Special Issue / News

The taste of freedom at the Primeurs

To mark the Primeurs of our 2023 vintages, we designated a Rorschach or ‘ink blot’ test for each of our wines.  

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Assessing the character of a wine before it’s fully matured or bottled is a perilous task. Nonetheless, this is the goal of Primeurs week, an unmissable event that takes place at all Bordeaux Grand Cru estates every spring. 

It took an economic crisis for Primeurs to become the force in Bordeaux wine that it is today. In the 1970s, there was a feeling that buyers were becoming too influential, and so the first estates dared to host their own direct tastings of the wine – while it was still being aged – at their châteaux. Word of mouth, and the support of journalists, meant momentum grew; soon, the Primeurs had become an annual fixture. 

Today, the great Bordeaux wines continue this tradition, albeit with a slightly different arrangement. This spring, critics, journalists and sommeliers have toured the Grand Cru estates again and their verdicts have shaped consumer preferences and influence what is bought for the rest of the year. 

Each wine deserves its own interpretation

Wine-tasting is a highly codified ritual, even more so when judging a wine’s potential before it’s fully matured, but it’s crucial that everyone is free to judge the wine according to their own taste. We all bring our own associations, our own history and preferences to tasting wine. It’s a creative exercise and a call to freedom!

This year, to celebrate creative free-association, we subjected each wine to a Rorschach test, named for the Swiss psychiatrist who invented it in the 1920s. This test asks the subject to interpret a series of ten illustrated plates, printed with spots of symmetrical ink. Their interpretations are meant to be indicative of personality. By projecting the unconscious mind, desires, and tastes into these abstract images, their readings reveal elements of their character. 

However, we didn’t want to have to wait for someone to carelessly spill a glass of wine on the tablecloth to be able to decipher the pattern of a stain. 

Before we focus on each of our four Primeurs wines, let’s start by talking about the thing that guides all our work: Time. 

“Punctuality is the thief of Time” – Oscar Wilde

When working with our vines and our wines, we’re always dealing with Time. This year Time became an athlete, a marathon runner who teased us, interval-racing ahead – alternating between long periods of rain and sudden heat waves. A tour de force, who surprised us repeatedly: we were ready and well-hydrated by the winter and spring rains, but summer downpours drenched us when least expected.

At the end of June temperatures were high, but the rain didn’t stop and we feared mildew. July and August remained wet, as storms struck the vines. Two successive heat waves followed at the end of summer. We were on high alert; the vines aren’t used to such late heat waves. It was a marathon but we kept the pace, stretching out our harvests – particularly on our last Cabernet franc from Château L’Evangile, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Duhart-Milon.


These 2023 vintages are not races against time, but rather with Time.

On “card II” of the Rorschach Test, there are usually two figures, human or animal, facing each other.

Lafite or ‘Balancing Forces’

There’s no need to grandstand to make one’s presence felt. 

It’s all a question of balancing forces, as in this illustration – where we see two opposing figures supporting one another – 2023 taught us how precious the art of equilibrium can be. 

These plots of land are living, and every stage of their vines’ development must be handled meticulously.  It’s a question of observing, adapting and reacting to the elements we face. While the months of rain followed by successive heatwaves meant we feared a devastating shock to the vines at Château Lafite Rothschild, in fact they continued their trajectory serenely, unbothered by the changeable weather. From extraction to assemblage, each operation was coordinated to the millisecond to protect the wine. 

A quiet power was born from this year’s assemblage. 

Here is Card VII: the least predictable and most liberal interpretation possible – just like Carruades this year

Carruades or ‘Two hares running at the same time’

Time definitely played tricks on us with this vintage. It wasn’t easy to decide on the harvest dates for the Carruades de Lafite plots: we tasted the Cabernet berries, then the Merlot in turn, to determine when the plots would be ready. We continued the search for a great Carruades wine, one that would reveal the story of its vintage.

The result? In a skillfully choreographed dance, rather than finding four grape varieties, we put together two perfect partners that were just right on their own. This year, Merlot and Cabernet-Sauvignon are centre-stage, two hares captured at exactly the right time!

As illustrated by these two moving creatures facing each other, our Carruades are the blend of two grape varieties that support one another beautifully.

We glimpse an imposing figure in “Card “IV”… What are they telling us?

Duhart-Milon or The Biker With Big Feet

Don’t be fooled by appearances: if this Duhart revs the engine when he arrives on his Harley Davidson, deep down his heart (of clay) is tender, his path clear and his loyalty unfailing.

The vagaries of 2023 – with its constant rainfall and rising temperatures – presaged radical change. But Duhart amazed us with his resilience. He remained true to his roots, revealing the maturity of his vineyards. And Duhart’s future is assured by grapes from new plantings that have been putting down roots since 2016; these plots are already developing into great wine.

The assemblage is distinctive in its density, and quiet strength. Our biker can ride into the sunset… on the horizon, a long straight road awaits him, with nothing but freedom ahead.

‘Card VIII’ displays all the colours… but all in perfect harmony

L’Evangile or Blue Clay Arrowheads pointing upwards

Nothing is a given, and nothing lasts forever. This is what Château L’Evangile teaches us with this vintage. Previous years may have led us to expect a prevalence of Merlot over Cabernet franc, but the mix this year proved to be much more balanced.

And what could illustrate this lesson better than an assemblage of coloured shapes? Catching the eye, our gravel-grown Cabernet franc appears in a luminous rose hue, circling the elegant blue arrowhead that is the mark of our Merlot.

The cards are shuffled, the game changes. The harvest of the gravel plots, unusually begun at the beginning of September, is a perfect example. The rising temperatures accelerated maturity; this yield revealed delicious notes of red fruit during blending. The shift occurred naturally, and ended up creating… a perfect balance.

Now it’s your turn: what do you see in the Rorschach images, or the character of each vintage? Remember, there are no wrong answers!

Read also

DBR Lafite joins the B Corp community

After more than two years of efforts, we are honored to announce that all of our estates (Châteaux Lafite Rothschild, Duhart-Milon, L’Evangile, Rieussec, Paradis Casseuil, Domaine d’Aussières, Vina Los Vascos, Bodegas CARO, Domaine de Long Dai) have been labeled as B Corp.

Assemblage

In each issue's 'assemblage' section, we compose a blend of shorter snippets relating to the theme.

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