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INTRODUCTION – SEPTEMBER 2014

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, not another Bordeaux wine site, who on earth needs that?”… In reality, though, there are precious few sites focusing on the wines of the Gironde out there! I am assistant manager of one, www.bordeauxwinenthusiasts.com, but Bordeaux is usually just one region out of many.

Bordeaux takes a lot of knocks these days. A “fox and the grapes syndrome” has set in. The price increases in the great growths over the past few years have made them unattainable for many consumers – so it has become trendy to say that the wines are not worth it, that Bordeaux is “old hat”, and that is best left to the likes of stockbrokers and the decrepit bourgeoisie! Of course, it is also claimed that “modern” Bordeaux is over-extracted, over-oaked, Parkerized, and not nearly as good as it once was…

The fact is that I’m as put off as anyone by the recent price increases of the crus classés. But these wines represent only 5% of Bordeaux! Of the remaining 95%, to be fair, there is a certain amount of dross: thin weedy wines selling at bargain basement prices. But there are also numerous gems and a full spectrum of terroirs and styles

The media love to discover and highlight estates in the Lubéron or the Languedoc or the Loire Valley, but rarely enthuse about non-classified growths from Bordeaux. Despite the region’s 9,000 châteaux, Bordeaux is perceived as a known entity, so journalists don’t often go there – except to see the famous names…

The main purpose of my blog is to write about these lower-profile estates, to give a face to châteaux eclipsed by the high and mighty.
Based in Bordeaux, I also intend to write about what it’s like to visit and live here, to speak about the people behind the labels, and in my own little way to breathe new life into Bordeaux’s somewhat fossilized image.

Three absolutely extraordinary wine dinners

I was privileged to taste a number of remarkable wines in a 10-day period in late September. In fact, I have never before tasted as many great aged wines in such a short period of time in my entire life. It was not possible to take detailed notes on these, since they were served at table, but here are a few brief impressions.
I would like to acknowledge the outrageous generosity of Tim Mc Cracken who contributed most of the wines, as well as Ian Amstad and others.
Tim had rented a château in the Entre-Deux-Mers (Château Casanova in Saint-Sulpice-et-Cameyrac) to celebrate his 50th birthday and invited friends from seven different countries, all wine lovers, to come and spend a memorable weekend.
The wines at the first dinner were shared with Canadian friends Danny and Danielle Tenaschuk in Bordeaux.

Dinner on 22/09/18

2002 Savennières Roche aux Moines, Cuvée des Nonnes, mœlleux
This was looking very old and had a bouquet that was clearly quite evolved. There was some discussion as to whether the wine was corked, or if was more a question of balsamic aromas. In any event, it was only medium sweet and more of an oddity than good.

2014 Bourgogne Aligoté, bottled by Anne Buisson in Meursault
This barrel-aged unfiltered Aligoté was served blind and stumped all of us. I was thinking Germany and others were also thinking of a more northern clime. The wine was elegant and precise, if lacking in depth. Several of us thought this was one of the better Aligotés we had ever had.

2008 Château Grillet
This was the sixth time I have had Ch. Grillet. All the previous ones had left me nonplussed (no wonder that pre-Pinault vintages are not mentioned at all on their website) and left me wondering if the wine’s rareness and price tag had not clouded the judgement of other tasters. However, this 2008 was subtle and refined, with complex aromas and a lovely long, cool aftertaste. Very classy. Could even improve with age (as opposed to the other Grillets I have had, which had nothing to gain by long ageing).

1998 Ch. Petit Village
Served blind, this had us guessing a much younger Left Bank wine. An elegant wine with a silky texture. Fine indeed. Not yet at peak.

2010 Ch. Belles-Graves, Lalande de Pomerol, cuvée “Calypso”
This was correctly guessed as a fine Right Bank Bordeaux. It was a notch down from the Petit Village, but received praise from everyone. I have one more bottle and will sit on it (so to speak). A great wine to serve blind as it punches seriously above its weight. If it is said that a good Lalande is the equal of a lesser Pomerol, this is more like a middling one, at the very least. By the way, this cuvée is named after the bathyscape used by the famous explorer Jean-Yves Cousteau, to whom the owners are related.

1996 Ch. Léoville Barton
As to be expected, a classic Saint-Julien, but one of my friends kept insisting that there was a greenness there. It did perhaps lack some body and focus. I have two more bottles and wait to open the next one. The overall verdict was that we are slightly disappointed.

2013 Two Sisters Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula
A 20 cl. bottle was enough for the 6 of us to have a small glass of this bracing, crystalline wine whose high sugar content was countered by sufficient acidity. Not overly aromatic, but delicious. I wonder how a wine like this will age?

Dinner on 28/09 (16 wines for 15 people, including one jeroboam).

Champagne Drappier Brut
OK, but a little sharp.

1995 Hospices de Beaune, Meursault, Cuvée Jehan Humblot (maison Bichot)
In fine form with some tertiary hazelnut and cherry-vanilla nuances on the nose.
Good development on the palate and length. A point.


2003 Montrachet, DRC
Bright medium pale golden color. Beguiling, subtle nose with the oak very much under control.
Pure and mineral on the palate with restrained power, yet ethereal. Well-muscled, needs time, but quite the treat now. An experience.

2005 Bahans Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan
This second wine no longer exists, replaced by Le Clarence.
Lovely deep color with a bouquet of coffee, vanilla, and cedar.
Big, strong, and youthful on the palate, but some medicinal notes there. Good rather than great.

1978 Haut Brion
Thinnish purplish rim. Lovely earthy bouquet with a strong Graves signature. Showing age on the palate and more interesting than vital with some rubbery overtones. As the Italians say “a wine of mediation”.

1958 Haut Brion
The color was light, but looked much younger than its years. The nose was smoky and unmistakably Haut Brion. In light of the vintage reputation, the wine should have been dead on arrival, but it was still alive. Although light, it was worthy of the château’s reputation. Most other Bordeaux in this vintage have turned to dust.

1989 Haut Brion
Deep vibrant color. Sleek, youthful nose that is still relatively closed at the present time. Splendiferous and polished on the palate, with lovely fruit, tannin, and acidity. Not a baby but, an adolescent. Tremendous velvety texture. All the majesty of the finest Bordeaux. Far from peak.

1953 Haut Brion
My birth year wine was, in my opinion, the best of an unforgettable series. The color was a bit diffuse, but no one would have guessed its age. The bouquet was redolent of truffles and oozed elegance, the sort of wine you could “nose” forever. It was resonant, long, and simply wonderful on the palate. Were I to give notes, this would be at the very top end of the scale. There are wines to equal this, but I cannot imagine any better.

1928 Haut Brion
One of the great vintages of the 20th century, back-to-back with 1929. The wine’s color would have thrown anyone for a loop, appearing at least two or three decades younger! The nose was exotic with mint, eucalyptus, plummy aromas, as well as some fortified wine (Madeira) notes. The wine was incredibly smooth and complex on the palate, but had – unsurprisingly! – lost much of its vigor. Drinking such a wine is like contemplating a Rembrandt or a Da Vinci painting, a work of art from another time period that demands respect. A hush came over the table and we were all delighted.

 

The next two wines were donated by the famous Parisian connoisseur and lover of old wines, François Audouze:

1948 Rauzan Ségla
The color was deep, beautiful, and almost disturbingly youthful (I’d have said a wine from the 1960s).
The ethereal and balsamic bouquet showed hints of gentle oxidation paradoxically well integrated with the fruit, along with slight raisiny quality and an “old library” smell. The nose needed to be appreciated in the third… or fourth degree.
The wine showed graphite overtones and was very silky on the palate and a little dry, but still vital. It also showed hints of leather. Seemed more butch than most Margaux.

1945 Léoville Las Cases
Although a little diffuse and having a somewhat watery rim, the color once again would have fooled (just about) anyone as to this wine’s age. The exuberant, sexy nose showed lovely cherry aromas, and there was something almost Burgundian about its sensuality. This was served alongside the Rauzan and the table was split as to which they preferred. I opted for the Léoville.

1982 Ausone
How many people you know would bring a 5-liter bottle of an 82 first growth to a dinner party? Well, this is exactly what Ian Amstadt of London did. And his gift to us all was very much appreciated. The color was quite fine, looking perhaps a tad older than its age. The nose was subdued at first, with some rose petal aromas, but came out over time to reveal sweet autumnal nuances. The wine spread out beautifully on the palate and shows that, as opposed to what some say, Ausone never went through an off-period when Pascal Delbeck was winemaker. When tasted the next day, the wine was even better. While approachable now, it has a long way to go, and was even better the next day. One of the guests with far more experience than me said that, although magnums are justifiably reputed to age more slowly than 75 cl. bottles, once you move up the scale, this is not true due to the rare outsize custom corks which, he said, don’t work as well.


