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2013 Bordeaux Barrel Tasting

How did France's famed region fare in 2013? James Molesworth is tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux to find out. Follow along with his tasting notes and daily blogs

James Molesworth
Posted: March 24, 2014

Updated April 8, 2014. New blogs and notes will be posted regularly throughout the tastings.

Just like Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder's fictional Scorcher series: Here we go again. Again.

I'm off to Bordeaux, this time to taste the 2013 vintage from barrel, just ahead of that annual rite of spring known as the en primeur campaign, when the Bordeaux châteaus set the prices for the latest vintage and consumers have a chance to buy the wines at, presumably, their lowest prices.

But let's be honest: 2013 does not look like a vintage for speculation. Quality is extremely variable following a growing season marked by a bad flowering, hailstorms and then late rains. Cabernet Sauvignon struggled to ripen; Merlot is diluted. It's the toughest vintage for reds in a generation, according to some growers. Luckily, dry whites and the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes did well. In the end, however, Bordeaux is defined by its reds.

The given scenario might indicate that a significant drop in prices is about to come, with the only mitigating factor being the small crop, down by 20 percent on average across the region. Well, maybe there are two factors—ego will play a role too. Bordeaux isn't shy on self confidence, and if the merely modest price drops of the 2011 and '12 vintages are any indication, following the stratospheric increases for the 2009 and '10 vintages, sanity may not prevail in 2013.

Either way, if the chateaus are going to show their wares, then I'm going to see what the deal is. Over the next two weeks I'll visit a few dozen benchmark estates to see how they fared, and then settle in to taste an additional 250 or so barrel samples in blind tastings organized by Wine Spectator tasting staff. I'll be blogging on what I find during my visits, and formal tasting notes and reviews will appear first here on WineSpectator.com.

For the uninitiated, Bordeaux pulls back the curtain on its latest vintage each spring during the annual en primeur campaign. This is the first time that the wines are officially unveiled. Press, négociants, retail buyers, consumers and more pass through Bordeaux en masse to taste the wines.

These unfinished barrel samples are often just approximate blends of the final wines, which won't be bottled for another six to eight months or more, depending on the estate.

I'm tasting the wines now because they're being offered for sale to the trade, and then to consumers as futures for delivery once they're bottled.

So why would the consumer buy now? Because the initial price offered by the château (with subsequent markups through the négociant system and eventually to retail) will likely represent the best price you'll see if the vintage proves to be good. Additional releases, or tranches, of wine, typically increase in price down the road. Should the vintage turn out to be stellar, such as say 2009 or 2010, those interested in purchasing wine for investment might win in the long run by securing quantities of wine at the earlier pricing. But, if it doesn't turn out to be a stellar vintage, then prices likely won't appreciate. Ultimately, you should exercise caution when buying Bordeaux futures.

For background on how I move around Bordeaux during the en primeur season, you can reference my 2012, 2011 and 2010 en primeur blogs. But as in the past, I'll be visiting both a range of top estates and some less familiar names in order to show you the broad spectrum of Bordeaux. After my visits, I'll be finishing up my trip with several days of intensive tasting of barrel samples, blind, by appellation. All told, I hope to list more than 300 reviews for you to use as a guide to 2013 Bordeaux. (My en primeur tastings are an introduction to the vintage, not a comprehensive overview like the bottled wine tastings, such as the coverage of the 2011 vintage in the March 31 issue of the magazine). Bordeaux is a big, big place—there's lots to choose from at all price points.

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

James Molesworth's 2013 Bordeaux Barrels Diary

April 8, 2014

A Tough Vintage Passes the Test
In 2013, Bordeaux passed two tests: one of vintage, and one of faith. James Molesworth says that technology and experience saved the vintage, and highlights the success of those in Bordeaux who have made commitments to organic and biodynamic farming.

April 4, 2014

The Finish Line
James Molesworth wraps up his 2013 barrels tastings in Bordeaux with visits to two of Sauternes' most storied neighbors—the iconic Château d'Yquem and the resurgent Château de Fargues—where the dessert wines are shining in this difficult vintage for reds.

April 2, 2014

The High-Rent District
Two first-growth estates and the highly regarded fifth-growth Pontet-Canet gave James Molesworth another look at how high the quality bar can be set in Pauillac on Bordeaux's Left Bank. Here are his notes from Châteaus Latour and Mouton-Rothschild.

April 1, 2014

The Sun Shines on Pomerol
James Molesworth tasted much more than Right Bank reds on his visit to L'Evangile—he also tasted the 2013 Lafite Rothschild Pauillac and Rieussec Sauternes. Afterward, he visited Figeac and Vieux Château Certan.

March 31, 2014

Clay or Gravel? Depends Who You Ask
Bordeaux's Right Bank offers diverse terroirs. In St.-Emilion, Château Cheval-Blanc's 2013 straddles elegance and finesse. For Christian Moueix, gravelly vineyards had the advantage in Pomerol at Châteaus La Fleur-Pétrus and Trotanoy.

March 28, 2014

A Vintage for a Slow Hand
Patience and mindfulness in the vineyard and the winery were key to making quality 2013 Bordeauxs. At Château Lynch Bages, Jean-Charles Cazes achieved balance in a difficult year, while Bruno-Eugène Borie harnessed depth at Ducru-Beaucaillou.

March 27, 2014

The Future Is Now at Montrose
Château Montrose managing director Hervé Berland is working with a new all-star staff and state-of-the-art chai to take the St.-Estèphe estate to new heights. In St.-Julien, Léoville Las Cases continues to confirm its status as one of the appellation's elite.

March 26, 2014

Bringing Biodynamics to Palmer, Cautiously
Thomas Duroux has a romantic agricultural vision for Château Palmer, but he puts quality first at the revered Margaux estate. Following his visit to Palmer, James Molesworth checks in at Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot to taste the 2013 Bordeaux lineup.

March 25, 2014

An Early Candidate for Wine of the Vintage
Château Haut-Brion may have made one of the best 2013 Bordeaux reds, but it's the white wine that stars in this difficult vintage. Also from Domaine Clarence Dillon, James Molesworth tastes the 2013 lineups from Châteaus La Mission Haut-Brion and Quintus.

March 24, 2014

To Margaux, on the Double
James Molesworth hit the ground running in Bordeaux, starting his 2013 Bordeaux barrels visits at Château Margaux, followed by a visit to Château Haut-Bailly.

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