Monthly Archives: October 2014

2000 Château Phélan Ségur, Saint-Estèphe

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I enjoyed the wine yesterday with an excellent roast free range chicken. How wonderful such simple food can be (as opposed to battery farmed, “industrial” birds)!

The color of this wine made it look younger than its years.

The relatively understated nose was very Médoc, with ethereal blackcurrant and pencil shavings.

The wine did not have the richness and volume of a top-flight wine, but was very satisfying, perfectly in keeping with its status as a “cru bourgeois exceptionnel*“. There was decent tannic grip on the finish, but all-in-all, this is a good time to drink 2000 Phelan Ségur – in answer to that eternal question in Bordeaux of when to find the best balance between fruit and tertiary characteristics. It also confirms that mid-range 2000 Bordeaux wines are ready to go.

I served the wine blind to the wife. She asked: “Bordeaux”? Yes. Further rumination. “Saint-Estèphe”? Yes. More swirling, sipping and wrinkling of brow. “2000”? Yessiree. I must say, I was awfully impressed even if she didn’t get the château right (she plumped for Meyney).

* The “cru bourgeois exceptionnel” ranking disappeared in the most recent classification of the crus bourgeois, but apparently they will be bringing it back next time around.

Graves, more Graves and… Pessac-Léognan – DAY TWO

DAY TWO

Day two was spent exclusively in the Pessac-Léognan appellation.

My first stop was at Château Le Sartre in Léognan. This estate originally belonged to the Perrin family of Château Carbonnieux and since 2004 has been managed by Marie-José Perrin-Leriche and her husband, René Leriche, assisted by the Burgundian Jules Guyot. The 36 hectares are mostly planted with red wine varieties (12 ha. Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.7 ha. Merlot, and 1.1 ha Cabernet Franc), but there are also 10.2 hectares of white wine grapes (8.2 Sauvignon Blanc and 2 ha Sémillon). The vines are an average age of 20 years old.
The main 26-hectare plot is located in a single block south of Fieuzal and east of Domaine de Chevalier. The terroir here is ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Unfortunately, it is also prone to frost damage, and Le Sartre produced only a quarter of a normal crop in 2011… That is why you see wind machines here, like in California.

A second 7.6 km plot, one km. away, between Fieuzal and Malartic-Lagravière, as well as a small 1.7 hectare plot near Carbonnieux, have more early-maturing terroirs and are less subject to frost damage.
Things are stirring at Le Sartre. The cellar has state-of-the-art winemaking equipment and the château building is being entirely renovated. Furthermore, the wine is finally gaining the reputation it deserves and is definitely one to watch out for! The French wine critic Jean-Marc Quarin includes Le Sartre in a group he calls “the Outsiders” – wines currently undervalued and well worth following. I couldn’t agree more with his analysis…

I went from Le Sartre to Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, where a major tasting of red Pessac-Léognan wines had been organized. M. and Mme Cathiard could only greet us at the end because an Air France strike had prevented them from arriving any earlier.

Smith Haut Lafitte is geared up to receive visitors in an almost New World way, with knowledgeable staff and facilities suited to tours. The château’s improvement over the past 20 years is one of Bordeaux’s great success stories.

Here are my notes from the tasting, once again leaving out references to color, which was invariably good for these young wines:

RED PESSAC-LEOGNAN WINES

2011 Ch. de Léognan
Nose: soft, simple, straightforward
Palate: shows candied fruit, but does not develop a great deal on the palate. Marked acidity, but still shows good balance.

2011 Lespault-Martillac
Nose: subtle and fairly earthy, with penetrating black cherry aromas and an ethereal spirity side
Palate: chewy with nicely-grained tannin and lively acidity. Shortish aftertaste with liquorice overtones. Good to drink young.

2011 Gazin Rocquencourt
Nose: understated sweet cherry and cranberry sauce aromas
Palate: lovely balance and lip-smackingly good. Great acidity and cherry-vanilla flavors. Not a show stopper, but a wine lover’s sort of wine, with a long aftertaste and just the right amount of oak.

