Tag Archives: Bordeaux

Tasting of 2017 Saint-Emilion

These are the last of my en primeur tasting notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2017 EN PRIMEUR TASTING: PESSAC-LEOGNAN

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tasting of 2017 Pomerol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Tasting of 25 great Médocs from the 2014 vintage

 

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For the past several years, I have been invited by the Union des Grands Crus to take part in a mammoth tasting organized during the Weekend des Grands Crus. This is always a wonderful experience and the 2017 tasting on the 20th of May was no exception.

Open to the general public, the UGC Weekend includes wine country tours, dinners in famous châteaux, a golf tournament and the monster tasting on Saturday with some participating 116 châteaux. The tasting takes place in the city of Bordeaux in a single huge room in a former warehouse, H 14, overlooking the Garonne, not far from the new Cité du Vin. Every UGC member is asked to show two wines: one from the same vintage (the 2014 this year) and another of their choosing. Most estates are represented by their owner or general manager, so this is a rare opportunity to meet the people who actually make the wine and talk with them. The tasting lasts from 10 am to 5 pm. Snacks are available as well as a sit-down lunch accompanied by older wines.

The tasting is well attended by wine lovers from all over the world.

The choice of wines is so great that I usually decide to focus on one region in one vintage.
This year’s choice was 2014 Médoc.

Here are my notes.

Saint-Estèphe
==========

2014 Château Cos Labory
C: Lovely, bright, medium-deep color.
N: Open, fruity, and plummy with graphite overtones. Expressive, subtle, and more elegant than usual for this château.
P: Unfortunately unbalanced because hollow on the middle palate. Starts out fluid and free-flowing, and then turns hard. The aftertaste is rough, and this is a shame after such a fine bouquet.

2014 Château Lafon Rochet
C: A little dull, but good enough with a thin purplish rim.
N: Lovely marriage of fruit and oak. Pretty rather than deep, although there is an attractive uplift. Nevertheless hides its light under a bushel.
P: Round and soft on the attack, then segues seamlessly in a fine structured aftertaste. More elegant than powerful. Medium-light in body with blueberry and blackberry flavors, as well as a tannic finish that indicates the wine is for mid-term drinking.

2014 Château Les Ormes de Pez
C: Relatively dense with a medium-deep purplish rim.
N: Fresh, upfront, and seemingly unoaked fruit with ethereal graphite aromas and cherry nuances in the background.
P: Somewhat lightweight for a Saint Estèphe. A good cru bourgeois not pretending to be otherwise. Relatively short aftertaste.

2014 Château de Pez

C: Medium dark core with a vibrant purplish rim.
N: Underwhelming blackberry aromas. Sweet but not very expressive.
P: A thirst-quenching, tangy sort of Médoc with fresh acidity. Light for a Saint-Estèphe. Shortish aftertaste, but with decent, slightly rubbery tannin on the finish.

2014 Château Phélan Ségur
C: Medium-deep, luminous purplish-red.
N: Underdeveloped (more understated or lacking in expressiveness?) at this time with black cherry and sweet cosmetic/perfumed aromas.
P: A little dilute, but well-constructed. The tannin on the finish makes this a serious wine, but one best enjoyed on the young side. Fresh and well-made, but not a heavy hitter.

SAINT JULIEN
===========

2014 Château Beychevelle
C: Medium-deep with a youthful rim.
N: Lovely. Ultra-classic fresh nose of super Médoc. Blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and earth. Subtle and perfumed.
P: Rich, soft, and mouthfilling on the attack followed by a flawless development towards a long fresh aftertaste. Fruit and tannin are very much in balance accompanied by that extra something that can only come from a fine terroir. Medium-bodied and truly elegant, this is not a huge wine, but one that will please claret lovers.

2014 Château Branaire Ducru
C: Medium and not particularly brilliant with a thinnish purple rim.
N: Too indeterminate at this stage. Some graphite there, but the bouquet is not quite up to grand cru level even though it is quite fresh.
P: Better on the palate. Tight and brambly, delicious and appetizing. Lovely texture with a classic, long, velvety afteraste. Well-made. A sleeper. The bouquet may not be expressive, but let us hope this comes around in time.