1961 Gaja Barbaresco
1967 Gaja Barbaresco
These were very much of a pair, with similar qualities. I preferred the 67. The color of both the wines was fairly pale and the nose very subtle and ethereal (rose petal). I thought both wines fell down somewhat on the palate where the acid edge took over, and I would have preferred them much younger.

1976 Yquem
Color was light amber. The bouquet was light, wafting, soft and understated. The wine was medium-bodied with lovely white fruit, yellow fruit, and vanilla flavors. Not overly sweet or rich. Exquisite. Fine now and will be just as good, although in a different way, for decades to come. Very successful.

1967 Yquem
There are only two Bordeaux wines I “covet”, i.e. I would like to taste before I go to the great wine cellar in the sky. One is 61 Palmer. The other was 67 Yquem. I was therefore delighted beyond words with the opportunity to taste this wine which thankfully wholly lived up to its reputation. The nose of barley sugar and botrytis was followed by the most exquisite flavor. The expression “iron fist in a velvet glove” is most often used to describe red wines, and yet I couldn’t help thinking of it for this Yquem. The flavour was both tangy and creamy with that tell-tale vanilla element. The aftertaste was of marathon length. Superb. I am well-known for giving low scores by other people’s standards. But if I were to rate this, it would be at the extreme end of the quality spectrum.

Dinner on 29/08/18 (17 wines for 14 people)

2011 Chablis grand cru Les Clos, Domaine Pinson
The color was normal for its age and the nose was lovely, with lemony overtones. The oak was well-integrated and the wine was mercifully not as sharp as some Chablis. I felt that it was firmly within its drinking window.

2002 Morey Saint Denis premier cru Les Buissières, Domaine Georges Roumier
Brownish rim with deep smoky Pinot leather bouquet. The wine was sleek, but too old on the palate with a shortish aftertaste. Disappointing in Iight of the producer’s reputation, and the vintage.


2008 Clos de Tart, grand cru
Good medium-deep color. Bewitching, pure, flawless bouquet. Very fresh on the palate with great tannin. Big, regal, well-made, and with a velvety texture. The structure I so often find missing in Burgundy is here. Great long aftertaste. We had two bottles. Some people said they detected a little acetic acid in the first (not me), but the second was marginally better.

2008 Littorai (Sonoma, California), Haven Vineyard
Color as expected for a wine of this age. Bouquet of buttery oak, slightly smoky, and with a herbaceous element. Fine varietal character with a caramel, almost sweet quality on the palate. Very good, but a little simplistic.

2007 Vosne Romanée Les Beaumonts (please forgive me for not noting the producer, will fill in later)
Medium-thin purplish rim. Nose a bit one-dimensional. Harsh and, to my mind, flawed on the palate.

1990 Le Chambertin, Domaine Rossignol-Trapet
Looking old and a bit turbid. Slightly porty on the nose, but better on the palate. Virile, strong, but lacking focus. Would have been better younger.

2001 Sociando Mallet, Cuvée Jean Gautreau, Haut-Médoc
This was served double blind. I guessed Saint-Julien and my better half guessed Saint-Estèphe. She was closer since Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne is just a stone’s throw from Saint-Estèphe… Given a choice of four vintages, I was on the money though. The color showed some age, but with a very deep core. The nose was smoky, deep, and perfumed. This tasted quite fine.

2001 Pontet Canet, Pauillac
Colour was good and youthful. The bouquet was beautifully ripe, uplifting, and elegant. Some spiciness on the palate (cinnamon) and a graceful, smooth tannic structure. One of the stars of the evening. Pontet Canet has risen greatly in recent years but, even so, I didn’t expect this wine to be quite as good as it was.

2001 Latour à Pomerol
Fine color and a slightly odd nose with coffee and celery overtones. Very typical of its appellation on the palate. Big, almost massive and definitely rich. Probably a good time to drink this.

1959 Léoville Poyferré, Saint-Julien
Good color for its age with still some purplish highlights. What I call a very graham cracker bouquet with cosmetic and graphite components. Very interesting balance on the palate with rich tannin, but a fine backbone as well. The aromatics on the nose very much in evidence on the aftertaste.

1983 Château Latour, Pauillac
The wine appeared a little turbid and looked just about its age. The nose displayed sweet cedar and graphite nuances. The wine was big, round, and monumental on the palate. Cabernet Sauvignon at its very best. Long, imperious, and impressive. I see it as fine to drink now.

1982 Sociando Mallet, Haut-Médoc
Lovely vibrant color. Marked coffee-vanilla notes on the nose with some green pepper, but not too much. This mercaptan factor has been toned down over the years – it was overwhelming when the wine was young. This 82 Sociando is big and assertive on the palate and still has good ageing potential.

1982 Ausone, Saint Emilion
Retasted from the previous night, this wine had not lost one iota of its qualities and had, in fact, blossomed. Subtle, sophisticated, and seductive with a velvety texture, puckery aftertaste and refined sweetness. Tremendous.

1998 Léoville Barton, Saint Julien
Looking younger than its years, this had an attractive, but overly discreet nose. The taste was very much in keeping with the château profile – smooth and soft, but in this vintage the tannin is too unyielding, and not in a way that time will cure. Fine with food but on its own too tough. Best enjoyed sooner rather than later to take advantage of the fruit.

1988 Montrose, Saint Estèphe
Color OK for its 30 years. Ethereal, wonderful nose with touch of graphite. Proved to be a great Médoc on the palate, but lacks a bit of freshness and panache.

2001 Doisy Daënes, Barsac
Medium-deep amber-gold color. Very youthful bouquet with some tropical fruit (pineapple) overtones. Good acidity on the palate with lovely follow through. Very fine wine with sweetness well under control. The mineral touch on the aftertaste is still there and helps to make the wine so delicious.

1953 Doisy Daënes, Barsac
Deep amber color and a wonderful nose with hints of vanilla. The first impression on the palate is of a seemingly “fat” and sumptuous wine. However, the wine’s acid backbone kicks in and helps carry this wine into a super-long controlled aftertaste of sheer beauty.

The one wine not noted was from Tim’s birth year, a 1968 Lafite Rothschild. I knew it as a very light rosé in the 1970s and time had not done it any good since. But it is indicative of the extremely high level of all the other wines that it attracted little attention. Come to think of it, the percentage of off or corked bottles was very low, thank goodness.

An altogether phenomenal time!!!

 

Visits to 4 châteaux in the Pessac-Léognan appellation

My friend Izak Litwar from Copenhagen arranged visits over two days (Oct. 10th and 11th 2018) in Pessac-Léognan and the Médoc and asked me to come along. Izak comes to Bordeaux twice a year, once during the En Primeur circus and again during the harvest.

We started out with Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, a wine I once knew well since it was the exclusivity of the négociant I worked for at the time, the maison Chantecaille (in fact the Bordeaux branch of the Bichot company in Beaune). I was amazed to learn that the new owners, the Pichat family, who made their fortune in the regional construction industry, had allowed Philippe Chantecaille’s wife, Bijou, to go on living in the beautiful château. She has just turned 100! Les Carmes is a lovely small property with 5 hectares of vines surrounded by a sea of buildings (houses, offices, and the local hospital). In fact, it is the only vineyard estate with a postal address in the city of Bordeaux!
The new Carmes Haut Brion is a different animal from the one I knew. The state-of-the-art cellars and avant-garde winery building designed by Philippe Stark are put to good use by winemaker Guillaume Pouthier, who had previously worked for Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley.

Avant garde cellar at Carmes Haut Brion

I had noticed the rise of Les Carmes Haut Brion at recent en primeur tastings, and the excellent quality was confirmed by the wines I tasted at the winery. This included the 2018, the first I have ever tasted from this vintage!
The Pichats also acquired 24 hectares of vines in Martillac, likewise in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, when the Le Thil Comte Clary vineyards were sold. However, the wine from there, Le C des Carmes Haut Brion, will always be kept separate from Les Carmes Haut Brion, since the vineyards are 15 km distant with quite different terroirs.

I sampled three vintages. The 2014 had a nose that was fairly oaky, a little smoky, and had (restrained) New World characteristics. It was very fresh and fruity on the palate with good acidity as well as some tar, candied black fruit, and eucalyptus nuances. Very good, and promising.
The 2015 had a developed, ethereal, somewhat floral bouquet. This was once again fresh, with good oak, a touch of smoke, and pure berry fruit. The wine was bigger on the palate than expected with fine tannin. It was also round (but with no drop on the middle palate), tangy, and with good tannic texture. Oak is present, but under control on the long, tannic aftertaste.
The 2016 was the best of the three, with a perfumed, delicate bouquet and simply lovely aromatics, including violet. The wine was extremely appealing on the palate with good follow-through and a fine acid backbone. Despite this good acidity, the wine is rounder, richer, and fuller than the previous two vintages. The tannin is also, unsurprisingly, more unyielding and I predict a great future for this wine.

