fredag 27. april 2018
After 648 wines tried, here are some thoughts. Vintages ending in seven hasn't been great since 1947, so has the spell been broken? That depends on who you ask. Some lost an entire crop to the late April frost, so clearly that wasn't a great vintage for them. Others lost a lot, some lost little, some nothing. 2017 is a vintage with four factors in the game. The spring frost is the first one out. Some lost it all during those two to three nights. Just small lower indentations could lose you the entire harvest on that specific spot. Not being afflicted much, Château de Pressac as an example lost the crop in a small plot that sits just 45 centimeters below the rest of the ground around it. What happens is that the air stops moving and the coldest air collect in these small indentations. Or larger ones like Grand Corbin Despagne experienced, and nothing was made here. In May while dining at La Terrasse Rouge at La Dominique one could clearly see the frozen and therefore brown areas of the vineyards between Saint-Emilion and Pomerol where the land is lower.
La Tour Figeac's massive 3000! bottle production this year is the opposite of a normal blend with 80 percent Cabernet Franc and 20 percent Merlot. Merlot is often planted on clay soils which are cooler and therefore doesn't have much heat stored which can be critical during cold nights. Clay also has a tendency to be on lower grounds even if that isn't always the case. Cheval Blanc, the prestigious First Growth pretty close to these two latter estates has vineyards like waves that roll gently over the landscape and that matched with more gravel soils and they escaped with two thirds of normal production, and it was the second wine that was hit with lower laying vineyards making up the backbone of this wine in a normal vintage. La Fleur Cardinal only made a 1000 magnum bottles. Most Right Bank producers lost some of their normal crop, 5 percent up to everything as Dassault did. Pomerol has some to full loss, but the drought in summer and the rains in September diluted some of the remaining wines.
Pessac-Léognan was hit as well with total loss (unconfirmed) at Fieuzal, 30 percent loss at Haut-Bailly and at Haut-Brion the production was smaller due to uneven ripening after the September rains, rather than frost. In Médoc some estates didn't suffer, mainly those very close to the estuary and seemingly Pauillac came out of it with less trouble than anyone else. During primeur this year (2018), the plants were about three weeks after last year.
May and June was wetter than usual which didn't cause much trouble as it was fairly dry during the weeks of flowering. This rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise as there was little rain in the weeks to come. Summer drought in July and August was the next issue for the winegrower. This made for new trouble in some vineyards with either young vines or on soils that doesn't retain enough moisture. At Petrus the berries were on average about two thirds their normal size.1,1 grams compared to 1,4-1,5 on average. In some vineyards the maturity stopped and it could also cause too much tannin to go with the juice later on, some gentle extraction, or rather infusion as some said was necessary after picking. Most seems to have handled this wisely and the resulting wines have a precision to them. Many took down the percentage of new oak, like Château Mangot, and you get a very juicy wine. It is impressive to see how many winegrowers at all levels now focusing on the right balance instead of trying to over extract and over oak difficult vintages to hide the flaws. In 2017 they were clever and tried to balance out flaws, if they were there in the first place, giving an unusually large amount of really lovely wines for the medium ageing term. 2017 at most estates is better than their 2014 or 2012, but there are exceptions. You cannot go out and buy whatever this year. It is not on the level of 2015 and 2016, but it has something of a mix between 2014’s pure fruit and 2016’s playful freshness to it that excites me. Panos Kakaviatos compares it with 1985 which is an interesting thought. 1985 has been delicious for the last twenty years where I have been at the age and had the interest to follow it, and they have been lovely all the way. Talking to older wine collectors and writers, 1985 seems to have been charming from start, and I imagine that will be the case of 2017 as well. It is not the best vintage ever, for sure, but it is a vintage that you shouldn’t skip either, at least if they price it correctly, and I would say that would normally mean 20-30% down on 2016 prices. I think 2017 will be a lot of fun and enjoyment for the wine drinker. The claret lover.
September rains was the third issue to handle, some vineyards needed it desperately but some winemakers harvested and the wines can be somewhat diluted because of this. But there are wines with narrower and even lean mid palates due to lack of Merlot that normally fills in this gap of the palate because of frost as well. Some unusual blends have been made for some properties. What caused what in each leaner wine needs to be considered for each estate. Financial muscle is the fourth together with willingness to take risk. It paid off with beautiful weather after the rainy ten days or so that also affected vineyards differently even in very local areas. Nothing is homogenous in 2017 and neighbours can have had totally different issues at hand, and totally different remedies to fix or avoid how they were hit differently and unequally. These four factors make up who managed to do what and where.
The wines in general are bright fruity, floral and scented with a playful acidity, gentle extraction, elegantly balanced alcohol that will give the wine drinker more pleasure than the investor. Tannins are silky. There are plentiful of excellent wines to buy, but choose wisely. This is a vintage to know who to trust among the wine writers. Who you share palate with.