Bored with Bordeaux wine? 2015 vintage could change all that

After some lacklustre harvests, the vineyards of south-west France are ripe for a comeback

In the world of Bordeaux wine, the new year is just about to begin, almost three months after it ended for everyone else. Everything suggests that 2015 will be a great year, maybe one of the greatest ever.

Excitement about the potential of the 2015 Bordeaux vintage – and wine made in several other parts of France last autumn – has been rising for months. In Bordeaux,  but also in Burgundy,  Champagne and the Rhône, conditions were close to  ideal last summer.

Hours of sunshine and average temperatures were the highest since records began – even higher than in “mythical” wine-growing years such as 1921 and 1947.

The proof will be in the first large-scale independent tastings of the “primeur”, or raw,  2015 Bordeaux in the next few weeks. The official primeur season starts in the first week in April but many of the most prized châteaux have invited wine experts and buyers from all over the word to advance tastings of the contents of their cuves (tanks) or barrels before the end of March.

“We think we have something very special but we are holding our tongues until the tasting begins,” said a family member at one of the most sought-after châteaux in the Médoc growing region. 

Denis Dubourdieu, professor of wine at the University of Bordeaux and one of the most successful Bordeaux winemakers, told The Independent: “I don’t think there can be any doubt. This will be an exceptional year, in line with memorable years like 2009 and 2005.

“Everything about the growing season last year was perfect. And from what I’ve seen at the wine-making stage and in the barrel later on,  this is going to be a wonderful vintage.”

Mr Dubourdieu says that  producing wine is like a horse-race with five meteorological “fences”. In 2015, he says, Bordeaux jumped all the hurdles with ease.

The vines flowered early in warm sunshine; the tiny grapes appeared in perfect dry weather; they turned purple in ideal conditions of slight drought in mid-July; they expanded and ripened in a warm, dry August with just a little rain; and they were picked in a dry autumn with cool nights. This is like getting all the numbers right in the lottery. 

There were excellent claret vintages in 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 and a reasonable year in 2012. In the past two years, to the annoyance of many people in the industry, Bordeaux has been criticised or faintly praised. There have also been complaints about the fact that the top châteaux kept their prices high, despite the apparent dip in quality. 

A great 2015 vintage would go some way towards quieting this outbreak of what the locals insist is unjustified “Bordeaux bashing”. 

The 2015 vintage of claret (red Bordeaux) will not be ready to drink for three or four years – and not for 10 years or more in the case of the leading and most expensive châteaux. The vintage’s reputation will be made, provisionally, by the scores given by the leading wine critics, and especially the great American wine guru, Robert Parker.

Some of the leading châteaux anger buyers by waiting for these scores before setting their prices. Up to 90 per cent of the produce of  the top châteaux is sold “en primeur” – still in barrels and years away from drinkable age – between April and June in the year after it is grown.

A great or very good vintage in 2015 – the fifth in  16 years – begs a question:  is global warming making exceptional Bordeaux years more common? 

“Certainly, it appears that way,” said Mr Dubourdieu. “There have been runs of good years in the past, such as in the 1940s. And we have had bad years recently, such as 2013. But overall there now seems to be a more favourable climate for making wine in Bordeaux.”

Bordeaux is on the cusp of the climate zone where red wine can be grown with consistent success. Some people fear that climate change will alter the character of Bordeaux, making it into a more predictable and a more powerful, but duller wine.

Mr Dubourdieu dismissed such fears. “I don’t see a problem,” he said. “Rain at the wrong times was always the biggest fear and a drier growing season will improve quality without necessarily reducing depth and subtlety.”

All the same, the long hot summer in south-western France last year is likely to produce a very powerful wine. Oliver Bernard, president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, said: “ The 2015 vintage will be more like a rugby player than a little girl. It will be a well-honed athlete.”

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