Tag Archives: bordeauxwine

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.

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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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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!

2016 great growths: Pomerol and Saint-Emilion (40 wines)

Pomerol
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Beauregard (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Inky and sweet. Fresh, strong and serious. A little spirity and roasted with earthy aromas.
P: Feminine and soft. Melts in the mouth. Finishes rich but not overdone. Juicy and especially tart. A delicate sensual wine. Worth seeking out.

Le Bon Pasteur (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Dried fruit. Slightly dusty.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fills out nicely on the palate. Soft tannin and one has the impression of alcoholic strength, but not in a way that detracts. Rubbery (empyreumatic) notes and slightly dry aftertaste. Oak plays too major a role at the present time.
This estate was sold to a Chinese owner by Michel Rolland.

La Cabanne (94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc)
N: Noticeable reductive notes, but this may not be a fair time to taste. Biscuity with hints of black fruit jelly.
P: Soft and unctuous. Seems traditional with little oak influence. A decent Pomerol, but not one of the best.

Clinet (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Bright, pure, and rich yet understated fruit. Roasted quality, but interestingly so (not outrageously toasty oak). Deep and good.
P: Shows more grip and structure than other wines tasted. A step up. Fresh, round, and has a great finish. The dryness should disappear with age. A very fine Pomerol.

La Croix de Gay (95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Rich and spicy (cinnamon) with grassy, blueberry, chocolate, and liquorice notes.
P: Heavy mouthfeel. Sweet and a little obvious. Big, round type of Pomerol, but lacks depth. The aftertaste seems rather dry and I hope that the oak integrates later on.

Gazin (87% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Spirity and spicy. Very ripe. A little heat.
P: Manages to be big and delicate at the same time. Very soft, but shows plenty of character going into a vivacious aftertaste. The oak finish hides some of the lovely ripe fruit at present, but further ageing should put things in balance.

Petit Village (77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Deep and slightly spirity bouquet showing great Pomerol typicity and wild berries. Both serious and charming.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satiny high-quality tannin from beginning to end with a cushioned texture. Juicy and tart. Long aftertaste. Refreshing and thirst-quenching. A very superior Pomerol.

La Pointe (83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc)
N: Rich fruit along with meaty aromas and overtones of humus and musk. Fine bouquet of a vin de terroir.
P: Quite round on entry but does not quite maintain the momentum before reaching the classy aftertaste. The almond and vanilla aromatics come more from the soil than the oak. There is also a burnt rubber component. Light-weight for its appellation.

Saint Emilion
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Barde Haut (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and fairly non-descript compared to its peers.
P: Chunky, a little confected. A crowd-pleasing sort of wine with marked acidity. A little hollow on the middle palate. Tangy aftertaste showing some minerality. A good commercial style.

Bellefont-Belcier (72% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Toasty oak and accompanying roast coffee aromas predominate.
P: Full, rich sensual attack then drops and returns with a pleasant rather mineral aftertaste. Seductive, easy-going, and typical of its appellation. Will be enjoyable young.
This château was recently sold by a Chinese to a Maltese. Bordeaux is nothing if not international!

Cadet Bon (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Very closed. Rich, but simple.
P: Melts in the mouth almost like fruit juice (i.e. texture and “sweetness”). Good mineral aftertaste. The sort of wine you don’t have to think about, just enjoy. The dryness on the tail end will probably diminish with ageing when the oak integrates.

Canon La Gaffelière (55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Unusual medicinal nose of herbs and eucalyptus. Perhaps just a stage.
P: Much better on the palate. Velvety texture and rich berry fruit that does not let up until the end of the long aftertaste. The oak dries out the finish at this early stage, but if care is taken should not intrude later on. Excellent wine with good potential.

Le Chatelet (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft blueberry aromas with some alcohol and chocolate notes.
P: Fine fluid juicy quality. Refreshing. Natural, with good follow-through and appetizing tannin on the finish.

Chauvin (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Pure, although subdued fruit. Oak presently has the upper hand. Some herbaceousness.
P: Herbs on the palate too. Tight and fairly dry with a weak middle palate. Unbalanced at present. Simply too much oak. However, this could change by the time the wine has been bottled and aged. Needs to be re-evaluated.
This estate was bought by the Cazes family of Lynch Bages in 2014.

