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2017 Vintage - En Primeur Report

In the second week of April a 12-strong Farr Vintners team made the annual trip to taste the latest vintage of Bordeaux from barrel. After assessing hundreds of samples, tasting several wines multiple times and speaking directly to producers and winemakers in every appellation, we now have a firm grip on the style and potential of the wines in the 2017 vintage.

What is clear is that, overall, we have a good vintage but not a great one. In the heart of Pauillac and the plateau of Pomerol, the two best performing appellations, there are some very good wines indeed. Names such as Pichon Lalande, Lynch Bages, L'Eglise Clinet and Vieux Château Certan are particularly successful. If prices are down on the previous two vintages – which they certainly should be – there should be some interesting wines worth purchasing in 2017.

This is a year for those who prefer their claret at 13 degrees alcohol rather than 15, and who like balance, structure and freshness rather than opulence and power. The best are ripe, compact and vibrant wines of finesse and elegance. The samples were very easy to taste from barrel, with remarkably soft and well-integrated tannins, bright and expressive fruits, and a universal cool ripeness (there were few, if any, green/under-ripe notes in the samples shown).

It is hard to compare this vintage to previous years, but it is certainly not a blockbuster like 2016, 2010 or 2009. Nor is it a fleshy, ripe year like 2015. The tannins make the wines softer and more approachable than 2014s, but they have higher acidity than the charming, easy-going 2012s.

Many growers say that their wines resemble a hypothetical blend of 2014 and 2015 and some of those with long memories compare it to 2001 and even 1988.

The dry whites – always successful in vintages with good acidity – were picked at the end of August and seem to be particularly fine. The sweet wines of Sauternes seem well-balanced, lively and harmonious, though some yields are perilously low.

 

The Weather

The winter of 2016/2017 was mild and, as a result, the growing season started much earlier than normal. Bud-burst was in late March, well in advance of normal. An early start can potentially lead to a long “hang time” for the fruit and ultimately a great vintage - as was seen in the early budding of the 1990 and 2009 vintages. Unfortunately in mid-April, when the shoots were up to 30 cm long, frost struck hard and late (as it had in 1991) with sub-zero temperatures across the region.

Fortunately those vineyards near to the Gironde estuary in the Médoc were protected by their proximity to water, but those further inland – especially in Haut Médoc, Moulis and Listrac – suffered badly. The Pessac-Léognan region had mixed results with almost total wipe-out at de Fieuzal but nothing at Haut Brion, thanks to being located in the warmer suburbs of the city. On the right bank those on the plateau of Pomerol and the slopes and plateau of Saint Emilion were mainly untouched but vineyards lower down, in the Dordogne valley, were very badly damaged.

Consequently there will be no wine produced in 2017 at vineyards such as Mauvesin Barton, Villa Bel-Air, de Fieuzal, Fonbel and Climens. Production is reduced at many properties but the châteaux of St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe were largely untouched – except in the cooler vineyards further from the water that are usually used for second wines.

The summer was generally dry, but not hot, with July and August temperatures below the average. Consequently the harvest started early with grapes that were ripe but still with good acidity levels. Overall, this growing season has created reds that are fully ripe but cool with alcohol levels well down on 2016 and 2015.

The excellent vintage report from our friend Bill Blatch (an Englishman who has lived and worked in Bordeaux for 40 years) can be found on Jancis Robinson’s website here and the annual Lynch Bages weather report from the Cazes Family can be found here

Reviews

As we write, the first report from a critic has been published by James Suckling. He writes that the top wines are somewhere between 2014 and 2015 in quality but his scores are impressive with just about every wine listed rated in the 90s. His top wines of the vintage can be found here. We will be adding the scores and tasting notes of other critics as they become available.

The Farr Vintners UK team were all in Bordeaux for this year’s tastings. As well as visits to individual châteaux across the region, we also participated in huge comparative tastings where we were able to try hundreds of samples against their peers. This meant that there were several wines that we tasted two or three times during the week. Apart from a couple of wines that we were unable to try, all the wines that we will be offering for sale have been tasted by the whole UK team. You can read our tasting notes (with a score out of 20) by clicking on the wine in question in this section of our web site. Our top wines of the vintage and best value recommendations can be found here. You can also see photos from our trip here.

We were accompanied, as ever, by Master of Wine Derek Smedley who has tasted every Bordeaux vintage en primeur since 1961. Derek is a human encyclopaedia of Bordeaux wines and was able to give us unique insight into the quality of the vintage in comparison with those that have gone before. His initial comparison is that this is a vintage of similar quality to 1988 but better handled in the wineries thanks to much more advanced wine-making skills and selection processes. Quality-wise it could be compared to 2001 even if it is stylistically somewhat different. Derek’s notes and scores will be available to view on our website once published.

We hope that all the wines we are listing will be released en primeur between late April and early July 2018 - though Vinexpo in Hong Kong and numerous French bank holidays in May might slow it down. Yquem will be released in September 2019 and the three wines from Château Latour will not be released until they consider them ready to drink.

Also in the en primeur section is our “What’s New” page which will list all the recent releases, a “Latest News” page that we will update daily with our thoughts on each release and a photo gallery from our trip. If this is your first time buying en primeur, there is also an explanation as to how the system works and how to order using our “Pre-order” and “Wish-list” system.