Finally: Bordeaux 2015 In Bottle


Finally, finally, I present my notes on 2015 Bordeaux in bottle. Early last year, readers were requesting my two cents on these wines, but I had only just completed my round of tastings prior to boarding HMS Vinous, so rather than repeat the exercise, I opted to wait until the following January for the annual Southwold tasting. Then I could gauge the 2015s with a useful additional year in bottle, as well as examine them blind within their respective peer groups. It turned out to be a fascinating journey through the top wines of the vintage, confirming prior opinions and throwing up more questions – as every blind tasting should.

The Growing Season 

Though 2015 is now regarded as the best since 2010, the growing season was actually quite complicated and certainly no shoo-in. January and February were rainy and replenished the depleted water table; then March was the warmest since 1880. Bud-burst was retarded by low night temperatures, and the vines’ pent-up energy meant that the landscape exploded into green at the beginning of April, some shoots growing up to five inches in a day. However, dry conditions put the brakes on growth; rainfall was 70% and 60% below average in April and May, respectively. Warm temperatures, up to 24°C, brought quick, even flowering. This was followed by a period of strong heat, some 3.2°C above normal, along with record sunlight hours. Eleven consecutive days in excess of 30°C began stressing the vines before the season took a different direction with two violent storms on July 22 and 24. Temperatures remained high in August, but there was much-needed rainfall, clustered in three or four deluges, adding up to 140mm on the Right Bank and 100mm in Pessac-Léognan. Growers found that this evened out véraison, which was completed by August 10, and vines redirected their energy toward bunches instead of foliage.

At harvest time, dry conditions meant there was little risk of rot. The dry whites were picked between August 28 and September 11, the cool nights benefiting the Sauvignon Blanc in particular. But on September 12, the remnants of tropical storm Henry delivered a 48-hour deluge followed by several more days of rain. Normally, depressions barge across the region from west to east; in this case, a warm southerly breeze that descends from the leeward side of the Alps, known as a föhn, steered the storm away from Bordeaux, limiting rain in many appellations to 40mm. Alas, the föhn’s protective influence did not quite extend to Saint-Estèphe, which received 100mm of rain and consequently had a shorter picking window than other appellations. Many properties delayed picking instead of expediting it as they had done in 1999, allowing time for berries to recover from the wet spell and avoiding swelling and potential dilution. The lion’s share of Merlot was picked between September 20 and October 1 during sunny days and cold nights, mostly during the final four days of the month. The Cabernet Franc on the Right Bank and the Cabernet Sauvignon were picked almost simultaneously from October 8 under blue skies and a cooling northerly breeze, and harvest was more or less complete by October 22.

The Wines

At release time, the Bordeaux hype machine went into full swing. I had long thought that three was the magic number, at least according to De La Soul. Clearly they had the wrong information and the magic number had changed to five following the pattern of feted vintages such as 1945, 1995 and 2005. (Let’s not mention the woeful 1965s or the ossified 1975s.) The 2015 vintage was the first since 2010 that châteaux and merchants could get behind, even though (2013s aside) the interim growing seasons have their individual merits. The primeur campaign was successful; everyone was happy. Then 2016 came swaggering along and relegated 2015 to the status of warm-up act. Predictably, the rhetoric was, “You thought 2015s were good? They’re nothing compared to what we’re about to sell.” Consequently, the quality of 2015 was slightly downplayed in order to buff up the newest vintage (not that the latest “vintage of the millennium” needed it). Whatever the pedigree of the 2016 vintage, it has no bearing on the quality of the previous year’s wines, and while comparisons are important, I wanted to assess the 2015s on their own merits.

