Back to School

One of our favorite wine-related ventures is the Wine School over at the New York Times. They always have an interesting challenge for their readers and often turn up some really fun and fascinating finds. We even had a chance to participate in one of their recent challenges – three Bordeaux from the 2013 vintage (Chateau Andy, Chateau Moulin de Tricot, Chateau le Puy Emilien Franc).

It’s not one of the cheaper lessons ever offered but certainly one of the more intriguing. Bordeaux had a tough year in 2013. It started with a cold, wet winter that wouldn’t end. The grapes had little chance to develop and many of the smaller ones were falling off the vine before the growing season really got started. There was a brief moment of hope in April, but in May the cold and damp returned. Most vineyards didn’t see a first fruit on the vines until June and the threat of mildew became a serious concern.

What Bordeaux needed was time to dry out and July looked promising at first. Unfortunately those warm temperatures turned searing. Heat spikes threatened to turn the once boggy vineyards into arid plains. And then came the great storm of July 26. Nearly 2 1/2 inches of rain fell in less than an hour. Fierce winds caused massive damage and power outages across the entire area. That was followed a few days later by the worst hailstorm in years.

At the end of the harvest, it was clear that Bordeaux 2013 was not going to be a great vintage. Much of the  Merlot harvest was lost and the other varietals didn’t fare much better. Add to that the two (yes, two) wildfires that moved through the area and you can imagine that there were a great many wine makers crying quietly into their cups at night.

Many of those who read about the assignment were perplexed by the selections. Two of the wines are from the Left Bank and the other wine is from the Right Bank. Like apples to oranges, one person complained. And in a normal year, that would probably be true.

But the beauty of 2013 is that it wasn’t a normal year. Between bad weather, fires, and a severe lack of fruit, the only real chance to make a good if not great wine was to engage in a little creative wine making.  The result are wines that are lean, more herbal than fruity. It’s a throwback of sorts. So many wines these days emphasize big fruits that it’s easy to forget that fruit heavy wines weren’t always the goal of a fine wine.

What these wines need are food. Alone, they can be harsh – no one is going to sit in the backyard, watching the sun go down with only a glass of the 2013 to keep them company. But throw in a nice yankee pot roast with lots of potatoes, carrots and loads of yummy gravy and you’ve got the stuff of dreams. Mushrooms are also a fantastic pairing.

These are not wines for aging in the wine cellar. There’s not enough complexity here to survive twenty years tucked away on a rack waiting for the flavors to magically evolve. These are wines that you can drink right now – and a wonderful reminder that wine was originally designed to pair with food. Wine is about meals, about enjoying food as an event and not just something you eat to keep yourself fueled.

So don’t be afraid to sample a so-called bad year. Even a bad year can have some good times.

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