Bordeaux 2006 — Variable Weather and a Vintage That Just Slipped Away
2006 Bordeaux, coming on the heels of the superb 2005s, was going to be a tough sell from the get-go. Follow-up vintages always seem to live in the shadow of the great ones that precede them, even if they prove spectacular. In 2006 the question is moot, as 2005 clearly outshines it. 2006 is a year that might be best described as mixed. There will be some very good efforts, but disappointments as well. Perhaps a bit better in Pomerol and the northern Médoc, where grapes ripened on either side of the mid-September rains. It is a vintage to buy with caution, and where price is commensurate with quality; otherwise, it’s best to pony up for the superb 2005s.
The season started with drought conditions left unresolved after a dry 2005, despite the cold, wet winter. Bud break was a bit later than normal, with just a few outbreaks of frost that had a minor effect on yield.
The weather was drier than normal through early summer, with good overall conditions.
Temperatures were increasingly warm through May, June, and July, with a major hot spell in late July that pushed ripening ahead. This set the stage for a hot, dry vintage, with the potential for excellent wines. Other than the effect of the dry heat, which had started to stress and shut down some vines, conditions looked promising.
On August 1st, the weather pattern dramatically changed. Cool, damp, and overcast conditions settled in for the rest of the month, slowing down the advances gained in the early part of the year. Some regions were less affected, with the northern Médoc getting less rainfall. Optimism was replaced with worry, and work in the vineyards commenced. The concerns shifted from keeping canopies protected from the July heat to opening them up for better air circulation to prevent mildew and rot. Veraison was long and protracted in the variable weather, with uneven ripeness that would either result in careful sorting and selection or greenness in the wines. Some Merlot began veraison in late July, well ahead of the norm, but other grapes would linger, moving harvest dates back and creating an even greater need for careful selection.
September got off to a good start, with about 10 days of fine, dry conditions. Hopes were raised for a very good outcome. One bright spot were the dry white wines, mostly harvested early, with beautiful, crisp freshness from the cool August spell resulting in pure, beautiful, balanced wines.
On September 11th, the rains came, lasting straight through the 18th, and again on the 21st and 24th. Preventing mildew and rot became a priority, and harvest was slowed or stopped to wait out the weather. Fortunately the weather improved in late September, and was generally fine through October and the end of harvest. The result was a somewhat split vintage, with dry whites faring best, followed by earlier ripening reds that were in before the rains, and then late-ripening Cabernets of the northern Médoc, where there was less rain and the grapes had enough time after the rains to rebound to some extent.
As usual, those who worked hard in the vineyard made the best of the variable conditions, a point almost so obvious it need not be said. Many growers thought that they could have rivaled the wines of 2005 if not for the deteriorating weather in September.