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2013 primeurs: the Right Bank

In Merlot country: criss-crossing St Emilion and Pomerol in search of the finest wines of 2013.

The Merlot suffered the most in the wave of botrytis that swept the Bordeaux vineyard in the summer and autumn of 2013. Those who responded well to the rot in this vintage and handled the fragile skins delicately have produced fragrant, sweet and silky clarets for the medium term. There were many ways to approach the challenge: Alain Vauthier watched the CIVB’s skin “pelicular evolution index”, Denis Durantou favoured short, gentle fermentations at reasonable temperatures, while Jean-Luc Thunevin measured the density of his grapes using the sugar bath method.

As a result, Ausone, Eglise Clinet, Valandraud and some others have produced fruit-rich, supple and engaging wines. Unfortunately, though, many others offer aggressive, angular, rasping tannins that shield only minimal fruit concentration and while they remind me of old school barrel samples from two decades ago that “needed time”, I suspect that some will never find any real balance.

Delon line-up

Strangely, the first wines of the day were not in fact Right Bank, as I had booked to taste the full range of Jean-Hubert Delon’s wines at Château Nénin, so we start with a few Médoc staples. Potensac is supple and attractive with silky tannins but a little closed, a good mid-term drinker, while Léoville Las Cases is very fine and focused, with a pure cassis nose backed by hints of minerally gravel and raspberry juice.

It builds nicely on the palate, growing in richness and has decent depth, but you need to search for the complexity in the form of gentle peppery oak on the finish. Clos du Marquis has a moderately powerful bouquet of cassis and powdery gravel, a good structure on the palate and decent fruit concentration; it finishes on those hallmark fine St Julien tannins and the effect is satisfying, if not hugely complex. Nénin is firm and stony with a heart of sweet prune, nice weight and balance, and supple, melting tannins.

At Cheval Blanc the Petit Cheval is deep, ripe and chocolaty with a creamy cassis nose and a dense core with fine tannins, and decent power and length. The grand vin has a similar creamy nose but with floral overtones and lots of blackcurrant behind. Clean and deep on the palate with a dry warm fruit core, this is persistent, poised, with velour tannins and good length, although a little dry on the finish.

Nearby, I think I found the best wine of the day at Vieux Château Certan: Alexandre Thienpont once more out on top. His solution to the rot was simply to take it on the chin, to wait until the berries had ripened fully, and to pick whatever was left after the botrytis had taken its share (which turned out to be around 25%). His wine has a wonderfully voluptuous nose, deep and warm with forward fruit, while on the palate finely-grained tannins enrobe savoury gourmand flavours around a chocolaty core. This is a feminine, floral and very stylish wine with good length. Quite delicious.

Vieux Château Certan on top again

Denis Durantou’s delicate fermentations have produced a range of lesser wines that are supple with decent grip and structure: Montlandrie (Castillon) is biscuit and rich, La Chenade (Lalande de Pomerol) is exuberant and complex – “Vive le Cabernet Franc”, says Denis – and Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol) is more intense and minerally. La Petite Eglise has a bigger structure and is loaded with ripe fruit, and l’Eglise Clinet develops this theme but is closed and brooding with big, round-edged tannins, a pure metallic dark fruit character and a sweet core that builds and lingers.

At Ausone, another range of well-made wines that lead with the fruit and show excellent tannin management: Simard, Fonbel and Moulin St Georges offer pure red fruit with progressive levels of body and depth and will all drink well from their youth. Chapelle d’Ausone is relatively open-knit on the nose but presents a higher level of complexity, ripe, floral and multi-layered. The tannins here are very fine and the structure is elegant, but the fruit has good power and the ensemble is very seductive.

Ausone itself in a similar style but slightly toned-down on the nose, more mineral, reserved and serious, and the earthy feel continues on the palate with a pebbly texture to the sweet raspberry and blackcurrant core. This is very elegant indeed, balanced and persistent.

