2023 Bordeaux En Primeur – Lafite Rothschild, L’Evangile, Duhart-Milon

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

Tasting At Duhart

Château Lafite Rothschild (1er Cru Pauillac)

90-95% new oak

93 Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 Merlot, 1 Petit Verdot

41 hl/ha

3.5 pH

12.8% alc

20% press wine addition

Harvest took place between 7 – 29 September

My visit to Lafite was a somewhat confusing whirlwind of conversation and tasting.  The statistics I noted (oak, pH, yield, alcohol, and press wine addition) seem to differ from those of other commentators, so they may be correct or misleading.  I will endeavour to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible – certainly in time for the publication of my full report.  I was informed that 2023 was a vintage of “free interpretations”, which makes sense given this renowned wine’s perfume and flavour.  There was also talk of 2023 resembling a modern version of the great 2016 vintage, although I am unsure about this declaration.  The trademark elegance and sophistication of Lafite are present at this wine’s core, but these erudite notes are cloaked in restless oak and uncharacteristic wildness, and they are topped off with brisk tannins and pleasing acidity, which brings a refreshing bitterness to the finish.  It appears that this oft-aristocratic wine seems to be going through a rebellious phase.  While I don’t doubt it will find peace ahead of being bottled, this unusually combative wine is undoubtedly experiencing a slice of élévage angst.  In any case, I am so used to Lafite being a serene and unruffled haven during the hectic circus that is En Primeur week that it is somewhat encouraging to taste a wine with genuine energy and attitude.  Given its magnificently tense finish, I don’t doubt this will be a long-lived Lafite. There will be many occasions when this wine will be placed alongside the statuesque 2022 vintage, and we will debate the myriad merits of these fascinatingly diverse wines.  19+

2023 Rainfall Map

Château L’Evangile (Pomerol)

78 Merlot, 21 Cabernet Franc, 1 Cabernet Sauvignon

13.5% alc

45 hl/ha

3.7 pH

Harvest was 4 – 28 September

I was fortunate to taste at L’Evangile with Saskia de Rothschild and winemaker Juliette Couderc.  It has been a running theme in my tasting notes that the glorious wines of the 2023 vintage could never have been so successful without repeated human intervention.  I abhor the lines, ‘wine is made in the vineyard’ and ‘we did nothing, the wine just made itself’!  Grapes are grown in the vineyard, and wine is made in a winery, and without seriously talented, dedicated, hard-working and experienced people, we would never have the sensational wines found hither and thither in the 2023 vintage.  This is because multiple decisions had to be made throughout the year with accuracy and conviction, and the speed taken to deploy one’s actions determined the very best wines.  At the top of our list of discussion points at Evangile were the pivotal decisions made during the growing season.  Firstly, there were perfect flowering conditions, and they needed to control the vigour.  In the end, three green harvests took place, which brought a possible gigantic yield of 60-70 hl/ha to a much more realistic but still remarkably generous 42 hl/ha.  Mildew pressure was immense, too, but again, they brought it under control with extreme discipline and speed (on one occasion, spraying four times in one week).  The gravel sectors in the vineyard came in first, with the younger vine Merlots starting on 4 September, and the blue clay plots waited until mid-September.  Terroir dictated the sequence of harvesting, with the Cabernets coming last in perfect condition.  At every step, humans threw the dice, knowing that they would win – and they did.  The fruit and power explode on the nose here in a fanfare of Cabernet Franc lifted high onto the shoulders of the rock-steady Merlot.  My mind raced back to the awe-inspiring 2022 vintage, and while that wine was calm and complete, this 2023 is active, challenging and shapeshifting, making you work to shadow it around the glass.  Usually, Juliette and her team build this wine from a blue clay Merlot base, moulding Cabernet Franc around this central structure to create a final wine, but this year, Franc was so impressive that they started assembling the wine with twin pillars of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the results are astounding.  The tannins and the sense of place and earthiness are profound, giving this place a precise GPS flavour that makes it irresistible.  With both varieties granted the same respect and importance, the result is a wine with an astonishing perfume, epic tension, and tremendous build quality.  Like I say – made by humans, and in this instance, made by humans with elite skills.  19+

Château Duhart-Milon (4ème Cru Pauillac)

80 Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 Merlot

50% new oak and some amphorae, too

12.9% alc

3.65 pH

While this was a warm vintage at times, with the highest ever recorded June temperatures, there is superb freshness found here, too.  The compact palate seems somewhat reluctant to express itself fully at this early stage, and the finish is tense and adroit, but the core is dense and generously black-fruited.  Nice and chunky, with an eagerness that doesn’t quite have enough finesse at this stage to really wow me, this is a sturdy, classically dimensioned creation that will blossom a good eight to ten years down the track.  17.5+

Moulin de Duhart (second wine of Duhart-Milon)

55 Merlot, 45 Cabernet Sauvignon

13.1% alc

3.65 pH

Crunchy, saline, earth-driven and rather more elemental than one might expect from a second wine, this is a refreshingly honest and clean style with more than a little appeal for the Pauillac fan.  Lighter and more refreshing, but no less interesting than expected, this is a relatively forward and classically dimensioned Moulin, and it is packed with refreshing blackberry-soaked fruit.  17

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