Chateau Haut Bailly, Leognan, Bordeaux, France.

We were next welcomed by Pia Lombard at Château Haut Bailly where the traditional gerbaude (meal to mark the end of the harvest) was being prepared for the pickers. This involved, among other things, roasting two whole sheep on a spit.
Unfortunately, because of the terrible spring weather this year, the estate lost over half of an average crop due to mildew. The saving grace is that the quality of their 2018 is very encouraging at this early stage.

I’m a great fan of Haut Bailly and was not disappointed by the three vintages I sampled.

The 2017 had an ultra-classic but somewhat one-dimensional nose at the present time, with coffee-vanilla overtones. The wine was very attractive and mouthfilling, if a tad weak on the middle palate. However, it segued into a plush aftertaste with black fruit flavors, well-integrated oak, and textured tannin. Although a little on the light side, it had good balance.
The 2015 had a subtle, but not very forthcoming nose (at the present time) of cranberry. The wine was round and big on the palate with a slight dip in the middle. It had a meaty side as well as textured, grippy tannin and a medium-heavy mouth feel. It finished with up-front crowd-pleasing fruitiness on the good, lively aftertaste.
The 2016 had an attractive berry nose with some smokiness. It succeeded in being both intense and nuanced with beautiful aromatics, including violet nuances. Very promising. The wine was juicy and lipsmackingly delicious on the palate, more foursquare and longer than the Carmes Haut Brion tasted an hour earlier, and also more assertive. It featured good texture and a fine puckery aftertaste, if perhaps a touch dry on the finish at the present time.

Next stop was Château Seguin in Canéjan. Owner Denis Darriet is a friend who is doing very good work making classic wines at reasonable prices. This was the third Pessac-Léognan estate in a row that produces only red wine, very much the exception rather than the rule in the appellation!
2015 Seguin had some caramel, black cherry and oaky overtones, without artifice. The wine was lovely, mouthfilling, “sweet” and with considerable finesse, approaching grand cru status. It was perhaps a tad weak on the middle palate and maybe a little short, but showed good dark fruit and a tarry quality. It will be very enjoyable even fairly young.
The 2016 displayed a wonderful Pessac-Léognan nose with hints of mint and smoke. The initial impression of sweetness on the palate followed into a smooth, velvety aftertaste with well-integrated oak on the tail end. A very fine wine indeed. I also sampled two other cuvées from the 2016 vintage: an as yet unnamed cuvée which sees longer oak ageing with a higher proportion of new barrels. This had a creamier flavor and more grip, as well as longer ageing potential. The top of the line at Seguin is “Confidences” which is made from the estate’s 3 or 4 best barrels. This proved to be of another magnitude, with enormous ageing potential. It is tightly-wound at present and needs quite a bit of time to strut its stuff.

Domaine de Chevalier

 

The final visit of the day was to Domaine de Chevalier, where we were welcomed by Olivier Bernard. He was in an ebullient mood because this was the very last day of the harvest, which had been untouched by rain. As is usually the case in Bordeaux, we tasted the reds before the whites.

 

The 2016 red has just been bottled. It showed fresh, well-focused, chocolate and black fruit (blackcurrant) aromas. The wine was full and very juicy with good acidity and a delicious aftertaste. It melted in the mouth and displayed really good balance. This proved to be a very drinkable wine rather than any sort of blockbuster. The oak comes through as it should, and no more.
2015 Domaine de Chevalier had some incense aromas along with perky red and black fruit that was not particularly complex at this stage. The wine was medium-heavy on the palate with strong tannin that coated the teeth with going-on-sharp acidity. The incense quality on the nose carried over to the palate. This seemed like a little bit of a bruiser for Chevalier.
2014 Chevalier had a stupendous color with a brambly black fruit jelly nose, along with cherry and leather nuances. This will surely become more complex over time. The wine was attractive and plush on the palate with tremendous cherry flavors. Although a little facile, it was round and showing extremely well even this young. Tremendously well-made with a fine textured aftertaste.
Then it was on to the whites.
2016 Domaine de Chevalier had a very Sauvignon Blanc nose that is quite primary at present. It was round on the palate and the wine’s intrinsic class came through on the finish.
Sémillon showed through more on the nose of the 2015, a wine that was quite delicious, pure, and mineral with understated pear and tropical fruit flavors. Great finish.
The 2014 white wine from Domaine de Chevalier featured enchanting beeswax aromas as part of a very complex bouquet. The wine was incredibly smooth and long on the palate. Simply a great wine.

 

2017 EN PRIMEUR TASTING: PESSAC-LEOGNAN

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

 

Bouscaut
N: Lots of toasty oak with smoky nuances.
P: Fortunately, the oak is not overwhelming on the palate. Tasty, well-balanced, and typical of its appellation. Lipsmacking bright fruit. Natural with lovely aromatics (redcurrant, etc.). Good to very good.

Carbonnieux
N: Oak dominates the fruit at present, but not by a great deal. Red fruit (candied cherries) and smoky nuances.
P: Medium rich with sweet fruit, going on to show fine acidity. Light on its feet. Also cushioned and velvety. 2017 Carbonnieux reaffirms the improvement of the estate’s red wines (the whites were always good). Good.

Carmes Haut Brion
N: Exuberant cherry fruit aromas, almost Pinot Noir-like. Lovely, sexy, and deep.
P: Wonderful mouthful of wine. Sweet and hedonistic. Despite the considerable softness, the tannin says Bordeaux. Fine flavors, mineral freshness, and just the right amount of oak. Very good.

Chevalier
N: High-quality oak with glossy, impeccable black fruit (blackberry) aromas.
P: Concentrated and pure, with great development on the palate, continuing into a sensual aftertaste showing sweet fruit as well as minerality very typical of Pessac-Léognan. Fine acidity at the core of a delicious softness. Very Good.

de France
N: Liquorice and roasted aromas. Some smoky overtones, as well as interesting violet ones.
P: Quite sweet on the palate with flavors reminiscent of black fruit jam. Seems a little flabby, then weak, then comes back with a perfectly creditable aftertaste. Lots of black fruit here. Typical Pessac-Léognan. Good.

Larrivet Haut Brion
N: Subtle forest fruit aromas along with roast coffee and candied black cherry. Harmonious nose with a strong personality.
P: Great attack bursting with concentrated fruit. Pure, with nice acidity and high-quality tannin. Appetizing. Only flaw is a slight diluteness on the middle palate. Good to very good.

Malartic Lagravière
N: Pure fruit and a perfumed quality I often find in this château. The oak is under control.
P: Sweet, luscious, elegant cherry notes. Classy and neither big, nor dainty. Good to very good.

Olivier
N: Soft and polished, but not tremendously expressive.
P: A little syrupy at first, but then shows marked acidity and good fruit. Sturdy rather than exciting.
Good.

Pape Clément
N: Toasty oak (hardly surprising for this estate), but also sweet fruit to go with it. Multi-faceted.
P: Thick, with resonating tannin. Mercifully, no oak overkill. In fact, the wine’s intrinsic smokiness goes well with it. Great balance. Aristocratic. The tart finish is also somewhat dry. The only thing missing is a little more oomph. Very good.

 

La Tour Martillac
N: Classic cherry aromas. Clear-cut, sweet bouquet of medium intensity.
P: Starts off with a plush, round texture, then reveals sharp, but fresh tannin that will probably even out over time. Attractive red fruit flavors. Good.

2017 primeurs: Saint Julien, Pauillac, and Saint Estèphe

SAINT JULIEN

 

Beychevelle
N: Perfumed, lovely, fresh, and understated bouquet with fancy oak nuances.
P: Medium-weight showing great delicacy and delicious fruit flavors. Seems almost Margaux-like. Lacy texture, fine balance, and great acidity. Very good.

Branaire Ducru

N: Suave, but not very complex. Quite fruity with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Not full-bodied, but tasty, with marked acidity. More tannin than Beychevelle, but not quite up to its quality. Good.

Ducru Beaucaillou
N: Sweet, subtle fruit, the expression of fine Médoc through the ages.
P: Dense, resonating fruit and considerable concentration. Powerful ripe Cabernet character with some black olive nuances. Extremely long aftertaste. Very good.

Gruaud Larose
N: Very classic, very Cabernet nose with some pencil shaving aromas. Fresh and attractive, but I was hoping for more…
P: Rich cassis flavors with a good texture, going on to show acidity, then minerality. Not particularly well-balanced. The sudden drop disappoints. The degree of acidity means the wine will age well but it lacks richness, body, and if the truth be known, fruit for its standing. Nevertheless good.

Lagrange
N: Very reserved, a little smoky, and already leads one to believe the wine may be lacking in concentration on the palate.
P: Starts out relatively full-bodied, then goes into acid mode. Will age well thanks to this, but will always remain a little hard and a little short. Good.

