For many buyers flocking to Bordeaux for the 2015 en primeur tastings, the week will be remembered as much for the quality of the wines as for the absence of one of the region’s key figures, Paul Pontallier, managing director of Château Margaux since 1990. Tasting at the château felt very strange without his enthusiastic presence but before he died, Pontallier had this to say about the vintage: “I have been lucky enough to see the 2015 vintage at birth, then grown and blossom in the blending, and to have the privilege of being able to rely on a team whose skill, enthusiasm, respect for tradition and whose passion for excellence have helped me a great deal at this difficult time.

2015 will remain a fantastic and emotional vintage for all of us; we have celebrated our rich history, inaugurated the buildings of our future, and produced a wine whose quality will be remembered for a very long time.”

As the week of en primeur tasting progressed and my tasting notes began to number more than 200 wines, it was clear to see that Bordeaux once again had a great vintage on its hands after a gap of five years. Some producers claim to have made their best wine ever, quite an assertion considering the great quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

It was a slightly unusual growing season. A brief, successful flowering period was followed by several weeks of sunny, warm weather and drought, and then storms and rain in August. There was respite from the rain in September, although northern Medoc appellations, such as Pauillac and St-Estèphe, had to deal with several extra days of wet weather. Yet in many areas, especially on the Right Bank, the rain saved the vintage from summer drought. The grapes ripened in perfect conditions with no pressure from rot to pick early. Picking dates became a very interesting and personal decision that would account later for the varying quality in the wines. In some cases there is a skinniness to the early picked wines and in others, notably in parts of St. Julien, Pauillac and St. Emilion there is over-ripeness and sweetness. Across the board, it is the Merlot grape that has shined, adding roundness and soft tannins but, as a result of the mild August weather, keeping freshness and attractive fruit aromatics.

On the whole, on the right bank, Pomerol is more successful than St. Emilion (except for those estates such as Figeac and Cheval Blanc which lie at Pomerol’s borders) with excellent wines produced from estates such as Nenin, La Fleur, Pétrus, Vieux Chateau Certan and Trotanoy. Where Cabernet Franc is present in the blend, it added beautiful freshness and aromatic fragrance to the wines. In the northern Graves, both La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion made lovely supple wines, as did Haut Bailly and Domaine de Chevalier with lots of character, and notes of classic graphite and dark autumn berries. In the Médoc, there was a lot to like with super wines being made in Margaux (which was the driest commune of the Médoc) as well as in the northern appellation of St. Estèphe (the stars there included Chateau Calon Ségur and Chateau Montrose). It is also lovely to see so many “petits chateaux” – smaller Bordeaux estates such as those found in the Côtes appellations of the right bank or cru bourgeois from the Médoc which are delicious (see my list of potentially good value 2015s below)

This is a happy vintage – fresh, fruity and abundant – which was incredibly easy to taste “en primeur”. So delicious and fruity were the wines that I found myself several times but especially at Pétrus and at Léoville Las Cases forgetting to spit. It also seems a very modern vintage – rounder and more polished than the 2005s with fruit dominating the tannins as if growers have learnt to handle the excesses of heat and alcohol. Although many of the wines are hovering around the 14% to 14.5% level, one does not taste it and is only reminded by the high alcohol by the sweetness that accompanies many wines. I have a hunch that these wines will always taste good from their birth to maturity in 20-30 years time. In any case, it is wonderful to see a return to form in Bordeaux.

There has been a considerable interest in the 2015 primeurs and we are already taking reservations for the wines. If you would like to contact us to express your interest in certain chateaux, we will let you know as soon as the allocations and prices are released of those wines are released. I’ll be working on publishing my tasting notes on the website in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact the Thienpont team or me if you have any questions or want to discuss the 2015-en primeurs further.

Fiona’s top ranking wines:

Right Bank:
Ausone, St-Emilion; Canon, St-Emilion; Cheval Blanc, St-Emilion; Figeac, St- Emilion; La Fleur, Pomerol; L’If, St-Emilion; Pétrus, Pomerol; Trotanoy, Pomerol; Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol.

Left Bank:
Calon Ségur, St-Estèphe; Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan; Haut Bailly, Pessac-Léognan; Léoville Las Cases, St-Julien; La Mission Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan; Lynch Bages, Pauillac; Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac.

Potentially Great Buys:
Clauzet, St-Estèphe; de Carles, Fronsac; Fiefs de Lagrange, St-Julien; Puy Blanquet, St-Emilion; Puygueraud, Bordeaux Côtes de Francs; Ormes de Pez, St-Estèphe; Simard, St-Emilion, Sociando-Mallet, Haut-Médoc.

© Fiona Morrison M.W.