There are some excellent wines in St Emilion this year. While the 2017 vintage will always be remembered for the severe April frost, unlike 1991, that other frost affected year, there are a great many impressive wines in the appellation [and the same could never be said for ‘91]. Still the frost has created inconsistency, affecting the blends of some, reducing the volumes for many, and wiping out vineyards for others. Interestingly critic Antonio Gallioni has called 2017 a right bank year. Certainly many of the top wines here are really good, friendlier perhaps that the correct reds on the left bank, even though the left bankers technically profited more from the growing season. Yet as Cyrille Thienpont at Pavie Macquin pondered, ‘It is not really a case of left bank versus right this year, or Merlot versus Cabernet, more a question of which terroirs performed best.”
Château Angélus has made vivid, beautiful wine in 2017. The property reports that only a small part of the vineyard was affected by the April frosts. The remaining fruit benefited from the consistent weather during flowering and the hot June spurred vine growth. The vitality of the wine owes its origins to the dry but coolish summer, which helped the grapes retain freshness and acidity, as well as bright aromas. The relatively precocious state of the vineyards unaffected by frost meant that the vintage was relatively early, somewhat encouraged by the rainy period in September. Carillon d’Angélus also looks impressive in 2017. Château Bellevue is wonderfully lush and deep, almost irresistible at present. Château Daugay is soft and forward. Certainly there is plenty of joy to be had here in 2017 across the range of wines owned and managed by the de Boüard family.
The 2017 vintage was a difficult one for Stephan von Neipperg and his team. In the frost of April 27-28 they lost much of the crop at Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan, half of the crop in both his Castillon estate Château d’Aiguihle and St Emilion property Clos de l’Oratoire. At Château Canon-la-Gaffelière frost reduced the harvest by 40%. Only the prized La Mondotte vineyard was spared. That’s the bad news. The good news is that team Neipperg have succeeded in making impressive wines, very much against these odds. This is partly thanks to the quality of the remaining crop, a huge amount of work in the vineyard but also a determination to encourage a useful harvest from second generation grapes. It is also says much about Stephan von Neipperg’s own strength of character. Determined not to be despondent, he encouraged his team in the face of adversity. When the going gets tough, as Billy Ocean famously noted, the tough get going.
There is excitement about the quality of the 2017 vintage at Château Canon. They reckon the vintage is a combination of the 2015 and the 2016 and a notch up from 2014. They argue this is partly the good fortune of Canon’s great terroir atop the St Emilion plateau next to the town itself. The estate was not affected by the frost and in a precocious harvest on a precocious terroir, much of the Merlot on the St Emilion plateau was picked before the September rain. Certainly there is a perfumed and mineral note to Canon this year with the emphasis on the purity of the fruit and elegance. The recently acquired Château Berliquet also shows floral tones and refinement in the first vintage here under Nicolas Audebert.
My primeur visits to Château Pavie Macquin are really rewarding. There is so much to learn from the collective wisdom of Nicolas and Cyrille Thienpont and David Suire about wine growing on the right bank. Last year there was an excellent technical presentation about the 2016 vintage, this year a convivial lunch after tasting the 2017s. The lunch underscored a need to polish my St Emilion blind tasting skills [and improve my French] but also gave me the opportunity to consider the many virtues of the 2011 Château Beauséjour hDL [spot on right now], the 2004 Château Pavie Macquin [don’t underrate this vintage here] as well as two bottles of Château Larcis Ducasse, the 2009 [a forward beauty] and a spectacular bottle of the 1964, [fresh as a daisy]. With previous vintages evidently in great shape, how did the Thienpont’s portfolio fair in 2017?
I used to save the best to last. When I first started visiting the cellars of Jean-Luc Thunevin I’d turn up at the end of primeurs week. What a fool I was. Now it’s the first place I head to in St Emilion. It was interesting hearing Jean-Luc’s thoughts on the 2017 vintage. In places unaffected by frost, on the best terroirs he reckons it’s the equivalent to 2014 and even 2015 in places. Importantly Château Valandraud itself was not affected by the late April freeze. Other properties that Thunevin advises were, including some of his own properties such as Clos Badon in St Emilion and Le Clos du Beau Père in Pomerol. If volumes are down, in many cases quality is good to very good, judging from the wines tasted in Thunevin’s cellars. I love the energy that he manages to generate in his own wines and for Valandraud fans [read Jean-Luc fans] his 2017s do not disappoint.