Tag Archives: VinsdeBordeaux

Reports of the en primeur system’s demise are greatly exaggerated

The 1855 classification

 

To paraphrase a quote by Mark Twain, upon seeing his obituary in the newspaper “Reports of the en primeur system’s demise are greatly exaggerated

Here’s a well-written and thoughtful article:
https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2020/03/a-modest-proposal-for-bordeaux-release-the-2019s-next-spring/

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Bordeaux’s en primeur system, like so many sectors of the globalized economy, has taken a bad hit due to the corona virus. I have seen predictions for decades that the system would crumble or implode. And yet, it has survived through thick and thin – copied, but never equalled J.

Still, the current threat is like no other and the timing of the upcoming campaign has been completely thrown off course. Wine merchants obviously cannot be expected to buy wines that no one has sampled, even though, if one is honest, the Union des Grands Crus tastings in late March/early April can hardly be seen as essential to buying… Wholesalers and importers are far more inclined to purchase based on a château’s reputation or what leading critics say rather than their own impressions. En primeur week comes across predominantly as a networking and information gathering exercise (plus the occasion to enjoy a lot of good meals!). It is nevertheless a brilliant and unique way of coordinating the whole region and arousing interest from all over the world.

I take exception to so much that is written about the en primeur system because pinning down figures – to be specific – is very elusive, and it is nearly impossible to generalize since the situation varies from estate to estate. Only the brokers based in Bordeaux are qualified to have a valid overview because they are in touch with all the negociants and thus alone feel the pulse of all international markets with any degree of accuracy. People living in London or Tokyo or wherever extrapolate from their (possibly entirely correct) analysis of the situation in their country, thinking that what they’re seeing is the same around the globe when, in fact, it is not.
Two Bordeaux châteaux in the same appellation with the same classification can have very different commercial strategies. By the same token, two adjacent European countries can have very different markets. And you cannot lump Wuhan and Edmonton together.

Furthermore, there is not just one way of selling en primeur, which is why so many commentaries cannot be trusted. When one reads that château such-and-such “came out” at such-and-such a price, that information can paint a totally wrong picture. Some of the top châteaux release in “tranches” and the first one can cover just a very small quantity and at a particularly attractive price just to “test the water”. The first tranche offerings of famous classified growths are immediately snapped up as soon as they are put on the market because everyone knows that further tranches will be more expensive. Therefore to say that this is the base price is extremely misleading.
The proportion of wine sold per tranche and, indeed, that which is kept back for sale at a later date varies tremendously.

It seems to defy logic when en primeur prices exceed those of the same wines from a better-reputed year with some bottle age.. This can only compute if seen as part of a very long, complicated distribution chain and the allocation system that functions all down the line to the consumer. This entails a sort of threat: “If you don’t buy this year, you won’t get any next year, or from now on”. The result of this is that so-called off vintages are often dumped, and the loss is accepted more or less philosophically. Voices are raised to say that this is wrong and cannot go on because it defies the laws of economics. Certainly, a series of lacklustre vintages – not to mention a worldwide recession/depression – would force estates to lower their prices, even dramatically. But that would in no way threaten the en primeur system. Adjustments, perhaps even painful ones, would be made. Period.
President Calvin Coolidge famously said that “The business of America is business”. The same attitude prevails in Bordeaux. While the supposed greediness of the Bordelais is frequently denounced, the châteaux are also willing to react quickly, and to pay the piper, should things work against them. It’s as simple as the law of supply and demand…
It is interesting to see the comparatively little whinging about price increases in Burgundy.

Is any other wine region as vintage-conscious as Bordeaux? It is not at all rare to see wines from the same château double (or halve) in price from one year to the next. The market for Bordeaux great growths is indeed volatile! Their price is quoted daily and, in some instances hourly, on the internal market, the “place de Bordeaux” accessible only to négociants. This is a complex reality and it takes a brave man, or a fool, to make across-the-board statements about it.
The article cited at the beginning of this post touches on a number of worthwhile points. I would only take issue with the timing of the proposed 2019 campaign. I think it would be better in September 2020 than the spring of 2021. I agree that March is not the ideal time to taste the great wines. September would make a more realistic evaluation possible as well as give buyers an idea of the volume of the future crop and, to a certain extent, its quality. The author of the article says that September is not good because great wines from other regions are released then. If that is true, I would appreciate knowing more about this. I do not agree that there would be a lack of interest because of lead-up to the Christmas season. Early September would be fine in my opinion since the harvest would only theoretically have just begun for dry white wines, accounting for only a fraction of Bordeaux’s production. If September were chosen, it would be wonderful if the tastings and campaign stayed in that time frame from now on.

