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St Julien 2023: tasting notes

St Julien yielded some excellent wines in a year that threatened to be overshadowed by mildew. db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay gives his opinion on all the wines, with full tasting notes. 

This year, as is now my habit, I have again decided to provide an indicative rating for each wine alongside the published comment. All such comments and ratings are necessarily subjective (they cannot be anything else when one thinks about it). I would urge you to look at the two together and, if anything, to privilege the comment over the rating. My aim is more to describe the wine in the context of the vintage, the appellation and recent vintages of the same and similar wines, rather than to judge the wine per se.

The ratings, of course, reflect my subjective evaluations and relative preferences between wines. Your palate is likely differ from mine. I hope that my comments give you at least enough information to be able to recalibrate my ratings and, in so doing, to align them more closely to your own palate. To give an example: if the idea of the ‘new classicism’ leaves you cold, you may well wish to discount the (typically high) ratings I have given to wines described in such terms.

2023, like both of its predecessors is, of course, a far from homogeneous vintage – and, consequently, my ratings span a considerable range (from the very top of the scale downwards). I see little interest, either for the consumer or the producer, in publishing very low scores. Consequently, I have decided not to publish scores for classed growths (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 90 (here the range 89-91) and for crus bourgeois (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 89 (here the range 88-90). Where no rating is published, the wine would have scored below these thresholds. Where my written assessment of the wine might also have proved unflattering to the property, I have simply chosen to publish neither the commentary nor the rating.

Finally, élevage is likely to be very important in determining the quality in bottle of these wines. I am no soothsayer and cannot predict how that will turn out (another reason for the use of banded ratings). But all en primeur ratings should be treated with caution and taken with a certain pinch of salt.

Detailed tasting notes

Beychevelle (St-Julien; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; half of the total production made the strict selection for the grand vin, which sees the higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend in Philippe Blanc’s time at Beychevelle; 13.3% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Very easily picked and very representative and expressive of its top terroir. Quite saline in its quite expressive minerality (a feature of the vintage), with almost a salted walnut note alongside the plump and lithe, soft and engaging cherry and damson fruit. Aerial, light on its feet but not lacking in density and concentration, this is broadly shouldered and multi-layered, finely delineated and slowly drawn out along a very well defined central spine. Very elegant and well composed. Balanced and harmonious. 94-96.


Branaire-Ducru (St-Julien; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5.5% Cabernet Franc; 3.5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; pH 3.63; an impressive final yield of 53 hl/ha; 13.1% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). There’s a lot of excitement about the ascent or re-ascent of Branaire. One can see why when one tastes this. Intensely floral aromatically, almost Margellais, but more densely charged and compact in its fruit profile – which is rather more marked by the damson and plum fruits of the appellation and that archetypally St-Julien note of walnut. The fruit here seems also naturally slightly sweeter, the proximity to the river helping this attain perfect ripeness. Rich, deep, full and well-charged with juicy fruits. Long and gently tapering. Voluminous and yet wonderfully juicy on the finish. A considerable success. 93-95.


La Bridane (St-Julien; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; 13% Petit Verdot). With aeration and coaxing – and it needs a bit of that – dark cherries, grape skins and a little graphite, maybe a hint of walnut oil. Dense, compact, quite tight to the spine and perhaps a little austere for St Julien and, indeed, for La Bridane which is often a rather more opulent and seductive wine even at this nascent state. But the tannins, though considerable, are svelte and there is a lushness to the mid-palate that is reassuringly redolent of its appellation. Needs time. It’ll be interesting to revisit this. 89-91.


Clos du Marquis (St-Julien; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 44 hl/ha; IPT 68; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol; only 29 hectares of the total 44 are currently in production with extensive replanting underway; the second wine from this now goes into Le Petit Lion; tasted at Nénin). Lovely. Almonds, toasted white almonds, frangipane, a little olive oil and white pepper. Bramble and blueberry. Damson and cherry. This has a fabulous lithe and limpid texture and a lovely wild sage and peony element that interweaves itself with the dark berry and cherry fruit. Gracious and refined, with pleasing graphite and cedar notes building in the glass with aeration, patience or both. The best from here for a while. Succulent, juicy and very much flattered by the character of the vintage. Nice concentration over a rather more restricted frame than Las Cases itself. 93-95.


La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou (St Julien; 58% Merlot; 42% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; tasted at the property with Tracey Dobbin MW). Note the change in name from La Croix de Beaucaillou for this, the second label (though not really a second wine in that it comes from separate parcels a little further inland), of Ducru-Beaucaillou. Cedar and graphite, a nice natural sweetness. Relaxed, bright. Another top St-Julien that is quite saline in its minerality this year. Texturally beautiful. Big, ample through not at all too stretched. Lovely bramble fruit. Fresh and lithe. Graphite and salinity working together, the oak well integrated. Black cherries come through too with aeration. This has gravitas, giving space to the Cabernet fruit to express itself, as it were welling up from below. Spherical at the core and very ripe, plump and succulent. I find this very ‘Ducru’ in character. A great mouthful, with crunchy popping berries and the sapidity that comes from the release of juice that implies (and rather less of the Kirsch of the 2022). A menthol lift on the finish. 92-94.