The Left Bank

Let us begin on the Left Bank. Refreshingly, the Margaux appellation stood out during en primeur and just after bottling. For many years I have bemoaned the lack of consistency and the paucity of star players beyond the Margaux/Palmer/Rauzan-Ségla triumvirate, but in 2015 the entire appellation pulled up its sleeves and got busy producing wines equal to those of Pauillac or Saint-Julien. The two flights of Margaux confirmed the impressive quality of Margaux wines, not only at the top of the pyramid but at all levels. No wine evinces that quality more than the 2015 Château Pouget. Yes, that’s right: Pouget. You know, the Grand Cru Classé fourth growth that you rarely read about. In 2015 Pouget delivered a wine that justifies its inclusion within the 1855 classification. It trumped many of its peers, not just performing well, but audaciously and improbably winning its flight in terms of average scores. Sure, it needed time to fully coalesce, but it eventually manifested gorgeous pure red fruit on the nose and a silky-textured palate that offers everything you seek in a Margaux. Given market prices of around £30 to £40 per bottle, it yet again disproves the theory of unaffordable Bordeaux. The flights highlighted several other keenly priced Margaux crus that are worth hunting down: Boyd-Cantenac, Cantenac-Brown, Dauzac and a rejuvenated Labégorce. All epitomize what Margaux can achieve when it wants to: beautiful and sensual wines that enhance the reputation of the vintage. If you hunger for more traditional claret, then Brane-Cantenac is absolutely divine, though suitable for those who relish just a soupçon of leafiness in their wine. Both Palmer and Château Margaux, the latter in a commemorative bottle in honor of the late Paul Pontallier, are magnificent and among the finest in recent years, though of course you have to pay for the privilege. Maybe the 2015 Pavillon Rouge is a viable alternative; it is clearly one of the finest offerings in recent years and conveys a newfound sense of mineralité

Another highlight was, predictably, Saint-Julien, that most dependable of appellations. Saint-Julien is like Sir Ian McKellen, in that it never puts in a bad performance. The 2015 Léoville Las-Cases is as sophisticated as they come, barely able to contain nascent energy that, combined with its sheer mass, should ensure serious longevity. In fact, any 2015 with Léoville as its forename is recommended. Both the voluptuous Poyferré and the more classically trained Barton will provide stiff competition for their 2016 counterparts, and the latter is one of the must-buys of the vintage. A couple of wines seemed to be closing down and showed less well in this blind tasting than you might expect – namely, Gruaud Larose and Lagrange, which are incidentally two of the more inland vineyards, further back from the Gironde. I am certain both will open with a few years in bottle.

Given the performances of Margaux and Saint-Julien, one would expect the blue-blooded, First Growth–dappled appellation of Pauillac to underline the greatness of the 2015 vintage. The truth is that the wines did not quite match my expectations. For example, I anticipated more from Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon, not to mention one of my favorite properties, Grand-Puy Lacoste, which came across atypically ostentatious, perhaps dispensing with some of the reserve and structure that I cherish. Performances of both Batailley and Lynch-Moussas were at odds with my own previous glowing reviews, suggesting that either the bottles simply fluffed their lines on the day, or they are entering a closed phase. I will defer judgment on this pair and revisit them when I am next in Bordeaux. Without detracting from their commendable showings in 2015, some wines will inevitably be overshadowed by their 2016 counterparts, including Lynch-Bages and, you could argue, the three First Growths. These are great wines, the as-yet unreleased 2015 Latour perhaps with its nose out in front, though again, they do not quite reach for the stars as they did the following year. I was surprised how opulently one of two of the Pauillac wines showed, though the exuberance will be tempered by bottle age. Let’s shine the spotlight on one or two Pauillacs that did show better than expected. Bravo, Haut-Bages Libéral, for an excellent 2015, their best in recent years. Emmanuel Cruse and his team are also doing sterling work at the ever-improving Pédesclaux, even if personally I would not have placed the château building inside a goldfish bowl. In terms of value, both Pichon-Lalande and Pichon-Baron are outstanding and (whisper it quietly, because we do not want to pay the same prices) equal to the First Growths in terms of quality. 

As I found out of barrel, the Saint-Estèphe wines are very good but not of the same caliber as Saint-Julien or Margaux. The appellation’s brush with the remnants of tropical storm Henry means that, despite protestations from Saint-Estèphe proprietors, compared to other appellations the wines lag one or two steps behind. You could argue that the 2014 and 2016 generally have the edge over 2015, which will doubtless prompt châteaux to serve the three vintages blind next time I visit. The 2015 Saint-Estèphes just do not have a skip in their step, a trait that perhaps seeps over the border into some of the Pauillacs. This year Montrose edges out Cos d’Estournel by a whisker, although the reinvigorated Calon-Ségur, under the direction of estate manager Laurent Duffau and winemaker Vincent Millet, is providing a serious challenge these days. Given the quality of their wines despite ongoing large-scale reconstruction work and vineyard reorganization, it is exciting to conjecture about the future at this address. But the headline was stolen by none of these.