Whatever is decided, I fully agree with the author that convergence is very important. Piecemeal releases by the big guns would hurt Bordeaux. Commercial efforts need to be coordinated.

 

 

Restaurant Lalique: gastronomy in Sauternes

Bordeaux has been a magnet for enterprising foreigners for centuries, and one of the leading lights in recent years is Silvio Denz, a Swiss-German with a finger in many pies.
The former owner of a chain of perfume shops in his native country, he also created several successful perfume brands, took over Glenturret distillery in Scotland with a Swiss partner, invested in vineyards in Spain (Clos Agon in Catalonia) and Italy (Montepeloso in Tuscany), established a leading wine auction house, etc. etc.

In France, he acquired the prestigious firm of Lalique (glass art) – https://www.lalique.com/fr/la-maison-lalique – as well as three wine estates on Bordeaux’s Right Bank: Château Faugères and Péby Faugères in Saint Emilion (crus classés) and Cap de Faugères in the Côtes de Castillon. And as if that were not enough, he also purchased Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, a first growth Sauternes in Bommes dating back to the 17th century… and created a luxury hotel-restaurant there in June 2018, receiving a Michelin star for the latter just six months later!

This was not Mr. Denz’s first venture into the restaurant business. In 2014, he became the owner of Château Hochberg (https://chateauhochberg.com/en/) opposite the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder (Alsace) and, in the same town, he transformed the house of René Lalique into a five-star hotel and restaurant with two Michelin stars: https://villarenelalique.com/en/

The 200 m² cellar at Villa Lalique was designed by the noted Swiss architect Mario Botta. Cases of wine are stored behind large plate glass windows where visitors can view an outstanding collection of 12,000 bottles.

This rather long, but necessary introduction brings us to Lalique.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, Sauternes has unfortunately lost traction over the past few years. The value of vineyard land has stagnated, sweet wines have lost their allure in many quarters, and the younger generation seems not to know the wine.

However, things are looking up. Many producers are now making wines that are slightly less sweet and full-bodied, while retaining the unique character of their terroir. In addition, seeing as land prices had pretty much hit rock bottom, some major investments have been made in the past several years. Furthermore, the potential for wine tourism is beginning to be exploited because Sauternes is a beautiful region with many impressive châteaux.

Silvio Denz had a vision. Above and beyond making wine worthy of Lafaurie-Peyraguey’s first growth status, he was determined to open a successful luxury hotel-restaurant. It looks as though no expense was spared. The richly-furnished hotel houses 10 rooms and 3 suites. The restaurant’s interior design is also very attractive and the Lalique imprint is everywhere, down to the taps in the washrooms!
The château gift shop sells all the Denz wines in their specially engraved bottles as well as the beautiful glass sculptures for which Lalique is famous. Furthermore, the shop will etch a personal message on bottles if requested.

As befits a premium restaurant, prices are not cheap, but there is a luncheon menu at 65 euros. The seven-course tasting menu with a wine to match each one costs 245 menus. My wife and I enjoyed the “Lalique Premier Cru” menu – see photo – with four wines: the 2015 dry Lafaurie Peyraguey, the 2016 grand vin (Sauternes), the ’99 grand vin, and a rare 2016 cuvée made from all the first growths of Bommes except Clos Haut Peyraguey (i.e. Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Rabaud Promis, Sigalas Rabaud, Latour Blanche, and Rayne Vigneau). The Lafaurie wines showed that the new owner has no need to turn everything upside down to produce great wine because the estate has a long history of this, and never underwent an eclipse.

Lalique created a tempest in a wine glass when they started serving and promoting a Sauternes-based aperitif (mixed drink) they call SweetZ. Traditionalists howled and I was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea myself. But I did try it, and found it light and refreshing. If this helps to sell Sauternes, so much the better, but I still prefer my wine on its own…

The food was very elegant and subtle, as well as attractively presented. I have only once before had a meal where only Sauternes was served and, contrary to what you might think, we did not leave the table feeling bloated or that the wines were cloying. In fact, the whole art of Lalique is to match dishes especially with Sauternes, and they succeed brilliantly. It is an uphill battle to convince English speakers that Sauternes is anything other than a dessert wine, but I’m convinced they would be won over with a meal at Lalique :-).

