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.
Many of the red wines tasted during my visit to Bordeaux this April had freshness, engaging aromas, juicy fruit flavours, reasonable depth and generally soft tannins. On this basis 2017 is surely a good vintage? Well yes. For the best properties we’re talking of wines with elements of 2014, 2012 and 2008, possibly a combination of all three in certain places. Things are more exciting for the whites [it looks to be a brilliant year] and Sauternes too has excelled again. But these generalisations hide a somewhat heterogeneous vintage.
My final day tasting primeurs 2017 took me again to the right bank. First it was to Fronsac and Château La Dauphine who held the Grand Cercle press tasting. A comprehensive look at the Côtes de Bordeaux revealed a little irregularity but many successes. Château Veyry, Château Cap de Faugères and Clos Puy Arnaud were good in Castillon, Château Réaut and Château Reynon impressed in Cadillac, with a stylish Château Haut Bertinerie in Blaye. In Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac the wines felt more homogeneous. I will write in detail later, but Château La Vieille Cure, Château Gaby, Château Dalem, Château de la Rivière, Château de la Dauphine were excellent. In Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol some wines lacked depth, but there was also plenty of bright perfumed fruit on offer with fresh acidities. Château Taillefer, Château Feytit-Clinet, Château La Clemence and Château Bourgneuf all looked good. In Lalande de Pomerol, Château Tournefeuille and Château Jean de Gué showed well.
Saturday morning started in the cellars of Jean-Luc Thunevin. It’s always a tasting that I look forward to. Thunevin is candid about the late April 2017 frost which hit the right bank hard. Some of his properties and those he consults for were unscathed, some were left slightly affected, and others have been decimated. In some the effect is simply on volumes, in others it has also affected quality and style. I’ll write in more detail on St Emilion in a future post but the good news is that qualitatively Château Valandraud is excellent. It has wonderful perfume and layers of fruit. For me it is up there certainly with the 2012 and the 2014. St Emilion Grand Cru Clos Badon is in good shape [but very low production]. Jean-Luc’s Pomerol Le Clos du Beau Père also looks good.
An early visit to Château Palmer was a great start to day three on the 2017 primeurs trail. The morning was sunlit once again [it would get up to 25C later] and Thomas Duroux was in good form, as were both Alter Ego and Palmer. If 2017 Palmer is not in the league of the fab 2016s or 2015s here, this is seductive Margaux. The consistency the property now achieves is remarkable, in large part due to Duroux’s attention to detail and their biodynamic practices. I’ll write in more detail on Palmer and what they are up to soon [natural yeast ferments, seriously low sulphur use – it’s all fascinating}. Although Duroux sees Palmer ’17 as its own beast, it reflects elements of 2014 with the tannic structure of ’08 he reckons. For me the grand vin was nimble with great perfume.
My second day tasting Bordeaux 2017 started in bright sunshine at Château Haut Bailly. The purity of the wine in the past few vintages here has been unsurpassed and their terroir in Pessac-Léognan is wonderful. Frost took out a plot from production but there is finesse and elegance to this 2017. Ten minutes away, in contrasting but equally beautiful terroir, Château Smith Haut Lafitte has delivered the goods once again. The whites are brilliant, showing what a great vintage 2017 is here potentially for white wine. The reds are plump, and very well-upholstered with plenty of fruit and freshness. Excellent stuff. At Château La Mission Haut-Brion the remarkable quality of the whites was again underscored. Château La Mission Haut Brion Blanc and Château Haut-Brion Blanc are fabulous – though they never put a foot wrong with the whites mind. The reds are impressive, combining of the structure and fruit of 2014 perhaps with the freshness of 2008. La Mission is more approachable than usual in 2017 and Haut-Brion felt the fractionally deeper of the two. Both show wonderful purity.