2011 Carmes Haut Brion
Nose: classic, discreet oak, with the fruit just starting to come through
Palate: rich, a little weak on the middle palate and with a certain dryness on the aftertaste due to barrel ageing. However, I would like to give this wine the benefit of the doubt, and hope that everything comes together well in a few years’ time.

2011 La Louvière
Nose: lovely soft cherry-vanilla aromas. Irreproachable.
Palate: lively acidity and good tannic texture. Digestible sort of wine. The oak should even out, but it contributes to a dry finish at present. One of the better wines at the tasting.

2011 de France
Nose: great, typical Graves with a vivacious, rich, fruity bouquet but too much oak comes through at this stage.
Palate: Round, big, full-bodied, with a velvety texture and a nice lift. Question mark about the oak.

2011 Luchey Halde
Nose: pretty, deep, and brambly, with dark fruit
Palate: round, juicy, up-front attack with good acidity to follow. Well-made wine with a great tang on the finish. Although it lacks richness and voluptuousness, it is still very good with a lovely cherry lozenge finish. Thank goodness the oak is low-profile. One of the best wines in the tasting.

2011 Rouillac
Nose: straightforward, “petits fruits rouges” and primary fruit
Palate: light and fluid, uncomplicated, with an aftertaste that adds seriousness to the wine.

2011 d’Eyran
Nose: fine fresh forest fruit bouquet, beguiling, lovely. Mercifully not too much oak, but some roast coffee aromas.
Palate: plush and melts in the mouth, but underpinned by good acidity. Some (but not too much) oak on the long, textured finish. Traditional, however not one for the long haul. Nice discovery and one of the best wines.

2011 Haut Bergey
Nose: attractive and classy. Sweet plum and berry fruit.
Palate: mouth-filling, but falls down somewhat on the middle palate. Too much oak on the aftertaste. One has the impression of prime fruit that has seen too high a percentage of new oak barrels.

2011 Olivier
Nose: fine bouquet. Deep, inky, with somewhat unexpected honey nuances!
Palate: starts out round, and plush, but proves to be weak on the middle palate. The oak ageing is over-ambitious.

2011 Bouscaut
Nose: sweet cedar and slightly confected fruit. Very good and concentrated.
Palate: Starts out nice, rich, and supple going on to show good acidity . Fine tannic texture. Great to see Bouscaut on the upswing and this was one of the best wines of the tasting.

2011 La Tour Martillac
Nose: a little spirity and closed in at the moment
Palate: soft, a little dilute to start off, but segues into a wine of character with a fine aftertaste. Elegant tannin and oak under control.

2011 Couhins
Nose: sweet with good oak
Palate: melts in the mouth, then proceeds to follow through well with authority and good acidity.  Nice oak background and a good finish. Thirst-quenching wine of distinction. Recommended.

2011 Couhins Lurton
Nose: ripe, fresh, and pure, with a subtle perfume
Palate: serious wine. Great balance. Very representative of its appellation. Velvety texture. One of the best wines. Only a certain diluteness and weakness leading up to the aftertaste keep it out of the very finest category, but nevertheless a wine to reckon with.

2011 Carbonnieux
Nose: discreet but promising
Palate: mouthfilling with good acidity, as well as nice texture and length. A tad dry, though.

2011 Malartic Lagravière
Nose: subtle, fresh, and brambly with understated oak
Palate: rich and melts in the mouth, but provides a fresh fruit tang on the aftertaste. Sensual. One of the best of the tasting.

2011 Haut Bailly
Nose: brilliant, nuanced, and classy with well-integrated oak
Palate: tightly-knit, superb balance, with deep dark fruit flavors. Wonderful, and my finest score.

2011 Smith Haut Lafitte
Nose: pert, perfumed, uplifting, and not too oaky, with fine berry aromas
Palate: mouthfilling and delicious, neither over-extracted nor over-oaked. Touch dry on the finish, but this is indeed a fine wine.

