Bordeaux 2017 Vintage: Tasting Unique Blends at En Primeur

In the wake of 2017’s late spring frosts, Bordeaux producers faced an unusual dilemma. Without their typical yields, winemakers had to get creative with their traditional blends.
Photo by Alain Benoit

Today, Edouard Miailhe, of Margaux’s Château Siran, said that 2017 was a unique vintage. He believes it’s the best vintage from a “7” year since the legendary 1947 bottlings.

And similar to that fateful harvest 70 years ago, Bordeaux 2017 could very well be an unrepeatable vintage. Not because of the frost, which could happen again, but due to the blends crafted by some of the First Growths and many of the lesser wines.

The blends found in some of 2017’s top-end wines may never be created again.

Bordeaux wines are almost always a blend. Each winery consistently uses the same blend ratio of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—give or take a percent—from year to year. This consistency is what makes wine drinkers become loyal fans of one chateau over another, and compels them to buy every new release.

Last year’s late spring frost maimed vineyards in very specific locations, leaving many winemakers with an unusual what-to-do situation. In some places, prized parcels of Cabernet Franc were gone; in others, there was significantly less Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Forced to use what they have, winemakers made a different blend. Not different grapes, just different proportions.

The blends found in some of 2017’s top-end wines may never be created again.

Among the First Growths, Château Haut-Brion in Pessac-Léognan is, in my assessment, the top of the top for 2017. Forced to use less Cabernet Sauvignon, the bottling will be a blend with 55% Merlot. The result? A wine that is richer than usual and generous for the vintage.

Bordeaux 2017 Vintage: First Impressions at En Primeur

At Château Cheval Blanc in Saint-Émilion, grapes from a parcel of old Cabernet Franc lost to the frost were replaced with those from a young Cabernet Sauvignon plot being used for the first time.

Château Angélus, in Saint-Émilion, had less of its famous Cabernet Franc. The 2017 blend is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, instead of their normal 50/50 blend.

Château Fourcas Hosten, in Listrac-Médoc, will have bottlings with more Cabernet Sauvignon than usual as their low-lying Merlot parcels were caught in the frost. The 2017 is composed of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2016 was only 45%. The two wines taste radically different.

Wherever there was frost, there will be these differences. Winemakers made changes to their blends to utilize the available resources, dependent on how the dice fell in the vineyard.

When this vintage is bottled and on the market in two years, they will be collectibles. Not always great, but collectible. And while I am not usually a great fan of buying en primeur outside the very best vintages, 2017 is one vintage that will definitely bring a unique story to the glass.

My 10 Favorite Wines from Pessac-Léognan and Graves

Whites

Château Haut-Brion 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 95–97 points. This impressive wine is rich and full of ripe fruit tones. It is also beautiful, with pineapple and crisp apple notes that are integrated into the wood and spice flavors. It’s a great wine that will age over many years. Don’t drink before 2022.

Domaine de Chevalier 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 94–96. Still tight and firmly closed, this has the potential to age for many years. With its concentration, rich apricot and spice flavors, it is rounded while also full of minerality. Drink from 2023.

Château Malartic-Lagravière 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 94–96. Rich and warm, this generous wine balances a strongly mineral texture and acidity with ripe quince, apple and pear flavors. It is a wine for aging, likely to be ready to drink from 2023.

Château Carbonnieux 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan);93–95 points. Spice and toast give this wine attractive complexity as well as ripeness. It shows abundant, concentrated yellow-fruit notes as well as a fine texture. It is still very young and will be better from 2021.

Clos Floridène 2017 Barrel Sample (Graves); 91–93 points. There is an attractive spicy character at the back of this wine, which brings out the richness of the tropical-fruit flavors and the balance with the wood aging. It should age well, and be ready to drink from 2021.

Reds

Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 96–98 points. This is a generous, opulent wine with ripe blackberry and hints of spice notes sustained by rich tannins. Juicy and packed with tannins, this will be ready to drink young, but will also age over many years.

Château Couhins-Lurton 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 93–95 points. This wine is rich in ripe, juicy black currant notes. Finely integrated tannins already promise ripe fruitiness and a generous future. Drink from 2023.

Château la Louvière 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 92–94 points. Dark and dense, this wine has an impressive structure behind concentrated blackberry flavors. It is rich, full and with a fine future. Drink from 2024.

Château Bouscaut 2017 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 92–94 points. Ripe and spicy, this wine has great fruit allied to firm tannins. It is juicy, full of black currant flavors and fine, ripe acidity. This wine should age well, drink from 2022.

Château Rahoul 2017 Barrel Sample (Graves); 89–91 points. Barrel Sample. Juicy and ripe with fine swathes of blackberry fruit, this is bold, fruity wine with generous, full-bodied character. The tannins are soft, indicating this generous wine is likely to mature soon.

See more en primeur barrel tasting ratings and reviews.

Learn more about Roger Voss’ first impressions of En Primeur in Day One coverage.

Read about which white and dessert wines shined at En Primeur in Day Three coverage.

Find out which wines surprised at En Primeur in Day Four coverage.

Follow @wineenthusiast on Instagram #WEtasteBDX #EnPrimeur for more of my updates from the frontlines.

Published on April 10, 2018
Topics: En Primeur
About the Author
Roger Voss
European Editor, Reviews wines from Portugal and France

Roger Voss covers Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire and South-West France as well as Portugal. His passion is matching food with wine, bringing the pleasures of the table to wine lovers. He has written six books on wine and food, and was previously national correspondent on wine for the London Daily Telegraph. He is based in the Bordeaux region.

Email: rvoss@wineenthusiast.net




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