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2015 Bordeaux: A Vintage to Buy
By Michael Apstein
Jan 30, 2018
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The wines from Bordeaux are definitely not the darlings of the breed of new-wave sommeliers whose wine lists are heavy with “natural” wines, orange wines, or selections from obscure areas--which all too often turn out to be obscure for good reason.  But, despite their lack of sex appeal, Bordeaux wines remain benchmarks for Cabernet- and Merlot-based reds, as well as Sauvignon- and Semillon-based whites, whether dry or sweet.  And the 2015 vintage reminds us why. 

Turning to the other gorilla in the room--price. Everyone "knows" that Bordeaux are painfully pricey and really only for the 1-percenters.  However, while that may be true for the top 30 or so properties (which have become collectors’ items for the very wealthy), there are hundreds of somewhat lesser known--and some rather well-known--properties whose wines are moderately priced or actually affordable.  These are the 2015s to snatch up. 

The reputation of a vintage--not just in Bordeaux, but most wine regions--is made by the reds.  In 2015, the reds are outstanding.  That said, both the dry and sweet whites are delicious now, so they should not be overlooked.  My assessment is based on a recent tasting of 70 bottled and ready-for-market wines--not barrel samples--organized by the Union des Grands Crus, an organization that represents 133 of the top properties in Bordeaux.

Let’s start with the reds.

The weather determines the quality and character of a vintage.  Without getting too geeky, the weather during the 2015 growing season was very nearly ideal, warmer and sunnier than usual, but lacking the heat of 2009 (or, heaven help us, 2003, which was just brutally hot, producing some correspondingly hot and heavy wines). The weather in 2015 produced reds that are fleshy, juicy, and amazingly, very fresh, despite the warmth of the growing season.  The wines are not alcoholic, hot, or over ripe.  Dare I say, the reds have a Burgundian sensibility—they are flavorful without being heavy.  Indeed, they are balanced, showing vivacity and energy.

Importantly, the ripeness of the wines did not blur the boundaries of the appellations as sometimes occurs.  St. Estèphe tastes like St. Estèphe and different from its neighbor, Pauillac, which is as it should be. For the most part, the tannins are supple and the wines easy to taste, even at this youthful stage, which may make people think that they will not develop with bottle age the way great Bordeaux does. Although predicting how wines will develop is fraught with difficulty--and sometimes error--the 2015s have marvelous balance, similar to the 1985s, which suggests to me that this “friendly” vintage will evolve very nicely.  As easy as they are to taste now, I’d plan on cellaring them for a decade to allow their complexity to bloom.

The prices I have listed below are averages taken from Wine-Searcher.com.  Prices for some wines are not available (n/a) because they have sold out and have not been re-stocked by retailers yet.  In those cases, I have listed the last global average as calculated by Wine-Searcher.com to give the reader an idea of what to expect.  However, the range of price for any given wine can be enormous, depending on the exchange rate when the merchant purchased their supply and what, if any, they have left over after filling customers’ orders for futures, so it pays to shop around.  Wines in bold represent excellent value in my opinion.

In some vintages, the Left Bank (Médoc) Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines excel, while in others the Merlot and Cabernet Franc-based Right Bank wines from St. Émilion and Pomerol are standouts.  Practically speaking, there were so many excellent wines across the region in 2015 that those kinds of generalizations are not really helpful to the consumer.  My favorite reds, all scored at 95+ points, are scattered among all the major appellations.  These include the explosive and velvety Château Rauzan-Ségla ($104) in Margaux, the mineral-y and long Chateau Pichon-Baron ($149) in Pauillac, and the floral and herbal-tinged Château Canon (n/a, $209) in St. Émilion.  Also outstanding but more affordable are the fleshy, but not flashy, Château Rouget ($50) from Pomerol, and the graceful and layered Domaine de Chevalier ($72) from Pessac-Léognan, which are steals in light of their quality.

Just behind this set, and evaluated in the 92-94 point, range are Château La Lagune ($61), Château Lascombes (n/a, $79), Château Giscours (n/a, $66), Château Brane-Cantenac (n/a, $70), a fabulous pair from the Mouton Rothschild team, Château Clerc-Milon (n/a, $83) and Château d’Armailhac (n/a, $50), Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion (n/a, $35), Château Haut-Bailly (n/a, $121), Château Clos Fourtet (n/a, $107), and Château Phélan-Ségur ($49), another bargain.

One of the benefits of the 2015 vintage is how well lesser known properties did.  These properties, often, but not always, from slightly less well-situated sites, benefit even more from the warm sunny weather that marked the vintage.  In this group, Château Bouscaut (90; n/a, $28) and Château de France (91; $25) from Pessac-Léognan made extraordinary reds in 2015.  From the Left Bank, grab as much of these as you can:  Château Beaumont (90, $20), Château Fourcas-Hosten (90, $20), Château Chasse-Spleen (92, $34), an extraordinary value, Château de Camensac, (91, $38), Château Cantemerle (92, $35), an extraordinary value, and Château Citran (90, $24), an extraordinary value.

Shifting to the dry whites from Graves and Pessac-Léognan, they are certainly charming now, but lack the backbone of the reds (which suggests that judging the vintage by the reds actually makes sense in 2015).  Nathan Guillen, a representative of Château Pape Clément, remarked that the weather favored Sauvignon Blanc over Semillon in 2015, which explains the added punch in many of the dry whites.  I suggest buying the dry whites and drinking them over the next few years--with a few exceptions, as always.  The top wines among the big names to me were Domaine de Chevalier (92, $97) and Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte ($100), whereas Château de France (90, $25) gets my vote as the best value dry white.

The 2015 sweet wines, Sauternes, which are always undervalued, are delightful to drink now. Remember that a little bit goes a long way with these, so half bottles (375 ml) are extremely useful as they will serve 4-6 people easily.  I suggest serving them as desert or with cheese, since their flavors often clash with sweet deserts.  My favorites were Château Coutet (93, $41) because of its extraordinary energy and verve even in a riper year, and Château Guiraud (92, $47).  The biggest surprise--and a spectacular value--was Château Bastor-Lamontagne (90, $25).  But, frankly, I’d be happy drinking any of them from the 2015 vintage--it’s a “can’t miss” (or, “point and shoot”) kind of vintage for Sauternes.

Indeed, it’s a “point and shoot” kind of vintage for the reds and dry whites as well.

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Email me your thoughts about Bordeaux at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 31, 2018