Category Archives: Tasting notes

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.

 

 

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.

 

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Pomerol

Château Beauregard
N: Subdued black fruit and some toastiness with floral overtones. In a relatively dumb phase.
P: Mouthfilling and saved from flabbiness and banality by good fresh acidity. Big, friendly, Saint Bernard of a wine. Good.

Château Bellegrave
N: Deep, dark, lovely Merlot fruit. Soft, with black cherry nuances. Really attractive.
P: Structure to accompany the plush roundness. Big with a huge follow-through. Majestic, with a long red fruit aftertaste. Sensual. Very good.

Château le Bon Pasteur
N: Intriguing fragrant understated nose with an ethereal floral aspect.
P: Those floral aromatics carry over onto the palate. Excellent Pomerol with good ageing potential. Good acidity and maceration that was carried out enough for good longevity, but not too much. Perfumed aftertaste. Very good.

Château Bourgneuf
N: Attractive ripe floral and fruity (blueberry) aromas, as well as a little caramel.
P: Meaty, broad-shouldered, and sensual. Melts in the mouth, then shows great texture. Fine acidity and tight, velvety tannin. Shows intrinsic pedigree with power and authority. Good to very good.

Château Clinet
N: Aromas of iron, licorice, and cotton candy. Something earthy here too.
P: Rubbery high-quality tannin that is more remarkable than the fruit. Leathery, blueberry, and stewed fruit nuances. Maybe a little heavy-handed, but good to very good.

Clos du Clocher
N: Fresh blackberry and floral aromas. Not deep, but not troubled by oak.
P: Attractive tactile sensation and exuberant fruit. Great acidity and “rubbery” Pomerol tannin on the finish. Sensual. Excellent.

Château La Conseillante
N: Pure sophisticated fruit and a decided floral component (iris), as well as spice.
P: Incredibly velvety and sensual tannin. Violet nuances. Wonderful. Long. A dream. Excellent, one of the very top wines of the vintage.

Château La Création
N: Rich, but not complex berry fruit.
P: Quite rich on the palate too, but with good acidity. Satisfying and vinous but lacks a spark. Oak on the finish complements the sleek Pomerol tannin, but is still somewhat overbearing i.e. may make the finish too dry in the long run. Time will tell. Good.

Château L’Ecuyer
N: Meaty, brambly, and blackberry liqueur aromas with an iron nuance. Makes you expect to taste a big plush wine on the palate.
P: Heavy mouth feel followed by really powerful tannin with a coarse texture. Earthy, typical of its appellation and quite concentrated. A big wine, but with typical Bordeaux elegance. Very good.

Château L’Eglise Clinet (sorry, no photo)
N: Just starting to come out.
P: Superb tannin that melts in the mouth. The rich fruity flavors are followed by new oak which will take time to marry with this Pomerol’s sublime roundness. Good to very good.

Château L’Evangile
N: A little dusty, but showing tremendous potential. Overtones of blueberry, as well as black fruit jelly.
P: Satiny texture accompanied by beautiful acidity and length. Both ripe and subtle with exotic aromatics, including violet. Superbly elegant tannin. Excellent.

Château Feytit Clinet
N: Fine and ethereal, with toasty oak bringing up the rear.
P: Chewy and big. Plenty of oak there to complement the exuberant fruit. Round, satisfying finish, although somewhat dry. Natural well-made wine, just watch out for the oak during the rest of ageing. Good to very good.

Château la Fleur de Gay
N: Classic aromatics. Ripe forward black fruit. Not profound, but very pleasant.
P: Well-made with a great interplay between fruit, tannin, and acidity. However, the oak is too strong and leaves a dry aftertaste. This needs to be re-tasted at a later date. Good.

Château Le Gay
N: Inky, wild, floral and rich with loads of personality.
P: Chunky and mouth-filling with superlative velvety tannin. Big wine, but with plenty of elegance and will age well. Wonderful aftertaste with considerable, but not insurmountable oak. Excellent.

Château Gazin
N: Dark berry aromas and good oak.
P: Lots of volume here. Seems to start out light, but then spreads out beautifully on the palate. Melts in the mouth to reveal delicious red fruit flavors. Elegant with good acidity. Will age beautifully. Fine-grained tannins add a great deal to the finish. Very good.

Château Le Moulin
N: Subtle, sophisticated, and slightly cosmetic (perfumed talc) nose.
P: Delicious and well-balanced with a delightful puckery aftertaste that will make this shine at table. Very classy and poised. Long aftertaste. Excellent.

Château La Patache
N: Pure, faithful to its Pomerol origins, understated, undoctored, ripe, and very engaging.
P: Big and full with velvety tannin and marked acidity. Not your fat kind of Pomerol. Very good.

Château Petit Village
N: Dried fruit and spring flowers.
P: Chewy and fruity with smooth, velvety tannin. Seems simple before moving on to a strong tannic aftertaste. A little empyreumatic. Quite enjoyable, but still top of the second tier rather than belonging to the top one. Very good.

Château Pierham
N: Suave black fruit. Ripe and sweet, but not complex. Hint of cranberry jelly.
P: Starts out quite rich, and then the tannin and acidity coat the palate and teeth. I have the impression of someone trying very hard to make a great wine, but less interventionist winemaking and less oak would be a better path to follow. Good.

