Tag Archives: bordeaux wines

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Pomerol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2005 Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 

 

The subtleties of the 1855 classification

Most people tend to think of the famous 1855 classification of the Médoc and Sauternes (plus 1 Graves) as set in stone, but there have been important changes along the way. The promotion of Mouton Rothschild to first growth is the most famous, but far from the only one.

Take for instance the recent purchase of Château Lieujean, a 54-hectare cru bourgeois in Saint-Sauveur (AOC Haut-Médoc) by Bernard Magrez. This was sold by the AdVini group (Antoine Moueix, Rigal, Champy, Laroche, Jeanjean, etc.).

Along with several other crus classés, Magrez owns the huge (122 hectares, 560,000 bottles a year) fourth growth La Tour Carnet in Saint-Laurent, the next town over from Saint-Sauveur. Seeing as both Lieujean and La Tour Carnet are in the same Haut-Médoc appellation, there would be no legal impediment whatsoever for La Tour Carnet to simply absorb Lieujean wholesale and incorporate it into the grand vin, in effect rebaptizing it a full-fledged great growth. Magrez has said from the get-go that he intends to use Lieujean’s vineyards to produce La Tour Carnet’s second wine, Les Douves. But one of course wonders: why stop at the second wine?

There is much obfuscation here, as when château managers go through all sorts of Jesuitical explanations as to why their second wine really isn’t a second wine at all, but “something else”… So it goes with vineyards that have been recently acquired. Visitors ask what will become (or has become) of wine made from the new vines, but the answer is rarely specific..

The classification is, to a certain extent, outside the appellation contrôlée system. So long as a grand cru’s vines are within the same appellation, they are entitled to great growth status

Before anyone considers this an indictment of the 1855 classification (what could be more tiresome and futile?), it should be noted that the 21st century reality is quite complex compared to the 19th century one. The terroirs of some classified growth vineyards are radically different from what they were in 1855, but others are virtually identical. It is difficult to generalize. Certain vineyards have grown, others shrunk, and a great many plots have been swapped as well…

 

There are few precise statistics on the great growths, which means that much nonsense is written about them. In the example cited above, one definitely needs to factor in the notion of quality. If La Tour Carnet were to simply label most of Lieujan’s production as their grand vin, not only would they be unsure of finding a commercial outlet for the increased production, but they would also run the risk of lowering their standards, garnering lower scores from critics, and harming the wine’s reputation – in short, be shooting themselves in the foot.

No one lifted an eyebrow when, for example, second growth Château Montrose bought 22 hectares of vines from cru bourgeois Château Phélan Ségur in 2010. What would be unthinkable in Burgundy is considered normal in Bordeaux… In the last analysis, what counts is the quality of the wine, and if this can be maintained or even improved when new vineyard plots are added, who really has the right to complain

What this also goes to show is that far from being a staid place, where everything was defined a couple of centuries ago, things are in constant state of flux in Bordeaux, even among the top estates. Keeping up with the changes is both challenging and fascinating.

New cru bourgeois classification and tasting of 2017 Médocs

*

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

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

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

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

Olivier Cuvelier, President of the Crus Bourgeois

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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)

Christmas dinner with Château Lagrange white and red

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

Château Lagrange in Saint Julien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Délices de Favières Truffé

Bordeaux: what’s in a name?

This may seem like a rather odd question to ask in a blog about Bordeaux wine. And yet, there is enormous misunderstanding about just what the word actually means…
For a start, Bordeaux is not a little wine town with a famous name like, let’s say, Gevrey-Chambertin or Châteaneuf-du-Pape. It is France’s fifth largest city, a port on the Garonne river with a population of 250,000 and three times that in the metropolitan area.

So, Bordeaux is a major city and also the center of a centuries-old wine trade.

Bordeaux – Place de la Bourse

For the French, Bordeaux is also a color. Larousse describes it as rouge violacé, or purplish-red, although I don’t think that is the best description. I’d plump for maroon… And isn’t it odd that we say “Burgundy” in English for wine-colored (even though there is a slightly different nuance)?