Langoa Barton
N: Soft, sweet bouquet, but not very concentrated. Oak is in the background.
P: Seems chunky at first, but then fresh piercing acidity shows through. Classic blackcurrant notes, but the range of flavours is relatively narrow. Somewhat thin on the finish. Good.

Léoville Barton
N: Strong cedar aromas to match the fruit. Both classic and charming.
P: Silky/satiny texture with good concentration. Showing plenty of blackcurrant, and enough body to back up that 2017 acidity. Very long and dry (not negative here) aftertaste. Streets ahead of Léoville Poyferré. Very good.

Léoville Las Cases
N: All the hallmarks of the château with fresh, mythical blackcurrant nose.
P: Great velvety texture and develops beautifully on the palate. Both sensual and mineral. Tremendous finish. In no way can this be considered a poor or even middling vintage for Las Cases. Very good.

Léoville Poyferré
N: Not very expressive, but inevitable blackcurrant and tobacco aromas.
P: Seems both soft and a little diluted. Does not spread out on the palate as hoped. Lacks body and richness. Somewhat redeemed by a long and fairly mineral finish. Needs re-evaluation later on. Good.

Saint Pierre
N: Sweet upfront bouquet with toasty oak. Charming and immediately attractive rather than deep.
P: Some richness there and lots of fruit and, once again, oak. This needs to integrate. A more modern style, but one that suits both connoisseurs and people with less experience. Fine, tangy aftertaste superior to many other classified growths in Saint Julien on this day, and perhaps less acidic. Good to very good.

Talbot
N: Rather closed. Not much fruit showing at present, but with some cedar notes.
P: On the thin side for a Saint-Julien though it will undoubtedly put on weight and mellow out with age. Definitely not a great Talbot, however there is a nice long aftertaste with some black olive nuances. Good.

PAUILLAC

 

d’Armailhac
N: Pretty, perfumed, even a little cosmetic (in a positive way – elegant and under control).
P: Lovely, rich, and generous, going into that 2017 acidity, but still very fine. Medium-bodied. Tarry and slightly mineral aftertaste with plenty of oak. I was not alone in thinking that this is a rare instance in which d’Armailhac is better than sister château, Clerc Milon. Excellent.

Batailley
N: More developed than most with intriguing red berry (raspberry) fruit. Some earthiness, a touch spirity and a little green.
P: Spherical, but hollow and short. More commercial style than sister château Lynch Moussas, and also less good. Lots of tannin and oak here. OK to good.

Clerc Milon
N: Roast coffee notes and a little spirity. Withdrawn and less refined than d’Armailhac.
P: Better on the palate. Richness gives way to acidity. On this day d’Armailhac outclasses Clerc Milon, but what will things be like in the long term? Good to very good.

Croizet Bages
N: Fruit in minor mode, but attractive and fresh. Fine, if restrained blackcurrant nuances along with new oak.
P: Medium heavy mouthfeel. Starts out fresh, with decent fruit, but a little watery and then dips before going into an aftertaste with textured tannin and plenty of oak. This may very well integrate over time. Croizet Bages is on the upswing. About time too… Good.

Grand Puy Ducasse
N: Unfocused, with fermentation aromas and a bit of a stink. Showing poorly, which just goes to show how tasting these wines at such an early stage can give a false impression.
P: Very acidic and frankly poor at this stage.  Not up to cru classé standard. To be fair, needs to be re-tasted later on.

Grand Puy Lacoste
N: Subdued, but good potential there.
P: Rich, round, and much, much more expressive on the palate than on the nose. Lovely development. “Sweet” without asperity. Fine red and black fruit flavors. Not too much acidity, oak, or anything else really. Good to very good (if the bouquet comes out).

Haut Bages Libéral
N: Not a great deal there, just some blackcurrant leaves.
P: Starts out rich and showing medium-heavy mouthfeel, but then seems somewhat on the thin side. Fine flavour, and plenty of good acidity as it develops on the palate. Really good balance. In fact, significantly better on the palate than on the nose. A nice surprise. Very good.

Lafite Rothschild
N: Trademark violet nuances with some lead and plum aromas. Fresh and dashing.
P: Quite tannic, but tannins of exquisite quality. Not particularly rich, and presently holding back, but will be a great bottle. Lafite defies trends and changes little – because it doesn’t need to. Excellent.

Latour
N: Aromatics are low key now, but that apotheosis of Cabernet on gravel soil is all there and needs just time.
P: From the attack and up until the aftertaste, this was not particularly impressive. However, the finish is nothing short of tremendous. Medium bodied and very juicy. A baby born under a lucky star needing only to fill out and develop.

Lynch Bages
N: Fine, ripe blackcurrant nose with some emerging cedar notes. Promising.
P: Round, then sinewy. Lovely satisfying aftertaste with well-integrated oak.  Good acidity. Classic wine in a good, rather than a great vintage. Rich, vigorous fruit and acidity is under control, as is the effect of barrel ageing. Very good.

Lynch Moussas
N: Interesting floral as well as ripe, slightly candied, and jammy black cherry notes.
P: Easy-going and rich on the palate. Melts in the mouth and is then followed up by ripe tannin, complemented by new oak that it just a little too harsh on the finish. Perhaps a little light for a Pauillac but a very good effort and a pleasure to discover. An estate that deserves to be better known. Good to very good.

Mouton Rothschild
N: Oak, graphite, cigar box, and deep fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel and the lead/graphite component on the nose comes through, followed by great fruit and that acidic component so common in 2017. Virile, velvety, and aristocratic aftertaste. Tremendous length. A stand-offish Mouton, but by no means a poor one, and should age well. Excellent.

Pichon Baron
N: Super elegant nose, clear, pure, and rich. Complex and very promising.
P: WIldberry and blackcurrant flavors. The only drawback is the lack of oomph on the aftertaste. And easy-to-drink even slightly dilute Baron –  that is until the finish, which features the requisite high-quality oak and tannin. Tasted just after the Comtesse, I confess I preferred the female. Still: very good.

Pichon Comtesse
N: Soft, straightforward black fruit. Good, but nothing special at this stage.
P: Fairly heavy mouthfeel. Rich, sensual texture going into an aftertaste with plenty of smooth tannin. Finishes with fine, sweet fruit. Everything is in place and the wine is extremely well made. Very good and a potential star when the nose starts delivering. I often prefer the Baron, but not in this vintage or, should I say, at this point in their life cycle.  Very good.

Pontet Canet
N: Juicy, soft, and a little musty, with subtle candied fruit aromas. Very enticing.
P: Fresh, with excellent structure. Straightforward, with a fine tannic backbone. A delicate balance and great finish. Long mineral aftertaste. Very good.

 

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

 

Calon Ségur
N: Dark fruit and a little beeswax, but not very expressive at this stage.
P: Fairly heavy mouth feel. Dense, penetrating and very Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely, long, persistent aftertaste with good acidity as opposed to others in this vintage with more shrill acidity. Very typical of its appellation and estate (…so different from Cos). One for the long haul, but with charm even so. Very good.

Cos d’Estournel
N: Penetrating black fruit aromas with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Sleek and well-made. No longer flirting with a bigger, more modern style, this Cos shows great class with superb tannin. Very good.

Cos Labory
N: Soft, ethereal Cabernet fruit with interesting nuances.
P: Richer than expected on the palate, but goes into an aftertaste that is not only strong, but rather rustic. Somewhat harsh finish. OK.

Lafon Rochet
N: Very closed at present, but with underlying classic Médoc nuances and a little earthiness.
P: Fresh, vibrant, and refreshing and with some weight on the palate. Lovely fine-grained tannin, but lacks some richness and there is a certain hardness there. However, the estate’s profile comes through beautifully on the aftertaste. An elegant Saint-Estèphe, as always. Good to very good.

Montrose
N: Lovely coffee, violet, and ripe black fruit aromas. Serious, complex, and very pleasing.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel, moving forward towards a rather unyielding, but very promising aftertaste. Fine ageing potential. Very good.
(I usually don’t include notes on second wines and associated estates, but I’ll make an exception here because the other Bouygues estate in Saint-Estèphe, Château Tronquoy Lalande, was particularly successful in 2017 and this is now a wine deserving of special attention).

Ormes de Pez
N: Fine marriage of fruit and oak and clearly above average thanks to exuberant red fruit (rather than black fruit). Not intense, but expressive and appealing.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel. Fresh and straightforward. Fine, pure fruit. Good tension and tight tannin. Very good.

de Pez
N: Fresh and restrained, with black fruit overtones and medium body, with the oak influence under control.
P: Marked acidity and a bit mean on the finish, but should age into a decent lightish (for Saint-Estèphe) wine. Good

Phélan Ségur
N: Odd, slightly synthetic nose backed up by some leathery notes. More unusual than good or bad…
P: Better on the palate, showing some richness to start out with, but also some sharpness thereafter. The tannin coats the mouth. Good, medium-term ager. Well-made, although perhaps a little too much tannin in light of its body. Good.

