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BORDEAUX 2013 VINTAGE REPORT
The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was one of the most difficult since 1965 and 1968. Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer describes it as “the most complicated vintage in 20 years”. It rained almost continuously in the spring. Flowering was uneven, leading to poor set, millerandage and coulure. The threat of mold was alleviated by the arrival of warm, dry weather during the summer. For a while, winemakers hoped that abundant sunshine and mild weather would allow the vines to catch up. Severe storms, winds and intermittent heavy rains in July and August hampered vine growth and created fruiting difficulties. High humidity and cool temperatures before harvest led to slow ripening and the ideal environment for botrytis (gray rot) infection. Merlot did not perform well on the left bank. Château Margaux was certainly vulnerable to these conditions, but others, in their efforts to talk about the vintage, displayed superb Gallic denial. You would be forgiven for thinking this could be an exceptional vintage; Such is the genius of the world's best professional liars.
In years past, weather conditions, uneven ripening and disease pressure would have resulted in disastrous wines. Château Margaux avoided the worst rains by bringing in a picking team of 300 people to harvest the crop at lightning speed. Chateau Lafite also raced against the elements and won. Most castles don't have this type of luxury. The sorting tables were “drilled” during the harvest, allowing the best berries to be selected. I don't remember seeing red wine with visible botrytis characters. The fruit, however, has generally not ripened to optimal levels. Many producers have found it necessary to chaptalize their vinification to allow the wine to reach a more attractive alcohol level. Some châteaux, including Cos d’Estournel at 12.7% alc, produced their wines apparently without adding sugar. Most areas, however, have struggled to reach phenolic maturity. Tannins are the fabric of all red wines. They don't need to be perfectly ripe; An “al-dente” texture can provide convincing freshness and an attractive structure. But it was easy to extract too much in 2013. The best wines were those that were “unpushed” and intuitive to the conditions of the vintage. The use of saignée (juice runoff), reverse osmosis, and other methods to concentrate wine, is never discussed by winemakers, but there were some wines with soupy textures and a silky feel. unnatural mouth.
Many 2013 primeur wines have only been in barrel for a few weeks. This creates challenges because oak characters can detract from the inherent quality of young wines. Many châteaux will undoubtedly adjust their oak maturation philosophies to match the character of the vintage. Others will use oak as a cosmetic or construction bog to make up for structural inadequacies in their wine. Acidity is also strongly present in the wines this year. This element is essential for the freshness, tension and lifespan of any vintage. In more mature years, acidity tends to play second fiddle, but in 2013, it's first fiddle. Fruit character, perhaps the most important characteristic of any wine, inevitably varies by subregion and vineyard. The best wines of this vintage have the aromatic quality, persistence and depth of good vintages. Ultimately, the most triumphant red wines are proportional to the commitment and financial resources of the wine producer.
Although Merlot struggled in the Médoc, it performed well on the Right Bank. The Pomerol was relatively resplendent with generous fruit and tannin backbones that were riper than elsewhere. St Emilion was also capable of making good wine, but as usual the results were mixed. The reds from Pessac Léognan were muscular and rustic, while the whites were mineral and fresh with strong acidities. Many think that dry whites are excellent. For most Australians, these wines don't really offer value. There were some good Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant red wines made in the Médoc. However, no subregion prevailed. If anything I preferred Pauillac, especially Château Grand Puy Lacoste and Château Batailley.
The humidity which hampered the 2013 harvest in the Médoc and elsewhere worked in favor of the producers of Sauternes and Barsac. There was a “widespread proliferation” of botrytis cinerea (noble rot) during Bordeaux’s wet autumn. The wines range from magnificent to standard in quality. The best ones have beautiful honey, barley water complexity, understated richness and viscosity, and fresh acidity. Château d’Yquem is remarkably good. The biodynamic Château Climens is a beautiful, expressive wine. Every year, I taste it in barrels and in pieces. I can imagine the final blend and it will not disappoint.
The 20% drop in Australian dollar to euro exchange rates over the past year will make the 2013 more expensive than the best vintages 2012 and 2011. Unfortunately, this will have a significant impact on market opportunities in Australia . It is unlikely that the castle owners will lower their prices enough to make this campaign worthwhile. Falling demand from China and a full pipeline to other markets will lead to sluggish sales across the world. Although this year's primeur campaign will test the resilience of the traditional Bordeaux wine trade, there is still an impressive level of optimism. I think everyone is looking forward to moving on after the 2013 vintage. On the other hand, it's the type of vintage, with a hint of bottle age, that could re-emerge in a more favorable light in a few years.
by ANDREW CAILLARD MW