Freshness from Saint Emilion: Bordeaux 2017 from barrel

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

7 May 2018

Given its rather large size, Saint Emilion is heterogeneous in quality. 2017 compounded differences from the challenge to remove grapes from frost-affected vines, of which there were plenty.

Properties with the most financial means did best to remove under ripe second-generation grapes that may have otherwise wound up in the must. It was not so easy to find low cost Saint Emilions that excelled in 2017, but some exist. Thoughts go out to estates that could not produce any wine because of the epic late April frost.

Sunny April 2018 afternoon, overlooking Saint Emilion from Château Clos Fourtet

The beneficial trend away from “big wines” with high alcohol to please certain sugar loving critics in the past (and today) continues. Over-ripe blockbusters are giving way to subtler, more nuanced palates. But 2017 does not lend itself to the former style, and most successful 2017 Saint Emilions please lovers of charm, juiciness and structure. Indeed, obtaining, say, 13 to 14% alcohol wines in 2017 – finely balanced with opulence and freshness – was both possible and welcome this year.

A notable case in point is Château Troplong Mondot, once known for a bombastic style. This year, it counts among my top Saint Emilions and even top Bordeaux, period, in 2017. There are – thankfully – others in that favorable vein.

Seven favorites from Saint Emilion, in alphabetical order and regardless of price

  1. Angélus
  2. Ausone
  3. Belair-Monange
  4. Canon
  5. Cheval Blanc
  6. Larcis Ducasse
  7. Tertre Roteboeuf
  8. Troplong Mondot

Seven favorites from Saint Emilion, in alphabetical order that could be bargain buys 

  1. Berliquet
  2. La Clotte 
  3. Grand Mayne
  4. Pressac
  5. Quinault l’Enclos
  6. Rochebelle
  7. Sansonnet 

Château Angélus – Estate winemaker Emmanuelle d’Aligny-Fulchi explained that frost damage made things more difficult for their second wine Carillon d’Angélus, resulting in 25,000 bottles instead of 45,000. The second wine, at 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc is however very rich and bright: fruit driven, and quite tasty, clocking in at 12.8% alcohol. Some 85,000 bottles will be made of the grand vin, where it was important to have softer extractions, she said, and low temperature macerations. How is Angélus? Great in 2017.

Left to right at Château Angélus: Miguel Lecuona, Francis and Jane Anson and Emmanuelle  d’Aligny-Fulchi

The blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, made at a healthy 30 hectoliters per hectare, reminds Emmanuelle – who has been with the estate for over 20 years – of both the nuanced 2001 and the long 2014. I got some of the Cabernet Franc driven mentholated fragrance of their 1996 (her first vintage here) and had a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot. The 2017 conveys excellent density, but also soft and elegant expressions, with a juicy mid palate marked by ripe red and black fruit leading to a long finish. Bravo! 93-95

Pauline Vauthier of Château Ausone

Château Ausone – What a gorgeous nose! The wine then has an opulent palate, combining richness and finesse. Indeed, Pauline Vauthier restated that the château has gone perhaps “a bit lighter” in extractions over the past few years, and I do feel more charm coming from the barrel samples, as well as the density. This blend of 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot clocks in at 14% alcohol and is incredibly long on the finish. For the price, I am not sure it is so much better than some other top wines from Bordeaux in 2017, but I am sure it will count among the best wines of the vintage with 15 years or so in your cellar, if you can afford it. 94-96+

Chapelle d’Ausone – This leaves quite a fine impression as well as the first wine, but more evidently floral, with limestone derived freshness, although the structure impresses, too. Not as dense as Ausone, but a darn good second wine that blends 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 92-94

The wine dances on the palate! Jane Anson with Pierre Lurton of Château Cheval Blanc