Le Pin
Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the label. I tasted the wine at Jacques Thienpont’s house in Pomerol rather than at the cellar.
N: New oak, truffle, and red fruit. Obviously young, but many fine aromas clearly around the corner.
G: Magnificent texture to the tannin. Luxurious, but very much under control. All the finesse of a legendary Pomerol. Not disappointed. Excellent.

Château La Pointe
N: Vaguely fruity with some toasty notes.
P: A narrow register of flavors, but concentrated within it. Earthy funky flavors and rubbery tannin. Not light as I have known this wine to be in the past. Not showing especially well and needs to be retasted at a later date. Good.

Château Rouget
N: Ripe stewed fruit aromas some nice blackcurrant, but rather one-dimensional at this stage.
P: Sensual and big with good follow-through, but seems more of a technically flawless wine than a vin de terroir. A bit empyreumatic. Crowd-pleasing. Good.

Château Sacré Cœur
This means “sacred heart” in French. The label is tremendously kitsch, but let’s get past that…
N: Pure and showing potential, but not expressive at this time.
P: Rather big and certainly velvety. To nitpick, the finish is a little weak, but this is a quintessential Pomerol that is worth getting to know. Very good to excellent.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Flawless, subtle, polished, and showing great potential.
P: Juicy and incredibly poised. Unbelievably fine tannin. As Alexandre Thienpont says: “cashmere”. Far more elegant than big despite its 14.4° alcohol. Excellent.

Château Vieux Taillefer
N: Smells like cough medicine (black fruit syrup). A little overdone.
P: Thick, rich berry fruit, almost New World in style, but then good acidity kicks in and lightens the wine up. Almost a caricature of Pomerol, the epitome of a big, rich Merlot. Still, quite enjoyable. Good to very good.

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Saint-Emilion

Château Angélus
N: Soft, with some spice.
P: Chunky, but silky. It appears at first to be medium rather than heavy-bodied, and then strong oak kicks in on the aftertaste. I mark the wine down for excessive oakiness but, in all fairness, would need to retaste it 10 years from now to see if I have been too severe or not. Good.

Château Ausone
N: Deep, dark, and mysterious.
P: I could invent something here to rise to the occasion and gush about this first growth. However, I will be neither critical nor full of praise. I will state that that 2018 Ausone is playing hide and seek at present and is only a shadow of what it will be one day and is difficult to taste today. It shows great acidity, power, elegance, and restraint. And the texture is wonderful. But this wine is presently hiding its light under a bushel. I will rate its potential as excellent, but in a line-up it I’m sure its reticence would not make it stand out as it should – or as it undoubtedly will in a few years’ time.

Château Beauséjour Bécot
N: Very closed at this time.
P: Much better on the palate. Rich and tight, with good structure and texture. Not overly broad, alcoholic, or overdone. Wonderful long, but slightly dry (at this time) aftertaste. Very good if aromatics develop as they should.

Château Bellevue
N: Pure, slightly spirity, and discreet.
P: Great balance and texture. Moreish. Classic. Good oak. Manages to be both stylish and traditional. Tasted alongside Angélus, I far preferred this. Excellent.

Château Canon La Gaffelière
N: Deep, satisfying, ethereal bouquet with notes of dried cranberry.
P: Seems rich, but paradoxically dilute at first before the fruit is unmasked. Priority has obviously been given to careful winemaking according priority to freshness. The Cabernets (together making about 50% of the blend) come through on the delicate attack and then again with the unbridled fruit. Fine, very long aftertaste. Excellent.

Château Le Châtelet
N: Nice, but rather neutral at this stage. Some coffee/toasted notes, but these are not overly strong.
P: Rich, spicy, and saturates the palate. Very concentrated, yet elegant. A big mouthful with loads of fruit. The aftertaste is strongly marked by oak at present, but indications are that if will integrate. A nice discovery. Excellent.

Château Chauvin
N: A little smoky with good fruit. Deep and interesting.
P: Good volume and mouth feel. Lovely Merlot fruit going into angular minerality on the aftertaste. Finishes a tad dry due to the oak, whose influence should be watched carefully. Good.

Château Cheval Blanc
N: Earthy as much as fruity, but clearly in the very early stages.
P: Gorgeous texture and tremendous fruit. Medium-weight on the palate with a commanding aftertaste worthy of a first growth. Excellent. One of the best wines of the vintage.

Château Corbin
N: Some stewed fruit, cedar, and incense aromas, but rather closed-in at present.
P: More expressive on the palate. Full and rich with a fairly weighty mouth feel, but nevertheless balanced. Big, muscular and sweet. Dark fruit flavors. Terroir-driven and fairly traditional. A fine wine for medium-term ageing. Very good.

Château La Couspaude
N: Toasty oak and a little on the spirity side (blackberry liqueur). One can nevertheless not help but be drawn in to it.
P: Soft on entry, almost to the point of being flabby. Pomerol-like except for the finish, in which the limestone minerality is attenuated. Really soft. Not terribly balanced and the aftertaste is a bit harsh, but it the lingering red fruit is quite attractive. Good to very good.

