April frosts hammered the start of the Bordeaux growing season in 2017 to such an extent that entire vineyards were wiped out. This put the entire Bordeaux wine industry on edge wondering if producers could salvage their harvests to produce enough to satisfy the thirst of wine drinkers around the world with the quality to match Bordeaux’s premier wine reputation. Although the yields were lower this year, Bordeaux has come through triumphantly to give us the quality we expect from the region for the 2017 vintage.
The low yields for 2017 are the result of the overnight frosts that hit Bordeaux at the end of April 2017. The entire region suffered on the whole, but some ares were more affected than others. There are 150 top chateaux among all of the Bordeaux appellations, and 80% of them escaped relatively unharmed, so their 2017 grand vin (principal wine) vintage will most likely not be affected in terms of production levels. More specifically, St-Estèphe, Pauillac and St-Julien in the northern part of the Haut-Médoc remained mostly unscathed by the frost due to their prime location next to the Gironde River. As we move a little further south and closer inland to Margaux, the top properties also remained untouched. South of the Haut-Médoc from Pessac-Léognan to Sauternes, there are areas that remained completely unharmed, and in Sauternes, the hillside vineyards fared much better than those at the bottom.
Like the Médoc, the top châteaux avoided frost damage in St-Émilion and Pomerol. The areas on top of the limestone plateau and along the slopes surrounding the historic town center of St-Émilion saw almost no effect of the frost, and this area also includes many of St-Émilion’s grand crus classèes – the region’s top wines. The top properties throughout the region remained untouched by the frosts, and those that were affected did have decreased yields, but the quality for both is expected to maintain Bordeaux’s reputation.
CIVB President Allan Sichel expects the quality of the 2017 vintage to remain true to Bordeaux’s reputation. The dry whites will be this year’ stellar wines with Sichel describing them as aromatically fresh and lively. He expects the sweet wines to have high fruit flavour concentration and aromatic richness, especially since the frost followed up with favourable and beautiful weather conditons for the rest of the growing season. James Suckling, an American wine critic, puts some of the whites, especially the dry whites from Pessac-Léognan, and the top Sauternes on par with the 2015 and 2016 vintages.
Overall, the 2017 red wine vintages on the Right and Left Banks will be less when compared to 2016, but Allan Sichel believes them to have beautiful aromatic expressions with the corresponding fruitiness and freshness that give the palate a soft, round, balanced mouthfeel.
Michel Rolland, a renowned oenologist, believes the 2017 vintages on the Left Bank wines like these offer some very nice surprises. There are wines that have a lot of concentration and this gives them a good density. Yet at the same time, they show freshness, especially with the Cabernet Sauvignons that have aged well in the larger areas on the Left Bank. The wine from the areas looking towards the Gironde that escaped the frosts show their classic Bordeaux style with their tension, freshness and acidity. Essentially, the Left Bank offers the quality we have come to expect and some unexpected surprises for the 2017 vintage.
On the Right Bank, the Merlots give us the acidity we expect, as well as fruity notes that we would not expect every year like we had in the 2008 vintages. Michel Rolland believes wines like these like those on the Left Bank offer very nice surprises. The clay subsoils in the appellation allow for the wines to have finesse and elegance, and these qualities shine through in the Merlots. Nicolas de Bailliencourt, head of Château Gazin, says the 2017 vintage is a little below the ones from 2015 and 2016, but the 2017 is a year of fruit-forward wines that gives us fleshy fruit with floral aromas and an elegant and refined mouthfeel with a long finish. Hubert de Boüard of Château Angelus, who also manages other properties in the region, further explains how 2017 keeps its quality through explaining it to us from a vineyard and winemaking perspective. He points out that he could capture all of the fruitiness and fine tannins by harvesting earlier and extracting less during fermention when compared to the techniques used ten years ago. As a result, the wines could achieve a perfect balance. The 2017 vintage definitely appears to gives us everything what we have come to appreciate from Right Bank wines.
All in all, 2017 should not be remembered for its frosty start in the vineyards, but for a unique vintage that brings quality abounding optimism.