Nicolas Thienpont describes the 2013 vintage as a ‘winemaker’s nightmare.’ The honesty is refreshing. Still despite the bad dreams and insomnia the properties he manages in St Emilion with his son Cyrille and winemaker David Suire have performed pretty well in 2013. There is surprising richness to Château Larcis Ducasse, genuine plushness to Château Pavie Macquin and sinewy purity to Château Beauséjour[Duffau-Lagarrosse]. Château Berliquet is sweet, ripe and quite fleshy in the middle. Just how did they manage it?
Let’s start by reliving the Thienpont ‘nightmare’ a little. He describes a harsh winter with an especially wet December and January, that gives way to an initially sunny, if rather cool, March and April. But May and June were especially wet and ‘winter-like’. The vineyards fell up to three weeks behind schedule, pointing to a mid-October harvest. The threat of mildew and botrytis are already present in the vineyards. July then turns the tables, fortunately the hottest and the driest month the Thienponts have seen in 15 years. This, as others have also said, turns out to be the vintage’s saving grace.
Violent thunderstorms in August that caused dreadful damage elsewhere spared the Thienpont properties [dose of luck], such that, despite the dreadful weather at flowering, by the beginning of September things appear to be in a satisfactory state in the vineyards if the weather can just hold for the late harvest. But it doesn’t and wet conditions arrive. Allied to warm temperatures, this humidity provides ideal conditions for the development of rot and the harvest needs to come in quick before it is lost. Harvest dates range a little across the properties, the Merlot began on September 30 at Berliquet and early October for the others. The Cabernet Franc, and small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, commenced on October 3 [again at Berliquet] while Pavie Macquin brought up the rear with the final Cabernets harvested on October 14 and 15.
So where does the extra ripeness I found in the Thienpont wines come from in 2013? One of the interesting things that they practiced at Larcis Ducasse and Beauséjour, was not to trim the vines in the early summer, allowing the plants to generate 30% more foliage, trellising these growth in early June in an attempt allow the plants to capture more sun [if I’ve got the gist right]. I guess this is the opposite of what you might consider doing but the crop itself was so reduced through poor flowering, it was clearly a successful strategy. Also vineyard improvements at Château Berliquet also came on stream in 2013, in particular a new trellising system for their Cabernet Franc.
These vineyard techniques and improvements, allied to excellent terroir [remember Pavie Macquin is on a west facing clay limestone plateau overlooking St Emilion, Larcis Ducasse neighbours Pavie and Berliquet is adjacent to Canon] and strict selection [the Beauséjour grand vin is just 43% of production for example] are critical in the narrative of how these properties snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in 2013. So terroir, vineyard savvy and, obviously, access to cash, are the key ingredients.
Whether they remain worthwhile purchases en-primeur depends on prices I guess. 2012 and 2011 were good efforts here, so unless prices are lower than these [in fact lower than all available vintages] purchasing en primeur doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. The exception, however, could be Beauséjour in this equation because of the tiny quantities produced. Liv-Ex, the London-based wine trading index, has a very useful running commentary on 2013 Bordeaux release prices by the way [www.liv-ex.com] – worth a peek.
The following wines were tasted at Château Pavie-Macquin on Friday April 4, 2014. There was also an intriguing line up of other vintages on offer [2011 and 2004] across the range. I think I owe that good fortune to Jeff Leve, the American Bordeaux enthusiast, who happened to turn up whilst I was tasting and the Thienpont’s had arranged to open the bottles for him. I’ll post on those wines at a later date.
Château Trimoulet, St Emilion Grand Cru
Deep and reasonably saturated colour; purple at edge; attractive perfume on the nose; spicy plum tones; good entry, not too forced. Elegant with a little chew on the finish. Bit short on the finish. The property is run by 31 year old Cécile Jean and her husband, David Dumont. 2011 was the first vintage Thienpont assisted with. [80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2017-2023. 83-85
Château Berliquet, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé
Bigger colour, deeper and tighter to the rim; little thicker on the nose; riper in feel with ripe plum flavours and black fruits; sweet entry with attractive ripe fruit on the palate; material attractive and ripe; soft and fleshy in the middle. Really good effort for the vintage. Berliquet has nice terroir adjacent to Canon, facing Angelus in one plot. Mixture of plateau and slope exposures. 2008 was the first year of Thienpont advising. New vineyard improvements and trellising system for Cab Franc online this year. [75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc]. Tasted April 4, 2014 at Pavie-Macquin. Drink 2018-2028. 88-90
Château Larcis Ducasse, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé
Deep and dark at centre; legs; nice purity and minerality with a rich seam of fruit; deep and pure; good sweet entry with good fruit and a ripe palate; very correct with nice material. mid weight and good-ish length. Very good effort in the vintage context. Larcis Ducasse is an 11 ha vineyard next to Pavie on clay-limestone soils. Drink 2018-2030. Tasted April 4, 2014 at Pavie-Macquin. 89-91+
Château Pavie Macquin, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé
Deep and glossy looking; very ripe full and inky; some ripe plum tones and menthol notes; sweet seam of fruit; very layered and precise on the nose; spices; sweet ripe entry on the palate; quite lush and plummy; very attractive palate; ripe, rich and attractive overall with chocolate notes; good bite on the finish. Great success. Pretty lush overall. [85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Tasted April 4, 2014 at Pavie-Macquin. Drink 2028-2030. 90-92
Château Beauséjour [héritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse], Premier Grand Cru Classé
Deep and dark at the core; purple hies at edge; cooler than Pavie Macquin; lovely blue fruit tones, plums, spices; very cool palate with good purity; more sinewy and masculine. Very good purity here again and good length on the finish. [88% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6.5 acre vineyard 5.5 in production]. Tasted April 4, 2014 at Pavie-Macquin. Drink 2018-2030. 89-91
Tags: Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2013, Chateau Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse, Chateau Berliquet, Chateau Larcis Ducasse, Chateau Pavie Macquin, Chateau Trimoulet, Cyrille Thienpont, David Suire, Nicolas Thienpont, St Emilion, St Emilion Grand Cru, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé