This is the third challenging year in a row for red Bordeaux but not for sweet wines.

2011 was a very good year and the sweet wines are balanced, attractive and with good concentration; 2012 was about disaster control, leaving a handful with no sweet wine to bottle while others made decent to good wines for early drinking. By comparison, 2013 is variable in quality and while most do not possess the concentration of the ’11s, the best 2013s are attractive in their freshness, lean body and purity.

It was not a promising start to the vintage, with a cold, wet spring and an early summer. Small yields were predicted after bad flowering for Semillon, which was followed by a hot July and August offering positive signs for a potentially great year. But September dashed people’s hopes with intermittent rain and humid, tropical weather that quickly spread rot in the vineyard. As Bérénice Lurton of Château Climens says, ‘Grey rot and noble rot are two sides of the same coin.’

In Sauternes and Barsac, noble rot arrived quickly during the first week of October. Many started their cleaning up and preparing of the bunches around 27 September and harvest began in earnest in early October. October downpours meant finding dry days in between to harvest grapes that still needed the extra hang time to shrivel and concentrate. It rained heavily on the 4 and 12 October, forcing many to halt their picking. Harvest extended through to the end of October and the various lots are extremely different in their botrytis concentration and depth.

It was a constant struggle between waiting for and obtaining ideal ripeness or being forced to harvest due to the spread of grey rot. Many in Sauternes and Barsac were happy with the sugar concentration given the challenging conditions – the residual sugar ranges between 115 to 140 grams per litre. Alcohols are generally lower than in great years, at around 13%.

Overall, the wines are slim and elegant with freshness and delicate flavours that are lifted by firm acidity. This is not a great year like 2001 or 2009; most will be best within the first 15 years of their lives. Unlike in 2012, where Barsac fared better than in Sauternes, there is more variation among wineries than by region. Quality-oriented producers who could afford to take steps to counter the climatic difficulties with strict selection or employing more pickers to have an edge on speed and timing, were extremely successful. However, one needs to buy carefully in 2013 – there are also a handful of dull, thin sweet wines that can disappoint.