2023 Bordeaux En Primeur – Léoville Las Cases, Le Petit Lion, Clos du Marquis, Potensac, Nénin, Valandraud & Pontet-Canet

UNTIL MY COMPREHENSIVE BORDEAUX EN PRIMEUR 2023 REPORT IS PUBLISHED IN FULL, I WILL NOTE DOWN MY FAVOURITE ‘EARLY-RELEASE’ WINES FOR YOUR PERUSAL.

Domaines Delon 2023

Château Léoville Las Cases (Grand Vin de Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, 2ème Cru Saint-Julien, from the Domaines Delon portfolio)

86 Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 Cabernet Franc, 4 Merlot

80% new oak

13.1% alc

3.79 pH

72 IPT

This is not only a stunning Las Cases, but it is also likely to be remembered as a genuine classic.  There is extraordinary power delivered here with such control and command that it does its best to confound the senses.  On the one hand, ordered and disciplined and then, at once, refreshing, and decorous, there is a style of grandeur here that can only be found at this mighty Saint-Julien property.  While the delivery of the beautiful fruit flavours is carefully controlled, at times, bordering on balletic, unexpected moments of flamboyance catch one unawares.  I find this style of Las Cases riveting, not least because the considerable percentage of Cabernet, relatively low alcohol and crystal-clear acidity ought to signal a wine of uncommon strictness and composure, but there is an enchanting core of pure cassis that grabs the senses and doesn’t let go.  19+

Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases (second wine of Léoville Las Cases, from the Domaines Delon portfolio)

61 Cabernet Sauvignon, 31 Merlot, 8 Cabernet Franc

While the new winery has yet to be fully opened to visitors, the nuts and bolts of vinification were up and running in time for the 2023 vintage. They managed to increase the number of vats from 39 to 72, which has led to much more precision when picking and fermenting smaller plots of vines.  The results are the thrilling 2023 vintage wines.  I wonder if this wine needs a name change because there is nothing ‘little’ about its flavour.  With an incredibly luxurious nose and pinpoint balance throughout the experience, there is no doubt that this is the finest Le Petit Lion to date.  In fact, it surpasses many Left Bank Grands Vins with its finesse and poise.  So often, second wines fall flat in superb vintages because there is the temptation to cram all the great fruit into the main act.  Not so here.  While Las Cases is a stunner, Le Petit Lion is a fabulous creation, and it will drink well from eight years, singing the siren song of this noble estate, and if that doesn’t turn heads, then nothing will.   18+

Clos du Marquis (Saint-Julien, from the Domaines Delon portfolio)

56 Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 Merlot, 9 Cabernet Franc

After a demure introduction, with a subtle fragrance that grows incrementally on the palate and then picks up momentum the moment you take a sip, thereafter, this wine becomes nothing short of mesmerising.  A fair chunk of the vineyards were replanted 15 years ago, and some of these vines are now coming into play.  With a new, dedicated cellar with smaller vats, the team can be absolutely precise when picking. With the ability to cool the harvest before fermentation coupled with little pumping because it is all gravity-fed in the winery, Clos du Marquis has found a different level of sophistication.  I particularly like the detonation of fruit that happens in the mid-palate, which rolls on for minutes.  When I tasted with him, vice-chairman of Domains Delon Jean-Guillaume Prats said, “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”  Although I think he just has.  18+

Château Potensac (Médoc, from the Domaines Delon portfolio)

48 Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 Merlot, 17 Cabernet Franc

Potensac has never had so much care and attention lavished on it, and with recent warmer vintages, it appears to be having a profound effect on this property.  While the fruit is spectacular, the freshness and vibrancy on the finish catapult this wine up the ladder of excellence.  One might have imagined that this vintage would have made somewhat bigger, heftier wines, but the opposite is true.  There is scintillating purity here, and with an average vine age of over 55 years, there is incredible depth of fruit, too.  It feels like Potensac has made a perfect fusion of ancient and modern in 2023, and I cannot recommend it enough.  I hope the pricing is reasonable so keen collectors can add this delicious wine to their inventory!  18+

Château Nénin (Pomerol, from the Domaines Delon portfolio)

67 Merlot, 34 Cabernet Franc, 3 Cabernet Sauvignon

This red-toned Nénin has terrific brightness, crisp fruit, and superb tannins.  The overall feel is of a wine with lip-smacking intensity but no excess weight.  The fruit spectrum delves into all red and purple hues, from mulberries to violets, crimson cherries to tantalising pomegranates. Underneath all this action lives breath-taking steeliness in the form of brittle acidity.  The finish is minutes long and perfectly balanced, with fine-grained tannins barely perceptible.  While this sensual wine might appear to possess a soft exterior, the fine line of high tensile fruit in its core is impressive and will arm it for a long life ahead. 18.5+

