Tasting Bordeaux 2007: a mixed year, with some great early drinkers and complex flavours

The 2007 vintage showed marked differences between the Right and Left Banks, with some wines that are drinkable now, some that will need a few more years and others with underripe fruit or too much heavy oak

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 6:00pm

When I commented on how drinkable the 2007 Bordeaux were at a recent tasting in London, Giles Cooper of BI Fine Wine wine merchants told me: “Most remaining stocks have been bought over the past few years by restaurant owners and collectors in Asia. They have been going to markets where drinking vintages are at a premium, and it’s now getting harder to get hold of them, as so many have been opened.”

If so, that’s a shame – although Hong Kong residents may be best placed to round up the remaining bottles. I was surprised, to be totally honest, at how much I enjoyed these wines. Where most 10-years- on tastings are a snapshot into how a vintage is progressing, with the 2007 Bordeaux, the majority of them are now ready to go, and are in fact in a lovely window of juicy fruits and well-integrated tannins that won’t last forever, but are offering lots of pleasure today.

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It’s not all good news. These were the best wines of the region – around 70 bottles of mainly classified Bordeaux across the left and right banks – so we shouldn’t expect this success to be replicated at every level. And even here, the wines were not uniformly successful. The winemaking differences between left and right bank were really at their height between 1995 and 2010, and I found a number of right bank wines were still clearly showing heavy use of new oak that even at 10 years old meant they missed the freshness and florality that made the best wines so pleasingly drinkable.

Others (from both banks) showed signs of underripe fruit that were even less likely to grow into themselves over the coming years. And then there were those wines that remained absolutely true to themselves, even though the vintage demanded some modifications – so if you like the monolithic style of Chateau Pavie that was in full effect at that time, then you will enjoy the 2007.

All of this makes the 2007 vintage – which had a good spring, a cold and wet summer, and a beautiful sunny autumn – a brilliant lesson in winemaking. This is always true for the more challenging years, and it’s one reason that I like them. Besides, iconic vintages have their downsides too: they need years of ageing before they are ready. The Bordeaux grapes of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot are full of colour and structure. It is what makes them so age-worthy and fascinating, but in the hot years, these same characteristics create wines where tannin and power will take precedence over fruit for at least a decade. Combine this with the fact that you have to pay the price upfront for the buzz of a great vintage, and you can see why for early- to medium-term drinking, the less celebrated years have their upsides.

So which 2007s should we be looking at? First, let’s take the “first growths and equivalents”. They have expertise and cash at their disposal and so can react to difficult vintages. All were holding up extremely well. For me the stand-outs were Chateaux Margaux and La Mission Haut-Brion on the left bank, and Chateaux Lafleur, Petrus and Cheval Blanc on the right bank. They were not as concentrated or as intense as you will find in 2009 or 2010, but they deliver instead the pleasure of beautifully worked plush fruits, and a complexity that comes from layers of precisely delivered and ever-shifting flavours and aromatics. They are a lesson in the fact that great wine doesn’t have to be all about power.

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First growths aside, overall the wines fell into three camps. Let’s get the underperformers out of the way – Chateaux de Pez and Ormes de Pez in Saint Estèphe, fell into the expected 2007 camp of fruit that was charming but a little underwhelming. Another level of quality came from Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. It was good, just not as good as it is today, and stands as an interesting signpost to its current excellence, rather than being a great wine in itself.

Then there were the over-performers such as Léoville Las Cases, Palmer, Canon, Figeac, Vieux Chateau Certan and L’Eglise-Clinet that could stand up against any other vintage. These wines can be drunk today but could very easily left for another five or 10 years, or longer.

Then there are those who are absolutely perfect for a long lunch with friends right now – luscious, sappy fruits that should be savoured. I would put here Calon Segur, Petit Mouton, Pichon Baron, Pontet-Canet, Leoville Barton, Gloria, Rauzan-Segla, La Conseillante, La Fleur-Petrus and Petit-Village.

Perfect drinking wines that absolutely prove the point that “off vintages” could be more accurately renamed as years that offer early drinking, good value, and what’s so wrong with that?