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2014 Bordeaux Barrel Tasting

James Molesworth is tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux to get a first glimpse of the 2014 vintage, likely the best the region has seen since 2010. Follow along with his tasting notes and daily blogs
The 2014 vintage is in barrel at Château Mouton-Rothschild. The Bordelais are optimistic about the vintage going into this year's en primeur tastings.

James Molesworth
Posted: March 18, 2015

Updated April 2, 2015. New blogs and notes will be posted regularly throughout the tastings.

WineSpectator.com members: Read James Molesworth's 2014 Bordeaux scores and tasting notes

James Molesworth's 2014 Bordeaux Barrels Diary

March and Bordeaux have a strong connection. It's at this time of year that France's largest and arguably most prominent wine region unveils its newest wines during a period called en primeur. It's the first time the wines from the most recent vintage—in this case 2014—are officially unveiled to the public. Négociants, press, retail and restaurant buyers, consumers and more come through the region en masse to taste the wines. And the Bordelais are optimistic about 2014: Yields remain down, but quality may be the best since the classic-rated 2010 vintage, with a strong performance by Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank.

Yet the wines are still unfinished, sitting in barrel. The samples shown are generally the final blend of the wine, though maybe a tweak here or there might still be made. They also still have another six months or more to go before they will be bottled. Some folks complain that it's too early to show or taste the wines and that there's little that can be gleaned from tasting barrel samples. So why do the châteaus show the wines now? And why do I come here to taste them at this early stage?

Because the wines are about to be offered for sale, first to the trade and then to you, the consumer, as futures, for delivery once they are bottled. So if the Bordelais want to show the wines and sell them, it's my job to report on their prospects. I've tasted wine from many regions, including from barrel, during my 18 years at Wine Spectator. It's a job where experience plays a big role, as does a bit of humility—it's important for everyone to keep in mind that it's very early in the game.

In recent years, Bordeaux's connection with March has been just as the expression goes: coming in like a lion but going out like a lamb. That's because there's initially an enormous amount of buzz generated when the world's wine press arrives and all the châteaus talk up their wares. But as 2011, 2012 and 2013 were vintages of less-than-stellar quality, the en primeur campaigns fizzled, often dragging out into the early summer months with little demand from the trade or consumers. But even the great 2009 and 2010 vintages have so far failed to appreciate in value.

So, if it's so early, then why buy now? Because as a consumer, 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 outstanding. Additional releases, or tranches, typically increase in price. By the time bottled wines reach retail shelves, the cost could be much higher, and the top wines could be harder to find. Should the vintage turn out to be stellar, those purchasing wine for investment might win in the long run by securing quantities of wine at the earlier pricing.

On the other hand, if it doesn't turn out to be an excellent vintage, then prices likely won't appreciate, and there may be no need to rush.

Still, perhaps you buy the wines of a favorite château year in and year out, or maybe you want to lock in quantities of a certain sleeper château that hits a home run. Whatever the buying tactic, everyone should exercise caution when buying Bordeaux futures.

This time around, 2014 provides Bordeaux with an inflection point. The 2014 Bordeaux vintage is by all accounts solid, and likely better than any of the past three vintages. But it won't match 2009 or 2010. Quantity is also slightly down, and that follows a trend of decreasing crops from 2011 through 2013. So, is there enough demand combined with decreased quantity for Bordeaux to see an energetic en primeur campaign? Or could the château owners get overzealous and price themselves out of a good campaign?

I'd expect a little bit of both. The U.S. economy is surging and the dollar is now nearly on par with the euro. In addition, the backlash and Bordeaux hating in the U.S. market caused by the exorbitant prices for 2009 and 2010 has waned. Bordeaux is becoming hip again. The Asian markets are slumbering and the Bordelais are coming back to the U.S.

But are they coming back to make amends for forsaking their best market when times were good? Are they going to price their wines fairly in order to move the inventory quickly? Can they see the potential momentum they could create if 2014 turns out to be a solid vintage and the wines are smartly priced? Do they want their wines back on restaurant wine lists and to become a relevant category for the thirty-something crowd? There's a lot of ego in Bordeaux and sometimes that gets in the way of smart pricing and a long-term view.