Château Valandraud (Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé)

84 Merlot, 8 Cabernet Franc, 8 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% new oak

15% alc

3.5 pH

35000 bottles produced

You always know what you are getting yourself into when you taste Valandraud, and I feel myself starting a (mental) run-up as I approach this wine.  Yes, the statistics are pretty unnerving, and there is always a lot of wine to wrestle onto your palate and then try to make sense of its dimensions without the help of a team of helpers, but I must admit, this 2023 is a much more civilised wine than many.  Proud, full, swaggering and showy, while there is a lot of action and no expense spared on the CGI fruit notes, there is also terrific balance here in the form of dynamic acidity and profound minerality.  The oak seems to sit back and allow the purity and freshness to dictate the direction of this wine.  Hats off!  There was even a skip in my step as I moved away from this wine’s powerful tractor beam and onto my next victim!  18.5+

Pontet Canet 2023

Château Pontet-Canet (5ème Cru Pauillac)

52 Cabernet Sauvignon, 39 Merlot, 6 Cabernet Franc, 3 Petit Verdot

50% new oak, 35% goes in concrete amphoras, 15% one year old barrels

Harvest started on 7 September for Merlot and ended on 19 September.  It resumed on 20 September for Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and they started picking Cabernet Sauvignon on 28 September and ended on 10 October.

As owner Alfred Tesseron noted, with his trademark wry smile, “This was an interesting vintage; everything was easy.”  He then elaborated, explaining that the only real issues were the two heat waves and these challenges were taken care of by his fascinating ‘sunscreen’ made from calcined clay from Limoges, which forms a milky white, ultra-fine sun-resistant layer on leaves and grapes and it remains in place for a couple of days before blowing away, thus neutralising the sun’s rays.  As it turned out, picking was a doddle, with a slo-mo Merlot harvest, and then the critical decision was when, precisely, to bring in the Cabernets.  While the famous ‘storm’ was announced, they felt confident that no matter how much rain may or may not fall, they would continue to take a leisurely approach to picking. Instead of harvesting in five days, they picked in two weeks – deliberately.  While others panicked about 100mm of water on its way, only 25mm fell, and this was beneficial, softening Cabernet skins.  With the benefit of smaller fermenters, giving the team more precision and a suite of new amphoras, Pontet-Canet has made a sensual, textural wine with enviable harmony from its tip to its tail.  There was no harsh extraction and they build a wine of great beauty, simply using soft hands, gentle infusion, and masses of confidence, and the results are extremely easy to appreciate because this is set to be a staggeringly successful wine, not only among P-C acolytes but I venture it will bring hordes of new palates to this table such is the glory in this glass.  The tannins are like shot silk, and the acidity brings a tear to the eye, making this one of the most memorable of all Pontet-Canets. In addition, Alfred is immensely proud, and rightly so, of his new, lightweight, branded bottle.  If you talk the talk, you must also walk the walk, and the Tesseron family must be cock-a-hoop about this mesmerising wine because it is not only a testament to their biodynamic tenets but is also uniquely linked to this estate and, therefore, could not be made anywhere else on earth.  19+

 

MATTHEW JUKES SCORE CONVERSION CHART

As a wine taster and writer, I prefer you to read my words rather than focus on my scores.  This is why I rarely score wines unless I write an extensive report like this one.  I believe that scores taken from the context of tasting notes are essentially meaningless.  I describe my featured wines fully so you can imagine the aroma, shape and flavour.  Scores don’t help with this.  You will know that several different scoring methods are used in the global wine trade.  Most of my wine-writing colleagues have been tempted to the dark side, using the 100-point rating system.  A few, usually older types, cling to the venerable five-star rating.

As you know, I favour the 20-point score.  It’s how I was taught and dovetails nicely with how I judge wines.  For those unfamiliar with the 20-point scoring system, here is a table that translates it into various other formats.

20-point score100-point scoremedal5 star
20100perfect gold5
19.598/99gold5
1996/97gold5
18.595gold4
1893/94high silver4
17.591/92silver4
1789/90silver3
16.588high bronze3
1686/87bronze2
15.585bronze2
1583/84no medal1
14.581/82no medal1
1480no medal1

 

 

FIN