The 2013 vintage by Robert Parker

2013 Bordeaux: Troubled Waters Run Deep
August 29, 2014In many ways, 2013 was the most challenging vintage for Bordeaux since 1992, 1991 and 1984. However, the wines have turned out better than any of those previous vintages, no doubt because of the overall regional commitment to quality, the incredible labor-intensive viticultural work that was done, and the draconian-like selection process practiced by all the top estates. The growing season was nasty. An extremely cold, damp beginning with poor flowering conditions was followed by tropical heat and rain at the worst possible time in early September that forced many producers’ hands. Rot became apparent throughout the red grape vineyards. It either had to be cut out or the producer had to pick the grapes as quickly as possible. The intelligent option for dealing with under-ripe fruit or fruit tainted by rot was to do light extractions, and try and produce a wine of charm and seductiveness even if it didn’t have much stuffing or concentration. While it is always easy to pick out certain appellations as having done better than others, it is virtually impossible to do that in 2013 because of all the challenges and difficulties facing producers.

The resultant wines in 2013 are much lower in alcohol than recent vintages tend to be, although it was relatively easy for those properties that made a strict selection to achieve 13% natural alcohol in their wines. The fruit spectrum moves more toward red than darker fruits, and acidities are slightly fresher. Analytically, the pH levels tend to be lower than what we’ve seen for a number of years. The best 2013s tend to be charming, fruit-forward wines to drink upon release, and over the following decade. Few 2013 red wines are going to last longer. That will be welcomed by the marketplace that has repudiated buying futures of this vintage, which I do believe was the prudent decision. The white wines are a completely different story ? the dry whites are excellent. My colleague Neal Martin has issued a comprehensive report of the 2013 Sauternes, and from those I tasted, I wholeheartedly agree that it is a very fine vintage. For example, the 2013 d’Yquem, which hadn’t been offered to the market, may be one of the all-time great d’Yquems I’ve ever tasted – and a replay of the perfect 2001!

The Idiot Wind

It appears that the wine consumer and the wine market have turned against Bordeaux, writing it off as too expensive. The truth is far more complex and different, and many people just don’t want to hear it. Of course, the famous first-growths and some of the limited production cult wines from St.Emilion and Pomerol are indeed priced in the stratosphere. However, by and large, the great majority, and I’m speaking of 90-95% of all Bordeaux, is actually fairly priced. This fact never seems to make the news, and it seems that too many people have decided that Bordeaux is not affordable despite dramatic increases in quality and the bevy of inexpensive, low pedigree wines.

The Bordeaux Marketplace

Bordeaux is sitting on a bubble, but the one thing I am sure of after having been a wine critic for 35 years is that great wines sell, and while trends and fads and cycles take place all the time, Bordeaux produces the world’s largest quantity of long-lived wines that actually improve in the bottle. So Bordeaux will regain favor as it has in the past. For now, Bordeaux has to endure a difficult passage. It is a recent memory that 2009 was the greatest Bordeaux vintage I had ever tasted, and certainly there are very few people left living in the world that have as much tasting experience of Bordeaux as I have. 2010 is nearly as fabulous, with some very conscientious and knowledgeable observers thinking it is even superior to 2009. The bottom line is that here are two truly great vintages that have been produced in Bordeaux that may be the two finest years in the last 50 to 100 vintages. The 2009 vintage is always going to be drinkable because the style of the wines is much like 1982, while more consistent. The 2010s, because the tannins were higher, are locked and loaded so to speak, but in need of at least 8-10 years of bottle age. The problem starts with the 2011s, which I reviewed out of bottle in the last issue. They are much better than a lot of people have written or said. They are also forward and very drinkable. The 2012s will be tasted later this year and that is certainly a good vintage. Both the 2011s and 2012s are better overall than the 2013s, so it makes no sense to buy 2013s until they are in bottle. Consumers can taste them and decide for themselves if they have any value.

Final Thoughts

However, there is no question that there are plenty of bargains in Bordeaux, and there are many good wines to be found, even in a vintage such as 2013. Some have suggested that Pomerols tended to fare better than elsewhere, while others think that Cabernet Sauvignon was the most favored grape because of its thicker skin and its noteworthy resistance to rot. These are overly general statements that have little merit when you actually sit down and taste through the wines.

Bordeaux is unfairly criticized, and the doomsday cult has lost all credibility with predictions that Bordeaux is dead. With its next great vintage, it will return probably stronger than ever. Time always seems to favor Bordeaux, and more frequently than not, the hands of destiny land there.

In conclusion, there is no question that the 2013s did not merit being sold as wine futures. Secondly, with hindsight, producers should have dropped prices to 2008 levels or lower. This is the third straight vintage that has largely been unsold as wine futures. Have we finally reached the era when the wines are sold to the marketplace as well as consumers after bottling?

All of the 2013s were tasted in Bordeaux in June of 2014.

—Robert Parker