Clos Fourtet (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Pure, fresh, and classy. Needs only time to express itself fully.
P: Sinewy, compact, and penetrating. Heavy mouth feel. This is a big wine that spreads out on the palate. Shows some alcohol. Fine-grained grippy tannin. Slightly hot aftertaste, but this is nevertheless a winner that should age very well.

Clos des Jacobins (80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Very toasty oak and coffee aromas. Too much. You feel as though you are smelling a cup of espresso. Some herbaceousness comes out with aeration.
P: Much better on the palate so let us hope that the oak integrates later on. Big, mouthfilling wine with lovely fruit waiting to come out from the yoke of the oak (hey, I’m a poet and don’t even know it!). Dry aftertaste. Please save Private Ryan and reduce the oak here. Everyone will be happier.
This estate is owned by the Decoster family who came from the Limoges china industry.

Clos la Madeleine (75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc)
N: Low-key fruit with the sensation of freshly-mown grass.
P: Starts out big and then drops precipitously. Hollow on the middle palate. There’s a nice fruity tanginess on the aftertaste but this capitulates to the oak at present.

Corbin (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Pure seemingly unoaked bouquet. Fresh and seems more floral than fruity.
P: Chunky, rich, and mouthfilling, but does not develop quite so well on the palate. Really big and round but also hollow. How will the oak integrate? At present it overwhelms what would have been a great aftertaste.

La Couspaude (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Subtle, fresh, and concentrated berry liqueur notes with some grassy aromas.
P: Tasty and sweet but somewhat one-dimensional. The fine aftertaste brands it as a Saint Emilion. Quite juicy going into a tart mineral finish. Good but not stellar.
Couvent des Jacobins (85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Very primary fruit with a herbaceous quality.
P: Juicy and tasty. A little dry on the aftertaste, but there is lovely upfront joyous fruit. Let us hope that everything evens out in the end.

Couvent des Jacobins (85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Very primary fruit with a herbaceous quality.
P: Juicy and tasty. A little dry on the aftertaste, but there is lovely upfront joyous fruit. Let us hope that everything evens out in the end.

Dassault (73% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Slightly reduced nose. Pronounced, but not complex, with plum nuances. Alcoholic smell of slightly overripe Merlot.
P: Rich, silky, and brawny going into an unexpectedly fresh and especially mineral aftertaste. A wine of strong character and a good Dassault.

Destieux (66% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Soft, biscuity, and enticing, but not really expressive and focused yet.
P: Rich, melts in the mouth, big, round, fresh, and sensual. The oak is largely under control and there is a fine textured aftertaste. Lots of pleasure here. Only the muted nose keeps this from being a winner. Let us hope that this comes out over time.

La Dominique (80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Lots of toasty oak. A little hollow and alcoholic at this time.
P: Sinewy and velvety. Soft with a medium-heavy mouth feel and a flavour that dips before coming back into a long tannic and mineral aftertaste. A serious, sturdy, broad-shouldered wine that is, once again, a little dry on the finish at this time.

Fleur Cardinale (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Cherry-vanilla aromas accompanied by a strong blackberry component. Beautiful ripe bouquet. Still, needs to come together, which is hardly surprising.
P: Big mouthful of wine. Spreads out confidently on the palate. Round and sensual with a silky texture. Excellent.

La Fleur Morange (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
N: Subtle black cherry aromas.
P: Medium body and silky texture. Well-balanced with oak in check and showing nice minerality. High quality tannin. Classic and satisfying. I was delighted to discover this fine cru classé I did not know.

Fonplégade (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and not very expressive. Underlying black fruit waiting to be liberated. Some understated oak.
P: Sweet juicy fruit with a refreshing, thirst-quenching quality. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Oak dominates the aftertaste, but this could very well change over time. Very good.
The château has been certified organic since the 2013 vintage.

Fonroque (85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc)
N: Honest, forthright, subtle nose of black fruit.
P: Fills out nicely on the palate. Chunky with exuberant fruit. Good mineral aftertaste and not too dry. Surprisingly good and seems like an excellent value this year.