Château Cheval Blanc – A wine of depth and precision, with burgeoning wet earth and even crushed mint aspects, as well as beguiling floral aromatics: cooler weather indeed preserved aromatic complexity. The pH at 3.65 pH is classical.  Overall you get violets and iris – and an impression of “haute couture” elegance. The palate has density, marked by red and dark fruit, but also a certain linear aspect, given the cooler Cabernet derived fruit. The long finish is accentuated by fine dark chocolate aspects: the 100% new oak for aging is well integrated. Tasting this wine with Jane Anson, she remarked that this wine “dances on the palate.” How apt! Yet it was no easy feat. The estate made fewer bottles because of frost: 50,000 as opposed to 116,000 in 2016, with a yield of 21 hectoliters per hectare (by contrast, the property under the same ownership – the Libourne-based Saint Emilion Château Quinault l’Enclos – had suffered no frost damage). Cheval Blanc blends 56% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, and clocks in at a rather modest – by modern standards – 13.2% alcohol: well over one degree below that of Pétrus. One of the best wines of the vintage. 94-96+

Petit Cheval – In the second wine of the great white horse, the frost affected vineyards wine more: only two plots of vines made the cut. The first, Merlot for 52% of the blend and, the second, a plot of young Cabernet Francs on gravel for 48% of the blend. Coffee bean, perhaps from the 50% new oak, but also pleasing floral notes enchant the palate from this 13% alcohol wine that, in the end, comes across as suave, with a creamy aspect. Just 21 hectoliters per hectare in yields and 5,000 bottles in 2017. A successful second wine in the context of the vintage. 90-92+

Château Belair-Monange – Very floral and pretty, even dainty, but there is underlying tannic power and this should develop well in bottle. An illustration of elegance! Bright peonie, floral, herbal as well on the nose. Barrel aging will “fill it out” but already a subtle density. Sure it does not have the density and power of Trotanoy, tasted just before at the Moueix offices in Libourn, but it also costs twice as less. A veritable top wine of Saint Emilion in 2017. 93-95

Château Balestard La Tonnelle – Rich, up front fruit on the nose. The palate is tight. Ripe fruit, and a somewhat juicy mid palate. It tightens quite a lot on the finish, however, with oak tannins too prominent, which diminish the initial appeal. 87-89

Château Bellefont Belcier – Rather steely. A bit tight, but no faults. Basically, it is OK. Juicier than Château Destieux, for example, tasted just afterwards in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé flight at the Grand Cercle, but not among the top tier, either. 88-90

Château Berliquet – This estate enjoys fine terroir on the Saint Emilion limestone plateau, near Château Canon. Repurchased by Chanel (the same owner of Canon) last year, Berliquet has crafted yet another Saint Emilion to embrace freshness over bigness, clocking in at 100% Merlot and 13.5% alcohol. It exudes ripe red fruit, limestone freshness and lift, even if the tannins seem a touch hard. Time in barrel (and in your cellar) should mellow them. 91-93

Château Canon – Gorgeous and ripe with nuanced dark and red fruit expressions along with subtle wet stone aspects. The texture is silky and there is a juicy mid palate both opulent and fresh. The oak is well integrated and the finish is long. 93-95

Château Canon La Gaffeliere – A bit “sluttier” in expression, tasted just after the Canon, lacking the nuance of the former … It has appeal, however, and depth. Black fruit ripeness is evident, and time in barrel should bring decadent pleasure for several years, but I do not think that it will match the cooler limestone like freshness of Canon. 90-92+

Château Cap de Mourlin – This seems a bit austere with over prominent oak tannin that detracts. The fruit is ripe. Give it time to settle in bottle. 88-90

Château Clos Fourtet – Nearly 30% lost due to frost: it was challenging to select the grapes, co-owner Matthieu Cuvelier said. But select them they did. I find Clos Fourtet somewhat tight on the palate. It does has juiciness and depth, but could it lack the more opulent éclat of Canon? Fine ripeness for the grapes picked. I still think that Clos Fourtet provided a powerful match for Canon in 2015, but it may takes a back seat to Canon in 2017. 91-93+

Château La Clotte – With vines averaging 54 years old, this blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc is positively lovely and powerful at the same time, brought to you by the Vauthier Family, the same owners of the prestigious Château Ausone. There is such fresh fruit to the aromatics, yet the wine exudes Médoc like grip on the palate. A cool blue fruit finish. Excellent! 91-93+

Impressive dragon, impressive wine: Scroll down for my tasting note of Château Quintus. The dragon sculpture was designed by Mark Coreth.

