Author Archives: AlexR

Day out in Pessac-Léognan – 13 châteaux

 

 

To give you an idea of how old I am, I can remember a time when the Pessac-Léognan appellation did not even exist. All the wines on the left bank of the Garonne southeast of Bordeaux were Graves. Period. The new appellation was created in 1987 after a sort of “civil war” between north and south. The northern part of the Graves, bordering on the city of Bordeaux, encompassed all the great growths (seven reds, three whites, and six both white and red) in ten different communes. There was some disagreement as to where to draw the borders of the new entity and even what to call it. After much discussion and negotiation, the hyphenated names of Pessac and Léognan were retained.

Interestingly, the great growths continue to call themselves crus classés de Graves, even though they are all in Pessac-Léognan…

The late André Lurton of Châteaux La Louvière,  Couhins Lurton, Rochemorin, de Cruzeau, etc. was a prime mover in creating the new AOC.It must be said that other than recognizing an élite within the Graves, the establishing of Pessac-Léognan also helped the region to fight urban sprawl seriously threatening prime vineyard land. The area under vine had dwindled to just 500 hectares by 1975, but now stands at 1,600.While many English-speaking wine lovers tend to associate the Graves with white wines, Pessac-Léognan produces 75% reds.

The Bordelais have a special fondness for Pessac-Léognan. The vineyards start at the outskirts of the city. Indeed, the postal address of Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, for instance, is 20 rue des Carmes, Bordeaux. However, the wines are also popular because they frequently represent better value for money than ones from the Médoc or Saint Emilion, and because they have the faculty of showing well both young and old. Pessac-Léognan wines are frequently found in local restaurants at an affordable price.

As those of you who follow this blog know, I am a great fan of the Portes Ouvertes (Open Days) in Bordeaux, when châteaux welcome the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to visit little-known estates and make discoveries.

So I set out on a Saturday with two friends in early December to visit thirteen estates in one day – a wonderfully intense, relatively frenetic, and very pleasurable learning experience.We started with Château Luchey Halde in the town of Mérignac, a suburb of Bordeaux where the airport is located. This 23-hectare estate had altogether disappeared, but was miraculously brought back to life and replanted in 1999.  It is now owned and managed by an agricultural engineering school, Bordeaux Science Agro (ex-ENITA). The winemaking facilities are, as to be expected, very modern and well-maintained. There was some discussion at the beginning of the tasting whether we should try the whites before the reds or vice versa. It is usual in Bordeaux to begin with reds, a practice to which I subscribe. So we went through the 2018 (grand vin), 2015 (second wine, Les Haldes de Luchey), 2012 (grand vin), and 2011 (grand vin) reds, with a preference for the 2018 and 2012. The other two vintages seemed pleasantly fruity, but somewhat weak. Next up were the whites, 2014 (second wine) and 2012 (grand vin) which were aromatic and angular.

Owned by the Calvet family, who gave their name to a famous Bordeaux négociant firm, Château Pique-Caillou is a stone’s throw from Luchey Halde. It is quite something to visit a château dating from the late 18th century in the middle of 20 hectares of vines completely surrounded by suburban houses – not unlike Haut Brion. We sampled three red wines: 2018, 2016, and 2015. The 2016 stood out and all three showed a lean, classic style on the early-maturing side. The 2017 white Pique Caillou was practically transparent with some lanolin and vanilla nuances on the nose. The wine was light and mineral on the palate.

The third estate we went to was Château Haut Bacalan in Pessac (8 hectares), a first for me. This is owned by the Gonet family from Champagne, along with several other Bordeaux vineyards, including Château Lesparre in the rather esoteric Graves de Vayres appellation. All of the Gonet wines were being poured, including their Champagnes, but I focused on just two of their five Pessac-Léognan estates. The red 2015 Haut Bacalan showed lovely sweet briary fruit on the nose. It was powerful, full-bodied, and rich, with textured tannin on the palate – one of the nicest wines we tasted all day. The 2014 red was not quite in the same league, but nothing to sniff at either. This was followed by the 2018 white wine from Château d’Ek. Anyone who has travelled from Bordeaux to Toulouse has noticed this beautiful medieval (12th century) château quite close to the motorway. I had very much enjoyed their 2010 red wine recently (it was the Cuvée Prestige), so was anxious to try the white wine, made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This had a subtle bouquet of peach and talc, and lacked only a little richness on the palate.

Château Brown in Léogan takes its name from John Lewis Brown, a Scottish wine merchant who owned the property in the late 18th century. It now belongs jointly to the local Mau family and Dutch businessman Cees Dirkzwager (also co-owners of cru bourgeois Château Preuillac in the Médoc). Brown is managed by the dynamic Jean-Christophe Mau, whose family have been négociants for five generations. His wines are expertly made and a joy to drink. As much as I like the red wine (the 2015 we tasted is no exception), produced on 26 hectares of vines, my heart has always gone out to the exuberant, rich, white wine (5 hectares), everything a fine white Graves should be. I bought a bottle of the latter for the cellar.

Domaine de Grandmaison (19 hectares) is close to the Centre Leclerc supermarket – with one of the finest wine selections in the region – as well as Château Carbonnieux. I have been here on several occasions and find the wines excellent value for money. Although the 2014 red was slightly rustic and disappointing, the white has never let me down. 2018 Domaine de Grandmaison white, selling at 16 euros a bottle is a vibrant, fresh, pure wine that would grace any table. While not quite as “serious” a wine as Château Brown or some others, it is nevertheless the perfect illustration of how good affordable Bordeaux can be. Especially when one thinks of the cost of white Burgundy…

Number six on our day out was Château Haut Plantade in Léognan (9 hectares), a worthwhile discovery for me. This ten-hectare estate produces mostly red wine. We tasted the 2017 red, not the greatest vintage, during which they lost half the crop due to poor weather conditions. That having been said, apart from a slight greenness, this was a very creditable effort. The 2018 white wine (50% Sémillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc) was very suave and subtle with a long aftertaste. It was definitely one of the best wines tasted all day. Winemaker Vincent Plantade is switched-on and funny.  So, I would definitely put this château into the category of “little-known gems I would like to get to know better”. I stopped and looked at the vines upon leaving. The fine gravel topsoil seemed the perfect illustration of Graves terroir…

Our next visit was to Château de Léognan (6.5 hectares) in the town of the same name, not far from Domaine de Chevalier. Going here served two purposes since there is also a good bistro-type restaurant there called Le Manège. After a very enjoyable lunch, we went to taste the wines. I wish I could be more positive about them…  We sampled two reds, 2015 La Chapelle de Léognan (the second wine) and the 2011 grand vin. The former was somewhat herbaceous and prematurely old, and I’m sorry to say that the latter did not leave much of a better impression. A 2018 white wine (AOC Graves) called simply “Le Blanc” (AOC Graves) was also poured. This was sound, but not noteworthy.

