Next week, the movers and shakers of the global wine world will swoop down on Bordeaux for the region’s annual spring ritual of en primeur. Everyone is eager for a first taste of the 2015 vintage, still aging in barrel. After four years of average to fairly good vintages, the hype for this one is building.
Early whispers suggest that the wines have an elusive “wow” factor and that 2015 is the best vintage since the legendary 2009 and 2010.
Quality was so good at Chateau Cheval Blanc that for the first time since 1988 there aren’t enough barrels of lesser wine to make the second, cheaper bottling, Le Petit Cheval.
Like me, other journalists and merchants will hit the road in a few days, roaming from the Médoc to Graves to Saint-Émilion sipping and spitting barrel samples to decide how good they are, which ones might be worth buying as futures, and which will qualify as bargains. Many châteaux will put out the welcome mat for 1,000 to 1,500 tasters.
I have a sneak preview for you.
Five Top Wines
Last week in Bordeaux, I got a quick peek of the wines at five top châteaux, including first growth Château Latour, Château Palmer, and Château Pichon Longueville Baron. I was very impressed. The wines were positively velvety and had plenty of power, precision, and freshness. Even wines from such small, less-prestigious estates as Château Ducluzeau, owned by Bruno Borie of second growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, were delicious.
After I sample hundreds of wines next week, I’ll have a more complete picture and will report on my findings in detail. Already, I can safely say that 2015 is a vintage to be excited about.
Château owners are quietly enthusiastic about it, but they are not quite yet banging the gong. (Maybe they've finally discovered that calling every year “the vintage of the century” wears pretty thin.) Several I spoke with invoked the Rule of Five, which declares that vintages ending in five are destined for greatness. They offer as proof 2005, 1995, 1985, 1975, 1945, but they conveniently leave out 1965, which was truly awful.
Sadly, one key Bordelais won’t be commenting next week. Paul Pontallier, the director of first growth Chateau Margaux, died on March 28. When I saw him every year during the en primeur tastings, he was always impeccably dressed in a tweed jacket and pink tie. As he described the weather in top vintages, he would bounce up and down on his tiptoes to signal his enthusiasm.
2015 was blessed. The vines thrived amid a warm spring followed by a very dry and hot June and July, and they were saved by August rain and the return of sunny days and cool nights in late September. But according to Bordeaux merchant Bill Blatch: “For some properties, there was a great ending, while for others just a very good one.”