2013 Bordeaux - The Comprehensive 'in the bottle' Southwold Group Tasting

Monday, 30th January 2017 by Stephen Browett

As many of you will know, every year, for well over a quarter of a century, a group of the UK’s leading wine buyers and writers get together for a few days to taste the most recently released vintage from bottle. With the 2013 vintage having been physically released onto the market last year, this was its turn to step forward and show us if the lukewarm reception we gave it when we tasted it en primeur was perhaps a little harsh. You may recall that last year the consensus was that 2012 had turned out to be better than expected and contained many pleasant surprises.

This year our regular venue, The Swan Hotel in Southwold, was closed for refurbishment, so the tasting was held in London in the new Farr Vintners purpose-built tasting room on the banks of the river Thames – Southwold on Thames.

The Southwold Group tasting the Dry White 2013's

The panel of experts this year contained no less than 5 Masters of Wine and the buyers from merchants such as The Wine Society, Berry Brothers, Corney and Barrow and Justerini and Brooks - as well as three wine writers. Senior members of the group included Mark Savage MW, Steven Spurrier and Barry Phillips who have all been tasting wine professionally since the 1960s.

Before I come to the red wines, a brief mention of the whites. The dry wines were somewhat disappointing (considering that they have a good reputation). Quality and styles were very mixed, but the group’s overall winner was Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc. The sweet whites were very good and if one included them in the overall rankings then the top 3 sweet wines would all come in the top five. Living up to its reputation was the “King of Sauternes” Chateau d’Yquem which out-scored 19 rival estates. In second place in Sauternes (and 3rd overall) was La Tour Blanche and third (5th overall) was Doisy Vedrines. My advice to anyone looking for a great wine at a bargain price in 2013 is to go for Doisy Vedrines. At £230 per dozen, no red wine comes anywhere close to this quality at anywhere near this price

The very good 2013 Sweet Whites

On to the red wines, which I will summarise by region.

Right Bank

For value for money there was one stand-out performance here which was by Denis Durantou’s Les Cruzelles. This Lalande Pomerol won its flight, beating some very well-known names from Saint Emilion and Pomerol, some of which sell at up to 5 times the price. This wine is forward and fleshy for the vintage. Also showing well was Roc de Cambes which tastes like Roc de Cambes far more than it tastes like a 2013 Bordeaux.

Saint Emilion – Over 30 wines were tasted from this appellation and, to be honest, hardly any of them impressed us. If one excludes the First Growths (which were correct, if not exciting) the clear winner was Le Tertre Roteboeuf which was over half a point ahead of its rivals. Far too many of these St Emilions were thin, lean, dry and over-extracted - resulting in short, dry finishes. Above all I would avoid second wines in 2013 if the Petit Cheval was anything to go by.

All wines served blind in flights of 12

Pomerol – These were clearly ahead of the neighbours in St Emilion and some decent wines were made here with some rare flesh on the mid-palate. The two outstanding Chateaux were L’Eglise Clinet and Lafleur, both of which beat a rather sulky Petrus on the day. Vieux Chateau Certan was also good in third place. In my view, Pomerol is probably the most successful commune in 2013 which is perhaps because the growers here had no under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon in their vineyards

Pessac-Leognan – Unsurprisingly, the best wine made here in 2013 was Haut Brion. However, there were some attractive wines from Pape Clement, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Lafitte which received virtually identical scores. This commune is not far behind Pomerol in 2013 with some pleasant, forward wines for early drinking. For value for money I’d recommend de Fieuzal.

2013 Pomerols

Margaux – Again, there was no surprise that Chateau Margaux was the pick of the bunch. Runner-up was Palmer with Pavillon Rouge, Giscours and Rauzan Segla close behind. Some wines from Margaux were painfully weak and thin and even the best would probably be comfortably beaten in a taste-off with their second wines in a good vintage.

Saint Estephe and the Northern Medoc– This was a bit of a car crash. The wines here were dry and austere and mainly devoid of charm and generosity. Only Montrose struggled to reach an average score of over 15 but after tasting this I would tell any customer to buy as much of the wonderful Dame de Montrose 2010 that they can lay their hands on, because it’s a far better wine than this.

Saint Julien – The winner here was Léoville Lascases with Barton second and Poyferré fourth. St Pierre (very impressive in recent vintages) came third with an attractive, smoky effort that you can drink now. Overall they were decent for the vintage but the common 2013 theme of a thin body lacking in flesh and a short dry finish was evident, even in the top Chateaux.

This year's winning red. Mouton Rothschild 2013

Pauillac – As expected Mouton and Latour showed very well in the context of the vintage. These are good wines but their only duty in life must be to offer the lowest price of any vintage on the market today. Latour should probably get on with it and release their 2013 sooner rather than later. Lafite had a nightmare and I gave higher marks to Pichon Baron, Grand Puy Lacoste and several others.

You will soon be able to read much more detailed reports on this tasting on www.jancisrobinson.com, www.vinolent.net and in Decanter Magazine. My overall impression of 2013 is that it’s a good year for Sauternes, mixed for the dry whites and clearly the worst year for red Bordeaux since 1997. Thank goodness we had a tiny en primeur campaign and our customers own very few of these lean, mean and very disappointing wines! To those who said that modern technology and global warming means that Bordeaux will never have an off vintage again, I think that Mother Nature has had the last laugh.

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