Franc Mayne (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc)
N: Some reduction there. Not in very good form this day. Deep, slightly spirit blueberry and fresh leather.
P: A certain tartness and an average quality compared to other crus classés. Strong limestone-induced minerality on the aftertaste.

Grand Corbin (80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Beautiful fresh and largely floral nose (field of spring flowers) with fruit not far behind as well as some chocolate nuances.
P: This strange and unexpected floral quality carries over to the palate. Thickish body and a long earthy aftertaste with mineral and oaky overtones. Perhaps more interesting and unusual than good.

Grand Mayne (85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft, natural, and seems virtually unoaked. Deep and mysterious with lovely Merlot fruit.
P: Big and round, but with a slightly dilute quality. Displays the trademark finish of wines from the Saint Emilion plateau: an unmistakable limestone minerality. Toned-down compared to some other vintages from this estate. Very good.

Grand Pontet (75% Merlot, 17.5% Cabernet Franc, and 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Cherry cough syrup
P: Big, full and sweet. Does not really follow through from the attack to the dry finish. Going on towards being a fruit bomb. Ends really very dry due to oak. A pity because there are some unquestionably good aspects to the wine.

Jean Faure (50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot, and 5% Merlot)
N: Not much going on. Wait and see.
P: Big volume but hollow. Unattractive dry aftertaste. Clobbered by the oak.

Larmande (77% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Discreet, fresh, and attractive black fruit with some toasty oak.
P: Sweet, round, and sensual Merlot melts in the mouth. Very good and will be quite enjoyable young.

Laroze (65% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Blueberry aromas, but not very subtle.
P: Seems almost more floral than fruity on the palate, and goes from a chunky rich attack into a rather dry aftertaste. Not the most distinguished of the tasting.

Péby Faugères (100% Merlot)
N: Inky, dark, mysterious, and promising bouquet. I must have been carried away… My notes say “a beautiful Andalusian woman”!
P: Complex, and round, with a lovely texture. Impeccable. Wonderful soft tannin. Seductive, yet serious and the oak is within reason. Is Silvio Denz gunning for first growth status? If this bottle is anything to go by, he is well on his way. Between the special Lalique embossed bottle and the price tag, I was expecting to find something overdone. But no, this is really good.

La Serre (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Bit herbaceous and rustic. Some chocolate, cherry, and oak notes.
P: Big, but a bit flabby. Refreshing, but lacklustre. Minerality typical of Saint-Emilion’s limestone plateau on the aftertaste, but this is somewhat of an afterthought… Proper, just not special.

Soutard (63% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Malbec)
N: Fresh, sweet, and pure aromas of brambly fruit with some chocolate nuances.
P: Big with a heavy mouth feel, but the impressive entry seems a little diluted thereafter, going on somewhat disjointedly into a puckery mineral finish. A different style from the sister château, Larmande, and needs more time to age.

La Tour Figeac (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
N: Not a lot of personality. Sweet and simple.
P: Much better on the palate. Melts in the mouth and then asserts itself with considerable volume, marked berry flavors, and noticeably high alcohol. Good tannin, minerality, and long fruity finish. A sleeper.

Troplong Mondot (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Strong berry liqueur aromas. Alcohol. Not complex.
P: At 15° this reminds me a bit of Harlan from California in that I don’t want to like it, but end up being taken in. Close-minded, moi? A New World type of wine in many respects. Concentrated, big, and unrelenting, yet deeply soft. I liked it despite a hot, dry aspect to the finish. Go figure.

Villemaurine (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Floral, lead pencil, and earthy notes
P: Starts out big, round, and generous, then backs off and dips, going on to display a combination of rich fruit and minerality. Long berry aftertaste with an oak influence that needs some watching. Very good.

2016 Pessac-Léognan (13 wines)


Bouscaut (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and 7% Malbec)
N: Soft, simple, and direct. Understated and good.
P: Unexpectedly light and feminine. Not in keeping with the château profile. I can only deduce that this is not the best sample, because I feel the wine is only a shadow of what it should be. Very oaky aftertaste. To try again down the line.

Carbonnieux (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot)
N: Slightly medicinal. Relatively closed and not showing much fruit at this time.
P: “Fluid”, easy-going, and not over-extracted. However, too light and disappointing when the improved performance of this château’s red wine in recent years is considered.

