Following the excellent preceding twin vintages of 2015 and 2016, it was never going to be the easiest task for 2017 Bordeaux to fire the imagination of buyers.
Quality across those two vintages had been brilliantly received by critics and private customers alike. Many wines ticked all the boxes for both high quality drinkability, whilst also delivering strong investment credentials for those buyers who were so inclined.
So, when travelling to Bordeaux to assess in depth the spectrum of wines produced in 2017, I could not help but feel pessimistic of the standards which may await me. Horror stories circulating in the wine press prior to travelling and even rumours being passed amongst the trade upon arrival at Bordeaux Airport strengthened my scepticism still further, whilst sadly curbing my enthusiasm. I should stress that anyone who knows me will understand how difficult that is to achieve!
Undeterred and keen to see for myself just how the Bordeaux region had fared following its worst frost in 26 years, where vast swathes of the vineyard’s grapes were decimated by temperatures significantly below zero across the night of 27th and 28th April; I gathered my tasting note book and headed to my first appointments in Pessac-Leognan. What I discovered at my very first appointment was something which lifted my spirits for 2017 as a vintage of high quality, opening the door to three days of exhaustive yet joyous tasting across the region.
Monday morning, 9am and the hire car pulls up for its first stop; Chateau Carmes Haut-Brion. An estate in a prime location, enclosed within the city walls on all sides has enthralled tasters over the past few vintages following heavy investment in both vineyard expansion and the cellar itself. In fact, their brand new winery was designed by the great Philippe Starck and is modelled on an upturned boat - harking back to Bordeaux’s nautical heritage. With a blend incorporating a significant volume of Cabernet Franc (41%), the Grand Vin was harmonious, unctuous, showing great intensity yet carrying the rarest of traits; weightlessness on the palate. A sublime effort which paired raspberry cream flavours with dynamic freshness and high-quality tannins, delivered with such precision.
What was clear here was that I had tasted my first genuine success of the 2017 campaign. It set a very high bar indeed, by any standard and in any vintage. As the day’s tastings continued, other Pessac-Leognan wines joined Carmes Haut-Brion as true success stories. The indomitable Domaine de Chevalier was on sensational form, with luxurious red cherry and violet fruit, whilst Domaine de La Solitude sang of accessible generous fruit with stunning purity and accessibility. Perpetual high Performers Larrivet Haut-Brion, Pape-Clement and Latour Martillac both displayed bolder purple fruit with opulent mouthfeel, richness and great generosity. Travelling further afield we were introduced to 2017 Chateau Haut-Bailly, where the owners flew helicopters over their vineyards in a vain attempt to create airflow to reduce the impact of the infamous frost. The wine here was super elegant with feminine charm, reflecting silky redcurrant fruit and an almost Burgundian presence on the palate.
The real stars of day one we most certainly the Domaine Clarence Dillon wines of Haut- Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. In La Mission there is intensity and generosity which immediately separated it from that of Haut-Brion. A lush palate coating an expansive wine which was plush and very concentrated. A firm tannic backbone and wonderful freshness completed this “First Growth in waiting”. Haut-Brion on the other hand offered more restraint and perfumed elegance. Understated and regal in the glass it offered an amalgam of red cherry and Victoria plum flavours and seemless texture. Both wines were an utter delight.
2017 is a vintage of greatness where dry white wines and the stars of Sauternes are concerned. Great examples were enjoyed from illustrious names such as Chateau Carbonnieux, Pape-Clement, Domaine de La Solitude and the stunning Domaine de Chevalier. The latter reflecting honey dew melon, toast, candied orange together with a forceful, floral finish. These wines offered electric freshness allied to intense aromatics and vibrant citrus fruit flavours.
Leaning briefly to Sauternes where noble rot featured heavily across the different releases, exceptional examples were enjoyed from Chateau Suduiraut, Chateau de Fargues and of course, Chateau d’Yquem. The latter was one of the most compact, tightly wound yet energetic and intense sweet wines you could ever wish to taste. Where balance meets it’s apogee. Simply one of the greatest wines in the world.
At the completion of day one’s appointments it was clear that 2017 was a modern, stylish and refreshing vintage which had a plethora of star performers. Forget everything you hear from the neigh sayers; 2017 is a special vintage and certainly one which will provide stunning drinking level wines as well as wines for the longer term. As always the key is in chosing the very best for your cellar, hand selected by a merchant such as Mr.Wheeler.
The next part of our blog covers the remainder of the Left Bank communes before heading across the river to St Emilion and Pomerol…
Thanks for reading!