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Château Lauriol 2012

Château Lauriol 2012

Exactly three months ago I was sniffing around Bordeaux, knocking on the doors of the grandest names in the appellation, to taste their 2016s. Or, to be more precise, approximations of what their 2016s might be, as of course all anyone gets to taste at this stage are barrel samples. It was a great week; the sun was beaming down upon the vines, which were toying with the idea of budbreak, while the proprietors, technical directors and cellar masters all wore cheery smiles. And rightly so; the majority of the barrel samples were tasting very fine, in what was clearly a superior vintage for the region.

The joy of a good en primeur tasting week is, these days, always followed by a bit of a downer. I return home enthused for the Bordeaux wine region, its vineyards, its people and its wines. But then reality returns, as the wines are released and the prices, until that moment mere numbers in my imagination, are made real. And it is fair to say that the prices I find myself thinking of (perhaps I should say hoping for) are always much lower than the reality. This year, although some châteaux showed restraint, many raised their release price significantly compared to 2015, and in the UK we were also hampered by a weak pound, the exchange rate adding another 15%. The result was that although this was a more successful campaign than 2015 sales lagged a long way behind 2010, despite the very high quality of the vintage.

Château Lauriol 2012

The problem for drinkers on a budget (including myself) is that these days even big-name Bordeaux released at what many consider a ‘fair’ price can still be prohibitively expensive, bearing in mind all you get for your money – being hard-nosed about it – is a bottle of wine to drink with dinner. And yet, as a committed lover of the wines of the region, I wish to remain engaged with Bordeaux. I don’t wish to be simply a visitor and rater of the wines, but someone who also buys the wines, cellars them, and drinks them at home. This, after all, is what wine is for. In light of the continued creep in pricing over the past year or two I have often found myself looking at Bordeaux in a different light, seeking out not the grandest names, but good value alternatives and less expensive wines for daily drinking.

While I continue to reappraise my relationship with this wine region, this week I feature one such bottle, from the Thienpont family. No doubt the name is familiar; Alexandre Thienpont and Jacques Thienpont busy themselves at Vieux Château Certan and Le Pin, while cousin Nicolas Thienpont runs a number of top St Emilion estates including Château Pavie-Macquin, but clearly we need to look beyond these famous names for the value, to the vines Nicolas tends in more peripheral right-bank appellations, in particular Francs Côtes de Bordeaux. One of two properties he looks after here is Château Puygueraud, which his father George Thienpont bought in 1946. The estate dominates the 450-hectares Côtes de Francs appellation, and having tasted the wines of Puygueraud with Nicolas or his right-hand man David Suire many times, I know they can offer both interest and, in view of my thoughts expressed above, good value.

And what of Château Lauriol? Well, this is an alternative label from Château Puygueraud, made using the fruit from specific parcels with deeper clays from about one-third of the vineyard, all Merlot of course. After picking Nicolas sorts, destems and ferments the fruit in cement vats, with temperature control, followed by élevage also in cement vat for the majority of the wine. About 70% remains in vat, while the other 30% goes into oak barrel, 60% one-year old and 40% two-years old, for between 12 and 16 months, Nicolas favours a fairly reductive approach, leaving the wine on its lees for up to ten months without disturbing it, with a very minimalistic approach to racking thereafter. The aim is clearly to keep the fruit in the wine, and this shows through very nicely, the 2012 Château Lauriol exhibiting a dark, juicy, red-black hue with a vibrant black cherry rim, as well as a lovely nose, filled with dusty black cherry, blackberry, toast, smoke and currants, with a little limestone and white-flower purity underneath. This is followed by a firm palate, showing a little texture, but also a firm limestone grip underneath all the smoke and blackberry, and a similarly firm finish, defining the palate. This has great energy, with a delicious, vibrant, punchy, limestone-fresh feel to it. It feels like classic right-bank Bordeaux, and bearing in mind it is a second wine in a less than prodigious vintage, it is really top notch. 15.5/20 • 91/100

Wines such as this prove that good value and interest still exist in Bordeaux, even while en primeur prices continue to push the envelope. We are all just going to have to look a little harder for it in the future. (3/7/17)

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