the price in Bordeaux in 2013 to make outstanding wines. I remember what the vintage would have been like 20 or 30 years ago. I tasted them. They were vintages like 1992, 1987 and 1984. They made mean and green wines. I remember how many of the reds showed extremely herbal, grassy flavours and hard, metallic tannins.
The best 2013 reds are not like that. They are balanced, fresh and fruity wines for nearcurrent consumption. Some of the top wines could age 10 to 15 years with little problem, but I don’t have that in mind. Most of the top wines are drinkable now and will be for the next decade or so. Check jamessuckling.com to see the top-scoring 2013s.
The reds of the vintage remind me of a modern 1980, a vintage that was ready to drink on release and sold for a very reasonable price. It was the first vintage that I personally bought when I was working at Wine Spectator in San Francisco in 1983. I remember paying US$18 for a bottle of 1980 Latour and US$8 for Lynch-bages.
Of recent vintages compared to 2013, I still prefer 2012 reds, especially on the Right Bank. The wines have more fruit and ripeness. The 2011s are also better as they have lost some of their hard tannins and are delicious to drink now. Every vintage in recent memory before 2013 is better quality except 2002. That doesn’t mean I won’t buy any 2013 Bordeaux, especially the whites. The problem is that there are so many other attractive vintages of Bordeaux in the market, and the coming 2014 and 2015 are obviously of superior quality.