Service was attentive and my wife’s gluten intolerance was handled very professionally. For instance, one dish we both were served had croutons and, when this was pointed out, the waitress informed us that my wife’s were made with gluten-free bread.

 

Desserts are unquestionably a challenge with Sauternes, but Lalique handles this intelligently, avoiding the trap of sweet on sweet, in our case offering fruit and a sauce that offset the sugar.

Before leaving, I enjoyed a coffee in the tastefully-decorated bar (absolutely lovely, one of the nicest I know) with the young head sommelier Adrien Cascio. We took a look at his cellar book together. At 112 pages, it is one of the most comprehensive in France. Many of the wines come from Silvio Denz’s personal cellar. Two particularities here: the in-depth representation of the greatest châteaux, with 20 or 30 vintages each, as well as a collection of the greatest wines of California.

The bottom line is that Lalique is a huge pleasure for the lover of food and wine, and a rare opportunity to see how Sauternes can shine at table.
If, like me, you abhor the idea of drinking and driving, there are two solutions: either staying at the hotel, or else taking the train from Bordeaux to Langon and then a 10-minute taxi ride from the train station to the château.

Day out in Pessac-Léognan – 13 châteaux

 

 

To give you an idea of how old I am, I can remember a time when the Pessac-Léognan appellation did not even exist. All the wines on the left bank of the Garonne southeast of Bordeaux were Graves. Period. The new appellation was created in 1987 after a sort of “civil war” between north and south. The northern part of the Graves, bordering on the city of Bordeaux, encompassed all the great growths (seven reds, three whites, and six both white and red) in ten different communes. There was some disagreement as to where to draw the borders of the new entity and even what to call it. After much discussion and negotiation, the hyphenated names of Pessac and Léognan were retained.

Interestingly, the great growths continue to call themselves crus classés de Graves, even though they are all in Pessac-Léognan…

The late André Lurton of Châteaux La Louvière,  Couhins Lurton, Rochemorin, de Cruzeau, etc. was a prime mover in creating the new AOC.It must be said that other than recognizing an élite within the Graves, the establishing of Pessac-Léognan also helped the region to fight urban sprawl seriously threatening prime vineyard land. The area under vine had dwindled to just 500 hectares by 1975, but now stands at 1,600.While many English-speaking wine lovers tend to associate the Graves with white wines, Pessac-Léognan produces 75% reds.

The Bordelais have a special fondness for Pessac-Léognan. The vineyards start at the outskirts of the city. Indeed, the postal address of Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, for instance, is 20 rue des Carmes, Bordeaux. However, the wines are also popular because they frequently represent better value for money than ones from the Médoc or Saint Emilion, and because they have the faculty of showing well both young and old. Pessac-Léognan wines are frequently found in local restaurants at an affordable price.

As those of you who follow this blog know, I am a great fan of the Portes Ouvertes (Open Days) in Bordeaux, when châteaux welcome the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to visit little-known estates and make discoveries.

So I set out on a Saturday with two friends in early December to visit thirteen estates in one day – a wonderfully intense, relatively frenetic, and very pleasurable learning experience.We started with Château Luchey Halde in the town of Mérignac, a suburb of Bordeaux where the airport is located. This 23-hectare estate had altogether disappeared, but was miraculously brought back to life and replanted in 1999.  It is now owned and managed by an agricultural engineering school, Bordeaux Science Agro (ex-ENITA). The winemaking facilities are, as to be expected, very modern and well-maintained. There was some discussion at the beginning of the tasting whether we should try the whites before the reds or vice versa. It is usual in Bordeaux to begin with reds, a practice to which I subscribe. So we went through the 2018 (grand vin), 2015 (second wine, Les Haldes de Luchey), 2012 (grand vin), and 2011 (grand vin) reds, with a preference for the 2018 and 2012. The other two vintages seemed pleasantly fruity, but somewhat weak. Next up were the whites, 2014 (second wine) and 2012 (grand vin) which were aromatic and angular.

Owned by the Calvet family, who gave their name to a famous Bordeaux négociant firm, Château Pique-Caillou is a stone’s throw from Luchey Halde. It is quite something to visit a château dating from the late 18th century in the middle of 20 hectares of vines completely surrounded by suburban houses – not unlike Haut Brion. We sampled three red wines: 2018, 2016, and 2015. The 2016 stood out and all three showed a lean, classic style on the early-maturing side. The 2017 white Pique Caillou was practically transparent with some lanolin and vanilla nuances on the nose. The wine was light and mineral on the palate.

