Some weeks ago, Danish-Swedish online wine dealer Winefinder staged an interesting Bordeaux tasting in Stockholm, featuring one half primeur wines of the 2014 vintage and one half “already bottled” wines. The lineup was basically two vintages per producer.
Since Bordeaux wines are generally raised in small oak barrels, the 2014 vintage still rests in barrels, so they are not yet ready for shipping or really finished wines. However, at this stage – almost a year after harvest – it’s possible to get a rather good impression of how the wines will turn out, but still a preliminary ones.
I thought I’d present a short summary impression of the 2014 vintage, and then we’ll see if I return to individual wines. I will mention that the best 2014 I tasted at this event was the 2014 Leoville-Poyferré, but that was all well and proper since it was also the most expensive wine. 🙂 I initially focussed on tasting the left bank reds, and after that turned my attention to the fewer white and sweet wines.
2014 is a quite good vintage! In my opinion, 2014 is the best vintage since 2010, which means that it overshines the trio 2011-2013. (The second best is 2012.) However, it is not as good as the stellar vintages 2010 or 2005, so it should probably be called a four-star vintage on a five-star scale. I’m far from alone in this assessment of 2014, and it seems that almost everyone who has tasted has come away with the same overall impression.
2014 is characterised by high ripeness and pure aromas in combination with a high level of acidity. The high ripeness come with a rather high level of alcohol, which isn’t too obvious thanks to the freshness provided by the acidity. This combination is a bit of a paradoxical mixture of hot and cold vintage characters, so I wouldn’t really call 2014 a “classical” vintage. Many producers have had a hard time to find an earlier vintage to compare to. I heard one of those present say that 2014 was like a combination of 2009 (in terms of the ripeness) and 2008 (in terms of the structure), but I don’t consider that comparison to be really spot-on. A blend of the somewhat hot-styled 2009 (which isn’t as “overheated” as the 2003) and the classical 2008 should end up closer to a “classical” Bordeaux than the 2014 does, in terms of style. In terms of quality, it might be a closer match.
This means that we’re somewhat in unchartered territory in estimating how the wines will behave. Assuming the high acidity will dominate the behaviour, we could have wines that “close down” rather early and will need a long time in the cellar to become accessible. Assuming the high ripeness and the “fruity character” will dominate the behaviour, we could have wines suitable for early drinking. Some producers leaned towards the latter option, i.e., wines that will be drinking well early on, but qualified this with “we’ll have to see”. So while there is much agreement on the quality of the vintage, estimating its “drinking curve” and cellaring potential is a bit more difficult at this stage.
My only previous encounter with the 2014 vintage was in the end of May, when I tasted Haut Brion and the other 2014s from Domaine Clarence Dillon. (At that Bordeaux visit, 2012 was the vintage in focus.) I have not yet blogged about that tasting. However, at this earlier occasion the level of acidity in the wines – in particular in the reds but also in the whites – felt a lot more prominent that they did now. In May, I felt that the red wines were quite hard to assess, but yesterday I didn’t have the same impression. So I’m quite curious how they will behave when they’re ready and bottled, in 1-1,5 years.
The first reports on the 2014 Sauternes wines in April talked about extreme levels of acidity that made the wines come across as almost “dry” (which should probably be taking as “semi-sweet” rather than sweet). This gave the wines favourable reviews since it resulted in an interesting balance, with slightly different gastronomic potential compared to the average vintage. At this occasion, I tasted three 2014 Sauternes at the end of the tasting, i.e., after having already put my palate to some serious work. To me, the level of acidity came across a high, but definitely not as extreme. I’d say the impression was similar to the 2010s. The question is if the same phenomenon I experienced at Haut Brion in May played in, i.e., that the wines in April somehow gave a more acidic impression than they do now. (The malolactic fermentation, which “softens” the acidity of the wines somewhat, happens before the April en primeur tasting, so it isn’t the explanation.) In any cased, based on only three samples, 2014 Sauternes came across as a very good but stylistically “regular” high acid vintage for this appellation.
The few dry white wines I tasted were also good, as they should when the acidity was high, but I had frankly expected the acidity and freshness to be even more prominent.
Is there a risk that the rather high level of alcohol in the wines come through as a less than ideally balanced wine, i.e. an overly alcoholic feeling? I think this risk is small, and probably only those who are on the alcohol-sensitive side among wine drinkers will be disturbed by this. If this happen, the risk should be greater for the Merlot-dominated wines of the right bank (which regularly end up at higher levels of alcohol than those of the left bank) and perhaps for the dry white wines. For the reds from the left bank, I think the risk is smaller.
Some words about en primeur in Bordeaux
The major en primeur tastings take place on location in Bordeaux in April and is a major event in the business. In particular the overall judgment and scores of Robert Parker omdömen from this event has had a great imfluence on the demand side of the en primeur market. However, as of this year (and therefore the 2014 vintage), Parker himself has stopped covering en primeur. The magazine founded by him, The Wine Advocate, still covers en primeur, but this year Neal Martin is the one who hands out the “Parker points”. (His taste is usually not quite the same as that of Robert Parker.)
A short time after the en primeur tastings, the wines are released for sale on the primary market at a price set by the château. In many countries, private customers can buy en primeur from national merchants, who has bought them from Bordeaux negociants. (In general, the high-end châteaux don’t deal directly with importers or foreign merchants.) In older times it was usually a good deal to buy en primeur, since the prices on the seconday market regularly increased. Over a number of years, high end Bordeaux wines became more and more expensive, at least partially driven by demand in the Asian market. A few years ago, prices started to drop, but more recently they seem to have leveled out and again increase slightly. After having achieved record prices for the excellent vintages 2009 and 2010, the producers were unwilling to lower the prices sufficiently for the following vintages, so the 2011-2013 vintages have definitely been sold at prices that are a bit high compared to their quality and the demand. (Since Bordeaux is not immune to laws of supply and demand, despite market arrangements which “buffer” demand, there’s now a significant amount of unsold wines of these vintages stil sitting in the cellars of many producers.) Also those customers that bought 2009 and 2010 in the secondary market have done so at a loss, compared to today’s prices.
It’s therefore not correct to claim that buying en primeur is always a good deal, and the period with great profits for the en primeur buyers was probably a historical parenthesis. However, there are some things that indicate that the 2014 vintage may be a better buy en primeur than the previous three vintages: it is a better vintage sold at about the same price as the previous ones, and the prices on the secondary market is no longer decreasing. So those that are keen on buying en primeur and are aware that the future price level for the vintage can go up as well as down, could very well try their chances with the 2014.