Carmes Haut Brion (41% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: A certain tankiness there but, once again, that cannot be held against a wine this young, and may well dissipate. The alcohol overwhelms the berry fruit somewhat at this stage.
P: Soft and lively. Good acidity and discreet fine-grained tannin. Considerable sweetness and Graves typicity on the finish. Agreeably old-fashioned in a way. Needs time for greater balance, but promising.

Domaine de Chevalier (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Inky, serious, and enticing nose of ripe black fruit with a touch of mint.
P: Smooth and sophisticated with a vein of fresh acidity. Good fruit, resonant tannin, and a long aftertaste. Oak seems fairly strong at this stage. Very good indeed.

Fieuzal (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Rich soft-pedalled wildberry aromas.
G: Certainly refined, but on the light side and lacks stuffing. Relatively long, but not very vigorous finish.

Haut Brion: (56% Merlot, 6.5% Cabernet Franc, and 37.5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Restrained and aristocratic. My notes say: “soft, soft, and soft”.
P: 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.


Larrivet Haut Brion (62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc)
N: Slightly rustic but forthright with intense berry aromas and a bit of greenness. Honest. Not messed around with.
P: Quite natural on the palate as well. Vibrant acidity with an oak kick on the finish, but this is not over the top. Good middle-of-the-road wine reminding me somewhat of La Louvière, although different, of course.

Latour Martillac (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Elegant, including the oak. Restrained and aristocratic with black cherry aromas.
P: Gorgeous ripe fruit at first and then thins out some. Typical of its appellation. Sleek and on the light side. Good medium-long aftertaste.

La Louvière (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Upfront with fine blueberry aromas. Not overoaked.
P: Plush soft berry fruit. Very Pessac-Léognan. Medium-light body. Clean mineral aftertaste with a mint/eucalyptus component. One for mid-term ageing.

 

Malartic Lagravière (53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Ethereal and pretty cherry liqueur bouquet.
P: Round and feminine with lovely follow-through. Wonderful perky tannin with vivacious acidity. Not rich, but not light either. Despite a thirst-quenching quality, this is a serious wine with great aromatics. My notes say “vin de gastronomie” meaning it would shine especially at table with refined cuisine.
Mission Haut Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
P: 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…

Mission Haut Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
P: 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…

Olivier (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Penetrating nose with alcohol coming through more than fruit. Also a note I can only describe as acetone.
P: Chewy, a bit hollow, rough, and dry. This wine is not together and needs to be retasted to form a more accurate impression.

DSC03141
Pape Clément (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot)
N: Deep, brooding dark fruit aromas just emerging. Strong but unfocused. Rhônish.
P: Round inside a framework of fruit and oak tannin. Too much oak? Time will tell. Bit dry on the aftertaste, but also mineral. Uncertain prognosis at this time.

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

Pauillac
======


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
========

 

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 Haut-Médoc and Margaux (24 wines tasted)

Haut-Médoc appellation
=================

Château Beaumont (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Deep and sweet, if a little simple. A slightly dusty, biscuity element.
P: Soft and round. Moreish. Good medium-soft tannin, but there is nevertheless marked acidity. This is the sort of wine probably best enjoyed young and fruity.

Château Belgrave (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Wildberry aromas with a touch of grenness. Inky and funky.
P: Fresh and easy-to-drink. Up-front. Will also go well with food because of good grip.

Château Camensac (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot)
N: Complex and slightly waxy. Mostly closed, but relatively promising.
P: Very soft and luscious on entry. Melts in the mouth. A really attractive early-drinking wine (5 years). Nippy with a nice little aftertaste. A bargain for people who drink wine rather than labels. This estate is coming up in the world.

Château Cantemerle (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Odd. Berry fruit there but also some unusual meaty aromas.
P: Brambly and better on the palate. Easy-going but fairly short. Best enjoyed young.

Château Chasse Spleen (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
This was one of two wines from Moulis I tasted and, as the Union des Grands Crus did at Château Cantemerle, I have included it along with wines from the Haut-Médoc appellation.
N: Not very expressive at this point. Some cosmetic aromas.
P: Smooth, almost oily then goes straight into a tannic finish. Not the greatest balance but can, of course, improve over time.

