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Discovering Madeira

This post will be as much about tourism and cuisine as it is about wine because these three things are inseparable to me when it comes to Madeira.

I went there with my family at the tail end of December 2018. In fact, this trip to one of the world’s great wine regions had been on my bucket list for quite some time. Fortunately, I was not disappointed with the experience: the island, the people, and the wines.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Madeira is a long way from anywhere – almost 1,000 km from Lisbon and 600 km off the Moroccan coast. The island (in fact, one big island and three little ones) is a popular tourist destination, with about a million visitors a year. Although many of them come on cruise ships, the overall impression I had was of relatively up-market tourism involving people who go out of their way to discover a unique 750 km² sub-tropical paradise. In fact, Madeira is nicknamed the “island of eternal spring” because the weather is never too hot, nor too cold.
We stayed in the capital city, Funchal, population 110,000.

The first evening, we went to a restaurant named “Beef and Wine”, where we ordered the house speciality, espetada. This is usually chunks of beef but, in this case, it was actually a variation, picanah, top sirlon rubbed in garlic and salt, and grilled on skewers. The waiters come around as many times as you wish with their skewers, like the Brazilian churrascaria. The meat was served with a variety of vegetables. I took advantage of the extensive wine list to try a local red table wine, 2013 Xavelha, made from a blend of Portuguese and international grapes. This proved to be a good middle-of-the road effort. I later learned that table wines are quite rare, accounting for just 5% of production. We ended the meal with two glasses of ten-year-old Madeira, a Sercial and a Verdelho from Barbeito. I had heard very good things about this producer, but unfortunately was unable to visit because the firm was closed over the Christmas season. Be that as it may, the two wines we tried were delicious, in a more modern style.

We also enjoyed the unusual Madeiran bread, bolo do caco, usually served with garlic butter.

 

The next morning, I was taken in hand by the IVBAM, or Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira, IP-RAM. I was greeted by Rubina Vieira, who does a wonderful job of presenting a wine that most people have heard of, but few know much about… Rubina started off by putting the wine in a historic context – its more than 500 years of ups and downs, as well as its current market status. A famous story goes that the Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV of England, when sentenced to death for treason in 1478, chose to meet his creator by drowning in a butt of Malmsey. Indeed, Duke of Clarence is the name of a wine sold by Blandy’s, one of the largest producers of Madeira! In Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”, Falstaff sells his soul to the devil “for a cup of Madeira”. Later on, Madeira found great favor in Europe and especially the United States, where the Founding Fathers used it to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Exports were greatly helped by Madeira’s strategic geographical location, a stopover point on trans-Atlantic voyages. It was soon discovered that the wine benefitted from being stored in the warm holds of ships, and so a practice developed of imitating this effect on the island. This is achieved in two ways. The most common is the estufagem method, consisting of placing the wine in stainless steel vats that are heated with a serpentine or other kind of heating system to a maximum temperature of 50°C for a minimum of three months. The wine is then left to age and cannot be bottled before the 31st of October of the second year following the harvest. The more sophisticated canteiro method calls for maturing in barrels on the top floors of cellars, where the temperature is higher, for a minimum of two years. This leads to slow oxidative ageing accounting for unique, complex aromas. Canteiro wines must age for at least three years and can only be sold after a minimum of three years starting from the 1st of January of the year following the harvest.Madeira has an alcohol content of 17-22% by volume and is fortified with wine spirit of at least 96% (compared to Port’s 77%).

Much Madeira is marketed according to style (dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, and sweet) but the finest usually carry a varietal name:

Sercial is nearly dry (≤ 59 g/l), but seems dry because of the wine’s intrinsic acidity
Medium-dry Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial, and residual sugar content varies from 54-78 g/l
Bual, classified as medium-sweet, has a sugar content of 78-100 g/l
Malmsey is quite sweet, with ≥  100 g/l of sugar

The most widely-planted variety in Madeira is Tinta Negra, accounting for 85% of production, although the name rarely appears on a label. There has been a tendency to consider Tinta Negra a “workhorse” grape rather than one of the finer varieties, but a 1929 Tinta Negra I tasted showed that to be an unfair generalization. And then there is the rare Terrantez, which produces a medium-dry or medium sweet wine of excellent quality that is making somewhat of a comeback.

