Bordeaux Clairet – a super rosé well worth discovering

I love light, fruity, colorful rosé wine and drink buckets-full of the stuff in summer.

Yes, my conservative side comes through: to me, rosé means hot weather. Oh, I’ve had rosé in winter, and it looks really pretty alongside, let’s say, a dish of salmon where the colors match.
But that is the exception… Rosé just seems to match the insouciance of summer and, as we all know, it goes with just about any food a dry white or red wine does. Cool and refreshing, it is multi-purpose, easy-going, crowd-pleasing, inexpensive, and the polar opposite of snobbish.

I’m particular about my rosé. For a start, I have a problem with really pale ones with orange tinges – except for Champagne. It’s purely psychological: when I see a Rosé de Provence, it looks like, well, a pale imitation of what rosé should be. I expect such wines to be rather neutral and weak in flavor. In fact, I have the same problem with Burgundy: I have a prejudice against wines that are pale when, in fact, some of them can be simply wonderful on the palate…

 


Clairet de Bordeaux is halfway to being a red wine. The colour is very deep pink or an intense light red, with purple nuances. It really stands out – sometimes to the point where you almost expect it to glow in the dark! Other regions such as Navarra and Rioja in Spain produce such wine (clarete), but they still represent only a small fraction of the world’s rosé.
Is Clairet rosé? The short answer is yes… The only difference is the length of time the wine spends on the skins. However, there is a separate appellation for Bordeaux Clairet as opposed to Bordeaux Rosé. What is the difference? In a word, color. Bordeaux Rosé must have an index less than 1.1 ICM*, whereas Clairet must be between 1.1 and 2.5 ICM.
The word clair in French means “pale”, and the English word claret comes from clairet. The origin of this word goes back to the Middle Ages, when all of Aquitaine was English. At that time, entire fleets of ships sailed up the Garonne to load the new vintage of Bordeaux and take it to English ports. This wine was not as we know it today. It was lighter in colour and meant to be drunk young: the ancestor of present-day Clairet.

Clairet can be made from any of the Bordeaux red wine grape varieties. Ones produced primarily from Cabernet have a little more structure and a little more ageing potential than Merlot-based ones. Be this as it may, Clairet it best consumed within a year or two of the vintage.

 

I went to see M. Frédéric Roger at Planète Bordeaux, home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, to find out more about Clairet. Planète Bordeaux is located in Beychac-et-Caillau on the road to Libourne. I can’t recommend their boutique highly enough. The choice is enormous, and the knowledgeable staff is glad to advise. I came away with six interesting bottles, including a Crémant de Bordeaux and a Bordeaux Carménère (!) for 47 euros. Whoever said Bordeaux is expensive is wrong! As an aside, I learned that Crémant de Bordeaux is really on the up-and-up: sales have doubled in the past 2 years, and one third of this is rosé.

 


Providing tremendous value for money, Clairet de Bordeaux sells in French supermarkets at 4 to 7 euros a bottle. Bordeaux produces six and a half times as much rosé (about 190,000 hl.) as Clairet (27,400 hl.). Although Bordeaux Rosé is riding the wave of increased worldwide demand for pink wine, Clairet sales have stayed largely stable. That is because Clairet is sold mostly regionally and is not a household name… Little is exported. However, this is a wine well worth discovering with definitely more structure and – to me – more flavour than most other rosés on the market. I’ve talked mostly about color in this post, but the wine is also very attractive on the bouquet and palate, with lively red fruit aromas. And it is not wimpish! In a nutshell, this is a rosé for red wine lovers.
I hope you are able to find Clairet where you live and try a bottle to see for yourself.
Bonne dégustation !
* ICM = intensité colorante modifiée – I have found no equivalent term in English. It is the average optic density measured at wavelengths at 420 nm, 520 nm, and 620 nm.

An extensive tasting of 2013 Médoc great growths

The Union des Grands Crus is a great example of what Bordeaux can do when people work together to promote fine wines. Of course, other countries/regions have their promotional associations too, either official or, like the UGC, privately-funded, but few have quite the outreach and international presence as the great growths of Bordeaux…

Going back several years now, the UGC has organized one weekend a year revolving around wines produced by their members: http://ugcb.net/en/les_membres_de_l-union What makes the Weekend des Grands Crus unusual is that events are open to the general public, attracting people from all over the world. Activities include vineyard tours, formal dinners in châteaux, and a golf tournament. But the highlight is the mammoth tasting held on Saturday. A château representative (usually the owner or winemaker) is there to answer questions and serve two vintages: a designated one and a second one from a recent vintage of their choosing.

I attended the tasting at Hangar 14 in Bordeaux on Saturday the 4th of June 2016. The featured vintage was the 2013 and the choice was mind boggling. Having only one tongue, and therefore capable of tasting only so many wines, I decided to focus on one region in one vintage. And that was 2013 Médoc. I sampled 30 of them.

Why in the world did I choose 2013 instead of zeroing in on better-reputed (what I call “politically correct”) years? Simply because I am against received wisdom and have always been one to root for the underdog…
Here are my notes.

Please note that there is little mention of color. That is because most young wines often have a similar deep rich color, so this is not a major factor in differentiating the wines.

IMPORTANT: Please also note that the following scores need to be understood in the context of my personal scoring system. I am a tough grader compared to most people. For a start, I use the 20 point scale and 14/20 is a very good score in my book. 10 is passable, 12 good, and anything above 14 is excellent.

N = nose
P = palate


2013 Château Chasse Spleen, Moulis
Chasse Spleen has taken to putting a strip label with a quote in each vintage. The one in 2013 reads “You will learn to compound happiness out of small increments of mindless pleasure” – Jay Mc Inernay
N: Simple with no trace of greenness. Overtones of ash and red fruit, along with muted cherry-vanilla aromas.
P: Fluid and light. Well-made, with not much grip on the aftertaste. Short, but friendly.
12/20

2013 Château Beaumont, Haut-Médoc
N: Brambly, light, and enticing, with notes of cranberry jelly.
P: Appetizing. Mouthwatering. Good. Tannin under control. A fine example of what the English called luncheon claret: a light flavorsome wine that you can drink at lunch and still work efficiently in the afternoon. I am increasingly impressed with Beaumont.
13.5/20


2013 Château Fourcas-Hosten, Listrac
N: Great purity and lovely black fruit on the nose. The oak is well integrated and a positive part of the bouquet.
P: Light and refreshing with a touch of mintiness and an unusual balance between softness and acidity. Decent grip on the tarry aftertaste. Good for mid-term ageing.
13/20

2013 Château Belgrave, Haut-Médoc
N: Enticing berry aromas with subtle cosmetic aromas and nuances of roast coffee beans.
P: Somewhat hollow and dry. Oak plays too great a role here. A little one-dimensional, but has greater ageing potential than most.
12/20 (but can move up)

2013 Château Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc
N: Fine, upfront, and seductive with powdery, roasted, and black cherry aromas.
P: Soft, light, feminine. Well-made and refreshing. Good tannin and fine balance. Zippy with grip on the finish.
14.5/20

 


2013 Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc
N: Pure classic, perfumed Médoc nose with fruit jelly overtones. Feminine, but with an odd citrus side.
P: Lacks richness and depth in this vintage. Somewhat hollow and with too much oak. Disappointing for the estate but has greater ageing potential than most.
13/20

2013 Château Ferrière, Margaux
N: Muted spring flower nuances appear after swirling in the glass. Closed, but promising. Needs plenty of aeration.
P: Very soft and with some definite Margaux magic here, going into gravelly minerality. Light, but classy. Will age. Very classic, well-made wine with a lovely, long mineral aftertaste.
14/20

2013 Château du Tertre, Margaux
N: Non-descript and a little green.
P: Much better on the palate, however. A sort of luxury quaffing wine. Pure, but light structure. Unsubstantial, but OK. Saved by the aftertaste that shows at least some personality.
11.5/20

