Day three of my 2017 Bordeaux tastings was met with a bright and sunny start as we escaped Bordeaux city for the rolling hillside of the region’s Right Bank. St Emilion and Pomerol lay in wait and most importantly for my palate, a break in play from the tannic impact of young Cabernet Sauvignon led wines!
The first port of call could not be finer. Controversial both intrinsically and stylistically in recent years, yes, however Chateau Pavie’s sheer power cannot be overlooked. Tasting through the Vignobles Perse collection of wines, one could not help but be impressed by the intensity of flavour attained at every level. Standout wines included Castillon’s excellent Clos Lunelles and Château Pavie-Decesse. The later showed wonderful restraint and elegance and set us up brilliantly for Château Pavie itself. With unsurpassed extract, concentration and depth in the vintage, the 2017 Pavie was a masterclass of winemaking underpinned by purity of terroir. Somehow balance did exist though I am completely bemused as to how. Certainly this was one of the most singular wines I have ever tasted and whilst carrying the same depth and intrigue of Lafite and Leoville-Las-Cases the previous day, delivered it in a completely different, flamboyant yet focused way.
A short drive on from Pavie we pulled into the carpark of the enigmatic Château Troplong-Mondot. A Château which had sadly suffered an identity crisis in recent vintages, it’s performance in 2017 was nothing other than beguiling. Where once existed big extract, bold and brash attack in the glass and a somewhat tailored flavour profile, in 2017 all of these things were gone. In their place was a stunning, terroir led, elegant and restrained floral masterpiece. Deeply satisfying and understated with enormous latent potential, it was the vinous equivalent of cashmere in the glass. Intoxicating floral notes intermixed with gunsmoke and wild strawberry combining to deliver one of the greatest young wines of the vintage.
A real Mr.Wheeler favorite in recent years; pulling into Château Angelus is always an exciting moment. A Château which was upgraded to the elite group of top tier St Emilion estates in 2012, Angelus has been on electric form for a many years. The 2017 did not disappoint and my impression of the Right Bank in 2017 was rapidly improving… Floral and with notes of cured meat, cinnamon and spice on the nose, Angelus simply took over from the moment it was poured. With 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc in the blend it was so elegant in the mouth, with palate coating richness but at all times exercising total restraint. Displaying sophistication and saturation in the glass at the same time, yet utterly precise and never missing a beat. I ended my tasting note with “blimey”. Sometimes words escape me, but in this instance, I wrote a full page on this wine alone. Stunning, sensational and electric in 2017.
Dodging the rain showers wherever we could, our next visit to Château Figeac was yet another huge success. Famed for the high Cabernet Sauvignon component evident in its cuvees, on the nose we were greeted by lifted perfume and delicate poise. Such freshness and control, the proportions here were spellbinding. On the palate the Figeac stepped up a gear and delivered awe-inspiring macerated cherry and cassis flavours which utterly enveloped the senses. Glorious fruit concentration and a taught structure will ensure longevity. An endless, weightless finish ensued… This was stunning, stunning wine.
Our next appointment was another star St Emilion estate. Nestled within the rolling vineyards, Château Cheval-Blanc’s new winery was something else. A work of art in itself, the wine simply acting to enrich the experience still further. With Petit Cheval impressing with its spice tinged, creamy and exuberant nature, Cheval-Blanc itself was a step up in every sense. As with Angelus and Figeac, the floral aromatics here simply leapt from the glass. Serious and concentrated red fruit liquor notes filled the room, with the high Cabernet Franc component in the wine lending a tell-tail floral, pink petal like character to proceedings. An ultra-rich palate with Christmas cake and Victoria plum flavours showed great intensity and drive, yet with precision and poise. Pure, elegant tannic structure and fantastic balancing freshness rendered the wine one of the most opulent yet focused so far. 2017 was rapidly becoming a Right Bank wonderland.
With just a handful of appointments planned before heading back home, as things transpired one could argue that we saved the best for last… Certainly, as we made the short trip over to Pomerol, we were certainly in for a treat.
Château La Conseillante is and has been for so many years, one of Pomerol’s most consistent estates. Since 2000 the estate has simply blossomed, delivering its largely Merlot based cuvees with Burgundian panache and feminine assurance which goes almost untouched by its neighbours. The 2017 was an absolute dream to taste… Notes of crystallised potpourri and rose petal, a pastiche of red and black cherry fruit and subtle warming spice enthral the senses. So precise and natural, the stunning aromatics lead to a palate of plush, purple berry fruit, mouth filling red cherry liqueur flavours, cream tinged violet notes and a silky macerated plum and redcurrant finish. So harmonious captivating and ultra pure, it was the sheer embodiment of everything one hopes to experience from top flight Pomerol. So feminine, so understated, so fine. What a wine this was.
