2013 Bordeaux: the Southwold Tasting

This year, I was delighted to be invited to the famous Southwold Tasting for the first time. For over two decades, a group of the UK’s leading wine buyers and writers have convened in Southwold to taste the most recently released Bordeaux vintage from bottle. This year’s venue was different, the tasting in fact taking place at Farr Vintner’s London offices while Southwold’s Swan Hotel is refurbished. But the panel of experts was as authoritative as ever, featuring five Masters of Wine and Bordeaux buyers from leading merchants including Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Justerini & Brooks and the Wine Society. The tasting itself was faultlessly organized: serious, efficient but simultaneously convivial. In fact, the pleasure of participating was tempered only by the wines themselves.

That’s because 2013 is a truly terrible vintage; the worst, we all agreed, for red Bordeaux since 1997. The white wines, lauded en primeur as the silver lining to the reds’ storm cloud, showed disappointingly. A number of fine Sauternes and Barsacs offered the only compensation. Mediocre and poor vintages often offer opportunities for careful buyers who take the trouble to sort the wheat from the chaff to pick up bargains; but such opportunities are few and far between in 2013, and there are very, very few of these wines which I would be happy to have in my cellar. I’ve summarised my impressions below, as none of the wines really merit extensive notes and scoring them is likely to seem sadistically punitive. All tasted blind.

Dry White Bordeaux

These wines revealed stylistic confusion, confirming that dry white Bordeaux has yet to determine its purpose and identity in the twenty-first century. Some were oaky, others were tropical; some were rich and textural, others were precise and acid-driven. While these showed comparatively well en primeur and received generous praise in the press at the time, I didn’t score any of these wines at all generously. Pape Clément and Smith Haut Lafitte, both comparatively restrained by the standards of the wines produced by these châteaux in the last decade, stood out.

Sauternes-Barsac

These wines were definitely the qualitative highlight of the tasting, presumably because the botrytis which plagued the red wines was actually an asset in this part of Bordeaux. Château d’Yquem won the group vote, but my top-two were La Tour Blanche (the group’s runner-up) and Doisy Daëne. These were complex, concentrated wines of real interest.

Saint-Emilion

This was one of the most disappointing communes in a disappointing vintage. Many wines were tart, muddled and over-extracted. Tertre Roteboeuf, exotic and genuinely pleasure-giving, stood out as the high-point, and I ranked it ahead of the ‘first growths’ Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pavie and Angélus.

Pomerol

One of the most successful communes, of a comparatively high standard across the board. Lafleur, Lafleur-Pétrus and above all La Conseillante stood out to my palate, though Eglise Clinet won the group vote. Both bottles of Pétrus showed disappointingly. Merlot would seem to have been the favoured cépage in 2013.

Pessac-Léognan

This was another of those more successful communes, with some genuinely agreeable wines; some, such as de Fieuzal, might even be good value propositions. Haut Brion won the group vote but I did not particularly warm to it, finding it lean and woody; the dry, astringent La Mission Haut Brion was also a disappointment.

Margaux

These wines were not a great success overall, though the best were creditable in the context of the vintage: a plush, supple Palmer, trying hard but largely succeeding, was my favourite, though the group vote went to Château Margaux. Pavillon Rouge performed well too, as did Giscours.

Northern Médoc

A mixed bag: Saint-Julien revealed some high-points, for me Léoville-Las Cases and Léoville Barton, and some lows too; Saint-Estèphe and the Haut Médoc were in general poor, though Poujeaux might be a value proposition at the right price. Pauillac was a disappointment, the wines generally green, mean and downright nasty. While Lafite disappointed, Mouton and Latour did comparatively well, but as Stephen Browett notes, their only raison d’etre is to be the least expensive vintage of their respective châteaux on the market.

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