 


2013 Château Monbrison, Margaux
N: Open, simple, and attractive. Intelligent winemaking has freed the sweet, but not very complex fruit without overwhelming or over-extracting it.
P: Honest, straightforward, and refreshing. Nice development on the palate, showing some unexpected authoritativeness on the finish, but the wine’s body isn’t quite up to this.
13.5/20

2013 Château Marquis de Terme, Margaux
N: Forward, raspberry fruit. Seems reminiscent of New World wines with toasty oak.
P: International style. Dry. Unquestionably steamrollered by the oak. Different from others and may be better in time, but I think the estate needs to re-evaluate their barrel ageing in lighter years.
11/20

2013 Château Dauzac, Margaux
N: OK, but not showing much personality at this stage.
P: Chewy and surprisingly assertive with marked acidity. Big wine showing considerable personality on the aftertaste. Dips on the middle palate but vinous and good – albeit not textbook Margaux.
13/20

 


2013 Château Desmirail, Margaux
N: Grassy, and brambly, with berry fruit and chocolate nuances. Subtly perfumed. Good.
P: Silky mouthfeel. A sophisticated lady. Attractively mineral with mid-term ageing potential.
14/20

2013 Château Cantenac Brown, Margaux
N: Caramel and sour cherry aromas.
P: Chewy and big, but there’s something off here, some chemical note…
11/20, but time may change this.

2013 Château Labégorce, Margaux
N: Deep, dark, and mysterious… Very brambly, with gunpowder aromas. Interesting. Wild.
P: Light, but by no means inconsequential. Refreshing. Not linear. Seems to be weak on the aftertaste and then spreads out with interesting flavors. Will age.
14/20

 


2013 Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux
N: Vaguely fruity and oaky.
P: Much better on palate, big even. Pleasantly surprising after the bouquet. Rich, satisfying, and has a long aftertaste. May lack spark and imagination, but rather successful and very good for the vintage.
14.5/20

2013 Château Beychevelle, Saint Julien
N: Slick, meaty, and classic.
P: Lovely texture. Really chewy. Powerful and assertive. The real ticket. Good oak, but perhaps a tad over-extracted. Very Cabernet. On the spirity side. Give it 5-7 years more.
14.5/20

2013 Château Branaire Ducru, Saint Julien
N: Band-aid aroma and a marked floral component (iris), but lacks personality.
P: Good acidity and excellent tannic texture. Virile wine with a good aftertaste.
14/20

 


2013 Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac
N: Earth/humus and refined blackberry liqueur aromas.
P: Starts out really soft, then shows a bit green, then displays a gravelly, mineral aftertaste.
13/20

2013 Château Léoville Poyférré, Saint Julien
N: Smoky, with rich berry fruit.
P: Nice attack turns angular. There’s sufficient acidity to age, but not much fruit. Lacks softness and charisma.
13/20

2013 Château Léoville Barton, Saint Julien
N: Pencil shavings, sweet, subtle, and seductive.
P: Lovely caressing mouth feel. Soft, linear development on the palate into a classic profile. Quite oaky, but indications are that this will integrate. A fine effort. One of the stars of the tasting to me.
15.5/20


2013 Château Gruaud Larose, Saint Julien
N: Herbaceous, crushed blackcurrant leaves.
P: Smooth and herbaceous once again with mint overtones. Sharp acidity. Tastes like what it is: a fine wine from a challenging year.
13.5/20

2013 Château Saint Pierre, Saint Julien
N: Toasty oak predominates.
P: Harsh tannin, not showing well, disappointing for a château I generally have a lot of time for.
12/20

2013 Château Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauillac
N: Nose is off. Brett?
P: Hard. Drinkable, but not noteworthy.
10/20

 


2013 Château Lynch Moussas, Pauillac
N: Floral and brambly. Wild flowers. Definite green nuances.
P: Out of balance, but interesting. Melts in the mouth at first, then becomes weak and a little watery, however finishes with a strong and somewhat hard aftertaste.
11/20

2013 Château Batailley, Pauillac
N: Corked
P: Flawed.
Not rated.

2013 Château Lynch Bages, Pauillac
N: Fresh berry fruit. A little herbaceous. Fine, well-integrated oak.
P: Starts out very nice then dips. A little hard on the finish. Not a great Lynch Bages.
13/20

 


2013 Château Pichon Baron, Pauillac
N: Very youthful with good fruit and oak. Candied black fruit and tell-tale Pauillac graphite notes.
P: Wonderful smooth texture with velvety tannin on the aftertaste. Vibrant and juicy. Only the volume is missing, but this is very good.
14.5/20

2013 Château Lafon Rochet, Saint Estèphe
N: Not very pronounced. Oak overlaying black fruit and cough drop nuances.
P: More character on the palate. Lovely cherry flavors. Good structure and a fine aftertaste. Classy wine.
14/20

2013 Château Talbot, Saint-Julien
N: Disappointing. Subtle – but too subtle…
P: Improves on the palate. Starts out with delicious cherry notes then goes into a certain toughness but that should even out with age.
13.5/20

 


2013 Château Lascombes, Margaux
N: First impression is of oak, but berry fruit kicks in thereafter. Seems somewhat one-dimensional at this stage.
P: Tight, uncompromising structure. Expressive and juicy. A little dilute, but saved by an especially good, long aftertaste. Best in 3-5 years.
14/20

The number of châteaux in Bordeaux. Go on, take a guess…

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

…. and the answer is…. 8,944 as just announced by the Fédération des Grands Vins de Bordeaux.

10% of these are produced by cooperative cellars.

Since 1990 a château can sell their wine under one, and just one, other name if they can prove an historical precedent.

As many châteaux as there are, there were 12,650 ten years ago!

This reduced number goes to show a number of economic factors at play.
It also shows that it is kind of reckless to say “Bordeaux is… (fill in the blank)”.
The variety is overwhelming.

A look at the new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

The Bordelais are a bit like Texans. They naturally assume everything is bigger and better in their part of the world… Their département, the Gironde, is the largest in France and their wine the most famous on the planet (bar one: Champagne). However, Bordeaux was closed like an oyster for many years to wine lovers. You needed an introduction to visit the famous châteaux and it was difficult to see much of anything without a car.

This has all changed enormously in recent years, and nothing illustrates this more than the new Cité du Vin. Created by the Foundation for Wine Culture and Civilisations – funded by various local government agencies plus the EU (80%), along with private sponsors (20%) – the Cité was inaugurated by François Hollande on the 31st of May 2016 and open to the public the next day.
That makes June a very busy month in Bordeaux, with European Football Cup matches played here and the Bordeaux Wine Festival (http://www.bordeaux-wine-festival.com/) taking place at the end of the month.

 


Designed by the Parisian firm of XTU Architects, the Cité du Vin is housed in a striking modern building on the Garonne River. Its unusual shape has been the butt of cheeky jokes, but it kind of grows on you…
It is easy to go there by tram www.infotbc.com or even on a municipal water taxi www.batcub.fr . Parking facilities have not yet been entirely worked out.
The Cité is located in Bacalan, a part of town long considered “the wrong side of the tracks”, but currently undergoing a major transformation. Buildings are sprouting up everywhere and the nearby new Chaban Delmas lift bridge enables outsize cruise ships to dock a little further upriver, in the heart of the city.
In fact tourism has grown by leaps and bounds since Bordeaux was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

 

Let’s start out with a simple explanation of what in the world the Cité du Vin actually is. Neither a museum nor an amusement park, it is a center with several functions. Most people just passing through Bordeaux will limit their experience to going on the permanent exhibition circuit, an attractive and fun way to learn about the world’s vineyard regions thanks to sophisticated, imaginative, interactive multi-media presentations. Visitors are given a smartphone and headphones and then set out discover the 19 different modules by themselves, at their own pace (there are no guides), and in any order they wish. The scenography was laid out by the English firm of Casson Mann, who also designed that of the Imperial War Museum in London and the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia.

