Category Archives: Tasting notes

Sauternes: visits to 13 châteaux in a day

I’m a great lover of Sauternes. Even if I don’t drink it on a regular basis, I am rarely disappointed when I open a bottle. I took advantage of a Portes Ouvertes weekend on Saturday the 7th of October to go to Sauternes and Barsac with Jarad and Gabriel, two young American enologists studying vineyard estate management at Bordeaux Sciences Agro (ex-Enita). I love these occasions to learn more about Bordeaux, and inevitably come away with a few bottles for the cellar…
This trip was both intense and pleasurable. I say intense because we visited thirteen estates. While this is not a record for me, it makes for a very full day.
In fact, we visited 5 first growths before lunch!

We started out at Ch. Rayne Vigneau, owned by the Crédit Agricole. This is one of the appellation’s great estates that more or less went into hibernation for a number of years. There has been a major effort to improve things and this is clearly reflected in recent vintages. We tasted the 2008 Madame de Rayne, the second wine, which was an attractive commercial wine, but the 2009 Rayne Vigneau was in another category altogether and the best I think I’ve ever had from this château: a very stylish, classy wine. I came away with a half bottle.
Also on sale in their boutique was a rare and unusual gift set. This consisted of three bottles of wines from the Crédit Agricole estates (Rayne Vigneau, Grand Puy Ducasse, and Meyney) aged in barrels made from the rare Morat oak: http://www.indianwineacademy.com/item_1_500.aspx
After a short stop at the Maison du Vin in Sauternes to pick up a map of châteaux participating in the Portes Ouvertes and tasting their generic Sauternes, 2012 Duc de Sauternes (the less said, the better…), we went on to Ch. Guiraud, owned by the Peugeot family along with Olivier Bernard and Stéphane de Neipperg. We tasted the second wine, le Petit Guiraud, from 2013 which did not leave as memorable impression. However, the 2005 Guiraud was much better, even though the degree of bitterness on the aftertaste detracted from the overall impression. Viticulture at Guiraud is both organic and biodynamic. I find that Guiruad takes on a deep color fairly early in the game and that it is not always one for the long haul.
Next stop was at Ch. La Tour Blanche, which has also been a lycée viticole since 1911. This large estate has a fine track record and students there help make the wine. Seeing as there was a sizeable crowd by the time we arrived (you didn’t used to see large groups of Chinese, how times have changed!), we stayed only long enough to sample the 2011 vintage, which was one of the better wines of the day.

 

We could park the car and visit the following two “sister châteaux” on foot. Sigalas Rabaud has always been a dependable wine, and we were not disappointed with what we tasted. Although the 2014 second wine, Demoiselle de Sigalas, was not exactly earth-shaking, the 2007 grand vin was pure and delicious, with fresh tangy acidity to counter-balance the sweetness. The next door neighbour, Rabaud Promis, was no slouch either. The château always has plenty of things going on during the Portes Ouvertes, so there were artisan food producers selling their wares and special promotions for the wine. The 2010 Rabaud Promis disappointed me, but the 2007 had it all together, with a deep long aftertaste. No way I was going to leave without buying a bottle, especially at the special price (if memory serves me right, under 24 euros). This brings to mind two comments.
The first is that the 2007 vintage is lovely in Sauternes, which only goes to show how red wine vintages and sweet wine vintages in Bordeaux can be very, very different (1982 is famous example of this phenomenon).
The second is that Sauternes represents superb value for money. In fact, the prices are so low that many producers encounter difficulty making ends meet. Why the low prices? Simply because Sauternes has gone out of fashion to a great extent, and few consumers realize its wonderful potential as a “food wine”. In Bordeaux, Sauternes is frequently enjoyed as an aperitif, which freaks out my English-speaking friends, who mostly consider it a “dessert wine” – something which makes people cringe in Sauternes.

Having 5 châteaux under our belt by 12:30, it was definitely time for lunch. This was enjoyed in the barrel cellar of Ch. Gravas in Barsac. I have known the owners, Florence and Michel Bernard, for years, so felt very much at home here. The 20 euro meal was classic Southwest France: duck foie gras and warm rillettes, duck leg in a Sauternes sauce with potatoes cooked in duck fat (naughty, but oh so scrumptious!), sheep’s cheese from the Pryenees with cherry jam, and pastis from the Landes. We enjoyed 2012 Gravas with the meal.
Doisy-Daënes is just across the road, so we of course stopped there. There were plenty of people and a jazz band. The whole Dubourdieu range was on show, but we restricted ourselves to the Barsac, which was as good as ever.

Next stop was Château Coutet, where we were taken around in English by Franco-American Aline Baly. Coutet is definitely worthy of its reputation, as confirmed by the 2005 we sampled. Once again, the price was eminently reasonable: 45 euros for a 10 year-old first growth from a great year. The wine is distributed to the trade exclusively by Philippe de Rothschild.
Our next stop was Château Suduiraut where the 2005 shone. This was rather old fashioned in style, with beeswax aromas, unabashedly rich complexity on the palate, and a touch of “rancio”.
One of the best wines of the day.
We went from there to Haut-Bergeron, also in Preignac, which I am not alone in considering one of the best-value wines in Sauternes. It was therefore not surprising that the place was mobbed. We quickly tasted the 2012, which was up to our expectations and were then off again. This is the first year that I have not bought any wine there, but I already have a fairly good stock. It is worth noting that Haut Bergeron makes a less expensive, more early maturing wine called Ch. Fontebride that is just wonderful.

I was intrigued to visit a small (6-hectare) nearby estate, Clos le Comte. This was recently constituted and the quality is very encouraging. They make a rich easy-going wine called Cuvée Emilie, and a more classic one, with ageing potential named Cuvée Céline. Quite close by is Domaine de Monteils, a 13-hectare estate that has been in the same family since the mid-19th century. Their wine is good and their barrel-aged cuvée prestige even better. There was some discussion here about the proposed new TGV train line from Bordeaux to Toulouse that will cut through the Sauternes vineyards. Apparently, there is genuine concern about its effect on the delicate ecosystem conducive to botrytis. After a long legal battle, the right to build the train line was recently upheld, but now it appears that there is not the money to pay for it!

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The last stop of the day was at Ch. Laville whose dependable wine I have known for some time. I enjoyed both their first and second wines and came away with a bottle of each. But what really made my head spin (no, nothing to do with consumption of alcohol, I religiously spit) was to come across a late harvest Riesling-Gewurtztraminer blend produced in Sauternes! Of course, this is not entitled to the appellation, but not only is it very rare – dare I say, a unicorn wine? – but also quite delectable, with the zippiness and spiciness of its two main components. It will be an excellent one to serve blind one day when I am feeling particularly sadistic…
And so ended a wonderful day out that renewed my love for the mysterious and wonderful wine of Sauternes.

A foray into the Côtes de Bourg / May 2017 (11 châteaux)

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I often refer to “Portes Ouvertes” on my blog. Taking place over a two or three-day weekend, these “Open Cellars” operations are marvelous opportunities to discover some of Bordeaux’s lesser-known appellations and estates – and to add to the cellar :-).

Most of the Côtes regions in Bordeaux (Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs, and Sainte-Foy) joined forces to promote their wine in 2009, and changed the name of their appellation at that time. Castillon thus became “Côtes-de-Bordeaux-Castillon”, Blaye became “Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux”, and so forth.

However, the Côtes de Bourg decided to remain apart.

My day began at the Maison du Vin in Bourg-sur-Gironde. The factoid here is that Bourg is not actually on the Gironde! The course of the river changed over the centuries, and it is now on the Dordogne. Anyway, the Maison du Vin (http://www.cotes-de-bourg.com/les-cotes-de-bourg/la-maison-des-vins/) is extremely well geared up for wine tourism with a beautiful modern tasting room overlooking the river and a huge boutique. The advantage of wines from Bourg, of course, is their price.  I visited eleven châteaux in the Côtes de Bourg, and not one wine was over 20 euros a bottle.

