There is no more informal, carefree primeurs tasting to be had than the one on offer in the speakeasy St Emilion cellars of Jean-Luc Thunevin. ‘JLT’s own range of properties is laid out on a bench before you, followed by those he consults for and distributes [and there’s a multitude of these]. You’re given a set of large glasses, a table between some stainless steel tanks and it’s time to help yourself. If the approach is refreshing, the wines are even more so – glass after glass of provocative, exotic, remarkable Bordeaux passes nose and lips. It’s a purists nightmare but a hedonists dream. And sat at the top of the Thunevin tree is Château Valandraud itself. The wine is as much a statement about the man and his ambitions as it is an expression of terroir, [though that is perhaps true of all great wine] and, frankly, who cares when the stuff tastes so damn good. And Valandraud 2014 is damn good in my book.
Posts Tagged ‘Chateau Valandraud’
Bordeaux’s primeurs week ended for me, as it began, in St Emilion. While perhaps 2014 will be seen as a vintage for the Cabernets and therefore the Left Bank, there is in fact a lot to like about the texture and freshness of the best wines from Pomerol and St Emilion. Cyrille Thienpont who works with his father at many Right Bank properties [including Berliquet, Larcis-Ducasse and Pavie-Macquin], said it was as much the terroir that mattered [well drained, clay-limestone] as the variety [Merlot/Cabernet] in St Emilion. These thoughts were echoed in Pomerol by his cousin Alexandre Thienpont at Vieux Château Certan [the 2014 VCC is an intellectual beauty by the way]. What pleased him was the marriage of the Merlot and the Cabernet on his property. The vintage, he believes, allowed the elements to combine well, and that the strength of the wine [and perhaps the vintage?] was in the combination rather than in any of the particular elements here on the Right Bank.
Overall St Emilion is something of a mixed bag in 2013. Quality is better than you might expect given the dreadful vintage, conditions that were especially tricky for Merlot, the district’s principal grape. It was badly affected by poor weather at flowering, which reduced yields and led to poor fruit set; later the humid conditions at vintage and the threat and rapid onset of rot [botrytis] also adversely affected the variety. Still St Emilion has made a number of attractive and well-made wines. But there are plenty of disappointments too. Some are thin and over-worked; others hollow. Quality follows terroir and those with cash. The best wines have forward and attractive fruit flavours and some are competitively priced. While it’s a complex picture, overall the wines of St Emilion are probably a more immediately appealing and joyous bunch than their left-bank counterparts in 2013.
There’s a buzz of excitement when you enter the cellars of Jean-Luc Thunevin, tucked hidden in St Emilion’s narrow cobbled streets. It’s the anticipation of the guilty pleasures that lie ahead. You can certainly taste the effort has gone into Château Valandraud in 2013. The deep colour, the flattering and seductive aromatics, the volume of material and extract, are all hallmarks of the tiny yields, ultra strict selection and artisanal, micro production. It makes Valandraud an almost muscular effort, seemingly from a different vintage entirely when set against many wines this year. That will offend the purists but Thunevin won’t care. He’s made his reputation rocking-the-boat and working against the grain.
There can be no doubt that outside Pomerol, St Emilion has put in the strongest performance in 2012. There is great beauty to the best wines. The vintage was not without its own problems of course as detailed in earlier posts – various heavy bouts of rain in October; the difficult start to the growing season which lead to uneven and protracted flowering; the risks of mildew in early July and botrytis in October. The most attentive and diligent have triumphed and the quality of the best Merlot is stunning.
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.