Château La Lagune (% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Well-defined with good focus. Deep and ethereal. Pure cassis and candied black fruit along with raisins, red fruit, and understated roast coffee aromas
P: Broad-based and fairly long. Definitely Margaux-like. Medium weight with lovely fine-grained tannin. Good young or old. Oak in check. This is La Lagune’s first certifiably organic vintage, and a very successful one it is too.

Château Poujeaux (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
This was one of two wines from Moulis I tasted and, as the Union des Grands Crus did at Château Cantemerle, I have included it along with wines from the Haut-Médoc appellation.
N: Subdued, but deep, with attractive cranberry aromas. Promising.
P: Lovely soft Médoc. Very well-made with high-quality tannin. The aftertaste spreads out beautifully. A wine for connoisseurs – and the budget-conscious.

Château La Tour Carnet (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot)
N: Very New World with strong oaky aromas.
P: Chunky and mouth-filling. Hot and oaky. If this sample is anything to go by, not a success in 2016.

Margaux appellation
==============

Brane Cantenac (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Carménère)
N: Fruity and oaky. Seems a little hollow at this juncture, but then comes out of its shell.
P: The Margaux magic operates with silky tannin and refreshing 2016 acidity. Not full-bodied, but well-balanced. Very good lingering aftertaste. The fruit and acidity mark the palate more than the tannin.

Cantenac Brown (68% Cabernet Sauvignon and 32% Merlot)
N: Non-descript (read: closed) at this stage, but there are ethereal kirsch aromas.
P: Surprisingly soft, then vivacious and refreshing. Worthwhile and interesting. Traditional-style Médoc with classic acidity.

Dauzac (71% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot)
N: Broad, meaty, and jammy, with definite roast coffee and cherry lozenge notes. Fresh with good berry fruit and varietal Cabernet aromas.
P: Starts out rather chunky, then goes on to reveal good acidity. Tea flavors and a penetrating aftertaste of blackcurrant. A Margaux with attitude and a good Dauzac.

Desmirail (55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Very toasty and roast coffee aromas at this stage. The fruit is hiding, waiting to come out.
P: Mercifully not too oaky on the palate and there’s good fruit there too, but care should be taken with the rest of barrel ageing. Good intensity and excellent grip. Made to last.

Ferrière (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1 % Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and withdrawn. Sweet, and interesting with nuances of herbes de Provence,. Oak is toned down.
P: Svelte, velvety attack, then develops well on the palate with good acidity and fruit. Nicely-textured tannin. Classic and good with a touch of mintiness. Delicate structure and somewhat on the thin side, converging into a sharp finish.

Giscours (81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot)
N: Bit tanky but, looking behind this, there is a medium-deep bouquet of good berry fruit, some herbaceousness, and coffee-vanilla aromas.
P: Big, soft, and chunky on the palate, with fresh acidity. Blackcurrant flavors and a balance reminiscent of Saint Julien, although it finishes with the lean elegance of Margaux.

Kirwan (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Something a bit off here, with bretty, musky aromas.
P: Deep, foursquare, solid, and angular. Taut, persistent aftertaste and a dry finish. This wine is not showing well at the present time. Needs to be tasted at a later date

Lascombes (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Inky, berry, and mucilage aromas with graphite overtones.
P: Round, medium-heavy mouth feel. Dips on the middle palate, going on to show some harsh oak. Touch medicinal. Too much oak. Needs to age more to be correctly evaluated.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: Fresh and pure, but bit simplistic at this time. Nevertheless deep and promising.
P: Lovely resonance and great follow-through. Vibrant and delicious. Not big, but balanced. Bright Cabernet fruit. Fine textured aftertaste. A definite success in 2016.

Margaux: please refer to the previous separate post.

Marquis de Terme (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Fine, complex, understated bouquet showing primary fruit with plenty of blackcurrant as well as more unusual spicy aromas (cinnamon).
P: Sophisticated attack, then shows good fruit, but is a bit hard and oaky. Care should be taken during the rest of ageing that this does not get the upper hand. A class act.