Château Haut Lagrange (8.5 hectares), likewise in Léognan, provided a better experience. We tasted four wines here. The 2016 red had an intriguing bouquet and a promising profile while the 2015 red featured a floral nose with a certain smokiness, accompanied by richness and sweet fruit on the palate. The 2006 red looked considerably older than its age with tertiary gamey notes and finished a tad dry. The 2018 white was fresh and classic, but lacked personality.

Our ninth visit of the day was to Domaine de la Solitude in Martillac. This is owned by nuns belonging to the order of the Holy Family and managed by Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier. The 32-hectare estate has quite a reputation for good reasonably-priced wines, which explains why the tasting room was thronged and people were walking away with full cartons. We tasted four wines. The 2016 red was in a seductive commercial style with upfront fruit. The 2015 displayed elegant understated aromatics accompanied by a soft mouth feel backed up by good tannin. Both of these wines are probably best enjoyed relatively young. The 2016 white had a classic bouquet with good oak, and was perhaps better on the nose than the palate. The 2010 had aged well, with floral and beeswax nuances and only a touch of oxidation.

We went from there to Château Mirebeau, a small (5 hectare) estate in the town of Martillac. Sometimes you just have to be honest. I am not reproducing my notes because they are extremely critical. We tried the 2016 and 2015 reds and they seemed flawed. The wine is made organically which is obviously a plus, but not enough. Organic wines need to be good as well.

Our next stop was at Château Ferran, also in Martillac. I’ve rarely seen the wine, which is surprising since the estate is by no means small (19 hectares). It has been in the same family for five generations and boasts an attractive château. We tried three wines. The 2016 red was very promising with good acidity and an attractive mineral austerity. The 2015 red had a rich bouquet of candied red fruit even if it was somewhat one-dimensional on the palate. The 2018 white had a nose that screamed Sauvignon Blanc, and proved to be rounder than expected. I came away with a fine memory of our visit.

The next to last château was Bouscaut in Cadaujac, a large (47 hectare) classified growth owned by Sophie Lurton and her husband Laurent Cogombles. The 2016 red Bouscaut was unquestionably of cru classé quality: smooth and assertive, with tight tannins, violet overtones, and good length. The 2015 red was unfortunately not in the same mold. It showed more toasty oak on the nose than fruit. It was brawny, big, and hot on the palate, lacking the elegance of the 2016. Then it was on to the whites. The 2017 Les Chênes de Bouscaut (a much better year for Bordeaux whites than reds) had a spicy component and was quite classy, whereas the 2016 had unusual vanilla and matchstick aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy! It was in a modern, commercial style on the palate and I will be interested to see how it ages.

The final stop of a very full day was at Château Baret in Villenave d’Ornon (24 hectares), which has been in the Ballande family since 1867. Once again, we tried both the red and white wines. The 2015 red was a good middle of the road Pessac-Léognan with a tangy flavor. It was unexpectedly tannic on the finish, but time will surely soften the rough edges. The 2011 had minty old library aromas. It was fully evolved on the palate with a somewhat hard finish. Time to drink up.

And thus ended our excursion.

 

 

 

Château Clinet: a first division Pomerol


How many of us really know the wines of Pomerol? One of Bordeaux’s smallest appellations (about 800 hectares) produces wines that have risen dramatically in reputation – and price – over the years. They correspond completely to what modern consumers are looking for in Bordeaux. At their best they are voluptuous, elegant wines that are pleasurable to both neophytes and connoisseurs, as well as enjoyable both young and old. What’s not to like?

As opposed to the Médoc, Saint Emilion, Sauternes, and Pessac-Léognan, there is no classification in Pomerol. Of course, a sort of de facto classification exists based on price and critics’ scores, but there are more possibilities here to rise through the ranks. Such wines as Lafleur and Le Pin had a very low profile not so long ago and went on, of course, to become darlings of the wine world.

Consumers, wine writers, and critics have, as to be expected, latched onto a few names that are endlessly repeated, in no small part because these tend to be largish estates in an appellation that does not count many i.e. the wines are more widely distributed worldwide. But relative newcomers can rise to the join the elite, which is precisely what Château Clinet has done.

Pomerol’s fairly undramatic history is that of a winegrowing town whose ups and downs generally revolved around the inheritance and changing hands of estates. Unlike other parts of Bordeaux, there are few noteworthy château buildings to bear witness to this history. Clinet’s can be traced back to the late 16th century and the place name appears on Belleyme’s famous 1785 map (a facsimile is hung on the wall at Clinet). A document dating from 1837 shows that Clinet and Pétrus had the same owner. Over time, Eglise Clinet, Clos l’Eglise, and Feytit Clinet were spun off from the original estate. Château Clinet’s wine was always well-regarded and sold well, but it did not really start to stand out until the 1980s when Jean-Michel Arcaute, advised at one time by Michel Rolland, took things in hand to progress by a quantum leap. Clinet, a more-or-less second tier Pomerol, joined the first tier.

Impressively high Parker scores helped catapult Clinet to center stage, where it has stayed ever since.

The estate was sold to the GAN insurance group in 1991 and then acquired by Jean-Louis Laborde from the nearby Lot-et-Garonne department in 1999. He handed over management to his son, Ronan, in 2004. Today just shy of 40 years old, Ronan is still in charge.

Ronan Laborde is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of great growth Bordeaux, to which Clinet is obviously assimilated. That he is young and has a business degree is not so uncommon. Neither is the fact that his experience in the wine trade spans several continents, despite his age. But Ronan has a fresh go-ahead attitude that has led him to do things differently. Take his creation of a branded Bordeaux called, appropriately enough, “Ronan”. It takes a brave man to do such a thing! He built a new cellar for his négociant activity a stone’s throw from Clinet and now sells going on 300,000 bottles a year of his (largely red) Bordeaux AOC.
Ronan Laborde also manages the family estates in Tokaj, Hungary: Châteaux Megyer and Pajzos.

In March of this year, Ronan was elected president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, the promotional association that brings together the cream of Bordeaux producers (134 members) and is responsible for organizing tastings around the world, including en primeur week in March/April every year in Bordeaux.

The style and the feeling at Clinet reflect that of the man running the show: professional, but relaxed.

I met Ronan at the unprepossessing country house with red shutters built in 1820 that is Château Clinet. However, appearances can be deceiving… The winery is state-of-the-art, including a system with 400-kg. hoppers (cuvons) on rails that gently deposit freshly-picked grapes into temperature-controlled stainless steel vats to avoid bruising. The wine undergoes pigeage (punching down the cap) and gentle pumping over. It is aged in 60% new oak, a proportion that is down from a few vintages ago. The 8-10% press wine is blended in as needed.

When the Laborde family took over, the Clinet vineyard consisted of 8.64 hectares in three separate parts: one around the château, another north of the town church, and a third between Trotanoy and Feytit Clinet. This was increased by 3 hectares when 4 tiny plots within the appellation were acquired in 2011. Grape varieties are 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. A second wine, Fleur de Clinet, is also made.

Ronan had arranged a small vertical tasting:

2015 Ronan by Clinet:
Color: Showing a little brown on the rim already.
Nose: Reflecting its 100% Merlot composition with ethereal red fruit.
Palate: Soft, but with decent backbone. Aftertaste maybe a little short, but unmistakably fine Bordeaux with a pleasant thirst-quenching side. Touch austere, but this does not detract from the overall balance.