Château La Couspaude – Oak notes on the nose. The palate is less so. It has some pleasing juice. But the finish has some drying aspects. 85-87

Château La Croizille – Here we have an example of sweet oak tannins covering weak fruit ripeness. Dry finish. Sweet but without verve… Not so good.

Château Daugay – Owned by Jean-Bernard Grenié, cousin to Hubert de Bouard of Château Angélus. This has a crunchy red fruit character and an agreeable and fresh finish. 89-91

Château Destieux – At the negociant Joanne, this starts fruit driven and rich – but also dries out. Far too much oak! Also tasted at the Grand Cercle with a rather similar negative impression. 84-86

Château La Dominique – I had a hard time to assess the wine, as it seemed to be too drying on the palate. Note reserved.

Château Faugeres – A bit drying on the finish even if the palate has some mid palate sap. It is just OK. 86-88

Château Figeac – This was the first 2017 from barrel I tasted last month, and from an estate I admire. The 2017 exuded ripe enough blackberry notes, and mid palate sap. It was juicy, to be sure. Generally, the wines here blend in more Cabernet Franc, but the frost challenges of the vintage – 55% of Cabernet Franc vines were lost to the frost – cannot be ignored. The wine is praiseworthy, but it comes across as an “atypical” Figeac, and I am not sure where it will be heading. The Cabernet Sauvignon at nearly 50% dominates the blend with somewhat more austere than usual tannins. I am sure that they will settle down with barrel aging. Time in bottle in your cellar should yield a fine Figeac, but the typical “lifting note” from Cabernet Franc (10% of the blend) lacks a bit. The 43% Merlot lends sumptuousness, but at this early stage the structure of the Cabernets dominate. The wine clocks in at 13.5% alcohol with a pH of 3.66. Director Frederic Faye says it is better than the 2014. I am not really convinced, but we shall see over time. 91-93

Château La Fleur d’Arthus – Green nose. Alas, the palate also lacks enough ripeness. There is some juiciness on the palate, that is better than the nose would suggest, but still… 85-87

Château Fombrauge – Straightforward and even ripe and tasty. Bravo Bernard Magrez. Certainly more interesting than his supposedly “premium” Magrez-Fombrauge. 88-90

Château Fonroque – This is a bit steely. Lacks a bit of concentration. Yet it has elegance. There is ripe fruit. OK. 87-89

Château Franc Mayne – This seven-hectare estate close to Beau-Séjour Bécot, with limestone and clay-limestone slopes, is rather fun to drink: it has ripeness and freshness. I like the lift on the finish, too. Medium bodied. 88-91

Château Godeau – With vineyards near such celebrated estates as La Mondotte and Tertre Roteboeuf, this sample was rather difficult to assess, too steely and not quite ripe enough to merit a higher score. Let’s wait and see from bottle… 86-88

Château Grand Mayne – Some oak notes on the aromatics, sure, but the palate has pleasing juiciness. There is not the same amount of brightness, this time around, as compared to the 2014, for example. Still, the estate is sur la bonne voie. 89-91+

Château Grand Pontet – The wine from this 14 hectare estate some 700 meters from the collegiate church in Saint-Emilion exudes a large scale palate – with juiciness – but the finish dries up a bit. Overall, a pretty good Saint Emilion. 89-91

Château Jean Faure – Lacks elegance. Tart. Château Pressac, tasted just before, shows much more nuance and charm. Nope.

Château Laplagnotte-Bellevue – Broccoli green. No thanks.

