2015 wine: a reference year for Southern French regions

Continuing our saga on the 2015 vintage, let’s head south, with great successes, especially for Bordeaux Grands Crus.

Bordeaux: the vintage of “the century”?

After a series of decent, average or mediocre vintages, since the excellent 2009 and 2010, Bordeaux has finally had a new great vintage with 2015. All the conditions for a great year for red Bordeaux wines were gathered:

  • Early and quite fast blossoming and berry setting to ensure good fertilization and allowing homogeneous maturity
  • Hot and dry July slowed down and even stopped the growth of the vine before veraison. The abundant winter rains had created sufficient reserves to prevent the vines from suffering too much during a hot summer, although not as warm as 2003 and 2009
  • A complete maturation of the different grape varieties thanks to dry August and September, but without excessive heat
  • Nice weather, moderately warm and not very rainy during the harvest, giving the possibility to wait for optimum maturity without fearing dilution or rot. Merlot grapes often reached 14° and Cabernet 13°. The health state was absolutely perfect with higher acidity than in other very warm vintages (2003 and 2009 for example) and thick, ripe skins.

The left bank seems to offer a better overall success than the right bank, especially in the Southern part, which was less affected by rains early September than the Northern part of the Médoc. Margaux probably enjoyed more the benefits of this great vintage, thanks to a very nice maturity for the Cabernet-Sauvignon tannins. Pessac was not far behind in this overall success, so were Saint-Julien and Pauilac, probably a little better than Saint-Estèphe, more concerned by the same rains early September. The risk for right bank wines was higher: Merlot grapes were more affected by the summer heat and this could have given more alcoholic wines. However, a great majority of the best chateaux from Pomerol and especially Saint-Émilion avoided this pitfall thanks to a gentler winemaking, which gave more control over the natural richness of this vintage. Very successful also in Côte de Castillon.

Dry white wines were also globally made from healthy, sweet, fruity grapes and sufficient acidity to balance the pleasant richness. The wines are rich, fruity and rounder than 2014.

Finally, a fine and early noble rot in Sauternes and Barsac (with important rains during the second half of September) made it possible to produce nice, pure and neat sweet wines, combining freshness, richness and elegance. Sugar levels are very high and the aromatic intensity is quite exceptional.

Score for red 2015 from Bordeaux (left bank): 18/20

Score for red 2015 from Bordeaux (right bank): 17/20

Score for dry white 2015 from Bordeaux: 17/20

Score for sweet white 2015 from Bordeaux: 18/20

 

Great success for the North of the Rhône

Although the entire Rhône valley has probably had one of its best vintages, the Northern part seems to be even better, especially for red wines that are similar to 1990. The vintage was very hot like everywhere, but these heat excesses were perfectly compensated by rains late August and a pleasant wind just before the harvest that perfectly dried the vines, leaving ripe grapes in a nearly perfect sanitary condition. Ideal conditions to create a great vintage especially for reds. The latter are dense and deep, very concentrated, with ripe fruits, reasonable alcohol levels (especially in Côte Rôtie) for such a hot year, and quality and silky tannins.

The whites sometimes suffered from this hot year, probably a little more in Condrieu – where the Viognier needs acidity to express its natural tenderness – than in Hermitage or Saint-Joseph where the white wines are rich and powerful, but balanced.

Score for red 2015 from Northern Rhône: 18/20

Score for white 2015 from Northern Rhône: 17/20

2015 wine: a warm vintage for Southern Rhône

In Southern Rhône, red wines have a very ripe side, but are not too hot or marked by an excess of alcohol. The tannic mass is sometimes impressive but supple and remains velvety, so many signs of a future great vintage. The fruit is very pure and perfectly balanced despite the richness of the body thanks to delicate extractions. This vintage is finer than other warm ones, like 2007.

As always in the very hot years, the whites are a notch below the reds, sometimes lacking energy, but the overall level remains slightly higher than 2014. Some domains achieve very high quality whites when balancing the density and richness with an appreciable tautness.