2011 Domaine de Chevalier
Nose: sweet and subtle with floral and berry overtones
Palate: light on its feet and refreshing due to lively acidity. Superb, a sort of sublime luncheon claret. Fine, textbook Graves.

 

After the tasting, I was invited to a lunch at Château Larrivet Haut Brion hosted by Emilie Gervoson, Bruno Lemoine, and his daughter, Alice, who runs the boutique.

Larrivet Haut-Brion has a fantastic terroir very close to Haut Bailly, and the estate is truly lovely, including an imposing château, landscaped grounds, and a pond with swans and a fountain…
Emilie Gervoson is the new face of Bordeaux: young, bouncy, given to wearing jaunty hats, and diametrically-opposed to the prim, proper, and slightly boring variety of Bordelaise (she’s actually Parisienne)…

The Gervosons made a fortune in jams and fruit-based desserts and still own the family firm (Andros). Bruno Lemoine was formerly manager at Ch. Montrose, and responsible for making the legendary 1990. He has been in charge of Larrivet Haut Brion since 2008. Michel Rolland is the consulting enologist.

Bruno has changed things considerably and is totally open to new methods, including “concrete eggs”.
Our dinner conversation was free-wheeling and far-ranging, including such controversial subjects as Isabelle Saporta’s book, Vino Business. The wines (2010 white and 2006 red) showed very well and dynamic changes taking place at present bode well for this superbly-located estate.

The next stop was Château de France, where we were welcomed by the owner, Arnaud Thomassin. However, there was not to be a tour of his château. Instead, we tasted through a line-up of white Pessac Léognan. Here are my notes for the 12 wines I tasted:

2013 WHITE PESSAC-LEOGNAN WINES

It was also explained to me that Pessac-Léognan is only twice the size of Pomerol, one of the smallest appellations in Bordeaux – and that only 15% of the wine is white. Furthermore, at several prestigious estates, it is worth noting that the white costs more or considerably more than the red…

2013 Grandmaison
Nose: very varietal Sauvignon Blanc characteristics, but not much else there
Palate: better, lemony, tart, fresh, and good

2013 Luchey Halde
Nose: attractive and expressive with peach and floral overtones
Palate: clean, sprightly, tart, surely even better with food

2013 Couhins
Nose: grassy and not saying much at this time
Palate: sharp and not very fruity

2013 Couhins Lurton
Nose: very varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but not in an exaggerated way
Palate: fuller and richer than expected after the nose, and showing good balance. Ripe, fresh, and clearly one of the better wines at the tasting.

2013 Smith Haut Lafite
Nose: understated
Palate: silky and “sweet”, with good oak. What the French call “un vin de gastronomie”. Persistent aromatics. Not overdone in any way, tremendously well-balanced and refined. Tied for first place in my notes, and far from some of the overdone versions of SHL I’ve encountered in the past. Congratulations!

2013 Fieuzal
Nose: tropical fruit
Palate: round and more of a pronounced mouth feel than most of the other wines. Svelte and dry, with citrus overtones. Quite fine.

2013 Malartic Lagravière
Nose: characterful with discreet tropical fruit, and like nothing so much as a dry Sauternes
Palate: mouthfilling with resinous nuances sliding into a beautiful mineral finish. Seriously good, and tied with the Smith Haut Lafitte for wine of the tasting.

2013 Bouscaut
Nose: classic, with beeswax and lemon nuances
Palate: lanoline, vanilla, and clove going into an unexpectedly pronounced mineral finish coming into its own after a little flabbiness on the middle palate. This should not imply this was not a very good wine, because it was. Between this white and the red I tasted the day before, I applaud the renaissance at Bouscaut!

2013 Lespault Martillac
Nose: seemed a bit chemical and technical. The bouquet is fresh and there’s some lemon there, but it lacks definition.
Palate: good, soft attack but empty on the middle palate. Penetrating vibrant acidity.

2013 La Louvière
Nose: fresh, but closed in at this stage.
Palate: fairly mineral with an acid edge. Good, but needs to age.