Château Destieux
N: Smoky with dark fruit, but not very expressive. Have to look for the bouquet at present. Give it time.
P: Definitely brambly with strong (slightly over-extracted?) tannin. Too hard and grippy. Will undoubtedly soften, but enough? Good.

Le Dôme
N: Slight reduction at this stage, but there are elegant truffle and raspberry aromas.
P: Mouthfilling, with a wonderful tannic texture and deep flavors. Very good.

Château la Dominique
N: Inky and ethereal, but not very complex bouquet.
P: Big, with a richness that comes in waves before the finish with hard tannin that does not preclude elegance. Soft framework ending in a certain relentlessness. Unbalanced at this stage, but certainly an ageworthy wine that deserves to be retasted later. Good.

Château Faugères
N: Odd, withdrawn, lurking.
P: Crowd-pleasing up-front fruit followed by slightly artificial tasting oak influence and strong acidity. Out of balance now, but may come together over time. Good.

Château de Ferrand
N: Subtle with notes of incense, white pepper, and underlying fruit.
P: Starts out big and swaggers, only to skip the middle palate to go into an oak-dominated aftertaste that is really dry because of this. Care needs to be taken during the rest of barrel ageing. Good.

Château Figeac
N: Pure, but rather closed.
P: Concentrated and develops beautifully on the palate with good acidity and soft tannin. Great long finish with a desirable sort of firmness that gives the wine ageing potential. The 14° alcohol does not show through. Minerality at the end gives tremendous balance. Very good to excellent.

Château La Fleur Cardinale
N: Subtle cherry-vanilla aromatics I associate with this estate. Enticing, with just the right touch of oak.
P: Big volume and seamless development on the palate with superb tannin. Elegant rather than powerful. The château is going from strength to strength. Long aftertaste with great tannic texture. Excellent.

Château La Fleur Morange
N: Bit reduced and not showing particularly well. Graham cracker overtones.
P: Out of balance and mean at this time. Harsh, rather dry tannin. Too much oak. Needs to be retasted at a later date.

Château Fonroque
N: Old-fashioned in a good way. Unmessed with expression of the terroir. Pure black fruit with some coffee overtones.
P: Plush, oh-so-soft and then the tannin makes itself felt with circumspection and restraint. Big. Some vanilla flavor. Lovely balance and typicity. Very good.

Clos Fourtet
N: Toasty oak along with red and black fruit. Some spice. Understated and subtle.
P: Starts out delicious and sophisticated, neither too big nor too rich, going into a long drawn-out aftertaste with excellent tannin. Not your hulking Saint- Émilion, but certainly not a wishy-washy one! Antithesis of a Parkerized wine. Very good.

Château Franc Mayne
N: Fresh, concentrated, and penetrating, but in a subtle sort of way. Fruity and floral notes emerge with aeration.
P: Fresh and pure, but there is the curious sensation of dilution on entry. However, the wine develops from then on and the aftertaste comes back with a vengeance to show tremendous minerality typical of the limestone plateau. Good to very good.

Château La Gaffelière
N: Fresh chocolate mint aromas as well as good red fruit (strawberry) and slight camphor overtones.
P: Great tannic template that does a sort of somersault from plush cushioned richness into a high-quality fine-grained aftertaste. Will age beautifully. A beautiful performance. Excellent.

Château Grand Mayne
N: Really exuberant blueberry notes, very aromatic.
P: Seems somewhat spirity with strong tannin from both oak and grape skins. Your archetypal big Saint Emilion rather than your refined one. Still, forthright and fruity. Good to very good.

Château Haut Sarpe
N: Little dusty, with pure sweet ethereal red fruit.
P: Very full and compact, but the rich, smooth attack goes immediately into hard tannin without transition. Watch out for the oak influence during further ageing! Potential is there for something very nice. Good to very good.

Clos des Jacobins
N: Lively raspberry aromas and a refined, engaging spirity side.
P: Tight, rich, and – surprisingly – slightly herbaceous with dark fruit. Tannin on the aftertaste may be too much in light of the wine’s intrinsic structure, and seems to come more from oak than skins. Starts out straightforward, but the tannin on the finish is disproportionately harsh. Good.

Château Jean Faure
N: Marked wildberry aromas. Really fresh and powerful. Sensual and strangely reminiscent of Côte Rôtie!
P: Bright natural fruit flavors with great acidity and good tannin too. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fine linear development on the palate. Teeth-coating, but refined tannin. Strong minerality on finish. A revelation. Excellent.

Château Larcis Ducasse
N: Modern style with sleek new oak and bright fruit in the background along with a powdery (talc) cosmetic component. Clean and impeccable.
P: Melts in the mouth and then fresh acidity checks in even more than the tannin. The assertive oak is a little obtrusive at this time, but let’s give this wine the benefit of the doubt. Excellent.

Château Larmande
N: Upfront, complex, and understated bouquet of black cherry, vanilla, beet juice, and floral elements.
P: Quite soft with flawless follow-through, but lacks depth. Limestone minerality on the long finish for this wine that is more delicate than sister château Soutard. Very good.