2014 Château Gloria
C: Attractive deep colour with a fairly watery rim.
N: A sweet, fresh, immediately rich and satisfying nose with hints of graphite, kirsch, and toasty oak.
P: Full-bodied, round, and with tannin that melts in the mouth. Penetrating, and then drops off somewhat before picking up again on the tannic aftertaste showing candied fruit and coffee overtones. A compromise between a classic and a crowd-pleasing commercial style. Open and attractive.

2014 Château Gruaud-Larose
C: Medium-dark with a wide purplish rim.
N: Showing sour cherry and berry fruit aromas, but underdeveloped at this time. There is a spirity quality here (blackberry liqueur).
P: Mouthfilling with sweet fruit, but there is some hollowness on the middle palate and dryness on the finish (too much oak?). Long aftertaste, but the oak is intrusive. A little top-heavy and clunky in this vintage, but I hope I will be able to revise my opinion down the road.

2014 Château Lagrange
C: Medium-deep with a watery purplish rim.
N: Expressive bouquet of primary fruit and toasty oak. Simple and forthright, with some graphite.
P: Starts out solid, going on to reveal fine-grained tannin. A natural, undoctored kind of Médoc with some dry oak on the finish. Not the red fruit flavors I would have hoped for. Tangy, medium-long aftertaste with good grip. The type of wine that is good young or old. Good value.

2014 Château Langoa Barton
C: Fine, youthful, and vibrant, including the rim.
N: Very typical of the Saint-Julien appellation with some graphite. Good, but not great.
P: Creamy, rich, and mouthfilling. Very long, tangy aftertaste with fresh acidty and red fruit flavors, especially strawberry. Needs loads of time. Promising, but not showing especially well at this time.

2014 Château Léoville Barton
C: Deep core, but also a very youthful color on the rim.
N: Subtle bouquet of candied cherries with some truffle overtones and a fascinating unpindownable floral element. Class rather than power with toasty oak bringing up the rear, but very much in harmony.
P: Sweet without being sweet… Tremendous black fruit and candied cherry flavors. Unfolds beautifully on the palate into a fine aftertaste consistent with everything the precedes. A long, long finish with bright fruit. Could perhaps use a touch more richness and volume, but this is a very fine wine indeed.

2014 Château Léoville Poyferré
C: Very deep and not totally clear. Thin rim showing different shades.
N: Concentrated bouquet of blackcurrant and throat lozenge. A little spirity.
P: Sweet and soft on entry, dips somewhat, and then comes back with significant, but not overdone oak. Fresh with a medium-heavy mouth feel. Some dryness on the finish. Very good, but not excellent. Reliable. The first vintage sold in a bottle embossed with the château emblem.

2014 Château Saint-Pierre
C: Comparable to the sister château, Gloria, tasted just before, perhaps looking a little more dull.
N: Fresh, subtle, and floral, with some candied black fruit and truffle nuances. Very interesting.
P: Starts out sweet and with the chunkiness I associate with Saint-Julien. Joyous, exuberant fruit that goes just a little too quickly into a dry aftertaste. The oak needs to blend more with the fruit.

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2014 Château Talbot

C: Lovely dark colour, much deeper than the other wines.
N: Classic sweet Cabernet Sauvignon nose with graphite and cedar overtones. Seductive and full of character, but oh-so-unlike most New World Cabs…
P: Mouthfilling, seems rather chunky and then thins out some. Controlled tannin on the aftertaste. Lovely finish with oak playing the role it should. Lacks some richness and depth, but very well-made.

PAUILLAC
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2014 Château d’Armailhac
C: Vigorous and deep with a bright purple rim. Brilliant, very good.
N: Forest floor and a definite greenness to accompany the traditional hallmarks of Pauillac. A certain herbaceousness needs to integrate better with age and/or aeration before serving.
P: A chunky quality, but without the elegance to back it up. Definite cedar and graphite aromatics, but unfocused at this time. Medium-heavy mouthfeel then dilute, then showing slightly clumsy tannin. Needs re-evaluation at a later date…

2014 Château Batailley
C: Not totally limpid. Medium-deep core.
N: Toasty oak dominates at this point and the nose smells more like coffee than wine… However, black fruit nuances are lurking.
P: Hard oakiness overlaying good back fruit, but this oak is just too much, and I do not see how time can overcome the imbalance. Dry finish.

