Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac look good in 2017. The wines are nicely balanced, with plenty of flesh and harmony. They should age well in the medium term but will be easy to appreciate in their infancy. All in all, this is an interesting vintage for the consumer. Obviously 2015 and 2016 were excellent vintages here, with greater richness and structure, but I was genuinely surprised by the appeal of the wines in 2017. Yes, there has been a reduction in volume due to frost but I didn’t get any sense that quality had been dramatically affected. Quite the opposite. I was especially impressed with Château Dalem, Château de Carles, Château de la Dauphine, Château de la Rivière, Château Moulin Haut Laroque, Château La Vieille Cure and Château Villars. That said, quality seemed pretty homogenous to me and there really weren’t any misfires in the other wines I tasted from Fronsac or Canon-Fronsac earlier this year.
While the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations are varied and diverse, the Grand Cercle tasting back in April showed many wines having good, bold colours in 2017. They displayed attractive fruit and purity. There was also a nice balance to many of the wines with fresh acidities. Despite the frost problems it seemed that many properties had succeeded in making good wines. Blaye, Bourg, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs usually offer some of the best value red wines in Bordeaux and given the generosity this year, even if yields have been reduced, there are many wines to consider. For me Château Alcée [Castillon], Château d’Aiguhile [Castillon], Château Réaut [Cadillac], Château Reynon [Cadillac] and Château Veyry [Castillon] especially stood out, but overall quality felt homogeneous.
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.