The Elephant in the Room

When we (and many other folks) came to Bordeaux the conversation was about frost. Beyond the bold figures that the community was putting on their overall losses, the real pain was seen in those who had to deliver the news that they were losing an entire harvest. Saying “a percentage is wiped out” is one thing, but when the proprietor of a small family-run estate tells you their wine will not exist this year is pretty devastating.

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But as we’ve travelled to the Left Bank. and have heard less and less about frost losses, there is a story that is being revealed about the season for those who survived the frost. Today we visited a chateau that told of the intense heat of the summer, and the refreshing and revitalizing rains that fell in September. But when tasting, the wine had us looking at each other for confirmation that we weren’t missing something. All of us agreed that this particular wine came up short, and, in quick order, it became apparent that it was the September rains that played a big part.

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In fact, the next property we visited, Calon Segur, dealt with the issue head-on. There was an immense concern at the chateau about the September rains that left them accountable for the shortcomings this might produce. And without much surprise...the wine was brilliant, had a bright and lively mid-palate, and showed a completeness that was absent in those who didn’t address this challenge so directly. Throughout the day, those that discussed the rains seemed to be more and more capable to handle Mother Nature's curveball.  

The issue with 2017s isn’t ripeness. Even though it was an early harvest, the wines had time in a warm summer to get to a level that allowed for a plush, deep, and inviting profile. Hearing “you could drink this now” is common this year since, the refinement of modern Bordeaux still allows accessible and delicious wines even without the wine being elite. But the difference in the vintage seems to be those that can take that to another level with detail and complexity, and in 2017, it often comes from the strangest places. La Gaffeliere, Pavie Decesse, and Duhart Milon aren’t names that tend to float a vintage, but they were wines that seem to have the right formula in this variable vintage. Perhaps another reason that it’ll be handy to have a friend at K&L in the know.

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Next, we’ll explore more of the northern Medoc and then get into Margaux. Some of the usual suspects are looming large in 2017 — Pichon Lalande, Montrose, and Pontet-Canet just to name a few.  Past that, Pessac and Graves are on the list, and then extended tastings that help verify that the true gems of the vintage are the real thing. We’ll be back to give a more comprehensive report on each region and the big winners shortly, but for now we have a short rest before we’re back on the trail...

- Ryan Moses

Ryan Moses