Vintage Charts, and 2013 Bordeaux

2013 is already being written about even though the grapes have barely finished fermenting.  We are some distance from the finished product, so calling the quality of the vintage in many cases is a little like speculating on the career prospects of a two-year-old.  But we do it nonetheless (and, of course, my two-year-old will be Prime Minister at thirty).

Bordeaux has the biggest PR machine and talk of 2013 Bordeaux will be first: indeed we’ve already had some gossip.  It’s also the region (Beaujolais Nouveau aside) to show its wine first so, just six months after the grapes are harvested, the verdict on wines that in many cases will want ten years or more to show their best, will be in.  Someone will mark the vintage out of ten (or 100) before the wines are even bottled.

Vintage variation has always fascinated me.  Non-wine people often ask what makes for vintage variation and the simple answer is very simple: the weather.  And the simple vintage chart will say: 2010 Bordeaux = brilliant and 2007 Bordeaux = iffy.  But that’s far too simple for me (even if I am a big fan of simplicity).

Amongst the many faults of vintage charts is their simplicity; they overlook the detail.  Style, for instance.  Rather than 2009 Bordeaux = 10/10 and 2004 Bordeaux = 7/10, how about 2009 Bordeaux = ripe, rich and seductive and 2004 Bordeaux = fresh, clean, on the austere side.  Rather than 2007 Bordeaux = 6/10 how about 2007 Bordeaux = on the light side, the best delicious now?

Furthermore, what about the particular successes within vintages?  Anyone who has tasted 1991 Ch. Palmer will attest to its non-1991 quality.  It’s delicious – still now.  And what about the properties that, through exceptional terroir, exceptional winemaking – or sometimes both – seem to be “vintage-proof” (e.g. Ch. Latour) or even “vintage-backward” (Denis Bachelet in Gevrey-Chambertin seems to do better in the difficult vintages than in the armchair ones)?

With the two aforementioned producers in mind, a simple rule that has always done well for me.  You will rarely go wrong, nor pay too much, for a wine from a brilliant producer in a tricky vintage – or at least a vintage that doesn’t feature at the top on your vintage chart.  I confess to a palate that leans away from fruitbombs but try the best 2008s from the Rhone, the best 2002 clarets, the best 2007 Burgundies.  I could go on.

Since I wrote this a month or so ago I’ve actually tasted some 2013 Bordeaux, courtesy of one of the region’s most talented – some would say genius – winemakers, Denis Durantou.  I’m not good enough to pass judgement on wines that have been in barrel for three days (though each barrel was clearly different, which was rather the point of the tasting) but Denis seemed confident.  Indeed very confident.  And – this is one reason why I like the man – he wasn’t trying to sell it.  There is something of the Dominique Lafon in Mr Durantou in that he talks of his wine as an entity that was born itself: he is just the guardian of its elevage, not its creator.

An eloquent appraisal of 2013 can be read here, courtesy of Christian Seely.  I’ve no doubt that 2013 Pichon-Baron will be good wine, wine far better than could be made ten years ago with similar challenges.  And, having re-tasted many 2011s recently, I think that these vintages – that is to say the “weak” ones – do have appeal.  A hint of austerity is what Bordeaux is all about, no?  If you want fruitbombs go to the colonies… where vintage variation, and therefore charts, don’t seem to matter so much.  And, for the most part, the wine isn’t as interesting, which for me is rather the point.  If Bordeaux really was boring (what idiot said that?), then we wouldn’t talk about it so much, would we?