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Troplong Mondot - Changing of the Guard

Friday, 29th April 2022 by Thomas Parker MW

Château Troplong Mondot has produced one of the more divisive wines in Bordeaux over the last quarter of a century. The full-blooded, ripe, inky, high-alcohol and fully-extracted style drew three-digit scores from many critics and scorn from others. With a traditionally British palate, I have found these wines impressive to taste in some vintages, though never something I would drink, or buy, myself; a tasting pour has always been more than enough. There has, however, been a seismic change since 2017, when Aymeric de Gironde was brought in to manage the estate. The results are already impressive, with changes in all aspects promising even more to come. 

Troplong Mondot has the foundations to make one of the great wines of Bordeaux - the terroir is magnificent. Sitting atop the hill with un-eroded ancient clays, it gently slopes to varied soil types and a range of altitudes that allow fruit to ripen at different times and in different ways.  It offers a veritable feast of options for an adept and attentive winemaker to make wonderful blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The soils also allow for wines to remain at a low pH even when fully - and even over-ripe. Aymeric points out that under the old regime the wines still retained pH below 3.7 even at their most extreme. This means that though they may have been solid, obtuse wines, they remain clean with a potential to age for decades. It is, of course, possible that they will shed some of their make-up and reveal more terroir with time. In terms of vines, there is fantastic old material mixed in with some areas that need replanting or regrafting. Aymeric must have known that in the right hands and with real freedom the ship could be turned to produce outstanding wine without overworking the raw ingredients. 

The work started from the moment he stepped into his role at Troplong Mondot. In wine, the fruits of one's labour inevitably take time. You have just one shot each year, and soils need significant maintenance.  Without the right management they take a long time to recover. The clays that are so prized at this site at the top of the hill had become compacted, so horse ploughing was introduced and cover crops sewn. This was the start of a long-term plan. In the short and medium term changes could be made in vineyard and winery. Picking earlier, with more analysis and tasting to yield fruit at a lower ripeness (yet still fully ripe) would immediately help. Consultants were changed and Aymeric took the lead on reducing the amount, and changing the types, of oak used (both in age but also cooper, toasting and more). He also reduced and in some cases removed some of the processes previously carried out in the winery that would be considered heavy manipulation by most. Malolactic is now carried out in tank, rather than barrel, and blending is carried out earlier. 

The results are now evident in the glass. At a recent vertical tasting with Aymeric in London, we went back through a significant number of wines from the old regime - great for context with some surprises - before looking at the 2017, 2018 and 2019. As mentioned, change takes time and the 2017 was not a vintage that was started under the new regime. It still shows a better, fresher style which is in fact helped by the vintage, but it is clearly a work in progress. 2018 is a remarkable feat of freshness given the heat of the vintage across Bordeaux, but again, it is only a step on the way to greatness. The fruit is succulent, and there are notes of flowers and iron together with a much improved use of oak - the toasted notes are integrating nicely into the fruit.  

2019 is a magnificent wine - one that is the culmination of work and understanding of place. Troplong Mondot will never be an airy, light wine but this Merlot-based blend is nuanced and beautifully delineated with a fresh backbone against succulent, pure red fruit. There are wonderful floral tones and the oak is integrated, subtle and woven into the wine rather than fighting against it. The clarity of tannins achieved are one of the biggest improvements on the 2018, in part due to vintage but also surely down to the work done by the team. It led me to do something I never thought I would - buy a case of Troplong Mondot for my own cellar. My note on the 2019 reads:

"The 2019 is a blend of 85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc. Aymeric de Gironde has transformed the style of Troplong Mondot in a move towards freshness since his recent appointment. Deep ruby in colour. Sweet dark cherries and plums come together with toasted spices and a fine, floral edge that offers lift and finesse to the fruit on the nose. The palate is plump and round, showcasing the effortless ripeness of the vintage without a hint of over extraction. Soft, ripe tannins gently frame a core of fleshy red and black fruits. The spice of wood is subtle and lightly savoury, reigning in the ripe fruit rather than adding to it. This succulent yet elegant Troplong is a testament to the work being done here. The wine now shows transparency of place and vintage, with a lighter touch from the winemaking team, and is all the better for it. The spherical nature of this wine suggests it will drink well in 4-5 years time, but there is no doubt of the ageing potential here."

Critics are taking note. William Kelley - writing recently for The Wine Advocate - asked "Has any Bordeaux château realized a more wholesale stylistic revolution in so short a time than Troplong Mondot?" He fully praises the 2019, awarding it 98 points and saying "I never thought I'd taste a wine like this from Troplong Mondot." Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW concurs, saying "this is a far cry from the old-school style of Troplong Mondot from a few years back, and it is incredibly impressive." Neal Martin adds further praise, saying "It is a wonderful Saint-Émilion from Aymeric de Gironde and his team" that is "to be frank, just a wine you are going to want to drink." Praise is near-universal, and should buoy the team who have done so much to revolutionsie the style. If the 2019 is a sign of things to come here, this will be one of the most exciting châteaux to follow in Bordeaux over the coming decade. The sky is the limit. 

Our current listings of Troplong Mondot are below.

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