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.
Arriving mid-primeurs week in late afternoon there is a riot going on. Dozens of people are crowded into the tiny, higgledy–piggledy cellar, tasting a variety of the wines that Thunevin has a hand in. Phones flash. Is it a model, or an actress Jean-Luc is talking to? I’ve no idea. Round at the back, tucked beside a couple of small stainless steel tanks, an area is roped off for journalists. A couple of Dutch writers bash away electronically at a table. Myriad sample bottles are stacked in front, properties Thunevin owns on one side; those he consults for on the other. Jean-Luc says hello, makes sure I’ve a glass and somewhere to sit. ‘Help yourself!’ After a day of genteel tastings, the anarchy is refreshing.
St Emilion Grand Cru, Clos Badon, showed well again. This was impressive in 2012. There is more freshness in 2013 with that noticeable tang of acid that runs all through the wines this year – attractive in some cases, unpleasantly high in others – but this is a good effort. Chateau Bel-Air-Ouy also looks good, if lighter styled. The wines are worked but not overdone.
The misfire for me was the 3 de Valandraud, the third wine of Valandraud if you like, or the third quality level. It had interesting aromatics but felt a bit stretched and over-extracted relative to the material in the middle. Maybe it will settle down the line? Next step up Virginie de Valaundraud did look very attractive. It had plenty of fruit and style, more chew to the tannins this year, but it felt like very good wine. As I said at the top Château Valandraud itself is big, concentrated and full. It is an assault on the senses but there is freshness on the end that keeps things balanced. It’s a fascinating wine in the vintage context.
The small quantity of whites produced here are really enjoyable. They have very attractive grapefruit and citrus tones. Valandraud Blanc has real weight and gravity.
I’ve reported elsewhere on the good showing of Domaine des Sabines and Le Clos du Beau-Père, respectively from Lalande de Pomerol and Pomerol. I also had a peek at Bordeaux Supérieur Domaine Virgine Valandraud, which was up front and pretty, and Bad Boy, which was lifted and vibrant, if a little chewy currently on the finish.
Château Valandraud, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé
Deep and saturated; colour tight to the rim; very pure and creamy; plums and black cherry notes with nicely interwoven oak; quite fabulous aromatics; coffee and mocha tones at the back; big palate, concentrated and full; exotic notes with plums, spices, fruitcake tones; there is density and matter here with chew on the finish. Something of an assault on the senses; almost from a different vintage but there is the hallmark freshness of the year. Drink 2018-2030. 91-93+
Virginie de Valandraud, St Emilion Grand Cru
Very deep and saturated; thick and dark; perfumed and layered aromatics; plush and saturated; this has excellent focus; very attractive; Sweet entry, very unctuous with spices, plum tones and substance; lots of matter here and gloss. Chewy finish but not dry. Good effort. Drink 2018-2025. 89-91
3 de Valandraud, St Emilion Grand Cru
Deep and saturated colour; earthy purple at edge; spices; some fruitcake notes; pretty unctuously styled; palate then a little austere and grippy with quite marked acidity; makes for a puckering experience. Chewy finish. Material not quite up to the task. Maybe should have de-classified this away and not produced a 3 de Val? May yet settle. Drink 2016-2024. 84-86
Pale gold/green; grapefruit, lees and some ginger spice; aromatic and full; grapefruit and other citrus tones with lees; weighty and attractive. Excellent stuff. Drink 2016-2024. 91-93
Virginie de Valandraud
Pale silver/green; grapefruit, lees notes, less exuberant; quite sturdy palate with good weight and attractive grapefruit twist at the end. Good. Fresh and attractive. 88-90
Other St Emilion:
Clos Badon, St Emilion Grand Cru
Deep and thick looking; saturated colour up to edge; vivid, fresh and perfumed nose – the contrast is really turned up here; layered and full; good attack, glossy fruit; nicely done as this still retains some of the vintage character [fruit freshness]; gloss in the middle then extract and chew on the finish. Would expect this to settle well. Drink 2018-2025. 87-89+
Château Bel-Air-Ouy, St Emilion Grand Cru
Deep and saturated; earthy purple at edge; cool vibrant aromatics, quite full; spice and satin on the palate with some material and chew but well managed extraction. Perhaps a little lighter on the finish than expected. Drink 2016-2024. 86-87
Domaine Virginie Valandraud, Bordeaux Supérieur
Deep and saturated colour, dense to the rim; very pretty, exotic and spicy fruit; lifted; some chew and density to the palate but attractive overall. Little wood and chew on the finish. Upfront and full for the vintage. Drink 2016-2020. 85-87
Bad Boy, AOC Bordeaux
Deep and saturated colour; pretty, lifted and vibrant; some spices and undergrowth characters; fruit on the entry perhaps a little stretched in the middle but the elements all meet up in the end. Chew and extract on the finish with coffee and mocha notes. Drink 2016-2022. 86-88
Tags: 3 de Valandraud, Bad Boy, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2013, Bordeaux Supérieur, Château Bel-Air-Ouy, Chateau Valandraud, Clos Badon, Domaine Virginie Valandraud, Jean-Luc Thunevin, St Emilion, St Emilion Grand Cru, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, Valandraud Blanc, Virginie de Valandraud