When we travel to Bordeaux to taste the new en primeur vintage, we are always filled with a sense of expectation. However hard one tries not to pre-judge the vintage, it is nearly impossible not to do so; rumour and speculation are rife as soon as the harvest draws to a close, and this normally gathers momentum as the week of the en primeur tasting approaches.
For the 2008 vintage, it would be fair to say that our trepidation perhaps outweighed our expectation. The normally vocal Bordeaux-PR-machine was relatively quiet, whereas UK journalists were highlighting the cold spring and changeable summer that had been experienced by the region. However, any unspoken-fears proved unjustified, and we are pleased to report that – while far from homogenous – the 2008 vintage is in fact a good vintage, with some extremely notable successes.
Bordeaux 2008 in Summary
“Certainly the quality is so high that these wines will ultimately sell, whether they are pre-sold in barrel, or eventually sold in the bottle. Bordeaux lovers and serious wine consumers throughout the world will adore the vintage’s finest wines. That’s a given.”
Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate.
The vintage conditions
2008 was a trying vintage, due to the varied weather conditions throughout the growing season. A cold spring brought about difficulties for fruit-set, causing coulure, which served to reduce the yield, and the cool weather continued into the summer. June and July were dry, although cooler than average, and August was remembered most for its cloudy skies. The weather finally lifted in the middle of September, and wonderful conditions persisted until the end of October. Many harvests were concluded by mid-October, substantially later than normal, but picking continued until the end of the month.
Ripeness was hard-won, and the fact that the vines were not over-endowed with fruit meant that their efforts could be devoted to ripening a smaller crop. Additionally, fine conditions continuing until the end of October allowed the grapes to ripen slowly. This benefited not only the sugar accumulation, but also, perhaps more significantly, the tannins in the stems, skins and pips. The ripening period was steady, even and drawn out, leading to fresh wines (on account of the cooler temperatures), with silky fine tannins (because of the long ripening period).
This is a vintage of elegant wines, which are not without substance; a fact which came as a very pleasant surprise to the châteaux owners and professional tasters alike. Even those who had voiced their preconceived ideas before tasting the wines, were forced to reconsider; some, who had not seen fit to travel to Bordeaux this year, were forced to book last-minute flights - especially as influential American wine-critic, Robert Parker, let slip a few words of encouragement concerning the quality he had found.
As wine-making techniques and viticultural practices continue to be refined and improved, it has become increasingly difficult to draw comparisons between older and more recent vintages. Some growers did, however, draw comparisons to classic-styled vintages such as 2004, 2006, and even 2001 in some instances. While the comparisons are there, the best of the 2008s are – in our opinion – more generous and luscious that the wines of either 2004 or 2006. Other growers mentioned the 1988 vintage, in which the wines also benefited from good, fresh acidity and fine tannins, as well as a lush, attractive fruit quality.
There are some unquestionably very good and, in several instances, truly outstanding wines from both sides of the Gironde. Generally, Left Bank Cabernets relished the sunny conditions of early October, which also saw Cabernet Franc gaining optimum ripeness in St-Emilion – provided growers bided their time and didn’t rush pickers to the vineyards. July’s fine weather ensured that Pomerol’s Merlots were ripe by the last few days of September, although most serious properties waited a further week to ten days before harvesting.
Stylistically, the finest wines display deep colours, rich, generous aromas and pure, seamless palates. By and large, they are mid-term wines, but the relatively high acidity and structure found in the stars of the vintage ensure considerable ageing potential. There is no doubting the quality of the First Growths and châteaux such as Cos d’Estournel (wonderfully complex), Ducru-Beaucaillou (the epitome of sophistication) and Pichon-Longueville (powerful, yet sumptuous) in the Médoc. Meanwhile Pomerol’s L’Evangile and L’Eglise Clinet are both beautifully pure and vibrant, whilst in St-Emilion the winemakers at Canon and Trottevieille have eschewed heavy-handed high-extraction to produce evocative, streamlined wines that will age effortlessly.
As for the white wines, the dry whites of the Graves are vibrant and pristine. The Sauternais properties suffered particularly badly from the climatic conditions. Frost, hail and a damp August each contributed to a tiny harvest.
The low fruit yields, brought about by somewhat inclement spring weather, were in-fact a blessing in the cool summer that followed. The protracted growing season allowed the relatively small number of grapes to slowly achieve full ripeness by the end of the fabulous Indian Summer that marked late September and October. The result was an unusually long and steady ripening period, allowing the pure fruit aromatics to be developed, while maintaining a fresh acidity.
The top properties, which we have selected for you in this offer, were thus able to produce wines of pure fruit, vibrant freshness and a fine-grained tannin structure that will age gracefully and should prove excellent additions to any cellar.
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