True Colours

By Rebecca Gibb MW - LE PAN | July/August 2016
Illustration by Christophe Gowans

Once a year, Bordeaux is besieged by eager wine professionals who sip and spit their way through judgment on the latest vintage. A suitably attired Rebecca Gibb joins the throng to discover silky, appealing 2015s, which may prove to be more fashionable than their makers.

The annual spring launch of the latest vintage in Bordeaux is an elaborate mating ritual. The region’s producers fan their plumage, courting the world’s wine merchants and media for their custom and approval. Processions of rental cars criss-cross the rivers separating the Left from the Right Bank, carrying thousands of members of the press and trade to taste dozens – perhaps hundreds – of wines each day. Thereafter, verdicts are published, prices set, and orders made.

In many ways, this is the wine world’s equivalent of London or Paris Fashion Week. Yet chic the proceedings are not – despite the likes of Chanel and Louis Vuitton holding stakes in various Bordeaux châteaux. Vogue editor-in- chief Anna Wintour would no doubt shudder at the mere thought of the abundant ‘red trouser, blue blazer’ combinations on display, while the corduroys in garish hues that brighten up these tastings are unlikely to feature in her magazine any time soon.

Fortunately, access to the grand châteaux lining the otherwise humdrum D2 highway is granted according to status not style – provided you have an appointment, and you aren’t wearing jeans and sports shoes. If your name isn’t on the list, though – or should you dare to be late – the guard won’t be opening the gates at Château Latour, and you certainly won’t be riding the golf buggies that ferry guests from Château Mouton Rothschild’s reception to the tasting room, a mere 30-second walk away.

Once you have negotiated your way past the red rope, however, you will find yourself ushered into one of the many stately rooms that receive hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors over the course of en primeur week. If you’re one of the more esteemed guests, the winemaker will even make an appearance, shaking hands and kissing cheeks, before delivering a glowing introduction to the vintage. At Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, mustard-corduroy-clad owner Bruno Borie whisks ‘Les Anglais’ – a group including veteran critics Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier – to the ‘British’ room, where he talks excitedly about his latest wine, overlooked by a painting of snooker-playing dogs.

Finally, the new vintage is poured, and a reverential silence descends, broken only by the sounds of slurping, and the tap-tap of keyboards furiously recording impressions. Kind remarks are exchanged. Then it’s off to the next château to do it all again. And again. For five days – or more – samples are sniffed, slurped and spat, interspersed with many a buffet lunch, and château dinners that continue long into the night. It might be tiring on the palate and the digestive system, and challenging to a critic’s vocabulary (there are only so many ways of noting dark fruits and refined tannins), but there are worse ways to spend a week.

Over the course of this year’s tastings, there were references to great vintages, including 2005, 2009 and 2010. Some châteaux, notably Lynch-Bages and Palmer, noted that all Bordeaux vintages ending in ‘5’ since 1945, excluding 1965 (and possibly 1975, depending on your viewpoint) have been excellent. It’s all part of a lavish indoctrination attempt, but in drinking the wines rather than the Kool-Aid, one discerns a few cracks in the lustrous veneer. Is 2015 truly a great vintage or merely a good one? It’s the perennial question, and early reports concluded that this is the best year since 2010 – but that’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

What you do need to know about the vintage, in a nutshell, is that 2015 was a warm and dry year, which resulted in ripe, concentrated fruit, producing deeply coloured, rich reds. The wines are remarkably easy to drink: barrel samples are notoriously hard on the palate, but first-timers at en primeur week were left wondering what all the fuss was about, so silky were the tannins.

Without doubt, this is a modern, accessible Bordeaux style, which won’t necessarily please the traditional claret- drinking, corduroy-wearing types. If the price is right, it will have wide appeal. Even, perhaps, to those wearing jeans.

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)


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