2013 La Garde
Nose: very varietal Sauvignon Blanc, and somewhat in your face
Palate: round, commercial style. Little obvious and with a salty finish.

2013 Rouillac
Nose: soft and enticing
Palate: softness here as well for this elegant wine that segues into a mineral aftertaste showing the intelligent use of new oak. A really nice discovery for me.

 

The day ended with a gala dinner at Château de Fieuzal for a group of about 100 or 120 people. This was all of a 10 minute walk from Ch. de France and it was a joy to go there on foot and admire the ripe grapes on the way.

I enjoyed a memorable evening with Véronique Bonnie-Laplane of Malartic Lagravière, Fabien Teitgen of Smith Haut Lafitte, Francis Boutemy of Haut Lagrange, Rémi Edange of Domaine de Chevalier, Emmanuelle Jeannerot of the Pessac-Léognan Syndicat, Philippe Miecaze of Ch. de Léognan, and an English Master of Wine student. Conversation was lively and the wines were wonderful, including Smith Haut Lafitte, Malartic Lagravière and Haut Bailly, all from the 2000 vintage – and nowhere near as backward as one might expect.

And so my two days in the Graves drew to a close…

Graves, more Graves and… Pessac-Léognan – DAY ONE

Hi,

My blog is only about 6 weeks old and I’m receiving all sorts of advice about how to do things right :-).
I was told, among other things, that it is best to keep posts to about 300 words.
Well, sorry folks, this has proved absolutely impossible with the present post, so please bear with me. At least I’m dividing it into two parts!

I was delighted to accept an invitation to go on a two-day press trip on Sept. 23rd & 24th 2014 to the Graves region, and happy with the prospect of discovering and rediscovering some very worthwhile estates…

I’m not going to go over all the statistics and basic information about the Graves, because you can find this easily enough in reference books and on websites. But I would like to add a few comments you don’t always see… First of all, the Pessac-Léognan region made a deliberate effort to “secede” from the larger Graves region in 1996 to form its own separate appellation. As you can imagine, this created some hard feelings at the time… So, it was especially heartwarming to see Dominique Guignard of Château Guignard representing the Graves AOC and Laurent Cogombles of Château Bouscaut representing the Pessac-Léognan AOC working together to promote their wines.
In fact, the creation of Pessac-Léognan does not go back such a long way, and many people still think of the wines as Graves. Indeed, all the classified growths are in the former appellation, and still refer to themselves as Crus Classés de Graves…

I was part of a group of about 20 people from several countries invited by the syndicats viticoles (now called Organismes de Défense et de Gestion) of Graves and Pesssac-Léognan to spend a day in each appellation. Even though I live in Bordeaux, I gladly accepted the offer of accommodation at a wine estate to avoid the issue of drinking and driving.
I stayed three nights at Château Seguin in Canéjan, a suburb of Bordeaux in the Pessac-Léognan appellation along with a journalist friend from Copenhagen, Izak Litwar. That such estates have survived urban sprawl is a minor miracle. Seguin has lovely grounds and 31 hectares of vines that produce only red wines from equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Surrounded by one of France’s largest cities, Seguin is an oasis of peace and natural beauty. Only the faint noise of a nearby highway reminds you that “civilization” is nearby…
Château Seguin is managed by Denis Darriet, an intense man whose previous career was creating exquisite jewelry in Paris for some of the world’s wealthiest people. Denis is bundle of energy and has many endearing qualities I equate with southwest France. He is definitely a hands-on manager, and is intimately acquainted with work in the vineyard because he had done it all himself and is often out there with his workers. Nothing theoretical here! On Monday night, Denis invited me to taste his wines, and then to enjoy them at dinner. I sampled 2008, 9, 10, 11, and 12 Château Seguin. I had a preference for the 11, 09, and 08, but these are obviously wines that need to age. I should add that the 2010 had evolved nicely in the decanter by the next day. Denis also opened bottles of Seguin’s super cuvée, Confidences, from the 2006 and 2009 vintages. These are unfined and unfiltered and would wreak havoc in a blind tasting, especially the 2009, which is a world-class wine.