The fantastic 2015 Meyney shocked every attendee by its quality and won the flight. I had noted its potential just after bottling, describing it as a finely crafted wine, but I never predicted this show-stopping performance. It is a reminder of the importance of tasting wines in bottle. Some just need age to unlock their quality, which is bad timing if you are seeking to impress en primeur, but good timing if you want your wine to show best for consumers rather than critics. Chapeau, technical director Anne La Nour (a major asset to all the châteaux within the Crédit Agricole portfolio). Incidentally, the 2015 Haut-Marbuzet recently became a topic of conversation on Your Say. I am a fan of this estate, which has always plowed its own stylistic furrow, making wines that are more lush and fruit-driven than many of their peers. What it might lack in typicité it often makes up in sheer charm and, in vintages like the 1975, longevity. However, this vintage has never appealed to me since I tasted it from barrel, and served blind, again, I find it lacks the caliber of other recent offerings.

Before moving over to the Right Bank, let us praise the dry whites of Pessac-Léognan, where a number shot above expectations. Though synonymous with white Burgundy, premature oxidation also affects white Bordeaux, as proven by a vexing tasting of 2005 dry white Bordeaux a couple of years ago. Apropos of 2015, there were a couple of misfiring wines, such as a lethargic Larrivet-Haut-Brion, a slightly disappointing Carbonnieux and a rather monotone La Louvière. And the less said about the cider-scented Haut-Bergey Blanc, the better (what is going on at that property?) Elsewhere there are plenty of treats, such as a crisp, focused Latour-Martillac, an overachieving Gazin-Rocquencourt and one of the finest Domaine de Chevalier Blanc in recent years. While you could open your wallet wide for Haut-Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, there isn’t a gulf in quality between that pair and others. The reputation of the red Pessac-Léognans derives from a core of high achievers, namely Smith Haut-Lafitte, Pape-Clément, Haut-Bailly, Domaine de Chevalier and Malartic-Lagravière, a group that surely now includes the resurgent Les Carmes Haut-Brion. These might constitute some of the best-value 2015 Bordeaux wines, since the appellation, somewhat unfairly, does not attract the same premium as Pauillac or Saint-Julien. Just watch out: one or two, such as Château Olivier, seemed to have hardened in the preceding months and warrant three or four years’ cellaring. Both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are magnificent, although we must wait and see how the high alcohol levels, nudging the 15% mark, will affect evolution in bottle. 

The Right Bank

Saint-Émilion is said to be moving toward a fresher and less manipulated style, with fewer of the overblown and soulless wines that so often fail to measure up with age. It is a revision rather than a revolution, though I never expected an overnight turnaround (unless you happen to be called “Troplong Mondot”.) The appellation is like a supertanker: it needs a long time to change course. As I opined just after bottling, some of the Saint-Émilion 2015s continue to show signs of late picking, in the form of excessive concentration and dry wood tannins that discourage another sip. Occasionally winemakers fell back on old habits and misjudged 2015 as either a 2009 or 2010, when in fact it does not possess the fruit concentration to soak up maximum levels of new oak. Strangely, the Monbousquet was hardly drinkable, to the point where I am unable to score it, and the Magrez-Fombrauge was chewy and rather Oriental in style, pleasant but lacking soul. The Pavie-Macquin was conspicuously oxidized on the nose, hence the question mark against my score.

