2018 Bordeaux EP kicks off

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by David Mansfield, Apr 16, 2019.

  1. I do wonder whether we're entering the Chateauneuf-du-Pape syndrome. By that, I mean that the critics sip and spit highly alcoholic barrel samples and find them 'full of fruit' and 'balanced'. Fifteen years later the punters have to drink them by the half or full bottle and still find the high alcohol 'balanced' once the primary fruit has receded. We've seen what has happened to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which has become a minority sport among forumites as the alcohol levels headed skywards. It may turn out that high alcohol Bordeaux wines are balanced when they reach maturity and/or that a new generation of drinkers is not concerned with CdP-esque levels of alcohol. Only time will tell.
  2. Yes I've read 14.9% too Tom - the 'in reality' was a suggestion it was placed there to keep under 15% on the label but more likely in the +0.5% side of that.

    I've still got issues at 14.5%!
    Richard Zambuni likes this.
  3. But where will lovers of 12-12.5% cool fruited savoury Bdx blend wines go?
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  4. Richard I think you are right. In a different context, I remember Peter Gago saying that Penfolds Grange was made from components purely determined by blind tasting by a panel. This had the effect that the components selected got increasingly alcoholic year-by-year. I am not sure how they remedied this problem. Also one has to reflect that many of the same writers happily accept the new norm for premium California where many of the most acclaimed are 15.5%, some topping 16%: in this context a 14.9% St Estephe is quite modest. Things are also compounded by the writers who don't drink outside the artificial context of their 9-5 day job or others who don't have the experience of mature or maturing wine outside occasional large verticals, or just don't have the time/money/luxury/capacity to sit down and drink two or three glasses of a single wine at home (which is the way most of it is enjoyed by most of us).
    To compound matters, is the impossibility of giving bad reviews for famous estates (which is real, and is even worse for Burgundy that Bordeaux because it would mean the writer would not be able to visit in future years).

    Here's a quote from the Washington Post (25th June 2013):

    "Warren Winiarski is distressed by the current state of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, a wine he helped make famous. The 1973 cabernet he crafted at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won the famous Paris Tasting of 1976, besting the best of France and establishing California’s reputation as a world-class wine region.

    Today’s celebrated Napa cabs, Winiarski contends, are one-dimensional behemoths that lack complexity and elegance. He says winemakers enamored of point scores and cult status have abandoned the equilibrium and subtlety that characterize the world’s great wines."

    To some extent Napa has lead the way for Bordeaux in recent times. When Paul Pontellier spoke at the IMW in the late 1990's, he'd chaptalised every vintage he'd made up to that point except 1989 and 1990. His rationale is that they had to compete with Napa wines, so it was ok to routinely chaptalise up to 13%, especially as Margaux had the elegance to survive this (where some other terroirs would not be successful).
    Last edited: May 16, 2019
  5. Paul - you make a very good point about the critics not being able to criticize the top producers or to take generally sceptical positions about a vintage. The top chateaux have 'captured' the current generation of critics. You've only got to see them being wined and dined on their Facebook posts (lovely food, excellent back vintages, large format bottles etc.) to see how the game works. Not only do they seem unable to engage critically with the issue of high alcohol, but they have gone on to inflate scores decade by decade to the point where anything less than 93/94 is a compromised wine - that has to be a ludicrous situation. I do remember Robert Parker making a fair case against the preceding generation of writers who, he argued, were entirely in the pockets of the producers (and to be fair they were). He positioned himself as a sort of Ralph Nader of wine, being independent of the influence of the producers. To some extent he managed that - particularly early on. There was always a bit of a Jacobin in Parker - that's one of the reasons that he pumped up the garage wines. He felt that European wines, as with those in Napa where nearly everyone is 'new', didn't need a decade or more of track record before being showered with points and he never agreed that elegance and restraint were values that trumped density of fruit and power, which was why he struggled woefully with burgundy in particular.
  6. That's an interesting point, Richard. Which is the first Bordeaux vintage in which these high alcohols became common and is it yet mature?
  7. Many 2009s were high in alcohol (but not all), so I suppose it was 2010 Tom. Pretty well all 2010s are in the 14.0% and above category.
  8. In twenty odd years, will many people actually remember a different style of Bordeaux?
  9. Well climate change will probably dictate further changes in growing, but ultimately things will tone down when people don't want to drink 15%+ wines. Bordeaux, like everywhere else understands money.