Palmer (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot)
N: Sweet, but rather one-dimensional at this stage. Some briary and jammy notes. Not the ideal time for the bouquet to be evaluated.
G: Much more expressive on the palate. Big, round, full, and chewy, but the bracing freshness avoids any possible confusion with wines from the New World. Tight, concentrated, and gummy on the finish, which is also a bit dry. Good acidity to the point where you feel it on your teeth. Needs to be tamed by barrela ageing and, of course, years in bottle.

Prieuré-Lichine (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Fragrant, subtly cosmetic nose with hints of subtle berry fruit and oak that is under control.
P: Sprightly. Good and rich, but with marked acidity. Tremendously fresh. Very typical of its appellation. Round and firm, then that fresh acidity chimes in. Good structure and balance. An estate to watch.

Rauzan-Gassies (78% Cabernet Sauvignon and  Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot)
N: Fresh and fruity, almost as though there were no oak influence at all. Subtle with some chocolate nuances.
P: Starts off soft, seems as though it will be simple, and then bursts with fruit and personality. Rich and satisfying. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Long textured aftertaste. Restores my faith in this chronically underperforming wine, and is the best I’ve ever had from the estate.

Rauzan-Ségla (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Decidedly herbaceous, but there is also bright Cabernet fruit too, along with some violet aromas. Soft and nice, but lacks oomph. Aeration, however, could change that markedly.
P: Elegant. Starts out rather full-bodied then shows good acidity, finely-textured tannin, and tea-like nuances. Rather old-fashioned in style (not a criticism). Classic and restrained, with blackcurrant fruit not far under the surface… Slightly dry, but that can easily change.

du Tertre (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Roast coffee, dark fruit, and a not unpleasant greenness.
P: Fruity, smooth, and medium-light in body. Candied black fruit flavors. Will be drinkable and enjoyable young.

2016 Château Lafite Rothschild

Lafite Rothschild

2016 Duhart Milon (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot)
They always serve 4th growth Durhart Milon before the second wine of Lafite. Does that mean that it is less serious? No, but it is definitely lighter in body. The nose of the 2016 is soft, ethereal, reserved, and aristocratic with telltale pencil shaving aromas. The wine starts out with a very smooth, caressing mouth feel and goes on to show refined understated fruit. It is more elegant than powerful, and lacks richness. Medium-long fresh aftertaste with plush textured tannin.

2016 Carruades de Lafite (49% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot)
The nose is a little disappointing here, with some astonishing asparagus and bamboo shoot/Chinese vegetable notes! These dissipate somewhat with aeration, but the bouquet is not flattering at this stage. The wine is much better on the palate and fills out with a classy satiny texture and medium body. There is clearly good acidity on the finish, so it will undoubtedly age well, but will always remain on the delicate side.

2016 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!

Vertical tasting of Château La Conseillante at Max Wine Gallery

 

What is Max Wine Wine Gallery and Cellar?

 

Housed in a splendid town house in the center of Bordeaux, a stone’s throw from the Grand Théâtre, (14 Cours de l’Intendance), Max Wine was opened in 2009 by a Norweigan wine merchant, Henning Thoresen.  It features several Enomatic dispensing machines with inert gas to preserve the freshness of the 48 wines available at any one time – up to and including 1st growths – in 2.5, 5, or 7.5 cl pours.

Customers buy a magnetic card credited with the amount of their choice and taste what they want, how much they want, and at their own pace.

Max Wine Gallery also has a boutique and offers tasting workshops. I went to one of these on the 8th of December focusing on Château La Conseillante.

There is no need to do a mini château profile here. That is easy enough to find on the Web. Let it suffice to say that La Conseillante has a proven track record and is unquestionably one of the top ten wines in a very small, prestigious – and expensive – appellation.

The estate and wines were presented by Elodie Emonet, in charge of communication and public relations.

