2023 Bordeaux En Primeur – The Ducru Portfolio & Ausone and my picks from the Vauthier Portfolio

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

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Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (2ème Cru Saint-Julien)

85 Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 Merlot: 100% new oak – matured for 18 months: 13% alc: 3.7 pH: 89 IPT: Harvested from 8 September – 3 October

It was fabulous to see Bruno Borie up and about after all manner of new joints have been fitted – he is Saint-Julien’s Bionic Man.  It was even more exciting to walk through the portfolio at a leisurely pace with Tracey Dobbin MW, the font of all Ducru knowledge and one of the most open and interesting people I met up with on my tour.  In common with other estates, bud break was spot-on, and frost barely troubled the scorers, with only mild issues on the plateau.  Flowering was super-abundant (an expression I heard a few times).  They left 12 buds per plant and then ended up with 5-8, which was a 50% reduction in the crop.  It was costly but critical, and if you cast your eyes down the page, it proved well worth it, too!  Interestingly, mildew was less of a problem here than expected.  Tracey described this as “a fight that was always winnable” because of lessons learned in 2021.  They brought up 50 people from the harvesting team, nice and early, and they dropped fruit and carried out a trie sanitaire: removing partial bunches, cleaning and a little leaf thinning.   Tracey noted that cover crops worked nicely, and ‘spot-captures’, which send spores off to a lab coupled with mini-weather-station data, give them a lot of data so they can be incredibly accurate with their treatments.  Yields remained healthy, and with nicely aerated canopies, the August heatwave had little effect, but the hot temperatures in early September made everything a little more unpredictable.  They started harvesting Merlot on the 8th of September, and the plateau was finished in a couple of days.  The rains came on the 21st and 22nd of September, but it was much less than predicted. With no sign of botrytis, they gambled and harvested later despite a slight dilution from around 130 to 110g; they carried out a small amount of bleeding and maintained spectacular fruit quality.  Selection-wise, everything was hand-harvested and hand-sorted, and every berry went through a trie optique (even on Madame).  The installation of smaller conical-shaped cuves gives rich but soft tannins, and there, a vast collection of seriously intense wines, was made at this property. What strikes me so clearly about this wine is that all these efforts and attention to detail are evident in the glass.  Ducru is as fit and supple as I have ever seen it.  It is not a big wine but a street dancer: elegant, immensely strong, agile, decorous, and mesmerising.  On the surface, this finely tuned Cabernet is the model of decorum, but the explosive perfume and palate crackle with visceral energy and the tasting experience from start to finish minutes later is extraordinarily involving.  As the wine moves towards you, you must react, push as it pulls you, and activate the taste buds in differing sequences to onboard all the information held within this cache of flavour.  Behind the surface notes, there is a discreet but unrelenting crackle of energy, dark purple, intense, cool, and thrilling.  This wine is nothing short of a contemporary version of a great wine from the past.  I kept seeing similarities between some shapes and colours that the phenomenal 1961 vintage has left on my flavour memory, but this wine could never have been made 60 years ago.  It is a wine of its time, and it is entirely captivating.  19.5+/20

La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou (second wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou)

58 Merlot, 40 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 Petit Verdot: 13.5% alc: 3.71 pH: 91 IPT: Harvested from 8 September – 3 October

While Le Petit has some unpolished wildness due to its chunky Merlot content, it is still an impressive wine.  But when this wine hits the glass, it is clear there is a big step up to La Croix on both the nose and palate.  The fruit is adroit, upright and thrilling, and the tannins made me grin from ear to ear.  There is trademark Ducru exoticism here, and it is delivered with aplomb.  A chiselled jawline and confident stance make ’23 La Croix seem slightly more civilised and self-assured than the imposing 2022.  This is a more athletic wine than I expected. It has a rangy, loping gait and a fair amount of swagger – there is much to admire.  A slightly odd equilibrium is found mid-way along the palate when the intense fruit notes encounter sublime freshness coming in the other direction. This is shocking and pleasing in equal measure.  La Croix is a superb wine, and while it gains the same score as the 2022, in many ways, I prefer it.  It again shows that human intervention and decision-making made the wines of Ducru truly impressive in 2023.  18+/20