 

 

Tasting of 2017 Margaux

Boyd Cantenac
N: Fresh and pure with brambly overtones. Subtle.
P: Rich and chocolatey, with high-quality tannin. In a very classic mold. Very good.

Brane Cantenac
N: Strong, toasty oak and roast coffee aromas predominates at this point, somewhat hiding the fruit.
P: A different story on the palate, with a lovely, soft, caressing mouth feel and great purity leading into a long mineral aftertaste. Considerable delicacy and elegance, i.e. very Margauxlike. Great, long, cool aftertaste. Very good.

Cantenac Brown
N: Lovely floral aromas along with sweet black fruit nuances.
P: Medium weight, but oh so soft… Great balance. Svelte with fine acidity. Long textured aftertaste. Gives every indication of delivering much at an early age. Very good.

Dauzac
N: Bit dank, closed-in, and lacking focus. Penetrating in an odd way with a noticeable alcoholic presence. Not positive at the present time.
P: Better, with an inky palate and upfront fruit.  Vibrant acidity with a medium-long, slightly dry, and definitely oaky aftertaste. A more commercial style. Good.

Desmirail
N: A little one-dimensional with plenty of oak, although this may well integrate over time. Some blackcurrant, black olive, and mint/eucalyptus aromas.
P: Lively and fruity, but somewhat hard. Better than in recent vintages. Tangy, fresh finish. Watch out for the rest of barrel ageing so as not to overwhelm the wine. Potential sleeper. Good.

Durfort Vivens
N: Menthol aromas overlaying blackcurrant, along with some polished wood overtones.
P: Starts out soft, then goes on to show considerable tannic backbone. Assertive aftertaste with velvety texture. Somewhat old school. Some dryness on the finish. Needs to digest the oak. Good.

 

Ferrière
N: Lovely, well-integrated oak. Ripe, but not overripe, with berry fruit. Slight greenness, but this does not detract. Subtle coffee and blackberry aromas.
P: Refreshing and lively. Pure, but somewhat short. Attractive mineral aftertaste, but lacks personality on the middle palate as well as richness. A light Ferrière. Good.

Giscours
N: Berry fruit (perhaps a little jammy) along with interesting floral (iris, jasmine) nuances.
P: Rich attack going into an oaky roundness with not much going on in between. Margaux characteristics there, but the oak comes across as really overdone at this stage. Needs retasting to form a valid opinion. OK

Issan
N: Muted. Some polished wood aromas.
P: Very soft and velvety. Lively and classic. Lovely vibrant fruit but on the simplistic side. Unquestionable finesse. Good to very good if the bouquet blossoms.

Kirwan
N: The fruit is not overshadowed by the oak, but there is not much there.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel but rather diluted on the middle palate. However, the powerful, long aftertaste bringing up the rear saves the day. This is vibrant, velvety, and characterful. Obviously needs time to come together. Somewhat of a liqueur/spirity aspect. Good.

Lascombes
N: Coming out of a dormant period with some original graham cracker, liquorice (zan), and chalky aromas.
P: Starts out rich, fruit-forward, and enveloping… and then drops. Shortish aftertaste. Going on round, then segues into a hard aftertaste. OK.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Muted, slightly alcoholic.
P: Lovely and soft, but with a decided tannic presence and good acid backbone as well. Good balance and cool, long aftertaste. An elegant Médoc. Good.

Margaux
N: Softly penetrating inimitable trademark bouquet. Fresh, elegant, crystalline.
P: Striking silky quality going on to show a lovely acid backbone. Not big, but velvety and super long. Not monumental, but excellent.
I also tasted the white wine, Pavillon Blanc, which I normally speaking wouldn’t mention here, but this vintage is nothing short of extraordinary. Extremely poised and aromatic, with a finish that goes on and on. The best white Margaux I’ve ever had (there have been a number of hits and misses…) and one of the best white Bordeaux I’ve been privileged to taste as well. Great success.

Marjolia
N: Closed (at this early stage, of course) with more beeswax and oak than fruit.
P: Fortunately much better on the palate. Ripe fruit, yes, but far too oaky. Good, but nothing special.

Marquis d’Alesme
N: Attractive dark fruit underdeveloped at this time. Some toasty oak.
P: Silky, layered attack, then drops. A natural, fresh wine with well-integrated oak, but short. Good.

Marquis de Terme
N: Lovely blackberry liqueur and blackcurrant aromas. No terribly complex, but seductive. Oak as it should be.
P: A little dilute, and somewhat hollow, but this is a vinous crowd-pleasing sort of Médoc that will be enjoyable young. Good.

Palmer
N: Lovely sophisticated nose of candied red and black fruit
P: Rich, a little spirity, with some tarriness, and develops beautifully on the palate. Tremendously long, seductive finish. Velvety texture. Very good.

Prieuré Lichine
N: Unusual, wild, New World type aromas. Not typical of its origin or seemingly of its grape varieties. Intriguing, almost Grenache-like bouquet!
P: Thickish texture and melts in the mouth. Starts out quite rich and spherical, and then drops, nevertheless going into a good mineral aftertaste. Off the beaten track. Will show well young. Marked oak on the aftertaste should integrate. Good.

Rauzan Gassies
N: Light, attractive, typical Margaux bouquet.
P: Watery, but goes into a decent aftertaste. Better than many other previous vintages. OK

Rauzan Ségla
N: Fine, polished, sweet Médoc nose of blackcurrant. Not overoaked. Haunting. Not pronounced.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satin texture and finishes with an attractive minerality. Quite round for its appellation. Light on its feet with a fine velvety aftertaste. Very good.

du Tertre
N: Off smells. Some stink. Not showing well.
P: Bretty quality carries over to the palate, which also displays loads of oak that overshadows the fruit. This may be just a difficult phase, or a bad sample.

Tasting of 2017 Pomerol

I’ve been later than most in posting my tasting notes for the 2017 primeurs. I’m starting with Pomerol and will continue with the other appellations in short order.

Beauregard
N: Ripe, with a subtle ethereal perfume of violet. Understated and elegant.
P: Classy, melts in the mouth with luscious Merlot fruit, empyreumatic ovvertones, and almond flavours, and then stops fairly short. Light and elegant. Lovely tension with a velvety texture. Not one to stand out in a tasting, but lovely with refined. Vin de gastronomie. Reminds me of La Fleur. Very good.

Bon Pasteur
N: Very natural and pure, but underdeveloped at this time. Some chocolate and tar nuances. Elegant and promising.
P: Somewhat heavy mouthfeel going into a certain hardness, but accompanied by granular tannin. Oaky, but less so than in the past. Floral aromatics come through surprisingly more on the palate than on the nose. Obviously needs age to even out. Shortish aftertaste. Good to very good.

La Cabanne
N: Deep black fruit and fruit jelly. Aromas are quite primary, but potential there to evolve.
P: Round, upfront mouth feel followed by refreshing acidity. Lovely fruit (cherry, blackberry). Voluptuous and somewhat tarry. Quite well made. Very good.

La Clémence
N: Sweet, pure black fruit. Not much depth now, but shows good oak.
P: Lovely, sensual, round, and assertive. Candied fruit flavors and well-integrated oak. Not boring. Promising. Very good.

Clinet
N: Tremendously lively and interestingly fruity nose. Slightly confected and almost Burgundian!
P: Plum and cherry flavors. As the French say, “a basket of red fruit”. Nice follow-through on the palate, almost as good as the nose, but weak on the middle palate and a tad thin. Brambly, rubbery and oaky notes on the finish. Good.

Clos l’Eglise
N: Empyreumatic and fresh, but closed.
P: Spreads out beautifully on the palate with bright fruit. A bit hot. Medium-long aftertaste. Borderline too much oak, but this can change with the rest of barrel ageing and afterward. Good to very good.

La Conseillante
N: Floral, subtle, wafting.
P : Clean-cut, rich going into vibrant acidity. Long tangy aftertaste with finish showing rubbery Merlot tannins. Spherical. Velvety/soft with an iron rod for a backbone. Very good.

La Croix de Gay
N: Somewhat confected, roasted aromas along with ethereal fruit. Not very forthcoming.
P: Big, round, and cushioned on the palate with an alcoholic presence and some hard oak. Modern style. Good.

La Croix Saint Georges
N: Not expressive at this time. Some violet overtones.
P: Silky and spherical, with easy-going roundness giving way to tannin of a quality only found in Pomerol. Obvious new oak on the finish, along with marked acidity. Unusual balance, long aftertaste, and here’s hoping that the oak does not get the upper hand in the next year/year and a half. Good.

