Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth is in France for his 2017 vintage Bordeaux barrel tastings. While there, he's visiting the châteaus of some of the region's top estates, as well as some up-and-coming new producers.
In 2015, St.-Emilion, and particularly the châteaus located atop its limestone plateau, excelled. In 2017, the appellation was hard-pressed, as the frost dealt some of its most serious punishment in the appellation's lower-lying areas.
Note: These wines were tasted non-blind. See the full 2017 Bordeaux barrel tastings report for more than 250 official barrel scores and tasting notes for wines submitted to Wine Spectator's blind tasting here in Bordeaux.
The vintner saw a 60 percent crop loss at his Pessac estate, Clos Marsalette, for starters. There are just 1,000 bottles of the 2017 Clos Marsalette White, as opposed to the usual 10,000. The 80/20 Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blend offers plump lime, white peach and verbena notes with a long, meringue-tinged finish.
The 2017 Clos Marsalette red, a 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 Merlot, 5 Cabernet Franc blend, relies heavily on Cabernet Sauvignon this time around, as the Merlot was the hardest hit. It maintains its typically sleek and very pure profile, with a light sanguine hint through the core of cherry and damson plum puree.
Back in his home base of St.-Emilion, the decision to use second-generation fruit—the grape clusters that grow after the first-generation fruit is killed by the frost, was debated. These clusters run behind the first generation in terms of ripening and can be difficult to get across the finish line come harvesttime. But von Neipperg decided to use the fruit.
"Because it was good. We worked hard and made sure we wouldn't be including any green or astringent notes," he says matter of factly. "The difference between the first and second generation can be two weeks or more, so you really have to wait for the second-generation fruit to ripen. But hey, no risk, no fun," he smiles.
The second-generation fruit went into the 2017 d'Aiguilhe (25 percent of the blend), Clos de l'Oratoire (25 percent) and Canon-La Gaffelière (35 percent).
Consequently, harvest ran long here, Sept. 14 through Oct. 10, with a break of one week in between the two generations. The crop would have been down 70 percent overall without use of second-generation fruit; yields are down markedly even with the second-generation fruit, as these clusters are smaller in size with fewer berries.
The 2017 d'Aiguilhe Castillon, a 90/10 Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend, is bright with very pure fruit and a slightly higher pitch to the damson plum and raspberry puree fruit. It's sleek and racy on the finish, with a flicker of savory checking in.
The 2017 Clos de l'Oratoire St.-Emilion, 90/10 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, is tight and racy in feel with damson plum, raspberry and red currant coulis flavors backed by lively savory and iron notes. It keeps good juicy energy throughout with just a light twinge of green adding a rusticity on the finish.
The 2017 Canon-La Gaffelière 60/30/10 Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, saw just 55 percent new oak (down from 65 percent). It's a heck of an effort, showing a solid, juicy core of plum and blackberry fruit with light bay leaf, violet and bramble notes. A light chalky thread checks in on the finish and the fruit stays persistent. Bravo for the work here.
From atop the plateau, the 2017 La Mondotte was spared frost damage thanks to its elevation. The blend is 70/30 Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 2017 (usually 90/10), as yields were a touch lower on the Merlot even without the frost influence. Aged in just 60 percent new oak, as von Neipperg is trending down on that in general in recent years, the wine is sleek and pure with a gorgeous beam of raspberry and cassis flavors pierced by a light chalky spine. It has lovely length and focus and should again be among the elite wines of the appellation in this vintage.
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