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The port of Bourg-sur-Gironde

Here is a list of the 11 estates I visited in alphabetical order with brief comments:

Château Brulesécaille: This was my last visit of the day. Historically, Brulesécaille is one of the leading estates in Bourg. While I found their 2015 white pedestrian, I very much enjoyed their fruity, delicate 2015 rosé and bought a couple of bottles. The 2014 red was as dependable as always. The Rodet family also own an estate in Saint-Emilion, Ch. Yon Saint-Christophe, which suffered terribly from the frost this year. The damage in the Côtes de Bourg seemed to be much less catastrophic, probably due to the tempering influence of the neighboring estuary.

Château Conilh Haut Libarde: I met the father and son at this small estate on a rise and tasted their regular cuvée from 2012 and their Cuvée Excellence in 2012 and 2014. The latter were especially good and screamingly good value for money. I also tried wine from a sister château located on a different terroir, Ch. Font-Guilhem, that was not quite as impressive.

Château Eyquem: Located a stone’s throw from Château Tayac, and also affording a beautiful view over the estuary, Eyquem is named after the famous philosopher Michel de Montaigne, whose family name was Eyquem. I was warmly welcomed in an attractive, spacious, and modern tasting room by Xavier Carreau, who is at the head of some 140 hectares of vineyards in Bourg and Blaye. The tasting started off with 2016 Ch. Barbé, a white wine from Blaye which was technologically impeccable and attractively priced, but did not seem much like a vin de terroir. 2014 Eyquem was in a tasty up-front commercial style and very good at its price point. Vignobles Bayle-Carreau also own Ch. Landereau, from a different part of the appellation, which was a more serious wine.

Château Fougas: This is one wine from Bourg I know is well-distributed in the US.  Robert Parker’s benediction is surely not for nothing here… The Bechet family vineyard is certified both organic and biodynamic. I tasted through 3 of their wines: the 2104 regular cuvée which was decent enough, followed by the well-known Maldoror which had a shortish aftertaste, but was otherwise a good middle-of-the-road wine. The top of the line, also from 2014, was the Forces de Vie cuvée. This was rich and interesting, if a bit dry. It punches above its weight. The 2012 vintage of the same was unfortunately much less good, with decided bretty aromas.

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave: This was my first stop of the day. The attractive 16th century château (renovated in the early 19th century) offers a commanding view of the surrounding vine-covered countryside. For what it’s worth, they also have guest rooms. I have enjoyed the château’s white wine for a long time and the 2015 vintage did not let me down. I bought 3 bottles. The reds were unfortunately not as good. We sampled the regular 2015, the 2014 Cuvée Caractère, and the 2014 Cuvée Nectar. The Caractère was the best of the three, but nothing special. And there was a certain dryness on the finish with all of them.

Château Gros Moulin: This château is located just outside the town of Bourg. Owner Jacques Eymas poured us several wines. His 2012 Lys du Moulin, a white Bourg, was fresh but lacking the personality and his rosé (sold as Vin de France rather Bordeaux because the tasting panel found it was not typical enough…) which was, in effect, a bit unusual, but gulpable and with a mineral finish – perhaps more interesting than good. The 2014 red Gros Moulin was characterful and assertive, if a bit rustic. The Eymas family also produce two special cuvées: Per Vitem Ad Vitam (Latin for par la vigne, pour la vie) is a very serious and interesting wine, and I came away with a bottle. I found the next wine, Heritage 1757, to be big and juicy, but perhaps a little too dry due to the oak. Stéphane Derenoncourt is winemaking consultant for Gros Moulin and his positive influence clearly comes through here.

Château Haut-Macô: This was the second estate I ever featured on my blog and I have been following it for years. The cellar is quite modern and the wine represents unbeatable value for money. I tasted the 2014 regular cuvée, which was good enough, but the not-much-more-expensive Cuvée Jean-Bernard was much better. Everyman’s fine Bordeaux J.

Château de l’Hurbe : I went here for lunch, but did not visit the cellars or have a tasting as such. I nevertheless enjoyed two of the wines over a leisurely lunch with the owner, Marc Bousseau on a trestle table in the vat room along with about 30 other people: the 2015 dry white wine and the 2012 red, sold under the name Château Sirac. If not memorable, both of these were good. I was not altogether convinced by their  small production (700 bottles) cuvée prestige.

Château Mercier: I have posted a profile of this tried-and-true Côtes de Bourg on my blog. Mercier is evidently well-considered in the region, because the place was mobbed for lunch. I did not taste here because I already know the wine and have several vintages in my cellar. I did, however, buy their excellent bag-in-box white wine. Three of them, in fact. At under 14 euros per three-liter box of delicious estate-bottled wine, how can you go wrong? I find this format especially useful for anytime wine and cooking wine.
Mercier was showing, wait for it, some 21 vintages of their red wine. My palate was a bit jaded at that point, so I begged off.  Mercier also produce a very interesting wine without sulfur called Atmosphères.

Château Nodoz: Nodoz is a well-known traditional estate. I found that their 2015 white was lacklustre, whereas the red from the same vintage was simple, soft, round, fruity, and delicious. Wine from the sister estate, 2015 Château Galau, was barrel-aged, but I actually preferred the unoaked version of Nodoz. 2015 Château le Nègre (a name that might not go over very well in some countries…) was overly tannic, i.e. was not very refined, whereas the barrel-aged version of 2015 Nodoz was well-integrated with a silky texture and a long aftertaste. A fine bottle.

 

Château Tayac

Château Tayac: One of Bordeaux’s huge advantages is to have wine estates with impressive buildings. Tayac is one such estate, with an attractive château overlooking the Bec d’Ambès, that the pointy tongue of land where the Dordogne and the Garonne meet to form the Gironde. I was taken with the 2015 white wine in terms of value for money and also tasted the 2014 Rubis du Prince Noir, the 2014 Cuvée Réservée, and the 2014 Cuvée Prestige. All were good, solid, old-fashioned wines. I went on to sample the 2010, 2009, and 2000 Prestige bottlings. The shared profile was of fairly grippy, long-maturing wines.

Some of my “Anglo-Saxon” friends wail that Bordeaux has become too expensive. They should go to the Côtes de Bourg! Of course, not all the wines are worthy of special interest, but when you find a good one, the prices are ridiculously inexpensive. In fact, I think such wines can hold their own in terms of value for money with ones from anywhere else in the world.

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Pontet Canet dinner in London – May 2017

I have heard about Nigel Platts-Martin’s famous London restaurants (the Square, the Ledbury, Chez Bruce, the Glasshouse, and La Trompette) for years, so I was anxious to go to one of them when my friend Ian Amstad told me he was organizing a wine dinner focusing on Château Ponet Canet at La Trompette on the 3rd of May. Owner Alfred Tesseron kindly agreed to come over from Bordeaux to attend the meal and to comment on the wines.

La Trompette

Main dining room at La Trompette

Ian, Tim Mc Cracken from Paris, and I met Alfred at Dukes Hotel in Mayfair and then took a long taxi ride with him to Chiswick where La Trompette is located.

There were 16 of us from 5 different countries at two tables set apart from one of two main dining rooms with a screen. I sat with Nigel on my left and Alfred on my right. Nigel seemed amazingly at ease for a restaurateur. This is because he knows how to delegate and trusts his staff. They most certainly did not let him down.
Alfred was also at ease in English and speaking in public. In addition to anecdotes about Pontet Canet, he also talked about his Cognac business and his family’s recent purchase of Pym Rae vineyard in the Napa Valley, an estate formerly belonging to Robin Williams.

