Bordeaux 2017: Vintage Report

A “great” vintage in Bordeaux is one where every wine, across every terroir, price point and prestige, is outstanding.

Bordeaux 2017 is not a great vintage, but there’s no question that there are laudable highlights, and some wines that push greatness.

Selection is paramount, and my job has been hard. But 2017’s successes offer exciting opportunities for Bordeaux lovers of all stripes.

This is a campaign to follow closely. There’s the potential for this to become a beloved vintage that rewards the region’s fans. It’s not a great vintage, but it’s a year with plenty to be excited about.

Building excitement for Bordeaux 2017

By Robbie Toothill | Buyer
April 2018

A Classic Vintage

While it's hard to generalise in 2017, it's certain that some wines are pushing, and have even broken, the boundaries of greatness.

To dismiss this vintage out of hand would be a grave error, and one that you will undoubtedly come to regret.

It’s a year that has produced charming reds, with a fascinating balance of fresh fruit, ripe tannins, and racy acidity. They are classic Bordeaux wines in the best sense possible, and will be beloved of anyone drawn time and time again to this corner of France.

And, too often overlooked, the whites are truly world-class, with some extremely high quality examples produced.

I’ve just returned from eight days in Bordeaux, tasting hundreds of different wines, carefully selecting those estates that have overperformed.

So let Lay & Wheeler be your guide to the vintage, and ensure that you benefit from the charms of 2017.

Ice and Fire

The story that dominates the 2017 vintage is the frost of the end of April. Over two nights, vineyards on both banks of the Gironde were decimated by frost. Importantly, nature spared many of the region’s greatest terroirs, including most of Pauillac, St-Estèphe and St-Julien, the Pomerol plateau, and the high points of St-Emilion.

Furthermore, while some wines suffered due to the frost, there are also some stunning wines made from sites that were affected.

A warm and homogenous flowering gave way to a hot June: I was in Bordeaux in the middle of the month, sweltering in over 40 degree heat.

Fortunately for the grapes, and for the people, the heat broke in July. Then, July and August proved cool and cloudy, but very dry. This has contributed to the flavour profile of the wines: with perfectly ripe tannins, they have also maintained a crunchiness to the fruit, with long, precise acidity.

Rain in September made choosing picking dates a challenge, but the harvest was safely in cellars by the end of September, or the very first days of October.

Talk about Terroir

When talking about Burgundy, the Rhône valley, or Piedmont, we immediately speak of terroir. But in Bordeaux we’re more inclined to talk about châteaux and cépage.

2017 is the year that we can change that discourse.

The profile of these wines allows them to show off their origins beautifully. Even with some atypical blends, it’s clear when a Margaux is from Margaux, a St Julien from St Julien, a Pomerol from Pomerol, or a Pauillac from Pauillac.

If you’re trying to understand what makes these communes the most prized places for wine in the world, and so individual, 2017 is the best place to start.

Wonderful Whites

For white wines, meanwhile, 2017 is a truly outstanding vintage.

That cool July and August allowed the development of complex flavours, while preserving racy acidity and stunning textures. At places like Château Margaux, the Pavillon Blanc is considered a great wine.

For Sauternes, too, where growers were spared by frost the results are stunning. Christian Seely of Suduiraut considers it a great vintage, in the line of 2001, 2011, and 2013. The wines are precise but with concentration and a true botrytis character: it’s a year to stock up on the sweets.

A Place in Your Cellar

Here’s why you should make room in your cellar for this historic vintage:

  1. The wines: The simple fact is that there are plenty of excellent, exciting wines here from complex, crystalline reds, to vibrant, intense whites.
  2. The prices: while this remains unknown, prices are rumoured to drop compared to the last two years. There are likely to be some wines that offer outstanding value for money.
  3. The availability: With areas hit by frost sometimes reduced by more than 50%, and châteaux releasing less and less wine en primeur, it’s certain that where prices are appealing, they won’t be seen again. For wines that will charm and impress, it’s time to stock up.