A tough time for Merlot on Bordeaux's left bank has yielded some unusual wines from a 2013 vintage that strongly reflects a chateau's terroir and also its financial resources, according to experts.
A dearth of quality Merlot is reflected in the make-up of several grands vins from the weather-hit 2013 vintage.
‘Margaux has made a 99% Cabernet [and] Pichon Longueville Comtesse has made a wine with no Merlot,’ Decanter consultant editor Steven Spurrier said.
‘That’s never happened before, so basically the whole thing is a kind of revisiting of what we used to know in a completely interesting and different way.’
Volumes are down by at least a third at many estates across Bordeaux’s appellations, after bad weather book-ended the 2013 growing season and led to a race against rot during harvest.
‘You would have to go back to the 1960s to find such a rapid degradation of grapes [in the vineyard],’ said left bank wine consultant Eric Boissenot, who works with hundreds of chateaux, including all four of the Medoc first growths.
‘The problem of this vintage is the quantity, not the quality. The volume poses an economic problem. But I think it will be a good vintage in bottle.’
Some estates have cut the proportion of their harvest used for the grand vin. At Cos d’Estournel, around half of the grape haul has gone into grand vin, compared to up to 65% normally. Latour has used around 31% of the harvest for its grand vin, versus 35% normally.
Others have taken the rare step of selling some of the 2013 vintage in the bulk wine market. At Chateau Pichon Longueville, 20% of the harvest is being sold in bulk.
‘I think the 2013 vintage was summed up by Olivier Bernard of Domaine Chevallier, who said at the opening dinner at Chateau Pavie that it was the most challenging vintage he had experienced in 30 years of winemaking,’ said Spurrier.
‘It’s a vintage for the terrior, and it’s a vintage for money. Quite plainly, the chateaux that had the resources to do absolutely everything, like 695 pickers at Mouton Rothschild, they came out ok, because they threw everything at it. They had to.’
Of the appellations in Medoc, Spurrier said it is difficult to generalise for 2013, but ‘Margaux is the least good, and St Estephe is the best’. He added, ‘Pauillac and St Julien always trundle along, and they have a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon.’
‘It’s got to be a light vintage, you can tell those who over extracted,’ he said.
‘It’s a vintage that will be talked about with a lot of interest in the years to come because every chateaux that has a made a good wine, and those who have not, have made a wine which is absolutely true to their terroir.’
A brief en primeur selling campaign is now on the cards. ‘I think there will be some activity next week,’ Mouton Rothschild’s Philippe Dhalluin told Decanter.com last Friday.
Most observers believe many of the 2013s will be a good to drink when in-bottle, but there is less certainty about the rationale for buying this vintage en primeur. Price will be key. ‘I would expect a goodwill gesture [on price],’ said Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux.
This article was amended at 17:35 UK time on 07/04/2014 after incorrectly stating that Palmer produced a wine with only 5% Merlot. In fact, Palmer used 49% Merlot in its grand vin blend.
Don’t miss Decanter’s full Bordeaux 2013 ratings, published Monday 14th April 2014, on Decanter.com
Written by Chris Mercer