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                                                                                     A forest of glasses!

Service was superb throughout the meal, with a different glass for each wine. The food was top-notch and the main course as good as anything I might find in France.

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We started off with 2004 Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill for the apéritif. This was quite a fine Champagne, but I cannot honestly say that it had a special spark or inspiration.
I don’t think that anyone would have taken the 1999 white Château Pape Clément (45% Sémillon, 45% Sauvigon Blanc, and 10% Muscadelle) for an 18-year-old wine if served blind! It had a very pale golden color and a nose of lemon and oak, plus a matchstick aroma. It was quite virile on the palate, with a long persistent aftertaste showing plenty of oak – maybe too much. This still has many years ahead of it and I wouldn’t see its peak before 2025.

1994 Pontet Canet: This is hardly considered a stellar year, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The color was a lovely deep aristocratic crimson. The nose clearly said Pauillac with ripe fruit, truffle, and graphite overtones. The wine was soft, mineral, and well-balanced on the palate. Slightly thin compared to the greatest vintages, it is nevertheless a very commendable effort.

1996 Pontet Canet: Once again, a fine deep, dark color. The bouquet was somewhat monolithic with pencil shaving aromas. The wine was a bit dumb on the palate, and one has the impression that it still needs time some 21 years after the vintage. The tannin is fine-grained. The 94 is more ready and user-friendly, but the 96 will be a better wine when it reaches its peak in perhaps ten more years. While not forthcoming or together at this stage, the potential is clearly there. The finish is long and promising.

2003 Pontet Canet: This is quite a controversial wine among Bordeaux lovers, with its champions and its detractors… The color was fine, and the nose pure and up-front. The wine was big, spherical, and raisiny on the palate. It seemed strong, assertive, and a bit dry, while lacking in a marked underlying character. The overall structure was massive with plenty of grip, dry tannin, and black fruit on the finish. I don’t see where this is going, but I have one bottle in the cellar and will give it a few years more to find out. In other words, this is not at all the sort of 2003 that is top-heavy, low in acid, and to drink young.

2005 Pontet Canet: This wine had a deep, impressive color and an altogether classic nose of cedar and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in its region of predilection. The bouquet was somewhat New World in its concentration and exuberance. This quality followed through on the palate, which was meaty and a little extravagant, with fine oak. A long mineral aftertaste bodes well for further ageing. I’d give it about 15 more years.

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2009 Pontet Canet: The color was impeccable, as deep as one could hope. The nose was redolent of caramel, oak, and subtle cassis, whereas the taste featured coffee-vanilla components and spread out beautifully on the palate. The balance was superb. This wine was both gutsy and elegant. There is also what I’d call a streak or a line of cool, refreshing minerality that gives this vintage of Pontet Canet its unique personality and makes it extremely interesting. I tasted this wine en primeur in 2010 the same day I went to three first growths – and Pontet Canet showed in the same class… I was not at all disappointed with retasting, and it unquestionably holds tremendous promise.

2011 Pontet Canet: Fine youthful appearance with a bouquet showing toned-down oak and gorgeous blueberry, blackberry, and blackcurrant fruit aromas. Rich and full on the palate, but not exaggerated. There was obvious oak and a caramel flavor that needs to integrate over time. This is a “digestible” wine that was unexpectedly delicious. One to watch.

2012 Pontet Canet: Great color with a nose of ripe fruit, graphite, and sweet oak. This oak, along with a caramel flavour, compete with the fruit at this time, but the wine is just going through an awkward phase in my opinion. Although my least favorite wine of the tasting, it would be unfair to say that it was wanting. It simply needs to come together.

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We finished with an Yquem which, as always, is a great way to end a meal, even if this particular bottle of 1976 seemed a little tired. However, that was not to be the last word since Alfred was also kind enough to pour us all a glass of his Lot N° 53 Perfection Grande Champagne X.O. Cognac. Like all the best brandies from the Charente, it was feather light and elegant to the point where you have no idea that you are drinking a strong spirit!

2016 great growths: Pomerol and Saint-Emilion (40 wines)

Pomerol
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Beauregard (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Inky and sweet. Fresh, strong and serious. A little spirity and roasted with earthy aromas.
P: Feminine and soft. Melts in the mouth. Finishes rich but not overdone. Juicy and especially tart. A delicate sensual wine. Worth seeking out.

Le Bon Pasteur (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Dried fruit. Slightly dusty.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fills out nicely on the palate. Soft tannin and one has the impression of alcoholic strength, but not in a way that detracts. Rubbery (empyreumatic) notes and slightly dry aftertaste. Oak plays too major a role at the present time.
This estate was sold to a Chinese owner by Michel Rolland.

La Cabanne (94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc)
N: Noticeable reductive notes, but this may not be a fair time to taste. Biscuity with hints of black fruit jelly.
P: Soft and unctuous. Seems traditional with little oak influence. A decent Pomerol, but not one of the best.

Clinet (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Bright, pure, and rich yet understated fruit. Roasted quality, but interestingly so (not outrageously toasty oak). Deep and good.
P: Shows more grip and structure than other wines tasted. A step up. Fresh, round, and has a great finish. The dryness should disappear with age. A very fine Pomerol.

La Croix de Gay (95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Rich and spicy (cinnamon) with grassy, blueberry, chocolate, and liquorice notes.
P: Heavy mouthfeel. Sweet and a little obvious. Big, round type of Pomerol, but lacks depth. The aftertaste seems rather dry and I hope that the oak integrates later on.

Gazin (87% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Spirity and spicy. Very ripe. A little heat.
P: Manages to be big and delicate at the same time. Very soft, but shows plenty of character going into a vivacious aftertaste. The oak finish hides some of the lovely ripe fruit at present, but further ageing should put things in balance.

Petit Village (77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Deep and slightly spirity bouquet showing great Pomerol typicity and wild berries. Both serious and charming.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satiny high-quality tannin from beginning to end with a cushioned texture. Juicy and tart. Long aftertaste. Refreshing and thirst-quenching. A very superior Pomerol.

La Pointe (83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc)
N: Rich fruit along with meaty aromas and overtones of humus and musk. Fine bouquet of a vin de terroir.
P: Quite round on entry but does not quite maintain the momentum before reaching the classy aftertaste. The almond and vanilla aromatics come more from the soil than the oak. There is also a burnt rubber component. Light-weight for its appellation.

Saint Emilion
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Barde Haut (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and fairly non-descript compared to its peers.
P: Chunky, a little confected. A crowd-pleasing sort of wine with marked acidity. A little hollow on the middle palate. Tangy aftertaste showing some minerality. A good commercial style.

Bellefont-Belcier (72% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Toasty oak and accompanying roast coffee aromas predominate.
P: Full, rich sensual attack then drops and returns with a pleasant rather mineral aftertaste. Seductive, easy-going, and typical of its appellation. Will be enjoyable young.
This château was recently sold by a Chinese to a Maltese. Bordeaux is nothing if not international!

Cadet Bon (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Very closed. Rich, but simple.
P: Melts in the mouth almost like fruit juice (i.e. texture and “sweetness”). Good mineral aftertaste. The sort of wine you don’t have to think about, just enjoy. The dryness on the tail end will probably diminish with ageing when the oak integrates.

Canon La Gaffelière (55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Unusual medicinal nose of herbs and eucalyptus. Perhaps just a stage.
P: Much better on the palate. Velvety texture and rich berry fruit that does not let up until the end of the long aftertaste. The oak dries out the finish at this early stage, but if care is taken should not intrude later on. Excellent wine with good potential.