2014 Château Clerc Milon
C: Deep, with purplish tones throughout.
N: Toasty oak, but in tune with the red fruit aromas, along with black cherry and truffle notes, as well as a touch of eucalyptus. Not celestial, but very good. Understated.
P: Silky smooth texture if a touch watery, going into a taste I can only define as Pinotlike minus the tannin! Mineral, and not very long, but a “digestible” wine that will be good young. Tangy acidity plays a major role here. A different profile from what I am used to, but Clerc Milon is still on a roll…

2014 Château Croizet Bages
C: Light and not very clear or appealing.
N: Soft and simple.
P: Smooth, light, and not much there. Rough tannin on the aftertaste. Off notes. I keep trying with Croizet Bages, waiting for the estate to be turned around, but that time is still in the future.

2014 Château Grand Puy Ducasse
C: Medium in every respect, with a purplish rim.
N: Rather rustic with hints of pencil shavings as well as odd and unexpected tropical fruit aromas!
P: Smooth, short, and simple. Dilute and ends with dry, bitter tannin. Not a winner.

2014 Château Haut Bages Libéral
C: Somewhat dusky.
N: Barnyard aromas.
P: A little better, but the bretty quality overshadows the rest.

2014 Château Lynch Bages
C: Very dark, much more so than the other wines.
N: Fine, subtle oak with trademark black fruit (cassis) and graphite aromas. Overtones of blackstrap molasses and coffee, but the aromatic profile is still largely closed at present.
P: A touch green, and acidity coats the teeth. This is a good Lynch Bages that will age well.

2014 Château Lynch Moussas
C: Medium intensity with a watery purplish rim.
N: Not much fruit. Toasty oak and caramel overtones.
P: Starts out sweet, then becomes hot and oaky with granular tannin on the finish. Out of balance. More fruit and less oak needed. There is also a slight greenness on the finish.

2014 Château Pichon Baron
C: Very dark color, one of the best of the tasting. The rim is red rather than purplish.
N: Roasted aromas (coffee) and reticent black fruit. Pure and fresh.
P: A big wine with medium-heavy mouth feel. Luscious and ticks all the right boxes for Pauillac. Smooth and requires medium-term ageing. Spreads out beautifully on the palate. The tannin less virile than in many other vintages of this wine. Wonderful.

2014 Château Pichon Comtesse
C: Medium-deep with a purple rim.
N: Candied red fruit. Sweet, but not yet complex at this stage. Surprisingly, a little rustic and not showing particularly well at this time.
P: Better on the palate, which shows marked fresh acidity and a blackcurrant flavor. Seems a little harsh and needs to age. Should be revisited at a later date to re-evaluate.

 

Pontet Canet dinner in London – May 2017

I have heard about Nigel Platts-Martin’s famous London restaurants (the Square, the Ledbury, Chez Bruce, the Glasshouse, and La Trompette) for years, so I was anxious to go to one of them when my friend Ian Amstad told me he was organizing a wine dinner focusing on Château Ponet Canet at La Trompette on the 3rd of May. Owner Alfred Tesseron kindly agreed to come over from Bordeaux to attend the meal and to comment on the wines.

La Trompette

Main dining room at La Trompette

Ian, Tim Mc Cracken from Paris, and I met Alfred at Dukes Hotel in Mayfair and then took a long taxi ride with him to Chiswick where La Trompette is located.

There were 16 of us from 5 different countries at two tables set apart from one of two main dining rooms with a screen. I sat with Nigel on my left and Alfred on my right. Nigel seemed amazingly at ease for a restaurateur. This is because he knows how to delegate and trusts his staff. They most certainly did not let him down.
Alfred was also at ease in English and speaking in public. In addition to anecdotes about Pontet Canet, he also talked about his Cognac business and his family’s recent purchase of Pym Rae vineyard in the Napa Valley, an estate formerly belonging to Robin Williams.