2016: “By Clinet’
Color: Medium-deep and vigorous with some purple highlights.
Nose: Almond and vanilla aromas one associates with certain of the best Pomerols. Subtly rich.
Palate: Powerful attack. Silky texture with fine-grained tannin. Smooth and already approachable. Good value because it has all the hallmarks of its appellation.

2014 Château Clinet:
Color: Medium intensity, just starting to show a little age.
Nose: Very attractive, classy, assertive bouquet with berry notes and a nuance I can only describe as blood, which I also find in some Syrah wines.
Palate: Iron and mineral flavors with a touch of greenness balanced by black and some red fruit overtones.

2015 Château Clinet:
Color: Brilliant, with a deep core.
Nose: Penetrating black cherry fruit with oaky notes.
Palate: Rich, with licorice flavours and a long, delicate aftertaste. Very fine tannin in the finish. Decidedly elegant and not top-heavy.

2016 Château Clinet:
Color: Lovely, very deep hue, even more so than the 2010 says Ronan.
Nose: Fresh, but with musky hints in the background and some menthol to complement the exuberant fruit.
Palate: Round, big, and lip-smackingly good! Fresh aftertaste with some empyreumatic nuances. Firm, slightly smoky, and with great potential.

Ronan invited me to share lunch with him at the cellar after the tasting, during which we enjoyed a 2008 Clinet. This had taken on wonderful aromatics of game and incense with age.

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, Pomerol is a hard region to get to know. I therefore thank Ronan for giving me with a better handle on the appellation by providing me with an insight into one of its best wines.

 

 

 

 

 

Day out in Sauternes / November 2019: visit to 12 châteaux

Although I many not drink Sauternes every other day, I love the stuff. Sauternes makes a wonderful end to a meal and is unquestionably one of the world’s great wines. Served the French way, it is also splendid as an apéritif (mais oui!) and at table – although pairing Sauternes with food is a major challenge in promoting this fine wine.
Sauternes has unfortunately lost traction over the past few years. The value of vineyard land has stagnated, sweet wines have lost their allure in many quarters, and the younger generation seems not to know the wine. In addition, the classified growths (accounting for a whopping one third of the appellation’s total production) gain little in value over time, so there are some great bargains to be had.

That having been said, things are looking up. Some major investments have been made in recent years. The dry white wine of Clos des Lunes has been a huge commercial success and there is a push to create a new appellation for dry Sauternes. Furthermore, Château Guiraud and Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey have opened restaurants and much hope is placed in developing wine tourism.
It can also be said that many producers are now seeking to make slightly less sweet and full-bodied wines, but still retain the unique character of their terroirs, to attract new consumers.

As a Sauternes lover, I have often taken advantage of the region’s Portes Ouvertes (Open Days) operation to visit the many estates that welcome the general public. I therefore headed out with my friends Mark and Lynn Gowdy to go château visiting on the 9th of November.
I delight in the fast pace, racing around from one vineyard to the next.

We started off with Château Filhot, with its the magnificent stately home. We were welcomed by jovial young Count Gabriel de Vaucelles and tasted two of his wines.
The 2017 Zest – a new wave Sauternes made to be less heavy, more lively, and appeal to younger drinkers thanks to modern packaging – had only been bottled a month, but was showing quite well, with good acidity and uncomplicated forthright fruitiness. As to be expected, the 2015 grand vin was in a more classic mold with a complex bouquet and luscious pure fruit flavors. It was totally in keeping with Filhot’s great growth status, and quite enjoyable young.

We went from there to Château Guiraud, one of the first classified growths in Bordeaux to farm their grapes organically. I would like to be more flattering about this Premier Cru Classé, but the wines I tasted were somewhat of a let-down, which confirms my impression that Guiraud can be either very, very good or else rather pedestrian. The 2016 second wine, Le Petit Guiraud, was unfortunately weak and lily-livered. The 2009 grand vin was fortunately better, with a raisiny, white fruit, and peach bouquet. It was lively on the palate, and I could see this as a wine to serve at table, even though it was somewhat lacking in personality. I haven’t written Guiraud off by any means and I must come back to the wines in other vintages to give them a fair shake.

Château La Tour Blanche, in nearby Bommes, is owned by the French state and houses a viticultural school, so the students are greatly involved in producing the wine. I’ve long been a fan of La Tour Blanche and we tasted through their entire range. The 2018 Les Jardins de La Tour Blanche is a dry wine made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It unsurprisingly featured marked varietal aromas and was rather short and angular on the palate. The 2016 Duo, also dry, was a different kettle of fish with decent fruit and oak on the nose. It may have lacked some richness, but was definitely a well-made wine.
Then it was onto the stickies. For want of calling it a third wine, the 2018 Les Brumes can be considered a second second wine. The style was reminiscent of Filhot’s Zest: on the light side for easy drinking, and not pretending to be a big hitter. The “proper” second wine from the 2016 vintage, Les Charmilles, had some grassy aromas and was soft, quite sweet, and typical of its origin. A successful Sauternes. It was thus fascinating to taste the next wine, the grand vin, also from 2016. The color was a little darker here and the enticing bouquet showed nuances of gooseberry and burnt sugar. The wine melted in the mouth and had a good long aftertaste with some coconut overtones. It confirmed my opinion of La Tour Blanche’s stature.

It is only a short distance from there to Rayne Vigneau. This château was bought by Franco-American businessman Derek Smith in late 2015. The new owner has great ambitions for an estate which is not generally considered one of the best first growths in Sauternes. We tasted the 2015 Madame de Rayne which was slightly on the heavy side, especially for a second wine. It had a rich, honeyed flavor profile, but lacked freshness and acidity. The 2016 grand vin tasted quite young and had vanilla aromas due to barrel ageing. The wine was not especially long and needs to be re-evaluated in a few years. Rayne Vigneau also market a prestige cuvée called Gold that sells for several times the price of the grand vin. It was not offered for tasting, but I would definitely be intrigued to sample it. Furthermore, the château sells Audace, a Sauternes made without sulphur, which I would have thought very difficult to do in this day and age. My friend Lynn bought a bottle and I hope to sample it with her.

The next stop was Clos Haut Peyraguey, a first growth acquired by Bernard
Magrez in 2012. One of Bordeaux’s leading personalities, Magrez is still going strong at age 83. He is lucky to possess great growths in each region that has a classification: Médoc, Saint-Emilion, Pessac-Léognan and, of course, Sauternes. I have long been a fan of Clos Haut Peyraguey, but less so in recent years. We tasted two wines. The 2015 Symphonie was, I’m sad to say, only the shadow of what a Sauternes should be, light and characterless, perhaps good as an aperitif. The 2015 grand vin had a pure, subtle bouquet, but was not as expressive as I would have hoped. The lack of oomph came through on the palate too, although the overall impression was improved by the aftertaste.

