When it comes to the fragile balance of the French wine grapegrowing landscape, there’s a real Mother Nature touch to each year. The 2017 vintage proved to be a challenging one for Bordeaux, unlike the blockbuster ‘15 followed by a decent ‘16, this is stamped with mixed reviews.
Last week, the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux celebrated the 2017 vintage as part of their annual United States tour. I attended the San Francisco stop where I came across a number of friends and trusted palates in the wine industry.
A few hundred distributors, importers, suppliers, buyers and media attended the popular event.
Some 143 estates gathered to share the ‘17 bounties or, in some cases, lack of abundance.
The growing season began with a tragic, but not rare or surprising, frost late April that devastated some producers. Discussing with various producers there was a strong variance on damaged sustained. Some wineries lost up to 90 percent of the crop during this devastating event while other producers made it out with now loss as is the case of producers located in Pauillac, St-Julien and St-Estèphe who were aided by the Gironde river to prevent frost.
The reminder of the growing season was marked by a rather dry couple months in July and August while June and September saw a big dose of rainfall.
“I was surprised by the quality of the wines for a difficult vintage,” said winemaker and Bordeaux connoisseur Aaron Pott. “We had all been told that the wines of the left bank were better than the wines of the right bank in the Vintage. I found the exact opposite, the wines of the right bank were expressive and drinking nicely and the wines Of the left bank seemed green and singular.”
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Long-time Bay Area fixture and proprietor at Weimax Wine & Spirits, Gerald Weisl said, “Having numerous years of experience as a Bordeaux aficionado, I have a good idea of what to expect from most of these wineries. Some estates exceeded my expectations. Reading great reviews for some producers, I wonder if the prominent critics are shown barrel samples which are a bit different from the wine that is actually bottled and offered for sale”
Overall, I saw a ‘light’ style of wine throughout the tasting, especially from areas that I tend to lean to like Pomerol, which usually delivers tension and complexity, this year was a bit lacking.
Margaux had some stars gifted with layers and muscular tones that made them stand above. 12th century Château Prieriué-Lichine with only 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and a good dose of Merlot delivered a red fruited feminine wine. Also from Margaux and flexing muscle was Château Cantenac Brown driven by rustic earthy notes, leather, funk and bold tannins.
Also with a strong showing Saint Julien showed substance, power and structure. Château Léoville Poyferré stood out. The château, established in 1840 and owned by the Cuvalier family, offered a tridimensional experience with black fruit, elevated florals, graphite and a heavy fist of tannin.
Another area that brought the goods on my book was Saint Émilion, Château Cannon stealing the show with a mystical richness full of black tea, incense and finesse driven by spice and black fruit.
Overall consensus laid in the dry white wines of Graves and the sweet wines of Sauternes. On the white realm some of the standouts from the tasting included Château Carbonieu which magically seems to consistently deliver a mountain of lemon-lime citrus cuddled by honey, graham cracker and a sharp and mouthwatering finish. Another wine characterized by balance and a memorable delivery was Château Smith Haut Lafite, which delivered a tropical festival with tension and a zippy long finish.
On the sweet side, two great examples that differ in style creating a tale of two wines. Château Suduiraut bringing cooked pineapple and guava on the nose joined by a hint of clove on the palate while Château Rieussec brought stamina, electricity and a sharp Meyer lemon like tone rounded by honeysuckle and an uplifted finish.
Undeniably under the tariff cloud that hasn’t been resolved there is a feeling of uncertainty. “I love going every year great vintage and sad about the USA Tariffs. All those magnificent wines and I tasted every Margaux and all the Sauternes. Many will not be able to afford them unless we act and win!,” Tim McDonald from Wine Spoken Here said.
Overall a delivery of wines that proved to be a polarizing snapshot of a vintage that was redeemed by Bordeaux’s gift to blend and use their winemaking skills.
Eduardo can be reached at email@example.com.