Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2013

Posted by Michael Edwards

Have winemakers’ heroics saved the day for Bordeaux reds after an année horrible? Michael Edwards tastes the evidence

Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2013

St. Emilion’s silky full-bodied reds, Graves’ tempting aromatics and glasses of Medoc with classy finishes help define the sophisticated reds that won their Grand Cru appellation way back in 1855.

Recently growing world-wide demand had sent prices soaring. For the price of a case of the 2010 vintage you could have flown to Bordeaux instead. Stayed in an elegant hotel for a weekend break and dined in style: calling in at one of the Palladian or Neo-Classical wine chateaux, on the sunny banks of the Garonne, to enjoy a glass of Pomerol on its home turf.

Then came 2013: long cold spring, June deluge, brutally hot burning July and a damp autumn challenging the skills of the winemaker. Conditions that produced great dry white wines but were tricky for reds.

 “A good vintage for reds,” pronounced Oliver Bernard, Chair of the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux, perhaps a little optimistically.

Grape yields were lower but more pickers were required. On some estates every bunch was inspected. One vineyard was so selective that just 21% of their harvest was used for wine.

When Robert Parker, wine’s version of the man-from-Del-Monte, delayed his visit to Bordeaux for the ‘en primeur’ first tasting from the barrel it was like the Pope postponing Easter Mass. Hopes and prices fell.

It was a record year ... for mould, Parker quipped. Industry cynics feared a robust Ribena plonk to go with the midweek SpagBol rather than a velvety grand cru to complement beef entrecôte fine dining.

If Hollywood ever makes the Summer of ’13 it will be an epic rescue story with the magnificent Bordeaux backdrop. Heroic winemakers, applying the science of the laboratories to their love of their wines, had to overcome both nature’s malevolence and the scepticism of wine writers.

“We had to spend longer in the fields, tasting and tasting,” said Bernard of a year when many winemakers spent more time with their vines than their wives. Some vineyards held their nerve and were still picking into November.

“Not an easy vintage. Precision was required. The fruit was not strong enough to mask errors. Winemakers had to know their fruit,” Bernard continued.  

So two years on when the glasses-bottles-spittoons-road-show came to town, otherwise known as the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux wine-tasting, the scrutiny was intense. London’s Royal Opera House was the first date on a programme crossing continents.

“This is normally such an easy gig,” one wine merchant confided. He paused: holding his glass to the light for a little longer than is customary and saw a Pomerol a shade lighter than usual.

“It was a disastrous summer, back in 2013, but nowadays the winemakers are so skilled that they can make a decent vintage from almost anything. Some of the wines have been lacking in fruit but there are some very good deals out there. This year I’m just going to have to work a little harder to find them,” he concluded.

End of term marks from Decanter magazine and wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd were down on previous vintages resulting in more affordable Bordeaux prices than for many a year. Research into these reports is worthwhile if you are thinking of a case or two of Bordeaux. But the 2013 vintage is for drinking now or in the near future. Not for “laying down” or investment.

“You have to be ugly to successfully taste wine,” commented one lady wine technologist. “No lip-stick, no make-up, no perfume, nothing that will disrupt your palette or your nose. This is a challenging tasting and some of the men are letting the side-down. They are wearing aftershave.”

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