The following visit was to Château d’Arche, where things have been happening lately. They have opened a hotel in the château and built a very New World type of cellar, both in terms of architecture, interior design, and winemaking facilities. Clearly, they believe in the future of wine tourism in Sauternes! I have long enjoyed bottles of Château d’Arche, considering it a reasonably-priced, foursquare, reliable sort of wine. The two wines we tasted confirmed that opinion. The 2016 Prieuré d’Arche may have been showing some sulphur and was perhaps not at its best, but the 2011 grand vin was a joy, with an interesting bouquet (a little green, but in a good way, with spearmint overtones) and great presence on the palate, with a long aftertaste of tropical fruit, especially pineapple.

We ate lunch at l’Auberge des Vignes in Sauternes. This small restaurant was completely full and service was friendly, but slow. We nevertheless enjoyed some very good food. I ordered an entrecôte steak grilled over a whole vine trunk (rather than vine cuttings), my friends had two different dishes in a sauce they said were excellent, and we shared a dish of cèpes that was utterly delicious. This is my go-to place to eat in Sauternes. The other restaurant in this tiny town, Le Saprien, also upholds the reputation of fine French cuisine.

Our next stop was first growth Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, acquired five years ago by Swiss businessman Silvio Denz, owner of Faugères and Cap de Faugères (respectively in Saint-Emilion and the Côtes de Castillon). Dating back to the 13th century (!), The impressive château houses the cellar, a new gourmet restaurant (where I intend to go soon), and a boutique selling wine – and crystal gifts. That is because Mr. Denz also owns the Lalique, the famous French firm known for producing glass art. It is therefore not surprising that the restaurant is also called Lalique. Back to wine, we sampled three different ones. 2015 La Chappelle had a light, lively, fruit salad nose. It was vivacious and very satisfying on the palate. People often snub second wines and, while one needs to pick and choose, I often stress that some are really worthwhile. La Chapelle definitely comes into this category. It is not at all second-rate! We went on to taste two vintages of the grand vin. The 2015 had a very interesting, subtle bouquet with hints of lime, talc, and spice among other fragrances. There was great balance on the palate with a lovely long finish, what the French call “retro-nasal”. This is clearly an up-and-coming wine in the firmament of Sauternes. The 1999, made by the previous owners, was definitely showing its age with a bronze color. The nose displayed good botrytized fruit and burnt sugar aromas, but was well into the tertiary stage. The slightly oxidized qualities continued onto the palate, which went into a long aftertaste. There is no reason to age this wine any further.

Château Rabaud Promis, another first growth in Bommes, does a roaring business during the Portes Ouvertes. There are always plenty of people and they move a lot of wine. This is unquestionably good, if not stellar, and the price is right. Imagine a bottle of first growth Sauternes from a very good year (2015) at 27 euros a bottle!
The château provided a venue for people selling cheeses, pâtés, and other hot foods which unfortunately emitted odors that made tasting conditions less than ideal… We started with the second wine, the 2014 Raymond Louis. It must be said that this was rather disappointing, with a subdued nose and marked tartness on the palate. On the other hand, the 2015 grand vin was in another league, with surprising minerality and without the top-heaviness I usually associate with this estate. This was one of the better wines we tasted on our excursion.

 

The next estate was very much a change of pace. Château Briatte in Preignac is an 18-hectare estate that is the Sauternes equivalent of a cru bourgeois. This is a real salt-of-the-earth kind of place and the prices were among the least expensive we encountered. Imagine a genuine, perfectly acceptable Sauternes at 12 euros a bottle! Much of the production is sold in bulk to négociants, but about a third is château-bottled. We tasted the 2013, which saw no oak. This was on the weak side and a little sharp, pure but weak. The 2014 cuvée special, was perhaps more reminiscent of a moelleux (semi-sweet) wine from the right bank of the Garonne, but had notes of quince and crème brûlée. Good value for money. The 1999 (aged in vat) featured honeyed overtones and a nice aftertaste. Not a great deal of depth, but honest and enjoyable.

 

I have long been a fan of Château Haut Bergeron in Preignac, but this time around I was struck by the wines marked sweetness and heavy body. One might say an old-fashioned sort of wine. We started off with the 2018 (not bottled yet), which was tremendously sweet with promising tropical fruit nuances and some acidity to back-up the sugar. The following wine, 2016 Îlot, is made from a 4-hectare plot on the peninsula (rather than an island), where the two branches of the Ciron River meet.  There was a certain weightiness on the palate, but backed up by fresh acidity – a more “digestible” wine than its older brother. 2016 Haut Bergeron was big, very full-bodied, and quite sweet. The 2012 was just starting to show its age. It was quite rich, with a silky texture and considerable concentration. This is definitely a dessert wine, or for people with a sweet tooth. In my opinion, it is best enjoyed on its own, rather than at table. I believe that it is preferable to drink Haut Bergeron on the young side to take advantage of its exuberant fruitiness.

We crossed the border into Barsac to visit Château Gravas. My friends Florence and Michel Bernard were there to greet us. We tried just one wine, the 2016. This had an intriguing bouquet of honey, incense, and a slight greenness. As befits a Barsac, the structure was less rich, and more mineral. There was good acidity to back up the sweetness. Michel described this as a very “Anglo-Saxon vintage”. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that because I didn’t have an opportunity to ask him, but let us say that the style was the opposite of Haut Bergeron we had just visited. This really drives home the point that there are different types of Sauternes for different occasions.

Our twelfth and final visit of the day was to Château Doisy-Daënes where we met Jean-Jacques and Fabrice Dubourdieu, the sons of the late Denis Dubourdieu, Dean of Bordeaux University’s Institute of Vine and Wine Science and famous consultant at many prestigious châteaux. The first wine we tried was a 2010 Château Haura, from the tiny Cérons appellation. Wedged between the Graves and Sauternes, Cérons tends to make wines even less sweet and lighter in body than Barsac. However, the two appellations are more like brothers than first cousins in great vintages. This was the case in 2010 and Haura is a delightful wine that was a steal at 12 euros a bottle. I bought 6 of them. Château Chantegril is the “other” Dubourdieu estate in Barsac that is frequently overlooked due to cru classé Doisy-Daëne’s international reputation. Its price reflects this. 2015 Chantegril is nevertheless quite a serious wine, not heavy in any way and easy to drink.
Three vintages of Doisy-Daënes followed. The 2016 had an engaging subtle nose with hints of vanilla and the wine was very elegant and poised on the palate, with a long, mineral aftertaste. This would shine with food. The 2014 was quite pale in color with an understated bouquet. Although there was good acidity to balance the sweetness, this was good rather than great. The 2003 was typical of its vintage, a little overblown with perhaps too much sweetness for its make-up, but showing good botrytis and a smidgen of oxidation.
We finished with a taste of dry white Doisy-Daënes from the 2018 vintage. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc seemed a bit tart, one-dimensional, and with too much varietal character at the expense of everything else, but it was probably unfair to sample it after the sweet wines…

And thus ended our very action-packed day out in Sauternes.

