An­drew Jef­ford

‘Vin­tages and their sun­shine are ev­ery­thing in Bordeaux’

Decanter - - NEWS - An­drew Jef­ford is a Decanter contributing editor and the Louis Roed­erer In­ter­na­tional Colum­nist of 2016 for this and his ‘Jef­ford on Mon­day’ col­umn at­ford

Wine as liq­uid sun­shine? The idea ap­peals, es­pe­cially in the pit of a high-lat­i­tude win­ter. How, though, might we ‘taste’ sun­shine? isn’t it just a fancy way of de­scrib­ing the warm­ing ef­fect of al­co­hol on the tongue?

We don’t talk about ‘liq­uid sun­shine’ in a glass of chilled vodka or Trap­pist ale, nor in sancerre or Ch­ablis, though al­co­hol is present in each; ‘liq­uid sun­shine’ tends to mean red wine served af­ter dusk in fire­lit rooms by can­dle­light. Blood-like wine, in other words; wine to warm artery and vein.

The com­fort of this no­tion is psy­cho­log­i­cal and metaphor­i­cal. it’s a way of men­tally ap­pro­pri­at­ing the ease of sum­mer amid the rigours of win­ter – or respite amid dif­fi­cul­ties of all sorts.

is it a fea­ture of all red wines? Hardly. Those reds best served chilled dis­qual­ify them­selves, as do reds of the paler sort, or those from pinched vin­tages. The last point is an im­por­tant one, bear­ing on bal­ance. liq­uid sun­shine im­plies pal­pa­ble ripeness in a red: that’s how the metaphor is gauged.

all of this has been on my mind over the course of the last week, as i’ve been travelling in that re­gion where the ripeness of any par­tic­u­lar vin­tage is mea­sured more minutely and more in­tri­cately in the grain of a wine than in any other: Bordeaux.

Vin­tages and their sun­shine are ev­ery­thing in Bordeaux: just look at the moun­tain­ous price dif­fer­ences be­tween a sin­gle prop­erty’s 2010 and 2013 wines. That’s a stark ex­am­ple, but be­tween any two vin­tages in Bordeaux there is a play of dif­fer­ence, a pulse of pal­pa­ble ripeness, rarely matched else­where.

Over the last week, i have tasted and drunk Bordeaux reds from 1998, 2002, 2004 and then ev­ery vin­tage up to and in­clud­ing 2017. Yes, dif­fer­ences be­tween prop­er­ties, sites and lev­els of se­lec­tiv­ity and am­bi­tion are pri­mor­dial, but on this oc­ca­sion i have hon­estly en­joyed com­par­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween vin­tage styles al­most as much.

What i’m look­ing for on each oc­ca­sion is a core of as­sured ripeness in con­junc­tion with struc­ture and fruit pres­ence, ap­pro­pri­ately mod­u­lated (some­thing else Bordeaux does bet­ter than any other re­gion) by the wine’s evo­lu­tion since bot­tling: his­tor­i­cal sun­shine, if you like, danc­ing inside the bot­tle.

it’s there, of course, in the very good or great vin­tages: 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016. That goes with­out say­ing – but it is also true that, just now, the best wines of all of these vin­tages need longer in or­der to reach full ex­pres­sion.

More in­ter­est­ing, per­haps, are the bar­gain buys: those vin­tages whose liq­uid sun­shine was over­looked in their youth. Maybe the great­est ex­am­ple of such a vin­tage in this cen­tury so far was 2006 (both July and early septem­ber were warm and sunny): the source of much de­li­cious drink­ing. it hasn’t gone un­no­ticed, and the vin­tage is less com­mon on lo­cal restau­rant wine lists than it once was.

an­other vin­tage of this sort is the widely un­der­val­ued 2011 which, like 2006, was the prod­uct of a warm sum­mer on ag­gre­gate. The some­times stern tan­nins are eas­ing, and there is now huge plea­sure on of­fer from the best.

i also re­alise that i had un­der­es­ti­mated the best Bordeaux 2004s (Château Mar­gaux was sub­tly gor­geous – the sun at sun­set rather than mid­day – and Pi­chon Baron from mag­num full of ex­u­ber­ant charm) and 2007s (Châteaux l’eglise Clinet and Haut-Bailly were both to­tally con­vinc­ing and am­ply ripe).

You can find sun­shine in 2008, too, though its style is of­ten sterner than the easy­go­ing 2004s and 2007s. an in­ten­sive look at wines from 2014, by con­trast, left me strug­gling with green shades and acidi­ties, while clouds of­ten oc­clude the sun­shine inside 2012, too. and 2013? don’t bother. This is sparse win­ter light at best.

By the way, start stock­ing your war chest: it looks as if the 2018 vin­tage could flood cel­lars with liq­uid sun­shine when even­tu­ally bot­tled in a cou­ple of years’ time. ‘even the trel­lis posts,’ one pro­ducer told me, ‘will pro­duce good wine this year.’

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