Ducru Beaucaillou (St Julien; 85% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Merlot; tasted at the property; mildew was ultimately kept at bay but was a constant threat with the vast majority of the vineyard organically maintained; a fair amount of green harvesting but still a final vineyard yield of 40 hl/ha; weather stations dotted through the plots allowed great precision in the use of treatments; 180 harvesters picked, on and off, over 6 weeks; tasted at the property with Tracey Dobbin MW). Opulent, gorgeous and simply very ‘Ducru’. Plump, plush, with a load of violet, some rose petals, graphite by the nuclear reactor core full. Cedar builds graciously in the glass with gentle aeration. Substantial, ample (but not too ample and well-structured), broad-shouldered and yet fantastically lithe, aerial and, above all, succulent. Explosively and dynamically fresh. Lean and svelte, muscular with not an ounce of excess fat. Dark and upright, more like Latour than Lafite in a way. The transparency is never lost despite the substance. A major wine in the context of any vintage, certainly this one. Very gourmand. 95-97+.


Gloria (St-Julien; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 10% Petit Verdot; 5% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 51 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). A little more closed than some of the other wines of the appellation. A hint of cedar. A little frangipane. A very glossy and quite rich berry fruit, some wild herbal elements too, quite naturally sweet yet fresh and croquant in its purity. Not the concentration of the greatest of the appellation but very fine-grained in its tannins and very technically accomplished. I like this but it doesn’t wow me as much as some other recent vintages. 90-92+.


Gruaud Larose (St-Julien; 83% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% Merlot; 2.5% Cabernet Franc; a final yield 42 hl/ha, with no mildew loss despite being organically farmed; yield losses came only from a little desiccation of the fruit at the end of the ripening season; this was picked, like a Sauternes, in tries; 15% press wine; pH 3.4; 12.95% alcohol; the grand vin is sourced from a strict selection of the same 42 hectares that were originally classified; tasted at the property with Nicolas Sinoquet). A staggeringly brilliant wine. Utterly divine aromatically. Cedar, black cherries, a little cassis and blackcurrant, blackberry and blueberry and a delicate florality. Aerial. Incredibly dense and compact but with such a rich and succulent yet crystalline plunge pool mid palate. Truly wondrous. Some wines turn from berry to cherry on the palate in this vintage; this does the opposite and that makes it more energetic, vibrant and engaging, as the Cabernet pierces through the Merlot, bringing lift to the finish. Sapid and juicy from start to finish. A candidate for the wine of the appellation. The vivid character seems to come from the health of the soil. As harmonious a wine as I tasted en primeur. A wine that transcends any and all of the difficulties the vintage presented. 96-98.


Langoa-Barton (St-Julien; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 50 hl/ha; 13% alcohol – with, apparently, two of the 42 vats chaptalised; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Floral, as it is increasingly inclined to be, but very expressive too of its St-Julien character, with a little white almond accompanying the cherry, bramble and black berry fruits. There’s a good core to this, with lovely gracious yet granular tannins outlining the frame. Nicely filled with fruit and very juicy on the finish, though missing the opulence and voluptuousness of the Léovilles. Nutty on the finale. 92-94+.


Léoville Barton (St-Julien; 87% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). A little closed, like Branaire at the same tasting. Dark, cool, introspective and yet somehow exuding class and a certain opulence that is in fact rare in the context of the vintage. Cherry and cedar, a hint of rose florality, black currant and black berry, a little walnut shell and oil, almost a peppery olive oil note too. Deep, dark, rich, plump and lithe on the palate. Multi-layered, classy and refined and yet quite bright in its fruit and lively and energetic, above all on the finish. Nice and tense and poised for Léoville Barton. Not massive but very accomplished. 94-96.


Léoville Las Cases (St-Julien; 86% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Cabernet Franc; 4% Merlot; a final yield of 43 hl/ha; IPT 72; 6.6% press wine; 13.1% alcohol; the first vintage to be vinified in the new cellar). Deep, dark, classic, cedar-enrobed excellence. Exquisite. Enticing. A little introspective but that allows the seductive cedar to soar first, then the black cherries and damsons and then the berry fruits. Violet and iris, even a little lily. Very floral. Thyme and rosemary. So succulent. Sumptuous. Glossy but with no make-up at all. The oak is perfectly integrated. Gracious. Wonderful refinement with exquisite tannins, a gentle natural sweetness and great sapidity. This is like biting into a fresh ripe cherry and then popping a blueberry or two with the grape skin and black currant freshness of the Cabernet Franc lifting this further. I love the fruit profile. I love the wine. A brilliant shape and form in the mouth and a dignified evolution over the palate. Radiant and yet so calm, authoritative and composed. Maybe not the most powerful, but there is power and it’s beautifully handled. 96-98.


