Bordeaux’s Goldilocks Year
The 2014 vintage is balanced in style and in price
Bordeaux has traveled a bumpy road in recent years. Following the classic duo of 2009 and 2010, the region saw a run of three vintages that trended downward in quality, culminating with 2013, an especially difficult harvest. But now comes 2014, which delivers outstanding wines—and at prices that look to be very attractive for U.S. buyers.
Overall the 2014 reds are more than solid, showing pure expressions of fruit and terroir. In addition, the dry whites and the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes are exceptional. When it comes to 2014 Bordeaux, it’s the right vintage at the right time.
My initial report on 2014 (“A Goldilocks Vintage,” June 30, 2015), based on my barrel tastings, recognized the year’s outstanding potential. Having now reviewed more than 675 bottled 2014s in blind tastings—conducted in Wine Spectator‘s New York office and in Bordeaux—I rate the vintage 93 points for Left Bank reds and 91 points for Right Bank reds. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all 2014 Bordeaux tasted is available.)
The reds show a profile that plays right down the middle, neither too hot nor too cold, neither too big nor too lean. Though not a classic vins de garde year, the best wines will certainly develop well over the next two decades. The whites, often overshadowed, deserve close attention as well, in both dry and late-harvest versions. I give the vintage an overall rating of 96 points for the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes.
For reds, the vintage’s strong suit is in the upper Médoc appellations of St.-Julien, Pauillac and St.-Estèphe. On the Right Bank, the cluster of châteaus situated on the limestone plateau of St.-Emilion are the standouts. Of the more than 550 2014 reds in this report, 20 earn classic ratings of 95 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, while an additional 167 receive outstanding ratings of 90 to 94 points.
Leading the way is a trio of perennial stars, with the Château Cheval-Blanc St.-Emilion 2014 (97 points, $485), Château Latour Pauillac 2014 (97, $NA) and Château Le Pin Pomerol 2014 (97, $1,800) earning top honors. Providing stiff competition, all at 96 points, are the Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2014 ($323), La Mondotte St.-Emilion 2014 ($149), Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 2014 ($338), Château Pavie St.-Emilion 2014 ($245) and Vieux Château Certan Pomerol 2014 ($167).
GROWING SEASON & HARVEST
Following a cold winter that allowed the vines to sufficiently rest, the 2014 growing season got off on the right foot, with a very wet spring that replenished the water table while spurring growth. The spring was mild, enabling an even flowering and good crop set.
The middle of the season proved to be more difficult. July and August saw showers and humidity, along with cooler temperatures and a lack of sun, leading to rampant canopy growth, some disease pressure and delayed veraison.
Yet Bordeaux is France’s largest AOC, with 250,000 acres of vines, so the region’s weather pattern is not homogeneous. Consequently the season’s rainfall was not evenly dispersed. In general, the Left Bank saw half the rain totals of the Right Bank, giving it an early edge. In addition, the rain totals tended to decrease farther up into the Médoc, with the Left Bank’s gravel soils providing needed drainage as well.
On the Right Bank, where the rains were heavier, clay soils were hamstrung by the excessive moisture, and Merlot struggled as the season headed into August. The favored areas on the Right Bank were those with limestone subsoils (atop the plateau of St.-Emilion), as well as some spots with more gravel.
“I got here and said, wow, this is not what I expected,” says Nicolas Audebert, who took over at both Château Canon in St.-Emilion and Château Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux in June 2014. Audebert had been working at Cheval des Andes in Argentina, and he was admittedly taken aback when he saw Bordeaux’s rains midseason. “I mean, I’m coming from the desert in Argentina to a lot of rain. And by August there was no veraison. I had to ask the chef de culture, ‘Is this normal?'”
But at the end of August the weather turned, with Mother Nature providing a long spell of warm, dry days through September and mid-October. The Indian summer dissipated the disease pressure, particularly where canopy management had been conscientious. As the late-running season stretched on, it was the region’s later-ripening grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon mainly, along with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—that received the most benefit. With harvest in the upper Médoc running well into October, these key varieties were able to soak up enough sun to compensate for the time lost during the cool and gray weather of July and August.
Yields were lower as a result. “After the spring we had a good crop set, but we wound up losing a lot of juice during the Indian summer, which was very hot,” says Véronique Dausse, director of Château Phélan Ségur in St.-Estèphe. “So while the maturation finally progressed well, it was not a generous vintage in the end. We started harvest on Sept. 29 with the pickers in sunglasses and T-shirts, which I’ve never seen before. And in the end, the wine has the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon ever for us—64 percent—as Cabernet was really favored during the late-running weather.”