 

We started off with two vintages of the second wine, Duo de La Conseillante.
The 2013 had a good color with a purplish rim. The nose was bright, simple, and plummy (damson) with cherry overtones. However, the overall bouquet was one-dimensional. The wine was round and slightly dilute on the palate – a lightish thirst-quenching sort of wine that is ready to drink as of now. There are the rubbery tell-tale Pomerol tannins there and a slight gamey touch, as well as a hint of greenness. Fortunately, the winemaker took vintage character into account and the oak is not overpowering. This reminded me of a sort of luxury version of Saumur-Champigny. A decent enough wine, but the question of value for money comes into play here. 13.5/20
The 2009 Duo was a different kettle of fish. The wine had a lovely color with a deep core, although it was not particularly brilliant. It is just starting to brick on the rim and looked a little older than its age. The nose was very beguiling with fine-tuned oak, as well as earthy, truffle aromas. A lovely feminine bouquet. The wine was rich and fairly round on the palate with a velvety texture and a taste of candied black fruit. Very seductive. Medium-long, sprightly, fresh aftertaste. Superb second wine. 15/20. I believe this retails for about 60 euros and at that price is definitely worth the money.

Next up were three vintages of the grand vin, Château La Conseillante.

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Curiously, we started out with the oldest. I can understand the reasoning, that younger wines might overwhelm a subtle aged vintage. However, I am very conservative here and prefer the opposite order. Be that as it may, we started off with the 1996. At twenty years old this was looking its age, and then some with graduated mahogany overtones. The indescribable (but one tries to describe anyway…) nose featured deep cherry aromas along with leather, forest floor, cherry, and empyreumatic* overtones. It was lovely, understated and sweet, but too indeterminate and not fresh enough. This impression of tiredness carried over to the palate, where the wine was curiously light, but balanced and clearly displayed plenty of class. There was marked acidity here. The tannin will undoubtedly outlive the fruit, which has already started to go. Slightly disappointing for this great wine from a good vintage. 16/20
*empyreumatic: This long, fairly pretentious word is nevertheless very useful to describe certain smells, especially in aged Merlot-based wine. The dictionary defines it as “being or having an odor of burnt organic matter as a result of decomposition at high temperatures <creosote and other empyreumatic oils>” and the word does exist in English. I use it when describing “burnt rubber” aromas, and it is not meant to be negative. If anyone has a better “Anglo-Saxon” word for this, I’d be very grateful to know!

 

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The 2006 was very different, and probably reflects a more modern approach to winemaking as well as its relative youth. The color was a little lackluster with a very deep core and just starting to show some age on the rim. There was definite black truffle on the nose along with subtle floral aromas and sweet fruit. The understated vanilla/almond nuances were very attractive. However, the overall impression is underdeveloped at this stage. The wine was powerful and mouth-coating on the palate, but stops a little short on the aftertaste. The tea-type tannin was velvety – great texture! Fruit paste nuances add a nice touch. Elodie from La Conseillante said this wine is to drink now or to age. I disagree. I think it needs much more time to strut its stuff. 16/20 now, probably more later. I have a bottle in the cellar and will give it another 7 years or so.

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Last up was the 2010. The color was a little dull, but very dark purplish-red and the wine left thick legs on the glass. There was some reduction on the nose with biscuity aromas, a soupçon of mint, and lots of vigorous primary fruit. There were also complex floral and cosmetic hints. Very elegant, but obviously too young. The wine coats the palate on entry and there was some exotic spiciness there, but also a marked alcoholic presence. However, this alcohol is encased in a soft shell. I had the feeling that the wine was not in such a very good place now, but it shows tremendous potential. There was a lovely creamy sensation and a sexy follow-through with enticing blueberry flavors. Superb tannin, with a rubbery quality (once again, this is not meant to be a criticism). There’s definite magic there. 17/20

 

A dozen 2014 red Graves

 

In the same way as there is a basic misunderstanding of what the word “Bordeaux” means in English-speaking countries (where it is often equated with the expensive tip of the pyramid), the name “Graves” makes many people think only of the region’s great growths – all of which are located in a sub-appellation of the Graves, Pessac-Léognan, created in 1987. To confuse matters, these famous châteaux continue to be called crus classés de Graves rather than Pessac-Léognan…

This northern part of the region (1,500 hectares for Pessac-Léognan compared to 3,500 for the rest of the Graves) is also referred to as Les Graves de Bordeaux since it starts just outside the city. In fact, Bordeaux is actually IN the Graves, and until recently there were actually one or two wine producing estates within the city limits!