Le Chatelet (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft blueberry aromas with some alcohol and chocolate notes.
P: Fine fluid juicy quality. Refreshing. Natural, with good follow-through and appetizing tannin on the finish.

Chauvin (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Pure, although subdued fruit. Oak presently has the upper hand. Some herbaceousness.
P: Herbs on the palate too. Tight and fairly dry with a weak middle palate. Unbalanced at present. Simply too much oak. However, this could change by the time the wine has been bottled and aged. Needs to be re-evaluated.
This estate was bought by the Cazes family of Lynch Bages in 2014.

Clos Fourtet (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Pure, fresh, and classy. Needs only time to express itself fully.
P: Sinewy, compact, and penetrating. Heavy mouth feel. This is a big wine that spreads out on the palate. Shows some alcohol. Fine-grained grippy tannin. Slightly hot aftertaste, but this is nevertheless a winner that should age very well.

Clos des Jacobins (80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Very toasty oak and coffee aromas. Too much. You feel as though you are smelling a cup of espresso. Some herbaceousness comes out with aeration.
P: Much better on the palate so let us hope that the oak integrates later on. Big, mouthfilling wine with lovely fruit waiting to come out from the yoke of the oak (hey, I’m a poet and don’t even know it!). Dry aftertaste. Please save Private Ryan and reduce the oak here. Everyone will be happier.
This estate is owned by the Decoster family who came from the Limoges china industry.

Clos la Madeleine (75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc)
N: Low-key fruit with the sensation of freshly-mown grass.
P: Starts out big and then drops precipitously. Hollow on the middle palate. There’s a nice fruity tanginess on the aftertaste but this capitulates to the oak at present.

Corbin (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Pure seemingly unoaked bouquet. Fresh and seems more floral than fruity.
P: Chunky, rich, and mouthfilling, but does not develop quite so well on the palate. Really big and round but also hollow. How will the oak integrate? At present it overwhelms what would have been a great aftertaste.

La Couspaude (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Subtle, fresh, and concentrated berry liqueur notes with some grassy aromas.
P: Tasty and sweet but somewhat one-dimensional. The fine aftertaste brands it as a Saint Emilion. Quite juicy going into a tart mineral finish. Good but not stellar.
Couvent des Jacobins (85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Very primary fruit with a herbaceous quality.
P: Juicy and tasty. A little dry on the aftertaste, but there is lovely upfront joyous fruit. Let us hope that everything evens out in the end.

Couvent des Jacobins (85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Very primary fruit with a herbaceous quality.
P: Juicy and tasty. A little dry on the aftertaste, but there is lovely upfront joyous fruit. Let us hope that everything evens out in the end.

Dassault (73% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Slightly reduced nose. Pronounced, but not complex, with plum nuances. Alcoholic smell of slightly overripe Merlot.
P: Rich, silky, and brawny going into an unexpectedly fresh and especially mineral aftertaste. A wine of strong character and a good Dassault.

Destieux (66% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Soft, biscuity, and enticing, but not really expressive and focused yet.
P: Rich, melts in the mouth, big, round, fresh, and sensual. The oak is largely under control and there is a fine textured aftertaste. Lots of pleasure here. Only the muted nose keeps this from being a winner. Let us hope that this comes out over time.

La Dominique (80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Lots of toasty oak. A little hollow and alcoholic at this time.
P: Sinewy and velvety. Soft with a medium-heavy mouth feel and a flavour that dips before coming back into a long tannic and mineral aftertaste. A serious, sturdy, broad-shouldered wine that is, once again, a little dry on the finish at this time.

Fleur Cardinale (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Cherry-vanilla aromas accompanied by a strong blackberry component. Beautiful ripe bouquet. Still, needs to come together, which is hardly surprising.
P: Big mouthful of wine. Spreads out confidently on the palate. Round and sensual with a silky texture. Excellent.

La Fleur Morange (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
N: Subtle black cherry aromas.
P: Medium body and silky texture. Well-balanced with oak in check and showing nice minerality. High quality tannin. Classic and satisfying. I was delighted to discover this fine cru classé I did not know.

Fonplégade (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and not very expressive. Underlying black fruit waiting to be liberated. Some understated oak.
P: Sweet juicy fruit with a refreshing, thirst-quenching quality. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Oak dominates the aftertaste, but this could very well change over time. Very good.
The château has been certified organic since the 2013 vintage.

Fonroque (85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc)
N: Honest, forthright, subtle nose of black fruit.
P: Fills out nicely on the palate. Chunky with exuberant fruit. Good mineral aftertaste and not too dry. Surprisingly good and seems like an excellent value this year.

Franc Mayne (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc)
N: Some reduction there. Not in very good form this day. Deep, slightly spirit blueberry and fresh leather.
P: A certain tartness and an average quality compared to other crus classés. Strong limestone-induced minerality on the aftertaste.

Grand Corbin (80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Beautiful fresh and largely floral nose (field of spring flowers) with fruit not far behind as well as some chocolate nuances.
P: This strange and unexpected floral quality carries over to the palate. Thickish body and a long earthy aftertaste with mineral and oaky overtones. Perhaps more interesting and unusual than good.

Grand Mayne (85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft, natural, and seems virtually unoaked. Deep and mysterious with lovely Merlot fruit.
P: Big and round, but with a slightly dilute quality. Displays the trademark finish of wines from the Saint Emilion plateau: an unmistakable limestone minerality. Toned-down compared to some other vintages from this estate. Very good.

Grand Pontet (75% Merlot, 17.5% Cabernet Franc, and 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Cherry cough syrup
P: Big, full and sweet. Does not really follow through from the attack to the dry finish. Going on towards being a fruit bomb. Ends really very dry due to oak. A pity because there are some unquestionably good aspects to the wine.

Jean Faure (50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot, and 5% Merlot)
N: Not much going on. Wait and see.
P: Big volume but hollow. Unattractive dry aftertaste. Clobbered by the oak.

Larmande (77% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Discreet, fresh, and attractive black fruit with some toasty oak.
P: Sweet, round, and sensual Merlot melts in the mouth. Very good and will be quite enjoyable young.

Laroze (65% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Blueberry aromas, but not very subtle.
P: Seems almost more floral than fruity on the palate, and goes from a chunky rich attack into a rather dry aftertaste. Not the most distinguished of the tasting.

Péby Faugères (100% Merlot)
N: Inky, dark, mysterious, and promising bouquet. I must have been carried away… My notes say “a beautiful Andalusian woman”!
P: Complex, and round, with a lovely texture. Impeccable. Wonderful soft tannin. Seductive, yet serious and the oak is within reason. Is Silvio Denz gunning for first growth status? If this bottle is anything to go by, he is well on his way. Between the special Lalique embossed bottle and the price tag, I was expecting to find something overdone. But no, this is really good.

La Serre (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Bit herbaceous and rustic. Some chocolate, cherry, and oak notes.
P: Big, but a bit flabby. Refreshing, but lacklustre. Minerality typical of Saint-Emilion’s limestone plateau on the aftertaste, but this is somewhat of an afterthought… Proper, just not special.

Soutard (63% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Malbec)
N: Fresh, sweet, and pure aromas of brambly fruit with some chocolate nuances.
P: Big with a heavy mouth feel, but the impressive entry seems a little diluted thereafter, going on somewhat disjointedly into a puckery mineral finish. A different style from the sister château, Larmande, and needs more time to age.

La Tour Figeac (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
N: Not a lot of personality. Sweet and simple.
P: Much better on the palate. Melts in the mouth and then asserts itself with considerable volume, marked berry flavors, and noticeably high alcohol. Good tannin, minerality, and long fruity finish. A sleeper.

