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2017 Bordeaux Barrel Tasting

James Molesworth is tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux to get a first look at the 2017 vintage. Follow along with his blogs, scores and tasting notes
Château Canon's 2017 vintage is among the elite in St.-Emilion.
Photo by: Pistolet bleu
Château Canon's 2017 vintage is among the elite in St.-Emilion.

James Molesworth
Posted: March 15, 2018

Updated April 11, 2018. New blogs and notes will be posted regularly throughout the tastings.

WineSpectator.com members: Read James Molesworth's 2017 Bordeaux scores and tasting notes.

Follow Along with James Molesworth's 2017 Bordeaux Barrels Diary

It's that time: “Here I go again. Again.”

Spring is sort of, kind of, almost sprung. And so I'm heading off to Bordeaux for the en primeur tastings, the first time châteaus en masse show their most recent wines to the press and trade. This time I'll taste the 2017 vintage as it sits in barrel. As with every new vintage, there's reason for excitement and optimism, balanced by a good "hype filter" of course. Producers are known to think the newest vintage is the best, wink, wink.

Still, the buzz out of Bordeaux is good these days. Following the downward trend of the 2011 through 2013 vintages, the region rebounded in 2014, '15 and '16. Now comes 2017, which for the most part was a good growing season, save for one little thing: The worst frost in 25 years decimated parts of Bordeaux along with other wine regions of France.

The frost, which hit April 26 and 27, resulted in a dramatically reduced crop—about 40 percent of the previous year, overall. But that number is skewed, as some areas of Bordeaux actually produced as much or more in 2017 than they did in '16. The frost was most severe on the Right Bank, particularly the lower-lying areas around St.-Emilion and into Entre-Deux-Mers, where the crop was clipped by more than half, on average, while some producers lost everything. On the Left Bank though, particularly farther up in the Médoc, areas where the Gironde plays a key moderating influence such as Pauillac and St.-Julien were unscathed.

Following the frost, May was particularly warm and dry, a trend that continued into June with a heat wave occurring June 18 to 22. July followed with cooler temperatures and needed rains, slowing down the ripening process and ameliorating any maturity blockages somewhat. The harvest was still on the early side, and growers needed to wait for phenolic ripeness to match the fast-rising sugar ripeness caused by the warm summer.

With the second-generation buds that grew following the frost mixed with the first-generation buds that were spared, 2017 looks to be one thing: heterogenous. So this is where the real work begins for me.

As usual, I'll be starting my trip off with a week's worth of visits to top estates, some of which I visit regularly, while mixing in new faces along the way. During these visits, I taste the wines with the producers, while gleaning information on the vintage's quality and style—I do not review the wines tasted at châteaus, however, as they're tasted non-blind. You can follow along via my blog for informal impressions on these wines.

During my second week here, I'll sit down to taste over 300 barrel samples. The samples are supplied directly from the châteaus and are reviewed in blind tastings organized by Wine Spectator staff. These tastings will generate the official reviews that we'll post here and in the magazine.

But remember that these wines are still unfinished, sitting in barrel. The samples shown are approximations of the final blend of the wine, but there may be tweaks yet to come. They also still have another six months or more to go before they will be bottled. So why taste them now?

These wines are about to be offered for sale, first to the trade and then to you, the consumer, as futures, for delivery once they're bottled.

But why buy now? Because as a consumer, the initial price offered by the château (with subsequent markups) will likely represent the best price you'll see if the vintage proves to be outstanding. Additional releases, or tranches, typically increase in price. By the time bottled wines reach retail shelves, the cost could be much higher, and the top wines could be harder to find. Should the vintage turn out to be stellar, those purchasing wine for investment might win in the long run by securing quantities of wine at the earlier pricing.

On the other hand, if it doesn't turn out to be an excellent vintage, then prices likely won't appreciate, and there may be no need to rush.

For some history on en primeur and how it all got started, check out "The Origins of En Primeur," penned by then Château Cos-d'Estournel general director Jean-Guillaume Prats.

For background on how I move around Bordeaux during the en primeur season, you can reference my previous Bordeaux barrel-tasting coverage from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.

