Tag Archives: Médoc

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 Haut-Médoc and Margaux (24 wines tasted)

Haut-Médoc appellation
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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
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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!

2016 Château Mouton Rothschild

 

 

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

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

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

2016 Château Latour

Château Latour

Château Latour stopped selling on a futures basis beginning with the 2012 vintage. They nevertheless invite professionals to taste the new vintage every year just like all the other châteaux. In addition, they pour older wines that have been released on the market on this occasion.

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2016 Pauillac (54.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.9% Merlot, and 6.5% Petit Verdot): I must admit to once again being very taken with the Latour’s third wine. Even if rather subdued at present, it shows ripe, sweet, plummy, blackurrant preserves on the nose and reflects its terroir – a sort of apotheosis of Cabernet Sauvignon, even at this level and despite the much lower percentage of that variety in the final blend compared to the grand vin. It may be a tad weak on the middle palate and does not have quite the breadth of the latter, but is a very good wine.

2016 Les Forts de Latour (64.3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35.3% Merlot, 0.4% Cabernet Franc)
This is unsurprisingly one step up from the Pauillac AOC. It has a nice, fresh, promising nose with a slight, not unpleasant herbaceousness, as well as a meaty quality. The wine is big and spherical on the palate and spreads out with considerable richness. Les Forts displays the 2016 sweetness along with decent grip, great acidity, and a dry mineral aftertaste. The finish is layered and velvety.

2016 Château Latour (92.9% Cabernet Sauvigon, 7.1% Merlot) – The bouquet is at the same time seductive and aristocratic, with violet overtones. Divine.
To say the least, the wine has good structure on the palate. Very much the “iron fist in a velvet glove”. Big and develops with self-assurance and grace. The tannins coat the teeth and the aftertaste goes on and on. If this is a monster, it is a very well-behaved one… Superb potential.

 

The three 2016s were followed by same three wines from older vintages that are in bottle and out on the market:

2012 Pauillac (43.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54.5% Merlot, and 1.6% Petit Verdot)
This wine looks older than its years and the rim is just starting to brown.
It already has a nose of lovely aged claret with a trace of cocoa. There is also a definite greenness, the effect of a late-ripening year, but it fits in somehow. The wine is somewhat thin and angular on the palate, but the Latour style is definitely there. Austere. A Bordeaux for Bordeaux lovers. Others might be put off. Relatively long aftertaste, once again mineral.

2011 Les Forts de Latour (61.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35%% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
Very deep youthful color with an uplifting bouquet of red fruit, menthol, and graphite. Already quite expressive at this age. The wine starts off round and attractive on the palate, then dips somewhat before coming back with a deep mineral aftertaste. There is a slightly dilute quality to the wine, but this is redeemed by the forceful aftertaste, which is very dry. Not the greatest balance, but bears the unmistakable stamp of Latour’s terroir.

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.

2016 Château Margaux

It was not quite the same to go to Château Margaux this year and not be greeted by Paul Pontalier. He was very special. Still, the show must go on… Philippe Bascaules, who worked with Monsieur Pontalier for over twenty years, had left Margaux to run Inglenook winery in the Napa Valley. He has since returned to Margaux as Managing Director while continuing to oversee winemaking at Inglenook.

 

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Pavillon Rouge (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Sweet upfront fruit in minor mode at this stage. Trademark characteristics of the estate. Pretty and already forthcoming. Some pine and camphor nuances along with crushed blackcurrant leaves and blackcurrant fruit.
P: Starts out rich, then seems a little thin. Some mintiness. A certain gumminess on the aftertaste rounds out the flavor profile. Great interplay between acidity and alcohol. Fresh, with spun-out aromatics. Fine-grained finish. Inherent softness hides significant tannin. Good length.

 

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Château Margaux (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot)
N: Not worlds apart from the Pavillon Rouge. Once again sweet, but with a chocolatey element. Refined oak influence.
P: Fresh and superbly balanced. More oak and a much longer finish than the Pavillon. Fairly massive for Margaux with a tarry, sweet, mellow aftertate. Obviously needs time to find more focus and definition, and will age for decades.