    It's kind of happening in Germany: in particular, Keller's dry wines are the most expensive but are not 15% monsters, but typically 12.5%. Similar he targets Kabinett to achieve the balance of the best of the 1990's, and people are prepared to pay premiums to get delicacy rather than excess sweetness or alcohol. This involves some changes in winemaking. Here is an extract from View from The Cellar 80 on 2018 Germany:

    "Also, as Tim Fröhlich noted, “after 2003, and again in the summer of 2011, we are starting to have more experience with how to deal with these extremely hot seasons like 2018, and this experience helped us immensely in this growing season.” He continued, “in fact, I do not think that we could have had the same success in 2018 if we had not had this previous experience with other very hot summers in this era of climate change.” Helmut Dönnhoff reflected upon this same thing when I was tasting with him towards the end of my trip, as he observed that “I am now seventy years-old, and for winemakers of my generation, we never would have picked our grapes as early as we did in 2018, given such a perfect forecast for good weather through the end of October like we had this year, as we were always striving to get the best possible ripeness we could back in those days.” He continued, “for us in 2018, it was really Cornelius who saved the vintage for us, as he came to me and said ‘we are going to start picking tomorrow’ and I argued that we should still wait, as the weather forecast was still perfect.” However, Cornelius Dönnhoff countered with “Papa, do you really want to try to make dry wines at fifteen percent alcohol, as that is what we are going to have if we delay the start of harvest!” And then they started picking the next morning."
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  10. As I understand it high humidity in the cellar decreases ABV, while low humidity increases it, so it depends on your cellar conditions.
    Brian Cheng likes this.
  11. I had the pleasure to attend a Domaine Leflaive tasting two weeks ago with the head of the domaine Mr. Brice de la Monrandiere. While discussing ripeness, pmox, change in style and climatic changes he interestingly pointed out that he had checked the harvest dates of the last 100 years and found that til around1990 no havest started in August. From 1990 til around 2002 they had 1 harvest in August and from 2003 til 2018 already 4-5 . In the early years the average harvest was end of Sep til mid Oct while nowadays nearly no harvest lasts into Oct, most of them are already finished til mid Sep.To keep freshness and tolerable alcohol levels an eraly harvest seems mandatory.
    I believe that for Bordeaux the so called lesser years may be the better ones in the long run,
  12. Thanks, I have heard this before and I suppose that makes sense given relative concentrations, etc.
    I suppose all the alcohol levels we been talking about could all be quite a bit less once the wines get in bottle then.
    Interesting point that I hadn't really thought about before. Thanks.

    I have heard many stories that the labeling of ABV bears little with reality and that producers are motivated to misreport for many reasons including tax.
    In general on the tech sheets that we often see these days, I'm not sure what to think about them now. Are they based on analysis of the wines in bottle, in barrel or some other stage?
    Sorry for the thread drift.
  13. Remember also that alcohol evaporates quickly once a bottle is poured - there was an interesting report a few years ago about how big aus reds went down a degree or 2 after only a few hours.
  14. Is that why wine tastes better with air?...
  15. A gentle simmer will definitely lower the alcohol! :eek:
    Richard Zambuni likes this.
  16. I was also sceptical so had a google around and there really are some studies/trials/evidence out there.

    The one I read noted little change in 1- 2 hours so the likely drinking window for pop and pour but a real difference at 6 hours of up to 3.2% which really surprised me.

    Surface area makes a difference - the trial used different glasses - ISO, Riedel etc. and covered glasses negated the effect almost entirely.

    I was really surprised as I though the alcohol was a constant factor but, again, I'm no scientist!

    I wonder if that's why drinks like port benefit from the long decant as well as the usual reasons we'd all associate.

    Makes me think about carafing wines a lot longer.
    James Gardner likes this.
  17. I stand corrected.
  18. A bottle of vodka with a loose seal will lose all its alcohol over twenty years or so, leaving only brackish water.
  19. So, in my personal regime for larger scaled reds of decanting into antique decanters with stoppers, there will in effect be no change in the level of alcohol. For some higher alcohol wines (such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape) I might consider decanting into jugs in the future to see if it makes a difference, but I'm wary of some of the wines potentially losing some of their vigour and detail after, say, two hours where in theory the alcohol level might have dropped by a point or a point and half. Do people think a twenty year old wine would keep its detail after two hours in a jug?
  20. I would also suspect serving temperature also affects the alcohol. Some higher alcohol wines are better served slightly colder so the alcohol doesn’t become volatile and impact the smell as it evaporates.
  21. So did I Richard!
  22. A ship's decanter would give even more surface area than a jug. So the solution is to get on the fruit of a young wine and allow to breathe for 6 hours...

    2009 dinner with 6 hour and splash decant comparisons of the same wines?
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
    James Gardner and Nicholas Frost like this.
  23. All red wines are best served slightly colder! they are usually served at a ridiculous temperature, even in restaurants that should know better, to be fair because that is often what most of their customers want.

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