Raymond Blake was recently the only Irish wine writer invited to attend the big annual Bordeaux tasting. He tasted the 2017 vintage from over 100 châteaux just before the wines were bottled. These are his six recommendations from that trip.
“Look the other way” has long been a precept of mine; when all others are rushing in one direction, have a look in the other to see what might be revealed. It is a precept that has worked well over the years, especially when considering the merits of a Bordeaux vintage.
Every year, around March/April, the previous year’s vintage is presented to the trade and press for assessment, prompting a flurry of comment and, all too frequently, talk of another ‘vintage of the century’.
And also every year, at about the same time, the Bordeaux négociant Millesima holds its ‘late en primeur’ tasting, showcasing the vintage that is one year older; thus 2017 was in the spotlight this year.
If ever a vintage had a difficult birth 2017 is it. For evidence of the difficulties faced by les vignerons (winemakers), look no further than Irish-owned Château de Fieuzal in Pessac-Léognan where, thanks to a single night of frost in April, the entire crop was lost and no wine was produced.
Truth be told, 2017 is an awkward child, but a sweeping generalisation, writing off a whole vintage at a stroke, is a foolish exercise. Pick and choose carefully and you will be rewarded. Here is a half-dozen of my favourites.
Raymond's Six Bordeaux 2017 Picks
Léoville Barton, Saint-Julien 2017
An obvious choice for an Irish wine writer? Yes, the centuries-long connection between this island and the ‘Barton’ châteaux of Bordeaux is hard to ignore when tasting wines – but it is a perk on the palate and not sentiment that prompts me to hail this as one of the wines of 2017.
It is balanced and harmonious and, above all, has a smooth textural quality that some other ‘17s lack. Smooth it may be, but it is no shrinking violet, there are depth and length too. At the end, this was the wine I went back to, to drink a small glass.
Troplong Mondot, Saint-Emilion 2017
Twenty-seventeen saw a change of direction at Troplong-Mondot, when long-time owners, the Valette family, sold out to an insurance company for a price that equated to a whopping €7 million per hectare.
Aymeric de Gironde, formerly of Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe was hired as director, bringing a wealth of expertise with him. The 2017 has lovely succulent fruit, which endows it with a charm that many of its Saint-Emilion neighbours struggled to match this year.
Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 2017
‘Lunch Bags’ was, famously, the favourite claret of our late Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. In this he chose well, for it is always noted for its firm structure allied to concentrated fruit – a classic Pauillac in other words.
This youngster is no exception; it is deep and forceful and a bedrock of crisp tannin gives promise of a long life ahead. Lynch-Bages is also a good traveller – A half-bottle of the 1975 orbited earth aboard the space shuttle in 1985 and now sits under a glass dome and behind bars at the château.
Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac 2017
Pichon Lalande was put on the map by former owner May Eliane de Lancquesaing who is still remembered in Ireland when at a mid-winter wine dinner in l’Ecrivain Restaurant years ago, she insisted the wines be left outside to ensure they were served cool and not at room temperature.
The château is now owned by Roederer and the wine remains as elegant and charming as ever, if a little firmer, thanks to an increased percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend in recent years. The 2017 boasts abundant fruit without being in any way blowsy thanks to a welcome whiff of austerity.
Château Montrose, Saint-Estèphe 2017
Memories still linger of a case of 1989 bought back in the day, when good claret was pricey but not exorbitantly so. All that was needed was a deep breath while writing the cheque. (Remember cheques?) Today, a new mortgage might be needed.
Montrose once had a reputation as a fearsome wine that took decades to soften. Today it is less heavy-hoofed, as evidenced by the delicious succulent fruit that now counterpoints the still-firm tannins. Lovely balance is the hallmark of the 2017 with all the elements present in good measure and already nicely integrated.
Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan 2017
If ever a wine could be said to be made in the image of its owner, it is Chevalier. Olivier Bernard is urbane and charming and so is his wine and, taken together, both are the best ambassadors that Bordeaux could wish for.
The 2017 is soft with lovely sweet fruit and already gives promise that it will develop the marked savoury character that is the hallmark of fine claret. It will drink well young but I suspect it will also age better than might be expected.
La Boca Foof Court
Take your pick: Grimy, seedy, sleazy… until very recently, any or all of those adjectives could be utilised to describe the Quai de Paludate in Bordeaux. Anonymous, black-fronted bars and night clubs abounded; it was not a place to linger. It appeared that the wonderful renovation of the city in recent years had utterly passed it by.
Yet, in the space of a year or two, an incredible transformation has been effected, turning the locality into a must-see destination at whose centre lies the magnificent ‘La Boca’. While in Bordeaux I managed a quick visit to this expansive food court housed in a building that dates from 1938 and which once was home to a livestock market and slaughterhouse.
Fourteen standalone food outlets, ranging from seafood and pizza to Mexican and Chinese surround the high-ceilinged central space filled with long, refectory-style tables that encourage communal dining. I’ll be back and next time I’ll linger longer.
Author: Raymond Blake
Raymond is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers and has written for Food & Wine since its launch in 1997. Since then his travels have taken him to almost every corner of the wine world and he visited Chile and Argentina late last year. Forthcoming trips will see him visiting Bordeaux, Piedmont, Austria and Burgundy.
‘Côte d’Or – The Wines and Winemakers of the Heart of Burgundy’ (Oxford, 2017.)