Leoville Poyferré (St-Julien; 62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; final yield of 52.8 hl/ha – no mildew losses; pH 3.68; 13.1% alcohol; tasted at the property with Sara Lecompte Cuvelier). Bright, with a lovely intensity to the leafy Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. A very distinctive texture. Immensely silky and stylish; rather less oak than was until recently the case here and that accentuates the sense of purity, delineation and refinement. Very pure and precise. Fluid. The oak is beautifully integrated. Graphite shading towards cedar. This has a lovely aerial open-texture. Fine, refined, gentle and tapering. Long and rapier-like on the finish. Menthol. Éclatant in its fruit freshness. Very highly pixilated. Reminiscent of a still life canvas of dark berries painted in great detail. Purity more than complexity, perhaps, but utterly divine. 94-96.


Moulin Riche (St Julien; 49% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 18% Petit Verdot). Fresh bright crunchy berries – red and darker. Creamily textured, but not the delineation nor the detail or definition of the grand vin. Graphite and bramble. Briary fruits. Just shading a little dry on the finish. 89-91.


Le Petit Ducru (St Julien; now the official third wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou; tasted at the property with Tracey Dobbin MW). Bramble and blackberry; walnut shell; a pleasing cedar note with aeration. This is very expressive of its appellation – it sings St-Julien! Tight and again very crystalline. Very classic and fine with impressive density and a very natural sweetened to the fruit. I love the little up-swell of Cabernet from below towards the finish. This seems to grow in class each year. 89-91.


Sarget de Gruaud Larose (St-Julien; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40.5% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 3.5% Petit Verdot; a final yield 42 hl/ha, with no mildew loss despite being organically farmed; pH 3.4; 12.95% alcohol; all of the fruit here comes from the very same 42 hectares that were originally classified in 1855 and it tastes like it; tasted at the property with Nicolas Sinoquet). One begins to understand why this is so good when one learns that 25% of the vineyard here is under 15 years of age and so is not considered for selection for the grand vin, that only 40 per cent of the production is selected for the grand vin and that there is a third selection too. Brilliant and quite definitely a candidate for the second wine of the vintage – beyond the first growths. So pure, so energetic and so incredibly expressive of its terroir. Cedar, raspberry, loganberry, blueberry and punnets of glossy black cherries. A touch of violet, a little hyacinth. Beautiful; cool; elegant and composed. Until I tasted the grand vin I honestly thought for a moment that the samples had been mixed up. So pure and precise, but with great density too. 92-94.


St-Pierre (St-Julien; 80% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 13.1% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). One of the more floral wines of the appellation in what is quite a floral vintage for the appellation – with pot pourri and dried petals alongside the plump raspberry and bramble fruit. A fruit profile that is quite light-hued for the appellation in the vintage and a nicely open and quite sinuous evolution over the palate. Very fresh and vibrant, though just the subtlest hint of dryness on the finish. 92-94.


Talbot (St-Julien; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 54 hl/ha;13% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin). The highest ever proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend here. One of the few to reveal clearly notes of oak on the nose, but also a copious and enticing nuttiness and a lovely rich intensely dark berry and stone fruit – sloe, damson, black berry and black currant. A big and punchy wine with milles feuilles layering, the tannins quite present but almost more present between the layers than around their edges. This will need time fully to integrate and the fruit at times feels a little stretched over the very broad frame, but this will be very good once again. 92-94.


Late additions:

Les Fiefs de Lagrange (St-Julien; 46% Cabernet Sauvignon; 41% Merlot; 13% Petit Verdot; just over half of the overall production; a final yield of 51 hl/ha; pH 3.44; 13.5% alcohol; tasted a little while after en primeur – but it was worth waiting for). Fresh, bright and quite aerial aromatically, with a pronounced wild heather and herbal element accompanying the dark berry fruits, notably cassis and bramble. A pleasingly broad frame is revealed by the attack, with the quite crumbly tannins gripping the dark berry fruit and drawing it back to the spine on the chalkier finish. Salt and pepper! Accessible and for early drinking. 89-91.


Lagrange (St-Julien; 84% Cabernet Sauvignon; 16% Merlot; a final yield of 51 hl/ha; pH 3.47; 13.5% alcohol; tasted a little while after en primeur – but it was worth waiting for). Such a consistent star turn these days even in an appellation as competitive as St-Julien, Lagrange has produced another exquisite wine in 2023. Wild herbs, rosemary, lavender, violet and crushed brambles immediately vie for attention on the effusive and expressive nose. There’s a delicate hint of cinnamon and a tempting salinity to the minerality. A little walnut shell and black cherries too with aeration. In the mouth this is lithe and supple, with quite grippy tannins that massage the fruit along the well-formed and quite sinuous central column. Vibrant and lifted on the finish. 93-95.




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