I have been covering Bordeaux since the 1982 vintage, and I have always heard the same adage: "In lesser vintages, you really see where the great terroirs are."
Others might put it another way: "Buy great names in less good years, and less good names in great years."
You could put it another way: Top vineyards in Bordeaux make the best wines in lesser vintages, and their inherent quality is more evident in those most difficult harvests.
As I have tasted through hundreds of 2007s this week in Bordeaux, I am beginning to think that that old axiom is finished, or at least not always applicable. I have been surprised how many lesser estates—meaning non-first growths, or other perceived grand terroirs—are making wines in this good but not special vintage that are very close or equal to the big names.
I think that hundreds of lesser-ranked, even petit châteaus, have understood that they have to do everything possible to make the best quality, even in a weak vintage when it may be difficult to sell their wines. As I have written in the past, I think that the Bordelias are some of the best vineyard managers in the world considering all the bad weather and disease they have to deal with. They seem to be able to turn copper grapes into golden wines, or at least silver!
Look at 2007. It was rife with mildew and other vineyard diseases. August was cold, gray and rainy, and it rained intermittently during the harvest. They only really had a few weeks of sunshine in September to compensate for the bad weather and save the harvest. But the leading 400 or 600 wineries in the region worked hard to harvest healthy and relatively ripe grapes, and they achieved their goal in most cases. (I think reverse osmosis machines were full throttle, along with other techniques, to reduce the dilution in the grapes.)
The 2007 vintage will never be considered an excellent or even outstanding year. In fact, it may be the worst year in the last decade. I haven't decided if it's worse than 2002. But there are some outstanding wines. And there are many good bottles too.
So this all written, I am thinking the new saying in Bordeaux should be "Great Terroirs Show Their True Greatness in Great Vintages." This is to say that in a great year the truly great vineyards of Bordeaux have the potential to make perfect wines—yes, 100 pointers! Names like Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton, Lafite, Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc and other grandiose labels with pedigree can make the three-digit bottles. The others are limited by their terroir, and can only make wines to a certain outstanding quality level.
Of course, I am still taking about the crème de le crème of Bordeaux. Most of the 10,000 or so wine producers in the region can still barely afford to make wine even in top vintages, and their quality is pretty weak. But I don't think the blue-chip names have a monopoly in making quality wines in less-than-successful vintages anymore.
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — Wine World — December 3, 2009 5:31pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — December 3, 2009 6:26pm ET
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