 


The total duration of audio-visual presentations is more than 10 hours, but most visits last less than two. Aerial views of some of the world’s most beautiful vineyard regions on enormous screens are spellbinding. In fact, the visual and sound effects everywhere are altogether pretty remarkable.
However, the Cité is not just about screens. The 3,000 metres open to the public also include a battery of marvelously retro “Nez du Vin” type wine aroma sniffers, a honeycomb of various-sized rooms for tastings, a trippy “Imaginarium”, “sensory workshops” for children, etc. I might add that I think children will enjoy the experience as much as their parents – minus the tasting of course!
After the tour, a glass of wine is served at an enormous tasting bar on the 8th floor “belvedere,” an observation deck featuring a circular plate glass window affording a commanding 360° view of Bordeaux.

 

The other parts of the Cité can be visited without buying a ticket. The 7th floor houses a restaurant called, appropriately enough, “Le 7”. Run by the team from the Brasserie Bordelaise, the Terrasse Rouge (Château La Domnique), etc., the restaurant is rather small (seats 70, and another 30 on the terrace). This reflects the fact that the initial project had to be downsized in light of budgetary restrictions.
The first floor contains an auditorium, a number of workshop rooms, a temporary exhibition area, a function room, and a reading room (as opposed to a lending library) with books on wine in many languages.
The Latitude 20 snack bar, wine bar, gift shop, and wine boutique are on the ground floor. The latter has a huge selection from 80 countries! And if you have twelve and a half thousand euros to spare, you can even buy a bottle of 2009 Romanée-Conti…

As much as Bordeaux goes in for navel-gazing, the Cité du Vin is well and truly international. Obviously, Bordeaux is not given short shrift though, and there is a desk to help tourists arrange to see the local wine country. Some 450,000 are expected a year. Cost of admission: 20 euros, including a glass of wine on the top floor. Tickets are best purchased over the Internet http://ticket.laciteduvin.com/en-GB/home where there is a choice of time slots.

A program of special events is in the making, and the Cité du Vin will regularly host wine-related and other conferences as well as a number of exhibitions. The first temporary one (July/August) will highlight the wines of Georgia, the cradle of winegrowing.
So, does the Cité live up to all the hype? I think any wine lover would enjoy it immensely and it has been planned to welcome the whole family. That is the key: making wine interesting and fun to the public at large – people of all ages and origins. This is not a facility targeting wine professionals, nor does it go into the technical aspects of winemaking. The original name was “La Cité des Civilisations du Vin”, and the emphasis is indeed on wine cultures from around the world.

©Anaka - La Cité du Vin (8)

 

The Cité du Vin is not only extremely international, but also unabashedly modern, and puts paid to Bordeaux’s somewhat stuffy image. A visit there is an entertaining, educational experience in a very 21st century sort of way, making use of state-of-the-art technology and giving people the liberty of experiencing things their own way, at their own pace.
It unquestionably adds another stone to the edifice of Bordeaux’s claim to be “The World Wine Capital.”

An exhibition of 19th century French art focusing on lusty women followers of Bacchus

Bacchant

From the Oxford dictionary:
Pronunciation: /ˈbakənt/
noun (plural bacchants or bacchantes /bəˈkantiːz/; feminine bacchante /bəˈkant/ /bəˈkanti/)
A priest, priestess, or follower of Bacchus: the painting shows a bacchante carrying a child
Origin, late 16th century: from French bacchante, from Latin bacchari ‘celebrate the feast of Bacchus’.

Here’s a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maenad

In conjunction with the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, etc. the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux put on an exhibition from February-May 2016 of 19th French art celebrating bacchantes. The main themes were nudes, dancing, eroticism, and exhilaration from drinking wine. Not a bad mix, eh?
And what better place than Bordeaux to host such an exhibition including 130 works? I’m no art critic, but I thought I would simply share some photos I took. I hope you enjoy.

DSC02711

 

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Portes Ouvertes: visit to 9 châteaux in the Côtes de Bourg

Sometimes, you just want to scream!

Bordeaux is too expensive.
Bordeaux is boring and all tastes the same.
Today’s Bordeaux is over-extracted and over-oaked.
You have to wait too long for Bordeaux to age.
Bordeaux is old hat.
Bordeaux is bourgeois.
There are much more exciting wines elsewhere today….

No, no, and no!
Enough already!

A trip to the Côtes de Bourg disproves all of the above.
It’s true that there are countries where these wines are virtually unable to be found (only 15% of production is exported). This creates a vicious circle: they aren’t imported and distributed because they are not known. And they are not known because they aren’t imported and distributed…
The wine media? It seems somehow more sexy to crow about a Côtes de Lubéron or a Cour-Cheverny or a Jura than a Bordeaux – and that’s just the French wines!
Then there’s this feeling that Bordeaux is a known quantity with not much left to discover, with nothing new happening.
Nonsense!
Oh, journalists do come to Bordeaux in droves alright during en primeur time. And what do they taste? The great growths. Period. Or just about… In their defense, it takes a least a full week of constant tasting to sample most of the famous wines. And then it’s time to go back home.
Far too few critics make the effort to poke around and discover the good affordable wines of Bordeaux.

Yes, it does take poking around, and a lot of trial and error. Admittedly, quality is uneven, but the rewards are well-worth the trouble! The Côtes wines of Bordeaux represent excellent value for money. No doubt about it.

The other Côtes de Bordeaux – Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, and Francs – decided to join forces. They established an association, the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux, and succeeded in creating a new umbrella appellation in 2009. AOC Côtes de Blaye became “Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux”, Côtes de Castillon became “Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux”, and so on.
Bourg decided to go their own way, however, and did not join the others.

 

Bourg-vu-du-port-bis.-@OT-Bourg-700x380

Bourg-sur-Gironde

 

The town of Bourg, and center of the appellation, is 35 km. from Bordeaux. Its full name is Bourg-sur-Gironde but here’s a factoid for you: the estuary changed course over the years, and the town is actually on the Dordogne!
The narrow 10 km. corniche road (D660) from Bourg to Villeneuve running between the estuary and a cliff face dotted with troglodyte dwellings is not to be missed. This is lined with lovely houses whose owners pride themselves on their flower gardens – a riot of color this time of year!
Bourg is a charming little town, with its own small port, a citadel, and a great Maison du Vin where they just opened a beautiful modern extension with a lovely large tasting room overlooking the river. There is also an attractive boutique with a dizzying selection of wines. The prices are awfully seductive, and the knowledgeable staff are glad to make suggestions. This is just as well because even a hard-bitten Bordeaux fanatic such as me is pretty much at a loss to recognize most of the labels here.

With a near-Texan sense of exaggeration, this part of Bordeaux is called “la Suisse Girondine”. While hardly Alpine, the vine-covered countryside is indeed very hilly. The Côtes de Bourg have about 4,000 hectares of vineyards. Merlot reigns supreme, but as opposed to all other parts of Bordeaux, Malbec is widely planted, and its share is growing.
Students of Bordeaux all learn that the Cabernet on the Right Bank is Cab Franc. But not so in Bourg: it is far outweighed by Cabernet Sauvignon because of the later-ripening terroir, approximately two weeks after Saint-Emilion.

 

AFFICHE PO 2016

 

I decide to take advantage of the Portes Ouvertes to visit the Côtes de Bourg appellation and their renovated Maison du Vin on the 7th of May. A friend and I stopped in at 9 châteaux and here’s a not-so-brief rundown of our experience.