THE RIGHT BANK
The Right Bank saw a similar weather pattern as the Left Bank in 2014, yet the rainfall was generally heavier during the wet period, and the Right Bank’s preponderance of clay soils did not drain as well. In addition, the Right Bank’s reliance on Merlot led to further challenges, since this early-ripening variety did not have enough time to recover—despite the spate of good weather at the end of the season—unlike the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank.
“On Aug. 25, we were really concerned, but then, boom, it was absolutely perfect from there on—an ideal Indian summer,” says Édouard Moueix, who along with his father, Christian, manages a cluster of Right Bank estates that includes châteaus Trotanoy, La Fleur-Pétrus and Bélair-Monange. “The problem for Pomerol was that it was just three to four weeks of great weather at the end, as opposed to St.-Emilion, which saw four to five weeks, as opposed to the upper Médoc, which saw five to six weeks. At a certain point the Merlot had to be picked, while the Cabernets really got the time they needed.”
Nonetheless, the Right Bank has more than a handful of excellent wines in 2014. In particular, the top wines from St.-Emilion show the strength of limestone soils in the vintage, as they were able to shrug off the midseason rains and provide a perfect base for the vines to ripen through the Indian summer.
The Château Bélair-Monange St.-Emilion 2014 (95, $130) is the best vintage yet for this recently formed estate, combining the former Bélair and Magdelaine vineyards. The neighboring Clos Fourtet St.-Emilion 2014 (95, $74) and Château Canon St.-Emilion 2014 (94, $59) offer textbook displays of cassis fruit laced with a subtle perfume and threads of chalk, relying on purity and definition rather than the overextraction that still plagues much of the appellation. The Château Beau-Séjour Bécot St.-Emilion 2014 (93, $51), Château Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2014 (93, $54) and Château Trotte Vieille St.-Emilion 2014 (92, $66) are savvy buys.
“The key points of the growing season were the homogeneous start and flowering, and then getting summer in September and October for ripe fruit. And it turns out the cool and wet summer helped maintain fresh aromatics,” says Cyrille Thienpont, who works with his father, Nicolas, to manage a handful of Right Bank châteaus, including Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarosse and Larcis Ducasse. Among the several estates also owned by the Thienponts, Château La Prade offers fine value this year with its Francs Côtes de Bordeaux 2014 (90, $15).
In Pomerol, the best wines are on par with 2012, and in general it’s a solid vintage for the appellation, but there is a bit more inconsistency overall. Châteaus situated on gravel are where consumers should key in. In addition to Le Pin and Vieux Château Certan, the highlights are Moueix’s Château Trotanoy Pomerol 2014 (95, $208) and Denis Durantou’s Château L’Église Clinet Pomerol 2014 (94, $182), along with Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2014 (94, $125) and Château La Grave à Pomerol Pomerol 2014 (92, $42).
Value plays on the Right Bank include Durantou’s satellite estates, with his Château Montlandrie Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2014 (91, $18) and Château Les Cruzelles Lalande-de-Pomerol 2014 (90, $23) showing the ripe raspberry and boysenberry fruit flavors that are this winemaker’s calling card.
When the 2014 vintage was released en primeur (for sale as futures while the wines are still in barrel), the dollar was running at about 1.14 to the euro. In addition, prices on the ’14s generally saw only modest increases over the ’13 and ’12 vintages, both years decidedly lower in quality.
Since then, the remaining stocks of wines have typically seen increases of 10 percent to 20 percent from négociants, yet today the dollar stands at 1.06:1 to the euro, helping to offset any rise in prices. The result is that 2014 is a buyer’s vintage. Yields did run lower in 2014, however, so some alacrity is needed on the part of consumers who wish to secure any remaining bottles of the top wines.
With the excellent 2015 and 2016 vintages lining up behind 2014, Bordeaux is primed for an excellent run. Expect demand for the two more recent vintages to exceed that of 2014, which will likely lead to higher prices. All the more reason why 2014 should not be overlooked. The quality is there, and the price is still square.
Senior editor James Molesworth is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Bordeaux.
For the complete Bordeaux tasting report, including scores and prices for Left Bank reds and more, read the full article, “Bordeaux’s Middle Ground,” in our online magazine archives.