Medoc & Graves: Drink soon
Rain, warm nights and rot forced growers to pick before optimal ripeness. Many pallid and unstructured wines.
St Emilion & Pomerol: Drink soon
Rot forced an early harvest of often unripe Merlot. Only estates with many pickers and scrupulous sorting made good wines.
Sauternes & Barsac: Keep
Ample botrytis, but many grapes lacked concentration. Those who selected ruthlessly made excellent wines.
No respite for the growers after two difficult vintages.
There were plenty of challenges right from the start in this vintage – uneven and late flowering following a wet spring, often-violent hailstorms at the end of July and early August, a wet and warm September than meant an attack of rot just before harvest… you name it, the vineyards suffered it during the 2013 vintage.
Even as far back as January, things were tough, with 51mm more rain falling than usual, and overall winter rain from October to March a full 70mm higher than the 30-year average, all of which meant that the soils stayed wet and fresh, delaying bud break and shoot growth. April remained wet early on, but temperatures improved in the middle of the month, allowing the vines to get going, with a little more even bud break than in 2012, although frost at the end of the month caused further headaches in Entre deux Mers, Graves and Blaye. May saw 22 days of rain, the wettest for 20 years and overall the vines were finding it very tough to photosynthesise sufficiently.
Not much better news in May, with mid-flowering taking place 15 days later than average under pretty dismal conditions, particularly for early-flowering varieties such as merlot. The weather finally turned in July, which became one of the hottest months of July for over 60 years. It saw 331 hours of sun compared to 247 in 2012. Unfortunately, the heat led to storms, with Pessac Léognan affected particularly badly. August saw hail storms that affected around 80% of the harvest in Entre deux Mers over the first week or so, but finally the storms gave way to calm, sunny weather that lasted for rest of the month. Even with this respite, ripening was slow and difficult, especially for merlot that had suffered such a difficult fruit set. It meant that many bunches were cut off to allow the rest to ripen, leading to small yields.
When harvest came around, exhausted winemakers then had to deal with warm but wet weather that in many instances meant they had to harvest early. All in all, a challenging year that rewarded those who were extremely vigilant, and didn’t try to push things too hard once the grapes were finally in the winery.
A late Indian summer meant that the northern Left Bank cabernets got the best deal of the reds this year – although a few organic properties in the Médoc were unable to control the rot problem and didn’t bottle anything. Saint Estèphe deserves a special mention, as it only received 25mm of rain in October, so three times less than the rest of the Médoc, and also much less than the rest of Bordeaux. This is where to go for the best successes in red 2013s.
Far more impressive were the whites, which didn’t suffer so much with the cool summer and in many instances have delicious aromatics and mouth-watering fresh fruits. Equally promising were the sweet wines, who enjoyed those very same damp, warm autumnal conditions that were causing such headaches for their red wine counterparts.
But the real success story in 2013 is with the winemaking – there were plenty of producers who worked exceptionally well with the vintage, taking their foot off the pedal and allowing the vibrancy of the fruit to shine through wherever possible. Anyone who tried to cover up unripe fruit with too much oak, or over-extraction, suffered. The best wines have a refreshing drinkability, relatively low alcohol levels, soft fruits and plenty of interest, but by and large this is a vintage to enjoy in the early to mid term.