 

Australians buy Médoc château

 

Château Cambon la Pelouse, a much-respected cru bourgeois in Macau has just been purchased by Treasury Wine Estaes (Penfolds), the 8th largest wine producer in the world. To give you an idea of their size, they have a two-billion euro turnover – more than the leading French merchant, Castel – two thirds of which is on export markets, and employ some 3,000 people.
In addition, TWE has concluded a distribution agreement with the Champagne-based Thienot group, owners of CVBG (Dourthe-Kressmann), and are also setting up their own export business of a range of French wines under the Maison de Grand Esprit brand.
The purchase of Cambon la Pelouse marks the first time a major Australian firm has invested in Bordeaux. The château has 65 hectares of vines in the Haut-Médoc appellation with an annual production of approximately 400,000 bottles under several different labels. The wines retail in French supermarkets for 15-17 euros a bottle.
The previous owner, Pierre Marie, is over 70 years old and his children were not interested in taking over the estate, so the sale was inevitable.
The château will be managed by Frenchman Sébastien Long, who has 10 years in the Australian wine industry under his belt.

2010 Ch. Lesparre: an interesting Graves de Vayres

Can there be any more esoteric Bordeaux appellation than Graves de Vayres? With 700 hectares of vines it is by no means the smallest (that would be Saint Georges Saint Emilion at 192 hectares), but it has, shall we say, a very low profile. The appellation produces dry white, red, and semi-sweet white wines.

Graves de Vayres is located on the left bank of the Dordogne in the communes of Vayres (famous for its château, a listed historical monument) and Arveyres in the northwestern part of the Entre-Deux-Mers region. There are 40 producers and the soil consists of alluvial terraces.

I don’t often drink the wines, but had a bottle of the 2010 Château Lesparre squirreled away in the cellar and figured that it should be showing well at age nine.

The color displayed a very deep, dark core and was just starting to brick on the rim.

The nose was not very profound, but featured attractive aromas of humus, candied cherry, and fennel, as well as a marked oak influence (vanilla, roast coffee beans).

The oak also came through on the palate. The flavor profile may have been somewhat angular and a little hollow, but redeemed itself on the aftertaste, even though this was a tad dry and grippy on the tail end. I came away with the feeling that this is perhaps an example of what happens when a wine of medium potential is somewhat overworked. Still, it is the sort of wine that shows much better at table and I am a sucker for off-beat bottles such as this. It is probably not far from its peak and if my tasting notes may have given the wrong impression, I enjoyed drinking it and furthering my knowledge of Bordeaux.

Château Lesparre belongs to the Gonet family, who also make wine in Champagne and own several estates in the Pessac-Léogan appellation (Haut Bacalan, Haut Brana, d’Eck, Saint Eugène, and Haut l’Evêque).

The Saint-Emilion classification runs into more trouble

I know the classification of the Médoc by heart and have pretty much memorized the ones in Sauternes and Pessac-Léognan too. But Saint-Emilion is another story.  There are more châteaux (81 versus 61 in the Médoc), some of the wines have only a tiny production and are hard to find and, most importantly, the classification changes – in theory every 10 years.

My English and American friends say that they pay little or no attention to the Saint-Emilion classification in their purchasing. Indeed, most consumers do not know there is a distinction between “grand cru” and “grand cru classé”, whereas there is a big price differential – and supposedly in quality too. This is made even murkier by the fact that the greatest classified wines have the same appellation contrôlée as a “grand cru” selling for 10 euros a bottle. It’s a very confusing system indeed. I once asked the winegrower’s association how many unclassified “grands crus” there were. No one could tell me. In fact, the definition is so elastic that lots from the cooperative cellar can be sold as grands crus.

Based on an innovative, modern, rational concept, the updating of the Saint-Emilion classification, first made in 1954, has instead led to a hopeless imbroglio. This started with legal challenges by châteaux stricken off the list in 2006.
Some of the parameters for inclusion seem rather arbitrary. The most controversial is the lesser importance given to tasting results for the first growths. Why should this be?

The story is long and involved, but the latest chapter is that Hubert de Boüard and Philippe Castéja, big cheeses in Bordeaux, who had been found innocent of “unlawful taking of interest” have just been called before the magistrate’s court by an investigating judge who overturned that verdict.
In a nutshell, de Boüard (part owner of Château Angélus and other Right Bank estates, as well as a former president of the Syndicat Viticole de Saint-Emilion and member of the INAO executive board) and Castéja (head of the powerful négociant firm of Borie Manoux, owner of Saint-Emilion first growth Château Trottevieille alongside prestigious vineyards in the Médoc, and former president of the CIVB Bordeaux Wine Council) stand accused of being “judge and jury” since they were involved in establishing the new classification – that included their own wines.

The elevation of Angélus and Pavie to “Premier Grand Cru A” status, on a par with Ausone and Cheval Blanc, in 2012 raised more than a few eyebrows. This was due not only to de Boüard’s troubling dual role, but also the fact that many Bordeaux lovers felt that the promotion was not deserved. Curiously, Gérard Perse of Pavie had his improved classification ranking engraved in huge letters on the pediment of his new wine cellar – a rather strange thing to do when one considers that this is not immutable!

In short, the Saint-Emilion classification is a mess. Having run into trouble in 2006, and again in 2012, I think the appellation probably has only one more chance before the entire thing is discredited. I sincerely hope the appellation puts their house in order in everyone’s best interest

 

 

 

Restaurant Quanjude – Chinese cuisine and Bordeaux wines

Even though I’m not very skilled at preparing it myself, I love Chinese food. My interest was therefore piqued in 2015, when a Chinese entrepreneur purchased Dubern, a Bordeaux restaurant and institution dating back to 1894.

Fifty-five-year-old James Zhou made a fortune by turning his small family firm into a powerhouse specialized in packaging, including the production of cans for Red Bull and Coca Cola in China. Francophile Mr. Zhou bought a wine estate in Tabanac (Château Renon in the Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux appellation – http://www.chateau-renon.fr/ ) in 2014, as well as the Auxerre football club in 2016.

In much the same spirit as he totally renovated Château Renon, Mr. Zhou successfully reinvented Dubern as Quanjude, which opened in November 2018. There are more than 50 Quanjude restaurants around the world, operated on a franchise basis. Some of them take up five floors and can seat up to 500 diners.

Three things make the one in Bordeaux unique.

For starters, it is the first to open in Europe, although several others are planned, starting with Paris.

The second reason is the restaurant’s hybrid Franco-Chinese style. Much effort was put into the decor, a very attractive blend of the Louis XIV style and Chinese chic, with tastefully-painted wall panels and beautiful furniture. The dining rooms are small and intimate. As might be expected, the porcelain is gorgeous. The staff are mostly French, including chef Olivier Peyronnet, and the cuisine is a delightful synthesis of French and Chinese influences.


I have a soft spot for restaurants such as Quanjude with a rather short menu. It shows that they have chosen to concentrate on what they do best. Normally speaking, I would have chosen the Peking duck, a dish on which Quanjude’s reputation was built, but this needs to be ordered by at least two people. Seeing as I was dining with my wife, who is allergic to gluten, this was not an option.