 

 

Rubina was kind enough to take me through a tutored tasting of the following wines:

CAF Cooperative Agrícola do Funchal five year old (blend)
Barbeito “Rainwater”, medium dry
Henriques & Henriques 10 year old Sercial
Borges 10 year old Verdelho
Barbeito 10 year old Bual
Justino’s 10 year old Malvasia (same as Malmsey)
Henriques & Henriques 20 year old medium dry Terrantez
1973 Madeira Wine Company Verdelho
1964 Justino’s Bual
1937 Pereira Oliveira Sercial
1929 sweet Pereira Oliveira Tinta Negra

This master class was utterly fascinating, and the older wines were gorgeous.The style called “Rainwater” is very popular in the US. It is lighter and similar in sweetness to Verdelho, but usually made with Tinta Negra. Explanations of the origin of the name and how the style developed vary.

There was a time not so long ago when extremely old Madeira could be bought for a song – in fact, for ridiculously low prices, making it one of the wine world’s greatest bargains. Those days may be over, but fine Madeira remains well worth seeking out.

The wine law was recently overhauled, and the broad categories are now as follows:·

Reserve (five years) – This is the minimum amount of ageing for a wine labelled with one of the premium varieties.
Special Reserve (10 years) – At this point, the wines are often aged naturally without any artificial heat source
Extra Reserve (over 15 years) – This style is richer and relatively rare, with many producers preferring to extend the ageing to 20 years for a vintage, or produce a colheita.
Colheita – This style includes wines from a single vintage, but aged for a shorter period than true vintage Madeira. The wine can be labeled with a vintage date, but includes the word colheita on it. Colheita must be a minimum of five years old before being bottled. However, most producers drop the word Colheita once a wine is a minimum of 20 years old, at which point it can be sold as vintage.
Frasqueira (“vintage”)  – This style must be aged at least 20 years in cask and one year in bottle. However, the word “vintage” cannot appear on labels because it is a trademark belonging to the Port producers.

In France, Madeira suffers from an unusual handicap in that it is an ingredient in numerous classic sauces. Like many households and restaurants, I always have an open bottle to use in cooking. However, this overshadows the wine’s qualities in its own right… That having been said, Rubina pointed out what I had heard elsewhere: while Port and Sherry, the other great European fortified wines, are losing ground, exports of Madeira are on the rise.

The sugar content of Madeira, including dry Sercial, is actually quite high. This is because the wines feature such high acidity that sweetness is necessary to provide proper balance.

 

The IVBAM was kind enough to take me on a tour of the wine country, guided by Lionel Vieira, the Institute’s viticultural consultant. This was utterly fascinating and something I could never have done on my own.Rubina stressed that Madeira is by definition a rare wine. The entire vineyard covers just 500 hectares (compared with 650 hectares in Pomerol, practically the smallest of Bordeaux’s 57 appellations). These are scattered around the island in one of seven microclimates and divided among some 2,000 grape growers. The soil is basically the same everywhere: basalt of volcanic origin, which accounts for the high acidity. The island is very mountainous and so the vines frequently grow on terraces located on steep slopes. The grapes are mostly trained according to the latada system, i.e. making use of a pergola 1.5 to 2 meters high. This provides good ventilation and reduces the risk of rot or mold. In times past, vegetables were grown underneath, but this practice is disappearing. I also saw something in Madeira that was quite esoteric: vines trained horizontally, i.e. with the canes spread out on the ground, with no trunk. The key here is to work the soil so as to keep the ground well-aerated and totally devoid of other vegetation.

 

There are just 8 producers of Madeira. The largest, by far, is Justino´s Madeira Wines Company. The most well-known is the Madeira wine company, owners of such brands as Blandy’s, Cossart Gordon, Leacock’s, and Miles. The historic Blandy’s Wine Lodge, on Funchal’s main street, located practically next door to the Tourist Information Office, is a major attraction. I went on a tour there, which was well done. Unfortunately, tasting more than two entry level wines entailed a charge for each wine, so I contended myself with buying a bottle of Terrantez because this is so difficult to find.