Yet there is no question that 2015 provides some genuine class acts. Ausone is queen of the appellation with a stunning and seductive masterpiece. Here, it outshone Cheval Blanc, although as I wrote in my tasting note, the “White Horse” has something up its sleeve for later. Nicolas Audebert crafted a benchmark Canon that on this occasion did not merit a perfect score and may well have closed up in recent months. Yet its precision and poise are undeniable, and I am convinced that in 20 years it will be seen as an iconic wine of the decade. Figeac is exactly what you expect it to be, a brilliant wine from winemaker Frédéric Faye. The 2015 is only disadvantaged by presaging the spellbinding 2016. Angélus is sleek and more modern in style, yet I admire the Cabernet expression on the nose that lends Left Bank allure. Clos Fourtet surpasses my expectations with its purity and velvet texture. Though the bottle of Pavie-Macquin seemed out of sorts, of Nicolas Thienpont’s other charges, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarosse is fabulous and Larcis-Ducasse, despite what seemed like a touch of brettanomyces, is captivating on the nose thanks to its Cabernet Franc component. 

Pomerol was surprisingly not as spectacular as one might predict. There is a clutch of magnificent wines from Petrus, Lafleur, Vieux-Château-Certan, Clinet, Trotanoy and l’Eglise-Clinet, and also La Violette if seeking a Pomerol with more sheen. I could not understand the Le Pin; neither bottle elicited much pleasure. A subsequently dispatched half-bottle was better, but still did not convince me that it belongs within the top tier of vintages, perhaps because Le Pin occasionally finds warmer grower seasons trickier on its gravel soils. Both notes are published for readers’ reference. L’Evangile felt too influenced by the vanilla-y new oak at the moment, although that will hopefully be subsumed with bottle age. The most vexing wine was one that I have rated very highly in the past: Le Gay. Two bottles were opened and both displayed malodorous vegetal notes, inexplicable within the context of previous showings in barrel. Presumably the entire production is bottled at one time, so what could account for this awful showing? Interestingly, Antonio Galloni found exactly the same trait in his note from February 2018. Caveat emptor. Quality does seem to decline quickly once away from the central plateau, and I expected more from La Fleur de Gay and Petit-Village. Better is Beauregard, finding a nice run of form in recent vintages, and a solid Nénin.


The 2015 Sauternes were eagerly anticipated because they showed so well just after bottling, but some did not match expectations. A few regulars, like Sigalas-Rabaud and Rabaud-Promis, just felt out of kilter; perhaps they were enduring an awkward phase. Quality picked up as we broached the top flight of wines, including a fantastic Doisy-Daëne, Coutet and Climens – a Barsac triumvirate, you could say, even if the Climens needs several years in bottle, as it always does. De Fargues also has enormous potential. However, I may have taken my eye off the ball when it came to the d’Yquem, since I rated the 2015 very highly upon release. Then again, the groundswell of opinion was that this must be an off bottle, and a backup was opened. Granted, it was better, but it was still missing the pedigree of the sample I encountered at the property last year. Icons have their off days too.

Final Thoughts

Does the 2015 Bordeaux vintage belong within the top tier alongside 2005, 2010 and 2016? Close, but no cigar. If Pauillac and Pomerol had shown better, then I suspect that nobody would hesitate to place 2015 within that select group, even if there is no way it could surpass 2016. But it lacks the consistency of 2016 and the showstoppers that might have enhanced its reputation. On the other hand, while the Bordelais’ breathless praise of 2016 is justified, it was wrong to downplay the quality of 2015, because there are many excellent wines, not least in the south of the Left Bank in Saint-Julien, Margaux and Pessac-Léognan, plus a cluster of great Saint-Émilions and a handful of Pomerols. The one virtue of 2015 is its approachability. Advanced techniques, particularly tannin management via gentler pressing, have engendered wines that do not require decades to soften. Will they hold up over the long haul? I suspect that, similar to the 1953s, the 2015s might not prompt reams of superlatives, but they will offer immense pleasure in terms of consumption. 

To finish, I have assembled my dream case of 2015s with consideration of current market prices, obviously something I cannot do when recommending wines en primeur.

Château Ausone (Saint-Émilion)

Château Boyd-Cantenac

Château Canon (Saint-Émilion)

Château Doisy-Daëne (Barsac)

Château Grand-Mayne (Saint-Émilion)

Château d’Issan (Margaux)

Château Margaux (Margaux)

Château Meyney (Saint-Estèphe)

Château Pichon-Baron (Pauillac)

Chateau Pouget (Margaux)

Ségla (Margaux)

Vieux-Château-Certan (Pomerol)

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