Bordeaux 2015: from the barrel


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

As the first day of tasting Bordeaux 2015 en primeur gets underway, Simon Staples considers the art of tasting wine from barrel and the new vintage’s potential.

New moleskin notebook? Check. Thesaurus with highlighted alternatives to the word “blackcurranty”? (Don’t bother looking, there aren’t any, I just checked.) No white shirts, tan chinos or ties (spittoon pile-ups often cause irreparable wardrobe meltdown)? Check. Constitution of a voracious velociraptor? Closer to that of a hungry hamster, but let’s get this party started anyway.

The first year I tried wines from barrel in Bordeaux was 1991. Not a particularly auspicious start and I have to fully admit that all the “guff” I was hearing from “seasoned tasters” made the whole experience seem like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Back then you were tasting from a few barrels of a château’s Merlots, then a few Cabernets and – if you were really unlucky – from their dense-as-a-black-hole, but not as pretty, Petit Verdot barrel. In serious and hushed tones I heard the old pros bumble on: “tannins like a teabag that’s stewed for a week”; “acidity that screams at you like an unripe lime”; “alcohol levels that would make Cooter’s Kentuckian Moonshine blush” and “absolutely no fruit whatsoever… bloody lovely, just like the 1925s at this stage!”

I exaggerate a smidge, but I couldn’t get my head or palate around these stark, unblended, unfinished wines. I couldn’t for years. It wasn’t until the 1996s that I thought I was onto something. I got it. It was all about those four component parts (tannin, fruit, alcohol and acidity) coming together seamlessly and sublimely; having the practice and ability to see how a wine should or would evolve, and now actually having the ability to look back at wines that I tasted years ago and seeing if I got it right. It’s so much easier now as virtually all properties show you the finished product, and the fact that Bordeaux is so much better.

As an example, I drank my first bottle of 2005 Domaine de Chevalier red last week in Tokyo, just to see what was going on with its evolution, having bought bottles, magnums and double magnums en primeur because I loved it. How was it? Like the perfect lunch at The Waterside Inn at Bray with Salma Hayek. Elegant, sophisticated and dreamlike. Utterly beguiling.

If the 2015s are as good as 2005 (or 2010) and at the right price, sell the family silver, a non-vital organ or two and your least favourite relative to fill your boots with it. I have a sense we may be on the eve of something very exciting and I for one can’t wait to try the wines. Oh and please, please, if you see headlines of “Bordeaux gets its prices wrong AGAIN” etc (which we will), do bear in mind it’s only a handful of properties who will mess this bit up (and we already know who those little tinkers are going to be). But, if this is as good as we hope, there will be 100-plus properties that will be great value. Please ask us for tips.

Read more about Bordeaux 2015 here.