#Bdx17: Best of the red rest

Right Bank Satellites

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

26 May 2018

2017 makes the adage of seeking a “petit château” in a great vintage (and vice versa) less clear-cut. Certainly top terroirs excelled – on a general basis – so you can (more often that not) find happiness from the “grands châteaux” in 2017 – if the price is right.  By the way, too often so far, the price has notbeen right, what with the wide availability of vintages like 2015 in bottle and at comparable prices, not to mention 2014s that can be just as good as the 2017s.

To get your money’s worth, this time “grand château” also means estates from lesser known appellations, whose terroirs suffered little or no frost damage, while having enough warmth and properly draining soils to ripen grapes in the somewhat sunless summer – and to withstand more effectively September rains.

So, you could actually find “petits châteaux” from fine terroirs that may be more interesting than even some classified growths that were hit more by the frost.

This section thus takes a closer look at this fascinating aspect of 2017, and two examples come to mind: Château de la Rivière in Fronsac, unaffected by frost, made very fine wine in 2017.  We have already seen how an estate like Château de Lamarque in Haut-Médoc made wine that outclasses some classified growths: its proximity to the river meant riper grapes and less frost challenges, and riper Cabernets than some others. Neither of these wines will dent your wallet.

Many of these “smaller” success stories come from the members of the Grand Cercle, which includes wines that in warm to hot vintages make over bold, high alcohol and sometimes too oak-ridden wine. Given the nature of the vintage, which was not amenable to such large scale styles, some special cuvées from the Grand Cercle which I tend to find overblown actually excel in 2017 – and would be worth purchasing should the promise of the barrel samples be fulfilled in bottle. In terms of appellations, yet again Fronsac proves its mettle and for that reason I highlight it in the main photo for this post.

Great tasting conditions at the Grand Cercle tasting. Above is fellow taster Wilson Kwok of Hong Kong. Below, Bordeaux-based wine writer Yohan Castaing.

Long story short: 2017 means that many less expensive estates had a harder time in 2017, but a significant enough number of these economically priced wines actually did well, and should merit your attention. The prices are not going to go up on some of these so called unsung heroes anyway, and perhaps the spotty reputation of 2017 will make buyers hesitate. But for wines here in red and bold, it is a fairly safe bet to go for it. Of course, these are barrel samples and the proof will be in the pudding, or rather in the bottle.

Thanks to the Grand Cercle for its as ever so professionally organized tastings. Its members are making better wines than ever, and in spite of the challenges of 2017, some wines here count among the best price/quality ratios of the vintage.

As usual, wines in bold I like in particular. When red and bold, even more.


In assessing the barrel samples of this fine appellation, fellow taster Ying Hui of Hong Kong agrees that Fronsac did well in 2017.  Here we get to the crème de la crème of interesting 2017 buys. Not all excelled, but enough to make Fronsac – yet again – a noteworthy appellation for savvy buyers.

Château de la Dauphine – This is actually quite nice. Ripe and balanced. Slightly austere on the finish, but not hard. This is a rather successful wine! Fellow wine critic Chris Kissack liked this most. It was very good indeed when tasted at the Grand Cercle. A sample that I tried at the negociant Joanne was less impressive however, so I will err on the side of caution and not give this a red and bold. 89-91

Château Dalem – Greater austerity on this one, as tasted just after the de la Dauphine. I like the ripe fruit and mid palate body, but I felt also a certain hard tannin. At least it is not a “green sinner,” as some other barrel samples were. Just OK. Let’s see how it is from bottle. 87-89

Château Fontenil – Fine rich nose here. The palate has ripe fruit, and feels good. It is not overripe. Wow, in a so-called cooler vintage, Fontentil is full on. Fine balance in fact. Really nice wine. There is perhaps a touch of warmth on the finish? Let’s see how the others do… 90-92

Château Haut Carles – A bit more vegetal here, alas! When tasted at the Grand Cercle. I usually love this wine, but the 2017 sample, at least this one, is not quite hitting the mark. A bit austere in expression. Tasted at the negociant Joanne, however, and a better sample there displaying juiciness and more character, albeit a bit of “raw tannin.” But it has the juice! 89-91 

Château Moulin Haut Laroque – This is somewhat obtuse, or at least the tannins are not the finest. It is not bad, but we have a rather broad aspect lacking focus. Not rustic, not hard, but just a bit awkward. Maybe it will come together in bottle? 87-89

Top Fronsac in 2017

Château de la Riviere*– Refined nose here. This shows how nicely Fronsac can perform even in a more challenging vintage. This is quite special and the best of all the Fronsacs. Has more elegance and nuance than the Fontentil, for example. 91-93

Château Les Trois Croix – Steely aspect. But it has a certain breed, yes. One of the better, “steely styled” wines. Has character. Does not dry and has a lifting finish. The tannins for now are just a bit raide. But I give it the benefit of the doubt and will chalk it up to a need for barrel aging. 90-92

Château La Vieille Cure – This has spice and opulence. There is nuance, too, to the palate. In re-tasting, reveals itself as one of the better wines, although the finish is a tad drying and lacks perhaps the “follow through” of La Vieille Cure. 89-91+

Château Villars – Herbal aromatics. Sweet herbs. The palate is rather appealing, there is ripeness and style, albeit a bit drying on the finish. Yet again, Fronsac proves its mettle. Going back to this? I like the crushed sweet herbs! 90-92


Château Gaby – This is rather opulent and appealing. A bit hard, as it feels “extracted” however. Not too bad. Give it time in bottle? 88-90

Château Moulin Pey Labrie – Another one for the somewhat “stiff” category of tannins; the aromatics are cooler than some others, steely aspects, even on the nose. But it has character. I am wondering how aging will bring it about. Still, perhaps a bit too steely for its own good? 88-90

Côtes de Bordeaux

Clos Chaumont – Nose shows some vegetal aspects. This shows somewhat hard tannins there is fruit, too. Just a bit stolid and lacking in charm.

Chateau Lafitte – Nose is not hugely ripe. This is also showing hard tannins, or rather a bit raw. There is warmth on the mid palate, and it has a certain richness that marks the finish. 86-88

Château Haut Coulon – Oak-derived sweetness on the nose. Somewhat drying on the finish, with tannins a bit coarse. Not my style here.

Château Réaut– A certain freshness on the nose, if not the deepest black, but more like blueberry – and not the most vivid, even in the cool fruit category. But no green and that is a plus! Riper appeal on the palate, even a touch of – say – cranberry jam (not just cranberry). This estate is proving its mettle. Just enough richness here, to appeal. Perhaps reflecting not such a great vintage. Overall, quite nice. I loved it in 2015, and like it in 2017. 89-91

Château Reynon (had it already at the negociant Joanne) – On the nose, not among the most herbaceous, but the palate lacks vigor and ripeness and the tannins are somewhat stiff and lacking in charm. Finish dries a bit.


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.