April 13th 2018
Day four of our Bordeaux En Primeur 2017 trip sees us staying close to the city in the neighbouring appellation of Pessac-Léognan, starting with Château Haut Bailly. We are greeted at the estate by technical director, Gabriel Vialard, who walked the team through the vineyards and cellars en route to their tasting room which overlooks the vines.
With every new vintage, the team at the Château try to describe its individual character, and this year’s “The Wonder of Nature” serves as a reminder of nature’s ability to rebound, and that truly showed in the quality of the wines. Haut Bailly lost 30% of their total production due to the April frost, however the weather that followed in the summer, warm days and cool nights, allowed the grapes to reach peak but not over-ripeness at harvest time. The resulting wines were an excellent introduction to Pessac-Léognan. The second wine, La Parde, saw more Merlot than usual, as some plots usually destined for the Grand Vin went into this wine, creating a wine that is very juicy, with a solid mid-palate. The Haut Bailly with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, is very pure, precise and polished, with gorgeous silky tannins from the strong performing Cabernet. Definitely a pair to get behind.
The wines of Haut Brion were next. An almost automatic silence settled over the room as the team went straight to work tasting the wines before us. La Chapelle de La Mission showed very strongly, very plush with silky, velvety tannins. It was hard to pick a favourite between La Mission and Haut Brion, each played towards their strengths: exuberance for La Mission, and reserved, stony, tannic structure for Haut Brion. It split the room, but I really enjoyed the La Mission. Next up the mythic whites, the Sauvignon this year was very pure. La Mission Blanc was fuller and fruitier on the finish, Haut Brion Blanc followed its red counterpart and was powerful yet restrained. It was tough spitting these wines, and it was nowhere near lunch time!
Following this we went to Smith Haut Lafitte, where they produced one of the best white wines they have ever made, it was complex and elegantly balanced. The estate harvested very early for both red and white and lost nothing in the Grand Vin vineyards.
Our last stop before lunch was the only UGC tasting of the day at Malartic Lagravière, to taste through the reds and whites of Pessac-Léognan and Graves. To me the whites are the standouts of the appellation, they are fruit driven, mineral and very elegant. Excellent examples: Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clément, and Carbonnieux. On the red side, Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clément and Carmes Haut Brion stood out.
On our way to lunch at Domaine de Chevalier our mood was instantly lifted by the arrival of blue skies and the sun! Few things have been missed this week more than sunshine. Upon arriving at the Château we are greeted by the charming Adrien Bernard and his wonderful parents, Anne and Olivier. Olivier Bernard said this was a vintage where if you have an early flowering, and an early harvest, combined with a summer that wasn’t too hot, the result is the lovely 2017. If the summer is too hot, the result is 2003. He was very pleased with his wines in this 2017 vintage.
After lunch various members of our team left to catch their flight back to London. A small contingent continued back up to St Julien and Léoville Barton, for a chance to taste Langoa and Léoville with the lovely Lilian Barton-Sartorius. She produced a knockout pair of wines, the most approachable young Langoa and Léoville I have tasted! Our last stop of the day is the Ulysse Cazabonne tasting where they were showing a large majority of the wines we tasted throughout the week. This was great as it let us revisit and reconfirm our assessments of wines tasted earlier in the week.
This has been a very interesting week of tasting as it isn’t a Left Bank or Right Bank vintage. Each appellation and indeed each château had their own successes despite or even thanks to the stresses they faced: frost, drought, rain, a cooler than expected summer, or any combination of these factors.
The most important thing to take away from this week is that while the frost may have been an initial scare, it did not necessarily affect the quality of the wine produced, just the quantity. Our recommendation when considering what to buy this vintage is to do a little research and of course to reach out to us as we want you to select the best wines for your cellaring needs.