Troplong Mondot (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Strong berry liqueur aromas. Alcohol. Not complex.
P: At 15° this reminds me a bit of Harlan from California in that I don’t want to like it, but end up being taken in. Close-minded, moi? A New World type of wine in many respects. Concentrated, big, and unrelenting, yet deeply soft. I liked it despite a hot, dry aspect to the finish. Go figure.

Villemaurine (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Floral, lead pencil, and earthy notes
P: Starts out big, round, and generous, then backs off and dips, going on to display a combination of rich fruit and minerality. Long berry aftertaste with an oak influence that needs some watching. Very good.

2016 Pessac-Léognan (13 wines)


Bouscaut (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and 7% Malbec)
N: Soft, simple, and direct. Understated and good.
P: Unexpectedly light and feminine. Not in keeping with the château profile. I can only deduce that this is not the best sample, because I feel the wine is only a shadow of what it should be. Very oaky aftertaste. To try again down the line.

Carbonnieux (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot)
N: Slightly medicinal. Relatively closed and not showing much fruit at this time.
P: “Fluid”, easy-going, and not over-extracted. However, too light and disappointing when the improved performance of this château’s red wine in recent years is considered.

Carmes Haut Brion (41% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: A certain tankiness there but, once again, that cannot be held against a wine this young, and may well dissipate. The alcohol overwhelms the berry fruit somewhat at this stage.
P: Soft and lively. Good acidity and discreet fine-grained tannin. Considerable sweetness and Graves typicity on the finish. Agreeably old-fashioned in a way. Needs time for greater balance, but promising.

Domaine de Chevalier (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Inky, serious, and enticing nose of ripe black fruit with a touch of mint.
P: Smooth and sophisticated with a vein of fresh acidity. Good fruit, resonant tannin, and a long aftertaste. Oak seems fairly strong at this stage. Very good indeed.

Fieuzal (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Rich soft-pedalled wildberry aromas.
G: Certainly refined, but on the light side and lacks stuffing. Relatively long, but not very vigorous finish.

Haut Brion: (56% Merlot, 6.5% Cabernet Franc, and 37.5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Restrained and aristocratic. My notes say: “soft, soft, and soft”.
P: This quality comes through on the palate as well, within a delicate tannic framework. Elegant to the end of its fingertips… Velvety texture and no rough edges even at this stage. Superb acidity. Will be a great beauty down the line.


Larrivet Haut Brion (62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc)
N: Slightly rustic but forthright with intense berry aromas and a bit of greenness. Honest. Not messed around with.
P: Quite natural on the palate as well. Vibrant acidity with an oak kick on the finish, but this is not over the top. Good middle-of-the-road wine reminding me somewhat of La Louvière, although different, of course.

Latour Martillac (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Elegant, including the oak. Restrained and aristocratic with black cherry aromas.
P: Gorgeous ripe fruit at first and then thins out some. Typical of its appellation. Sleek and on the light side. Good medium-long aftertaste.

La Louvière (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Upfront with fine blueberry aromas. Not overoaked.
P: Plush soft berry fruit. Very Pessac-Léognan. Medium-light body. Clean mineral aftertaste with a mint/eucalyptus component. One for mid-term ageing.

 

Malartic Lagravière (53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Ethereal and pretty cherry liqueur bouquet.
P: Round and feminine with lovely follow-through. Wonderful perky tannin with vivacious acidity. Not rich, but not light either. Despite a thirst-quenching quality, this is a serious wine with great aromatics. My notes say “vin de gastronomie” meaning it would shine especially at table with refined cuisine.
Mission Haut Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
P: Full-bodied, even chunky, as well as quite mineral with excellent follow-through. Otherworldly aftertaste with tannin of enormous finesse. There is first class acidity to counterbalance the full body. Killer, never-ending finish…

Mission Haut Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
P: Full-bodied, even chunky, as well as quite mineral with excellent follow-through. Otherworldly aftertaste with tannin of enormous finesse. There is first class acidity to counterbalance the full body. Killer, never-ending finish…

Olivier (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Penetrating nose with alcohol coming through more than fruit. Also a note I can only describe as acetone.
P: Chewy, a bit hollow, rough, and dry. This wine is not together and needs to be retasted to form a more accurate impression.

DSC03141
Pape Clément (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot)
N: Deep, brooding dark fruit aromas just emerging. Strong but unfocused. Rhônish.
P: Round inside a framework of fruit and oak tannin. Too much oak? Time will tell. Bit dry on the aftertaste, but also mineral. Uncertain prognosis at this time.

2016 great growths: Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, and Saint-Julien (30 wines)

Pauillac
======


Armailhac (62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: Sweet oak for the sweet fruit (blackcurrant and rich ripe blackberry).
P: Mouthfilling, rich, and attractive, but lacks backbone. Marked acidity on finish coats the teeth. Oak comes through too strongly, but this may just be temporary.

Batailley (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc)
N: Ripe fruit and plenty of oak, perhaps too much at this stage. Classic.
P: Round seductive attack, then dips, then returns with an aftertaste marked by acidity, tannin, and oak (especially the latter). Unexciting, but dependable.

Clerc Milon (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Carménère)
N: Lovely, powerful bouquet with decided violet nuances and some alcohol. Also blackberry and cassis nuances.
P: Round with a fine acid streak. Medium-long aftertaste. Really very good.


Croizet Bages (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Sweet and simple, needs time to express itself.
P: Melts in the mouth. Sensual and fruit forward with sweet oak on the finish, perhaps too much at the present time. Simple structure and weak on the middle palate. Better than Croizet Bages has been in the past, but the improvement is nowhere near as patent as with the sister estate in Margaux, Rauzan-Gassies.

Grand Puy Ducasse (65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot)
N: Floral and grassy along with sweet red fruit, but not very concentrated.
P: Starts out deceptively soft, going on to show blackcurrant flavors and velvety tannin that converge into an aftertaste with marked teeth-coating acidity and plenty of oak – but which stops short of too much. A more commercial style for mid-term drinking.

Grand Puy Lacoste (79% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21%)
N: Slightly jammy blackcurrant with graphite nuances. Upfront, attractive, and with good oak.
P: Soft with excellant resonance. Wonderful lively acidity. Thanks to its elegance, it seems like the marriage of Margaux and Pauillac. Great finish and class.


Haut Bages Libéral (75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot)
N: Unmistakable Pauillac characteristics. Muted and a little jammy with hints of blackcurrant and crushed blackcurrant leaves.
P: Mouthfilling, easy-drinking wine. Chunky and spherical, but also a touch hollow on the middle palate. Simple fruit. Typical of its appellation and with the freshness of the vintage. Good value for money.

Lafite Rothschild (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot)
Lovely trademark Lafite nose words cannot aptly describe. Suffice it to say that it is deep and subtle with an unmistakable violet element as well as muted graphite and coffee aromas. The wine has a gorgeous texture on the palate with the guts to back up the tremendous elegance. The aftertaste is deliciously long and aromatic. Check back in 2050! This Lafite proves that the best wines of the vintage, thanks to a streak of lively fresh acidity, have what it takes to age, as well as a unique balance between fruit, tannin, and acidity. This Lafite was one of the best wines I tasted all week. It’s nice not to be disappointed!

Latour: 2005 Château Latour (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 0.5% Petit Verdot)
This looks perhaps five years little older than its age (twelve years). The nose is redolent of luscious ripe fruit with captivating earthy nuances, accompanied by notes of pencil shavings typical of this estate as well as other Pauillacs. This graphite quality comes through on the palate as well. The taste is thirst quenching and follows through flawlessly with liquorice, blackcurrant, and wildberry flavors. There is a beautiful silky texture that leads into a majestic aftertaste with extremely fine-grained tannin and candied black fruit nuances. Last year, the 2000 Latour was poured and everyone was surprised how ready to drink it was. This 2005 is another kettle of fish. Give it another 10 years at least to make the most of it. Très grand vin.


