BORDEAUX 2017: A Unique if Complicated Vintage

Like much in life, the 2017 Bordeaux vintage is complicated. Which means that it needs some explanation. Which admittedly can be a bit tedious. But there’s a big pay-off at the end.

Bordeaux 2017 provided a good number of wines that really push all the right buttons for me and should push the right buttons for a lot of other Bordeaux lovers as well. To understand why requires understanding the vintage as more than simply good or bad, classic or great. Rather, it requires understanding 2017 in terms of the effects both primary (immediate) and secondary (lingering) of the frost of April 27, 2017. The effects, both positive and negative, of that frost are what make the 2017 Bordeaux vintageunique.

In Bordeaux, 2017 started dry and there was some early warmth leading to an early budding of the vines. Everything was looking good until disaster struck beginning early in the morning on April 27th when temperatures went as low as 25°F in some areas. The frost hit some terroirs hard and mostly spared others. The top left bank vineyards closer to the Gironde were largely spared (due to the temperate effect of the water in the Gironde) and many vineyards all over Bordeaux located on hilltops and plateaus were mostly spared (due to cold air being heavier than warm air and therefore flowing down hill). Vineyards in dips and valleys, on slopes and at the bottom of slopes were the most heavily affected as those were the places the coldest air accumulated and settled. Within a couple of days, the pattern and effect of the frost was pretty well known. Some chateaux lost their whole crop. Others lost amounts ranging down from a high percentage of their grapes to having just a few rows or even just a few vines affected.

The frost “freeze-burned” the tender young buds and leaves. In extreme cases, some vines were killed by the frost. In most cases, frost-affected vines either produced no grapes or a minimal crop of grapes from a second (later) crop set. A week after the frost, many of the most affected vineyards looked as if they had been burned by fire.

Early summer brought some welcome rains that recharged the soils and energized the vines. July and August offered warm days and cool nights that ripened the grapes and burned off the pyrazines (natural compounds in grapes that can lend a green bell-pepper flavor to the finished wines) while maintaining the wine’s freshness and acidity. A wild card came in September rains that delayed the harvest, especially for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon.

What does it all mean? Except for the frost, 2017 was a fairly-normal, good-but-not-perfect weather year in Bordeaux. Despite the in-some-places-devastating frost-related reduction in crop, the growers with better terroir were generally happy with the grapes they harvested and felt like they could make fine to excellent to in some cases outstanding wine. And a great many did.

While some vines froze and some chateaux lost some-or-all-of-their-crop (the primary frost effect), all the vines of Bordeaux were in some way affected by the cold. Even the vines that showed no primary frost damage were affected in that the cold stopped the vegetative growth of the vine which then had to restart and slowly regain momentum after a several-days pause (the secondary frost effect). This growth pause very likely explains the extraordinary freshness and pretty red fruit character the best of the 2017 wines exhibit.

For better or worse, 2017 will carry the stigma of being a frost vintage. Those partially informed who stop with that fact will likely avoid the wines. Those who are interested enough to become fully informed will likely find a good number of wines that will make them very happy.  (Read More)

Please click here to see Spec’s 2017 Bordeaux Futures offer including tasting notes from Bear Dalton

Orders may be placed with wine sales staff at any of the larger Spec’s stores.