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.
As I went south into Margaux and Pessac-Léognan, the affects of the spring frost appeared in tiny bits and pieces: At Château Haut-Brion and its sister property, La Mission Haut-Brion, only 3.7 acres of the total 198 were lost. Yields overall were a very healthy 3.6 tons per acre, versus 3.8 tons per acre in 2016.
As this area is warmer and ripens earlier than the upper Médoc, the Merlot was picked before the September rains (2.75 inches between Sept. 8 and 17) according to general director Jean-Philippe Delmas. Picking started Aug. 31, quite early. But Merlot escaped the rains; it was Cabernet Franc that suffered. But as I saw in the Médoc during my previous visits, the Cabernet Sauvignon did fine with the spate of good weather after the rain (it was dry from Sept. 16 through the end of the month).
Note: These wines were tasted non-blind. Official barrel scores and tasting notes for wines submitted to Wine Spectator's blind tasting here in Bordeaux will be published at the end of my trip.
The 2017 Clarendelle Bordeaux offers pure cassis flavor, with a supple, nicely rounded feel and a good streak of tobacco through the finish for spine. This value-priced wine has been steadily improving in recent vintages.
The 2017 La Chapelle de la Mission (second wine) offers a vibrant torrent of raspberry pâte de fruit and anise notes, backed by bitter plum and a hint of fruitcake. It has good tension, with a graphite spine, lingering spice notes and some sneaky grip too.
The 2017 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (second wine) is fuller in feel, with more plum, cassis and cherry preserve flavors, along with a fleshier feel than the La Chapelle. Light tar, red licorice and apple wood notes fill in while grip blossoms on the finish with a pleasantly chewy feel.
The 2017 La Mission Haut-Brion grand vin is a 56 percent Merlot, 40 Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 Cabernet Franc blend representing 51 percent of the crop. It's youthfully tight with a strong apple wood frame around raspberry, plum and cherry pâte de fruit flavors. It shows racy graphite and a strong tar edge through the finish, where it really tightens up—typical, as this and its sibling are always among the most backward wines during the en primeur season. But there's really good energy here throughout.
The 2017 Haut-Brion grand vin is a 53 percent Merlot, 41 Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 Cabernet Franc blend representing just 45 percent of the crop. It shows a bit more refinement than La Miss (as usual), with equal weight, depth and drive to the mix of warm plum cake, black currant and raspberry puree flavors. The singed apple wood frame is better integrated already and a long swath of smoldering tobacco flows through the finish. It has lots of latent grip and is seriously long, with better definition (at this point) than the La Mission. Now having tasted all five of the first-growths on the Left Bank, I would give the early edge to Lafite and Haut-Brion.
Whites here were picked Aug 22 through 31, about one week early. They totally escaped the September rain while the cooler July helped maintain the freshness and acidity in the whites, putting them in position for a strong showing. The only anomaly is that the frosted parcels were primarily Sauvignon Blanc, so there's a greater percentage of Sémillon in the wines than usual.
The 2017 La Clarté (second wine) is a 69/31 Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc blend. There are 1,706 cases of this juicy and full wine that brims with delightful honeysuckle, chamomile and verbena notes backed by white peach, lemon zest and kiwi core flavors on the plump finish.
The 2017 La Mission Haut-Brion White is a 76/24 Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc blend, with production at a tiny 490 cases. It shows its Sémillon character, with a rounded, slightly oily feel and flavors of white peach, tangerine and Key lime all mixed in. Flashes of verbena, meringue and heather chime through the finish, with its richness offset by nicely embedded zip on the finish.
The 2017 Haut-Brion White (56/44 Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, 520 cases made) is bright and engaging already, with Key lime custard, toasted meringue, verbena, white peach and pear peel notes all nicely layered together. It's very fresh through the shortbread-infused finish with a purity that lets its weightiness glide through the finish with ease. It's a beauty in the making.