Keep in mind that my en primeur tastings are an introduction to the vintage, focusing on wines both widely available and popular in the U.S. market and highlighting sleepers and values, but this report is not a comprehensive overview of the vintage. For that you'll have to wait for my annual report in the magazine in March 2020. You can check out my 2015 Bordeaux tasting report in the March 31 issue, which includes a travel feature on places to stay if you decide to visit.

Follow James Molesworth on Instagram, at Instagram.com/JMolesworth1, and on Twitter, at Twitter.com/JMolesworth1.

James Molesworth's 2017 Bordeaux Barrels Diary

April 11, 2018: A Sweet Finish

Gérard Uféras

In Sauternes, a taste of dessert at Châteaus de Fargues and d'Yquem.

April 10, 2018: St.-Emilion's Wind of Change

Courtesy of Clos St.-Martin

The future is bright at Clos St.-Martin, Beau-Séjour-Bécot and La Dominique.

April 9, 2018: A View from the Top at Château Canon


Nicolas Audebert has steered Châteaus Canon and Rauzan-Ségla into elite territory. Will Berliquet be next?

April 6, 2018: The Paradox of Cheval-Blanc

Gérard Uféras

With the vintage running early and second-generation fruit running late, James Molesworth says the 2017 at Cheval-Blanc is not what you'd expect.

April 5, 2018: Making It Count in St.-Emilion

Courtesy of La Mondotte / François Poincet

Stephan von Neipperg has two Right Bank successes at Canon-La Gaffelière and La Mondotte.

April 4, 2018: Pomerol Crawl, Part 2

Courtesy of Château Hosanna

Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix's esteemed Right Bank stable includes Châteaus Bélair Monange, Hosanna, La Fleur-Pétrus and Trotanoy, among many more.

April 3, 2018: Pomerol Crawl, Part 1

Courtesy of Pétrus

James Molesworth's first tastes on the Right Bank were of Pétrus, Le Pin and Vieux Château Certan. Why does one vintner dub the 2017 vintage "a crazy year"?

April 2, 2018: Leading in Pessac-Léognan

Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

Heading next to the Graves, James Molesworth says Châteaus Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are early contenders for wine of the 2017 vintage.

March 30, 2018: A Margaux Trio

Courtesy of Château Margaux / Mathieu Anglada / Saison d'Or

Turning his attention south in the Haut-Médoc, James Molesworth says Châteaus Margaux, Palmer and Dauzac are each standouts on their own terms.

March 29, 2018: Dialing In at Pichon Lalande

Courtesy of Pichon Longueville Lalande

Five years in, general director Nicolas Glumineau has this Pauillac estate on track. Pichon Longueville Lalande's 2017 grand vin is a beauty in the making.

March 28, 2018: Hitting the Ground Running at Lafite

Courtesy of Château Lafite Rothschild

The early vintage yielded a lively Lafite Rothschild, while late-season rains played perfectly into Rieussec's hands in Sauternes.

March 27, 2018: Three Roads in St.-Estèphe

Courtesy of Cos-d'Estournel

Cellar investments are paying off at Châteaus Cos-d’Estournel, Calon-Ségur and Montrose.

March 26, 2018: At Mouton-Rothschild, Stylishly Early

Courtesy of Château Mouton-Rothschild / Deepix

Philippe Dhalluin rolled with the weather in 2017, capitalizing on a solid crop of Cabernet. James Molesworth previews the newest vintage from Châteaus d'Armailhac, Clerc Milon and Mouton-Rothschild.

March 23, 2018: Under the Radar in St.-Julien

Courtesy of Château Gloria

The Domaines Henri Martin family of estates has a new state-of-the-art winemaking facility, and Châteaus St.-Pierre, Gloria and Bel Air are quietly gaining on the competition.

March 22, 2018: Cazes and Effect

Courtesy of Château Haut-Batailley

Jean-Charles Cazes is building a new winery for Château Lynch Bages, and has big plans for the recently acquired Haut-Batailley.

March 20, 2018: Château Latour Goes Native

James Molesworth

How did late-season rains impact the 2017 vintage in Pauillac? James Molesworth is the first to taste Latour's grand vin from this potentially enigmatic vintage.

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