The only other producer I visited was Pereira D’Oliveira. This traditional firm, also in Funchal, is famous for their old wines. Oliveira’s is not geared up to receiving foreign wine enthusiasts. The several young hostesses were not really clued-in and communication in English was not easy. It took some convincing to taste anything other than the basic blends. Their attitude changed completely when I was finally given a rare and expensive wine to taste, and bought a bottle. Evidently, I was not a freeloader, so other wines were poured and a few souvenir items were added free of charge…

 

In terms of dining, allow me to go through the restaurants we frequented. Lionel from the IVBAM invited me to the restaurant at the Four Views hotel in Funchal. This included poached egg soup and the emblematic black scabbard fish with bananas and passion fruit sauce. We had another Madeiran table wine with this, 2016 Barbusano Verdelho, perhaps a bit too tart for me. Lunch the next day was at a seafront restaurant, O Regional, that provided excellent value for money as we ate outside on a warm December afternoon.

That same evening we dined at Chris’s Place, on a par with a one-star Michelin restaurant. The three of us ordered the tasting menu with wines to match and the bill came to 100 euros, representing great value for money. In addition, we enjoyed lunch one day at Cachalote in Porto Moniz on the northern side of the island, which I also recommend. I sampled a dish there revolving around limpets that went well with a white Douro wine.

 

 

The highlight of our trip was nevertheless the New Year’s Eve gala dinner at the Belmond Reid’s Palace hotel in Funchal, an establishment normally out of my price range, but one of those luxurious things one does from time to time… The food was exquisite, as was the setting, and we had a window seat with a gorgeous view over the city and the harbour.

This mattered, because the fireworks display on the 31st of December in Funchal is world famous. There was a blaze of color all over the town and on the water. Spellbindingly beautiful.

Although Madeira is a major tourist destination, I had the impression that wine is very much of a footnote in regional promotion, which is a pity. That having been said, wine tourism is slowly, but surely taking off. Furthermore, Rubina travels all over the world to present the wines and suggest how to enjoy them with food (frequently a question mark with sweet wines). One of the unusual characteristics of Madeira is that it does not budge once the bottle is open. I was repeatedly told that you can go back a year later and it will not have suffered from contact with oxygen.

The challenge for Madeira is to close the gap between a famous name and the realities of today’s market so as to shake off a 19th century image and turn young people on to one of the world’s great wines. I get the feeling that thanks to the intrinsic quality of fine Madeira and people like Rubina to spread the good word, a renaissance is in the making.

A final anecdote: I attended a service at the Anglican church in Funchal and was delighted to see that along with the traditional tea and coffee after the service, worshipers were also given the option of a glass of Rainwater Madeira. Needless to say, that is what I chose… I found this mighty civilized and think that churches in other winegrowing regions – such as Bordeaux – would do well to offer the same!

 

 

 

Reports of the en primeur system’s demise are greatly exaggerated

The 1855 classification

 

To paraphrase a quote by Mark Twain, upon seeing his obituary in the newspaper “Reports of the en primeur system’s demise are greatly exaggerated

Here’s a well-written and thoughtful article:
https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2020/03/a-modest-proposal-for-bordeaux-release-the-2019s-next-spring/

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Bordeaux’s en primeur system, like so many sectors of the globalized economy, has taken a bad hit due to the corona virus. I have seen predictions for decades that the system would crumble or implode. And yet, it has survived through thick and thin – copied, but never equalled J.

Still, the current threat is like no other and the timing of the upcoming campaign has been completely thrown off course. Wine merchants obviously cannot be expected to buy wines that no one has sampled, even though, if one is honest, the Union des Grands Crus tastings in late March/early April can hardly be seen as essential to buying… Wholesalers and importers are far more inclined to purchase based on a château’s reputation or what leading critics say rather than their own impressions. En primeur week comes across predominantly as a networking and information gathering exercise (plus the occasion to enjoy a lot of good meals!). It is nevertheless a brilliant and unique way of coordinating the whole region and arousing interest from all over the world.

I take exception to so much that is written about the en primeur system because pinning down figures – to be specific – is very elusive, and it is nearly impossible to generalize since the situation varies from estate to estate. Only the brokers based in Bordeaux are qualified to have a valid overview because they are in touch with all the negociants and thus alone feel the pulse of all international markets with any degree of accuracy. People living in London or Tokyo or wherever extrapolate from their (possibly entirely correct) analysis of the situation in their country, thinking that what they’re seeing is the same around the globe when, in fact, it is not.
Two Bordeaux châteaux in the same appellation with the same classification can have very different commercial strategies. By the same token, two adjacent European countries can have very different markets. And you cannot lump Wuhan and Edmonton together.

