Feature Story

The Modern 2015s

For many buyers flocking to Bordeaux for the 2015 en primeur tastings, the week will be remembered as much for the quality of the wines as for the absence of one of the region’s key figures, Paul Pontallier, managing director of Château Margaux since 1990. Tasting at the château felt very strange without his enthusiastic presence but before he died, Pontallier had this to say about the vintage: “I have been lucky enough to see the 2015 vintage at birth, then grown and blossom in the blending, and to have the privilege of being able to rely on a team whose skill, enthusiasm, respect for tradition and whose passion for excellence have helped me a great deal at this di cult time. 2015 will remain a fantastic and emotional vintage for all of us; we have celebrated our rich history, inaugurated the buildings of our future, and produced a wine whose quality will be remembered for a very long time.”

Paul Pontallier, 1956-2016 Paul Pontallier, 1956-2016
As the week of en primeur tasting went on, it was clear that Bordeaux once again had a great vintage on its hands after a gap of five years. Some producers claim to have made their best wine ever, which is quite an assertion considering the great quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, both of which I feel have deeper concentration, structure and character. The rains that came in August and September saved the vintage in many areas after the summer drought. The grapes ripened in perfect conditions with, for once, no pressure to pick early to avoid rot; picking dates became a personal decision that would account later for the varying quality in the wines. In some cases there is a skinniness to the early-picked wines and in others, notably in parts of St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Emilion, there is overripe sweetness.

On the whole, on the Right Bank, Pomerol is more successful than St-Emilion (except for those estates such as Figeac and Cheval Blanc, which lie at Pomerol’s borders) with excellent wines produced at La Fleur, Nenin, Pétrus, Trotanoy and Vieux Château Certan (the property of my husband’s family). Where cabernet franc is present in the blend, it added beautiful freshness and aromatic fragrance to the wines. In the northern Graves, both La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion made lovely, supple wines with lots of character, and classic notes of graphite and dark berries. In the Médoc, there was a lot to like in Margaux (which was the driest commune of the Médoc) from Château Margaux, Château Palmer and a return to form for Château Dufort Vivens. Thomas Duroux, CEO of Palmer, believes that the aromatics in the grapes were preserved by the mild weather in August; his 2015 includes a high proportion of merlot—44 percent—in a vintage when the merlots performed consistently well in the Médoc and the Right Bank. The vintage is also notable in St-Estèphe, where the stars include Château Cos d’Estournel, Château Calon Ségur and Château Montrose.

This is a happy vintage—fresh, fruity and abundant—and incredibly easy to taste en primeur. It also seems a very modern vintage—rounder and more polished than the 2005s, with fruit dominating the tannins as if growers have learned to handle the excesses of heat and alcohol. Although many of the wines are hovering around 14 to 14.5 percent, the high alcohol manifests only in the sweetness that accompanies many wines. I believe that these wines will always taste good, from their christening during en primeur week through to maturity in 20 to 30 years’ time, and I have a hunch that one of the wines that people will be lining up to procure will be Paul Pontallier’s last vintage at Château Margaux.

Fiona Morrison, MW’s Favorite 2015 Wines

Right Bank:

Ausone, St-Emilion
Canon, St-Emilion
Cheval Blanc, St-Emilion
Figeac, St-Emilion
Trotanoy, Pomerol
Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol

Left Bank:

Calon Ségur, St-Estèphe
Haut Bailly, Pessac-Léognan
Léoville Las Cases, St-Julien
La Mission Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan
Margaux, Margaux
Palmer, Margaux
Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac
Pontet Canet, Pauillac

Potentially Great Buys:

D’Aiguilhe, Castillon
Capbern, St-Estèphe
Clauzet, St-Estèphe
de Carles, Fronsac
Fiefs de Lagrange, St-Julien
Grand Village, Fronsac
Marjosse, Bordeaux
Ormes de Pez, St-Estèphe
Simard, St-Emilion
Tour de By, Médoc

This story was featured in W&S June 2016.