The third estate we went to was Château Haut Bacalan in Pessac (8 hectares), a first for me. This is owned by the Gonet family from Champagne, along with several other Bordeaux vineyards, including Château Lesparre in the rather esoteric Graves de Vayres appellation. All of the Gonet wines were being poured, including their Champagnes, but I focused on just two of their five Pessac-Léognan estates. The red 2015 Haut Bacalan showed lovely sweet briary fruit on the nose. It was powerful, full-bodied, and rich, with textured tannin on the palate – one of the nicest wines we tasted all day. The 2014 red was not quite in the same league, but nothing to sniff at either. This was followed by the 2018 white wine from Château d’Ek. Anyone who has travelled from Bordeaux to Toulouse has noticed this beautiful medieval (12th century) château quite close to the motorway. I had very much enjoyed their 2010 red wine recently (it was the Cuvée Prestige), so was anxious to try the white wine, made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This had a subtle bouquet of peach and talc, and lacked only a little richness on the palate.

Château Brown in Léogan takes its name from John Lewis Brown, a Scottish wine merchant who owned the property in the late 18th century. It now belongs jointly to the local Mau family and Dutch businessman Cees Dirkzwager (also co-owners of cru bourgeois Château Preuillac in the Médoc). Brown is managed by the dynamic Jean-Christophe Mau, whose family have been négociants for five generations. His wines are expertly made and a joy to drink. As much as I like the red wine (the 2015 we tasted is no exception), produced on 26 hectares of vines, my heart has always gone out to the exuberant, rich, white wine (5 hectares), everything a fine white Graves should be. I bought a bottle of the latter for the cellar.

Domaine de Grandmaison (19 hectares) is close to the Centre Leclerc supermarket – with one of the finest wine selections in the region – as well as Château Carbonnieux. I have been here on several occasions and find the wines excellent value for money. Although the 2014 red was slightly rustic and disappointing, the white has never let me down. 2018 Domaine de Grandmaison white, selling at 16 euros a bottle is a vibrant, fresh, pure wine that would grace any table. While not quite as “serious” a wine as Château Brown or some others, it is nevertheless the perfect illustration of how good affordable Bordeaux can be. Especially when one thinks of the cost of white Burgundy…

Number six on our day out was Château Haut Plantade in Léognan (9 hectares), a worthwhile discovery for me. This ten-hectare estate produces mostly red wine. We tasted the 2017 red, not the greatest vintage, during which they lost half the crop due to poor weather conditions. That having been said, apart from a slight greenness, this was a very creditable effort. The 2018 white wine (50% Sémillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc) was very suave and subtle with a long aftertaste. It was definitely one of the best wines tasted all day. Winemaker Vincent Plantade is switched-on and funny.  So, I would definitely put this château into the category of “little-known gems I would like to get to know better”. I stopped and looked at the vines upon leaving. The fine gravel topsoil seemed the perfect illustration of Graves terroir…

Our next visit was to Château de Léognan (6.5 hectares) in the town of the same name, not far from Domaine de Chevalier. Going here served two purposes since there is also a good bistro-type restaurant there called Le Manège. After a very enjoyable lunch, we went to taste the wines. I wish I could be more positive about them…  We sampled two reds, 2015 La Chapelle de Léognan (the second wine) and the 2011 grand vin. The former was somewhat herbaceous and prematurely old, and I’m sorry to say that the latter did not leave much of a better impression. A 2018 white wine (AOC Graves) called simply “Le Blanc” (AOC Graves) was also poured. This was sound, but not noteworthy.

Château Haut Lagrange (8.5 hectares), likewise in Léognan, provided a better experience. We tasted four wines here. The 2016 red had an intriguing bouquet and a promising profile while the 2015 red featured a floral nose with a certain smokiness, accompanied by richness and sweet fruit on the palate. The 2006 red looked considerably older than its age with tertiary gamey notes and finished a tad dry. The 2018 white was fresh and classic, but lacked personality.

