2023 Bordeaux En Primeur – The Domaine Clarence Dillon Portfolio, Gloria & Climens


 A phenomenal tasting at La Mission of the Domaine Clarence Dillon Wines

La Mission 2023

Château Haut-Brion Rouge (1er Cru Graves)

52.3 Merlot, 38.6 Cabernet Sauvignon, 9.1 Cabernet Franc: 68.7% new oak: 14.6% alcohol: 41 hl/ha

This is an immensely potent medium-weight wine.  Its dimensions seem to defy belief: I kept going back to the glass expecting a different outcome, but it was immovable and lithe at the same time!  Every time I thought the aroma or flavour was starting to senesce, it came back with another masterful wave of stunning fruit and rigid stature.  This is as commanding and focused as any Haut-Brion I have tasted, and it is dogged persistence makes it a staggeringly brilliant and wondrously refreshing wine.  The fruit tone is undoubtedly dark and brooding, and there are textural differences, infinitesimal changes of hue and angles of attack that surprise and amaze.  My mind flashed to old war epics with divisions of tanks pushed with extended snooker cues across a cartographical interpretation of an expansive battlescape.  I was minded to take the half-step to a perfect score as I sat here at La Mission, tasting through the entire portfolio of Domaine Clarence Dillon wines.  I have already typed a 19.5+, as is sometimes the case with a wine that seems perfect, but I require time to inspect every single molecule willing perfection and God-given symmetry.  But this wine does not possess these traits.  It is restless, active, and ultimately imperfect in its mood, tension, and unreliability.  It forces you to try to keep up.  It does not conform to a box-fresh Haut-Brion model.  And for me, that makes it all the more awesome.  It wants me to work, it needs undivided attention, and it never stays still long enough for a complete and uniform analysis.  I love that this wine might always be slightly out of reach because, regardless of its wraithlike abilities, I will be hot on its heels.  20+/20

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (second wine of Haut-Brion)

55.5 Merlot, 40.9 Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.6 Cabernet Franc: 22.5% new oak: 14.2% alc

Of course, Le Clarence ought to be at least a decent second wine in a vintage in which its Grand Vin stepped up to the top step of the podium.  I had no idea it would gain a gold medal score in my notes within seconds of it hitting my system, and this means it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a very different group of wines in 2023!  Firm, buttressed, dark and swirling, the tannins don’t hold back and then invade the palate early, warning the taster that this is not a ‘second wine’ situation.  It is a vintage for Le Clarence to stride forward, break rank, and make some noise.  There is unexpected intensity and spice here, making this a daring, wayward wine with prodigious length.   The perfume sings throughout the experience.  It does not disconnect politely from the palate, letting the palate take over – it takes command of everything.  Remember, hot vintages overtake terroir, but more controlled vintages allow the terroir to sing, and this property is unique in this and any solar system!  I was left not with an image of a planet in my head but another spherical object – a perfectly ripe griotte sitting atop a tee of tannins awaiting a thwack from a mighty golfer.  Yes, Le Clarence is that impactful.  18.5+/20

Château Haut-Brion Blanc

51.8 Sauvignon Blanc, 41.9 Semillon: 50.3% new oak: 13.8% alc

This is a much more structured and regal wine than La Mission in this vintage, but this does not mean it is the only white wine you should consider from Domaine Clarence Dillon.  It is, however, the only one you should consider for serious cellaring.  There is a colossal swoosh of lemons and limes followed by a couple of fast-moving chariots of brioche and then a monsoon of mint and finely diced sand dune succulents!  There is so much going on here, and it is incredible.  There is red wine intensity, but my glass contains a demure-looking white!  Undoubtedly, Bordeaux’s dry white wines are going through a staggering renaissance right now that ought to make Burgundians blush, and this wine is always near the top of the pile.  In 2023, it is the pinnacle white wine, but don’t even think of opening a bottle for ten years.  19.5+/20

La Clarté de Haut-Brion Blanc (second wine of Haut-Brion Blanc)