Le Petit Ducru (third wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou)

72 Merlot, 24 Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 Petit Verdot: 13.7% alc: 3.73 pH: 89 IPT: Harvested between 8 September – 3 October

Gosh, there is some clear DNA in this wine trickling down from the Grand Vin and La Croix here, and while this is a third wine, and it sits lowest on the ladder, it lacks nothing in flair and deliciousness.  There is admirable complexity and a long, even finish, and the tannins are well-drilled and respectful.  Granted, you can crack on after three or four years and have some classic Ducru fun, but it has an engine to live until 2035 with ease, making this Petit an authentic candidate for this moniker and the finest Little Ducru to date.   17+/20

Madame de Beaucaillou, Haut-Médoc (from the Ducru-Beaucaillou portfolio)

59 Merlot, 37 Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 Petit Verdot: 13% alc: 3.6 pH: 89 IPT

Madame is starting to sort herself out by gaining a newfound identity, which includes desirable traits such as pristine, vibrant fruit, brightness and definition and momentary hints of flamboyance that never get out of hand.  Prim acidity and crisp tannins complete the picture, and by comparison to hosts of local competitors, this wine is nigh on best in show!  It helps to have Ducru deportment lessons and a dedicated team of helpers. Still, this assistance would be fruitless if this wine failed to deliver, and I, for one, am happy to champion its refreshing modernity and seamless delivery.  17/20

Ausone 2023

Château Ausone (Saint-Emilion)

60 Cabernet Franc, 40 Merlot: 100% new oak for 20 months in underground quarries: The Merlot was harvested on 14 & 19 September and the Cabernet Franc was harvested on 25, 28 & 30 September

Ausone has made the flip to Cabernet Franc dominance work perfectly, and the nose sings of this variety with beautiful wild blackberry fruit and superb green highlights.   The palate is plush and silky, with more texture than I expected in this vintage.  The finish is positively genial with a ripe round, carefree set of tannins, and the acidity merely tightens the belt on the finish, allowing the wine to finish in a state of delightful constriction.  This is a somewhat different wine than I expected to taste, as I imagined a more tortured soul would greet me, but no.  I am surprised and delighted to see a smiling face on this enchanting Ausone instead of a furrowed brow.  This is a fascinating take on the vintage, and it will please every person who falls under its spell.   19+/20

Chapelle d’Ausone (second wine of Ausone)

60 Cabernet France, 35 Merlot, 5 Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% new oak for 20 months: Certified organic:

Firm, slightly bitter and uncommonly imposing, this is a challenging wine with a sudden impact on the palate that somewhat takes the breath away.  There is profound fruit depth, yet it seems a little raw and elemental, and while I do not doubt that this wine has summoned up massive power from the limestone in the soils, it seems to lack the composure of its parent wine.  In need of at least a decade of quiet repose, this is a challenging, complex mini-Ausone, and it will surely appeal to die-hard fans of this unique property.  17.5+/20

Château La Clotte (from the Vauthier family portfolio)

85 Merlot, 15 Cabernet Franc

Continued improvement and tweaking at La Clotte make it one of the most intriguing wines in the Vauthier portfolio.  With superb detail on the nose and a latitude of fruit and spice notes that roll into a palate of delicious depth and sappy acidity, this is an exciting wine that asks a good few questions.  The finish is neatly marshalled with fine-grained tannins and a long, tense finish.  Carefully put together and invigoratingly refreshing, too, this is a smart wine, and I can now see more clearly the Vauthiers’ plans for this label.  17.5+/20

Château de Fonbel (from the Vauthier family portfolio)

64 Merlot, 28 Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 Carmenère

Deeper and more structured than Simard (from the same portfolio), this is an expressive Fonbel that builds on the success of last year’s more expressive wine. It has a cooler, more penetrative style, superbly controlled oak, and a long, savoury finish. Once again, the tannins have been handled brilliantly here. This is a very assured wine, one that will open nicely over five years and hold itself well for a further ten and to that end, it gained its highest score from me to date.  17.5/20

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