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                                                                                     A forest of glasses!

Service was superb throughout the meal, with a different glass for each wine. The food was top-notch and the main course as good as anything I might find in France.

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We started off with 2004 Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill for the apéritif. This was quite a fine Champagne, but I cannot honestly say that it had a special spark or inspiration.
I don’t think that anyone would have taken the 1999 white Château Pape Clément (45% Sémillon, 45% Sauvigon Blanc, and 10% Muscadelle) for an 18-year-old wine if served blind! It had a very pale golden color and a nose of lemon and oak, plus a matchstick aroma. It was quite virile on the palate, with a long persistent aftertaste showing plenty of oak – maybe too much. This still has many years ahead of it and I wouldn’t see its peak before 2025.

1994 Pontet Canet: This is hardly considered a stellar year, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The color was a lovely deep aristocratic crimson. The nose clearly said Pauillac with ripe fruit, truffle, and graphite overtones. The wine was soft, mineral, and well-balanced on the palate. Slightly thin compared to the greatest vintages, it is nevertheless a very commendable effort.

1996 Pontet Canet: Once again, a fine deep, dark color. The bouquet was somewhat monolithic with pencil shaving aromas. The wine was a bit dumb on the palate, and one has the impression that it still needs time some 21 years after the vintage. The tannin is fine-grained. The 94 is more ready and user-friendly, but the 96 will be a better wine when it reaches its peak in perhaps ten more years. While not forthcoming or together at this stage, the potential is clearly there. The finish is long and promising.

2003 Pontet Canet: This is quite a controversial wine among Bordeaux lovers, with its champions and its detractors… The color was fine, and the nose pure and up-front. The wine was big, spherical, and raisiny on the palate. It seemed strong, assertive, and a bit dry, while lacking in a marked underlying character. The overall structure was massive with plenty of grip, dry tannin, and black fruit on the finish. I don’t see where this is going, but I have one bottle in the cellar and will give it a few years more to find out. In other words, this is not at all the sort of 2003 that is top-heavy, low in acid, and to drink young.

2005 Pontet Canet: This wine had a deep, impressive color and an altogether classic nose of cedar and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in its region of predilection. The bouquet was somewhat New World in its concentration and exuberance. This quality followed through on the palate, which was meaty and a little extravagant, with fine oak. A long mineral aftertaste bodes well for further ageing. I’d give it about 15 more years.

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2009 Pontet Canet: The color was impeccable, as deep as one could hope. The nose was redolent of caramel, oak, and subtle cassis, whereas the taste featured coffee-vanilla components and spread out beautifully on the palate. The balance was superb. This wine was both gutsy and elegant. There is also what I’d call a streak or a line of cool, refreshing minerality that gives this vintage of Pontet Canet its unique personality and makes it extremely interesting. I tasted this wine en primeur in 2010 the same day I went to three first growths – and Pontet Canet showed in the same class… I was not at all disappointed with retasting, and it unquestionably holds tremendous promise.

2011 Pontet Canet: Fine youthful appearance with a bouquet showing toned-down oak and gorgeous blueberry, blackberry, and blackcurrant fruit aromas. Rich and full on the palate, but not exaggerated. There was obvious oak and a caramel flavor that needs to integrate over time. This is a “digestible” wine that was unexpectedly delicious. One to watch.

2012 Pontet Canet: Great color with a nose of ripe fruit, graphite, and sweet oak. This oak, along with a caramel flavour, compete with the fruit at this time, but the wine is just going through an awkward phase in my opinion. Although my least favorite wine of the tasting, it would be unfair to say that it was wanting. It simply needs to come together.

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We finished with an Yquem which, as always, is a great way to end a meal, even if this particular bottle of 1976 seemed a little tired. However, that was not to be the last word since Alfred was also kind enough to pour us all a glass of his Lot N° 53 Perfection Grande Champagne X.O. Cognac. Like all the best brandies from the Charente, it was feather light and elegant to the point where you have no idea that you are drinking a strong spirit!