Château Laroque
N: Distinguished, classic bouquet. Tremendous sublimated fruit notes with some coffee aromas.
P: Not entirely clean. A gout de terroir whose aromatics are not found on the nose. Massive body, but lacks grace. Tannins in the same mold. Plenty of blackcurrant on the aftertaste. Good to very good (when helped by further ageing).

Château Laroze
N: Layered bouquet of cherry, vanilla, and berry fruit. Suave and not too oaky.
P: The smoothness and seduction on the nose carries over to the palate. Spreads out beautifully with fine-grained tannin. Sensual mouthfeel with structure and length to match. Touch dry on the finish at this stage. Very good.

Lynsolence
N: A medley of various aromas: incense, oak, stewed black fruit, and… soy sauce.
P: Meaty and mouthfilling with a strong tannic profile to go along with the considerable body. Assertive aftertaste with tannin that needs to age for a long time to be resolved. Beefy and a touch dry on the finish, but a pleasurable hearty wine. Good to very good.

Magrez Fombrauge
N: Attractive raspberry aromas. Concentrated, but suave and classy. Not overly oaky as I had feared.
P: Rich, with high-quality resonant tannin. Stops short of showing too much oak on the palate too although this is hardly shy. Obviously a carefully crafted wine. Good tension. Big, yet restrained. A nice surprise. Very good.

Château Montalbert
N: Berry fruit with mocha, strawberry, and forest floor nuances.
P: Good tannic tension from the get-go. Lovely fruit accompanies the development on the palate. Great texture to the tannin and fine ageing potential. Very good.

Château Moulin du Cadet
N: Very ripe with some mint and crushed blackcurrant leaf nuances.
P: Big and strong. I expected it to be a little hollow but, no, it fills out nicely and goes into a fine, fresh aftertaste with good tannin. Concentrated and has a weighty mouth feel. Verging on XXL in style, but avoids overkill. Good to very good.

Château Pavie
N: Rich, concentrated, and resonant, with some violet and emyreumatic overtones.
P: Rich and big, as expected, but not as in-your-face as in previous vintages. Long aftertaste. Let’s be fair here. Good to very good.

Château Pavie Macquin
N: Deep, quite classy, and very attractive bouquet with some prune and polished wood/old library aromas.
P: Great volume and fine velvety texture that does not obviate a certain hardness. In fact, the wine is ultimately soft on the whole, with high-quality tannin bringing up the rear. Despite the slight dip on the middle palate, there is a long, textured, black fruit aftertaste. Very good.

Château Péby Faugères
N: High-class fruit to oak ratio. Obviously well-made.
P: Normally, I don’t like to talk about fruit that “explodes on the palate”, but that pretty much describes this wine. It also features great acidity. Vigorous and assertive, but not top-heavy or aggressive. Quite concentrated. Much better than Faugères. Good to very good.

Château de Pressac
N: Fine, understated bouquet, but needs time to evolve recognizably.
P: Curiously a bit green at first, then shows somewhat aggressive tannin and overwhelming oak. Chunky with a dry finish. Really too early to taste this wine, as is not rare in March after the vintage… Good.

Château Le Prieuré
N: Pure candied black fruit aromas with considerable freshness.
P: Soft and rich going into a tangy aftertaste. Big volume and zippy acidity on the finish. The oak is as it should be. Lovely red fruit flavors. Very good.

Château Ripeau
N: Some reduction so not ideal at this time.
P: Rich chocolate here, but dips on the middle palate. Subsequent flavors then come back with authority, accompanied by tannin which shows the wine will age well. Broad-shouldered and concentrated. Good to very good.

Château Rochebelle
N: Enticing subdued candied black cherry aromas that are sweet, but not obvious.
P: Big mouthfeel. Full-bodied with lovely follow-through going into decided minerality. Very long aftertaste with lovely texture and altogether typical of the best Saint Emilion. Thrist-quenching and well-made. Very good to excellent.

Château Rol Valentin
N: Almost Pinot-like with clove, Viandox, and new leather nuances.
P: Starts out with sheets of flavor and a satiny texture, going into tannin that is a little unyielding. This quality may well last throughout the wine’s life. Good.

Château Saint Georges Côte Pavie
N: Soft, wafting, simple, and rather muted blueberry bouquet.
P: Blueberry flavors on the palate too. Very fluid, fresh, and relatively short, but fine, very mineral aftertaste. Quite representative of its appellation, but lacks punch. Good.

Clos Saint Martin
N: Good Merlot nose. Pure, somewhat peppery, and redolent of Saint-Emilion.
P: Gorgeous mouth feel and texture in keeping with the region’s finest wines. Great minerality on the extremely long aftertaste ultra-representative of the limestone plateau. Medium body and acidity. Very good.

Château Sansonnet
N: Strong, spirity, and a little jammy with some cosmetic overtones. The alcohol is obvious here.
P: Extremely rich, concentrated, and seemingly literally sweet. Big, fat, and strong. Would tire one out if more than a couple of glasses were consumed. The oak is mercifully not too strong. Good.

Château La Serre
N: Pure primary fruit that seems strangely dominated by Cabernet (only 20% of the blend…). Oak complements the fruit beautifully.
P: Big, with a welcome bite to follow the sweet fruit. Strong , with toasty oak and fruit galore. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Somewhat New World in style, but not overwhelming. Great berry finish. Very good.

