Tag Archives: bordeaux wines

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.

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

PO-2017[1]
I often refer to “Portes Ouvertes” on my blog. Taking place over a two or three-day weekend, these “Open Cellars” operations are marvelous opportunities to discover some of Bordeaux’s lesser-known appellations and estates – and to add to the cellar :-).

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

However, the Côtes de Bourg decided to remain apart.

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

Bourg-vu-du-port-bis.-@OT-Bourg-700x380

The port of Bourg-sur-Gironde

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

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

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

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

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

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Château Tayac

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Saint-Estèphe
==========


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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

2016 Château Mouton Rothschild

 

 

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

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

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

2016 Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut Brion

 

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I couldn’t believe it, it took me just 20 minutes to drive from the center of Bordeaux to Château Haut Brion on the 30th of March. The gods were smiling at me that day .
This was my first serious encounter with the 2016 vintage and a great way to begin!
My friends and I were welcomed by Turid Helo Alcaras, who took us down to Haut Brion’s small intimate tasting room to take a look at all the Domaine Dillon wines from the 2016 vintage.
Here are the wines in the order in which they were tasted:

RED WINES

Clarendelle: This is a négociant blend from Clarence Dillon Wines, a totally separate entity from Domaine Clarence Dillon. It is not usually served to avoid any possible confusion. Like Mouton Cadet, we are told that the third wine of Haut-Brion goes into the final blend.
I must say that this is a very creditable, well-made wine with a sweet simple nose and very good tannin for this level of Bordeaux. I was not expecting such a good wine.

Dragon de Quintus: (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc): This is the second wine of Château Quintus in Saint-Emilion.
Nose: Soft with understated oak and lovely cherry-vanilla overtones and a trace of greenness.
Palate: Sleek, soft attack, then drops on the middle palate, which is slightly hollow. Plenty of oak on the finish.

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion: (36.5% Merlot, 21.5% Cabernet Franc, and 42% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Pure Cabernet aromas, a little brambly. Understated and classy with good potential. Blackcurrant nuances and an overall sweetness.
Palate: Chewy, even a little chunky at this stage. Lovely development on the palate ending with fine grip. Good, velvety tannin and attractively fresh. This is an excellent second wine and will be enjoyable young or old.

Clarence de Haut-Brion: (51.3% Merlot, 13.1% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvingon, and 2.6% Petit Verdot)
Nose: Ethereal, perfumed, and feminine.
Palate: Almost piercing acidity showing that the wine will definitely age well. Fresh and penetrating. Authoritative finish. This seems a second wine of a first growth comparable to the way Les Forts de Latour relates to Latour, i.e. something special, in no way a pale copy. Roundness in a square tannic framework. Tangy finish. Classic. Reminded me of the grand vin in a middling year.

Château Quintus: (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
Nose: Berry, talc, and especially wild berries on the nose. Quite plummy at this stage and a little spirity.
Palate: Develops well on the palate and is broad-shouldered. Very typical of its appellation, with good grip and an assertive aftertaste that is maybe a little hot. Granular texture to the tannin and a long tannic finish. Sensual, but perhaps more vinous than elegant. 2016 Quintus is over 15% alcohol, accounting for the sort of balance an old timer like me has to get used to.

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

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

I might add that I have been fortunate enough to have had my fair share of meals at which Haut-Brion and La Mission from the same vintage are served side by side. The vineyards are just across the road from one another and are the perfect illustration of the importance of terroir in Bordeaux. Three times out of four, I find that Haut-Brion’s elegance trumps La Mission’s trademark style, somewhat more brooding and more masculine as compared with Haut-Brion’s femininity.
However, I have never tasted the two wines closer in style than in 2016. Oh, clearly different, but sharing what I can only call a feminine elegance.

Ch. La Mission Haut Brion

Ch. La Mission Haut Brion

WHITE WINES

Clarendelle: The counterpart to the red described above, but not as good. Well-made with pure, upfront Sauvignon Blanc fruit on the nose, but lacking body and length. Still, a wine that is perfectly honorable in its category.

La Clarté de Haut-Brion: (23.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 76.3% Sémillon)
Nose: Classic Graves nose. Lemon and oak along with ripe aromas of grape varieties grown in their terroir of predilection. Some lanoline notes.
Palate: Good focus. Rich but a teeny bit dilute. Fine mineral aftertaste. Very good, and you would have to look hard to find a flaw, but does not seem to be in the heavyweight category at this stage.
There is so little white wine at Domaine Dillon that La Clarté is a blend of whites from both Haut-Brion and La Mission.

La Mission Haut-Brion blanc: (62.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 37.3% Sémillon)
Nose: Discreet at this point. Sauvignon Blanc dominates, which is hardly surprising when you compare the percentage of this variety with La Clarté.
Palate: Much more body than La Clarté with a great balance between richness and acidity. Reveals its charms in a most enticing, seamless way. A certain waxiness there. Starts out fresh and fruity, but then there is a sort of double whammy when the aftertaste segues into tremendous minerality.

Haut Brion blanc: (70% Sauvignon Blanc and 29.5% Sémillon)
Nose: Lemon and lemongrass. The Sauvignon Blanc comes through more clearly than in La Misison. Obviously needs time to strut its stuff.
Palate: Very big and round, then fans out beautifully (makes me think of that French expression fait la queue de paon i.e. spreads like a peacock’s tail). The aftertaste is astonishingly long with the most extraordinary minerality.
I was in Burgundy in March and was able to taste some of the finest premier and grand crus from the Côte de Beaune. This wine is a match for any of them. It is very rare and expensive, but I was thoroughly impressed with its quality.