Fayat
N: Black fruit with oak and an odd cheesy smell.
P: Much better on the palate, but something’s a little off here. More acidity and less roundnessthan other Pomerols tasted alongside. A good wine that needs to age. Shows red fruit, a touch of spice, and lots of oak that may well become well-integrated on the aftertaste. Good – despite the strange nose.

Feytit-Clinet
N: Lovely understated bouquet of blueberry and blackberry. Toasty oak fits well into the profile.
P: Very ripe and rich. Lively, and with great balance. Very much of an up-and-coming estate, as well as good value in an expensive appellation. Fine, well-modulated aftertaste. Pure pleasure. Very good.

La Fleur de Gay
N: Powerful blackberry aromas, with some humus.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel and then shows more balance than expected. Round and full, yet light on substance. Too much oak on the finish, but does not reach sledgehammer level. Good to very good.

Gazin
N: Lovely lift of sophisticated black fruit jelly and an attractive, less obvious sweetness, then some. Sensual. Glossy.
P: Very round, but not fat. Delicious cherry flavours and a silky texture with a lovely follow-through on the pure, refreshing, very long aftertaste. Velvety tannin. Impeccable. Not big, but flavorsome.  Very good/excellent.

Maillet
N: Bursting with berry fruit. Fresh, with good oak and incense aromas.
P: 1,000% Merlot. Melts in the mouth and shows plenty of volume. Sensual. Rubbery, emyreumatic flavors and a slightly hot aftertaste. Not so long, but the experience is like good sex. Very good.

Petit Village
N: Showing a little dumb at this stage. Fruit in hiding.
P: Starts out very round and rich, almost flabby then, as if skipping the middle palate, segues into fresh, strong acidity. Gummy, persistent tannin, but perhaps too much oak. Definite hardness on the finish that is somewhat at odds with the fruitiness. Textured tannin on the aftertaset. May move up significantly over time. Good.

 

Rouget
N: Lovely, subtle, ethereal nose of blackberry liqueur.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Lovely tension and velvety texture. Will age well. Strong oak presence, but this should incorporate over time, I believe. A wine to follow. Good to very good.

Saint Pierre
N: Blackberry liqueur, fine oak, understated, and showing lovely balance.
P: Elegant on the palate as well. A class act. Merlot tempered with good acidity and moderate use of oak. Some floral overtones. An exciting discovery for me. The Pradel de Lavaux family own 9 Right Bank properties, including half of Ch. Bellevue, across from Angélus (who own the other half). Very good.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Aristocratic fruitiness with some coffee overtones
P: Liquid elegance. Mouthwatering and creamy. Incredible texture. Lipsmackingly good. Lovely fruit bringing up the rear. Aftertaste nothing short of regal. In a week of tasting, I think this is the wine that provided me with the most pleasure, even if others were more “serious” or “classic”. Outstanding.

 

 

Tasting of 16 Clos de Vougeot

People in Bordeaux rarely have more than a passing acquaintance with Burgundy, but I try as best I can from so far away to understand this fascinating region that, yes, makes wines on a par with the finest of Bordeaux. In fact, pitting one of France’s great wines against the other is plain foolishness in my opinion. I, for one, like both enormously!
Seeing as I had amassed a number of wines from the Clos de Vougeot over the years, I decided to invite several friends to a tasting dinner. There were 12 of us altogether. Traveling from Paris, Tim Mc Cracken added three wines to mine, and Ian Amstad from London brought two as well. That made a total of 18 wines. I have only ever heard of one such large scale tasting of Clos de Vougeot in Bordeaux. This was organized by Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour, whose boss had recently purchased Domaine de l’Eugénie (who produced one of the wines we tasted).

A description of Clos de Vougeot (or Clos Vougeot) can be found in any comprehensive wine book. Wine was made here by Cistercian monks starting in the 12th century and the medieval château is one of Burgundy’s most famous landmarks. This was bought by the Chevaliers de Tastevin in 1934 and is the setting for countless tastings and banquets.

Exceeded in size only by Le Corton (97.5 hectares), the Clos de Vougeot is the second largest of all the 36 grands crus in Burgundy (Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits). The 50 hectares are divided among 82 owners. Considering the variety of soil types, position on the slope, and different winemakers, there is enormous variation.

The tasting was not conducted blind and, for the grand cru, went from youngest to oldest.

 

 

We started off with a village wine, a 2014 Les Petits Vougeots, from Château de Charodon. The labels say that just 715 bottles were made. This was fairly light in color. It was slightly musty on the nose, which showed a little sulphur and not much else… The wine was very light and thirst-quenching on the palate with little body. A minor Burgundy that’s fine to drink now. Not a noteworthy village wine by any means. OK.

The next flight, if you can call it that (just one wine) was a 2009 premier cru, Clos de la Perrière, a monopole (exclusivity) from Domaine Bertagna. This proved to be the biggest surprise of the tasting.
The color featured a thin mahogany rim and there was a lovey nose of ripe Pinot, roast coffee, and a touch of alcohol. The wine started out very well on the palate before evolving into a very attractive candied black fruit aftertaste with notes of leather and earthiness. The finish was deliciously appetizing. Re-tasted the next day, this premier cru was still in great shape and I was not alone in finding it better than at least half of the grand cru wines we tried.
Very good, and I’d like to visit the domaine one day.

 

Grand cru (16 wines):

 

2011 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Medium-deep and just starting to show some browinsh highlights.
N: Very musky with some leather notes and definite sulphur.
T: Starts out silky and rich, but then becomes somewhat dilute. Picks up again on the aftertaste with pure fruit. Lacks breadth, but there is depth there. Lingering aftertaste. Good plus.

2010 Domaine Gérard Raphet
C: Rather watery with a weak core and some browning on the rim.
N: Smells older than its years and although not very expressive, there are some cranberry and fruit jelly aromas, as well as some tertiary notes there. However, the bouquet lacks oomph.
T: Seems slightly diluted at first, but then goes on to show a silky texture and the wine’s class comes through on the aftertaste. Worthwhile potential, but should have more energy at this stage. Good

2009 Domaine Chantal Lescure
C: Even brownish-red color. Looks too developed for a 9 year-old wine.
N: Sulphur, musky, leather, and somewhat meaty nuances.
T: Ripe berry fruit with a certain seriousness and weight on the palate. A clear alcoholic presence on the candied black fruit aftertaste. Disappointing up until that finish, which however justifies the wine’s grand cru status. Good.

 

2009 Domaine Louis Jadot
C: Much more youthful color than most of the wines with purple highlights.
N: Fresh, but alcoholic bouquet showing the wild, unbridled side of Pinot with some black fruit jelly aromas.
T: Displayed considerable weight and more tannin than most. Clearly too young, but promising. Well-made and elegant. Quite a long aftertaste. Needs plenty of time to come together. Very good.

2008 Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat
C: Looking a bit tired.
N: Very developed, subtle, earthy, and funky.
T: Starts out a little weak and then shows some guts with a long aftertaste. There’s nevertheless an imbalance here, but it’s not great. A wine that has prematurely aged. Good.

2008 Domaine de l’Eugénie
C: Not deep, but vibrant and more dynamic and youthful than most.
N: Roasted aromas and some menthol. A little exotic. Pure, fresh, and unusual. A more modern style?
T: Bright black fruit with fine acidity to provide a good backbone and length. Long, lingering aftertaste. Perhaps too much oak, but this one is made for the long haul and it may very well integrate. Very good.

 

2008 Domaine Tortochot
C: Good, deep, dark purple and crimson.
N: Some sulphur, but there’s also fruit in the background. Too much oak comes through in roast coffee aromas.
T: Chewy, big, but clearly out of balance. Does not have the class of a grand cru. Charitably: good.

2008 Domaine Lamarche
C: Bit dull, but OK.
N: Sulphur, but also good Pinot fruit, showing some of the variety’s wild side with overtones of leather and terroir.
T: Spherical but somewhat hollow. And OK finish, but I was expecting a more vigorous expression.
Good.

2006 Domaine Jacques Prieur
C: Lovely deep color with a thinning brownish rim
N: Unusually powerful candied fruit aromas. Altogether penetrating bouquet.
T: Caressing texture on the palate. Strong mouthfeel. Big, somewhat old-fashioned style of Burgundy with a long aftertaste. Well-made. Great ageing potential. Very good.

 

2006 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Good for its age with some definite browning on the rim.
N: Roasted, earthy aromas, but not enough fruit.
T: The finish is a bit hot and harsh. However age may even this out, because that harshness may be a sign of promise, i.e. ageing potential. The afteraste is puckery, then hard. Good plus.

2004 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Thin browning rim.
N: Green, green, and green. Unroasted coffee beans.
T: Oops, green meanies here. Herbaceous. Not successful.

2002 Domaine Joseph Drouhin
C: Medium, about right for its age.
N: Lovely ripe Pinot nose. Balanced and classy. Made me sit up and take notice.
T: Sweet fruit. Juicy. Fine long aftertaste. A joy now or in years to come. Excellent.