Our penultimate appointment was another showstopper in terms of stature in the region. Vieux Château Certan (VCC), together with the likes of Château La Conseillante represent the very cream of Pomerol. These wines reflect the strength and finesse attained in some of the very finest merlot grown anywhere in the world. VCC has sat proud at the very top of Pomerol estates for generations. Its 2009 and 2010 vintages proving to be modern day legends; so turning up to taste the 2017 against a backdrop of excellent Right Bank performances throughout the day filled me with excitement and anticipation. In a very simple tasting room, surrounded by the 2017 vintage in barrel, 2017 VCC was deeply perfumed with an assemblage of Asian spice, plum reduction, mixed cherry and vanilla oak overtones. On the palate the wine was taught, yet intense, reflecting velvety mouthfeel and structure which supported the blueberry and black forest gateaux like flavour profile. Pure seduction with cashmere intensity and so voluminous, with more build and energy than La Conseillante, yet this is purely a stylistic variation. Where La Conseillante was about elegance, poise and purity, VCC had these same traits but with the addition of grip and vigour. It was the kind of wine I guess the Château Latour team might produce if they were handed VCC’s fruit! Absolutely on the money, this was possibly my star wine of the entire vintage. Wow!
Having recovered sufficiently from the wonderment enjoyed at VCC, our very final appointment beckoned. Back over the border to St Emilion before heading back to Bordeaux Airport, we set our sights on the indomitable Château Ausone. Always a joy to behold, the view alone from the Château’s front door makes the heart skip a beat. The wine, produced in minisule volumes was as usual a benchmark for the region. Across the Vautier range of Châteaux real pedigree and family similarities existed. There was a little of Ausone in all of the wines, in particular the brilliant Château Moulin St Georges which always offers extremely good value together with lots of rich and concentrated black cherry and cola flavours. The Vautier stable was certainly looking good in 2017, with the greatest wine of all registering a blistering performance. As 2017 Château Ausone was poured, the room seemed to fall silent. The nose here was different to anything we had tasted previously. Crushed rock, mineral notes and a vivacious and energetic red currant compote note radiated further with wine in the glass. Lots of pink petals and white flower aromatics forced great urgency and such lift… The palate grew and took over. Extending and expanding all the time. With a richness of plum and red cherry liqueur, cassis, blueberry and spice on the palate, with a shimmering backbone of perfectly ripe tannins and refreshing acidity, I ended my note with a simple question… “Is this the perfect wine?”.
So this is where the story ends for my Bordeaux adventure. Bags packed, tasting notes fully drafted and thoughts switching to the forthcoming 2017 Bordeaux campaign back in the UK, we headed for the airport. So much to digest, strategies to consider and speculation of release prices and market demands to discuss upon my return. One thing is for certain; 2017 has been an absolute joy to taste. There were some absolute star wines created, though not every wine has been a success. This emphasises the importance of strict selection whilst ensuring that you buy from merchant you have total faith in. There is of course one other huge consideration for 2017 Bordeaux to work…. Price! We very much look forward to keeping you abreast of happenings from the region over the coming days and weeks and urge you to sign up to our 2017 Bordeaux updates so that you are notified first about key releases and price information.
Just before I part, a final thought, as I feel this rather shines a light on the mentality in the region. Here, grandeur can often be king. To many Château owners their affluence and status in the hierarchy of Bordeaux is critical, often overshadowing the intrinsic work taking place in the vineyards and winery whilst presenting an image of near narcissism to the world. It certainly dampens your personal experience. On the flipside, if I had to give you an example of subtlety and understatement which I experienced throughout these tastings it would be that of my visit to Vieux Château Certan. Where at previous appointments I had been given a raft of Chateau Specific guide books talking about the vintage and how it had affected the individual property in question, some extremely weighty, plush and certainly expensive to produce. Some were even hard bound! At VCC I was handed a very simple A4 colour photocopy, explaining all of the key detail. Folded in half as a kind of booklet, it said everything about the focus of the estate and the sheer understatement of their achievements in this vintage. It was perfect, it married beautifully with our experience and it lifted the greatness of the wine to even higher levels. As long as there are estates like this in the region, Bordeaux will surely never lose its crown as the King of French wine!