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Bordeaux welcomes rains amid concerns about alcohol levels

The hot weather in Bordeaux is causing some worry that high alcohol levels may unbalance the wines.

Chateaux in Saint Emilion are bringing in their Merlot grapes, and the Medoc is beginning its young vines, amid concerns that alcohol levels are too high.

Jean Christophe Mau at Chateau Brown in Pessac Leognan said the rain over the weekend was welcome as ‘the Merlot is already up at over 14-14.5% potential alcohol.’

He said that it was certain 2009 was going to be ‘a good vintage’ but the next few weeks would decide if it is going to be an excellent one.

‘The main concern is that without rain this will tip over from being another 2005 to another 2003.’

Thomas Duroux at Chateau Palmer told decanter.com this vintage would be ‘technical’.

‘It’s a strange vintage, not super-easy like 2005. It will be quite technical. The Merlot is particularly high, up to 14-15%, and we need to ensure balanced wines.

‘We know we have a huge potential in 2009, but key will be selecting the right time to harvest to get good tannins and soft skins, and then to extract those tannins in a smart way.

‘In 2003, the berries were cooked, a lot were just completely over-ripe. This year, they are not cooked, just high in alcohol. Get the balance wrong, and the potential will be wasted.’

Figures from Meteo France confirm that only 24mm of rain fell in August, compared to a 30-year average of 60mm, with 270 sunshine hours, compared to the average of 243 hours.

September has followed suit, with 183 sunshine hours on average. By 14 September, Bordeaux had already had 120 hours.

Rainfall is well below the average of 90mm, but there have just been three days of sometimes heavy showers, with 12mm falling in Margaux, and around 50mm on the Right Bank.

Across Pessac Leognan and Graves the last Semillon grapes are in, under good conditions.

Mau told decanter.com, ‘The whites are perhaps lacking a little aromatic freshness because it really has been very hot, even though we started picking on 2 September, and last year we didn’t bring anything in until the15th.’

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Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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