This vintage will certainly go down as the Year of the Frost, as Bordeaux experienced the most devastating spring frost since 1991. The story, however, begins nearly a month prior. The closing days of March and the first week of April saw unseasonably warm temperatures, with highs hitting 20°C. As a result, bud break started 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. This can be a boon, as it extends the ripening season, but it also exposes the buds to potential frost. And that is exactly what happened, with nearly 80% of vineyards impacted and total production reduced by 40%-50%. Fortunately, the great terroirs and vineyards positioned near the Estuary or on the slopes and plateaus were not significantly impacted, and so most grand cru classé wines saw minimal damage and were able to deliver 80-90% of their normal production. It’s important to understand that in circumstances where new growth is killed by a frost, the vine itself is not typically affected. It continues to grow and will produce a second generation of new growth. However, instead of being 2-3 weeks early, this new growth is now two weeks behind in the growing season.
Perhaps the defining weather event of the vintage, at least for the top wines, was the unremarkable summer. July and August were slightly cooler than average with less sunny days and drier-than-normal conditions. With September came much-needed rain along with periods of dry, sunny weather. The Merlot harvest on the Left Bank seemed to have been adversely affected by the rain, but Right Bank Merlots were not. The reverse was true for the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc. The harvest on the Left Bank seemed fine, while the harvest on the Right Bank suffered.
For the top châteaux, the growing season was long and warm enough for the grapes to achieve full ripeness. The wines have vibrant fruit flavours with balanced acidity and ripe tannins. Undoubtedly the lack of sun in the middle of the year has had an impact on the concentration. This is a very drinkable vintage but one that needs to be shopped carefully. It was important for the châteaux not to try to extract more than the vintage had to offer.
This vintage cannot be defined by varietal or region. The challenges and blessings of the weather applied across all of Bordeaux. I tasted excellent examples of both Right and Left Bank wines. If any generalization could be made, it is that top terroirs over-delivered in spite of the vintage challenges, while less prominent terroirs tended to struggle. But even this is by no means a rule.
At their best, the 2017s are balanced and ripe, and should put on more weight with time in barrel. I suspect that, as with the 2014s, everyone will be pleasantly surprised by how well the wines show after bottling. In the end, this vintage will be a pleasure to drink through most of its life, but without the power that has, perhaps unfairly, come to define recent great Bordeaux vintages.
April 23 – Returning from en primeur tastings, our buyer Paul Farrell is quite positive about the quality of the wines he tasted and curious to see how the campaign will play out. His full report will be published here on May 3.
The week following en primeur, offers from the petits châteaux started coming in—not necessarily an indicator of an early campaign. But then first thing today, to everyone’s surprise, Palmer and Alter Ego released their offer, followed by Coutet. Palmer’s allocations are down by 20%. Will others follow suit? Will this be a super-fast campaign? We shall see.
Some reviewers have published their notes and scores. Here is what some are saying about the vintage:
“Most of the top wine estates of Bordeaux made some outstanding quality wines that will deliver beautiful drinking for years ahead.” —James Suckling, jamessuckling.com, April 3, 2018
“… [T]his is the kind of vintage where you will find some over-performing wines that should price within the overall context of a ‘challenging year’.” —Jane Anson, decanter.com, April 12, 2018
“This is not a Left Bank or Right Bank vintage, but there were some key successes. Pauillac, St- Julien and St-Estèphe have seen some excellent wines ... The pocket of Pessac Léognan near to the city avoided the frost and had enough heat in the summer to fully ripen the grapes—I found some of my favourite wines here, among them the Haut-Brion stables and its neighbour Carmes Haut-Brion. St-Emilion and Pomerol have also produced some excellent 2017s.” —Jane Anson, decanter.com, April 12, 2018
The 2017 vintage is being referred to as The Year of the Frost. An unseasonably warm first half of April started things off early, then in the final days of the month came a devastating frost—the impact of which, for those most severely affected, will influence supply for years. This was the region’s smallest crop in decades.
Eighty percent of top wines from 150 leading châteaux were not impacted by frost. This is because vineyards in the best terroirs have all the advantages needed to produce great wine under difficult circumstances. The vintage looks particularly promising for the key appellations of Pauillac, St-Estèphe and St-Julien. At the top end, there should be reasonable volumes and good to very good quality.
|A.M.||Arrive in Bordeaux||UGC Tasting||Ch. d’Issan, Ch. Margaux, Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Ch. Pontet-Canet, Ch. Mouton Rothschild, Ch. Lafite||Ch. Tour Saint Christophe, Ch. Pavie Macquin, Ch. La Confession, Ch. Angelus, Ch. Canon, Ch. Ausone, Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière||Nathaniel Johnston office tasting, Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Ch. Haut-Bailly, Ch. Haut-Brion, Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion||Joanne Futures Tasting/recap of vintage|
|P.M.||Ulysses Cazabonne tasting/introduction to the vintage. Ch. Kirwan visit.||Moueix and Petrus||Ch. Calon Ségur, Ch. Montrose, Ch. Cos d’Estournel, Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou, Ch. Léoville Las Cases, Ch. Latour||Ch. Figeac, Ch. Cheval Blanc (+ d'Yquem), Vieux Chateau Certan, Ch. La Conseillante, Ch. l’Evangile, Ch. Nenin, Ch. Clinet, Ch. L'Eglise-Clinet, Ch. Le Gay||Review and formalize impressions||Fly home|
Category Manager, European Wines, Vintages
Paul and the Vintages buying team evaluate 25,000 wines per year, bringing approximately 5,000 of these to the market. Paul has been with the LCBO and Vintages since 2001, first as a Product Consultant in stores, next as a writer for its website and catalogues, and, since 2008, as a buyer. Currently he oversees all European wine purchases for Vintages. He holds a WSET diploma and is recognized as one of the top product experts at the LCBO.