With the holiday season and the year’s end nearly upon us, there is plenty of ‘drinking thinking’ to be done. Have you chosen the wine for this year’s Christmas dinner yet? Which special bottle of fizz are you planning on opening on New Year’s Eve? And, in either case, why stick to just one bottle? These festivities are always more fun with a range of wines to choose from.
While pondering potential answers to these questions I also have one eye on next year; not because I plan to make any New Year’s Resolutions (I resolved to give those up a long time ago, the first resolution I made that I successfully adhered to) but I am certainly planning ahead to some 2015 tastings, in particular my 2014 vintage reports. I focus on two regions above all others, and I will be visiting the Loire Valley in February to see how the year went in Sancerre, Savennières and the region’s 70-plus other appellations, followed by Bordeaux in April, for the 2014 primeurs tastings.
In the wine trade every year is an important year, just as it is in every other business I suppose. But for Bordeaux there are extra expectations riding on 2014, because the Bordelais have had such a tough time of it recently. After the successes of 2009 and 2010, two vintages very different in style but both of really high quality, the 2011 and 2012 vintages were much more challenging, and although many decent wines were made there was no way they could match up to the quality of the preceding two vintages. And then along came 2013, which some in Bordeaux described as the worst vintage in thirty years (meaning we have to go back to the washout of 1984 to find anything comparable). The young in Bordeaux, for whom 1984 is pre-history, simply regarded it as the worst vintage ever. It’s hardly surprising that everyone is looking for something more with 2014; more substance and joy in the wines, more points from influential wine critics, and no doubt more sales too.
You can never predict with any accuracy the quality or style of an individual wine from the weather, although there is a very broad association if you look across the entire growing season, and the entire spectrum of Bordeaux. There was crazy weather in 2011, a late and wet harvest in 2012, and 2013 was a washout plain and simple. So what about 2014? Well, although the summer weather was variable, sunny at times but damp and cloudy at others, the growing season does have its strong points. The flowering in June went really well, and a beautiful Indian summer with week after week of benevolent sunshine through September into October really helped the vines to ripen their fruit. The harvest took place under cloudy but thankfully dry skies, and the fruit was broadly healthy; in the damp and humid conditions of 2013, 2012 and 2011 rot was always a problem, but thankfully not so in 2014. And with the dry weather holding until the second week of October, the harvest could proceed at a sensible pace, unlike the hurried picking of previous years when even office staff were thrown out into the vineyards to bring in the fruit before the rot took over.
And so there was optimism in the air in 2014 as the fruit came in. It’s not a perfect vintage – the harvested fruit wasn’t ideal in every way – but all the same It seems certain that this will be a better vintage than 2013 (it can hardly be much worse) but it will I suspect also surpass 2012 and 2011. How it will compare to other ‘good’ but not ‘great’ vintages, such as 2008 or 2006, remains to be seen; the only way to judge – once these postulations based on the weather and the harvest are finished – is to visit Bordeaux and taste the nascent wines, from the vat and barrel. Only through this process can anyone get a real handle on the vintage, and thereby offer advice and recommendations. That’s exactly what I intend to do for the 2014 vintage, so I had better get my flights and hire car booked. As soon as I have done my holiday ‘drinking thinking’ that is
Written by Chris Kissack – The Wine Doctor