Many Anglo-Saxon consumers also think of white wine when they think of Graves. However, the 43 communes in the appellation produce 70% red wine…

 

I was invited to an awards ceremony, the Trophée des Grands Crus de Graves, on November 16th at Château de Portets. On this occasion there were about 40 red wines to taste and perhaps 30 white wines. The room was rather crowded and tasting conditions not ideal, but here are my notes for a dozen red wines.

These were all from the 2014 vintage.

The overall level was quite good and none of the wines were expensive. Furthermore, almost all of them were showing well just two years after the vintage and will be drinking well quite young.

IMPORTANT: Please consider the points within the following context. I am a tough grader. For me, acceptable wine is 10/20, 12/20 is OK, 14 is quite good, and 15 on up is special.
Also, obviously, we are also talking about wines that cost only a fraction of the grands crus.

 

2014 Château Saint Robert
Color: medium light and very purplish
Nose: fresh, natural, not messed-about-with, and showing uncomplicated red fruit aromas with some candied fruit
Palate: fluid to the point of being a little dilute with vanilla and caramel overtones from oak. Already drinking well. A good commercial style, but with a short finish.
14/20

2014 Château de Portets
Color: not very deep, but brilliant and attractive
Nose: black fruit, especially blackberry. Lacking in concentration. Pure and sweet but not confected.
Palate: Starts out round, mouthfilling, and sensual, but then drops before picking up again on the finish, which features round, slick tannin. Juicy, simple, and delicious for early drinking.
14/20

2014 Château de Castres
Color: youthful, not deep, and not perfectly limpid
Nose: off, acetic acid?
Palate: the round, simple, easy-going side damaged by searing acidity. Not rated. Not successful, but would be drinkable with food.

 

2014 Vieux Château Gaubert
Color: deeper than most of the wines, quite nice
Nose: good cherry aromas overlaid, but not overwhelmed by oak. Simple, but classy.
Palate: Big and chewy. Melts in the mouth. A wine that seems more well-made than a vin de terroir, but quite elegant. The only flaw is the short aftertaste.
14/20

2014 Château Chantegrive
Color: good, looking a little older than its age
Nose: strong toasty oak and blackberry fruit. Modern and vital.
Palate: Plenty of volume and quite round, but hollow on the middle-palate and fairly oaky. This oak influence is too great for the wine’s intrinsic structure.
13/20

2014 Grand Enclos du Château de Cérons
Color: medium deep and not very brilliant
Nose: some jammy fruit and brambly aromas. Subtle, but lacking in character.
Palate: Juicy, old-fashioned type of wine. Short and simple.
12/20

 

2014 Château Lassalle
Color: lovely and deep
Nose: delicate balance between fruit and oak.
Palate: suave, fluid, and typical of its appellation. Classic and understated. Maybe a little dry on the aftertaste, but very nice indeed. Suitable for fine cuisine.
14/20

2014 Château d’Uza
Color: deep and fine
Nose: bright upfront berry fruit and attractive oak that is not overdone
Palate: round, delicious, and strangely Pinot-like! Shortish finish and in a non-traditional style, but sexy.
14.5/20

2014 Château Lagrange
Color: medium-deep
Nose: smoky Graves aromas and fresh fruitiness, but not much substance
Palate: sharp, angular, and somewhat bitter. These qualities will not disappear with age. Tough (rather than rustic) tannin.
10/20

2014 Château Jouvente
Color: purplish-red
Nose: ethereal, but too understated.
Palate: very soft cushioned attack, then sinks into a hole, then rebounds with an aftertaste that a bit too hard compared with the wine’s overall feminine profile.
11/20

2014 Château de Landiras
Color: little cloudy and not very deep
Nose: seemed wimpish, but there’s some subtle blackberry fruit lurking there and a faint sweetness that might become more expressive with aeration (the bottles were uncorked and served).
Palate: foursquare but somewhat weak on the middle palate. OK, but lacks depth and length.
11/20

2014 Château de Lionne
Color: good, medium-dark
Nose: musty with camphor and minty notes making this more odd than attractive
Palate: some leather and black fruit, but in minor mode. Honest, but unremarkable and short.
11/20