The Right Bank’s Old Guard Made New
One common thread in Bordeaux over the past decade is seeing how the qualitative landscape changes while the terroir stays the same. Sometimes it is hard to keep track of what properties are experiencing their next renaissance, but the best ones seem to find a way to take every step to amplify what is so unique and special about the land they are caretaking. Such is the case with Canon.
Canon is in a half-decade run of being one of the most exciting wines from every vintage in Saint-Emilion (and beyond). The 2014 over-performed its modest station in a way that demanded attentive collectors to take notice. Then the 2015 set the bar impossibly high, being immediately declared the stuff of legends. The 2016 might be overlooked because something like that is impossible to follow, but the vintage and pedigree are undeniable. Even in a challenging 2017 vintage, it is easily among the best.
Today we had the opportunity to try two wines from the estate. The first was their 2018 – a wine that mastered a potentially tannic and concentrated vintage and somehow produced an elegant, layered, and pure rendition of the estate. We’ve been fortunate enough to taste it on three separate occasions now, and all indications are that it is one of the more nuanced, elegant Saint-Emilion wines of the vintage. Which brings to question – what are the other wines of the Right Bank looking like?
2018 will be largely known for localized hail and early-season mildew that challenged some growers before the perfect, long, and warm summer arrived. But one of the common themes we’ve seen early is a question about the Merlot. The early-ripening varietal is a staple in all of Bordeaux, but its maturity in 2018 was aggressive, one of the big reasons for some of the imposing and full-throttle samples we’ve tasted. But the Cabernets, Sauvignon and especially Franc, were able to stand the heat beautifully. The most successful Right Bank wines were all about managing extraction and tannin levels, and those that did made stunning wines. However, some producers had wines that were overly chewy, overly oaked, or just never found the balance they were hoping for.
What we’ve seen as a result are wines that, at their best, can easily challenge the top wines from some of the past decade’s banner vintages. We have certainly favored the elegant styles that show layers and depth of fruit, and a core of acidity to support the tannins and concentration that is common in 2018. One great example is a mesmerizing Figeac, a property that has seen a parallel ascendancy to Right Bank elite in a similar style that Canon experienced. And although we’ve already discussed it, it is worth another shout-out to a entrancing and dynamic La Gaffeliére. The last worth mentioning is surprising Troplong-Mondot, a Chateau that is undergoing drastic change to craft a style that is candidly a counterpoint to their very hedonistic bottlings from the not-too-distant past. The one thing that all three have in common with Canon is that they are in the middle of a generational shift that has dramatically altered the trajectory of the estate. Only time will tell if these remain in the conversation of memorable and singular wines over the years. That said, it is hard to look at the meteoric rise of Canon (and Figeac for that matter) and question that the path they’re on is the right one. The hope is that the marketplace will get a chance to experience these wines first-hand and see what all the excitement is about.
We finished our visit to Canon with a bottle of ’83 that made the trip with Clyde and he opened up alongside lunch. It was a tremendous, head-turning wine that was so easy to get lost in – the aromatics alone were stop-you-in-my-tracks good and had me tuning out the room to discover every nuance. Knowing how much the property has changed leaves us with a fond feeling for the heyday of the estates and its historical highlights like their under-the-radar ‘83. Even at the estate they admitted to not be sitting on any more bottles, making this gem feel like a relic. But those of us looking for inspiration can perhaps consider that if this terroir could produce something that good thirty-five years ago, the potential for what they’re making now is simply astronomical. That certainly seems to be the case with a select handful of 2018s, and Canon is certainly on that short list.