The series of dishes we sampled was visually enticing, delicious, and very refined. I will come back again for the Peking duck. To give you an idea of pricing, a seven course dinner revolving around this dish costs 100 euros. The regular evening menu is 60 euros. More information, of course, can be found on their web site: https://quanjude-bordeaux.com/

I came away totally enchanted with Quanjude. The setting is both luxurious and relaxed, and the food is exquisite. Just the day before, I had been invited to lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant I will not name. It was pretty much of a disaster. So the class act at Quanjude was doubly appreciated. I would best describe a meal there as a gracious gastronomic experience light years away from the typical Chinese restaurant (egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, etc.).

And as much as I love typical dishes from Southwest France – and I’m sure that is what visitors to Bordeaux are mainly seeking – I would warmly recommend Quanjude to anyone staying a few days who is looking for a refreshing departure from the usual litany of oysters, duck breast, entrecote, etc.


Then, of course, the third reason Quanjude Bordeaux is unique is wine. Reflecting the food menu, the wine list is on the short side, but with some very interesting bottles of various origins. Mark-ups are usual for this sort of establishment. I was delighted to see they offered a rare Palo Cortado sherry from the house of Lustau, so my wife and I enjoyed a glass as an aperitif. This was a medium-deep amber color and had a beautiful nutty, caramel nose. It was full-bodied with a soft, mineral, lingering finish. What a treat! It showed how much Bordeaux has changed over the years. Finding a unicorn wine like this would have been impossible not so long ago…

Seeing as I had chosen pigeon and my wife monkfish, we opted for a white wine, a 2014 Château Brown from Pessac-Léognan. I had discussed the choice with sommelière Thao Vo and she said that this was the one she would have recommended had I not mentioned it… I have appreciated white Château Brown (no, not a contradiction in terms!) for years and, in fact, prefer it to the red. The 2014 was a pale golden-yellow color with a complex bouquet of gooseberry, lemon, lanolin, and vanilla. The wine was luscious on the palate – very typical of its appellation – with a marked, but not obtrusive oak influence.

Chef Olivier Peyronnet

There is much discussion in France about matching wine and food. Frankly, I find much of it affected and superfluous. The same goes for wine with Chinese cuisine. I asked several people at Quanjude about this, and they agreed that other than a few very basic “rules”, most wines go very well with Chinese dishes. It’s as simple as that. I tend to favor white wines as a rule, but I’m determined to give the reds a go soon. Obviously, very spicy dishes do not partner well with many wines, but sweet white Bordeaux accompanies them surprisingly well.


As you might expect, Quanjude takes tea seriously. After the meal, my wife had red tea which was served with the appropriate decorum.

A 2011 Bx. blanc, a 2010 Lalande de Pomerol, and a 2001 Pichon Baron

A friend from Philadelphia I met on the Camino de Santiago in June came to dinner at my house last week and this was, of course, an occasion for defending the honor of Bordeaux wines.

As is often the case in Bordeaux, we kicked off with Champagne. This was a 2005 Pierre Gimonnet – a fresh, restrained, easy-to-drink wine with good minerality.

The first course was a salade tiède of scallops. Consisting of hot food (for instance: bacon bits, duck gizzards, duck hearts, lentils, etc.) served on a bed of greens, “lukewarm salads” are typical of cuisine in Southwest France. One with scallops was especially appropriate here since the scallop shell has been the symbol of pilgrims for centuries. The greens were mâche (lamb’s lettuce) and the scallops were coated with a vanilla cream sauce.

The wine to accompany this was a 2011 Château Mont Pérat AOC Bordeaux blanc. I always try to showcase the dry white wines of Bordeaux when visitors come to my house because these wines are little known and suffer from a mixed reputation. And as much as I adore the great growths, I also like to show how good the less-exalted, and more affordable wines can be. In the event, this wine paired beautifully with the seafood salad. It had also benefited from bottle age, acquiring complexity and honeyed nuances, and was sufficiently rich to complement the food.
Mont Pérat is a huge estate (a hundred hectares) in Capian, in the Premières Côtes region. The white wine is made with 65% Sémillon, 12% Sauvignon Blanc, and 4% Muscadelle.

Continuing in the vein of regional cuisine, the main course was entrecôte steak cooked over vine cuttings. This was served the traditional way, with a sauce made of bone marrow, shallots, and parsley – a failproof choice for accompanying the 2010 Château de Chambrun, Lalande-de-Pomerol.
I have a soft spot for this appellation and have been inducted into their vinous brotherhood, Les Baillis.
When I first arrived in Bordeaux, Lalande-de-Pomerol was sold at a similar price to Bordeaux Supérieur. No longer. The wines have improved greatly and the huge demand for Pomerol has spilled over into Lalande.
Owned for years by the Janoueix family, then by Silvio Denz, 7-hectare Château de Chambrun now belongs to the owners of Château Moncets in the same appellation. The grape varieties are 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.
Steak calls for a hearty wine and this Chambrun certainly fit the bill. In fact, it seemed like a fusion of the New and Old worlds. The color was very dark and the alcoholic degree was 15%! While the wine was chunky, almost meaty on the palate, and with plenty of heft, it nevertheless had the hallmarks of fine Bordeaux. In other words, while not for the fainthearted, it was a wine of elegance. At age 9 it was showing well, but will continue to improve.
Few people who tasted this wine blind would guess its origin. It most definitely had the hallmarks of Bordeaux, but far more those of Pomerol than of its less prestigious neighbor.Every good meal in France has a cheese course and there are always at least four at my house. When I went to the local cheese shop, I was amazed to discover one called Compostelle. This goat’s milk cheese has the impression of a scallop shell – a no-brainer for a meal bringing together pilgrims who had walked to Santiago!

The last red wine of the evening was a 2001 Château Pichon Baron. I love this château, a classic Pauillac, and am a fan of the 2001 vintage, somewhat overshadowed by the bigger, more upfront 2000. 2001 is what the Bordelais call an “Atlantic vintage”, meaning one that reflects the climate of a typical year with wet and cool periods, leading to wines with lower alcohol and fresh acidity. This was certainly the case with this Pichon Baron. It had a beguiling nose of humus, truffle, and telltale Pauillac graphite. The wine was eminently drinkable, i.e. a little on the light side, with a lovely aftertaste. A pure delight.

 

 

A 2005 Barsac and a 2009 Pomerol

Sorry for the hiatus in my posts. The main reason for this was a major undertaking in May and June: a pilgrimage. Leaving from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Basque country, I walked with my friend Pétrus Desbois some 800 km to Santiago de Compostela on a route that has been travelled by other pilgrims (of varying motivations) for centuries. A description of this wonderful experience lasting five weeks is certainly worthy of a long post with photos, but perhaps not on a blog devoted to Bordeaux wine…
Therefore, it’s back to the fascinating world of Bordeaux for me and my readers!

After a month in Spain, and weighing a few pounds less, I was delighted to see may family again and rediscover the creature comforts of home including, of course, my wine cellar!

So my re-introduction to Bordeaux was a dinner with two wines.

