Trends in Bordeaux (not pricing/economics)

This year’s EP discussion has gotten me tempted, as usual, to jump into the Bordeaux waters. Which so far I’m resisting. But also has me thinking about why?. Of course pricing is a factor (omg deals!), and my age (60) is another. But what I’m trying to focus on instead: Is there some stylistic change in recent vintage Bordeaux that is so different from the past that I should be a buyer?

For me, I like Bordeaux with age. Loving 1989, 1996 and similar vintages now. I bought a tiny bit of 2019 (sucked in by QPR), but my previous buying spree was 2012.

So: has something changed over the years? Is, say, 2015 onward stylistically so different from past periods that a Bordeaux lover should have those in their cellar? What are the stylistic periods/cycles of Bordeaux? Or is this even a meaningful question, because there are so many producers that a very wide range of styles is available in any time period?

Here’s a straw man to destroy:

  • before 1982. Old school, austere, weather driven. Most bottles are on the downslope of the aging curve.
  • 1982-1990: early Parker influence. Wines getting bigger and richer, better weather. More investment driving quality and cleaning up production.
    —1991 - 2000: extremely variable weather. Over Parkerization as producers chased trends and perhaps chased too much. Or perhaps the last hurrah of old school Bordeaux with new school production techniques.
  • 2001 - 2010: the actual peak Parker, now everyone is trying to make Napa-type wines.
  • 2011 - 2014: interregnum. The last of the truly bad weather vintages, all clumped together. Between climate change adaptation and rebounding from Parkerization, producers are shifting in many different directions.
  • 2015-2023. Brave new world of modern Bordeaux. Hot weather ripeness combined with sophisticated technical wine making means more consistent high quality. Choose your style.

Typically from 2015 and onwards would be a shift in the logisitics and space in the cellars to do even more parcel vinifications. Typically there is also a need for more people in the vineyards at the crucial points in the growing season. Mildew is more and more a problem and there is need to act quickly to avoid losing quantity. Especially in combination with organic practices.

In the cellar there is more sorting equipment than before. Optical sorting, manual sorting, density sorters. Not everything is used every year, but when needed. So in the end the grape material is more accurate today than in 2015.

There has been a shift from fermentations in upright wood and back to steel, but now conically shaped tanks. This means more submerged caps and a finer extraction of the tannins. There is more focus on the tannin management today compared to only 7-8 years ago.


There is clearly a big change since the vintage 2015, and it is mainly the tanins management, which is far more precise and minutious today.

If you consider the wines, of course maturity is less of a problem today, so the wines are often ripe, and it helps to make better wines. But the management in the cellar has greatly evolved for the better in my opinion. Better and softer extraction, preciser élevage, everything is evolving quite rapidly in Bordeaux.

The biggest evolution in the cellars the last 15 years is the quantity of vat available for the vinification. Today, almost all the GCC have now a big number of vat, to vinify plot by plot, gaining more precision in the wine.
In the past (vintage 2010) for example, Les Carmes Haut Brion had 3 vats, one for each grape. Today, they have about 25 vats.

IMHO the last vintages count the best wines ever produced in Bordeaux. It is not the opinion of Michel Rolland for example, who is sure that the best wines have been made in the 2005-2010 era (oh, it was his prime).


Great post, I will circle back later with some thoughts.

I do want to quibble with this block. For those that were not fans of many of prior vintages, 2010 and 2009 in particular, there are really a lot of high quality and affordable wines in some of these vintages, especially Pomerol. I love 2011 and 2012 Pomerol. Some incredible wines, and some incredible values. I even like lots of 2012 left banks. And then 2014 across the board is lovely to me, I bought deeply and still feel strongly about this vintage notwithstanding what we have heard about the recent Southwold tasting.


Robert, I figured this would be irresistible catnip for you. I wonder if 12/14 are weaker/cooler weather years combined with transitioning to more balanced stylistic approaches to wine making that have made them so attractive to you? Are the changes in production methods that I’m curious about reflective in the results of these years? Would these kinds of difficult weather vintages have been universal disasters in the 70s or 80s?

Rich, have you tried many post 2015 wines? I’d say that the hallmark of many post-modern Bordeaux (perhaps partly because of the more precise vinification) is that the tannins, which still very present, are much, much finer. Some of the wines still show a wall of tannin, but it is velvety, raspy tannin.

As a result, the wines are drinking well much earlier. See @Mark_Golodetz’s recent post on 2016 Mouton for example (and I had a 2016 Conseillante that was much the same). I think many of the 2019s may never shut down. And while some wines still show higher alcohol than we’d all like, the preponderance of Chateaux are managing to produce moderate ABV wines despite ever-escalating record heat.

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I have tried some, including the UGC for the ‘15 vintage, but not nearly enough. Clearly I need to start doing some comparisons across vintages.