Bordeaux 2017 is a 'very approachable' vintage, even though many wines might not reach the heights of 2015 and 2016, and most estates are expected to price their wines 'sensibly', the president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux has said as thousands of visitors arrive in the region for the annual en primeur tastings.

Olivier Bernard was positively bullish at the UGC press dinner on Monday evening (9 April), the traditional starting point for Bordeaux en primeur week and where the UGC president sets out his views on the latest vintage in estate cellars; before thousands of critics taste through hundreds of barrel samples to make their own judgement.

Bordeaux 2017 will be remembered for fierce frost that ravaged vineyards, particularly on the Right Bank and southern areas, and caused the region to report an historically low harvest. However, that is not the whole story; and flowering was good for the vines that survived – as Bordeaux university’s oenology unit – the ISVV – said in its official vintage report.

‘2017 is a lovely fresh and classical Bordeaux vintage for the reds,’ said Bernard at last night’s dinner, held at Château Kirwan in Margaux.

‘Given the weather patterns in 2017, we might have expected some green Cabernet Sauvignon flavours in the wines. But when you taste the wines, there is no green expression. Instead, the wines are showing very good ripeness levels.’

The ISVV has previously pointed out that Merlot struggled for ripeness a little more in some areas, due to its earlier ripening characteristics.

‘Of course, I am not trying to say that 2017 is at the same quality level as 2015 and 2016,’ said Bernard.

‘Both the quality and the quantity of wine produced are lower. But it is still a very lovely and very approachable vintage to drink. And this is not easy to do. 20 years ago, Bordeaux would never have been able to produce such quality.’

Regarding prices, Bernard believes that ex-château release prices should come down from 2015 and 2016 levels.

‘If you are a wine lover, there is no reason to pay the same price as 15 or 16. I think most châteaux will price their wines sensibly in order to sell what they put on the market.’

Bernard also said that wineries were expecting more visitors to this year’s en primeur week. ‘Last year, we had 6,400 visitors. This year, in 2018, we expect 6,700 – a 5% increase. This is also the third increase in numbers in the last three years.’

Breaking down the numbers, Bernard noted that China is once again providing the most visitors to Bordeaux (again, for the third year running.) Second is the UK, followed by Switzerland, Germany and the USA.

‘What we can also see is that this week is not just an opportunity to taste wine. The primeurs tastings are now an important international rendez-vous where people are coming from all over the world to do business.’

Bernard added that the UGC now has 135 châteaux and estates. This follows the latest addition of two new members – Château Valandraud in St-Emilion and Château Rouget in Pomerol.

He said that many châteaux are asking to become members and the UGC ‘va bien’.

Editing by Chris Mercer

Jane Anson is tasting hundreds of Bordeaux 2017 barrel samples for Decanter and her report will be available exclusively for Decanter Premium members later this month.