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Bordeaux 2023 Primeurs – First Thoughts

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

What a difference a year makes. Bordeaux 2023 is stylistically light years apart from 2022. That generalisation is based in this case on tasting a hundred or so wines really centred on St Emilion in late April. Yes there is freshness, energy and drive to the nascent wines – they are perhaps more quintessential ‘Bordeaux’ in style than some recent vintages – but there is also heterogeneity. There is not the richness or mid palate weight of the 2022 vintage, or the evenness in quality, but the best wines from St Emilion and Bordeaux’s right bank show brightness and purity in 2023. The difference largely comes down to the weather. The 2023 growing season presented plenty of challenges across Bordeaux. A generally warm and humid year for much of the vegetative cycle, these conditions lead to considerable mildew pressure in the vineyards, challenges that required constant vigilance and affected some properties more than others. While high summer was warm it wasn’t hugely sunny. There were storms in June and there wasn’t the major water deficit that defines the exceptional years. That said there were some heat spikes and as the later growing season progressed the weather became drier, hotter and much sunnier and the vintage was harvested in generally dry, very good conditions. Overall though this is not a solar vintage like 2022 or 2018, and this might be something a relief for some consumers, with the wines perhaps truer to their terroirs and types.

Growers are always wary of vintage comparisons. When pushed the vintage that 2023 was most compared to was 2001. That vintage turned out very well in the end and in some cases is now more highly regarded than the more heralded 2000s. The extent to which you run out to buy these wines now will depend on price and on who has succeeded the most. For more comprehensive Bordeaux 2023 coverage from trusted sources [my tasting time was limited this year] do check out what Jane Anson, Chris Kissack, Neal Martin and James Suckling have to say. It’s early days in the en primeur campaign at the time of writing [6 May, 2024]. Release prices so far are generally down which is encouraging but reductions will need to be significant to spark serious consumer interest in this vintage as a wine future. So what were the highlights of my 2023 tastings in St Emilion?

We started out at Clos Fourtet with Matthieu Cuvelier. Château Poujeaux [their left bank property in Moulis] was juicy and aromatic with attractive grip. On the Right Bank Château Côte de Baleau was plummy and joyful with grip on the finish. La Closerie de Fourtet had more saturation and middle, but again with a fresh finish. Premier Grand Cru Classé Clos Fourtet itself was saline and fresh with wonderful delicacy and length. It has super balance and harmony. More detailed notes on these wines and the others below will follow.

Next up was Château Canon-La-Gaffelière where we had a good chat with Ludovic Von Neipperg about the challenges of vintage and the plans for the various properties in the stable. The overall impression here was of vitality and freshness. Amongst the whites there an impressively textured Clos Marsallette in Pessac-Léognan and their white Castillon, Le Blanc d’Aiguilhe, was especially racy and saline. Again I’ll be posting in more detail but amongst the reds but Château d’Aiguilhe, one of Bordeaux’s great wine values [the 2016 is terrific right now], is spicy and tightly woven in 2023. St Emilion Grand Cru Classé Clos de l’Oratoire is also tighter than usual but had plenty of sappy, spicy fruit. Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Canon La Gaffelière was serious and textured with violet aromatic notes and good length. La Mondotte was layered and tightly structured with mineral and schist tones.