The first was a Sauternes or, more exactly, a Barsac choosing to be sold under the Sauternes appellation. 2005 Château La Clotte Cazalis had a medium-deep golden-amber color. The bouquet displayed fresh candied fruit, honey, and raisined grape nuances than botyritized ones. As befits a Barsac, the wine was not weighty on the palate. Featuring barley sugar flavors, it was on the whole somewhat weak, leading me to think that one of the better wines from the other side of the Garonne (Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Cadillac) might be just as good. This Barsac seemed younger than its age and more of a late-harvest wine than one made with noble rot.

The red wine to follow was 2009 Château Mazeyres from Pomerol. I remember tasting 2009 Right Bank wines en primeur and finding them rather big and alcoholic, and wondering how they would age. Recent experience has tended to show that they are on the early-maturing side. 2009 Mazeyres, made by the eccentric Alain Moueix, had a deep, dark core with marked bricking, looking perhaps older than its ten years. The nose, as expected, was redolent of ripe Merlot with some empyreumatic overtones. There were ethereal floral aromas as well, along with hints of resin and coffee, but the bouquet was nevertheless somewhat one-dimensional. This medium-weight wine was svelte and slightly minty on the palate, along with dark chocolate and licorice flavors. It was undoubtedly ready to drink and, in fact, just starting to dry out. This was a fine example of a good, affordable Pomerol that probably showed better at table than it would have in a tasting line-up.

 

 

 

2018 En Primeur Tasting Notes: Pauillac, Saint-Julien, and Saint-Estèphe

PAUILLAC

 

Aile d’Argent (Bordeaux AOC)
C: Medium pale
N: Just about screams Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc, along with a smoky quality.
G: Some oak, but not too much, and decent fruit and acidity, but this does not bespeak a great terroir. Good.

Château d’Armailhac
N: Not pronounced. Some Pauillac graphite aromas, but not much more.
P: Pretty and light. Dryish, slightly short aftertaste. Black fruit and some olive flavors. Good.

Château Batailley
N: Attractive, but simple.
P: Full-bodied, tangy, and very approachable. Zingy tannin and fine acidity. Candied fruit flavors and good tannic texture. Worthwhile potential, just needs time for the aromatics to come through more clearly. Good to very good.

Château Bellegrave
N: Penetrating pure Cabernet and candied red fruit aromas, but lacking definition at this point. Coffee, vanilla, crandberry, and blueberry nuances.
P: Full, a touch austere and a bit hollow in light of its body. Fluid. A commercial style, even though the aftertaste is fairly uncompromising and thus may indicate greater ageing potential than it at first seems. Good.

Carruades de Château Lafite
N: Subtle and sweet with cedar overtones and Lafite fruit (how to describe such a bouquet with words?) in minor mode.
P: Rich, medium-heavy mouth feel with sheets of flavor. Goes into velvety fine-grained tannin exuding class rather than power. The finish shows ripe, more rubbery tannin. Very good.

Château Clerc Milon
N: Subdued black fruit. That which is showing is excellent and encouraging.
P: Bigger than sister château, d’Armailhac, with fine balance. Great structure, good fruit, and lots of oak, but not too much (will integrate). Slightly mineral aftertaste. Very good.

Château Duhart Milon
N: Blackcurrant jelly, but rather underdeveloped.
P: Seems maybe a little flabby at first, but that impression is corrected to a great degree by the aftertaste. Aromatics of violet, blackberry, and raspberry. Fine structure accompanied by delicious flavors. Very good.

Château Fonbadet
N: Rich and rather floral with sweet fruit and good, subtle toasty oak.
P: Very full-bodied and unabashedly vigorous. A virile wine (despite a female winemaker!). Natural textbook Pauillac with promising fine-grained tannins and a promising future. Much better than my previous encounters with this wine. Good.

Les Forts de Latour
N: Sweet Cabernet fruit with good oak. Violet overtones. Rather closed, but showing good potential.
P: Round and fresh, with fine-grained tannin. Lots of oak on the finish, but the wine’s intrinsic structure will undoubtedly be able to handle this with age. Long aftertaste. Very good.

Château Grand Puy Ducasse
N: Rich peppery bouquet with a little greenness.
P: Better on the palate Big, oaky, and tight, with teeth-coating tannin. Aged 100% in new oak, and this shows. Good.

Château Grand Puy Lacoste
N: Toasty oak background to lovely uplifting fruit, especially blackcurrant. Quite subtle.
P: A soft, feminine sort of Pauillac with great follow-through. Delicious black and red fruit flavors. Long, well-focused aftertaste. The epitome of elegance. Excellent.

Château Lafite Rothschild
N: The unmistakeable hallmarks are there (lead pencil, cassis, etc.), but the bouquet is keeping its cards close to the chest at present.
P: Cool, rich, and juicy. The very definition of “velvety” on the palate with tannin of incredible finesse. The never-ending aftertaste never lets go of the coolness. Superb.

Château Latour
N: Subtle aromas of incense and graphite.
P: Weighty on the palate, showing ripeness, concentration, and authority. The ultimate Cabernet Sauvignon wine, with Latour’s fabulous tannic texture and super-long aftertaste. Extremely well-structured. The fruit comes through beautifully on the finish. Superb.

Château Lynch Bages
N: Sweet and understated with tobacco and blackcurrant liqueur nuances.
P: Full-bodied, vigorous, and dynamic. Full of fruit (more red than black) with uncompromising tannins that account for the grip and long aftertaste. Little dry on the finish. Will age beautifully due to the strong, but high-quality tannin. Very good.

Château Lynch Moussas
N: Sweet, undoctored, and somewhat ethereal ripe Cabernet aromas, although timid.
P: Starts out rich and sensual, going on to reveal fine-grained tannin, followed by a long aftertaste with some minerality. While the bouquet is underdeveloped, the wine is very good on the palate.

Château Mouton Rothschild
N: Very Pauillac, “butch” with meaty and graphite aromas along with some cassis and truffles
P: Tightly-wound, compact, big, and long with exquisite class and classic Cabernet tannin. Superlative.

Château Pédesclaux
N: Interesting aromatics with some toasty oak, but not very developed at this time.
P: Lively, fruity, and straightforward. Delicious. Nice tannin on the aftertaste with oak in check. Great fruit, but by no means a fruit bomb. Tad dry on the finish, but that will change over time. Very good.

Château Pibran
N: Sweet black fruit and briar aromas, along with blackcurrant leaves.
P: Not complex, but very satisfying. Big mouth feel and melts in the mouth. Fine tannic texture. Not great, but irreproachable. Good to very good.

Château Pichon Baron
N: Spicy, funky, terroir-driven Cabernet nose. Very concentrated and sweet.
P: Great balance, length, and potential. Sensual. Fresh. Classic. Uncompromising great Pauillac that, once again, has made a great showing. Very good.

Château Pichon Comtesse
N: A little dusty, but fine, subtle bouquet, including a floral element.
P: Seems very forward, but that is deceptive because there is plenty of oak and grape skin tannin on the finish to show the wine’s backbone and ageing potential. Touch dry on the finish at this time, but the estate’s profile is obvious and quite attractive. Very good.

