Tag Archives: BordeauxWines

Bordeaux: what’s in a name?

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

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

Bordeaux – Place de la Bourse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us treat Bordeaux as a complex reality.

 

 

 

From Down Under to the End of the World…

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


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


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

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

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


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

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.

 

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

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

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

However, the Côtes de Bourg decided to remain apart.

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

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

The port of Bourg-sur-Gironde

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

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

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

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

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

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Château Tayac

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

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

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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.

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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 Château Mouton Rothschild

 

 

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

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

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

Bordeaux Carménère – a resuscitated grape variety

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Carménère is a sort of mystery variety in Bordeaux. It is a member of the Cabernet family and at one time was widely planted in the Médoc, then all but disappeared after the phylloxera crisis.  The name comes from the French word “carmin”, meaning “crimson”. You can find various spellings, with accents going every which way or removed altogether, but it is indeed Carménère.

In 1994, there were just 10 hectares of Carménère in all of France. But that changed with the trend to stand out by making more complicated blends in Bordeaux, incorporating Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Gris, etc. That having been said, total plantings are still very small and varietal Carménère wines in Bordeaux are still like hen’s teeth.

Interestingly, the variety is widely grown in Chile, propagated from 19th century cuttings brought from France. There are now 9,000 hecares under vine there.

I bought my cuvée Carménère, AOC Bordeaux Supérieur from Château Recougne at the extraordinary boutique at the Maison de la Quality (Planète Bordeaux), home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur in Beychac-et-Cailhau.

The château belongs to the Milhade family, who also own Château Lyonnat in Lussac Saint-Emilion and Château Boutisse in Saint-Emilion. The name Recougne comes from “terra recognita”, meaning “terres reconnues”, which can be loosely translated by “land recognized (as being good)”.
Recougne is a huge estate (90 hectares) in Galgon, near Fronsac and just 5 km from Pomerol. Their Carménère represents only a tiny part of total production.

2012 is not the greatest vintage in Bordeaux, and I did not know what to expect from this Carménère. But I was pleasantly surprised. The thing that sets the wine most apart from other Bordeaux is its bouquet, with spicy and peppery overtones. The wine was also well-balanced and very drinkable, with dark fruit and liquorice nuances. This is an inexpensive fun wine, not only rare, but worthwhile and a great one to serve blind…

 

 

 

Book review: “From Yquem to Fargues” by Alexandre de Lur Saluces

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At the age of 82, Alexandre de Lur Saluces has written a book telling us of his trials, tribulations, and joys in the many years he has made world class wine in Sauternes.

d’Yquem à Fargues – l’excellence d’un vin, l’histoire d’une famille” was published by Gallimard in November 2016.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/253-1422515-3899335?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=d%E2%80%99Yquem+%C3%A0+Fargues
Gallimard (one of the largest French publishing houses) only distribute the French version.
However, an English version does indeed exist, and can be ordered directly from the château :
www.chateaudefargues.com/librairie
or
https://www.chateaudefargues.com/en/bookstore/

This relatively short (175 pages), but many-faceted book is a very interesting and entertaining read. There’s even a section on “Sauternes in Literature”. It has a handsome royal blue and gold binding, as well as the crown all wine lovers will recognize from the labels of both Yquem and Fargues.

The book is divided into several parts: a forward by Natacha Polony (a French journalist and essayist of Polish origin), a preface by Marguerite Figeac (a professor of history at Bordeaux University), an introduction and a conclusion by the author, a postface by Jean-Paul Kaufmann (a journalist, writer, and noted lover of Bordeaux wines), and a series of appendices on various technical and historical subjects.

One is struck by Alexandre Lur Saluce’s modesty, candor, grounding in his rural environment and, of course, his deep sense of history. Château de Fargues has been in his family since 1472. He represents the 15th generation and has produced 48 vintages there…

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Château d’Yquem

The Lur-Saluces name will, of course, forever be associated with Château d’Yquem. This came into the family when Louis-Amédée de Lur Saluces married Joséphine de Suavage in 1785. At one time, the Lur Saluces owned some 700 hectares in Sauternes (over a quarter of the combined present-day area of Sauternes and Barsac), including châteaux de Malle, Filhot, and Coutet.
Alexandre de Lur Saluces was in charge of Yquem for 36 years, from 1968 to 2004. The sale of the estate to LVMH involved a long bitter fight, but this is wisely dealt with dispassionately and in summary fashion. That is not the point of the book.

Château de Fargues

Château de Fargues

What is the point then? In fact, there are several. The book is necessarily autobiographical (for instance, I was unaware that Alexandre was the 8th of 9 children), but also describes the renaissance of Château de Fargues and goes into considerable detail about the making of one of the world’s great wines: Sauternes. That is because Alexandre de Lur Saluces has always been a sterling ambassador for Sauternes as a whole, not just his family estates. He has clearly lost none of his sense of wonder at the transformation by Botrytis cinerea of grapes grown on a unique terroir to produce a wine like no other. And he is very concerned about the appellation’s future. He points out the danger of a proposed TGV high speed train line that would upset the region’s delicate ecosystem, decries the production of dry white wine at the expense of one of the world’s great sweet wines, and criticizes the lack of commercial support from Bordeaux négociants.  He also writes about matching Sauternes and food, a subject that often puzzles wine lovers.

One must admire Alexandre de Lur Saluces’ ability to rebound after leaving Yquem and invest his energy in the renovation and expansion of Château de Fargues, an estate that has gone from strength to strength. This is described in a lively way and illustrated with beautiful photos.

I would recommend this book by one of Bordeaux’s greatest figures to anyone with even a passing interest in Sauternes. It is informative, entertaining, thought-provoking, in easy-to-understand French, and full of anecdotes.