 

2002 Domaine Lamarche
C: Rather wishy-washy
N: Odd with a touch of vinegar
T: That acetic quality carries over onto the palate and there was some discussion as to whether the wine was corked or not too. Not rated.

1998 Domaine Méo-Camuzet
C: Very pale, going on rosé!
N: Sulphur and brett. Not pretty.
T: Off, over-the-hill. Not rated.

1991 Château de la Tour
C: Good for its age.
N: Cosmetic and subtle with a soupçon of liquorice. Seems more interesting than good at first. As the Italians say “a wine of meditation”. Surprisingly long aftertaste. Old but worthwhile. Good plus.

1977 Jean DeLaTour, négociant à Beaune
C: Burgundy going into Madeira!
N: Very ethereal. Rose petal and… soy sauce aromas.
T: Soft, with some iron oxide nuances. Long, tender, gentle aftertaste. Somewhat indeterminate, but a great pleasure to sip and appreciate the subtleties. Good plus.

Tim tallied up the group scores, which revealed some wild variations. One man’s funky tertiary was another man’s tired, bretty mess!
There was, however a strong consensus about the number one wine: 2002 Jospeh Drouhin.

As an apéritif, and with the first course, we enjoyed a magnum of 2010 Clos Blanc de Vougeot from Domaine de la Vougeraie (Boisset). This is a monopole, or exclusivity.
This premier cru, consists of 2.3 hectares of vines (95 % Chardonnay,  4 % Pinot Gris, and 1 % Pinot Blanc) on the middle of the slope. White wine has been made here for centuries.
This 2010 we had featured a brilliant medium gold color and a nose that turned some people off because of the new oak. While this was strong, I felt that it was nevertheless attractive and that the vanilla nuances will blend in more with age because the wine clearly has some way to go yet. It was very sensual, melt-in-your-mouth Chardonnay and I enjoyed it.

Had I been better organized, I’d have plotted the vineyard holdings of each of the domaines within the Clos on a map, but I’m afraid I didn’t really have the time to do my homework there…

A quarter of all St. Emilion crus classés have changed hands since 2012!

Interesting article in the locl Sud-Ouest newspaper of April 4th. Unfortunately, I can’t post the link because it only works for subscribers. So here are the salient points:

Nearly 25% of the 82 grands crus classées in Saint Emilion have changed hands since the 2012 classification (still not definitive because of being challenged in the courts…).

The newspaper explains that this is due to several factors. Increased international demand for luxury goods plays a major role, as does long-term return for institutional investors. French inheritance laws make it difficult for families to continue holding on to châteaux and the small size of estates makes it difficult to produce enough wine to establish a brand and satisfy world demand. Indeed, the classified growths of Saint-Emilion are much smaller than those in the Médoc, and it makes sense to reach a critical mass.

Owners must wait for the next classification in 2022 to request an extension to their estates (frequently by absorbing another grand cru classé), so there is much jockeying going on at the moment.

Who is buying?

The answer is foreigners, wealthy French buyers, and other great growths.Here is the list of the 18 châteaux to have changed hands since 2012 Château

L’Arrosée  – Domaine Clarence Dillion (Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion)
Bellefont Belcier – Vignobles K (Chinese)
Berliquet – Wertheimer family (Chanel)
Chauvin – Sylvie Cazes (Lynch Bages, etc.)
La Clotte – Vauthier family (Ausone, etc.)
Côte de Baleau – Cuvelier family (Clos Fourtet, Poujeaux)
Faurie de Souchard – Dassault (Château Dassault and jet aircraft firm)
Fonroque – Jubert Guillard (insurance)
Grandes Murailles – Cuvelier family (Clos Fourtet, Poujeaux)
Clos le Madeleine – Jean-Pierre Moueix (Pétrus et al)
Monbousquet – CARMF (mutual insurance firm)
Moulin du Cadet – Lefévère family (Château Sansonnet)
Petit Faurie de Soutard – AG2R La Mondiale (insurance – Châteaux Soutard and Larmande)
Le Prieuré Artémis – (François Pinault – Château Latour)
Ripeau – Grégoire family
Clos Saint-Martin – Sophie Fourcade
Troplong Mondot SCOR (insurance)

A long day out in Sauternes (visits to 15 estates)

November 2017

I spent a very busy day at the end of last year on a whirlwind tour of Sauternes estates. Here’s the report – better late than never!

The first château I went to was Filhot, a second growth with a beautiful sprawling château quite close to the town of Sauternes and Château Guiraud. I tasted 2 wines here. The first, 2013 Zest, is a successful attempt to give Sauternes a more youthful and modern image. The wine is quite inexpensive, upfront, ready to drink fairly soon, and comes in an attractive 37.5 cl. bottle. The 2013 had simple pineapple, white peach, and lemon aromas. It was easy-to-drink, uncomplicated, and lively on the palate. A fun wine.
The 2009 Filhot showed fairly intense overtones of honey and vanilla on the nose. The wine was medium-heavy on the palate with a very good, long, and sophisticated aftertaste. Not big and full, but very satisfying, even at this stage.

Then it was on to Château Guiraud, owned in large part by the Peugeot family of automobile fame, along with Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier and Stephan von Neipperg of Canon La Gaffelière. I sampled 2 wines here as well: 2014 Petit Guiraud (very pale color, somewhat of a one-dimensional nose, and a plenty of fresh fruit acidity on the palate) and 2010 Château Guiraud (a more golden color, along with a nose of toasty oak and menthol nuances and made in a fruit-forward, more modern style – good, but not great). Guiraud was the 1st first great growth in Bordeaux to be certified organic, which it has been since the 2011 vintage.

Château La Tour Blanche is not far away. This first growth is also an agricultural school that was left to the French state in 1907. I tried 3 of their wines, starting with 2016 Les Brumes which, as a third wine, was better than I expected, with lots of tropical fruit on the nose, but also a whiff of sulfur – a great anytime wine. The second wine, 2012 Les Charmilles featured a chartreuse and golden color. It was rather closed on the nose, with some rustic nuances. However, the wine expressed itself better on the palate with a silky texture along with vanilla, meringue, and marzipan flavors. There was a long aftertaste as well as mineral component that balanced the sweetness. This was better than expected. The grand vin, 2013 La Tour Blanche, was very pale with a rather closed-in nose and a little sulfury coming through at this stage. The wine showed good volume on the palate and had a nice botrytized (what I call “furry”) finish.

 

Next stop was another first growth, Château Rayne Vigneau. I started off with their second wine, 2013 Madame de Rayne. The color was fine and had some green tinges. The nose was closed and a touch medicinal, but the wine was somewhat more endearing on the palate: pure and short, but a nice tipple even so. The 2007 grand vin, Château Rayne Vigneau, had a medium-deep and very bright golden hue. The nose seemed much older than its years and the wine featured dried apricot, honey, and botrytized fruit flavors. As opposed to the red wine appellations, 2007 was a good year in Sauternes. This Rayne is nevertheless at its peak in my opinion. It will hold, but not improve in my opinion.

The following estate, first growth Sigalas Rabaud, is a favorite of mine and is tantalizingly different from neighboring Rabaud Promis (just a stone’s throw away). The flavor profile is much more svelte. I started off with a new wine from the estate, 2016 Number 5 (the first vintage). Very pale in color, this had a simple, but attractive bouquet and was light on the palate. A seductive, vin de plaisir in a pleasant style. The 2009 Lieutenant, the second wine, was slightly deeper in color and had a light, floral bouquet. It was much more expressive on the palate with bright fruit, good acidity, and a mineral element I associate with gravel soil. The aftertaste was long and good. The 2006 grand vin had a very deep color and a nose of candied fruit and botrytis, even if it lacked some definition. The wine was vivacious and vibrant on the palate finishing with the sort of dry mineral note I love in Sauternes. This is fine to drink now or within the next 3-5 years.

The next château was yet another first growth, Rabaud Promis. I would describe this as your grandfather’s sort of Sauternes. By that I mean is it is full-bodied, rich, quite sweet, and bordering on the heavy side. The 2014 Raymond Louis (the second wine) was medium-gold and had a rich, old-fashioned, but fresh nose with peachy nuances. The wine was weighty on the palate and there did not seem to be much evidence of botrytis. This was nevertheless a good typical Sauternes. The 2009 grand vin was deeper in color with a honeyed, concentrated bouquet accompanied by hints of menthol. As befits the château style, it was unctuous and can be enjoyed either young (now) or in years to come. There was a certain minerality and a botrytised taste on the finish. The château was selling this at 24.50 euros a bottle, making this a great bargain for a fine 10 year-old first growth from an excellent vintage… Who said Bordeaux was expensive?

