It was Friday. No ordinary Friday but the last day of a grueling three-week primeurs period. At close to seven o’clock, I was over two hours late for a rendezvous with one of Bordeaux’s more controversial figures. It seemed highly unlikely that he would still be around to greet me. What an embarrassment. Every owner-winemaker in Bordeaux by now would surely have shut up shop, poured the champagne and put up their feet. Not Jean-Luc Thunevin.
It’s a measure of the man that when I finally got down to his tiny St Emilion cellars [it really is a garage] that he was still hard at it, tasting with importers from the US and Asia. He greeted me enthusiastically, untroubled that I was late, more delighted that I’d eventually made it, and promptly headed off into the cellar in search of some fresh tasting glasses.
Much has been written about Jean-Luc Thunevin, Chateau Valandraud and his pioneering role in the controversial garagiste movement, not all of it has been flattering by any means. Meeting the man two things are immediately clear – his energy and his dedication. Thunevin is tireless. Rather than being ushered out of the door once I’d worked my way through the razzle-dazzle of his own wines, nine of them lined up without any sense of pretension on a bench, he seemed concerned that I didn’t leave until I’d seen the others. Others? Round the corner were probably another thirty samples stood haphazardly on a table, wines that he had some sort of hand in, one way or another, either as a consultant or negociant. ‘Have you tried Gracia? How about Marojallia? What about the Italian?’ By the time I left, it was me that was flagging, not him.
There is no doubt that Thunevin has made delicious wines in 2012. Across the range there is perfume, lush fruit and real seduction. I’ve already written on the virtues of Domaine Virginie, his ‘simple’ AOC Bordeaux, and the very enjoyable Lalande de Pomerol, Domaine des Sabines. Le Clos du Beau-Père in Pomerol looked equally vibrant and layered. Lovely already. There is a fresh Margaux Chateau Bellevue de Tayac and the cheeky AOC Bordeaux ‘Badboy’.
Clos Badon really made me take note. This little St Emilion Grand Cru was ripe and attractive with lots going on. Then came the various Valandraud bottlings, which take you on a kind of mythical journey to the centre of the earth. The third wine, 3 de Valandraud was very pretty on the nose with spicy fruit and despite the vibrant colour and density showed a refreshing degree of acidity that helped lend a kind of weightlessness. The second wine, Virginie de Valandraud, had more density and matter and there is plenty of everything, fruit and oak. It’s a pretty big wine. Chateau Valandraud itself is an extremely bold statement but it worked very well for me. There’s a fair dollop of new oak that needs to integrate further but this feels like a wine just beginning a very long journey indeed. Lashing of ripe, lush, concentrated fruit saturate the palate with extremely fine tannins [and plenty of them]. There is undoubtedly great depth and power here and a fair degree of precision. There is freshness to which helps keep the ball in the air. Fascinating stuff.
The Valandraud whites are very interesting. Virginie de Valandraud Blanc, the second wine, is full of spicy grapefruit aromas and very moreish on the palate. Chateau Valandraud Blanc would seem to be up with some of Pessac-Leognan’s best whites – in quality and in production [only 2000 bottles made]. This wine has wonderful depth and weight, lots of fruit, ginger, spices, citrus tones on the palate. It is very well balanced.
The following wines were tasted on Friday 12th April 2013. Many thanks for Xavier Serin for loitering around St Emilion’s tiny streets laying in wait for me!
Le Clos du Beau-Père, Pomerol
Deep and dense; vibrant; violets, perfume and lots of fruit and layered; vibrant with lots of layers; nice chew and attack; very good and very ripe. Nice chew and sap and lots of richness. 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc 89-91+
Chateau Bellevue de Tayac, Margaux
Very deep and saturated; little more freshness and lift; fresh; ripe and pretty lush; elegance and freshness. 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 87-89+
Badboy, AOC Bordeaux
Deep and saturated looking; vibrant edge; cake and spices; lots of richness and plenty of fruit; very up front but still with good freshness; lots of extract and matter on the palate; bouncy and lively style. Nice zap at the end. 100% Merlot 86-88
3 de Valandraud [3rd wine of Chateau Valandraud]
Deep and saturated; vibrant edge; some spice, lots of juicy, vibrant fruit; sweet entry but very fresh with nice acidity; some spice and depth. Positive wine. 75% Merlot, 88-90+
Clos Badon, St Emilion Grand Cru
Deep and saturated look; very dense; lush and deep on the nose; sexy and saturated with fruit aromas – black cherry, plums – very attractive; lots of extract and material on the palate; very ripe and big; very lush indeed; sweetness but very drinkable already. 75% Merlot remainder split between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. 90-91+
Virginie de Valandraud [2nd wine of Chateau Valandraud]
Deep and saturated; dark and arterial looking; colour extremely tight to the meniscus; lots of violet lift and very lush again; ripe and rich palate with plenty of matter here and also fair bit of oak; lashings of everything; lots of density. Big wine. 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 35,000 bottles produced. 90-92
Chateau Valandraud, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé
Deep and saturated and very arterial in colour; lifted; ripe and very lush; very bold statement; extremely lush palate; quite sublimated style; chewy; very big indeed but extracted very nicely; tannins, many of them, seem extremely fine. Lots of wood on the finish presently with a fair bit of chew. Very good length. Very unctuous style but retains freshness. 15,000 bottles made. 100% Merlot 94-96+
Virginie de Valandraud Blanc
Very pale green/silver; grapefruit, citrus and spicy ginger tones; some lees and peardrop notes too; pretty fat on the palate but with some zip. Very good effort. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Semillon. 7000 bottles made 89-91
Chateau Valandraud Blanc
Pale straw/green; nice weight and depth to the nose; spices, ginger tones; grapefruit; lots of fruit and weight to the palate with lees notes; lots of weight but retains balance. Very attractive white and very much up there with the best Pessac-Leognan in 2012. 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Sauvignon Gris and 33% Semillion. 2000 bottles made. 92-94+
Tags: 2012, 3 de Valandraud, Bordeaux, Chateau Valandraud, Chateau Valandraud Blanc, Clos Badon, Jean-Luc Thunevin, St Emilion, St Emilion Grand Cru, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, Virginie de Valandraud, Virginie de Valandraud Blanc