The 2015 vintage started off with a cool front, February was one of the coldest of the last thirty years, this continued into late March, which saw some morning frost. The end of March saw the inception of warmer weather, which stimulated bud burst, with the first green tips being activated. Notably, April saw the beginning of the extremely hot and dry weather, which dominated 2015, temperatures of 28 degrees were recorded on the 15th of April, stimulating vigorous vine growth. Flowering appeared in late May and disease pressure was very low, with ideal sunny conditions and little coulure, even among the Merlot grapes. These conditions are considered ideal and a mark of many great vintages.
Summer conditions lasted for weeks on end, too much of a good thing, resulting in water shortage. The warm weather and lack of rainfall continued from mid-June to the end of July, pushing the grapes development ahead of schedule; July was one of the hottest ever. Berries started to change colour in mid-July, which for many was 10-15 days earlier than the average. These long periods of warm weather became a worry for winemakers and in late July, at long last, welcome rain arrived. It is unusual for the Bordealais to wish for rain in August, but this made the vintage, providing the ying to the hot summer’s yang and separating it from the heat stress that defined the 2003 vintage. As much as 5-20 mm fell, depending on the region, triggering slower veraison and smoothing growth in the grapes, which until the end of July had remained small. In effect, the cooler weather at the end of August moderated the vintage, extending tannin maturation, providing a tonic for the warm dry weather during the growing season.
The vines were in excellent health by September and the dry whites were harvested in late August through to mid-September, thus avoiding excessively hot weather. The weather in September was glorious, only disturbed at the end by some rain. Sunshine, warm days and cool nights helped create concentration in the wines’ colour, aroma and tannins. The red wines were harvested in mid-September through to mid-October. Wines on the left bank largely saw an early finish to the harvest, with the warm weather bringing maturation forward. In the case of Mouton Rothschild, the harvest ended earlier than usual on October 2nd, the longest harvest in the history of the Chateau. The story was similar at Ducru Beaucaillou, which finished on October 6th. Chateau Margaux harvested even earlier, starting on September 16th through to September 27th.
A determining factor of the vintage were the rains in the second and third weeks of September and it is noteworthy that more rain fell in the northern Medoc than other areas; St. Emilion and Pomerol staying more or less dry. Heavy rain was present in the first week of October, however, the thick skin of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes protected them. In conclusion, the extremely warm and dry summer and the rain in September and October define the vintage. As a result, the former created superb fruit concentration and fine tannins, with the latter ensuring a delightful freshness, which is a general trait of the vintage.
A Notch Up from 2014, Straddling 2005 and 2009.
The 2015 vintage is excellent and often exceptional. The hype has already begun, with James Suckling awarding eight hundred point scores. While other leading critics are yet to release their scores, they are vociferous about the quality and we can expect stellar reports. We heard from many winemakers at the leading estates that 2015 is a vintage that combines the fruit of 2005 and the expressive ripeness of 2009 and of course, many are speaking about it as a true great.
In reality the vintage is far less homogeneous than either vintage, some wines are on par, or arguably better than their 2009 and 2010 efforts. However, the 2015 vintage has less tannin concentration than the 2009 or 2010 vintages. Yet is it has lower pH levels and as a result it has a magnificent purity, focus and clarity, it also has fruit similar to 2005. One could also argue it rivals and often exceeds their aromatic complexity. The long ripening period has resulted in wines with great balance, while the hot and dry summer has provided very fine, polished tannin and fruit concentration. One notable trait and theme is the vintage’s freshness, which is incredibly appealing and creates wonderful tension with the ripe and expressive fruit profile.
One could argue that in 2005, 2009 and 2010 all villages hit home runs: in 2015 each village is heterogeneous. Painting with broad brush strokes the right bank is exceptional. The Merlot grape is the star of the vintage. In Pomerol, Christian Moueix, whose family own Petrus, says that the 2015 vintae, ‘reminds me of the great 1961’ and Olivier Berrouet, the general manager believes it to be one of the best ever. Baptiste Guinaudeau, co-owner of Chateau Lafleur has remarked that ‘2015 offered us our best merlots since the 2000 vintage.’ This quality and the superlatives ring true thought-out Pomerol. St.Emilion is equally exceptional and the Grand Cru Classe A fabulous four are remarkable wines, although very different. Overall, we thought the right bank has delivered a similar fresh fruit profile to the 2009s, yet less power than 2010.
On the left bank Pessac Leognon stands out, with its higher preponderance of Merlot. Chateau Haut Brion is a wine for the ages, as is La Mission Haut Brion. Once again this extends to the other leading wines of the region such as Pape Clement.
