BORDEAUX 2015: A Great Vintage

Terroir Talks. Extraction Walks.

IS 2015 A GREAT VINTAGE? The short answer is “YES!” But that’s a bit simplistic so read on for the more complete (and slightly qualified – see box The Wines We Consider) but still resoundingly “YES!” answer.

BordeauxBox2015 offers charming, easy-to-like wines of balance and often elegance with forward, full-range red fruit and plenty of freshness. The fruit character on both sides of the river tends to red and dark red and darker red fruit with almost no black fruit. While I skipped tasting some of the most notorious extractors, I saw much more red color and much less purple-black in these lovely 2015 wines than in recent top vintages. Terroir (place) is a bigger part of the equation in 2015 than it has been in recent great vintages such as 2009 and 2010. Maybe this is a welcome pendulum swing as seemingly very few chateaux felt the need to overwhelm terroir with winemaking (extraction).

At the top level (which is where we’re focused), these are balanced, mostly elegant wines that are already delicious but have the acidity (freshness) to last and develop. While some say 2015 is a bit better on the right bank than the left, I don’t see that. For me, the quality is pretty even across both the Merlot-dominant and Cabernet-dominant wines. Some professionals have described the vintage as a cross of 2009 and 2010 with the charm of the former and some of the structure of the latter. Hmm. Maybe not so much. The wines of 2015 are less marked by an overriding vintage character (such as a uniform ripeness or a defining phenolic profile) and more marked by (or dependent on) their terroir than any recent great vintage. At its heart, this is a pretty vintage and in fact is the best pretty vintage in my experience. Already balanced and approachable, the best wines have the aging potential of the best wines of a 2010 or 2009, a 2005, or a 1995. Of course, the wines I recommend (see BORDEAUX 2015: Scores, Tech, and a little Commentary on page 22) are – within their price ranges – the best of the best. If you choose 2015s from within this suggested range, you will enjoy fine drinking for many years to come.

BORDEAUX 2015 TRAVELOGUE

BORDEAUX 2015 Scores, Tech and a little Commentary  

Click below for a .pdf of our Complete 2015 Bordeaux Coverage
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Click here for a .pdf of our current 2015 Bordeaux futures offer.
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Visiting and Tasting in Bordeaux
During each of the last twenty years, I’ve traveled to Bordeaux to take part in the Union des Grands Crus (UGC) En Premiere week. After almost forty years of working professionally with Bordeaux wines and twenty years of regularly visiting Bordeaux to taste and learn and buy, I know my way around the city and the region and the wines. Thinking back, I realize that with this, my twentieth UGC tasting in Bordeaux, and several other trips with customers, for training and certification as a Bordeaux educator, and for Vinexpo, I have now spent a full year over the last twenty years in Bordeaux. A year in Bordeaux. Twenty years in Bordeaux. Either way, it’s a major milestone. It makes me reflect back on the wines and the people and the places and what I’ve learned about Bordeaux with my size 9EEE western boots on the ground during the second half of my coming-up-on-forty-year wine career.

Seeing it Fresh
When I visit  Bordeaux, it’s good to have someone with me who’s never been there. On this trip, I had three of Spec’s wine guys: Richard Malphrus, Robert Boyd, and James Barlow. All are well-traveled, experienced, and have good-book-and-tasting-knowledge of Bordeaux but had never been there. Why is that good? Beyond that they are good company and gained invaluable boots-on-the-ground experience, I get to see it fresh through their eyes – and that keeps me from taking what I am seeing-doing-and-tasting for granted. I pay attention not just to the places and people and wines but also to how these accomplished if a bit wide-eyed wine professionals react and respond.

Making Sausage
While much of this trip is about evaluating the 2015s, some is about finding fine, mature wines to sell. Both parts are what everyone imagines and wishes they could be part of. In that regard, the guys I’m traveling with are living the dream. But another part of it is about the basic Bordeaux business which can be about as glamorous as watching sausage making. It has to be done and the results are worth the effort but the people so engaged would often rather be doing something else. While there’s not a lot of wine geek consumer interest in reading about a good-but-not-great, sub-$10 Bordeaux rouge or Entre Deux Mers, those wines still have to be tasted and evaluated and prices have to be negotiated. It helps to have a lot of experience but it also helps to have those fresh eyes mentioned above.

ChLatourTastingOn Tasting, Notes, and Scores
An acquaintance in Bordeaux (who is admittedly a bit of a dirty old man) once told me that “Tasting wine is like kissing girls. You remember the best and you remember the worst. For the rest you need a diary.” He went on to allow that many girls kiss differently each time you kiss ‘em. He had two points and both, however picturesquely expressed, are valid. 1) Without tasting notes, even great wines begin to run together … but there are wines that – for reasons both good and bad – transcend the need for a note. On the positive side of that equation, the first sips of both 1996 Ch. Margaux (in 1997) and 1999 Ch. Latour (in 2000) come readily to mind. No notes necessary. And 2) Wine changes. And young wines change a lot. Tasting notes are only a snap shot of a wine right in the moment when you’re tasting it. Freezing that moment in a note – like snapping a photograph – does not lock the living, evolving wine into place. The wine will change so some (much) of the sensory perception information in a tasting note is going out of date the moment the note is completed.

Whenever possible, I taste wines multiple times to get a more complete impression. But even for wines that I only taste once on a given trip, I have – over an-almost-forty-year-career tasting Bordeaux and twenty-years of going to Bordeaux to taste – a frame of reference of tasting wines from the same property(s) in other vintages, or at the least tasting lots of similar wines.

For me, notes are most valuable when technical data is included because that data – blend, place, notes about technique and aging – combines with a property’s track record to give me a more useful picture. Tasting notes are more useful for a longer period of time the more developed and stable a wine is. A tasting note on a wine that has moved into the range of bottle maturity may be a good indicator for several years – just as (at 57 years old) I am readily identifiable from a photograph taken five or even ten years ago. However, for very young wines, tasting notes are more a gauge of overall quality (that’s where the score comes in). What’s the identification value of a passport photo of a six-month-old baby after the child has turned four or five? (Is that really you? You look so young!)

When I taste, I’m most interested in the fruit and balance of the wine. The fruit has to be there from the start. Wines without enough acidity (proper balance) will not develop or even keep. The fruit should not be overwhelmed by winemaking. Color can be a good indicator. Redder wines taste fresher. More purple wines usually indicate more ripeness and extraction. Fine wines should taste of the grapes they are made from and the place those grapes were grown. Fruit, balance, place, and pizzazz are what make up a score and they are most often still there, even after the wine changes.