 

 

Château Tayac

Château Tayac

 

We first went to Château Tayac in Saint-Seurin-de-Bourg. Overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and the Garonne at the Bec d’Ambès, this estate has a very long history and an impressive château to prove it. This was built on the site of previous ones in 1827. Tayac is also famous for a rare mutation of Merlot called à queue rouge (with a red stem). Vieux Château Certan in Pomerol has planted cuttings.  We tried two vintages of the red wine (43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot Noir, 25% Merlot à Queue Rouge, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec – planted on 26 hectares). The 2013 was fresh, easy-going, and intelligently made i.e. not over-extracted in that difficult vintage. The 2009 Cuvée Réserve had a lovely, perfumed, uplifting bouquet, but the palate was not quite up to this. Short, but interesting, it was a little rustic. However, there was plenty of grip and this wine may surprise us with age. We also tasted the 2014 white Tayac (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon, and 15% Muscadelle on two hectares). In fact, we tasted several white Côtes de Bourg on our day out, but this may give a wrong impression. These wines account for just a minuscule share of production. Anyway, the 2014 Tayac was very pale with silvery highlights and a nose clearly marked not only by Sauvignon Blanc, but also the high proportion of Muscadelle. The wine was light and thrist-quenching. I left with a couple of bottles at 7.20 € apiece.

 

 

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Our next stop was Château Falfas in Bayon-sur-Gironde (20 hectares of vines – 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec). The 17th century château is a listed historic monument. We were welcomed by the owner, Madame Véronique Cochran. This charming, soft-spoken woman has an enormous and infectious faith in biodynamic winegrowing. We tasted red wines: the 2011 and 2012 regular cuvée as well as the 2008 and 2011 prestige cuvée, “Le Chevalier”. The former cost about 15 euros a bottle. The common thread here was pure black fruit aromatics and a significant oak influence. These are wines to age.

 

After Falfas, we went to Château Puy d’Amour in Tauriac with 12 hectares of vines. Puits means “a well” in English, and puits d’amour is the name of a local patisserie… But the name puy here means a small, flat-topped hill where the grapes grow. The wines were inexpensive, but really nothing special.

Next up was Château Caruel in Bourg with 18 hectares of vines (55% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, and 10% Cabernet Franc). We were welcomed by Thierry Auduteau, a salt-of-the earth kind of guy who served us his 2011 cuvée traditionelle and his prestige cuvée Ballade from the same vintage.  The former was everything one would hope for from an inexpensive Bordeaux (6.20 euros a bottle), with a simple but attractive raspberry nose and a good long finish.  I was very happy to taste this. The latter wine (8.70 euros a bottle) was soft with well-integrated oak. Tremendous value for money. A 2000 Caruel had dried out and was past it. But age-worthiness is not the be-all and end-all of wine quality. For inexpensive mid-range drinking, Caruel is clearly a winner.

 

Plaisance

 

We stopped for lunch at La Plaisance http://www.restaurant-le-plaisance.com/ near the port in Bourg. This bistro-type restaurant claims they offer the widest choice of wines by the glass (3, 6, and 12 cl.) of any restaurant in France. They even serve, gasp, foreign wines: Tuscany, Argentina, California, etc.! The cuisine is basic and enjoyable. In fact, following the example of the local wines, there are no top-flight restaurants in the Bourg region, but there are certainly several good ones such as La Plaisance that won’t break the bank.

 

 

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

 

Our first visit after lunch was to Château de la Grave, also in Bourg. This largish estate has a beautiful 16th century castle restored in the Louis the 13th style in the 19th century. I have always liked their wines and was not disappointed with the ones I tasted. La Grave is the largest producer of white Bourg, with nearly 5 hectares of white wine varieties: 70% Sémillon and 30% Colombard. At 10.50 € a bottle, their 2014 white was not only rare, but good. It had a brilliant pale golden colour and a sweetish, gooseberry, spicy nose with some waxy overtones. The wine was once again spicy on the palate and very attractive. Selling at 8.50 € a bottle, the 2014 red Château de la Grave (37 hectares – 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) featured a vibrant purplish color as well as a vinous and lead pencil bouquet. It was chewy on the palate with good acidity and was not too tannic. A good wine at an unbeatable price in light of its quality. We also tried the 2012 “Cuvée Caractère” which had a fairly bright medium deep colour with a purple rim. The After Eight nose led up to a delicious flavor typical of its appellation, with well-integrated oak (barrels used for 2 previous vintages). Once again, a bargain at 10.50 € a bottle. I ended up buying some top-notch Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé, for under 10 € a bottle.
Château de la Grave also do bed and breakfast. I don’t know the owners, so am not doing anyone a favor by saying that this château is in a dream location and would make a very nice place to stay. Rates are approximately 100 euros a night for a couple, breakfast included.

Next on the itinerary was Château Gravettes-Samonac in Samonac. They have 27 hectares of vines (75% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec). We tasted three wines from the 2012 vintage: the Tradition (5.40 € a bottle), Elégance (6.00 € a bottle), and Prestige (8.00 € a bottle) blends. This is a respected and well-known estate. My notes refer to soft wines that vary little from one cuvée to the next other than the degree of toasty oak. The wines are dependable, if unexciting.

We had better luck at Château Mercier in Saint-Trojan, where we were welcomed by Philippe Chéty, a well-known figure in the appellation. There were 23 wines for tasting going back to 1989 – and that’s just the reds! – so I restricted myself to the 2011 and 2012 vintages. In both instances, I preferred the regular cuvée (respectively 6.90 and 6.70 euros) to the over-oaked prestige cuvée, and came away with a bottle of each. Mercier has 25 hectares of vines, 24 devoted to red wine (45% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec) and 1 to white (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Muscadelle, and 20% Sémillon). The 2014 white was easy-going, aromatic, and very user friendly. I bought a bottle for 6 € and a 3-liter bag-in-box of the 2015 vintage for 13.15 €. Such good value for money!

 

The next-to-last visit was to Château Haut-Guiraud in Saint-Ciers de Canesse, an estate with 16 hectares of vines (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon). We were greeted by Christophe Bonnet and tasted through three wines. The 2011 Ch. Coufin du Périer is a 100% Merlot aged in 100% new oak. This tiny 1.5 hectare estate is owned by M. Bonnet’s wife. Although non-giving on the nose, it was better on the palate: a simple, fun, sensual wine with a certain amount of character. We then test drove the 2014 Haut-Guiraud (7.00 € a bottle). This had a very suave bouquet and was quite fine on the palate as well, with a good long aftertaste. What’s not to like? In fact, I preferred it to the prestige cuvée, Péché de Roy (or “The King’s Weakness”) at 9.70 € a bottle – which, like many prestige cuvées, is notable more for its increased oakiness than anything else. However, once again, the wine is young and there is a chance that this may become better integrated.

Our final stop was at Château Brulesécaille in Tauriac. This has always been one of the leading estates in Bourg going back centuries, so this was a fitting way to end the day. We sampled the 2014 white wine (100% Sauvignon Blanc – 2 hectares) which had a pale golden color and a rather neutral nose. It was more expressive on the palate, but rather austere, definitely one calling for food. This cost 9 € a bottle. We then compared two red wines (55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec – 28 hectares) from the 2012 vintage. The second wine, named Château La Gravière, costing 8 € a bottle, was a rather old-fashioned sort of Bordeaux, but pleasant enough. The Brulesécaille was more vibrant in every way, with well-integrated oak and a little gumminess/tarriness on the aftertaste. A very good wine at 11 €  a bottle.
For summer drinking, I came away with a few bottles of the pale, fresh, fruity Bordeaux rosé at 6.50 € a bottle. The Rodet-Recapet family of Brulesécaille also own a 2-hectare vineyard in Saint-Emilion, Château Yon Saint Christophe (85% Merlot and 15% Malbec) bordering on the Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion appellation. I found their 2011 to be excellent and was not surprised to see that the 2013 vintage had won a gold medal at the Paris International Agricultural Show.