It’s always a pleasure tasting the flamboyant wines that Jean-Luc Thunevin has a hand in, the maestro behind Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Valandraud with his wife Murielle Andraud. He has made a delicate and perfumed Lalande de Pomerol, Domaine de Sabines in 2023. I’m also a fan of his Pomerol, Le Clos du Beau Père and this has lots of juicy black cherry and blueberry fruits and is balanced and caressing. The Clos du Beau Père Blanc is lively and attractive. In St Emilion, Clos Badon looks good, with briary fruit and a harmonious palate. Amongst the various Valandraud bottlings, the 3 de Valandraud is impeccably made with fresh lively brambly fruit tones. It is super drinkable already. Virginie de Valandraud, the second wine, is layered and polished with savoury tones and length. A bottle of the 2014 drunk that evening was on great form too and I’d expect this to follow suit. There was lots of depth and extract to Château Valandraud itself. This is saturated and intense with lots of density and tannin. This is impressive but will need a fair bit of time in bottle I reckon. The Valandraud whites are always a treat. Virginie de Valandraud was fresh and zippy while Valandraud Blanc was rich and lush with terrific texture. It’s quite fabulous now. Jean Luc also shows wines that he consults for. Amongst these I was impressed with Château Mangot, which had attractive black cherry aromatics and a layered, creamy palate, and Château Sansonnet, which had perfumed fruit and a nicely balanced palate. More on all these wines and others from him in a later post.

No trip to St Emilion would be complete without a visit the winemaking trio of Nicolas and Cyrille Thienpont and David Suire. We met at Château Larcis Ducasse, where Nicolas Thienpont and David Suire have made the wine since 2002. Larcis has made another beautiful wine in 2023. It has wonderful plummy depth and volume and terrific purity. It is seductive and fresh. Château Pavie Macquin displays its usual power but there is refinement in 2023. The wine displays a wonderful seam of fruit and a fleshy finish. Great stuff. We also tasted the range of wines that Nicolas and Cyrille Thienpont make in the Côtes de Castillon and the Côtes de Francs at their family properties. Château Puygueraud is always good value and often on my weekly drinking list [I’m currently working my way through a case of the wonderful 2019]. There is lovely purity again here in 2023 and this is generous and attractive Puygueraud. Château La Prade is plush and perfumed with structure and precision, with more Cabernet Franc in the blend. In Castillon, Château Alcée is plump and plummy with lots of texture. These are all fabulously consistent reds that should prove good value.

The Thienponts were also very excited about the quality of the white wines in 2023 and both Château Puygueraud and Château Les Charmes-Godard impressed in contrasting ways. Puygueraud is fresh and mineral and Les Charmes-Godard steely and taught, and shows terrific ageing potential, with 75% Sémillon in the blend. We asked how the wines developed in bottle and Cyrille Thienpont promptly produced a chilled bottle of 1999 Les Charmes Godard. It was dazzling – all toast, hazlenuts and wax on the nose but still fresh as a daisy on the palate. Again, more detailed tasting notes to follow on all these wines in an upcoming post.

Our last visit was with David Suire at Château Laroque.  The renaissance of this property under his tenure as director has been very marked. The wines were good, but vintages since 2018 have been brilliant. This latest Laroque vintage does not disappoint. It is beautifully aromatic with raspberry and mulberry notes and wonderful purity on the palate. The finish is positive and with length. Again this should be a good buy as this property has one of the best price/quality ratios in Bordeaux.

Finally, I did make it to the Grand Cercle press tasting at Château de La Dauphine in Fronsac. There I tasted blind around fifty or so wines from the Côtes de Bordeaux, Fronsac, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé and Pomerol appellations as well as half a dozen various white Bordeaux from Graves and Pessac-Léognan. The whites were joyful but my notes on the reds were more mixed. In 2022 across the board the right bank reds were super impressive and rich. In 2023 the quality was more variable, with some wines lacking depth and richness. My picks in Castillon were Clos Puy Arnaud and Château Veyry and in Fronsac I was impressed with Château Villars, Château de la Dauphine, Château Les Trois Croix, Château de la Rivière, Château La Huste and Château Fontenil.

Amongst the St Emilion Grand Cru Classés tasted blind at Le Grand Cercle tasting, Château Grand Corbin Despagne, Château La Croizille, Château de Pressac, Clos Debreuil, Château La Marzelle, Château Destieux, Château Montlabert and Château Fonroque all impressed in different ways. In Pomerol Château Feytit Clinet led the way along with good wines from Château La Clémence and Château La Commanderie. I’ll post more details on all these wines tasted at the Grand Cercle in subsequent posts.

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