And then, of course, there’s the wine. Thanks to this wine, Bordeaux is the most well-known French city after Paris. The vineyards cover about 115,000 hectares and produce anywhere from 400 million to 800 million bottles of wine a year, depending on the vintage. There are 57 appellations and, according to a conservative estimate, some 6,000 châteaux. This is where the problem arises.

What problem? On certain export markets, especially the English-speaking countries, consumers are only aware of the top wines, meaning essentially the classified growths. When many English and American wine enthusiasts say “Bordeaux”, as often as not what they really mean to say is “great growth” – when those wines account for just 5% of total production! This makes generalizations about Bordeaux frustrating and seriously off the mark.

Bordeaux went through a bad patch starting with the 2005 vintage when the great wines – the tip of the iceberg – increased their prices significantly. The Bordelais were accused of being greedy bastards and it was endlessly predicted that “the bubble would burst”. Which it never did. The irony here is that even though the overwhelming majority of Bordeaux estates did not increase their prices unconscionably, that did not prevent them from being stigmatized and erroneously lumped in with the 5% that did…

Why are the affordable, fruity, early-maturing wines of Bordeaux so little-known on certain markets, especially the US, where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are such popular grape varieties? The answer is complex, and there is plenty of blame to share around… It must be admitted, for a start, that with so many estates there are bound to be hits and misses. It cannot be denied that there are thin, weedy wines at the lower end of the price range. However, there are also many beauties that can hold their head high compared with wines from anywhere else in the world in terms of value for money.

The wine distribution system obviously has its failings too. The weaknesses are on both the Bordeaux end (lack of investments in marketing, promotion, and sales trips) and the importing end. It is maddening that the same journalists who are tickled pink to discover a little gem of a wine from the Luberon or the Jura never seem to make the effort to ferret out such wines in Bordeaux – where there is plenty of scope! One of the reasons for this is that Bordeaux is so big, when wine merchants and critics can devote only so much time to one region… Most of them try to make it to the en primeur tastings in the spring. But, I can tell you from experience that even if you do nothing but taste for a full week you will only have scratched the surface. The sheer size and variety of Bordeaux are impressive, in fact overwhelming. So what do most professionals do? Focus on the great growths…

This equation – Bordeaux = great growths – is particularly prevalent in America. It stems from a time when the crus classes where much more affordable. One also needs to factor in the classification system that categorizes wines into neat slots. Once upon a time, if you more or less memorized the classifications, you were pretty much on your way to understanding Bordeaux. Or rather 5% of Bordeaux…

Of course, the advent of Robert Parker changed all that. He upset the apple cart and (to begin with in any event) noted wines without a pious regard for their hierarchical standing. While the number of non-classified wines Parker reviewed was greater than his predecessors, the choice of wines he chose to review were still very heavily lopsided.

This situation reminds me of two other regions. New Zealand is identified with Sauvignon Blanc and Argentina with Malbec. Since world demand associates each country with that one type of wine, it is not easy to step outside of that paradigm. In the case of New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc is by far the leading grape variety (although Pinot Noir may have made some headway in recent years, it still accounts for just a quarter of Sauvignon Blanc, whose area under vine has grown more than fourfold since 2003, compared with Pinot Noir’s doubling). Malbec’s paramount position in Argentina is a similar story. So, a wine’s reputation is often a question of well-established commercial niches, which are paradoxically both an advantage and a disadvantage. Bordeaux’s image is decidedly double-edged. In some rich countries, it is perceived much more as wine with a grand château on the label to be ceremoniously decanted after long ageing and consumed at a formal candlelight dinner than a fresh, fruity, uncomplicated, affordable wine to have with a sandwich or a steak… And yet, believe me, there are many fine examples in the latter category!

France drinks more Bordeaux than any other country. The French, the Belgians, the Germans, and the Dutch are huge consumers of Bordeaux selling in the 5-15 euro range. China, Bordeaux’s largest export customer, also brings in container-loads of these wines. But they are little-known in my native country, the USA. Bordeaux needs a super-hero to fix this!

Meanwhile, please let us be careful about making any sweeping statements or generalizations about Bordeaux… The wines from a classified growth in the Médoc, a producer in the Côtes de Blaye, a petit château making white wine in the Entre-Deux-Mers, and an estate in Sauternes all represent very different realities, as well as different products at different price points…

When my friends and fellow wine lovers bitch about price increases for the great growths, I’m on the same wavelength. The sticker shock can be alarming. But when people start to extrapolate from this, and badmouth “Bordeaux”, they have lost sight of the very meaning of the word. And, without being a superhero, I come swooping down to the region’s defense ;-).