Pauline Vauthier of Château Ausone

Hubert de Boüard filled the impressive nave of his new building at Château Angélus with around fifty of his consulting clients’ wines, but Angélus itself was my unshakeable target. The Carillon is a very dark wine for this vintage and offers pure blackberry and raspberry fruit on the nose, but on the palate it is a little green and comes up short, although there is a fine, grainy finish.

Angélus is perfumed and creamy on the nose, it builds on the palate, easing into a gentle smoky frame, carefully constructed, and releasing lots of sweet, crunchy fruit; it will benefit from its time in barrel.

De Boüard tasting at Château Angélus

At the Libourne offices of négociant Jean-Pierre Moueix I discovered that there is no Hosanna in 2013. Certan de May is silky with a rich core and hints of Madeira on the palate; Latour à Pomerol is typically masculine and robust with racy acidity and plenty of peppery black fruit; La Fleur Pétrus has almost jammy fruit on the palate with a definite spicy edge and great depth, while Trotanoy has a seductive, open bouquet, all red fruit and flowers, peppery and mineral with clean edges and a very long finish.

The recent addition, Bélair-Monange, resulting from the fusion of the Bélair and Magdelaine estates two years ago, is a wine to watch. The 2013 has a lovely, layered and airy bouquet of red fruits, all sweet and juicy, with rich black cherry sweetness on the palate and fresh acidity, medium body, gentle tannins and a very long finish.

At Jean-Luc Thunevin’s massed tasting, just time to make a dash for the big guns. Clos Badon has a fine, perfumed bouquet of dark fruit and a big structure on the palate, although it is not overpowering; it is succulent and very tasty, ripe and fresh with fine rounded tannins. Valandraud has great depth of colour and a deep, creamy nose loaded with crushed berries, blackcurrant and plums; sweet fruit on the palate is complemented by fruitcake, double cream and ginger, really complex, and the tannins are dry and structured but, again, not overwhelming. Valandraud’s white offering has a pronounced peach and pear nose with a smoky edge, a nice creamy texture and a gentle peppery grip on the finish.

A visit to Château Pavie reveals the way ahead for luxury wine tourism: the rebuild resembles a grand palace hotel on the banks of Lac Leman, all marble and statement lighting, a far cry from the average Libournais residence. The wines share a common thread of dark coal-like minerals and four-square, mouth-coating tannins that mask the fruit. Pavie shows a momentary, distant hint of blackcurrant on the nose and some purple flowers and has decent power.

5 star luxury at Château Pavie

At the UGC at Château La Dominique, where lunch was a spectacular meat feast atop the new chai building, inaugurated this week, Canon la Gaffelière was showing well: very ripe red fruit, smooth and full in the mouth, focused, precise, with fine tannins that lasted through to the finish. Canon has a delicate nose of coffee grains and oak, red fruit and fine tannins and a lively rich fruit core with hints of black pepper; La Dominique has lots of currants and cherries and finishes on earthy tannins; Figeac is light, smooth and creamy on the entry, linear, fresh and long but lacking fruit; Clos Fourtet is perfumed with gentle tropical hints, mint and vanilla, tongue-prickling red fruit coming through on the palate before a dry, mineral finish; Larcis Ducasse is complex yet reticent, herbal, new oak, gravelly limestone, good fruit content and a powdery texture; Pavie Macquin is loaded with dark berry fruit, liquorice and fennel on the nose, packed with soft, chewy fruit on the palate, sumptuous; and Troplong Mondot has an engaging smoky, fruit-driven nose and some nice fruit on the entry but aggressive tannins soon prevail.

Château La Dominique’s impressive rooftop restaurant

To Château Gazin for the Pomerols of the UGC, where Bon Pasteur (whose new Chinese owners have made no changes to the winemaking) shows an attractive, open nose and a pleasantly lump palate; La Conseillante has good richness, concentration and balance with a succulent, chewy core, persistent and deep, and elegant tannins; and Gazin is also chewy, with crushed-berry fruit and plenty of complexity but a lighter finish than some.

Tomorrow’s report will include Haut-Brion and Yquem as I move south into the Graves and Sauternes.

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