Our ninth visit of the day was to Domaine de la Solitude in Martillac. This is owned by nuns belonging to the order of the Holy Family and managed by Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier. The 32-hectare estate has quite a reputation for good reasonably-priced wines, which explains why the tasting room was thronged and people were walking away with full cartons. We tasted four wines. The 2016 red was in a seductive commercial style with upfront fruit. The 2015 displayed elegant understated aromatics accompanied by a soft mouth feel backed up by good tannin. Both of these wines are probably best enjoyed relatively young. The 2016 white had a classic bouquet with good oak, and was perhaps better on the nose than the palate. The 2010 had aged well, with floral and beeswax nuances and only a touch of oxidation.

We went from there to Château Mirebeau, a small (5 hectare) estate in the town of Martillac. Sometimes you just have to be honest. I am not reproducing my notes because they are extremely critical. We tried the 2016 and 2015 reds and they seemed flawed. The wine is made organically which is obviously a plus, but not enough. Organic wines need to be good as well.

Our next stop was at Château Ferran, also in Martillac. I’ve rarely seen the wine, which is surprising since the estate is by no means small (19 hectares). It has been in the same family for five generations and boasts an attractive château. We tried three wines. The 2016 red was very promising with good acidity and an attractive mineral austerity. The 2015 red had a rich bouquet of candied red fruit even if it was somewhat one-dimensional on the palate. The 2018 white had a nose that screamed Sauvignon Blanc, and proved to be rounder than expected. I came away with a fine memory of our visit.

The next to last château was Bouscaut in Cadaujac, a large (47 hectare) classified growth owned by Sophie Lurton and her husband Laurent Cogombles. The 2016 red Bouscaut was unquestionably of cru classé quality: smooth and assertive, with tight tannins, violet overtones, and good length. The 2015 red was unfortunately not in the same mold. It showed more toasty oak on the nose than fruit. It was brawny, big, and hot on the palate, lacking the elegance of the 2016. Then it was on to the whites. The 2017 Les Chênes de Bouscaut (a much better year for Bordeaux whites than reds) had a spicy component and was quite classy, whereas the 2016 had unusual vanilla and matchstick aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy! It was in a modern, commercial style on the palate and I will be interested to see how it ages.

The final stop of a very full day was at Château Baret in Villenave d’Ornon (24 hectares), which has been in the Ballande family since 1867. Once again, we tried both the red and white wines. The 2015 red was a good middle of the road Pessac-Léognan with a tangy flavor. It was unexpectedly tannic on the finish, but time will surely soften the rough edges. The 2011 had minty old library aromas. It was fully evolved on the palate with a somewhat hard finish. Time to drink up.

And thus ended our excursion.

 

 

 

Château Clinet: a first division Pomerol


How many of us really know the wines of Pomerol? One of Bordeaux’s smallest appellations (about 800 hectares) produces wines that have risen dramatically in reputation – and price – over the years. They correspond completely to what modern consumers are looking for in Bordeaux. At their best they are voluptuous, elegant wines that are pleasurable to both neophytes and connoisseurs, as well as enjoyable both young and old. What’s not to like?

As opposed to the Médoc, Saint Emilion, Sauternes, and Pessac-Léognan, there is no classification in Pomerol. Of course, a sort of de facto classification exists based on price and critics’ scores, but there are more possibilities here to rise through the ranks. Such wines as Lafleur and Le Pin had a very low profile not so long ago and went on, of course, to become darlings of the wine world.

Consumers, wine writers, and critics have, as to be expected, latched onto a few names that are endlessly repeated, in no small part because these tend to be largish estates in an appellation that does not count many i.e. the wines are more widely distributed worldwide. But relative newcomers can rise to the join the elite, which is precisely what Château Clinet has done.

Pomerol’s fairly undramatic history is that of a winegrowing town whose ups and downs generally revolved around the inheritance and changing hands of estates. Unlike other parts of Bordeaux, there are few noteworthy château buildings to bear witness to this history. Clinet’s can be traced back to the late 16th century and the place name appears on Belleyme’s famous 1785 map (a facsimile is hung on the wall at Clinet). A document dating from 1837 shows that Clinet and Pétrus had the same owner. Over time, Eglise Clinet, Clos l’Eglise, and Feytit Clinet were spun off from the original estate. Château Clinet’s wine was always well-regarded and sold well, but it did not really start to stand out until the 1980s when Jean-Michel Arcaute, advised at one time by Michel Rolland, took things in hand to progress by a quantum leap. Clinet, a more-or-less second tier Pomerol, joined the first tier.

