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

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life Wine -

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.

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