Château Soutard
N: Nice enough, but rather non-descript.
P: Shorter, seemingly more early-maturing, and altogether less good than sister château, Larmande. Open and easy to drink. Serviceable. Good to very good.

Château La Tour Figeac
N: Soft, but not very expressive. Berry fruit with a floral component.
P: Beautifully smooth, and caresses the palate. Seems to be lacking a little in personality, but then blossoms to reveal enticing flavors and polished tannins. Although a little weak on the aftertaste, this is a very charming wine hard to resist. Very good.

Château Valandraud
N: Sweet uplifting and well-focused red fruit. Precise and natural.
P: No reason to fear too much oak or extraction as in the past. Subtle and fruity above all. A fine wine, not a modern monster. Very soft, going into infinitely long tannic aftertaste. Oak influence is there, but under control. I overcome my prejudices and rate this wine excellent.

Château Villemaurine (label not shown)
N: There’s understated and understated. What is showing at present is faint hints of black fruit jelly.
P: More personality than the nose would lead one to expect. Hearty, but high-quality tannin. Needs to come together. Good.

Château Yon Figeac
N: Full and open with aromas of freshly-pressed grapes, blossoms, and spice.
P: Not quite as positive as the nose. Bit rustic, but honest and very vinous. Long textured aftertaste, with tannins that are not very polished. Good.

2005 Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac

 

 

English speakers sat up and took notice of this wine when it did extremely well at a tasting organized by Decanter magazine. My previous experience with Pédescalux led me to consider it a wine not to age for very long. So, I opened the 2005 at lunch recently (decanted 2 hours before the meal). I was very impressed. My guests were served it blind and immediately targeted it as a classified growth from Pauillac. It had all the hallmarks of great Cabernet from that commune – a lovely nose of graphite and black fruit, in fact reminiscent of Mouton. The wine showed tremendous class on the palate, with medium body and a very fine balance between smoothness and good tannic structure. An elegant Pauillac rather than a broad-shouldered one. The aftertaste was perhaps not tremendously long and powerful, but that is largely quibbling. I wish I had another bottle because, in the event, the wine needs another few years to reach its peak. A very pleasant surprise.

 

 

Tasting of 2017 Saint-Emilion

These are the last of my en primeur tasting notes:

Beauséjour-Bécot
N: Fine, ripe, pure berry fruit with some tarry overtones and earthiness. Great bouquet.
P: Rich and fresh, but a little flabby despite the limestone minerality that comes through. Bit short and hard, but age will do wonders for the embryonic balance. Good to very good.

Bellevue
N: Bit wild and woolly with aromas of blackberry, oak, and terroir (earth).
P: Quite rich with a proper tannic structure that kicks in and a fresh tannic finish. Borderline too much oak. Traditional style. Vinous and ageworthy. A wine to watch out for. Good.

Canon
N: Powdery, backward at the present time.
P: Starts out like a great Pomerol, going on to show lovely fruit and an assertive development on the palate. Strong, but not overly so. Great balance and long, fine aftertaste. A true vin de terroir with wonderful potential. Very good, and if the nose blossoms, excellent.

Canon La Gaffelière
N: Very primary and rich with aromas of red fruit (redcurrant) jelly
P: Great structure with good tannin to complement the roundness. Unmistakably Saint-Emilion and a very well-made wine that truly brings out the best of each grape variety. Very good.

Clos Fourtet
N: Bright fruit in minor mode. Some sweetness just emerging.
P: Lovely texture and purity. Aristocratic with a velvety aftertaste and fine follow-through showing excellent minerality. Good, and very good if the bouquet comes out more.

Clos Saint Martin
N: Pure, sweet, blackberry fruit.
P: Heavy mouth feel. Lovely silky texture. Concentrated, but elegant. Tremendous balance. Good acidity. Tart red fruit flavors. Very long mineral finish. Good to very good if the bouquet develops more.

La Confession
N: Black fruit jelly. A little jammy and with an ethereal spirity quality.
P: Starts off with a very attractive velvety texture, then segues into a very rough and unyielding finish. Will surely even out to some extent over time, but the aftertaste seems to detract from the overall impression at the present time. OK.

Couvent des Jacobins
N: Smooth, slick, cherry-vanilla bouquet with lovely floral overtones. Quite elegant.
P: Big mouthful, then a little weak and diluted. Round, then showing tea-type tannin not of the highest quality. Cherry and blackcurrant flavors. Natural, not doctored. Nippy aftertaste with decent length. Not as promising as the nose. Good.

Faugères
N: Seems not very expressive at first, but hints of chocolate, smoke, cranberrry, and cherry-vanilla come out after all.
P: Fine mouth-filling attack going on to show some hotness and virile tannins. Long tangy aftertaste without dryness on the finish. Limestone terroir comes through. Good to very good.

Ferrand
N: Showing some mint and camphor aromas. Not much fruit and a bit odd.
P: Strong liquorice/aniseed component. Spreads out well on the palate with textured tannin. A little harder than most – but also more serious than most. Long tannic aftertaste. Worthwhile ageing potential. Good.