For background on how I move around Bordeaux during the en primeur season, you can reference my previous Bordeaux barrel-tasting coverage from 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010. As usual, I'll be visiting the first-growth estates in the Médoc and a handful of other elite properties before settling in to taste the vast majority of barrel samples in blind tastings. I've also already tasted a handful of 2014s in my New York office, prior to heading over to Bordeaux. All told, I hope to list around 350 reviews here for you to use as a guide to 2014 Bordeaux.

Keep in mind that my en primeur tastings are an introduction to the vintage, focusing on wines both widely available and popular in the U.S. market and highlighting sleepers and values, but this report is not a comprehensive overview of the vintage. For that you'll have to wait for my annual report in the magazine in March 2017. You can check out my 2012 Bordeaux tasting report in the March 31 issue.

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

James Molesworth's 2014 Bordeaux Barrels Diary

April 2, 2015

Pomerol Precision at Château Pétrus
James Molesworth's final stop during his 2014 Bordeaux barrel tastings was at the revered Right Bank estate of Château Pétrus. With the recent cellar renovation done and the doughty statue of St. Peter safely ensconced somewhere else, Pétrus seems ready to embark on another generation among Pomerol's elite wines.

April 1, 2015

The Fruit and Nothing but the Fruit at Le Pin
The reserved Alexandre Thienpont continues to pursue the fine details as he manages Vieux Château Certan and Le Pin, and he has been joined by his seemingly equally gifted son Guillaume since 2011. "2014 is classic in style. It's fresh, so it's both rich and with energy," said Alexandre. "With the richness it's also easily digestible. It's not hard or delicate."

March 31, 2015

Christian Moueix's Stable of Pomerols
Christian Moueix's wealth of experience contributed to an excellent vintage for his Pomerol estates, including Châteaus Trotanoy, La Fleur-Pétrus, Latour à Pomerol and more. Moueix likens the vintage's weather patterns to those of 1978 … "of course today we are better than '78 because viticulture has improved so much."

March 30, 2015

Wine of the Vintage Candidates at Cheval-Blanc and Yquem
At Château Cheval-Blanc, both director Pierre Lurton and technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet seem to bubble with enthusiasm at all times, and the quality of the 2014s at Château Cheval-Blanc in St.-Emilion and Château d'Yquem in Sauternes are both good reason to be excited.

March 27, 2015

The New Generation at Léoville Barton
Lilian Barton-Sartorius is taking the lead at this dialed-in St.-Julien estate. Barton-Sartorius is hardly a newbie, though: She picked her first grapes at age 7 and remembers licking wine off her fingers after sticking them in the barrels she was sitting atop as a young girl. Now 59, she's been working with her father, the legendary Anthony Barton since 1980.

March 26, 2015

Patience Pays at Lafite Rothschild
Director Charles Chevalier waited for ripeness at Domaines Barons de Rothschild properties Lafite and L'Evangile. August's cool temperatures meant his vineyard team had extra work to do, but beautiful harvesttime weather allowed them to wait for the right moments to pick. The vintage played to Pontallier's advantage in Sauternes at Rieussec as well.

March 25, 2015

Full Steam Ahead at Mouton-Rothschild
It's been a tumultuous stretch at Château Mouton-Rothschild, with a new cellar recently completed, and the passing of the legendary Baroness Philippine. Yet if anything could power forward through rough seas, it would be the S.S. Mouton-Rothschild, and director Philippe Dhalluin is admirably steering the ship.

March 24, 2015

Another Shining White at Château Haut-Brion
At Domaine Clarence Dillon, Jean-Philippe Delmas has his best vintage yet for St.-Emilion's Quintus, while La Mission and Haut-Brion remain Pessac-Léognan benchmarks. As in 2013, however, perhaps the most exciting wine here is the Haut-Brion White, a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend that should be another beauty.

March 23, 2015

Enthusiasm at Château Margaux
Château Margaux director Paul Pontallier says the 2014 vintage provided ample tannins for the first-growth's grand vin, balanced by freshness and acidity, and the 2014 Château Margaux Pavillon Blanc, 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, is not to be overlooked. Pontallier also offers his perspective on pricing for the 2014 en primeur campaign.

March 20, 2015

A Biodynamic Vintage at Château Palmer
At Château Palmer, director Thomas Duroux remains just as committed to organic vinegrowing as ever, putting him at the vanguard of this still nascent movement in Bordeaux.

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