On the way back home we stopped in the nearby city of Saint-André-de-Cubzac for a cool, non-alcoholic drink at the Café de la Gare https://www.tripadvisor.fr/Restaurant_Review-g1939251-d5808947-Reviews-Cafe_de_la_Gare_1900-Saint_Andre_De_Cubzac_Gironde_Aquitaine.html
This is also a good place to eat and very wine-friendly.

PORTES OUVERTES: VISIT TO 10 CHATEAUX IN SAINT-EMILION

I am a great fan of Portes Ouvertes in Bordeaux.

These “Open Days” occur when winegrowers in a given appellation welcome visitors to their château for a tour and tasting.

Open to the general public, these are wonderful occasions to discover all sorts of wines. They always take place over a weekend, and I have a strategy for making the most of them. First of all, I always go on the first day, Saturday, because there are far fewer people and it is much easier to talk with the winegrower. Second, while most people zero in on the famous estates with expensive wine, I go out of my way to visit the smaller, lesser-known ones to try to find the mouton à cinq pattes – an expression meaning “rare bird” – i.e. wonderful, under-appreciated, under-priced gems.
The 2016 Portes Ouvertes included 70 châteaux in Saint-Emilion and 11 in Lussac and Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion. That’s obviously more than you can shake a stick at, let alone visit in one day…
So, I contented myself with a modest 10.
I went visiting with young two American friends studying wine estate management in Bordeaux.

There are three English translations for grand cru: great growth, classified growth, or classed growth (in order of preferred usage). However, I do not translate these names in Saint-Emilion. Why? Because the classification in Saint-Emilion is a huge mess. For a start, only very clued-in people know that there is a difference between grand cru and grand cru classé, and most take them to mean the same thing… It seems as though every other château is a “grand cru” in Saint-Emilion, and the winegrower’s association is unable to say how many there actually are in the appellation! Furthermore, the last 3 official classifications have been shrouded in controversy. Lengthy court battles with numerous appeals and plenty of melodrama have cheapened the classification’s very raison d’être – as has the role of some of the appellation’s movers and shakers who were more or less judge and jury in their wine’s improved status… I’m thinking here in particular of Angélus and Pavie, which many Bordeaux lovers do not think deserve to have been bumped up.


The first visit of the day was Château Coutet, a 12.5 hectare estate (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet France, and 7% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon) that obviously has nothing to do with the famous wine of Barsac. We were welcomed by M. Alain Beaulieu-David, whose family has owned the château for generations. I had never had the wine, so was very interested to try it. We sampled three vintages. The 2008 had noticeable bricking and a restrained, simple, cherry bouquet. The wine was thirst-quenching on the palate, but lacking in balance. The 2013 was better, with fresh rose petal and Pinot-like aromas. It proved to be a light pleasurable quaffer on the palate. The 2012 had an upfront, fruit-forward nose. It, too, was light in body and probably best enjoyed young. I saw it as the type of wine to appeal to the French market, as opposed to the full-bodied rich wines favored by English-speakers.
We then went to Château Roylland (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc), a 5-hectare estate belonging to Martine and Jean-Bernard Chambard, who bought it from the Adams, an American family who own Ch. Fonplégade, a cru classé. Roylland is located a stone’s throw from Angélus. The small cellars are impeccably kept. We tried two wines. The 2011 had a nose of beeswax, oak, and ripe fruit. It was thinner than expected on the palate and modern, but not to excess – New World meets Old. Nice textured finish. The 2009 had an understated, briary nose. It was better on the palate with good minerality, but considerable dryness on the finish, leading me to think it was overoaked.
We then went on to Château Cantenac (80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon), which is located on the main road from Libourne to Saint-Emilion. This 15 hectare estate features an attractive 19th century château and a small range of wines from Saint Emilion as well as a Lussac Saint Emilion and a Médoc. I have enjoyed Cantenac on past occasions and always considered the wine good value for money. The 2012 Cantenac we tasted was no exception. The perfumed, cherry nose was a little dusty. It was big, straightforward, and quite open on the palate with toasty oak. This will be fun to drink in just 3 years. A fair deal at 15.50 euros a bottle.

 


The next stop was at a château I had never even heard of before: La Grâce Fonrazade. This 5-hectare estate was very much in the background for years, but that is in the process of changing. The new owners have seriously renovated the place and built a beautiful new tasting-function room. We sampled three wines. The 2011 Perverso (the estate’s 2nd wine) with an Italian-style label is so-named because the owners felt that you had to be pretty perverse and more than a little masochistic to embark on such an undertaking as they did! The wine initially made a very good impression on me, but on re-tasting there was simply too much oak on the palate. That is a pity because the taste profile featured many other attractive aspects. The 2011 grand vin had deep, subtle fruit on the nose. I was expecting an onslaught of oak, but this was not the case, except for some roast coffee aromas. However, sadly, oak did dominate the palate that otherwise had a silky texture and many good points.
The final wine was an oddball: a 2013 barrel-aged pure Sauvignon Gris. This was not only a rarity, but also happened to taste very good. Blind, I might have taken it for an Alsace. I bought three bottles. There is also a bit too much oak here too as well, but I think that will tone down over time. Also, many poor red wine vintages are good ones for dry white wines. This was the case in 2013.

Lunch was at a great bistro-type restaurant, Le Comptoir de Genès http://www.comptoirdegenes.fr/.   This is in Saint-Genès-de-Castillon, quite close to Saint-Emilion. The restaurant belongs to Tony Lathwaithe, the Englishman who started an extremely successful wine firm that has turnover of 350 million pounds annually, just in the UK.
The restaurant serves hearty, simple food and you will probably find the world’s greatest collection of Côtes de Castillon wines there (they don’t sell any other kind), which you can buy either retail or have with your meal for a modest mark-up.

 

Next stop was ten-hectare Château Valandraud (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet France, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Carménère, 2% Malbec, and 1% unidentified…), , one of Saint-Emilion’s great success stories. Of course, whenever you succeed, there are always people ready to criticize you… Jean-Luc Thunevin has had his fair share of jealousy and criticism, which prompted him to release a generic Saint-Emilion called “Bad Boy” – which regularly sells out! Valandraud, universally considered a “garage wine”, is a sort of rags-to-riches story, leapfrogging the classification hierarchy to go directly from nothing to the Premier Grand Cru Classé (B) category.
We started off with the 2014 white (yes) Virginie de Valandraud (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillion, and 10% Sauvignon Gris), on sale for 29 euros a bottle. This was very pale with a fresh waxy, grassy nose. It had good acidity, well-integrated oak, and was better than expected. Then it was on to the red wines. We tried 2012 Esprit de Valandraud, 2011 Virginie de Valandraud (35 euros at the cellar door), and 2011 Valandraud (190 euros). All of these wines were strongly marked by barrel-ageing, especially the grand vin. This has a very fine lovely dark color and an ethereal cherry brandy nose with only a subtle touch of oak. The oak was, however, much more pronounced on the palate, where the wine showed chewy, velvety, and quite tannic. It definitely needs time to come together. Worth 190 euros? Not to this consumer.

Close by, also in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, is Château de Pressac with 36 hectares of vines (72% Merlot, 14% Cabernet France, and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon), one of the lucky wines to be promoted a grand cru classé. Pressac is your mind’s-eye wine château, perched atop a bluff overlooking a sea of vines. The treaty ending the Hundred Years’ War was signed here and parts of the structure date from the 13th century. The alternative name for Malbec – Pressac – also comes from this estate. We tasted the 2007 and 2009 vintages. We were disappointed with the former, but more indulgent with the latter. This had a good upfront black cherry bouquet and a little muskiness. It was fresh, round, and gummy/tarry on the palate, as well as a little hot on the finish. However, as much as I liked the aftertaste, the lead-up was wanting.