Fleur Cardinale
N: Toasty oak, touch spirity, dark fruit.
P: Great gentle start, but then goes into piercing acidity. Gummy texture accompanied by a certain hotness. Not a good time for this wine. Needs to be retasted with some age. Not as positive as I’m accustomed to from this estate. OK.

Fombrauge
N: You have to look for it, but there are some cherry-vanilla aromas.
P: Big sensual mouth feel. Hearty, definitely alcoholic, and fairly oaky on the palate, but is there enough fruit to back this up? Average on the attack and then, wham!, lots and lots of tannin. Unbalanced, but perhaps upgraded in ten years’ time. OK.

Fonplégade
N: Little dusty. Engaging, deep, enticing wildberry aromas.
P: Lovely, tight-knit, yet smooth texture. Quite fine. Goes on seamlessly to show good acidity, great balance, and a velvety aftertaste. Very good.

La Gaffelière
N: Soft and simple, with good oak. Not very expressive at this stage.
P: Good Merlot attack followed by the backbone and length of Cabernet Franc. Medium-long, mineral, fresh, and slightly thin aftertaste. The oak is not obtrusive. Lively with a candied fruit quality. Nothing forced. Fresh, subtle finish. Good to very good.

Grandes Murailles
N: Powdery, with candied black fruit and some toasty oak.
P: Good attack and follow-through with plenty of grip and characterful oak on the finish.  Serviceable, but watch out for that oak ageing. OK.

Larcis Ducasse
N: Soft, with some floral notes as well as meaty overtones.
P: Seems a little flabby at first and with a somewhat weak middle palate, but this impression is followed by waves of fresh fruit, new oak, and minerality. A bit dry on the aftertaste, but chances are everything will coalesce. When all is said and done: very good.

Laroque
N: Prune and liquorice nuances along with black fruit jelly.
P: Very soft to begin with, moving on to show healthy acidity. Silky, layered, and pure. Well made. Gutsy, yet refined. Long aftertaste. Good plus.

La Tour Figeac
N: Subtle briar, cherry, and tobacco aromas. Excellent.
P: Rich and showing tremendous balance, then gradually and effortless goes into a fine tannic aftertaste with good minerality and acidity. Great balancing act between roundness and rigor. Maybe a tad dilute on the attack, but still: excellent.

Magrez Fombrauge
N: Graham cracker and ethereal fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel and an impression of sweetness. Big and powerful with plenty (too much?) oak. Somewhat alcoholic and a little dry on the finish. Needs to come together. Too hard and overwhelming at this early stage. Good.

Pavie Macquin
N: Oak and bright fruit. Primary red fruit aromas.
P: Sensual mouth feel. Vibrant and upfront. Medium light at first, dips, and then goes into a very long mineral aftertaste with candied fruit flavors. Exceeds expectations. Very good.

Péby Faugères
N: A little something metallic, accompanied by hints of roast coffee beans, beeswax, and varnished wood, as well as empyreumatic notes and a biscuity quality.
P: Big, sweet, strong, and somewhat hot. Heaps of toasty oak on the massive aftertaste. Heavy mouth feel. Is it permissible to prefer the little brother (Faugères)? Good.

Poesia (PHOTO NOT SHOWN)
N: Modern, upfront, fruity (berry fruit). Reminiscent of New World wines.
P: This New World quality carries over to the palate, with is rich and powerful, but nevertheless backed up by good acidity. Exuberant with good tension. Original and successful modern style. Good.

Pressac
N: Pure, natural, and direct with forest floor aromas. Subtle and attractive with a definite floral component.
P: Chunky and round, than curiously hot and a bit acidic. As wonderful as the bouquet is, the wine falls down somewhat on the palate. Too tannic and top-heavy with a dry finish. OK.

Quintus
N: Attention-getting and very seductive. Some slight fermentation (tanky) aromas.
P: Plenty of volume with vibrant acidity and delicious blackberry flavors. Great velvety texture and some violet nuances. Very good.

Ripeau
N: Very green with some floral notes, as well as roasted and brettlike aromas.
P: Some greenness on the palate too, but this is much better than the bouquet. Polished rusticity and the floral component on the nose comes through again. Curious. Textured, but harsh aftertaste. OK.

Tour Saint Christophe
N: Fine, well-focused. Very fresh and rather uncomplicated.
P: Thick, rich, smooth, and round. Seemingly flabby to begin with, then going into a weak middle palate before showing power, acidity and minerality. A fruit-driven commercial style with a finish that gives it a more serious flavor. Good.

Troplong Mondot
N: Toasty oak and candied black fruit. Strong, sweet blackberry overtones with meaty nuances.
P: Almost syrupy on the attack and definitely powerful (high alcohol – 14.6°). Lashings of oak. Not my kind of balance. Somewhat redeemed on the aftertaste. OK.

Valandraud
N: Deep, inky, subtle and upfront.
P: Starts out with a syrupy quality. Very rich indeed and very Merlot, with textured tannin. Not overoaked, but seems a little short. Good.

 

 

New cru bourgeois classification and tasting of 2017 Médocs

*

I was invited to a presentation by the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc on the 5th of April 2018, followed by a mammoth tasting of wines from the 2017 vintage.