Let us treat Bordeaux as a complex reality.

 

 

 

From Down Under to the End of the World…

This title calls for an explanation, even though the first half is fairly obvious. Down Under, of course, refers to Australia, which is where Richard and Shelley Serisier come from. Shelley is a biologist and Richard had a successful career in management. However, Richard’s roots are actually in Bordeaux. His great-great-grandfather, Jean-Émile Serisier, emigrated from there to Australia in 1839. He even planted vines in the Dubbo region of New South Wales from which he made wine receiving critical acclaim…
The French word “cerisier” means cherry tree, and so the Serisiers have adopted this as their family emblem.


Undoubtedly encouraged by their family history, the Serisiers fell in love with France and the French way of life, and decided to buy a house there. Fate led them to acquire nothing less than a full-fledged castle close to Libourne in 2004. The Château de Cadillac in Cadillac-en-Fronsadais (not to be confused with the château of the same name 60 km distant in the eponymous town on the Garonne) has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. The Serisiers beautifully renovated the impressive building both inside and out. It now corresponds in every way to one’s mind’s-eye representation of a French château.


The estate included 3-hectares of vines on the plateau leased to the previous owner of the chateau who had retained the rest of the vines. However, Richard, who could easily have settled into a comfortable early retirement, decided that he wanted to take control of and extend this vineyard holding. A man of action, he reasoned that the limestone plateau overlooking the Dordogne had much the same terroir as nearby Saint-Émilion and wanted to make his own wine. He strongly felt that winegrowing here was “a geographical inevitability” and that, surrounded by vines, it was only natural to try his hand at winegrowing.
So, when the former owner of the chateau sold their estate in 2011 to the Chinese, Richard bought the rest of the best parcels on the plateau adjoining the chateau. Taking a very “can do” New World approach, he does not have much truck with Bordeaux hierarchies of appellations and classifications. All his wines are either Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur, and he believes they should stand on their own merits. He sells much of them to the local restaurant trade, where they have done rather well.

Richard could not call his wine Château de Cadillac because there is a Bordeaux sweet wine appellation of the same name. So, he chose that of the vineyard plot poetically designated Champ du Bout du Monde, or “the End of the World”, on the land register. He did not attach the word “château”.

The first vintage of Le Bout du Monde was in 2012. In 2013, Richard also bought another closeby vineyard estate, Château Meillac, in Saint-Romain-la-Virvée. This provided a much-needed and since-renovated winemaking facility centred around an 18th century windmill. Total area under vine now stands at 15 hectares which includes 5 hectares of new plantings. Average annual production amounts to 40-45,000 bottles a year. Le Bout du Monde accounts for 70% and Château Meillac 30%. A prestige cuvée, Château Montrevel, was first made in 2014 (2,500-3,000 bottles a year). This comes from the best part of the vineyard and undergoes vinification intégrale.


I sampled the full range of wines, which made a very good impression. Meillac is the entry level wine, easy-drinking and early-maturing. Le Bout du Monde is more serious and has already garnered several medals. Last, but not least, Château Montrevel has benefited from its vinification intégrale winemaking and mercifully avoids the trap of too much oak on the palate. It is a fine wine that would stump just about anybody tasting it blind. The proximity with Fronsac and especially Saint-Émilion is patent.
Richard Serisier has his sights set on the long term. By any standard, creating and marketing a new brand from the Bordeaux appellation is a difficult task, and even more challenging for a foreigner. However, Richard is following his star… Even such a serious setback as the horrendous frost damage this year (75% of the crop was lost) has not deterred him or Stéphane Renié, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the estate. The best wines so far have been made from 100% Merlot, but that will soon change when the new plantings of Cabernet Franc and Malbec vines come into production. The vines are grown sustainably.
Richard and Shelley Serisier belong to a long line of enthusiastic entrepreneurs from abroad who have contributed so much to Bordeaux wine. I have little doubt that their efforts will pay off, and their wines are well worth discovering.