Château Fleur Cardinale, with 24 hectares of vines (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvigon), is located just down the hill from Pressac and in the same commune. There is a very good feel about the place. The vines all grow around the cellars in a single block and the cellars are very modern and tasteful. This estate was taken over by a family that made a fortune in Limoges porcelain. Dominique and Florence Decoster are young and clearly motivated. We tasted just one of their wines, the 2012. This had a lovely bright color as well as sour cherry, vanilla, and oak (but not too much) overtones on the nose. This is surprising considering that the wine is aged entirely in new barrels. The bouquet could have been more expressive, but the wine is still young. There is a lovely tang of terroir on the palate and the wine melts in the mouth. It shows good backbone and though very long is slightly dry on the finish, which features floral as well as fruity notes. Despite a few reservations, this was lovely and probably stands out as the best wine we tasted all day. It was on sale at 35 euros at the cellar door and I wish now I had picked up a bottle…

 

 


We next went to 2.2-hectare Clos de la Madeline (Merlot 76%, Cabernet-Franc 24%), the second smallest cru classé in Saint Emilion. This is not easy to find, and is close to Bélair-Monange, La Gaffelière, and Canon. I’ve very much liked the wine the few times I’ve had it. We were served the 2013, which had a good deep color and a nice ethereal/spirity nose with some roasted and toasty notes. The wine was round and soft on the palate, but showed good backbone and structure. Maybe a little austere, but definitely interesting and unquestionably a very successful 2013.

Then it was onto Grand Corbin (70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon), a 29-hectare estate belonging to an insurance firm for public works companies who also own Ch. Cantemerle in the Médoc. I had never been to Grand Corbin before and rarely had their wine. The 2010 left a very good impression. The color was medium-deep with a thinnish rim. The nose revealed various nuances of mint, leather, plummy ripe Merlot fruit, and black fruit jelly. Rather old-fashioned in style, the wine was chewy and chunky on the palate with some tarry overtones. It was not tremendously long, but proved to be a fine vin de terroir with good acidity. Too young, but very promising. A nice discovery.


We proceeded to Ch. La Rose Côtes Rol with 10 hectares of vines (65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon). We tasted through the 2012 and 2009 vintages, plus the 2009 prestige cuvee called Ultime Atome. My notes are very critical, so the less said the better. However, the owners had invited friends from Burgundy, Sancerre, and Cognac and I fell prey to their wares. How to resist excellent red and white Sancerre from Domaine Pierre Martin, both at 10 euros a bottle? There was a wonderful atmosphere at the château, with singing and accordion playing, and it would have been nice to stay on, but we had to get back to Bordeaux for dinner, and there is always the issue of drinking and driving…

The end of the road was La Tour du Pin Figeac, an estate with 11 hectares of vines (75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc). There used to be two châteaux with the exact same name. The Moueix family sold theirs to Cheval Blanc, who renamed it just “La Tour du Pin” for several years. After much testing years, part of this will be incorporated into Cheval Blanc, but the rest will be used to make, wait for it, white wine. Yup, there will be the Blanc de Cheval Blanc. Who’d have thunk?
Anyway back to the remaining La Tour du Pin Figeac, this has been owned for generations by the Giraud-Belivier family. We tried their 2012 and the 2004. The former had a dark, purplish color. The nose was very typical of Saint Emilion with plum and prune aromas. It seemed old-fashioned and there was a slight whiff of oxidation. The terroir came through on the palate with a chewy, grippy mouth feel and some tough tannin. The wine did not seem quite up to cru classé level unless it improves with age, but I’m sceptical. The 2004 had a fuzzy rim and looked quit old. It had a funky (bretty?), leathery nose. The wine was musky and mineral on the fairly dry palate.

Tasting notes 2015 primeurs: St. Emilion and Pomerol

SAINT EMILION

 

 

Balestard La Tonnelle
70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: deeper than the sister estate of Cap de Mourlin with blackberry liqueur aromas
P: spherical with more weight and length as well. Lively and mouth-filling. On the simple side but serious and good. Also one for early drinking.

Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse
Merlot%, % Cabernet Franc, and % Cabernet Franc
N: fine dark fruit
P: better on palate. Sweet, round, and silky with fine tension reflecting its terroir. Long, dry, uncompromising finish. Beautiful minerality. Serious. This estate is making a serious comeback.

Cadet Bon
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc
N: simple and forthright – nothing special
P: better on the palate. Full and rich, but not overdone. Fresh, with high-quality tannin. Enjoyable.

 


Canon La Gaffelière

55% Merlot, 38% Cabernet France, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: very fruity and expressive with chocolate overtones
P: even better on the palate. Big and oaky, but with good fruit. Unfocused at this time, but promising.

Cap de Moulin
65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: dusty and plummy, with blackberry jam overtones
P: very supple, almost too much at this early stage. Virtually oily texture. Short aftertaste. Not for long-term ageing.

Clos Fourtet
88% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc
N: deep, inky, and slightly cosmetic. Already showing some secondary and tertiary complexity.
P: silky, melt-in-the-mouth texture, but with good acidity. Built to laste. Very good indeed.

 


La Couspaude

75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: spirity and ethereal, with tertiary aromas of candied fruit, but not exaggeratedly so
P: hint of greenness, but mostly rich and satisfying, despite a certain hotness on the aftertaste and a slightly top-heavy structure.

Dassault
75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: attractive, concentrated, sweet berry fruit (blueberry and blackberry)
P: fresh, fruit-juice-like flavor. Fine attack backed up by the structure of Cabernet. Rich, young, seductive, and reminiscent of a Pomerol in this vintage.

La Dominique
85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet France, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: soft, but closed. Few aromas, and these are rather one-dimensional.
P: much better on the palate. A little weak on the middle, but a nice transition from the softness of Merlot to the backbone of Cabernet. Medium weight and length.  Everything in place. This estate is getting better.

 


Le Dôme

(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: subdued and a little spirit
P:  round, sensual, and with good bite. On a par with Valandraud, but perhaps with a touch more elegance and a better tannic texture. A great success. Reminiscent of a fine Pomerol.

Fonplégade
95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: fresh with attractive plum, cherry, and briar nuances
P: very full and rich with good bite. Good minerality, attractive texture, and good finish. Altogether classic.

La Gaffelière
70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc
N: mostly closed, but with some encouraging subtle aromas
P: big, and develops well on the palate, which shows fine-grained tannin. Seems a little flabby at first, and then goes into a fine finish. Good, well-integrated oak and a very long aftertaste.  Shows this estate’s return to quality.

 

 

Grand Mayne
75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: pure, simple, and sweet with toasty oak
P: round Merlot attack then shifts to good structure with textured tannin. Definite alcoholic hotness, but not as massive as some other vintages.

Guadet
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc
N: dark understated fruit, with some alcoholic heat
P: somewhat limp but, even so, better than past vintages. Hollow on the middle palate. Harsh bitterness on the aftertaste. Unbalanced.

Larmande
75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: cranberry, candied fruit, and a faint whiff of oxidation
P: soft, round, and sensual. Something Pomerol-like here. Tangy and mouth-puckering (in a good way). Enjoyable young.

 


Péby Faugères

(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: big, sweet, with beeswax nuances
P: sensual mouthfeel. Melts in the mouth and goes into a lasting aftertaste. Modern in the best sense of the word. Tremendous fruit, but good balance as well. The medium-long aftertaste is a little dry. Watch out for that oak…

Rol Valentin
90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc
N: not very expressive and slightly cosmetic
P: ripe, rich, and chewy with good structure. More acidity than most. A hybrid: half modern, half classic. Sweet crowd-pleasing sort of wine.