I was interested in attending because I had rather lost sight of the crus bourgeois system. Dating back to 1932, this presently encompasses 256 estates producing some 28 million bottles of wine, i.e. 30% of the Médoc’s entire production.

I was aware that Alliance had gone through some turmoil in recent years, including court cases calling into question their most recent classification, in 2012. They are planning a new classification for 2020 with the greatest of care.

This will re-introduce the three levels that existed years ago:
– cru bourgeois
– cru bourgeois supérieur
– cru bourgeois exceptionnel

Olivier Cuvelier, President of the Crus Bourgeois

The methodology will be carefully controlled by an outside agency (Qualité Bordeaux Vérification) to ensure rigor and impartiality. The wines will be judged according to blind tastings of three vintages chosen by the château between 2008 and 2016. No more than a 10% increase in the number of châteaux will be allowed in the upcoming classification, as well as all future ones.

As a transitional measure, estates classified between 2008 and 2016 will be exempted from taste testing and those estates that cannot submit samples from 5 different vintages can present just two, 2015 and 2016.

Criteria are more exacting for the Crus Bourgeois Supérieurs and Exceptionnels, requiring an evaluation of their vineyard and environmental practices, cellar facilities and management, as well as efforts made to promote the wine (château building, distribution, wine tourism, etc.). In addition, two random controls will be made before bottling in two different vintages after the classification.

The new classification will be official in early 2020 with a 5-year validity, which applies to all future classifications. The judges appointed to taste the wines blind will undergo specific training, including different parameters for the three categories, such as ageing potential. Châteaux have the right of one appeal to a negative decision, or to apply again in another of the three categories.

After this fairly technical explanation, it was time to taste some wine… I decided to focus on the Médoc appellation, rather than the Haut-Médoc or communal appellations. All of the following 18 wines were from the 2017 vintage. As usual, my notes do not include an appreciation of the color, because, with wines this young, I do not consider it a factor of paramount importance. Seeing as I am reluctant to give numerical scores to wines, I have noted only a broad overall assessment at the end of each tasting note.
The percentages of grape varieties in the final blend are indicated because these can change from year to year.

 

Château de Bégadan, Bégadan
60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose: Simple and pleasing, with lingering fermentation aromas, confirming that this may not be an ideal time to taste the wine
Palate: More personality here, but somewhat dilute. Lacking focus, however displays attractive minerality on the aftertaste. Best enjoyed young. Should be retasted later on. OK.

Château Le Bourdieu, Valeyrac
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Nose: Subdued with cherry stem and slightly cosmetic aromas.
Palate: Mouthfilling with layers of fruit, but stops short on the aftertaste. Made in a traditional style but slightly out of balance, with some roughness on the finish. Good.

Château La Cardonne, Blaignan
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Upfront, ripe bouquet very typical of its appellation. Marked by oak with a medium toast.
Palate: Pure and mineral with a fluid attack followed by good grip and a pleasingly long aftertaste. Good.

Château d’Escurac, Civrac
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Nose: Simple, with some tarry notes
Palate: Odd, with some medicinal nuances. Hot. Modern style. Harsh finish. Seems stifled by the oak in a way that age may not help. OK.

Château Fleur La Mothe, Saint Yzans
50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot
Nose: Rich and straightforward with crushed blackcurrant leaf and cranberry aromas
Palate: Big, round, and showing plenty of oak. A modern, commercial style, with oak also coming through on the finish. Good.

Château Gemeillan, Queyrac
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Nose: Brambly and fresh with berry fruit and aromas reminiscent of ashes
Palate: shows character, but finishes with hard oak and is somewhat out of balance. OK.

Château Laujac, Bégadan
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
Nose: Brambly wild berry aromas, with good oak and a sweetness reminiscent of fruit syrup. Some roasted nuances.
Palate: In a pleasingly old-fashioned mold with elegant tannin showing plenty of character. A thirst-quenching quality and an attractive gumminess. This was one of the revelations of the tasting to me, as I had never tasted this well-reputed wine before. Excellent.

Château Laulan Ducos, Jau-Dignac et Loirac
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, , and 3% Petit Verdot
Nose: fresh, “authentic”, and understated, with good oak and some floral nuances
Palate: Ripe, round, and seductive although unyielding on the finish in a way that may be overcome by further ageing. Lip smacking fruitiness. Well made. Some authority on the finish with a certain tarriness. Very good.

Château Loudenne, Saint Yzans
50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Merlot
Nose: sweet and enveloping, but lacks depth and complexity. Some fermentation aromas and lots of toasty oak.
Palate: A satin texture is overwhelmed by the oak and I had a poor opinion of the wine. However, as always, it is fair to state that these tastings are very early in the game, and I will need to revisit the wine for a fair evaluation.

Château Lousteauneuf, Valeyrac
48% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, and 7% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Dark fruit aromas, but not very expressive at this time.
Palate: Better on the palate, although a little diluted. Starts off elegant and then goes into a very gutsy aftertaste with virile tannin. Intense Cabernet fruit, in an unabashedly old-fashioned style.  Good.