Château Larcis Ducasse – One of the most successful wines from Saint Emilion: I love the fresh limestone like aspects plus juicy ripe blackberry and ripe plum. This estate – whose 11 hectares of south facing vines are situated to the west of Château Pavie and to the north of Château Troplong Mondot – exudes depth and precision. Just delicious. I like the juice here on the mid palate. This may be one of the best Larcis Ducasse from barrel that I can recall. Marvelous. 93-95

Château Lynsolence – This is broad and rich, but sans the too often over-extracted feeling as in previous vintages, so pretty darn good. 88-90

Magrez Fombrauge – This wine has expected thickness and super ripeness as one would expect, but slightly stiff tannins on the finish, which dries out with too much oak derived tannin. No thanks. The “non premium” plain ole’ Fombrauge – less expensive – is actually better.

Château Montlabert – This has a certain “relaxed” aspect – after the previous wine, the Magrez Fombrauge, as tasted at the Grand Cercle – but it comes across as under-ripe, as well. No great shakes.

Château La Marzelle – Quite a bit of frost, just 3,500 bottles produced… A bit more oak derived espresso that seems to cover less optimally ripe fruit. I prefer the Berliquet, tasted just before. This blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvginon, tasted also at the Grand Cercle, came off with slightly stiff tannins. Not drying, but unexciting. 87-89

Château Du Parc – Really dries out the palate this one… Not worth your while.

Château Pavie Macquin – More oaky austerity than the Larcis Ducasse, tasted just before at the UGCB. It seems a bit awkward in expression, even though you can bet with ease that it has loads of substance. 89-92. Score higher if you like the style.

Château Peby Faugeres – This palate is not nearly as good as the Rochebelle. And yet it is three times the price. 100% Merlot and alas it dries on the finish. Go back to Rochebelle – and you get more pleasure.

Château de Pressac – Being on a warmer plateau, this estate was not so badly affected by the frost. It comes across with fine primary fruit and juicy on the palate, blending 74% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and some Malbec and Carmenère. It is aging in 50% new oak. Tasted twice, with similar positive impressions as a wine both ripe and pleasing. 91-93

Château La Prieuré – This comes across juicy and certainly smoother than Destieux, which was tasted just before at the negociant Joanne. Biodynamic winemaking here. Lovely. 90-92

Château Quinault l’Enclos – The city of Libourne was not touched by the frost. The blend includes 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 64% Merlot. The soils include much gravel, as a continuation of the gravel bed of Pomerol. There is just a slight vegetal aspect to the nose, but more roasted pepper than raw green pepper. Better on the palate: juicy and even sumptuous. The wine will age for 12 months in 50% new oak, in many larger casks to prevent too much contact with the oak. The palate displays ripe, red fruit and charm, with a certain density. Yields at 35 hectoliters per hectare and it clocks in at 13.5% alcohol (the 2014 enjoyed a higher yield, so 12.5% alcohol). Very nice overall! 91-93

Don’t touch my Quintus: Miguel Lecuona ?

Château Quintus – Clocking in at nearly 14.5% alcohol, this blend of nearly 55% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc has a very broad palate, with opulence in the mid palate that surpasses many wines this vintage. This is truly one of the best wines of Saint Emilion, benefitting from a most impressive terroir, perched on a 62-meter-high limestone hillock and benefitting from some of the finest solar expositions in the region. The palate exudes ripe red and black fruit, touches of spice as well as a certain floral lift from the Cabernet Franc, that contributes to a fine linear focus, leading to a long finish marked by lift. 92-94

Château Rochebelle –This has both richness and opulence and a fine nuanced palate. Having been promoted – justifiably – to grand cru classé in the last evaluation of Saint Emilion, the still somewhat little known Rochebelle counts only three hectares overlooking the Dordogne Valley, situated on the limestone plateau of Saint Emilion. Vines line gentle slopes to enable runoff of surface water in the event of heavy rainfall. In dry weather, such as the 2017 dry summer months, the vine roots use capillary action to draw water from the limestone rocks thereby ensuring a constant yet not over-abundant supply of water to the vines. The price is right and I would buy this. 91-93

Château Rol Valentin – This seems to have a bit of artifice to the nose and palate. Actually it is rather nice. In the end, it has a certain balance that appeals.

Château Roylland – Cabbage and oak. Never mind.