Soutard
As for grape varieties, the definitive final blend had not been decided upon.
N: very good fresh, pure blackberry aromas. Lovely ripe fruit.
P: big, rich, and juicy on the palate, but lacks depth and power. Not over-oaked.

 


La Tour Figeac

75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc
N: discreet berry fruit and smoky notes. Understatedly attractive.
P: vivacious and luscious, tangy and refreshing. Will be very pleasurable for (relatively) early drinking.

Troplong Mondot
90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc
N: rich and a little Portlike
P: tremendously rich on the palate. Bordeaux on steroids. Not to my taste. 15.5% alc./vol.

Valandraud
(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: inky, with some camphor notes
G: great balance with fine structure and a long aftertaste. Worthy of its new classification. Very attractive red fruit (raspberry) finish.

 

DSC02420 1024

 

Villemaurine
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc
N: nice, with some vinification aromas that will disappear with age
P: very nice overall impression, the best I’ve ever had from this estate. Lovely balance, tasty, tangy, and develops seamlessly. Elegant, satisfying, and with a long aftertaste. Good tannic texture. An excellent Saint Emilion.

 

POMEROL

 

Before sharing my notes, I would just like to say that this appellation was one of the great successes of the 2015 vintage in my opinion.
Also, I was very pleasantly surprised by the clear progress  made by estates formerly considered “second tier”.

 


Beauregard
75% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: interesting blend of blackberry, almond, and vanilla, along with a minor weedy component
P: My notes read: “slutty”. That outrageous shorthand indicates a wine that just overwhelms with its overt sensuality. This wine is all one would hope for in a Pomerol, and the epitome of successful Merlot. This is definitely a château worth watching (recently taken over by the Cathiards of Smith Haut Lafitte and the Moulin family of Galeries Lafayette).

Le Bon Pasteur
(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: deep and a little dusty with fine violet nuances
P: rich, chewy, but with acidity to counterbalance the roundness. Big and juicy with finely textured tannin. Watch out for effect of oak though!

Clinet
75% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: inviting, slightly smoky, and sexy
P: concentrated textbook Pomerol with rubbery tannin. Big, but elegant.

La Création
64% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: oaky and herbaceous. Off.
P: thick, rich, chocolaty with a sharp atftertaste. Short and just too oaky.
Note: I had never previously heard of this 4.5 hectare estate.

La Croix de Gay – PHOTO NOT SHOWN
97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc
N: dusty with reticent fruit
P: big, but out of balance and somewhat hot. Ripe, round fruitiness. Will time even this out?

Fleur de Gay
N: biscuity, and both floral and fruity
P: really attractive. Soft, rich, sensual. Very typical of its appellation. A garden of earthly delights. Heavy mouth feel. The ultimate in Pomerol. Sensory overload. Long textured aftertaste.

 


Gazin

95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: more floral (iris) than fruity with some grassy overtones
P: huge and compact, resonating into a beautiful soft, textured aftertaste with delightful minerality. A winner. Gazin is shining these days.

Petit Village
71% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: vaporous and not very expressive at this stage
P: both svelte and rich. Luxurious with a killer aftertaste. Gummy finish with good minerality on the tail end. Excellent.

La Pointe
84% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc
N: concentrated blend of floral and fruit aromas
P: big, mouthfilling, and sensual, but also elegant. Rubbery empyreumatic quality typical of Pomerol. Rich and satisfying.

 

2015 EN PRIMEUR TASTINGS: SAINT JULIEN, PAUILLAC & SAINT-ESTEPHE

SAINT JULIEN

 

Beychevelle
42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: sweet, with olive nuances, cosmetic overtones and primary fruit showing. Good underlying depth. My notes say “serious and mysterious”.
P: very forward. Big, but not too big. Blackcurrant and fruit paste flavors, and develops very well on the palate. Classic.

Branaire Ducru
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: fine, assertive, a little dusty. Somewhat one-dimensional and a touch green, with resin and menthol notes.
P: mouthfilling, but somewhat lacking in weight and richness. Good acidity. Very Cabernet and medium-light. Nice sweetness on finish but not very long.

Gruaud Larose
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 9 % Cabernet Franc
N: closed with some mint-eucalyptus notes
P: not showing well at the present time. Alcohol and tannin dominate. Hard finish. Needs to be revisited later on.

 


Lagrange

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot
N: interesting, subtle, and a touch grassy, with black fruit liqueur and vanilla overtones. Promising.
P: heavy mouth feel. Starts out soft and then somewhat disjointed. Slightly hot aftertaste. Needs to be retasted at a later date because not showing well now.

Langoa Barton
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and 8 % Cabernet Franc
N: winery aromas along with sweet subtle fruit. Notes of blueberry and coffee, but not very complex at this stage
P: amazingly soft, round, and sensual with a juicy tang. Winner.

Léoville Barton
86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot
N: very closed, but with some underlying mint, blackcurrant, and toffee.
P: more open on the palate. Big, penetrating, and loads of black fruit flavours. Long and authoritative. Very fine indeed.

 

Léoville Las Cases
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc
N: underlying fruit just emerging
P: considerable weight on the palate. Big, rich, and delicious with the classic blackcurrant flavors of this terroir. Develops beautifully on the palate with a zingy aftertaste. Very good, but perhaps not great.
I tasted the other wines from the Delon stable and particularly liked 2015 Potensac.
Also, 2015 is the first year that a second wine of Clos du Marquis – La Petite Marquise – was produced.

Léoville Poyferré
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot
N: Powerful, inky, very Cabernet and rich, with jammy and medicinal overtones. The bouquet is confused at the moment and needs time.
P: Starts off rich and soft, going on to reveal tight a tight tannic structure and plenty of backbone. Unabashedly tannic on finish. Once could resume the taste by saying it segues from softness into harshness. The tannin will inevitably enable this wine to age well, but the balance is a little off.

Saint Pierre
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc
N: pure and youthful, with exuberant fruit in keeping with the château style. However, this is the antithesis of a fruit bomb. A little green, a little cosmetic, and there may have been a touch of acetic acid.
P: fluid, tangy, bright, and satisfying, with new oak on the finish. Great wine for mid-term drinking.

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Talbot
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: bit withdrawn, but with underlying dark fruit
P: chewy and rich, but short. Good acidity, but this does not lead towards a long aftertaste, which is nevertheless fruity. The wine seems to lack overall richness and body at this stage.

PAUILLAC

 

 

d’Armailhac
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: just fine with hints of cherry
P: big, mouthfilling, textbook Pauillac but lacks weight despite its richness. New oak predominates on the finish. Not quite the same class as Clerc Milon.

Batailley
77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: discreet sweet, typical Pauillac nose of medium intensity
P: Big, melts in the mouth with ripe fruit. Only a lack of depth and length keep it out of the top flight category. Lots of new oak, let’s hope they make sure to tone it down during ageing. Well-balanced, although not as complex as the Lynch Moussas.

Clerc Milon
51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, and 1% Carménère
N: sweet black fruit and cranberry overtones, crushed blackcurrant leaves
P: lovely, rich, full, straightforward, and long. A real crowd pleaser.

 

 

Croizet Bages
73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot
N: forthright, pure, and open with some hints of black fruit jelly
P: very tart as well as weak and watery on the palate. Simple fruit juice flavors. I really wish I could be more positive for this consistently disappointing wine.

Grand Puy Ducasse
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot
N: discreet, in fact overly so
P: much better on the palate with a velvety texture and good tannin on the aftertaste. This estate is doing better.

Grand Puy Lacoste
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc
N: deep, seductive, brambly and black fruit bouquet. Very promising.
P: round, medium-light and seemingly slightly diluted. Not overdone in any way. Tart, refreshing acidity. A thirst-quenching sort of wine for people who like elegant,digestible Bordeaux. Very good.

