When I first started this drabble, I made a simple rule: no negativity. If I had nothing positive to say about something then I wouldn’t write about it. Which leaves me in a bit of a pickle with these 2013 clarets.
One of Bordeaux’s good guys, the late Paul Pontallier, once said: “we don’t make bad vintages in Bordeaux any more”. Talking specifically on the 2013 vintage he said: “in the old days we wouldn’t have even tried to make something”. Wise words, which serve to remind us that to completely denigrate an entire vintage is, in a way, to denigrate those that put an awful lot of effort into making something palatable from the weakest of raw materials.
Continuing, he made this analogy: that, with modern techniques and with the cash that some of the Bordelais are able to invest in their wines, vintages could be rescued in the same way that modern medicine can help those that, in past times, it could not. 2013 was a hospital case, but they had the hospital. To his credit, 2013 Ch. Margaux and Pavillon Rouge are two of the successes of this vintage, though “success” has to be taken in a relative sense.
Last week I tasted 160 wines, blind, from the 2013 Bordeaux vintage in the company of what I believe to be the best tasting panel there is – the Southwold group. In theory this should provide some good meat for a few articles but – and here’s the relevant long and short of it – what I really don’t want to write about, what I’m struggling to find words for, are the wines. But here’s a go:
Of the 160 wines tasted last week I scored just one wine (Mouton) 17.5 and one (Cheval Blanc) 17. Both of these will set you back more than £300 a bottle retail. I scored a further ten wines 16 or more. The bad bit is that I scored 62 wines less than 14, and 14 is what you get for turning up, being in a bottle, and not spitting on the carpet. Some of these carpet-spitters will set you back a few hundred pounds for a case.
What to make of all this?
The wines of Bordeaux are consistently the best in the World. Yes, we all love Burgundy and the telephone line to God that it will occasionally provide but, take reliability and consistency into account and Bordeaux is king. But not in this vintage. Some of these wines will come round in the next couple of years to make decent, albeit rather pricey, bistro claret. At 35,000 feet, where I’d wager a good proportion of them will be drunk, they may show better than they did at sea level (or not far off). And tricky vintages (1997, 2007) do have a habit of providing decent drinking once the miasma of negativity that surrounds them has dissolved.
And, let’s not forget, that the makers of these wines were given a sow’s ear with which to make a silk purse. None of them pulled it off but a few made a decent fist of it.
More to follow, maybe, on this tasting. In the meantime I thank those that did all the work, those that sorted all the samples, and Farr Vintners for hosting us. 2014 should be more fun. And if this piece is a bit short, a bit mean, lacks something in the middle, finishes badly and isn’t quite of the quality that you might have hoped for then apologies, but it fits the subject matter.