En Primeur - DAY THREE: Saint-Julien Delivers
A late return tonight (past midnight) and a long day, waking at 05:00. But there's still gas left in the tank, so to speak. Over the course of the day we gathered thoughts in advance for the below.
JR has been looking for patterns all week - some form of shape around which to build recommendations for wise en primeur purchases. Until this afternoon we failed to find anything solid, but then...Saint-Julien delivered. At the UGC (Union des Grands Crus) Saint-Julien tasting hosted by Chateau Beychevelle at its modern-looking new winery, we noticed a clear consistency in the wines; there wasn't a dud among them. Well, maybe there was one, but we don't need to talk about that as it wasn't really that bad. Either way, this was the first appellation we'd seen where quality was reliably high in these en primeur tastings. Everywhere else had required dedicated tasting to work out what was hot and what was not. So thank you Saint-Julien, and bravo!
Of course, as soon as this pattern had been spotted, we remembered another that we wanted to talk about yesterday(but ran out of time). It's the incredible purity to the whites this year, all around Bordeaux - not just in Graves where we were today (starting with Haut-Brion, Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte) but everywhere. Lovely balanced wines great concentration and acidity, and pithy, chalky tannins. Our tasting notes are full of descriptors like kaffir lime leaves, sweet sage, gooseberry, sherbet and candied lemon. Even lemon verbena made it in there. 2017 looks like a really great year for Bordeaux whites.
©Nick Martin / Wine Owners
The Cold Shoulder
Frost - the running theme of conversations all around Bordeaux this week - was as much as issue in Graves as it was in the right bank. The frost pattern here in the Graves seems to have been much more black and white than over in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. For some producers, there is a glittering silver lining to this rather painful situation, in that they adapted to it by significantly changing their blend and have come out smiling. Larrivet Haut-Brion is a gleaming example of this; the team there turned their blend around to use three times the usual amount of Cabernet Franc, and one third the amount of Merlot (which got severely hit by the frost). Les Carmes de Haut Brion is a similar story, and a similar success.
We have been focusing a lot on the frost topic (both here in the blog, and in our conversations with producers), but in fact a key point we'd like to make is that the frost is not something that consumers and investors should really focus on. What really matters, ultimately, is what each of the producers has managed to create. There are no strong patterns that consumers can reliably follow with regard to the frost.
Softly Softly Catchy Monkey
After a morning on the right bank, we returned to the Medoc, to the UGC tasting at Lafon Rochet. There, Basil Tesseron told us that 2017 was a vintage where it was extremely important not to over-extract, not being a super-ripe or sunny vintage. Over-extraction would just lead to mean, green bitter compounds leaching into the wine. This echoed a sentiment raised earlier in the day at Smith Haut-Lafitte, where the team did 4 pigeages per day, but no pumperovers, in order to keep the winemaking relatively gentle. 2017 was a year to be patient for picking and gentle in the winery.
©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners
Less (Wine) Does Not Necessarily Mean More (Money)
Despite indications given by some chateaux that smaller harvests will mean higher release prices, we see no justification for this. Traditionally, in vintages which are not 'stellar' -particularly those which followed relatively good vintages (as 2016 was) vintages, prices have tended to drop or remain roughly stable. Even in 2006 prices didn't significantly rise; they stayed roughly the same as 2005 even though the vintage clearly wasn't quite as impressive.
Tomorrow is a final look at the top producers we've not yet visited, all around the region. Lots of driving, between Le Pin, Angelus, La Conseillante, Eglise-Clinet and then back over the river to Latour, Leoville Barton and Palmer. Here's hoping for good driving conditions!
Tags: #bdx17, Angelus, Bordeaux, Bordeaux en primeur, bordeaux17, Chateau Beychevelle, Eglis, en primeur, La Conseillante, Lafon rochet, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Le Pin, Les carmes haut-brion, primeurs, Union des Grands Crus,