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Bordeaux 2023: Château Larcis Ducasse, Château Pavie Macquin and the Thienpont wines

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

“The source may be beautiful, but the true beauty lies in the accomplishment.” It’s the quote that starts Nicolas Thienpont’s 2023 vintage booklet. Often primeur guides are full of hot air but in this case his statement couldn’t be more deserved. Thienpont, who has been making wine on the right bank for forty years, knows the lie of the land here probably better than anyone and he has been giving expression to its varied terroirs with a gentle but guiding hand. He and his team [son Cyrille, winemaker David Suire and consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt] look after the winegrowing and winemaking at Château Larcis Ducasse and Château Pavie Macquin. Nicolas and Cyrille also run the over-achieving Thienpont family properties in Castillon [Château Alcée] and in Francs [Château Charmes Godard, Château Puygueraud and Château La Prade]. If there’s a common characteristic to all these wines, it is the quest for purity, a kind of generous purity, and that’s Thienpont’s touch. So, what’s the take here on the 2023 vintage in Bordeaux’s right bank and just how good are the wines?

There’s no denying the complexities of the first half of the summer. “It was wet with lots of mildew pressure to start with” says Cyrille Thienpont, though flowering was good with an even fruit set. There was further rainfall at the end of June, but July was dry with moderate temperatures. In the second half of August saw a heatwave and then again another in early September. These dry, sunny conditions were ideal for phenolic ripening in the grapes and it was an early harvest with good yields. Their whites [Puygueraud and Charmes Godard] were harvested between 1 and 11 September, and the reds started on 13 September with the Merlot at Puygueraud, 14 September at Larcis Ducasse and the 18 September at Pavie Macquin. For the Thienponts the vintage ended with the last of the Cabernet Franc picked at Pavie Macquin on 28 September. So, the entire vintage was in vat before the end of the September. These are generous wines that have attractive freshness but with also plenty of plummy, black fruits characters. In the Francs, Château Puygueraud is plump and ripe but with plenty of extract and a fresh finish. It is excellent. Château La Prade is concentrated with plush aromatics and more Cabernet Franc in the blend. In Castillon, Château Alcée has a beautiful seam of ripe Merlot on the nose and length on the palate. They all show freshness on the finish.

Château Larcis Ducasse is one of my favourite top tier St Emilion. It still remains reasonably affordable [although the ’23 prices have not yet been released at the time of writing]. Larcis ’23 is very tightly wound, but it opens up to reveal layers of fruit and pent-up potential. The palate is textured and there is plushness here, alongside the limestone minerality. This is very fine on the end and has excellent length. It’s a fascinating counterpoint to the ’22 here.

The vineyards of Larcis Ducasse on the Côte Pavie

Château Pavie-Macquin is darker, a beautiful deep purple. There is some of that liquorice and tar which I come to associate with the property and there is a rich seam of fruit which continues onto the palate. There is plenty of flesh around the firm structure here. Much of the work the Thienpont team have put in at Pavie Macquin has been about taming this power, with less extraction now than in the past, going more and more for refinement. It is certainly precise and focused and is another very impressive ’23.

What of the whites in 2023 in the Cotes de Francs? These are terrific. Château Puygueraud is all Sauvignon freshness and zing, with attractive candy tones and a mineral zip on the end. Château Les Charmes-Godard is stylistically quite different with the emphasis on the Sémillon in the blend [73%]. It is wonderfully taught and shows real potential for ageing. At was at that point that Cyrille Thienpont served a bottle of the 1999 Charmes-Godard blind which completely proved the point. It was a revelation. Butter, toast and hazelnuts leap from the glass and it was still as fresh as a daisy on the palate. Great stuff.

The following notes were taken on 21st April, 2024 at Château Larcis Ducasse. Bravo to Nicolas Thienpont and his team.

Château Puygueraud, Francs – Cotes de Bordeaux, 2023

Mid depth, fresh looking and healthy in the glass; pretty aromatics, plums and ripe black fruit tones; lots of matter in the middle here on the palate, soft and easy tannins; this is generous and attractive Puygueraud; fresh finish. Really good. A success given the challenging wet summer with lots of mildew pressure. The low yields were the culminative affects of two years of relative drought here. Malbec, replanted in 2019, returns in this blend. [90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, yields 23hl/ha, 34.5ha.] Tasted April 21, 2024. Drink 2027-2035. 90-91+

Château La Prade, Francs – Cotes de Bordeaux, 2023

Deep and concentrated looking; lovely plush aromatics; perfume and spice; lovely palate; caressing fruit but firmly structured. Very clear and precise narrative here with a fresh and firm finish. Plenty of textured fruit. 21% Cabernet Franc in the blend here on limestone soils. Impressive. [79% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, yields 32ha/ha, 6.5ha]. Tasted April 21, 2024. Drink 2027-2035. 91-92+

Château Alcée, Castillon – Cotes de Bordeaux, 2023

Deep and arterial; concentrated and to the rim; plump aromatics with a lovely seam of plummy black fruits on the nose; very attractive; textured palate with wonderful purity and length. Fresh finish. Excellent stuff. From clay and limestone soils from three plots. [88% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, yields 18.5hl/ha, 11.8ha in production]. Tasted April 21, 2024. Drink 2027-2035. 91-92+

Château Larcis Ducasse, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe B, 2023

Deep and dark; healthy looking; tight and concentrated at first; opens up to reveal layered fruit on the nose; plenty of ripe, plummy fruit on the palate; textured and plush. Really fine finish and excellent length. Wonderful stuff here again. Tighter and more evidently structured than the ’22 at the same stage, this is a fascinating partner to that wine and it will be interesting to follow the development of the two vintages. [86% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, yields 43 hl/ha (75% grand vin), 50% new oak, mixture of 225L and 500L barrels 9.37ha in production, 14% alc]. Tasted April 21, 2024. Drink 2030-2045. 95-97

Château Pavie Macquin, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe B, 2023

Deep and dark, lovely colour tight to the rim; mineral, schist and liquorice; seam of black fruit; big palate with structure but plenty of flesh here. This is impressive. Excellent length. Cyrille Thienpont was explaining that much of the work in the vineyard and in the cellar is in trying to gain greater finesse here. It’s always had power and extract. [82% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48hl/ha, 50% new oak, 13ha in production, 14% alc]. Tasted April 21, 2024. Drink 2032-2045. 95-97


Château Puygueraud, Francs – Cotes de Bordeaux, 2023

Pale silver straw colour; fresh and mineral; some candy; round in the mouth with freshness and mineral tones coming through; zingy finish. Lovely white. From Sauvignon clones selected from the Loire. [79% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Sauvignon Gris, yields 43.5 hl/ha, 4.88 ha, around 1400 cases made]. Tasted 21 April, 2024. Drink 2024-2028. 90-91+

Château Les Charmes-Godard, Francs – Cotes de Bordeaux, 2023

Pale straw/sliver, steely and taut on the nose; super taut and crisp palate with tension and depth. Crisp finish. Should age superbly. Barrel fermented and aged on lees. [73% Semillon, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 9% Sauvignon Gris, yields 54hl/ha, 4,44ha, 13.13% alcohol, 3.12 pH].  Tasted 21 April, 2024. Drink 2024-2028. 91-93+

Château Les Charmes-Godard, Francs – Cotes de Bordeaux, 1999

Golden straw; butter, toast and hazelnut on the nose with wax too; fresh still on the palate but with lovely aged notes of nuts; crisp finish. Lovely wine. Twenty-five years young! Tasted 21 April, 2024. Drink now. 93

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