 

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Pavillon Blanc (100% Sauvignon Blanc)
N: Subtle nose of lemon and oak with a little waxiness as well as hints of butter and butterscotch.
P: Fresh and oh-so-different from Pavillon Blanc of years ago. Much more lean and elegant. The round attack converges into a decided mineral, lemoney aftertaste with honey nuances. Very dry and appetizing. What the French call a vin de gastronomie because it will truly shine at table with fine cuisine. Still, the question to be asked is: how does it compare to a good Pessac-Léognac at a much lower price?

La Tour de Bessan, a Margaux worth discovering

 

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It would not be entirely accurate to say that Marie-Laure Lurton belongs to a well-known wine family… In fact, it would be much more apt to say she’s from a virtual dynasty, with huge landholdings throughout Bordeaux (1,300 hectares at 27 estates). However, Marie-Laure is no figurehead daughter looking after marketing and public relations… She’s a hands-on winemaker with a degree in enology and years of experience working at the family châteaux prior to acquiring two of her own. A measure of the woman’s stamina and character is that she was training for the Marathon du Médoc when I met her this summer.

Marie-Laure owns and manages Château La Tour de Bessan in the Margaux appellation and Villegeorge in the Haut-Médoc appellation. She is the mother of three children.

I asked Marie-Laure a question that fascinates lovers of Bordeaux. Since nothing would legally have prevented it (the 1855 classification is not subject to appellation controlée laws, and has not been changed since 1973, when Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second to a first growth), why was La Tour de Bessan not purely and simply integrated into Brane Cantenac or Durfort Vivens, both second growths belonging to the Lurtons – and selling at a much higher price? Her answer was very nuanced and had much to do with agreements made within her family taking existing situations into account. Let it suffice to say that Lucien Lurton acquired La Tour de Bessan in the 1970s and preferred to keep the estate separate.

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I was intrigued to discover La Tour de Bessan because I had rarely had the wine. I was not alone in erroneously thinking of it as a second wine of Brane Cantenac. The vineyards are located in three different communes: Soussans, Arsac, and Cantenac. The eponymous tower in Soussans dates back to the 13th century – predating the one at Château Latour in Pauillac, who therefore did not ask the Lurtons to change the name to just “Tour de Bessan”, as they did to other châteaux called “La Tour something or other”.

La Tour de Bessan was acquired by Lucien Lurton in 1972. Marie-Laure worked with her father from 1984 to 1991. He handed over full winemaking responsibility at La Tour de Bessan in 1992. Marie-Laure was not spoiled for her first vintage since the year was extremely difficult and challenging. She has since acquired precious experience running the estate, and her wine was sold on the Place de Bordeaux to négociants for the first time in 2010 (the 2008 and 2009 vintages).

Entrance
The 30 hectares of vines are planted with 39.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 59.6% Merlot and 1.2% Petit Verdot. The soil consists of Pyrenean gravel and viticultural practices are sustainable, as attested by Terra Vitis certification since 2003. The Cabernet is machine harvested, but the more fragile Merlot is picked by hand. In general, picking is always adapted to the condition and ripeness of the grapes in each plot.

Annual production varies from 60-110,000 bottles of the grand vin and 20-40,000 bottles of the second wine, Page de la Tour de Bessan, depending on the vintage. A third wine is sold in bulk to négociants

 

Marie-Laure has been assisted by Technical Director Emilie Roulié, an agricultural engineer, since 1999. The vineyard manager is a Habib Achenglil.

 

La Tour de Bessan
A new cellar was built in 1999. The first thing you notice about La Tour de Bessan is its tasteful, striking, resolutely contemporary architecture. Made of reinforced concrete, the original building dates from 1934. In its present state, it looks like nothing so much as a modern art museum and cannot be compared to anything else in the Médoc.

La Tour de Bessan was included in the Cru Bourgeois classification in 2003. However, like several other well-known estates, Marie-Laure decided to withdraw after a series of upheavals within the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois, and for practical reasons.

 

I tasted through the 2011, 2012, and 2013 vintages of La Tour de Bessan with Marie-Laure Lurton. Eschewing the clichés often used when referring to wine made by women, I would describe the wines as very traditional in style, similar to the ones I tasted when I first came to Bordeaux in the late 1970s. By that, I mean that they are poised, digestible, on the light side, and with a very lacy texture in each instance. They are on the early-maturing side and what I, as a foreigner, see as in keeping with the French taste in wine – light years away from heavily-extracted oaky ones one finds. There is an ethereal aspect that makes them very drinkable and enjoyable.

