The stable of wines that Stephan von Neipperg commands are tip top in 2022. There is an attractive delicacy and freshness here across the board. The wines from St Emilion – Clos de l’Oratoire, Château Canon-La-Gaffelière and the prodigious La Mondotte – are all very impressive. La Mondotte is exceptional. The work horse in the Neipperg line-up is the Castillon, Château d’Aiguilhe, with 90 hectares under vine. This is a fabulous in ’22 – great news for those of us without deep pockets. It will be one of the great values of the vintage. It is also gives a taste of the great many successes the Côtes de Bordeaux have had in 2022 [more on this shortly]. There is also a tiny drop of zippy, saline white made too. Down in Pessac-Léognan, Neipperg’s property Clos Marsalette has made fresh and juicy red wine in 2022 and a forward, full white for early drinking.
Be and think otherwise, that’s the Jean-Luc Thunevin motto. A trip to his cellars is always a thrill. The slight, cheeky, prodigiously talented iconoclast always seems to have a playful trick or two up his sleeve and you never feel quite sure what might happen next. In the past we used to cram into his garage cellars in St Emilion to taste the latest vintage – his own wines as well as dozens and dozens he consults for. Now that Château Valandraud has its cellars completed and front-of-house set up, the tastings are a slightly more sanitised affair, but that’s a measure of his success. In fact, this year St Emilion’s ‘Bad Boy’ even hosted the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at Valandraud itself, the property he created and runs with his wife Murielle Andraud, now regularly one of the top Premier Grand Cru Classé in St Emilion. The revolutionary now has the establishment eating from his hands. So, what of the magician’s 2022s? Well, they are quite simply magical.
Château Laroque has produced a wonderful wine in 2022. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. This large, historic property has seriously been on the up since the arrival of David Suire. The ‘22 follows on from a series of impressive vintages here, starting with the ‘18 and followed on by excellent wines in ‘19 and ‘20. Prior to these vintages the wine was distributed exclusively and not sold through the Place de Bordeaux. All that has changed. I’ve been offered Laroque ’22 en primeur by at least half a dozen independent merchants in the UK this week. Buyers have cottoned on to the improvements here. Price-wise, even with a bit of an uplift this year, Laroque remains something of a bargain. I tasted the ’22 in after an afternoon that included tasting Château Figeac, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and La Mondotte. Laroque held its own. This is a seriously good ’22, perhaps even more impressive at this stage than the remarkable ’18 was during primeurs.
My primeurs visit this year [my first since 2019] was limited to a four-day long weekend of tastings on Bordeaux’s right bank in and around St Emilion. I hope to have an in-depth look at the left bank at a later date. Despite the brevity of the trip I looked at hundred plus wines and on the basis of those, 2022 certainly looks to be an exciting vintage for many. It was a hot and dry year, with real heat spikes. Challenging? Yes in some cases but if anything, part of the new normal in Bordeaux in climate and meteorological terms. Stylistically what’s the vintage like in terms of other recent vintages? 2018? 2009? 2003? Any declaration on style is affected by the fact that Bordeaux has evolved considerably over the last decade in winemaking and viticultural terms. In warm years, of which there are now many, picking is less super late, winemaking is generally less extractive and oak handling less obvious. Everyone, it seems, is searching for greater freshness and balance. The comparison most frequently offered by winemakers and proprietors in describing 2022, usually after some procrastination and umpteen caveats, was 2010. Not necessarily in terms of the precise weather conditions. 2010 was a vintage of so-called ‘cool’ maturity, which is not evidently the case in 2022. But there is certainly that level of concentration in the wines, and with much less evident extraction than a decade earlier. I certainly found the tannins in 2022 to be like satin. So, what are the highlights?