Score for red 2015 from Southern Rhône: 18/20

Score for white 2015 from Southern Rhône: 16/20

Loire valley: exceptional climatic conditions

The Loire region came close to the exceptional vintage, the year was ideal, as the temperatures were a little cooler than elsewhere thanks to fresh nights. Unfortunately, some quite strong rains in September reduced this quasi-perfection, especially for reds harvested quickly by domains, which feared even more rain. This is why some reds will probably seem a little « stiff » with dry tannins despite the hot weather. However, most reds, from the best winegrowers, look very good, better than 2011, 2012 and 2013. The wines will probably be rounder and more charming than the 2014, but may have a reduced ageing potential. 2015 seems particularly successful for Chinon. As the Loire is a vast region (and a very long river!), the conditions can be quite different from one vineyard to another. Sancerre has produced a great vintage in red, just like Burgundy, which is finally much closer than Touraine or Muscadet, and the Sauvignon wines are promising, not too marked by the heat.

White wines resisted better to the rain. Muscadet will be nice to drink, the wines from Montlouis and Vouvray will be rich and dense but not heavy, keeping this legendary Loire freshness. The great success of the year concerns the sweet wines, which have enjoyed a good botrytis. For them, it may be one of the best vintages.

Score for red 2015 from Loire: 16/20

Score for dry white 2015 from Loire: 17/20

Score for sweet white 2015 from Loire: 18/20

Languedoc: choose them well!

Regularly the South does not do like the other regions. When almost all the French vineyard has had a warm vintage (almost too much) with a few enjoyable rains in August, favouring homogeneous maturity, especially for the red grape varieties, the Southern vineyards are different. Severe droughts occurred during spring and early summer in most of the region, like everywhere, but somehow – and this is rare for the region – some areas enjoyed persistent damp conditions. Although the rains of August played their beneficial role, helping grapes to mature, the coastal strip of Languedoc experienced great storms and stagnant dampness towards the end of August and beginning of September.

The 2015 vintage is thus quite heterogeneous and it is even difficult to sub-categorize the region. Red wines will be for some slightly too jamy and heavy (excessive dryness and sun) and for others, they will have more vegetal notes. But these two extremes are not the norm. Languedoc still offers a majority of balanced reds, but it will probably be preferable to buy from the most renowned winegrowers for their seriousness and experience in a complicated vintage to produce.

The whites are also extremely variable and a notch below the remarkable cuvées of neighbouring Roussillon, both for the same climatic reasons as the red ones, and also a grape variety (very different from the Roussillon) not always adapted to the warm and dry climate of the region.

Score for red 2015 from Languedoc: 16/20

Score for white 2015 from Languedoc: 14/20

Roussillon wines: a classic year

As everywhere, Roussillon has had a warm year and a very hot summer, but like most of local winegrowers notice it, it is always the case here. Actually, the Roussillon has had a vintage that is probably a little less marked by excesses of heat and drought than elsewhere. Especially since heavy rains and some dampness did some good to the vines before the harvest.

Maturity levels are therefore excellent, both for red and white grapes. As it is often the case in Roussillon, the white wines are very qualitative this year, probably slightly above the reds. And thanks to an exceptional terroir, giving a lot of character to these Southern whites which still keep freshness and to a grape variety perfectly adapted to local conditions (macabeu, white grenache and especially grey grenache, white and grey carignan). The whites will therefore be rich, with a dense body, but perfectly balanced by usual tautness for the region. The reds are a bit more heterogeneous, but overall they win every year in finesse thanks to increasingly delicate vinification. The time of the “strong reds” from the South seems far away.

Score for red 2015 from Roussillon: 16/20

Score for white 2015 from Roussillon: 17/20

Provence – Corsica: a great vintage for Bandol

Provence has not escaped the summer heat, even if the local vineyards are more accustomed to it than those of Burgundy or Jura. This type of weather is generally favorable for red wines (although rosés represent here almost 90% of production!), even if some excessive droughts may have prevented some plots from maturing. Provençal reds will thus globally have a good level (but here the climate is rarely unfavorable), particularly in Bandol, the kingdom of great red wines from Provence. A bit like in 2005, red Bandol wines will be quite charming – which is rare for Mourvèdre –and relatively easy to drink when young, but they will probably not be able to age long. The Provençal whites have suffered from climatic excesses and will also be round and charming, lacking sometimes a bit of tautness.

We can observe just about the same thing in Corsica (heat and dryness) but overall, except for a few plots, the vineyard resisted well. The reds will globally be of a very high level with rich and powerful wines characterized by a nice mature tannic mass, especially in Patrimonio where the whites are dense, concentrated but with a nice fresh tautness. The appellation Ajaccio, with reds made from the Sciacarello grape, fine and delicate like Pinot Noir, is also at the top of this vintage.

 

Score for red 2015 from Provence – Corsica: 16/20

Score for white 2015 from Provence – Corsica: 15/20

 

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