Château Sansonnet – This wine exudes both grip and power. The tannins are a bit raw and need time to come together in barrel and for a few years in your cellar. There is both ripeness and power, and a suave expression. Once again we see quality from this terroir. 91-93

Château Soutard-Cadet – From the Grand Cercle, this has a certain ripe aspect that is appealing. Ripe and rather cohesive. Not bad at all!

Château Soutard – This is a relief to some extent after the Pavie Macquin, assessed just before at the UGCB tasting. There is freshness and refinement. I rather like this wine. The oak is integrated and it has buoyancy. 90-92+

With Nina Mitjaville, overlooking some of the nearly 6 hectares of Château Tertre Roteboeuf. A great wine in 2017.

Château Tertre Roteboeuf – Quite a bit of freshness here, even if you get some roasted fruit from the wine as well. Both sumptuous and fresh, and practically Burgundian in terms of purity of fruit, this blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, clocking in at 14% alcohol. I prefer the 2017 almost more than the 2016 – and certainly more than the 2015, as I was able to do a little vertical at the estate. The Tertre Roteboeuf 2016 is opulent, yet displays finesse with juicy richness. But I feel like the 2017 conveys more lift, or at least a cooler aspect that I enjoyed more. The 2015 has much mid palate sap and yet it “feels” bigger at 15.5% alcohol: indeed, I felt drying heat on the finish for the 2015 that is totally absent in the 2017. 93-95

Lunch at Troplong Mondot, with left to right: Aymeric de Gironde, Francis Anson, Miguel Lecuona and Jane Anson

Château Troplong Mondot – Frost was not a factor at Troplong. Indeed, the yields were a healthy 45 hectoliters per hectare – and new director Aymeric de Gironde wants even higher yields in future. The wine is made up of 85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc and clocks in at 14% alcohol: a degree that reflects fine, ripe fruit, but far and away from the 15% (and more from some recent vintages) that some critics adore(d). It conveys lovely, crisp blue fruit with elegance, but also Merlot-driven sensuality. It exudes, too, an intriguing chalky “minerality” with a juicy, sap-driven mid palate leading to a long finish. So, meet the new boss, who is not the same as the old boss. Aymeric de Gironde arrived in September 2017 and crafted one of the best Saint Emilions from 2017. He had finished on a Friday at Cos d’Estournel and arrived the following Monday, where previous practices such as late picking and malolactic in barrel were stopped. Neighbors were left scratching their heads as harvesters started one week earlier than expected, said recently hired consultant Thomas Duclos, who is also turning back the tide of big and broad in favor of fresh and elegant.

Dinner cocktail party at Château Troplong Mondot, with wine consultant Thomas Duclos

What is sought is “drinkability,” as de Gironde stresses. The point was proven at lunch, after the tasting, where he served the 1988 and 2004. While the latter seemed too oak driven, the 1988 exuded greater purity and elegance. The 2017 is aging in 65% new oak, down from 90% last year. And more good news: “Prices should be lower” than last year, says de Gironde. If low enough, I am a buyer – and you should be, too. Also tasted at the negociant Joanne, with similarly positive tasting impression. 94-96

Château Trotte Vieille – A bit of vegetal on the nose. While there is freshness and smooth drinkability, the palate exudes some stiff tannins that come across as under-ripe. 88-90

Château Valandraud – This has more depth on the palate than the Trotte Vieille, tasted just before at the UGCB, but it seems to be also a bit too caramel oaky in delivery and the finish dries out a bit. It could have been an off sample, however, as several tasters whose palates I respect, liked it more. So I’ll just hold off for now with scoring.

Château Villemaurine – This is smooth, if not as smooth Château La Prieuré, tasted just before at the negociant Joanne. Tasted again at the UGCB and I liked it: while it lacks optimal ripeness, it has juiciness and power, too. It just lacks the “impact” of the top wines of Saint Emilion in its class, such as Larcis Ducasse or Canon. 89-91

Château Yon-Figeac – The least interesting of the trio of Sansonnet, Pressac and this one at the Grand Cercle tasting. Does not commit any sins but does not excite, either.

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