The last of the first growths I went to was Château Coutet in Barsac, where I tasted two wines. The 1998 Chartreuse had a medium-deep color and a waxy and slightly chemical nose. Furthermore, the wine was a little watery and not very interesting on the palate. In Coutet’s defense, this was a very difficult year in Sauternes. The 2009 grand vin, on the other hand, was sublime, and the best wine I sampled all day. The color was what one would expect in a 9 year-old wine and the nose showed subtle pear and peach aromas. But where this Coutet really shone was on the palate, which the wine embraced with tremendous class, ethereal balance, and tremendously long, infinitely subtle aftertaste.

Next on the agenda was second growth Château Doisy-Daënes. This was the first time I had visited since the death of Denis Dubourdieu – owner, world-famous enologist, and one of the great figures in Bordeaux wine. His son Fabrice welcomed me and poured several wines. The first was a white Graves, 2016 Clos Floridène, which has quite a fine reputation. This is hardly surprising seeing as Denis Dubourdieu was considered the guru of dry white wine. This 2016 (50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Sémillon) was nearly transparent in color. It had a markedly Sauvignon Blanc nose, but softened by Sémillon. The wine started out soft and then want to show lovely fresh acidity and pleasing minerality on the aftertaste. The next wine was a dry Sauternes, 2016 Doisy-Daënes sec. This was similarly pale in color and displayed a lovely restrained bouquet of blackcurrant buds and gunflint. The wine was quite appetizing on the palate and needs time to reveal its full potential. We then went on sweet wines starting with a Durbourdieu estate in the rather esoteric Cérons appellation, 2016 Château Haura. The color was deeper here and the nose was soft and reminiscent of pâtisserie. The wine showed good volume on the palate along with a luscious, downright delicious flavor. Cérons is a curious appellation that can be either medium-sweet or very much like a Sauternes, depending on the vintage. This Haura came into the former category, and will appeal to anyone who finds some Sauternes too thick and perhaps off-putting. There were two more wines yet to come. The 2014 Château Cantegril in Barsac was fairly lacklustre, but the 2013 Doisy-Daënes that followed clearly showed more depth and complexity, as well as the mineral finish Barsac is famous for.

 

Château Gravas is just across the road from Doisy-Daënes. I tried two wines there. The 2015 Esprit de Gravas perhaps lacked weight, especially in light of the vintage, but the 2015 Château Gravas itself was more serious, with a soft, understated bouquet. It was richer than I usually find Gravas, with good acidity to match and a fine, relatively long aftertaste and good ageing potential.

 

The next estate is a small one I love enormously: Château d’Anna, also in Barsac. The cellar is one of the tiniest I have ever seen in Bordeaux. Barely large enough to swing a cat! Their annual production is just 2,500 bottles. The 2014 Cuvée Louis d’Or was medium-pale in color with a good, but rather muted nose. The wine was more expressive on the palate, along with a thirst-quenching quality that sets Barsac apart from Sauternes and the inevitable mineral element on the aftertaste. A good middle-of-the- road wine. 2012 Château d’Anna had more of a golden hue. It displayed candied fruit aromas and was rich and silky on the palate. The balance between acidity, sweetness, and botrytis on the finish was very engaging.

Château Laville was back in the Sauternes appellation, in the commune of Preignac. The second wine, 2015 Château Delmond was medium pale with a forthright, unflashy nose of tropical fruit and gumdrops. The wine was full-bodied and traditional in style, but with fresh acidity – absolutely adequate, and sold at a very reasonable price. The 2013 Château Laville featured a bouquet of candied fruit and a flavor that belied the undeserved reputation of the vintage (once again, erroneously based on the red wines): good mouth feel, depth, and length. The last wine I tasted here was very rare and quite interesting. Les Carrières de Laville is made from an itsy-bitsy plot of Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Muscat vines in Preignac. It is, therefore, a late harvest wine made with Alsatian grape varieties in the heart of Sauternes although, needless to say, it is not entitled to the appellation! The 2016 vintage of Les Carrières was rather pale with an aromatic nose more reminiscent of Muscat than anything else. Luscious and not overly sweet, this was a great sticky, as well as a great conversation piece…

Haut Bergeron, also located in Preignac, has long been one of my favorite Sauternes. It is in the traditional mold, tends to be rather sweet, and has the advantage of showing well even quite young. I tried the 2015 and 2016 vintages. The former had a pale colour and a closed, but promising nose that smelled of confectionary. The taste was quite rich and tremendously fruity, but with good acidity and a nice bite on the finish to serve as a counterpoint. Altogether quite sweet and with a long aftertaste. The 2016 seemed less rich and less well-focused at that time (not surprising at such an early stage). Please note that the photo is of the 2011 vintage.

I next went to Château Haut Mayne (no labels shown) just across the road to taste two vintages of their wine. The 2014 was medium-deep in color with a nice understated bouquet. The wine was rich and silky on the palate, developing well and showing good acidity. The 2015 Haut Mayne had a similar color with a nice grapey aroma. Even though it did not follow through seamlessly from beginning to end, it showed good minerality on the finish so, if pushed, it would have to say I preferred it to the 2014.

 

It was then back to Barsac for the two last estates. Second growth Château de Myrat belongs to the de Pontac family, who family owned Château Haut Brion for many years. The interesting thing about Myrat is that it was a classified growth that ceased to produce wine from 1976 to 1990, at which point brothers Xavier and Jacques de Pontac decided to replant the vineyard. The 2007 Château de Myrat was somewhat amber in color with a slightly herbaceous and botrytised fruit nose, but lacking in freshness. The wine showed good tension on the palate. Quite a classic Barsac with the trademark mineral aftertaste. A nice bottle. The 2011 was very pale with a bouquet that was more open, but displayed unwelcome asparagus notes. The wine coated the palate with elegance. Vibrant and sophisticated, it turned out to be much better than the bouquet would lead one to believe.

The 15th and last visit of the day (believe me, that makes a very full day…) was at Château Caillou, also in Barsac. I must be honest and admit that despite fond memories of this wine, I was disappointed with most of the range (2015 vin sec, 2013 Les Tonnelles, 2011 Les Erables, 2010 Château Caillou, 2011 Château Caillou, and 2009 Cuvée des Centennaires). But I must also be honest and say that if I had started out that day at Caillou, I might have been more indulgent! I must go back to Caillou again and give the wines another try.

Enira: a unique link between Bordeaux and Bulgaria

Bordeaux imperialism? Well, not exactly… I prefer to see it as investing and sharing expertise in everyone’s best interest. And the “Bordelais” in question is, after all, German…
The von Neipperg family have been growing vines and making wines in the Württemberg region of Germany for some 800 years. The family began acquiring estates in Bordeaux in 1971 and Stephan von Neipperg came to live permanently in Saint-Emilion in 1983.

The family are part owners of first growth Château Guiraud in Sauternes, as well as full owners of six other wine estates in Bordeaux – Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere (Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé), La Mondotte (Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé), Chateau Clos de l’Oratoire (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé), Chateau Peyreau (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru), Chateau d’Aiguilhe (Côtes de Castillon), and Clos Marsalette (Pessac-Leognan) – along with the Capaia winery in South Africa’s New Philidelphia region… and the Bessa Valley winery in the Pazardzhick province of Bulgaria.

 

I visited Bulgaria for the first time two years ago (indeed, this was my first time in Eastern Europe) to attend the Digital Wine Communication Conference. This took place in Sofia and Plovdiv. I did, on that occasion, tour several wineries, but not in the Bessa Valley. Because of the Bordeaux connection, I very much wanted to bring back a bottle of the von Neipperg wine, but did not come across any in the wine shops I went to.

Well, lo and behold, I was delighted to see that Cave Briau (owned by the Borie family of Ducru-Beaucaillou), a 3-minute walk from my house in Bordeaux, are selling the wine, at the modest price of 10.50 euros!

2013 Enira consists of 55% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Petit Verdot. It has a ruby-red color with some brown tinges on the rim. The nose features some simple, but attractive black fruit aromas and obvious oak ageing. The wine starts out on the palate very much like a New World wine (14.5% alc./vol.), but goes on to reveal Old World subtlety and restraint. A nice combination. The aftertaste is not particularly long, but this is a good, sound wine that constitutes a real conversation piece! And it is definitely good value for money. I’ll be interested to try this Bessa Valley wine in future vintages, and also to taste their top-flight cuvée.

 

Bessa Valley winery

I might add that Enira goes to show how foolish prejudices can be. Before I went to Bulgaria, I was expecting to find a poor, backward country stuck in the Stalinist period. How wrong I was! Although Bulgaria may have one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the EU, the standard of living seemed perfectly adequate. And Bulgarian wine, which once, and not altogether undeservedly, had the reputation of being cheap, but not particularly cheerful – a bit rough shall we say – is making huge progress. When I visited, I saw splendid new wineries run by well-educated, well-travelled Bulgarians, and tasted good wines. I hope to go back again and to see the von Neipperg estate (pictured below) one day