Lynch Bages (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: Fine, rich, and subtle, but largely closed now.
P: Nice mouthful of wine with rich blackcurrant flavors. Great balance between fruit, acidity, and tannin. Some roast coffee aromatics. A little alcohol on finish. Will undoubtedly age well.

Lynch Moussas (83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot)
N: Some reduction smells. Aromas of oak and jam and a soupçon of mint. Lacks definition.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel but falls down somewhat after the attack. Nevertheless, an authentic Pauillac with a tangy, slightly dry finish and good oak (although this must be kept from becoming overpowering in the coming months).  Good value for money.

Château Mouton Rothschild (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
The bouquet is undefined and obviously too young. It is nevertheless ethereal, and promising. The wine is fresh, big, and sinewy on the palate with great blackcurrant flavors. Both tannin and fresh acidity – the hallmark of the 2016 vintage – spread out over the palate, working into a long, classic aftertaste with a velvety texture and cedar overtones. Bit dry on the finish. Mouton can be uneven, but this one is a real winner. It is a virile wine, on the massive side. Revisit a few decades from now.


Pichon Baron (85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot)
N: Classy, brambly nose very typical of the estate with hints of fresh leather. Subdued only because very young.
P: Big with lovely tannin. Deep fruit and a certain earthiness. Refined and stately. Seems a little tough now, but just you wait! A superb Baron with tremendous ageing potential.
I usually don’t mention associated wines in these notes (2nd and 3rd wines, etc.), but 2016 Château Pibran AOC Pauillac really shone too.

Pichon Comtesse (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Sweet, subtle lovely Médoc bouquet with sweet blueberry. Could be mistaken for a fine Margaux.
P: Perfectly round and rich on entry, going on to show great acidity (that coats the teeth), purity, restraint, and a velvety texture. Juicy, with a medium-heavy mouth feel and a great long aftertaste. A slight change in style.
I enjoy comparing Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse from the same vintage after a few years bottle age. The exercise with the 2016s should be absolutely fascinating because both are stellar!

Pontet Canet (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot)
N: Not together at this early stage, but there are spicy (cinnamon) notes to back up the incipient fruitiness.
P: Ah, the palate is more like it! The 2016 fresh acidity is there, along with a lovely, long aftertaste showing textured tannin and the estate’s pure mineral quality. Above and beyond the aforementioned freshness, the wine displays great tension and balance. Pontet Canet’s progression is confirmed.
The tasting notes don’t belong here, but Alfred Tesseron also had us taste wine from his new California estate, Pym-Rae (to be renamed Tesseron Vineyards). Located in Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder appellation that previously belonged to the late actor, Robyn Williams.

Saint-Estèphe
==========


Calon Ségur (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: Fairly shut-in at this early stage, but enticing blueberry notes are starting to emerge.
P: Melts in the mouth. Appetizing. Tight-knit with lots of energy. Wonderful, fresh Médoc fruit. 100% new oak, but the wine can take it. Excellent tannin on finish. A great success. An estate going from strength to strength.
I must also mention the other vineyard they own in Saint-Estèphe (not the second wine, Marquis de Calon): Château Capbern, an absolute champion in terms of value for money!

Cos d’Estournel (76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 1% Cabernet Franc)
N: Lovely barrel cellar bouquet along with blueberry and blackberry liqueur aromas.
P: Big volume on the palate. Soft and rich. Velvety texture and very long aftertaste. Considerable ageing potential. A toned-down modern style. Classy wine. The effect of ageing in new oak must nevertheless be followed closely.

Cos Labory (53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Somewhat herbaceous, but sweet red fruit is lurking.
P: Tannin is a little tough and there is acidity in spades, but also a more modern and approachable side to this wine than in the past. The dryish finish features berry fruit and new oak.

 


Lafon Rochet (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: A lovely mixture of graphite and black fruit with a few rustic notes.
P: Excellent mouth feel and texture. Sweet fruit and smoothness one has come to expect from this estate. Refined and has a bright future ahead of it.

Montrose (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Franc)
N: Gravitas. Deep and nuanced. Leather, butter, and vanilla accompany the blackcurrant aromas.
P: Quite imposing. Melts in the mouth and coats the palate. Concentrated. Fills out well and seems an ideal marriage between old and new styles. Blackcurrant galore with a suggestion of mint/eucalyptus. Impressive long aftertaste with a mineral aspect. Montrose is on a roll…

Saint Julien
========

 

Beychevelle (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc)
N: Lovely fresh nose of candied blackcurrant and crushed blackcurrant leaves along with mineral nuances.
P: Great Médoc berry fruit that develops beautifully on the palate. Round, well-focused, and classic with an attractive tartness and mineralty. There was a time when Beychevelle was ho-hum. Not any more, and it clearly punches above its classification. I just hope the oak integrates – as I think it will – to alleviate the slight dryness on the finish. Fine potential.
I visited Beychevelle’s new cellar afterward. This is as “state-of-the-art” as anywhere in the world and was built with esthetics in mind. There is plate glass everywhere with a beautiful view over Saint-Julien’s gravelly rises. Definitely worth a visit.

 

Branaire Ducru (64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc)
N: Classic sweet fruit with some chocolate and pencil shaving notes. A touch biscuity.
P: The balance on the nose is there on the palate as well, with rich, sleek tannin. Broad-based with attractive fruit and nice grip on the finish. As good as ever.

Gruaud Larose (61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Blackberry liqueur and oak. A little musky.
P: Rich, compact, and refreshing although a tad weak on the middle palate. Cleary needs to digest the oak, but there is a good solid base of ripe fruit there waiting to emerge.


Lagrange (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot)
N: Enticing, fresh, primary, and rich, with coffee and ethereal red and black fruit brandy aromas.
G: Soft, mouth-coating tannin for this sturdy wine with unmistakable Médoc fruit and a fairly long aftertaste that is a little dry at this point. A good effort from this reliable estate.

Langoa Barton (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc)
N: Somewhat subdued, but the trademark blackcurrant and graphite are just waiting to come through.
P: Fresh and focused with fine-grained tannin. Lively, easy-going, “fluid”, and will be enjoyable young or old. Good oak. Well-made. A pleasure.

Léoville Barton (86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot)
N: Fruity, but lacks spark at this early stage.
P: Gorgeous velvety texture. Utter class. Seamless development. Top-quality tannin. Fruit needs to come through, but all the right signs are there. Very long aftertaste. Perhaps beats Léoville Poyferré by a nose.

 

Léoville Las Cases (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Franc)
N: Deep, dark blackberry and cassis fruit one would expect from Las Cases.
G: A big mouthful of wine with tons of fruit, mostly cherry at this stage. The volume and intensity are not overbearing and the wine is, as usual, in classic mode. Balance and terroir are the bywords here, because you would instinctively guess that stretch of land between Saint-Julien and Pauillac if tasted blind. An unquestionably fine vintage from this much-respected “super-second” growth.

Léoville Poyferré (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Trademark bouquet of blackcurrant fruit along with fresh forest floor aroma and graphite. Oak is not obtrusive (neither is it on the palate).
P: Smooth, sensual mouth feel and lots of deep fruit working its way into a classic finish.  Seems almost syrupy at one point and then segues into minerality. Both big and refined.  More fruit forward and a touch less serious than Las Cases, but a great wine.

Saint Pierre (73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc)
N: Open, sexy bouquet of violet, cassis, blueberry cedar, and graphite.
P: Round and melts in the mouth.  Maybe a little simplistic, but in keeping with the château’s fruity crowd-pleasing style. Will be delicious early on. Tangy finish that is a little dry now.