La Tour de Bessan is also on the forefront of wine tourism (http://www.marielaurelurton.com/fr/oenotourisme/). The château offers a series of options including tasting wine from each grape variety, making your own blend, and leaving with a bottle of it to take home. Another possibility, “Gourmet Day in Margaux”, includes visits to Prieuré-Lichine and Rauzan Gassies in the morning, lunch at the Savoie restaurant, and tours of Kirwan and (of course) La Tour de Bessan in the afternoon.

 


In addition, Marie-Laure has established a partnership with the Officier de Bouche caterer in Margaux (http://www.lofficier-de-bouche.com/). The chef and owner, Mme Gaëlle Benoiste-Pilloire, is specialized in matching food and wine, and has her own professional kitchen. Participants prepare meals and eat them afterwards with the appropriate wines.

What does the future look like for La Tour de Bessan? Marie-Laure’s children have not, as yet, shown interest in taking over management, but time will tell… There is inevitably a time lag between a château’s renaissance and recognition by the marketplace. Marie-Laure has given herself a decade to turn things around completely and will then see what to do next. In the meantime, I wish her the best of luck, and encourage her to keep up the good work.
 

 

The 2016 vintage at Château Montrose

 

 

I was invited to Château Montrose on the 12th of October to see how the new vintage was going. I was glad to accept, because 2016 has been a very unusual year weatherwise and I curious to see what effect this had on the grapes. In fact, the harvest finished today (14th of October).

Château Montrose has 95 hectares of vines (90 in production). The estate is dramatically situated on a rise overlooking the Gironde Estuary. The vines go down the relatively steep slope almost to the river, which unquestionably has a positive influence on the microclimate, helping to avoid extremes of temperature. A soil survey defined Montrose’s gravelly terroir in the “terrace 4” category, not unlike Château Latour’s. Grape varieties are 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6 % Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.
A relatively recent estate in Médocain terms, Montrose was nevertheless classified a second growth in the 1855 classification. It belonged to the Charmolüe family from 1896 until 2006, when it was acquired by Martin and Olivier Bouygues, among the wealthiest people in France. Although they live in Paris, the Bouygues come frequently to Saint-Estèphe and are intimately involved with their estate.

The changes in Montrose in the past 10 years have been breathtaking. The 1,000 m² barrel cellar, completed in 2014, is a veritable temple of Bacchus, one of the most classical and beautiful in Bordeaux, which is saying something… All existing buildings were renovated and new ones built. Careful attention was paid to ecological concerns. The château has 3,000 m² of solar panels and draws on geothermal energy from a well dug some 100 meters deep…

 

In this same spirit, experiments are being made with organic viticulture. Fifteen hectares are being farmed in this way and, what’s more, expressly in the part of the vineyard considered to be the most vulnerable to vine diseases. The results are very encouraging and it is hoped that the vineyard will be entirely organic within the next 5 years.
The 2016 harvest started on the 23rd of September. Like elsewhere in Bordeaux this year, the growing season got off to poor start due to a cool, wet spring. Bud burst at Montrose took place around the 4th of April for Merlot, the 11th of that month for the Cabernets, and the 14th for Petit Verdot. Flowering occurred on the same day for Merlot and the Cabernets (the 10th of June) and on the 14th for Petit Verdot.

 

A heat wave in August changed things radically. Véraison took place on the 19th of August for Merlot, the 25th for the Cabernets, and the 29th for Petit Verdot.
Yes, there was some scattered scorching of grapes and vegetative growth was blocked for a time. But an important distinction must be made with 2003. The average highs in August of that year were 32°C, whereas they were 28°C in 2016. The vineyard manager, Mme Patricia Teynac, and the winemaker, M. Vincent Ducup, thought that this would spell high sugar levels. However, this was not the case. For instance, both Merlot and the Cabernets came at 13-13.5° potential alcohol, which is quite reasonable in a good vintage. All in all, this was a slightly early-ripening year.
The average yield was 41 hl/ha.

