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The production of a second wine probably goes back to the beginning of the XVII century because it is inseparable from the search for excellence which started at that time. Sold under the name of “Château Margaux 2nd wine”, it took its permanent name of Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux in 1908. After an eclipse between the thirties and the mid-seventies, its production restarted on the arrival of André Mentzelopoulos in 1977 and at first greatly increased in order to improve the quality of the first wine. From the mid - 1990s, the creation of a third wine in its turn, allowed for a more and more rigorous selection for Pavillon Rouge. For a few years now, a third of the harvest has gone into the first wine, barely 30% into the Pavillon Rouge, and the remainder is divided between the third and fourth wines.
The quality of Pavillon Rouge has become very close to that of the first wine because all the plots involved contributed to the blending of Château Margaux not so long ago.
Such a sudden attack of Botrytis, a few days before the start of the harvest, hasn’t been seen for a long time. But even if the fungus hasn’t changed, our methods of dealing with it are certainly not the same as in the 70s! Nowadays, our larger teams of better trained harvesters are capable of sorting perfectly in record time, while in the cellars, the modern grape selection and processing equipment carry out work that was inconceivable ten years ago.
But alas, all these efforts don’t enable us to hasten the ripening of the grapes in the later Cabernet plots, nor to erase the effects of “millerandage” in the Merlots… The blending decisions have therefore been particularly severe for this vintage: the Pavillon Rouge only consists of 21 % of the harvest, whereas the third and especially the fourth wine make up 41%. It’s the lowest quantity of Pavillon Rouge ever produced…
The proportions of grape varieties show the strengths and weaknesses of the vintage: hardly 10% Merlot, which never recovered from its difficult flowering, and we never quite understood why; 84% Cabernet Sauvignon which once more demonstrated its remarkable adaptation to our terroirs; 4% Petit Verdot which we didn’t expect to be of such good quality; and lastly 2% Cabernet Franc which played its cards right in this complicated vintage.
At the cost of this drastic selection, the Pavillon Rouge 2013 has attained a surprising quality. Without doubt, fifteen years ago, it would have been included in the blending for the first wine.
2013 BORDEAUX VINTAGE REPORT
The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was one of the most challenging since 1965 and 1968. Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer describes it as “the most complicated vintage in 20 years”. It rained almost continuously during spring. Flowering was uneven resulting in poor set, millerandage and coulure. The threat of mildew was mollified by the arrival of hot dry weather during summer. For a while vignerons were hopeful that plentiful sunshine and benign weather would allow the vines to catch up. Violent storms, wind and intermittent heavy rainfall in July and August hampered vine growth and created difficulties with fruiting. High humidity and cool temperatures prior to harvest led to a slowdown in ripening and the perfect environment for botrytis (grey rot) infection. Merlot did not perform well on the left bank. Chateau Margaux certainly was vulnerable to these conditions, but others, in their efforts to talk up the vintage, have shown superb Gallic denial. You would be forgiven for believing this might be an exceptional vintage; such is the brilliance of the best professional liars in the world.
In years gone by, the weather conditions, uneven ripening and disease pressure would have resulted in disastrous wines. Chateau 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 Chateaux do not have this type of luxury. Sorting tables, were “derigeur” during the harvest, allowing the best berries to be selected. I can’t remember seeing any red wine with noticeable botrytis characters. The fruit, however, did not generally ripen to optimum levels. Many producers found it necessary to chaptalize their vinifications to allow the wine to reach a more attractive level of alcohol. Some Chateaux, including Cos d’Estournel at 12.7% alc, made their wines apparently without the addition of sugar. Most estates, however, found it difficult to achieve phenolic ripeness. Tannins are the framework of all red wines. They don’t have to be perfectly ripe; an “al-dente” texture can give a compelling freshness and appealing structure. But it was easy to over extract in 2013. The very best wines were those that were “unpushed” and intuitive to vintage conditions. The use of saignée (juice run off), reverse osmosis and other methods to concentrate wine, is never talked about by winemakers, but there were a few wines with soupy textures and unnatural mouthfeel.
Many of the 2013 primeurs wines have only been in barrel for a few weeks. This creates challenges because the oak characters can detract from the inherent quality of the young wines. Many Chateaux will no doubt adjust their oak maturation philosophies to match the character of the vintage. Others will use oak as a cosmetic or builders bog to fill the structural inadequacies of their wine. Acidity is also strongly present in the wines this year. This element is essential for the freshness, tension and life expectancy of any vintage. In riper years, acidity tends to play second fiddle, yet in 2013, it is a principal violin. Fruit character, perhaps the most important feature of any wine, inevitably varies according to sub region and vineyard. The very best wines of this vintage have the aromatic quality, persistence and depth of good vintages. Ultimately the most triumphant red wines are proportionate to the commitment and the financial resources of the wine producer.
Although Merlot struggled in the Medoc, it performed well on the right bank. Pomerol was comparatively resplendent with generous fruit and riper tannin backbones than elsewhere. St Emilion was also capable of making some lovely wine, but as usual the results were mixed. Pessac Leognan reds were muscular and on the rustic side, whereas the whites were minerally and fresh with strong acidities. Many feel that the 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 Medoc. However, no single sub region prevailed. If anything I preferred Pauillac, especially Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste and Chateau Batailley.
The humidity that hampered the 2013 harvest in the Medoc and elsewhere worked in favour of Sauternes and Barsac producers. 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 very best have a beautiful honey, barley water complexity, understated richness and viscosity and fresh acidity. Chateau d’Yquem is remarkably good. The biodynamic Chateau Climens is a beautiful expressive wine. Every year, I taste it in barrel and in parts. I can imagine the final blend and it will not disappoint.
The 20% drop in exchange rates between the Australian Dollar and the Euro over the last year will make the 2013 more expensive that the better 2012 and 2011 vintages. Unfortunately this will have a significant impact on market opportunities in Australia. It is unlikely the Chateau owners will drop their prices significantly enough to make this campaign worthwhile. The drop in demand from China and the “pipeline” full in other markets will result in 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 from the 2013 vintage. On the other hand this is the type of vintage, with a touch of bottle age, that could reappear in a more favourable light in a few years time.
by ANDREW CAILLARD MW