Furthermore, there is not just one way of selling en primeur, which is why so many commentaries cannot be trusted. When one reads that château such-and-such “came out” at such-and-such a price, that information can paint a totally wrong picture. Some of the top châteaux release in “tranches” and the first one can cover just a very small quantity and at a particularly attractive price just to “test the water”. The first tranche offerings of famous classified growths are immediately snapped up as soon as they are put on the market because everyone knows that further tranches will be more expensive. Therefore to say that this is the base price is extremely misleading.
The proportion of wine sold per tranche and, indeed, that which is kept back for sale at a later date varies tremendously.

It seems to defy logic when en primeur prices exceed those of the same wines from a better-reputed year with some bottle age.. This can only compute if seen as part of a very long, complicated distribution chain and the allocation system that functions all down the line to the consumer. This entails a sort of threat: “If you don’t buy this year, you won’t get any next year, or from now on”. The result of this is that so-called off vintages are often dumped, and the loss is accepted more or less philosophically. Voices are raised to say that this is wrong and cannot go on because it defies the laws of economics. Certainly, a series of lacklustre vintages – not to mention a worldwide recession/depression – would force estates to lower their prices, even dramatically. But that would in no way threaten the en primeur system. Adjustments, perhaps even painful ones, would be made. Period.
President Calvin Coolidge famously said that “The business of America is business”. The same attitude prevails in Bordeaux. While the supposed greediness of the Bordelais is frequently denounced, the châteaux are also willing to react quickly, and to pay the piper, should things work against them. It’s as simple as the law of supply and demand…
It is interesting to see the comparatively little whinging about price increases in Burgundy.

Is any other wine region as vintage-conscious as Bordeaux? It is not at all rare to see wines from the same château double (or halve) in price from one year to the next. The market for Bordeaux great growths is indeed volatile! Their price is quoted daily and, in some instances hourly, on the internal market, the “place de Bordeaux” accessible only to négociants. This is a complex reality and it takes a brave man, or a fool, to make across-the-board statements about it.
The article cited at the beginning of this post touches on a number of worthwhile points. I would only take issue with the timing of the proposed 2019 campaign. I think it would be better in September 2020 than the spring of 2021. I agree that March is not the ideal time to taste the great wines. September would make a more realistic evaluation possible as well as give buyers an idea of the volume of the future crop and, to a certain extent, its quality. The author of the article says that September is not good because great wines from other regions are released then. If that is true, I would appreciate knowing more about this. I do not agree that there would be a lack of interest because of lead-up to the Christmas season. Early September would be fine in my opinion since the harvest would only theoretically have just begun for dry white wines, accounting for only a fraction of Bordeaux’s production. If September were chosen, it would be wonderful if the tastings and campaign stayed in that time frame from now on.

Whatever is decided, I fully agree with the author that convergence is very important. Piecemeal releases by the big guns would hurt Bordeaux. Commercial efforts need to be coordinated.

 

 

Restaurant Lalique: gastronomy in Sauternes

Bordeaux has been a magnet for enterprising foreigners for centuries, and one of the leading lights in recent years is Silvio Denz, a Swiss-German with a finger in many pies.
The former owner of a chain of perfume shops in his native country, he also created several successful perfume brands, took over Glenturret distillery in Scotland with a Swiss partner, invested in vineyards in Spain (Clos Agon in Catalonia) and Italy (Montepeloso in Tuscany), established a leading wine auction house, etc. etc.

In France, he acquired the prestigious firm of Lalique (glass art) – https://www.lalique.com/fr/la-maison-lalique – as well as three wine estates on Bordeaux’s Right Bank: Château Faugères and Péby Faugères in Saint Emilion (crus classés) and Cap de Faugères in the Côtes de Castillon. And as if that were not enough, he also purchased Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, a first growth Sauternes in Bommes dating back to the 17th century… and created a luxury hotel-restaurant there in June 2018, receiving a Michelin star for the latter just six months later!

