St. Emilion

2013 Bordeaux: Seeing What the Right Bank Holds

A quiet tasting at the offices of J.P. Moueix

A quiet tasting at the offices of J.P. Moueix

After visiting wineries in the Medoc and the offices of negociants in and around Bordeaux, the JJ Buckley team traditionally turns towards the estates scattered outside the small town of Libourne. Located about a half hour east of Bordeaux, it’s in the communes of St. Emilion, Pomerol and their neighboring villages where merlot is king.

Heading there, we were reminded of the successes of many wines in the great vintages of 2009 and 2010. But what proved to be even more impressive was the quality that emanated from the Right Bank in the more difficult years that followed. Some of the top wines of 2011 and 2012 came from the Pomerol with many St. Emilions trailing closely behind in quality. Given the Right Bank’s ability to be successful when the weather creates problems, we looked forward to seeing what these communes produced in 2013.

Looking out at some vineyards of St. Emilion from Chateau Barde-Haut

Looking out at some vineyards of St. Emilion from Chateau Barde-Haut

And as it turned out, the wine regions of the Right Bank shared much in common with what we concluded from our tastings on the other side of the Gironde River earlier in the week. And so it is that the uniform theme to be found in the wines of both regions is that there is no uniformity. In other words, each commune had their share of successes as well as others that missed the mark. This is in stark contrast to the better harvests in ’09 and ’10 where all wineries benefited from the excellent weather raising the quality level for everyone.

Introductory tastings at St. Emilion and Pomerol revealed a slew of wines that were acceptable but missed that extra level of excitement that separates the great wines from the middle of the pack. These wines had a shared style about them: medium bodied palates with darker red fruit flavors, a firm structure with noticeable tannins in support. These were not the exuberant high-alcohol styles that proved to be so controversial back in 2009 and 2010. Instead, we saw classically shaped wines of moderate alcohol levels and with just enough acidity to add a bit of levity to the fruit. However, there was also a sense that the wines were one and the same, lacking the unique signature that defined each domaine’s terrior.

The new cellars at Cheval Blanc

The new cellars at Cheval Blanc

But just as the terroirs of the first growths on the Left Bank clearly shined in 2013, it wasn’t until we visited many of the smaller, more exclusive estates that we were able to witness some of the region’s success stories. Those estates that were the most successful in 2011 and 2012 managed to make wines that rose above the fray showing exceptional concentration and balance. Some estates in St. Emilion showed a more masculine profile emphasizing the structural elements of their wines while the top examples of Pomerol were more lithe and supple, effortlessly gliding across the palate in a silky manner.

The best wines in both appellations rivaled those of the Medoc. They were complete wines with layers of flavors and the nuance and complexity that separates the exceptional from the ordinary. What was most exciting in tasting the best wines was to see the best qualities of the main varietal (cabernet sauvignon in the Medoc, merlot on the Right Bank) express themselves completely and clearly. This was not a case of merlot looking like a cabernet or vice versa.

This was just a post to wet your whistle. Look for our favorite wines from all over Bordeaux in our upcoming report!