I’ve always thought the 2014 Bordeaux vintage to be a bit of a sleeper, by which I mean it’s a vintage that lies a little under the radar. It’s not a shouty vintage, and it was released at a time when a few merchants had seemingly given up trying to sell Bordeaux.
I liked the wines from the start, probably more than others did. It struck me as a “proper” Bordeaux vintage, one where the elegance and class of this region’s inimitable wines could show their best. And, after three pretty miserable vintages in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (though some 2011s and 2012s are starting to show rather well), I got the feeling that the winemakers of Bordeaux had taken their foot of the gas a little in terms of extraction and, forgive me, “spoofulation”.
Last week I joined a score or so of the UK wine trade’s finest to taste through the top 240 wines of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage. The wines are tasted blind, and at a fair pace. The surroundings – Farr Vintners’ swanky offices on the Thames – are pretty much perfect for this, especially with their knack for organisation, which borders on the military. Wines are scored out of twenty, with group discussions following the reveal. Here’s what I thought:
These wines are frequently a little tough to taste. Indeed I have in the past considered that when I do my time in purgatory I will be blind tasting young St Emilion. In 2014 there was no such torture. It may well be the character of the vintage, though I think it more likely a toning-down of the winemaking in this real patchwork of a region.
The outright winner for me, and the group, was Tertre-Rôteboeuf. Lashings of flamboyant mocha and vanilla, and the tell-tale development of a Mitjavile wine: a ripeness that borders on decay. Canon followed – a totally different wine with tight, pure, focussed fruit. Tasting these wines blind throws up a few surprises, the main one being Quintus, which you’re not supposed to like, but which is rather good, if ambitiously priced.
These were a bit of a disappointment to be honest. I’ve long held the view that most Pomerol tastes the same outside the top ten or so châteaux, though in 2014 some of the top wines are a little samey too. Eglise-Clinet topped the group vote with my top pick – Gazin – coming in a close second. Looking back at my scores and notes, I’d personally take a case of Roc de Cambes ahead of all of them, though much of that is personal taste.
I struggled with these and was probably under-scoring by this stage. My pick of the bunch was Haut-Bailly, with Pape-Clement almost pipping it. The group, as it invariably does, picked Domaine de Chevalier as the winner with Smith-Haut-Lafitte a whisker behind it. As with the Pomerols, I was a little disappointed with these.
After St Emilion, Margaux is often the most challenging appellation to taste because, as with St Emilion, there is rarely any consistency. Ch. d’Issan and Pavillon Rouge were my winners here, just ahead of Palmer and Rauzan-Ségla, both of which, to be fair, gave the impression of more to come and I may well have underscored them a little.
This is where things started to get interesting. The group picked Cos, Montrose and Calon in that order, followed by Meyney, which has a habit of performing well at these tastings. This has to be a value pick, along with an excellent Phelan-Ségur, and a wine that has become a yearly must-buy: Capbern.
This is always, always the most consistent appellation in Bordeaux. Léoville-Barton was the group favourite, followed by Poyferré, which was mine. Langoa was a cigarette paper behind them, and I confess to thinking it was Lascases when I tasted it, such was its solid precision. No wine disappointed in this flight, and you can buy 2014 St Julien blind. A case of the aforementioned Langoa will set you back less than £400, which looks an attractive buy to me.
St Julien may well be the most consistent, but Pauillac is where my heart is. It’s the Vosne of Bordeaux, and I love it. And I can, sometimes, nail them all blind. Sometimes. But things change.
Pontet-Canet used to be the easiest of the lot to spot on account of its tasting like New World Grenache, though it has started to taste like Pauillac again. On the other hand, Lynch-Bages used to be the epitome of Pauillac and, whilst it’s not pushing the boundaries of reason in the way that Pontet-Canet has done, it doesn’t taste like Pauillac to me any more, or at least not like Lynch-Bages. Maybe I got it wrong, because the group had Lynch at the top.
My Pauillac picks are Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pichon-Lalande and Pichon-Baron. All three are absolutely stonking. GPL (which I initially thought was Lalande) has a sylph-like elegance that is hard to catch or describe. Pichon-Lalande is glossier than it has been in the past, and is impossibly well put together (I thought it was Baron, which maybe shows how it has come on under Mr Glumineau). Baron was equally impressive, and unmistakeably Baron, which rather threw my previous guesses out of the window. All three are grand vin.
The Big Boys
I write these up separately as they are in a different world. Not necessarily of quality, but certainly of price. Perspective: a case of 2014 Pétrus, which I scored highest over the two days of tasting, will set you back at least twenty grand before duty and VAT. Bananas. Le Pin isn’t far behind. For the price of a case of either wine you could have a case each of Roc de Cambes and Tertre-Rôteboeuf, my car, a week in the Caribbean, a Rolex and probably some left over to boot. And – this is closer to the point – just who is buying these wines? People who are going to drink them? I wonder.
That notwithstanding, Mouton led the left bank first growths, with Latour just behind. I rated Mission top, and rather liked Angélus too. Margaux was, disastrously, corked.
In terms of ranking I put 2014 ahead of 2008 & 2006, and reckon it could turn out to be like 2001: wines for the decanter and for the table rather than wines for showing off with. It’s not going to match any of the great vintages of this century, but for those that like good, elegant and “proper” claret, the wines are a success, particularly in St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe. There is no great need to go and fill your boots with this vintage but these are the wines that I would buy from 2014:
Feeling flush: the two Pichons and Tertre-Rôteboeuf.
Feeling moderately flush: GPL, Roc de Cambes.
Have a few quid spare: Capbern, the second wines of the two Pichons, Phélan-Ségur.
Oh. The whites. Maybe later.