This was not Mr. Denz’s first venture into the restaurant business. In 2014, he became the owner of Château Hochberg (https://chateauhochberg.com/en/) opposite the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder (Alsace) and, in the same town, he transformed the house of René Lalique into a five-star hotel and restaurant with two Michelin stars: https://villarenelalique.com/en/

The 200 m² cellar at Villa Lalique was designed by the noted Swiss architect Mario Botta. Cases of wine are stored behind large plate glass windows where visitors can view an outstanding collection of 12,000 bottles.

This rather long, but necessary introduction brings us to Lalique.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, Sauternes has unfortunately lost traction over the past few years. The value of vineyard land has stagnated, sweet wines have lost their allure in many quarters, and the younger generation seems not to know the wine.

However, things are looking up. Many producers are now making wines that are slightly less sweet and full-bodied, while retaining the unique character of their terroir. In addition, seeing as land prices had pretty much hit rock bottom, some major investments have been made in the past several years. Furthermore, the potential for wine tourism is beginning to be exploited because Sauternes is a beautiful region with many impressive châteaux.

Silvio Denz had a vision. Above and beyond making wine worthy of Lafaurie-Peyraguey’s first growth status, he was determined to open a successful luxury hotel-restaurant. It looks as though no expense was spared. The richly-furnished hotel houses 10 rooms and 3 suites. The restaurant’s interior design is also very attractive and the Lalique imprint is everywhere, down to the taps in the washrooms!
The château gift shop sells all the Denz wines in their specially engraved bottles as well as the beautiful glass sculptures for which Lalique is famous. Furthermore, the shop will etch a personal message on bottles if requested.

As befits a premium restaurant, prices are not cheap, but there is a luncheon menu at 65 euros. The seven-course tasting menu with a wine to match each one costs 245 menus. My wife and I enjoyed the “Lalique Premier Cru” menu – see photo – with four wines: the 2015 dry Lafaurie Peyraguey, the 2016 grand vin (Sauternes), the ’99 grand vin, and a rare 2016 cuvée made from all the first growths of Bommes except Clos Haut Peyraguey (i.e. Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Rabaud Promis, Sigalas Rabaud, Latour Blanche, and Rayne Vigneau). The Lafaurie wines showed that the new owner has no need to turn everything upside down to produce great wine because the estate has a long history of this, and never underwent an eclipse.

Lalique created a tempest in a wine glass when they started serving and promoting a Sauternes-based aperitif (mixed drink) they call SweetZ. Traditionalists howled and I was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea myself. But I did try it, and found it light and refreshing. If this helps to sell Sauternes, so much the better, but I still prefer my wine on its own…

The food was very elegant and subtle, as well as attractively presented. I have only once before had a meal where only Sauternes was served and, contrary to what you might think, we did not leave the table feeling bloated or that the wines were cloying. In fact, the whole art of Lalique is to match dishes especially with Sauternes, and they succeed brilliantly. It is an uphill battle to convince English speakers that Sauternes is anything other than a dessert wine, but I’m convinced they would be won over with a meal at Lalique :-).

Service was attentive and my wife’s gluten intolerance was handled very professionally. For instance, one dish we both were served had croutons and, when this was pointed out, the waitress informed us that my wife’s were made with gluten-free bread.

 

Desserts are unquestionably a challenge with Sauternes, but Lalique handles this intelligently, avoiding the trap of sweet on sweet, in our case offering fruit and a sauce that offset the sugar.

Before leaving, I enjoyed a coffee in the tastefully-decorated bar (absolutely lovely, one of the nicest I know) with the young head sommelier Adrien Cascio. We took a look at his cellar book together. At 112 pages, it is one of the most comprehensive in France. Many of the wines come from Silvio Denz’s personal cellar. Two particularities here: the in-depth representation of the greatest châteaux, with 20 or 30 vintages each, as well as a collection of the greatest wines of California.

The bottom line is that Lalique is a huge pleasure for the lover of food and wine, and a rare opportunity to see how Sauternes can shine at table.
If, like me, you abhor the idea of drinking and driving, there are two solutions: either staying at the hotel, or else taking the train from Bordeaux to Langon and then a 10-minute taxi ride from the train station to the château.

New Cru Bourgeois classification – Feb. 2020

The crus bourgeois are a much-loved category of Médoc wines slotted between the crus artisans and the crus classés. Their classification dates back to 1932 and has gone through a number of ups and downs since then. For instance, the 2003 classification was challenged in the courts and cancelled.

