IG Wines 2013 Highlights:
Bordeaux 2013 is probably the most difficult vintage in the last decade. The growing season and harvest was marked by extremely challenging weather; this has resulted in a heterogeneous output. Chateaux with great terroir, who respected the grapes by not over extracting and who practised strict selections, produced grapes which achieved good ripeness and balanced acidity. These represent lovely perfumed, fragrant wines that resonate with violets, rose, cedar and smoke, with uplifting bright acidity, delightful bramble fruits, blackcurrants, redcurrants, strawberry fruit flavours, good body and lovely minerality. Conversely chateaux who gave into the temptation of trying to extract tannin and fruit that was not there consequently made thin wines with green tannin. The former proved that Bordeaux can make outstanding wines in a very difficult year, by massively reducing their Grand Cru crop and employing draconian methods. Conversely, the consequence of the terrible weather and strict selection is that yields are the smallest seen in Bordeaux for decades, resulting in a lot less wine being released to the market.
This variation between chateaux means there are some very good wines to collect and many disappointing ones: one cannot take a broad view of the 2013 vintage! Merlot in particular suffered on the left bank, leading to a much higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Primogenially, Pichon Lalande made a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon blend, while Chateau Margaux, known for its fragrant Merlot, excluded it completely; instead opting for 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot.
Axiomatically, a difficult vintage for reds has resulted in a very good, potentially exceptional vintage for the whites, in particular Sauternes, which are magnificent in 2013. The Sauternes display an outstanding concentration, freshness of fruit and terrific clear botrytised flavours. Sauternes in 2013 surpass 2007 and 2011 and could rival 2001; Yquem certainly transcends all red wines in this vintage. The dry white from Graves and Pessac Leognan follow suit, combining fragrance, balance and fruit concentration. 2013 is a year to fill the cellar with white Bordeaux.
A snapshot of the weather and communes
The start of the 2013 growing season was one of the coldest and wettest vintages in 40 years. April saw varied weather and as a result bud break was late. May experienced unprecedented cold and wet weather, while deluge in June created problems with uneven flowering. July was hot and dry and most growers began fervently green harvesting, hopeful that the weather would dry out the vines. Instead heat spikes in combination with moisture (dream conditions for Sauternes) created anxiety regarding potential vine rot. July 26th saw the worst storm in the Medoc since 1999, followed by a hail storm on August 2nd. However, broadly speaking July and August were warm and sunny and this helped convalesce grape ripeness and health. Finally, rain returned intermittently in September and October, leading estates to hurry harvesting. The grapes that arrived in the winery had none of the ripeness and effortless health that was seen in 2009 and 2010. Many winemakers remarked that if it were not for the huge improvement in viticulture and technology, 2013 would have been a disaster. It is also noteworthy that some producers chose to chaptalise (adding sugar prior to fermentation to increase alcohol) in 2013, something that was routine in the 90s, yet uncommon in recent years.
On the left bank, Merlot was picked first – which is commonplace – but yields are minute. Growers began picking Cabernet Sauvignon in the first week of October. It is noteworthy that the right bank – particularly Pomerol – traditionally picked before the Medoc. This did not happen in 2013, where the risk of botrytis led to uniform picking. Exceptionally, several chateaux in Sauternes, delighted with the development of Noble rot, started picking at the same time as the Medoc and right bank reds. This is extremely rare and reinforces our view that Sauternes has produced a magical vintage.
Merlot on the right bank was aided by the limestone and clay soils and the earlier ripening potential inland. The leading Pomerol chateaux have good density of fruit, fine tannin and lovely fragrance. This fragrance is a theme within this vintage, noticeable in particular in Margaux and Pessac Leognan. If you like fragrant wines that do not require decades to mature then 2013 offers much. It will be drinking, displaying lovely aromas and developed in 4-5 years.
2013 is conflicting commercially. Several leading chateaux practiced strict selection reducing their production by 50%, some with a yield of 15 hectolitres per hectare. To put this into perspective, the extraordinary scoring 2010 vintage saw harvesting at 45-50 hectolitres per hectare among leading estates. These chateaux produced wines worth buying in 2013 and we will deal with each on release, making our recommendations clear throughout the campaign. Yet with yields the smallest since the early 70s, chateaux are unlikely to reduce their prices significantly on 2012, particularly those that sacrificed potential revenue to produce something worthwhile and appealing once bottled. 2013 is the most challenging vintage in a decade, particularly when compared to 2009 and 2010. We enjoyed tasting the vintage and learning where the quality lies among the estates, and we look forward to sharing these thoughts over the next month.