The first full day took me to four estates in the Graves: Ch. de Lionne, Ch. Ferrande, Château Magence, and Ch. Caillivet.

As for Ch. de Lionne, this is located in Mazères, near the southern tip of the Graves – which, in fact, extends further south than Sauternes, and even the other side of Langon. Ch. de Lionne has 36 hectares of vines on sand and gravel soil: 29 planted with red wine varieties and 8 with white. The estate is owned and managed by Véronique Smati. While she cannot exactly be defined as a lioness (lionne = female lion in French), Mme Smati is definitely a powerhouse, a maîtresse femme as the French say, who seems to do the work of several people! I was introduced to her in the fermentation cellar as she was discussing her 2014 white wines with her assistant and a consulting enologist. Like every other estate we visited, the white wine harvest had just finished and preparations were under way to receive the red wine grapes. Mme Smati showed me around and her assistant, Joanna Gousse, poured two wines to taste, a refreshing fruity 2012 white and a soft, upfront 2011 red with a plummy nose and sweet fruit on the palate. Both are for medium-term ageing.

Joanna then drove me to Ch. Ferrande in Castres, a huge 94-hectare estate belong to the Castel group, France’s and Europe’s largest wine merchant. A tasting had been arranged there of approximately 15 red and 15 white Graves. Here are my notes (since color is not such a major consideration for these young wines, I have only mentioned it when this was out of the ordinary):

WHITE GRAVES

2012 Ch. de Cérons:
Nose: somewhat “technical”, almost Alsatian
Palate: well-made, crisp and fresh, but not terroir-driven

2013 Clos Floridène
Nose: good, rich, fresh, and expressive
Palate: round, mouth-filling, with a fine tangy aftertaste, one of the best of the tasting

2013 Ch. Vénus
Nose: fine, generous, and fruity
Palate: silky-smooth and lovely follow-through and finish. Complete and satisfying, one of the top wines that day

2013 Ferrande
Nose: on the neutral side at this stage
Palate: the taste has more character, but is a little weak on the middle palate. The finish is better, with a great lemony Graves flavour.

2012 Haut Reys
Nose: discreet, with some tropical fruit (pineapple) overtones
Palate: OK, with some grip on the slightly bitter finish and a certain minerality that helps to hold the wine together

2013 Haute Selve
Nose: delicate, understated, perfumed, and more floral than fruity
Palate: some body and weight here, going into an attractive dryness. Good commercial style. Very well-made.

2013 Rahoul
Nose: refined, classic, rich, and great traditional Graves bouquet
Palate: full and rich with flavours that follow on from the bouquet. This wine was a little old-fashioned and stood out as being more akin to Pessac-Léognan than southern Graves. Lovely citrus/lemon overtones. Best wine of the tasting for me.

RED GRAVES

2011 Ch. Ferrande
Nose: wild berries, sweet, and rich
Palate: round, sweet once again, but a little confected and with a relatively short aftertaste

2011 Haut Reys
Nose: unexciting and underdeveloped at this stage
Palate: soft, forward, and tangy with a finish that winds up an unimpressive wine with some panache

2011 Clos Floridène
Nose: good oak and subtle berry aromas
Palate: smooth and seamless with good acidity on the aftertaste. Some greenness with the fruit, but of the positive, rather than the underripe kind. A real crowd-pleaser. Slightly dry finish, but has good ageing potential.

2011 Chantegrive
Nose: lovely, classic Bordeaux, seems more Médoc-like than Graves
Palate: melts in the mouth and develops well, but the aftertaste is a little too dry and oaky. Will this change over time?

2011 Vénus
Nose: sweet, but unfocused
Palate: too indeterminate. Starts out sweet and seductive, and then takes a different turn, showing too much oak and/or extraction.