Great care was thus taken with the new classification, published in February 2020, which re-introduced the cru bourgeois exceptionnel category that had disappeared.
There are now altogether 249 crus bourgeois versus 247 in 2003. That includes 56 crus bourgeois Supérieurs (87 in 2003), and 14 crus bourgeois exceptionnels.
The complete list can be found here: https://www.crus-bourgeois.com/app/uploads/2020/02/Classement-2020-des-Crus-Bourgeois-du-Me%CC%81doc-1.pdf

The following are now crus brougeois exceptionnels:

Haut-Médoc:
Château d’Agassac
Château Arnauld
Château Belle-Vue
Château Cambon la Pelouse
Château Charmail
Château Malescasse
Château de Malleret
Château du Taillan

Listrac-Médoc:
Château Lestage

Margaux:
Château d’Arsac
Château Paveil de Luze

Saint-Estèphe:
Château le Boscq
Château le Crock
Château Lilian Ladouys

 

It is worth noting that, for whatever reason, none of the wines listed as exceptionnels in the cancelled 2003 classifcation (Chasse-Spleen, Poujeaux, Siran Ormes-de-Pez, Phélan-Ségur, Haut-Marbuzet, etc.) resurfaced in 2020.
The crus bourgeois account for a quarter of all vineyard land in the Médoc, with a production of some 30 million bottles.

Day out in Pessac-Léognan – 13 châteaux

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And thus ended our excursion.

 

 

 

Château Clinet: a first division Pomerol


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronan had arranged a small vertical tasting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Australians buy Médoc château

 

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

2010 Ch. Lesparre: an interesting Graves de Vayres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Saint-Emilion classification runs into more trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A 2005 Barsac and a 2009 Pomerol

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Pessac-Léognan and Margaux

PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

There are so many events and châteaux to visite during en primeur week that I was not able to fit in my usual stop at the Union des Grands Crus tasting in Pessac-Léognan this year. Therefore, my coverage is limited this year.

Carbonnieux
N: A bouquet that is reduced and not well-defined. Will undoubtedly improve with age.
P: Smooth and melts on the mouth to begin with, but weak on the middle palate, ending with strong oak – a little too strong for me – on the aftertaste. Needs revisiting. OK.

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion
N: Slightly syrupy aromas with some cedar. Sweet and enticing.
P: Well-defined fruit going into a tangy aftertaste. Very classy, lacking just a little oomph and length to be catapulted to the very tip of the pyramid. Fine tannin and acidity. Very good.

Le Clarence de Haut Brion
N: Fresh and more ethereal than the second wine of La Mission. Fresh and not over-oaked. In fact, the oak is barely discernible. Faint herbaceous note.
P: Chunky and chewy, with oak showing, along with hints of tobacco. Svelte with beautiful development on the palate and tea tannin on the finish. Long aftertaste. Very good.

Fieuzal
N: Old-fashioned with odd metallic and even oyster shell overtones.
P: Mercifully, much better on the palate with tight-knit tannin, but the oak obscures this, as well as the fruit. Dry finish. Should improve over time and needs retasting at a later date. OK.

Château Haut Brion (white).
N: Some earthy, fresh mushroom aromas, as well as vanilla and lanolin nuances.
P: Soft, then the terroir and elegance come through, especially those qualities conferred by the gravelly soil. Very long aftertaste. Although over half Sémillon, this wine seems like the apotheosis of Sauvignon Blanc. Ageing may well change that impression. The length and power on the finish set it apart from, let’s say, a first-class Sancerre, but I find this not up to the standard of the red. Nevertheless, very good.

Château Haut Brion (red).
N: Cedar and “old library” bouquet. Very precise. Deep, fresh, mysterious cherry and stone fruit aromas , with vinification odors in the background.
P: Sweet, understated fruit. Spreads out on the palate seamlessly, suavely, and subtly. Great tension. Delicate with a velvety texture and new oak on the finish. Superb.

Château La Louvière (red)
N: Sweet fruit with some lead and a strong floral component. Delicate for sure.
P: Rich, mouthfilling, and reflecting the aromatics on the nose. Proudly displays its Left Bank origins. Good acidity and a long aftertaste showing fine tannin. This estate is looking up after somewhat of an eclipse. Very good.