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Talbot (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot)
N: Very refined, subtle nose. Not a hair out of place. Subtle with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Big and chunky. A meaty textbook Cab. Mouthfilling. The aftertaste defines fine Médoc. Excellent quality tannin and good acidity for a long life.

2016 Haut-Médoc and Margaux (24 wines tasted)

Haut-Médoc appellation
=================

Château Beaumont (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Deep and sweet, if a little simple. A slightly dusty, biscuity element.
P: Soft and round. Moreish. Good medium-soft tannin, but there is nevertheless marked acidity. This is the sort of wine probably best enjoyed young and fruity.

Château Belgrave (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Wildberry aromas with a touch of grenness. Inky and funky.
P: Fresh and easy-to-drink. Up-front. Will also go well with food because of good grip.

Château Camensac (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot)
N: Complex and slightly waxy. Mostly closed, but relatively promising.
P: Very soft and luscious on entry. Melts in the mouth. A really attractive early-drinking wine (5 years). Nippy with a nice little aftertaste. A bargain for people who drink wine rather than labels. This estate is coming up in the world.

Château Cantemerle (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Odd. Berry fruit there but also some unusual meaty aromas.
P: Brambly and better on the palate. Easy-going but fairly short. Best enjoyed young.

Château Chasse Spleen (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
This was one of two wines from Moulis I tasted and, as the Union des Grands Crus did at Château Cantemerle, I have included it along with wines from the Haut-Médoc appellation.
N: Not very expressive at this point. Some cosmetic aromas.
P: Smooth, almost oily then goes straight into a tannic finish. Not the greatest balance but can, of course, improve over time.

Château La Lagune (% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Well-defined with good focus. Deep and ethereal. Pure cassis and candied black fruit along with raisins, red fruit, and understated roast coffee aromas
P: Broad-based and fairly long. Definitely Margaux-like. Medium weight with lovely fine-grained tannin. Good young or old. Oak in check. This is La Lagune’s first certifiably organic vintage, and a very successful one it is too.

Château Poujeaux (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
This was one of two wines from Moulis I tasted and, as the Union des Grands Crus did at Château Cantemerle, I have included it along with wines from the Haut-Médoc appellation.
N: Subdued, but deep, with attractive cranberry aromas. Promising.
P: Lovely soft Médoc. Very well-made with high-quality tannin. The aftertaste spreads out beautifully. A wine for connoisseurs – and the budget-conscious.

Château La Tour Carnet (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot)
N: Very New World with strong oaky aromas.
P: Chunky and mouth-filling. Hot and oaky. If this sample is anything to go by, not a success in 2016.

Margaux appellation
==============

Brane Cantenac (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Carménère)
N: Fruity and oaky. Seems a little hollow at this juncture, but then comes out of its shell.
P: The Margaux magic operates with silky tannin and refreshing 2016 acidity. Not full-bodied, but well-balanced. Very good lingering aftertaste. The fruit and acidity mark the palate more than the tannin.

Cantenac Brown (68% Cabernet Sauvignon and 32% Merlot)
N: Non-descript (read: closed) at this stage, but there are ethereal kirsch aromas.
P: Surprisingly soft, then vivacious and refreshing. Worthwhile and interesting. Traditional-style Médoc with classic acidity.

Dauzac (71% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot)
N: Broad, meaty, and jammy, with definite roast coffee and cherry lozenge notes. Fresh with good berry fruit and varietal Cabernet aromas.
P: Starts out rather chunky, then goes on to reveal good acidity. Tea flavors and a penetrating aftertaste of blackcurrant. A Margaux with attitude and a good Dauzac.

Desmirail (55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Very toasty and roast coffee aromas at this stage. The fruit is hiding, waiting to come out.
P: Mercifully not too oaky on the palate and there’s good fruit there too, but care should be taken with the rest of barrel ageing. Good intensity and excellent grip. Made to last.

Ferrière (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1 % Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and withdrawn. Sweet, and interesting with nuances of herbes de Provence,. Oak is toned down.
P: Svelte, velvety attack, then develops well on the palate with good acidity and fruit. Nicely-textured tannin. Classic and good with a touch of mintiness. Delicate structure and somewhat on the thin side, converging into a sharp finish.

Giscours (81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot)
N: Bit tanky but, looking behind this, there is a medium-deep bouquet of good berry fruit, some herbaceousness, and coffee-vanilla aromas.
P: Big, soft, and chunky on the palate, with fresh acidity. Blackcurrant flavors and a balance reminiscent of Saint Julien, although it finishes with the lean elegance of Margaux.

Kirwan (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Something a bit off here, with bretty, musky aromas.
P: Deep, foursquare, solid, and angular. Taut, persistent aftertaste and a dry finish. This wine is not showing well at the present time. Needs to be tasted at a later date

Lascombes (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Inky, berry, and mucilage aromas with graphite overtones.
P: Round, medium-heavy mouth feel. Dips on the middle palate, going on to show some harsh oak. Touch medicinal. Too much oak. Needs to age more to be correctly evaluated.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: Fresh and pure, but bit simplistic at this time. Nevertheless deep and promising.
P: Lovely resonance and great follow-through. Vibrant and delicious. Not big, but balanced. Bright Cabernet fruit. Fine textured aftertaste. A definite success in 2016.

Margaux: please refer to the previous separate post.

Marquis de Terme (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Fine, complex, understated bouquet showing primary fruit with plenty of blackcurrant as well as more unusual spicy aromas (cinnamon).
P: Sophisticated attack, then shows good fruit, but is a bit hard and oaky. Care should be taken during the rest of ageing that this does not get the upper hand. A class act.

Palmer (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot)
N: Sweet, but rather one-dimensional at this stage. Some briary and jammy notes. Not the ideal time for the bouquet to be evaluated.
G: Much more expressive on the palate. Big, round, full, and chewy, but the bracing freshness avoids any possible confusion with wines from the New World. Tight, concentrated, and gummy on the finish, which is also a bit dry. Good acidity to the point where you feel it on your teeth. Needs to be tamed by barrela ageing and, of course, years in bottle.

Prieuré-Lichine (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Fragrant, subtly cosmetic nose with hints of subtle berry fruit and oak that is under control.
P: Sprightly. Good and rich, but with marked acidity. Tremendously fresh. Very typical of its appellation. Round and firm, then that fresh acidity chimes in. Good structure and balance. An estate to watch.

Rauzan-Gassies (78% Cabernet Sauvignon and  Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot)
N: Fresh and fruity, almost as though there were no oak influence at all. Subtle with some chocolate nuances.
P: Starts off soft, seems as though it will be simple, and then bursts with fruit and personality. Rich and satisfying. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Long textured aftertaste. Restores my faith in this chronically underperforming wine, and is the best I’ve ever had from the estate.

Rauzan-Ségla (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Decidedly herbaceous, but there is also bright Cabernet fruit too, along with some violet aromas. Soft and nice, but lacks oomph. Aeration, however, could change that markedly.
P: Elegant. Starts out rather full-bodied then shows good acidity, finely-textured tannin, and tea-like nuances. Rather old-fashioned in style (not a criticism). Classic and restrained, with blackcurrant fruit not far under the surface… Slightly dry, but that can easily change.

du Tertre (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Roast coffee, dark fruit, and a not unpleasant greenness.
P: Fruity, smooth, and medium-light in body. Candied black fruit flavors. Will be drinkable and enjoyable young.

