And so, once more, to Aquitaine.
The first thing to note is that 2017 is a mixed vintage, although better than general perceptions before the tastings. Where wines are good they are excellent and, in some cases, verging on exceptional. This is not the case across the board however. The problems with spring frosts have been well-documented and some Châteaux have bottled no wine at all, while others have atypical blends. While not necessarily a bad thing in itself, it has in some cases led to wines that lack harmony and balance. Decisions on whether or not to include second generation fruit have perhaps impacted on quality although in certain quarters the decisions and rationale are opaque. Winemaking styles and appropriate treatment for the character of fruit brought in are also a factor, although in recent years the trend has been towards less ‘recipe’ winemaking and more sensitive fruit handling. This can only be a good thing so overwrought examples are rarer than a few years ago.
The Médoc, especially St Julien and Pauillac, fared well, in particular where vineyards are close to the Gironde. The influence of the water moderated temperatures enough that frost damage was mostly escaped and a healthy crop brought in. Elsewhere the picture was more, well, mixed. The Margaux lack a bit of concentration as a whole, but the better wines are extremely pretty. The white Pessacs are excellent, the reds extremely variable.
A wide variation of wine quality and yield can be also found on the other side of the Gironde in St-Émilion and Pomerol. There are some fabulous wines here, with the better efforts displaying the structure and energy of a top vintage. This is not the full picture; although the overall trend in recent years is towards more harmonious and terroir reflective wines, there are still some producers who have pushed things too far resulting in awkward and clumsy 2017s. Others were hit by the frosts and struggled to get enough ripe fruit in.
Sauternes are excellent. The onset of botrytis was homogenous and consistent, and the wines retain enough acidity to balance them.
Overall a curious vintage then. There was a lovely freshness to many of the wines from barrel and some big names should be approachable young, while retaining their capacity to age due to their balanced profiles. There are also some sterner efforts which will require patience. Overall tannins are ripe and supple but there can be an absence of the mid-palate presence seen in truly great years.
It is, however, a vintage with which to be selective. Quality is not even everywhere, and pricing remains the great unknown. If a wine is offered at a better price than a physical vintage of comparable quality then it’s certainly an attractive proposition. If this balance is reversed then a collector would need a very compelling reason to buy the 2017 – the requirement for a large format perhaps, or the completion of a vertical. The exchange rate could be painful for UK buyers, and as is ever the case in a vintage that follows one of the greats, the temptation for the Châteaux to price too highly will be impossible for some to resist. This apprehension about pricing may lead to a cagey and drawn-out campaign, but, where the prices work and the wines are succesful, this is a vintage that certainly merits a place in your cellar.
We won’t be offering every wine released, and in some cases allocations will be extremely tight so please let us know if there are any wines in particular you’d like us to contact you about. We are also here to answer any specific questions you have around the vintage and the market so please don’t hesitate to give us a call if you’d like to talk through the 2017s in more detail.
And so, once more, to Aquitaine.