Château Pontet Canet
The château unfortunately lost two thirds of the crop in 2018 due to mildew.
N: Highly original and lovely bouquet that is already extremely captivating, subtle, and spicy one could just sniff forever.
P: Regal, poised, fresh, and precise. A very elegant wine with fantastic minerality. Excellent.

SAINT JULIEN

 

Château Beychevelle
N: Delightful, tiny bit reduced.
P: Beautiful fine-grained tannin with a sweet bite, i.e. tangy acidity encased in pillowy richness. Firm, yet gentle aftertaste. Very good.

Château Branaire Ducru
N: Sweet refined brambly cassis aromas. Ethereal and promising.
P: Refreshing and tasty, but somewhat weak on the middle palate, with a short finish. Middle of the road wine. Neither the fruit nor the tannin is outstanding. Good.

Château Ducru Beaucaillou
N: Dark, concentrated fruit that would immediately make one think of a great Pauillac or Saint Julien if tasted blind. Very suave.
P: Dense, strong, and concentrated, but carrying its 15° alcohol with grace. Long aftertaste once again not burdened by alcohol. Fresh and full of blackcurrant and berry fruit. Regal. Excellent.

Château du Glana
N: Slightly off (problem with barrels?) with prune aromas.
P: Rich, but lacks backbone. Easy-to-drink and round into a slightly harsh aftertaste. Seems unbalanced at this time with striking acidity on the finish. Needs to come together more and be retasted. OK.

Château Gloria
N: Ripe, but simple.
P: Full, with dark fruit flavors. Fruit forward with perhaps more tannin from oak than grapes. This tannin nevertheless gives character to a wine that would otherwise be just easy-going and crowd-pleasing. Oak and cedar on the finish. Good.

Château Gruaud Larose
N: Fascinating nose redolent of lead pencil, spice (cinnamon), coffee, and blackcurrant. Textbook Saint Julien. Monumental.
P: Thick, big, voluminous, and with a silky texture. Delicious cherry flavors. Serious wine with a great deal of class. Excellent.

Château Léoville Barton
N: Blackcurrant, tobacco, and that indefinable something special found only in the finest Médocs. Somewhat reserved at present, but all the signs are encouraging.
P: Starts out angular, then round with assertive, but superb quality tannin. Long textured aftertaste. Will age beautifully. Excellent.

Château Léoville Las Cases
N: Attractive, spicy, exotic bouquet.
P: Big, but restrained. One does not feel the 14.5° alcohol, the most ever recorded at the estate. Lovely silky texture going into fresh acidity and pure fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon as one dreams of finding. Superb.

Château Léoville Poyferré
N: Lovely, subtle, and classic nose with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Beautiful velvety tannic texture with a sweet bite on the finish. Loads of blackcurrant fruit and tealike tannin. Fresh, with a long aftertaste. Very good.

Petit Lion de Léoville Las Cases
You can’t help but like the cuddly lion cub peering out from underneath the famous arch… I mostly avoid reviewing second wines, but this is one of the few that deserved special mention.
N: Ripe, but ethereal berry fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel with considerable freshness and plenty of fruit. Good length and a lip-smacking deliciousness. Good to very good.

Château Saint-Pierre
N: Discreet with some meaty and Cabernet Sauvigon varietal black fruit aromas.
P: Sensual, full, and bright. Bit modern in style with plenty of oak. Mouth-puckering tannin on finish, due in no small part to the oak. Good.

Château Talbot
N: Bit reduced and not forthcoming at this time.
P: Better, with chunky tannin and a brawny flavor profile. Not the most elegant of Saint Juliens, showing some tobacco and oak along with quintessential Cabernet fruit. Needs to be retasted at a later date. Good.

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

Château Calon Ségur
N: Deep forest floor aromas.
P: Super rich and “sweet” with candied black (cassis) fruit flavors. Bit of a bruiser. Quite tannic finish, but this shows great texture and, especially, great ageing potential. Licorice and blueberry flavors. Very good.

Château Cos d’Estournel
N: Incense, toasty oak, and a powdery quality.
P: Mouthfilling and big, going on to show great development on the palate. Finishes a little had due to the oak. Richer and smoother than Les Pagodes, with a longer aftertaste, but the gap is not that huge. Tremendous blackcurrant flavours. If the oak integrates this will be a treat. Very good.

Château Cos Labory
N: Not very forthcoming at this stage. Inky, with some white pepper notes.
P: Starts out soft and attractive, then shows the hardness and austerity I usually associate with this wine. Uncompromising and sturdy. Good.

 

Château de la Haye
N: Very sweet, extroverted nose of ripe Cabernet Sauvignon with a little smokiness. Deep and seductive.
P: After such a bouquet, the wine is unsurprisingly round and voluptuous on the palate. Big volume then dips on the middle, but picks up again to show good acidity and tannic texture on the aftertaste. Good to very good.

Château Lafon Rochet
N: Largely withdrawn, but some encouraging underlying fruity and floral aromas.
P: Starts out quite rich with good tannic texture and concentration. Puckery mouth feel. Well-made and elegant for an appellation not always known for that quality. Long velvety aftertaste. Let us hope the aromatics come out further. Good to very good.

Château Haut Marbuzet
N: Deep, pure, serious black fruit bouquet.
P: Rich, with teeth-staining tannin. Brawny, touch dry. Plenty of oak, but also plenty of fruit. Faithful to the estate’s style. Good to very good.

Château Meyney
N: Brambly, with fine cassis fruit and coffee nuances.
P: Rich, big, meaty, and fruity. Good tannic texture. A touch dry at present. Grand cru quality as is often the case with Meyney. Very good.

Château Montrose
N: Refined, restrained bouquet with floral and cedar nuances.
P: Big, but seems curiously less massive than the second wine, La Dame de Montrose. Slightly dry finish. Everything is here to blossom in the coming decades. Great balance between dark fruit and tremendous structure. The tannin coats the entire mouth, but it is of the highest quality. Excellent.

Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel (white) – Bordeaux AOC
This wine comes from further up the Médoc peninsula i.e. is not from Saint Estèphe.
C: Pale chartreuse.
N: Pure Sauvignon Blanc aromas along with some vanilla and crème brûlée nuances.
P: Angular, mineral, and overoaked. Good, but nothing special.

Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel (red)
N: Very marked by incense and resin aromas.
P: Great tannic texture and marked acidity. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Tart and refreshing despite the alcoholic degree. Will age well. A serious second wine. Very good.

Château Phélan Ségur (sorry, no photo)
N: Showing pure aromas of spring flowers and graphite.
P: Soft tannin, good fruit (blackcurrant), and fine-grained tannin. Perhaps a little short on the aftertaste but this is probably the best Phélan Ségur I have ever tasted. Very good.

Château Tronquoy Lalande (sorry, no photo)
N: Fine, pure, and fresh bouquet with blueberry overtones.
P: Full, but a little overblown and weak on the middle palate. Still, a fruity wine with a decent finish showing this estate’s ongoing ascension. Good to very good.