2016 Château Lafite Rothschild

Lafite Rothschild

2016 Duhart Milon (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot)
They always serve 4th growth Durhart Milon before the second wine of Lafite. Does that mean that it is less serious? No, but it is definitely lighter in body. The nose of the 2016 is soft, ethereal, reserved, and aristocratic with telltale pencil shaving aromas. The wine starts out with a very smooth, caressing mouth feel and goes on to show refined understated fruit. It is more elegant than powerful, and lacks richness. Medium-long fresh aftertaste with plush textured tannin.

2016 Carruades de Lafite (49% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot)
The nose is a little disappointing here, with some astonishing asparagus and bamboo shoot/Chinese vegetable notes! These dissipate somewhat with aeration, but the bouquet is not flattering at this stage. The wine is much better on the palate and fills out with a classy satiny texture and medium body. There is clearly good acidity on the finish, so it will undoubtedly age well, but will always remain on the delicate side.

2016 Lafite Rothschild (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot)
Lovely trademark Lafite nose words cannot aptly describe. Suffice it to say that it is deep and subtle with an unmistakable violet element as well as muted graphite and coffee aromas. The wine has a gorgeous texture on the palate with the guts to back up the tremendous elegance. The aftertaste is deliciously long and aromatic. Check back in 2050! This Lafite proves that the best wines of the vintage, thanks to a streak of lively fresh acidity, have what it takes to age, as well as a unique balance between fruit, tannin, and acidity. This Lafite was one of the best wines I tasted all week. It’s nice not to be disappointed!

2016 Château Mouton Rothschild

 

 

Le Petit Mouton (64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc)
Rich nose very typical of fine Pauillac. Classy “inky” and deep cassis aromas.
Starts out surprisingly soft on the palate, then changes pace to reveal the finest imaginable sort of acidity. Springwater-type purity with tertiary (already) red and black fruit. Interesting textured aftertaste. Lovely very long finish. A superb second wine.

Château Mouton Rothschild (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
The bouquet is undefined and obviously too young. It is nevertheless ethereal, and promising. The wine is fresh, big, and sinewy on the palate with great blackcurrant flavors. Both tannin and fresh acidity – the hallmark of the 2016 vintage – spread out over the palate, working into a long, classic aftertaste with a velvety texture and cedar overtones. Bit dry on the finish. Mouton can be uneven, but this one is a real winner. It is a virile wine, on the massive side. Revisit a few decades from now.

Aile d’Argent (Bordeaux blanc) (53% Sauvignon Blanc, 46% Sémillon, and 1% Muscadelle)
Medium gold color. Showing a good aromatic equilibrium between grape varieties as well as some spearmint overtones and a certain waxiness. The wine is full-bodied on the palate and seems ever so slightly sweet (although it may not be). Medium body and some minerality on the finish. A good wine, but not in the same league as the reds.

2016 Château Latour

Château Latour

Château Latour stopped selling on a futures basis beginning with the 2012 vintage. They nevertheless invite professionals to taste the new vintage every year just like all the other châteaux. In addition, they pour older wines that have been released on the market on this occasion.

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2016 Pauillac (54.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.9% Merlot, and 6.5% Petit Verdot): I must admit to once again being very taken with the Latour’s third wine. Even if rather subdued at present, it shows ripe, sweet, plummy, blackurrant preserves on the nose and reflects its terroir – a sort of apotheosis of Cabernet Sauvignon, even at this level and despite the much lower percentage of that variety in the final blend compared to the grand vin. It may be a tad weak on the middle palate and does not have quite the breadth of the latter, but is a very good wine.

2016 Les Forts de Latour (64.3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35.3% Merlot, 0.4% Cabernet Franc)
This is unsurprisingly one step up from the Pauillac AOC. It has a nice, fresh, promising nose with a slight, not unpleasant herbaceousness, as well as a meaty quality. The wine is big and spherical on the palate and spreads out with considerable richness. Les Forts displays the 2016 sweetness along with decent grip, great acidity, and a dry mineral aftertaste. The finish is layered and velvety.

2016 Château Latour (92.9% Cabernet Sauvigon, 7.1% Merlot) – The bouquet is at the same time seductive and aristocratic, with violet overtones. Divine.
To say the least, the wine has good structure on the palate. Very much the “iron fist in a velvet glove”. Big and develops with self-assurance and grace. The tannins coat the teeth and the aftertaste goes on and on. If this is a monster, it is a very well-behaved one… Superb potential.

 

The three 2016s were followed by same three wines from older vintages that are in bottle and out on the market:

2012 Pauillac (43.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54.5% Merlot, and 1.6% Petit Verdot)
This wine looks older than its years and the rim is just starting to brown.
It already has a nose of lovely aged claret with a trace of cocoa. There is also a definite greenness, the effect of a late-ripening year, but it fits in somehow. The wine is somewhat thin and angular on the palate, but the Latour style is definitely there. Austere. A Bordeaux for Bordeaux lovers. Others might be put off. Relatively long aftertaste, once again mineral.

2011 Les Forts de Latour (61.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35%% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
Very deep youthful color with an uplifting bouquet of red fruit, menthol, and graphite. Already quite expressive at this age. The wine starts off round and attractive on the palate, then dips somewhat before coming back with a deep mineral aftertaste. There is a slightly dilute quality to the wine, but this is redeemed by the forceful aftertaste, which is very dry. Not the greatest balance, but bears the unmistakable stamp of Latour’s terroir.

2005 Château Latour (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 0.5% Petit Verdot)
This looks perhaps five years little older than its age (twelve years). The nose is redolent of luscious ripe fruit with captivating earthy nuances, accompanied by notes of pencil shavings typical of this estate as well as other Pauillacs. This graphite quality comes through on the palate as well. The taste is thirst quenching and follows through flawlessly with liquorice, blackcurrant, and wildberry flavors. There is a beautiful silky texture that leads into a majestic aftertaste with extremely fine-grained tannin and candied black fruit nuances. Last year, the 2000 Latour was poured and everyone was surprised how ready to drink it was. This 2005 is another kettle of fish. Give it another 10 years at least to make the most of it. Très grand vin.

Bordeaux Carménère – a resuscitated grape variety

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Carménère is a sort of mystery variety in Bordeaux. It is a member of the Cabernet family and at one time was widely planted in the Médoc, then all but disappeared after the phylloxera crisis.  The name comes from the French word “carmin”, meaning “crimson”. You can find various spellings, with accents going every which way or removed altogether, but it is indeed Carménère.

In 1994, there were just 10 hectares of Carménère in all of France. But that changed with the trend to stand out by making more complicated blends in Bordeaux, incorporating Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Gris, etc. That having been said, total plantings are still very small and varietal Carménère wines in Bordeaux are still like hen’s teeth.

Interestingly, the variety is widely grown in Chile, propagated from 19th century cuttings brought from France. There are now 9,000 hecares under vine there.

I bought my cuvée Carménère, AOC Bordeaux Supérieur from Château Recougne at the extraordinary boutique at the Maison de la Quality (Planète Bordeaux), home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur in Beychac-et-Cailhau.

The château belongs to the Milhade family, who also own Château Lyonnat in Lussac Saint-Emilion and Château Boutisse in Saint-Emilion. The name Recougne comes from “terra recognita”, meaning “terres reconnues”, which can be loosely translated by “land recognized (as being good)”.
Recougne is a huge estate (90 hectares) in Galgon, near Fronsac and just 5 km from Pomerol. Their Carménère represents only a tiny part of total production.

2012 is not the greatest vintage in Bordeaux, and I did not know what to expect from this Carménère. But I was pleasantly surprised. The thing that sets the wine most apart from other Bordeaux is its bouquet, with spicy and peppery overtones. The wine was also well-balanced and very drinkable, with dark fruit and liquorice nuances. This is an inexpensive fun wine, not only rare, but worthwhile and a great one to serve blind…