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.
Posts Tagged ‘Pessac-Léognan’
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 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.
Pessac-Léognan has produced some brilliant wines in 2016. Many have wonderful plush fruit tones and that moreish texture that defines the vintage. The knockout red this year is Château Haut-Bailly. For me it just pips Château Haut-Brion, Château La Mission Haut-Brion and Château Smith Haut Lafitte at this early stage. That’s not to say that these latter properties haven’t made belting wines [they have] but the purity and depth of Haut-Bailly is amazing this year. There is a bevy of other wines that are wonderfully lush and forward. To this extend I think 2016 might prove a relatively precocious, early maturing year here for many of the reds. Wonderful wines have been made too at Domaine de Chevalier, Château de Fieuzal, Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Château Malartic-Lagravière, Château Haut Bergey and Château Olivier [lovely purity]. Château Bouscaut has produced a blinder. It is textured and lush. Château Pape Clément, usually right up at the top of the tree, felt a little subdued when tasted back in the spring. Expect this to come good during elévage.
Bordeaux 2016 looks to be an excellent year for red wines but for the white wines of Pessac-Léognan the results seem uneven. The drought conditions across the summer that lasted well into September have yielded a varied range of wines. Some excellent whites have been made, but there is not the homogeneity of vintages like 2012, 2014 and 2015. A few whites felt flabby, unexpressive and low in acidity. The best, unsurprisingly, came from the finest terroirs that could deal with the dry conditions. Château Haut-Brion Blanc, Château La Mission Haut-Brion and Château Smith Haut Lafitte lead the pack. Château Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Château de Fieuzal, Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château Olivier are not far behind in quality. These are all excellent. Expect Château Bouscaut, Château Haut-Bergey and Château Larrivet Haut-Brion to be very good also. Château Pape Clément, usually up there with the best, felt subdued. Doubtless many whites [Pape Clément included] will all benefit from ‘filling out’ a little during elévage. Still 2016 still doesn’t have the excitement for me of previous white wine vintages here.
As you’d expect excellent red wines have been produced here in 2016. Both Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion show poise and depth. Qualitatively speaking the wines felt slightly pipped to the post by the Pauillac first growths, and in Pessac-Léognan by an exceptional Château Haut-Bailly, but these are still very impressive efforts. The alcohols are more manageable than some of the recent years here and are a degree down from 2015. The drought and summer heat proved a challenging one for the whites. Don’t get me wrong, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc and Haut-Brion Blanc have still made seriously good wines, but they are slightly off the pace of the best white wine vintages here [2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015 immediately spring to mind].