It is late April and that can mean only one thing - the Bordeaux en primeur circus is back in town. It's been the tradition since 1996 that I have spent a week in Bordeaux tasting barrel samples of the latest vintage.
This time we were tasting the "weird and wonderful" 2017 vintage. The weird part comes to play thanks to the freak frost in late Spring which devastated number of vineyards in St Emilion, Pessac Leognan and central Medoc. Large number of properties lost over 30% of the crop with some, like Fleur Cardinale losing 98% and some really unfortunate ones, like Fieusal, Croix Cardinale and Mauvesin Barton, losing the entire crop.
The "wonderful" side of things comes in the shape of Bordeaux wines of old; it has gone back (some might say kicking and screaming) to pre Parker style wines. I wish I could say this was done on purpose rather than it was forced on them by the style of the vintage. But I, for one, am happy to take it as a present from nature and the Gods of Wine. We are back to the wines of elegance, refinement, freshness and highly polished tannins. Most wines are lower than 13.5% in alcohol, with some even lower than 13%, with no green, under-ripe tones. One has to go back to vintages like '96, '90, '86 etc to get these levels, so we are in for a treat in few years. The good ones are showing very fine precise Summer and Autumn berries, with quite beautifully refreshing acidity and very fine tannins. I admit, it was a bit of a shock for the first 15 - 20 samples, as we were questioning the Burgundy style acidity, until our palates got used to the intensity and style. Then the wines started singing.
Ok, before you start thinking that I have turned into some weird salesman version of myself, I would like to state for the record, that this is by no means a great vintage. The wines are very decent, and some of them are actually very beautiful and will provide some great drinking, but there was no wine rated over 19 points in my notes.
The truth is that there is a large amount of very well constructed wines, mostly rated in high 16's and 17's, and there is not that much difference in quality between top superstars and ones in the mid-range, so we should get few bargains. There is a number of wines that have still not achieved international recognition and they represent some very decent buys for the drinkers out there (Ch. Daugay & Fombrauge on the right and Labegorce on the left bank come to mind). Further on, one or two well established wines that were not necessarily delivering their full capacity have produced much better wine than in the last few years (Figeac, Armailhac, Duhart Milon, Clos de Marquis, Gruaud Larose, Talbot and 2 Bartons come to mind). So, with overall quality of the vintage being lower than 2015 and 2016, we can expect some of these to be priced very well and could represent very decent buys. We should know in the next month or so.
Ch. Palmer - was released at £2,350.00 per 12 bott. Their excuse is that it is some 20% cheaper than the 2016, but no one mentions that 2016 was at least 50% higher than it should have been. 2017 is decent, but nothing special and way too expensive if you ask me even if the wine was better.
Ch. Haut Batailley - now if there was ever a ridiculous price in Bordeaux, this is the one. Now under same ownership as Lynch Bages, they decided to price it at £495.00. The wine is ok but, even if it was better, not worth £495; and this is the highest price you would pay for any mature Haut Batailley on the market over the last 15 vintages. Insane - DO NOT TOUCH WITH A BARGE POLE.
And here are couple of wines that are actually worth buying - they have both lost about 30% of the harvest, so allocations are reduced - please register orders as soon as possible.
Ch. Labegorce, Margaux, £215.00, ZR 16
Another decent Labegorce, they are really on the roll under management of capable Delphine Colasa - one of my tips of the vintage (and a value Bordeaux). Not the intensity and power of 2015, but a jolly little wine. More red than black berries, with polished, refined tannins and a clear finish. As Jeb said "This is an estate readers need to have on their radar", but I told you so back in 2011. I would also not be surprised if this improves in value over the coming years. Please register your orders as soon as possible, as the production was reduced by some 30%.
The 2017 Château Labégorce checks in as 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot (which is slightly more than normal), 8% Cabernet Franc and the rest Petit Verdot, aging in 45% new French oak. Its vibrant purple color is followed by a beautiful bouquet of crème de cassis, crushed flowers, classy oak, and graphite. With medium to full-bodied richness, an awesome texture, and ripe tannin, it's up with the top wines from the appellation. Tasted twice.
Ch Daugay, St Emilion Grand Cru, ZR16, PB 93 - £180.00
This is still very much under the radar of the wine writing paternity, so you will have to believe me. We tasted it couple of times during the days in St Emilion, and it ticked all the boxes. This is the future of decent wine drinking on the right bank. Pure, soft Summer fruit dominate all the way, with gentle polished tannins in the back. Not built for a long run but will be great from about 2022 for some 5-6 years. Quite gorgeous, tasted 2nd time straight after the big brother Angelus and it held its corner. If you buy any 2017 this should be the one.
Daugay delivers beyond its price point. Full bodied almost hedonistic sweet perfumed fruit, really delicious. Fine ripe tannins. Black and red plums, along with raspberry on the palate, backed by notes of vanilla and spicy cedar from the well-judged use of oak. This does not have the refinement of a top wine but delivers a lot of pleasure for its price.
Ch Potensac, Medoc Cru Bourgeois - £200.00; ZR16+;
Not my favourite over the years, but the 2017 looks like the best Potensac I have tasted en primeur. Made and run by Leoville Las Casses team, one wonders if this is a sign of things to come from this property. Very classic, small black berries dominated, focused wine with fine tannins and great refreshing acidity.
Ch. Fombrauge St Emilion Grand Cru, ZR16, WS 90-92; JD 90-92. £210.00
Bigger and richer than other 17's, but still with fine fresh uplifting acidity. Dark, soft summer fruit all the way with soft smooth oak and tannins at finish.
So much for this time, but I will of course keep you updated on any new developments. As ever, please feel free to call me should you wish to discuss any of the wines.
Copyright © City Wine Collection 2018 All Rights Reserved