One of the hallmarks of 2016 is what can only be described as drought conditions. Precipitation from June until the present time has been abnormally low, and may well set a new record.
Montrose’s new (ten years already, even so…) owners have brought about two important changes in the wine. First of all, the selection process has been taken to great lengths. The second wine, La Dame de Montrose, has existed for years. However, a third wine was introduced in 2010, Le Saint-Estèphe de Montrose, and there is even a fourth wine now (!), which is sold in bulk to négociants. The grand vin now accounts for just one quarter to one third of the total crop depending on the vintage.

The second change involves winemaking. Montrose, renowned for its longevity, is now more open in its youth, but without compromising ageing potential. A neat trick, that seems to be working!
Montrose acquired part of Phélan Ségur, a large 21 hectare plot called Fonpetite in 2010. Wine from here has been integrated into the estate started with the 2010 vintage. It is nevertheless important to point out that this parcel was once part of Montrose, so the magical transformation of cru bourgeois land into great growth terroir from one minute to the next is inaccurate.
Be this as it may, much of Fonpetite’s production goes into the second wine.

At a time when 85% of all grapes in Bordeaux are machine harvested, there are 90 pickers at Montrose in 2016. As in years past, all of them come from the village of Pruna, near Seville. Fortunately, the winemaker speaks Spanish!

Among other innovations, Montrose is relying on drones that take infrared photos of the vines. These show different levels of maturity, even within the estate’s 90 separate plots. Montrose has also introduced the dividing of grapes from the premières grappes (bunches on the top of the vine) and deuxièmes grappes (ones from the bottom). The latter are riper and so are fermented separately.

The replanting program, begun in 2006, will take forty years to complete! Montrose is also experimenting with propagating the best vines rather than buying ones from a vine nursery.

Furthermore, Montrose has made an effort over the past 3 years to reduce sufur levels, going from 140 to 100 mg., with an aim to reach just 70 mg.

 


A visit to the vatroom revealed 65 stainless steel vats of varying capacity to keep wines from each plot separate in order to fine tune the final blend.
The ph of the new wine is about 3.5 for both of the main varieties. The anthocyanin content is greater than 2,000 for the Merlot and 3,000 for the Cabernets (measured according to the ApH1 Glories method)
I have a decent backlog of experience tasting young wines from barrel, but it is unfortunately beyond me to taste freshly pressed juice and appraise it. But going on Montrose’s track record, and based on the genuine enthusiasm of the winemaking team, I think something special is in store, and I look forward to tasting 2016 Montrose in March or April of next year.

Feudal Médoc…

 

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As reported in the Sud-Ouest newspaper, Christophe Salin, the manager of Château Lafite Rothschild, got into trouble recently for a speech he gave at a tasting in Montreal a while back.
http://www.sudouest.fr/2016/09/21/mariages-consanguins-la-polemique-enfle-2507722-2530.php
Salin probably figured that he was free to speak his mind 5,000 km from home. However, the speech was filmed and went on the Internet…
What exactly did Salin say?
First in French, then translated into English.

Il y a des années, pour devenir directeur de Lafite ou le maître de chai de Lafite, il suffisait d’être le fils ou le petit-fils du précédent. Mais, malheureusement, génétiquement, ça n’allait jamais en s’arrangeant. Pour une raison bien simple: le Médoc est une presqu’île. Donc il y a beaucoup de mariages consanguins. Au bout de la troisième génération, il y avait les yeux qui se croisaient un peu… J’ai mis fin à cette pratique avec le baron Éric de Rothschild en recrutant des gens de qualité

“Years ago, all it took to become managing director of Lafite or cellar master of Lafite was to be the son or grandson of the previous one. However, unfortunately, that did not work out over time, for a very simple reason: the Médoc is a peninsula, and there was much marrying between blood relatives. By the third generation, there were some cross-eyed children… I ended this practice with Baron Eric de Rothschild by hiring qualified people from outside the region”.

These comments did not sit very well with Pierre Revelle, a municipal councillor in Pauillac – as well as the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Lafite cellarmasters, who decried Salin’s “obvious contempt for generations of workers who made Lafite what it is today”. Revelle went on to say “The great 53, 61, 82, 85, 86, 89, and 90 vintages were produced by people without diplomas”.