Château Les Ormes Sorbet, Couquèques
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Soft, polished, and alluring bouquet with deep, but not very complex fruit
Palate: Lovely velvety texture. Good development on the palate with excellent sweet fruit backed up by good acidity. Generous mouth feel with a narrow, but long finish. Lovely wine, the best of the tasting. Excellent.

Château Panigon, Civrac
50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: The fruitiness is somewhat rustic with a talc and cosmetic component
Palate: Marked by red fruit flavors and tart acidity. A decent enough wine with a tangy finish. Will show better with food. Good.

Château Preuillac, Lesparre
58% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Stewed fruit and candied fruit (cherry), as well as ethereal kirsch overtones and some roast coffee nuances. Classy, subtle, sophisticated, and very Médocain.
Palate: Lovely texture. The sort of wine that will be enjoyable either young or with bottle age. Good volume, even if a bit hollow. Rich, with marked good acidity on the finish. Very good.

Chateau Roquegrave,
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Sweet fruit with some pencil shaving aromas, but rather one-dimensional.
Palate:  Medium in most aspects, with a tarry flavor. There is some staying power on the aftertaste but the oak is obtrusive. Fresh finish, but this does not quite live up to the promise at the beginning of the tasting. Good.

Château Saint Christoly, Saint Christoly
55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon,
Nose: Straightforward and simple with floral overtones. Some tanky aromas present at this stage.
Palate: Starts out very soft, but goes on to show significant acidity. Good fruit and tremendously fresh and vibrant flavor profile. Very good.

 

Tour Haut Caussan, Blaignan
50 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 50 % Merlot
Nose: Sweet, concentrated blackcurrant and berry fruit aromas. Fresh, with almost a fruit juice quality. Sweet and seductive.
Palate: Soft and mouth-filling, with the Merlot characteristics seeming to come through more than the Cabernet, in a crowd-pleasing style. Tart and relatively short finish reminding me (in a positive way) or sour cherries. Good.

Château Tour Saint Bonnet, Saint Christoly
50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Fresh, very attractive candied fruit and blackcurrant aromas, very typical of the Médoc.
Palate: Traditional, even old-fashioned style. Rich, silky texture and a very juicy quality. Not long, but follows through nicely even so, with marked acidity. Good.

Château Vieux Robin, Bégadan
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
Nose: Medium-intense plum and blackberry aromas accompanied by toasty overtones
Palate: Melts in the mouth, but there is a certain hardness due to oak. Good grip and noticeable acidity. Good.

 

 

 

 

Christmas dinner with Château Lagrange white and red

Our family celebrated Christmas a day early because we are travelling on the 25th. Our holiday meal consisted of shrimp cocktail and tournedos and I thought it might be fun to drink both the red and white wine of a Médoc great growth: Château Lagrange.

Château Lagrange in Saint Julien

With the former, we enjoyed a 2015 Les Arums de Lagrange (60% de Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Gris, and 20% Sémillon)

The color was pale yellow and the nose was soft and understated with marked gooseberry aromas. There were also some butterscotch and meringue nuances.The wine featured more personality on the palate. The first impression was of vanilla and almond overtones due to barrel ageing. But, fortunately, there was more to the wine than that. It started out quite round on the palate with an impression of sweetness (although it is probably perfectly dry) and some lanoline notes before dipping somewhat and then returning with a delicious mineral aftertaste.

2015 Les Arums is fine to drink now, i.e. it has not much to gain by further cellaring. The odd thing is that, if tasted blind, I might more easily have taken it for a Loire Valley white than one from Bordeaux! In that, it is similar to another Médoc white, Alto from Ch. Cantenac Brown.
White Médocs are not as rare as they used to be. They must be sold under the Bordeaux appellation, because all Médoc must be red.

Château Lagrange is a huge estate – at 118 hectares, as large as some entire appellations in Burgundy! Of course, most of this is given over to red wine production. Lagrange was included among the third growths of Saint-Julien in the 1855 classification. It was acquired by the Japanese Suntory group in 1983. I have long considered Lagrange a reliable, trustworthy wine. Not top tier among the classified growths, but sold at a very reasonable price.

So, I was interested to try the wine from the well-reputed 2000 vintage (76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot), which I decanted 4 hours prior to serving.
The wine had a very dark core and, surprisingly, some youthful purplish highlights on the rim.
The sweet bouquet had decided blackberrry and liquorice aromas, but was rather one-dimensional. There were also some beeswax/old library overtones.
The wine started off by melting in the mouth, continued with a fluid, fresh, unctuous texture, and then finished with some grippy tannin as well as cranberry and chocolate nuances. As expected, there were blackcurrant flavours and, even in this ripe vintage, a soupçon of greenness. The wine featured a medium-heavy mouthfeel and a touch of heat and dryness on the finish.
I consider it a worthy representative of the Médoc aristocracy, but more the petite noblesse
The inevitable question arises: was this 2000 ready to drink? The angular tannin on the finish says no, but most other aspects of the wine contradict that. I have one more bottle and figure that 3 more years can do it no harm…

Oh, one last thing, we had a special cheese at the end of the meal: a truffled brie from a farm owned by Edmond de Rothschild of Châteaux Clarke and Lafite. Wonderfully décadant, and not bad with aged claret…

Délices de Favières Truffé

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!