How much of a difference does the year the wine is harvested (i.e., the vintage) make in how much we like a wine? For Bordeaux, like many other wine regions, the vintage can make a huge difference. Doing a recent tasting at our house, we lined up four recent Bordeaux vintages in a row to see what we thought. From the time we have spent in Bordeaux, we knew that both 2010 and 2015 are excellent years. But we were curious to see how the four years in between are tasting. Especially since on restaurant wine lists, one will see lots of Bordeaux wines from 2011 to 2014. If we’re at a restaurant and see an affordable Bordeaux from 2012, what will we think about? How about 2014? So, we did the logical and responsible thing – we drank.
From a recent trip to Bordeaux, we had a vertical sent back to us of Château Biston-Brillette from 2011 to 2014. Château Biston-Brillette, from Moulis in the Médoc on the left bank is one of the endless great wines from Bordeaux. Sadly, although great, many Americans have never heard of it. It’s neither expensive nor from a famous appellation, so it’s not well known in our country. That said, it is yummy and relatively inexpensive wine that is ready to drink now (as opposed to hold onto for twenty years, like many Bordeaux wines).
So, what did we think of these four vintages?
We knew that the 2013 was a bad vintage (or as the winemakers in Bordeaux like to call it, a “challenging vintage”). So, we drank the four wines blind so our (albeit limited) knowledge of the vintages would not throw us off. Sure enough, blind, the 2013 vintage was unmissable. While the wine was drinkable, it literally tasted watered down compared to the other three. Of the four wines, the best was the 2014. 2012 was next best, followed closely by 2011, with 2013 at the bottom. As we were curious to see how this one individual winery blind tasting matched the more general trends from folks who rate each vintage versus the next, we took a look at the various online vintage rating of 2011 through 2014. And sure enough, our Château Biston-Brillette blind tasting exactly matched the online ranking of these four vintages, 2014, 2012, 2011, and then 2013. However, the reviews didn’t exactly have the 2013 as the same low level outlier that we did on this tasting.
In any event, based on this loan tasting, we have to consider getting more 2014 wines, as a value vintage. And, at a restaurant, if we’re ordering a Bordeaux (at least from the Medoc) and have to choose between those years, we’re more likely to pick the 2014 vintage.