 

 

Haut Bages Libéral
65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot
N: sweet and simple with a touch of greenness and ash
P: fluid texture and on the light side but picks up on the surprisingly long, attractive finish. One to watch out for.

Lafite Rothschild
91% Cabernet Sauvignon et 9% Merlot
N: delicate and feminine, very much in the château style with cedar and floral nuances giving way to subtle Cabernet fruitiness.
P: 2015 Lafite proves that not just Merlot has tannin that melts in the mouth! The wine deploys its charms with great finesse. The body is on the light side and seemingly low in alcohol. More a satiny than a velvety texture. Very fine.

Latour
97.1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.6% Merlot, and 0.03% Petit Verdot
N: relatively closed, with some menthol overtones
P: big, chunky, and penetrating with all the hallmarks of the château. Unrelenting progression of flavors into a zippy, tremendously long aftertaste. Super concentrated, but also elegant. Huge ageing potential.
The second and third wines were also good. As well as wines from the most recent vintage, Latour served 2010 Pauillac, 2009 Les Forts de Latour, and 2000 Latour to en primeur tasters. Not that Les Forts were in any way disappointing, but both the 2015 and 2010 vintages of the Pauillac “over-performed” and represent excellent value for money.

 

 

Lynch Bages
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: very deep with strong blackcurrant and a little clove on the nose
P: medium-heavy mouth feel. Certainly round and attractive, but overwhelmed by the oak at this stage. A wine made to last, but need to be re-tasted at a later date.

Lynch Moussas
75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot
N: nice balance between sweet fruit and oak, nuances of spring flowers
P: stalwart with medium-heavy mouth feel. Fairly assertive with good long aftertaste showing candied black fruit and new oak. Very good. Sleeper.

Mouton Rothschild
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc
N: some talcum powder and beeswax on the monumental nose. Virile, deep, and promising.
P: Rich and big on the palate. As good as the bouquet is, the flavors are even better, including some olive nuances. Great velvety texture, balance, and a long aftertaste. The absolute epitome of Cabernet Sauvignon. Radically different from Lafite tasted just one hour previous because this is – comparatively speaking – a bruiser. Regal. Wonderful.

 

 

Pichon Baron
77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot
N: lovely characteristic black fruit (especially blackcurrant) along with biscuity and brambly nuances
P: pure and fresh. Great balance and texture, length and grip. Beats the Comtesse and the best Pauillac at the UGC tasting.

Pichon Comtesse
68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot
N: coffee/vanilla with sweet pure fruit. Lacks complexity at this point and is a little spirity.
P: beautiful feminine Pauillac that stops just short of great because the requisite volume is just not there. Nevertheless round and attractive with a tangy tea tannin on the finish.

Pontet Canet
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: sweet and captivating with some floral overtones (iris)
P: not as easygoing on the palate as the nose suggests. Great balance between roundness and backbone. Restrained. Classic, with very pure fruit. Wonderful transition from softness to long mineral aftertaste.

 

SAINT ESTEPHE

 

 

Calon Ségur
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: sweet, spirit (but discreetly so), and chocolatey
P: melts in the mouth. Sleek, rich, and no off-putting hard-ass tannin whatsoever. Great acidity but inconclusive impressions on the aftertaste. Give it time to judge accurately. Big changes at this estate showing through.

Cos Labory
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: not very expressive
P: juicy and starts out soft, then goes on to show slightly harsh, but not outright rough on the palate. Good length and some gumminess on the aftertaste. Better than I have known this château in the past.

Lafon Rochet
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: rather closed, but with subtle vanilla and fruity notes
P: tight, tangy, balanced, with great black fruit flavors and good grip and length. Nothing to excess. A class act. Lacks richness, but this will probably come with age.


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Montrose
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc
N: Bright, open, chocolate overtones, very promising
P: Big wine. Overtones of sour fruit, with finely-grained tannin and definite minerality, but harder than Pontet Canet tasted just before. Silky long finish. Wine of character.

 

 

2015 EN PRIMEUR TASTING NOTES: MARGAUX

A few remarks:

It is impossible to taste everything, but I did evaluate a great many wines over an intense 4-day period. Seeing as I am reserved about numerical rating, especially for wines at the beginning of barrel ageing, there are no scores.
Also, I have not mentioned color because most young Bordeaux of this caliber has a lovely deep color – not to mention the fact that it is deucedly difficult to describe colors with words!

I have included the proportions of grape varieties in the final blend because this can vary considerably from year to year.

N = nose
P = palate

MARGAUX

 

 

Brane Cantenac
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Carménère
N: soft, very pure sublimated cherry – and cherry vanilla ice cream! – aromas.
P: lovely balance between fruit, sexy texture, and acidity. Good sappy fruit. Clearly a boring wine no longer.

Cantenac Brown
61% Cabernet Sauvignon and 39% Merlot
N: bit old-fashioned, but floral and attractive
P: both soft and chewy with a satisfying zing on the aftertaste. Very good third growth. The future looks bright for this estate.

Dauzac
72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot
N: indeterminate and mostly absent
P: heavy, ponderous mouthfeel. Big, but lacks delineation and subtlety. Converging berry fruit, but a little clunky and dry.

 

Desmirail
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and and 5% Petit Verdot
N: sweet typical Margaux aromas as well as some coffee nuances and a little tankiness that will undoubtedly disappear over time.
P: heavy mouth feel. Classic. Good tannic grip, but never overriding the Margaux magic. Great acidity. Good ageing potential. A wine to follow.

Ferrière
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: subtle dark berry fruit with some caramel nuances
P: plush, sensual, and melts in the mouth. Develops well into a characterful aftertaste. Considerable finesse.

Giscours
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: lacks personality at this stage
P: much better on the palate with a good, generous mouthfeel. Sturdy, but not very smooth and fizzles into a hard, dry (oak) finish. Needs to be tasted again after bottling.

 

Kirwan
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: attractive and cherry and chocolate nuances, as well as marked floral overtones. Seductive.
P: the liveliness and aromatics continue onto the palate, which has a silky texture. Very good this year.

Lascombes
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: some vinification odors, but deep berry fruit in the background
P: lovely velvety texture with a lipsmacking finish. Soft, well-made, typical of its appellation. Very good.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot
N: not very expressive, but some underlying spirity fruit and a perfumed quality
P: nice, rich mouth feel with a great balance thanks to fresh acidity. Good, lingering black fruit and tarry aftertaste with textured tannin. Very successful.

 

Margaux
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: fragrant, sophisticated, and extremely pure, with the subtle perfume of spring flowers. Long caressing aftertaste. Fresh with velvety tannin. Superb example of soft power.

Marquis de Terme
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: some cherry, good fruit, good potential
P: develops nicely on the palate, starting out round and ending with a soft, pure, mineral finish. Very well made. Marquis de Terme is on the up-and-up.

Monbrison
57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: soft, beguiling, subtle, and elegant with talcum powder aromas
P: medium-light with a pure mineral aftertaste. A feminine wine that would shine with refined food.

 

Prieuré Lichine
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: fine and deep with floral and plummy aromas
G: heavy, almost syrupy (!) mouthfeel. Thick and with cosmetic nuances. Oak overwhelms at this point. Dry finish. Care should be taken with moderating oak influence if time alone does not, as I fear, do the trick.

Rauzan Gassies
84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot
N: fruit… as well as soy sauce aromas.
P: better on the palate. Some greenness there, but there’s a fine texture. Old school and an improvement over past vintages.

Du Tertre
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Petit Verdot
N: straightforward, slightly spirit
P: sweet and showing bright fruit. Maybe a little weak on the middle palate, but still very nice with good grip. Surprisingly, a little hotness going only with the impression on the nose.