Bordeaux 2014: The importance of an Indian Summer


photo (1)

Following his second day in the region, Jonathan White remarks upon the unlikely character of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage, a combination of freshness and fruit; the gift of an Indian Summer.

Vintage variation is one of the fundamental reasons why many of us love wine and, indeed, the wines of Bordeaux. In an age where research and technology help the winemaker choose optimum sites to plant vines, when to harvest grapes and measure the levels of various components during the fermentation process (not to mention the skill and experience of the talented winemakers themselves), it is hard for a château to produce a poor wine.

It is, however, the weather which really dictates whether a vintage will be regarded as a qualified success or not; thus it was intriguing yesterday to hear that the ‘Indian Summer’ during September and October really saved the vintage in 2014. Some days during these months recording the highest average temperatures of the past 20 years. Following a wet spring and poor August temperatures, many had – until September – feared the worst.

On Monday we were told that Merlot had not been particularly successful at most Left Bank properties. So we were looking forward to our trip to the Right Bank, which presented us with an opportunity to sample the success of Merlot-dominant wines. The weather made it hard for the Merlot to produce optimum levels of sugar and in many cases the grapes were smaller than usual. It was a cold year too, so the wines are high in acidity, but fortunately they are fruity and well balanced too.

Jean-Michel Laporte (Ch. la Conseillante) told us that he sought to focus on freshness in his Merlot, as they couldn’t make big wines like those on the Left Bank. He said that they found it hard to get power in the wines at La Conseillante as nature didn’t give it to them. He sees some similarity in the 2014s with the wines of 2006.

La Conseillante and Ch. Figeac have their own unique terroir and you get a real sense of place with these wines in good vintages; both are really strong this year. Looking through my tasting notes, I have likened both to Grand Cru Burgundy in some respects. The Figeac in particular has a delicious, focused, blackberry-compôte flavour.

Ch. Ausone is another 2014 which demonstrates a sense of place, their gravelly soils adding hints of earthiness and minerality to the wine. It was another favourite of ours today, although it has to be said that the wines were very consistent across the board, as they were yesterday, as we took in other great estates in St Emilion and Pomerol such as Le Pin, Vieux Château Certan, Ch. Petrus, Ch. Cheval Blanc, the wines of Moueix, and the other wines from the Ch. Ausone stable.

Each Bordeaux vintage is different and, while you may typically find some stylistic consistencies from properties in recent times, it is the subtle changes in characteristics of each wine that provide the intrigue and excitement. Many of the 2014s are approachable now: they will age well of course, but early drinking is certainly an attractive option. This is quite different to other years, where wines either appear to be built for the short or long term.

The ripe, fleshy fruit, finesse, elegance and focus we are finding in the wines is in stark contrast to recent vintages where wines showing this favourable style and flavour were few and far between. Let’s just hope that the quality of the vintage – in addition to how well it is being received by those lucky enough to taste the wines en primeur this week and next – doesn’t encourage the châteaux to price their wines inappropriately. It is no use to anyone if these very good wines are priced out of the market and not offered for customers’ enjoyment.

Follow our team’s progress during their week in Bordeaux: they will be posting updates on the blogInstagramTwitter and Facebook.