Château Malartic Lagravière
N: Not terribly expressive now, but showing overtones of mocha, black fruit, and flowers.
P: Starts off by melting in the mouth, then goes on to reveal a very perfumed, pretty, feminine quality I often find in this wine. The aftertaste is more “virile”, giving the wine good balance between fruit, velvety tannin, and acidity. Very good.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (white)
N: Varietal Sauvignon Blanc aromas with a hint asparagus. Some cherry and vanilla notes along with mineral nuances.
P: Vanilla, caramel, and meringue. Great acidity, with less class, but more power than the Haut Brion blanc. Tremendous minerality on the finish. Great balancing act between power and delicacy. Very good.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (red)
N: Coiled and showing sheer class with discreet new oak. Reminds me of a great Médoc. Some chalkiness and fancy floral notes.
P: Medium weight with a tangy, long, and almost relentless aftertaste with great tannic texture. One for the very long haul. Tarry and candied black fruit flavors. Excellent.

Château Pape Clément
N: Fresh notes of forest floor and tobacco.
P: A treat from beginning to end. The extraction and barrel ageing are under control and the aftertaste is long, resonant, and aristocratic. Far more traditional than in the past and very much to my taste. Textbook Graves. Oak is strong, but the wine has enough character to support it. Excellent.

Château Séguin
N: Deep very pure fruit (raspberry, and especially blackberry) where Cabernet seems to define the bouquet. Some coffee and dark chocolate nuances.
P: Elegant rather than powerful with zippy tartness. Both extraction and barrel ageing have been done with the golden mean in mind. Great balance between fruit and tannin. Somewhat under the radar, this estate is worth discovering. Very good.

MARGAUX

 

Château Brane Cantenac
N: Earthy and brambly with good fruit and good toasty oak.
P: Excellent on entry, then drops a bit, but comes into its own with very classic, sophisticated tannins that coat the teeth and auger well for long-term ageing. Great presence. Very good to excellent.

Château Cantenac Brown
N: Good berry fruit and sweet cedar aromas.
P: Lively, tart, and refreshing fruit. A welcome change from certain over-oaked and over-extracted wines. Delicious aftertaste in which tannin and good acidity vie for predominance. Traditional style. Very good.

Château Le Coteau
N: Understated sweet primary fruit with a beguiling incense quality and some graphite nuances.
P: Soft with medium body and good grip. It might appear light, but this is more indicative of the balance of wines from Margaux.W ell-made and restrained for people who prefer elegance to power. Can be enjoyed young. Nice discovery. Very good

Château Desmirail
N: A little off because slightly reduced at this early stage, but showing a solid base of black fruit. A subtle perfume emerges with aeration.
P: Massive on the palate with grippy tannin. A Margaux displaying more similarities with wines from further north in the Médoc, although the aftertaste has the quintessential Margaux elegance.

Château Ferrière
N: Really rather mute at this time. There are positive underlying aromas needing time to emerge.
P: Very full attack with a somewhat raisiny flavor and lots of assertive tannin. This seems as little too much at present, but time will tell. Good to very good.

Château La Fortune
N: Forthright and fresh, but simple.
P: Better on the palate. Striking acidity, but not over the top. Rather too much oak. There is potential here for sure, but nature should lead the way. The winemake should not try to force things. Good.

Château Giscours
N: Gentle, unobtrusive oak. Fresh and classic for the appellation.
P: Primary fresh red fruit with marked blackcurrant overtones. Starts out quite soft, going on to show considerable structure and freshness. Well-made with a long, tempered finish. Very good.

Château Kirwan
N: Upfront sweet blueberry nose.
P: Round, bright user-friendly friendly. Very open an attractive, but with enough good acidity and high-quality tannin for further ageing. A little dry on the finish, but this will most likely change over time. Very good.

Château Haut Breton Larigaudière
N: Rich chocolatey nose and some black fruit, but not very forthcoming at this time.
P: Chunky with marked oak influence. Seems rather strong. Some dryness on the finish, an impression that may be lessened if care is taken during barrel ageing. Good.