The Margaux appellation benefited from far fewer rains in September and October, making the wines powerful, velvety and hugely rewarding: Chateau Margaux presents a fitting memory to Paul Pontallier, the 2015 is truly spellbinding, with 13.5 percent alcohol the highest ever. It, like the other leading wines of Margaux, maintains focused acidity, with lovely fruit concentration. Stylistically, it is somewhere between 2009 and 2010 and the wines from this village deserve serious attention.
The wines from St Julien are powerful, the leading lights provide notes of graphite, smoked meats, wonderful ripeness of fruit with sweet spice, Ducru Beaucaillou and Leoville las Cases steal the show, but there are many others estates that have made remarkable wines. Pauillac, as one might expect, represents torque, power and structure, yet the freshness sets it apart. Lafite Rothschild is a return to their 2009 and 2010 form, while Mouton follows closely behind. Pontet Canet, Pichon Baron, Lynch Bages and Pichon Lalande will wrestle with their 2009 and 2005 counter parts. St Estephe was vexed by more rain at the end of the harvest than the rest of the left bank, along with some hail at the northern tip, yet some of the best wines don’t disappoint.
In conclusion, the 2015 vintage offers so much, with some chateaux making some of their greatest ever wines. There is so much to love and many great wines, these are not restricted to the big names, many other Grand Crus have made world beating wines and should also be secured. The wines on the right bank are big, flamboyant and rich, while the left bank are more classical in their structure and elegance: both have a delightful freshness that defines the vintage. In 2015, however, is five minutes in the oven short of the perfection of 2005, 2009 and 2010, but a notch up from any other modern vintage since 2000.
A Quick Word on the Whites
The dry white and sweet wines were subject to the same weather conditions in 2015 as the reds. As such they harvested early, Chateau d’Yquem embarked on their earliest picking since 1893. The dry whites experienced some blockages in maturity, caused by the hot, dry conditions, with less than 40% of the normal rainfall in Pessac Leognan. However, this also translates to some wonderful stone fruit flavours and rich concentration. Aromatically the dry whites render towards nectarine, tangerine and apricot. They are elegant, containing the freshness found in the reds and a delightful flinty, stony minerality. The whites are very good and will have good ageing potential as a result of the fruit focus and fresh acidity.
The sweet wines form Sauternes and Barsac are similar stylistically to 2010, with sweet fruit, tropical flavours, offering a viscous mouthfeel and ripe elegant aromas. However, they fall short of 2001, 2007 and 2014 on the levels of botrytis. Once we add the lovely freshness of the vintage and purity of fruit it translates to a very good year for the noble rot wines.
There is a growing trend among the leading Bordeaux estates of reducing volumes released during en primeur. In the past, en primeur campaigns helped finance estates, providing cash up front. Today the leading estates are well financed and are generally in no need to access capital, while low interest rates and high corporate taxes in France encourage chateaux to maintain stock and sell it later at higher prices. Latour, polemically have completely left the en primeur system, many others are reducing the amount they release to market. This will diminish during en primeur and is the beginning of a long term project to provide the estates and negociants more control over the price of back vintages. Philippe Sereys de Rothschild announced two months ago that Mouton Rothschild they would change their strategy to reduce volumes on release; ‘Sales of our wines in bottle are growing a lot and we’ve got to the point where we don’t have enough bottles left in our cellar… we will be releasing less of it en primeur as we have to rebuild our inventory.’
Pricing and Investment
As always the campaign will live or die by the pricing strategy. Nobody; merchants, negociants customers and even estates want a repeat of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 prices which led to what has now been coined as ‘Bordeaux bashing’. Following on from a largely successful pricing campaign in 2014, the wonderful quality of the 2015 vintage presents an opportunity. If the wines are released at a healthy discount to the current trading prices of the 2005, 2009 and 2010 vintages, the market will react with healthy demand, selling out comfortably across the ever growing global market. Collectors need an incentive to buy on release, outside the obvious benefits of choosing larger formats, maintaining allocations and guaranteeing provenance.
The negative driver in the UK market is the euro/pound exchange rate which has swung 9% from .72 to .79 in the last 12 months since the last 2014 releases. Moreover, the excellent vintage will command higher prices, reflecting a pricing tradition in Bordeaux. As such we can expect a euro increase in price of 5-20% and on top, the 9% less favourable exchange rate, thus a 15-30% increase on last year. This provides a margin which will work globally, offering collectors and businesses an incentive to secure great wines below the current trading prices of the 2005, 2009 and 2010 vintages. With less volume being released to market and stable pricing currently for Bordeaux, there will be more stability and as we all hope, a return to a system that benefits and incentives everyone. Estates that are too aggressive on price will receive bad press and sacrifice market position. Estates that offer incentive will increase their cachet and ingratiate themselves with a new generation eager to build a cellar full of Bordeaux.
To discuss specific wines from the 2015 vintage, or the campaign in general, please contact your account manager, reply to this email, or telephone +44 (0)203 195 8055.