2011 Doms
Nose: ripe and deep, with aromas the French call “petits fruits rouges”
Palate: round, soft, silky, and forthright – a salt-of-the-earth kind of wine. Seems a little dry, with a touch of bitterness on the tail end, but fruit predominates.

2011 Cossu “La Numérotée”
Nose: toasty oak, with brambly fruit
Palate: sweet and simple, but a little hollow. Slightly dry finish.

2011 Roquetaillade La Grange
Nose: soft, with subtle oak, but not forthcoming at the present time
Palate: much better impression on the palate. Big, sensual, plush, and melts in the mouth. The aftertaste shows some hardness, and a little less oak influence might have been in order here. Still, a good wine that will develop well over time.

2011 Saint Robert “Ponset-Deville”
Nose: oak masks the sweet dark berry fruit at present
Palate: classy and tangy, with a tarry character. Oak has the upper hand, but this may come together more in a few years due to good acidity.

2011 Ch. de Portets
Nose: toasty oak more than anything else
Palate: sweet, soft, old-style, with good grip and a touch of bitterness on the aftertaste. Authentic, and reflects its terroir. Best with full-flavored food.

Lunch was at Château Magence in Saint-Pierre-de-Mons, where I was warmly welcomed by Jean d’Antras and his parents.
This well-known estate has 39 hectares of vines (30 of red and 9 of white). We enjoyed the 2005 and 2001 red Magence at lunch and, since we had discussed Jean’s surprising experience with the 1985 white in the car, he kindly opened a bottle of this.
Dating from the early 18th century, the château itself is long and low, in the classic Girondin style. The living room is huge, with lovely furniture and even an ancient winepress! Madame d’Antras was née Guillot de Suduiraut, and her family were former owners of Suduiraut and Rayne Vigneau in Sauternes. I had heard of semi-precious stones found at the latter estate, and Mme d’Antras has a showcase of some polished gems found there.

After Magence, I went to Château Caillivet in Mazères where I was looked after by Célia Carillo. She and her brother run the estate that was created ex nihlo in the 1970s by their grandparents, originally from Spain. Antoine, a qualified enologist, was responsible for converting farmland to winegrowing and the first vintage dates from 2001 (and the first of white wine from 2011). The family came to the painful conclusion that due to retirement of one generation and inheritance taxes to be paid by the next, they would need to sell the estate. They did so in 2013 to Mr. Olivier Bourreau, an industrialist from the center of France, who takes an active interest in Caillivet and goes there often. Célia and her brother have nevertheless stayed on to manage things. Caillivet is set on a rise, with a lovely view of the surrounding countryside. The 2011 red caught my attention with a sweet, almost Pinot-like, slightly herbaceous nose and good vinosity. The 2013 white was brimming with upfront fruit. The château sells an impressive 70% of production directly to private customers.

 The evening ended with dinner at Château Pape Clément. There were 9 of us, including Wine Tourism Manager Alaïs Riglet (formerly at La Tour Carnet in the Médoc), representatives of the Graves and Pessac-Léognan winegrowers associations, Denis Darriet of Ch. Seguin, and Jean-Jacques Bonnie of Ch. Malartic-Lagravière. We toured the impressive cellars and then had an aperitif (2007 white Pape Clément) in a room resembling a museum with all sorts of religious artefacts, including an ornate chasuble on a wooden clothes horse! The dining room was just across the hall and we enjoyed a gourmet meal there in a relaxed, good-natured atmosphere despite the rather formal setting. I much appreciated the rare 1997 white Pape Clément and the red from the same year, with its tell-tale burnt earth aromas and fine quality despite the difficult year. I was also poured a glass of Ch. Clos Haut-Peyraguey (a wine I’ve always appreciated) with dessert.

The unstoppable Bernard Magrez couldn’t be with us that evening because, at age 78, he was off promoting his wines elsewhere that evening. This lucky man has great growths in each Bordeaux appellation with a classification (La Tour Carnet in the Médoc, Pape Clément in the Graves, Fombrauge in Saint Emilion, and Clos Haut Peyraguey in Sauternes).

 (to be continued)