What makes a good Bordeaux vintage?

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Vintage variation in Bordeaux is less marked than in the past, thanks to advances in winemaking – but that’s not the whole picture. Sebastian Payne MW considers the factors that help to make certain years greater than others, and asks whether the definition of a ‘good vintage’ has changed over time Bordeaux

The late Denis Dubourdieu, former winemaker, professor of oenology at the University of Bordeaux and recipient of the Decanter Hall of Fame Award in 2016, said there were five conditions that make a perfect vintage for red Bordeaux. One and two: early, rapid flowering and fruit-set during weather that is sufficiently warm and dry to ensure pollination and predisposal towards simultaneous ripening; this gives the potential for a timely crop of evenly ripened grapes. Three: the gradual onset of water stress thanks to a warm, dry month of July in order to slow down and then put a definitive stop to vine growth during véraison (colour change). Four: full ripening of the various grape varieties thanks to dry and warm (but not excessively so) weather in the months of August and September. Five: fine, dry and medium-warm weather during harvest, making it possible to pick at full ripeness without running the risk of dilution or rot.

Two recent vintages that ticked all five of these boxes were 2005 and 2015. The 2010 vintage came close, though flowering in Merlot was not ideal due to slightly cool, wet weather in June that caused coulure (missing berries in a bunch due to poor flowering), millerandage (unevenly sized berries and uneven ripening within the bunch) and low yields, but summer and autumn were perfect; dry, but not too hot.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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