Salin apologized to Lafite employees and declared to Sud-Ouest, “I am unhappy. I have no excuse to offer. What I meant to say is that the people of the Médoc were specialized in their work and close to the terroir. Honestly, this affair is all very sad to me”.

Without wishing to crucify Monsieur Salin, what this brings home is the feudal, “upstairs/downstairs” side of the Médoc, much more so than on the Right Bank. There are the people who own the grandiose châteaux… and those who work for them, the underlings. Salaries at some world-famous estates are surprisingly low. And, although labor relations are generally cordial and strikes virtually unheard of, there is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots. You sometimes get the feeling that the 20th century (never mind the 21st!) has bypassed the Médoc…

Dinner at Château d’Yquem on 09/09/16

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The Académie du Vin de Bordeaux kindly invited me to dinner at Château d’Yquem last night (9th of September). I have visited the château on a fair number of occasions, but certainly never enjoyed a meal there, so I was really looking forward to this.
The château has three dining rooms and there were about 60 of us in the largest one.

 

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The meal started out with 2014 Y on the terrace. This wine has changed completely from when it was first introduced in 1959. For many years, the grapes were picked after the ones used to make Sauternes. Now they’re picked before. The 2014 (60% Sémillion, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, and no Muscadelle) was an ideal aperitif. Whereas Y used to be on the thick side and pretty much like a dry, or mostly dry Sauternes, the new generation Y is crisp, elegant, and seemingly on the light side. This 2014 is so enjoyable now that I wonder how it will change over time or if it actually needs to age. The oak is definitely unobtrusive.

By the way, Pierre Lurton explained that 2016 Y has already been picked and pressed. This year has been really odd weatherwise, with a rotten spring and early summer, but a long-lasting heat wave in September, with temperatures a full 10°C above the seasonal average on certain days. Problems with scorching have been encountered in the red wine vineyards…

 

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The first course (thon mi-cuit, gelée de gazpacho, avocate guacamole au citron vert, sorbet tomate-basilic) was accompanied by white 2012 Ch. Fieuzal. I’ve had a few premoxed bottles from this estate in the past, but when white Fieuzal shows well, it shows very well. It is one of those rare estates in Bordeaux where the white wine has better press than the red, and sells for much more. In any event, in all honesty, the Pessac-Léognac was better in my opinion than the dry Sauternes. It displayed great balance and a wonderful flinty aftertaste. The marked acidity seemed to fit in beautifully with the overall structure, and the oak influence was positive.

The second course (pigeon au foie gras, polenta au chorizo et piquillos, gaufrette safran, mousseline de cerfeuil) was served with two red wines, both of which I quite enjoyed. Incidentally, both were made by women who were present at the meal and who commented each other’s wines for everyone’s benefit.

Château Dassault is a Saint Emilion grand cru classé owned by one of the richest men in France (aerospace, etc.). The 2008 had a sweet, plummy bouquet with good oak and a very rich flavour with a velvety texture. I would only fault the overly obvious presence of alcohol on the finish. This was a strong wine that can use a little more time to show its best.
Château Phélan Ségur in Saint-Estèphe has long been a much-respected cru bourgeois (previously an “exceptionnel”, although this distinction has disappeared). The 2005 was classic claret with a lovely Médoc nose featuring graphite and violet overtones. The texture was silky and the aftertaste was long and assertive. I expected this 2005 to be more forward than it was. It wasn’t terribly closed-in, but clearly has good mid-term ageing potential.

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1955 Yquem was served with dessert (crémeux de citron, pamplemousse mariné au miel et citron vert, sorbet agrumes). The color is hard to describe, and people at my table agreed that the wine looked a little older than its years, with a mahogany and golden hue as well as a faint pinkish tinge. Although unspectacular, the nose was engaging with hints of mandarine orange, orange peel, and spice. However, the wine well and truly strutted its stuff on the palate, which was gorgeous. The texture was caressing, silky, and phenomenally sensual. There were flavors of crème brûlée and caramel as well as a host of citrus and tropical fruits (mango). I also found the unmistakable vanilla component that is a hallmark of Yquem to me – and which I do not attribute to oak. This vintage of Yquem showed good acidity and will of course live for decades to come, but it is as good as it ever will be in my opinion.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Friday evening…