56.3 Sauvignon Blanc 43.7 Semillon: 45.6% new oak: 13.4% alc

Smooth, classy, and yet demure by comparison to its parent, it dutifully respects the grandeur and omnipotence of Haut-Brion Blanc and cheekily nips to the front of the queue, offering itself up for immediate gratification. This is a sacrificial Blanc: a genuine head-turner with remarkable flair balanced with natural, unadorned beauty. This is a superb glimpse behind the HB curtain, and on account of it, virtually drinking on release, do not feel guilty about diving in and wallowing guilt-free in this fabulous wine.   18/20

Château La Mission Haut-Brion Rouge

52.7 Cabernet Sauvignon, 29.6 Merlot, 17.7 Cabernet Franc: 69.5% new oak: 14.5% alc

The nose is soaked with Cabernet Franc, and the tannins on the finish are amazingly Cabernet Sauvignon dominant.  Perhaps this is not surprising given the make-up of this wine is a little over 70% Cabernets.  These two grapes conspire to bookend the discreet ripeness of the Merlot heart.  Earthiness underpins plushness, and the most remarkable thing is that despite this beautiful young wine’s apparent sternness and angularity, it still manages to show control and calm among the power and muscle.   While it does its best to act like an elemental golem, this gentle giant has a very long life ahead.  The power will eventually be tamed, but only when the acidity abates.  The tannins will leave the stage when they are ready, but the acidity gives this wine such a firm character, and you must be patient to allow this battery pack to wind down. This complex cocktail of flavours directly results from the intricacies of the extraordinary 2022 vintage, and they have made La Mission a serious keeper.  19++/20

La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion (second wine of La Mission Haut-Brion)

48.3 Merlot, 39.4 Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.3 Cabernet Franc: 21.2% new oak: 14.3% alc

This is a startlingly precise La Chapelle with pristine sour cherry and plum notes and layers of rose petals and violet over an immovable acidic core, which refreshes the palate while making the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.  At all moments, this is a riveting wine with smooth fruit and honed tannins right up until the finish, which is white knuckle tense and in need of a decade to soften.  Please don’t say I didn’t warn you that this is an action-packed drop!   18+/20

Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc

65.3 Sauvignon Blanc, 34.7 Semillon: 46.3% new oak: 13.9% alc

The heat spikes affected the Semillon most in 2022, so the percentage of the two varietal protagonists in this vintage is flipped.  This makes for a slightly lighter, brittle and more linear wine with a flirty perfume and a flick-knife palate.  Of course, the familiar La Mission DNA brings gravitas and restraint, but do not lower your guard too much because each sip leaves you stinging with excitement.  In addition to the whiplash palate, a colossal lick of acidity on the finish screams at you to slow down!   While there are familiar notes of almond croissant and River Café lemon tart, even these Sirens must be ignored for a good few years to allow the electrical storm on the finish to crackle to a stop.  18.5+/20

Château Gloria (Saint-Julien)

50 Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 Merlot, 10 Petit Verdot, 5 Cabernet Franc

Strangely, this is my favourite Gloria to date, and it even deserves a half point higher than last year’s juicy 2022.  The recipe in this 2023 vintage wine sees only a 1% deviation from last year’s blend, with one percentage point more Petit Verdot taking this hundredth from Cabernet Franc, but it tastes like an entirely different wine. I have never used the word glorious about Gloria, but it is deserved.  The engine in the centre of this flavour is fantastic and the tannins are fit and clean.  Good work, Gloria; you will make a lot of new fans in 2023.   17.5+/20

Château Climens (1er Cru Barsac)

100 Semillon

This is a super-complex sweetie, and in a roomful of Sauternes and Barsacs, and with time running out at the end of the very last tasting of the day, Climens shone like a beacon.  It has more impact, traction, ripeness and tension than I have seen in any sweet wine in this vintage, and the counterpoint between triumphant class and brittle, nerve-tingling acidity defies belief.  It may well drink as early as ten years down the track, but it will not reach its dotage until six or seven decades have passed.  Sensational.  19.5+/20


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
1893/94high silver4
16.588high bronze3
1583/84no medal1
14.581/82no medal1
1480no medal1