 

Château d’Issan
N: Discreet and fresh with Médoc forest floor nuances.
G: A serious wine on the palate with a fine structure and focus. Elegant, precise, and fashionably thin. A fine example of wine with great volume of flavor, but without weight. Much better on the palate than on the nose. The fruit is complemented by some graphite notes. Very good.

Château Lascombes
N: Toasty oak and dark fruit aromas along with smoky overtones.
P: Straightforward and satisfying with interesting cherry and licorice nuances. Marked acidity and strong tannin contribute to a long finish. Some aniseed overtones and plenty of oak. Good to very good.

Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Sweet berry fruit and aromas I tend to associate with Merlot. Subtle oak.
P: Starts out very pure and natural,, very Margaux-like, and then displays rather tough and uncompromising tannin. Influence of oak is best monitored. Good to very good.

Marojallia
N: Coffee and new oak (100%) pretty much completely masks the fruit.
P: Starts out quite soft, then bang, the oak hits you. Good if you like the style.

Château Marquis d’Alesme
N: Some chocolate and mint nuances, but subdued at this stage.
P: More aromatic on the palate. “Iron fist in a velvet glove” kind of wine. Marked acidity, somewhat uncompromising style, and made to last. Margaux flavors just emerging. Long, tangy finish, but oak must not get the upper hand. Good.

Château Marquis de Terme
N: Understated at this time, but promising. Floral and forest fruit aromas.
P: More expressive on palate. Round, full, well-balanced, and refreshing. Medium-weight with a delicious long aftertaste. Will show well young. Very good.

Château La Tour de Bessan
N: Classic, but subdued. Sweet, but rather indeterminate at this early stage.
P: More expressive on the palate. Good texture and fresh acidity. Promising, For mid-term drinking to take advantage of the fruit. More structure than in other vintages. Good.

Château Margaux
N: A nose not unlike the Pavillon Rouge, but with more depth and aromas of black fruit liqueur.
G: Satiny, creamy texture. Feminine and sexy. Super fine-grained tannin with lilting acidity. Fantastic balance. Great potential. Excellent.

Château Marsac Segineau
N: Muted red fruit (cranberry) but not much there.
G: Better on palate with good, fresh acidity. Medium body. Quite tannic (too tannic?) on the penetrating aftertaste in which the alcohol can be felt. Good.

Château Palmer
The estate produced just 11 hectoliters per hectare in 2018, so there is no second wine this year.
N: Sweet, seductive candied red and black fruit.
G: If Margaux is feminine, this is a buxom young lass. Full-bodied and sensual. The texture reflects silky tannin backed up by good oak. This wine is fairly big and will unquestionably age well. Long aftertaste. Superb.

Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux (AOC Bordeaux)
C: Pale gold with green tinges.
N: Very Sauvignon Blanc, but one must wait for tertiary aromas.
G: Did not strike me as much as the 2017. Oak is mercifully under control. A fine wine, but does not seem special. Only the aftertaste shows its breeding. Good to very good.

Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux
N: Monumental, with nuances of cedar, spring flowers. red berries, and cherries.
G: Tart with exquisite tannin. Svelte, with a fresh, long finish. Should be fine for medium-term drinking. Does not seem at all like 14.5° alcohol. Very good.

Chateau Prieuré Lichine
N: Candied black fruit and chocolate. Almost Pinot-like. Very aromatic and attractive.
P: Starts off beautifully, drops a bit, and then comes back with delicious Margaux fruit. Seems a tad over-oaked at this early stage, but altogether natural. Not especially long, but quite fine. Very good.

Chateau Rauzan Gassies
N: Somewhat weak and lacking in definition, with some roast coffee nuances.
P: Much better on the palate with a great texture. A bit old-fashioned in style with fine-grained tannin. Interesting aftertaste. The antithesis of an oaky, over-extracted wine. Perhaps a little light, but ageing may work wonders here. Good to very good.

Chateau du Tertre
N: Closed at present with some vinification odors simply due to its youth.
P: Moreish, elegant, and rich for a Médoc. Soft. Caresses the palate. Medium body and good development on the palate. Sensual. Good, fine, relatively long finish. Very good.

Château Tour de Mons
N: Good fruit to oak ratio. Black fruit jelly notes on the interesting bouquet.
P: Full and chunky. Elegant commercial style. Long flavorsome aftertaste. Good to very good.