Impressively high Parker scores helped catapult Clinet to center stage, where it has stayed ever since.

The estate was sold to the GAN insurance group in 1991 and then acquired by Jean-Louis Laborde from the nearby Lot-et-Garonne department in 1999. He handed over management to his son, Ronan, in 2004. Today just shy of 40 years old, Ronan is still in charge.

Ronan Laborde is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of great growth Bordeaux, to which Clinet is obviously assimilated. That he is young and has a business degree is not so uncommon. Neither is the fact that his experience in the wine trade spans several continents, despite his age. But Ronan has a fresh go-ahead attitude that has led him to do things differently. Take his creation of a branded Bordeaux called, appropriately enough, “Ronan”. It takes a brave man to do such a thing! He built a new cellar for his négociant activity a stone’s throw from Clinet and now sells going on 300,000 bottles a year of his (largely red) Bordeaux AOC.
Ronan Laborde also manages the family estates in Tokaj, Hungary: Châteaux Megyer and Pajzos.

In March of this year, Ronan was elected president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, the promotional association that brings together the cream of Bordeaux producers (134 members) and is responsible for organizing tastings around the world, including en primeur week in March/April every year in Bordeaux.

The style and the feeling at Clinet reflect that of the man running the show: professional, but relaxed.

I met Ronan at the unprepossessing country house with red shutters built in 1820 that is Château Clinet. However, appearances can be deceiving… The winery is state-of-the-art, including a system with 400-kg. hoppers (cuvons) on rails that gently deposit freshly-picked grapes into temperature-controlled stainless steel vats to avoid bruising. The wine undergoes pigeage (punching down the cap) and gentle pumping over. It is aged in 60% new oak, a proportion that is down from a few vintages ago. The 8-10% press wine is blended in as needed.

When the Laborde family took over, the Clinet vineyard consisted of 8.64 hectares in three separate parts: one around the château, another north of the town church, and a third between Trotanoy and Feytit Clinet. This was increased by 3 hectares when 4 tiny plots within the appellation were acquired in 2011. Grape varieties are 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. A second wine, Fleur de Clinet, is also made.

Ronan had arranged a small vertical tasting:

2015 Ronan by Clinet:
Color: Showing a little brown on the rim already.
Nose: Reflecting its 100% Merlot composition with ethereal red fruit.
Palate: Soft, but with decent backbone. Aftertaste maybe a little short, but unmistakably fine Bordeaux with a pleasant thirst-quenching side. Touch austere, but this does not detract from the overall balance.

2016: “By Clinet’
Color: Medium-deep and vigorous with some purple highlights.
Nose: Almond and vanilla aromas one associates with certain of the best Pomerols. Subtly rich.
Palate: Powerful attack. Silky texture with fine-grained tannin. Smooth and already approachable. Good value because it has all the hallmarks of its appellation.

2014 Château Clinet:
Color: Medium intensity, just starting to show a little age.
Nose: Very attractive, classy, assertive bouquet with berry notes and a nuance I can only describe as blood, which I also find in some Syrah wines.
Palate: Iron and mineral flavors with a touch of greenness balanced by black and some red fruit overtones.

2015 Château Clinet:
Color: Brilliant, with a deep core.
Nose: Penetrating black cherry fruit with oaky notes.
Palate: Rich, with licorice flavours and a long, delicate aftertaste. Very fine tannin in the finish. Decidedly elegant and not top-heavy.

2016 Château Clinet:
Color: Lovely, very deep hue, even more so than the 2010 says Ronan.
Nose: Fresh, but with musky hints in the background and some menthol to complement the exuberant fruit.
Palate: Round, big, and lip-smackingly good! Fresh aftertaste with some empyreumatic nuances. Firm, slightly smoky, and with great potential.

Ronan invited me to share lunch with him at the cellar after the tasting, during which we enjoyed a 2008 Clinet. This had taken on wonderful aromatics of game and incense with age.

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, Pomerol is a hard region to get to know. I therefore thank Ronan for giving me with a better handle on the appellation by providing me with an insight into one of its best wines.

 

 

 

 

 

2010 Ch. Lesparre: an interesting Graves de Vayres

Can there be any more esoteric Bordeaux appellation than Graves de Vayres? With 700 hectares of vines it is by no means the smallest (that would be Saint Georges Saint Emilion at 192 hectares), but it has, shall we say, a very low profile. The appellation produces dry white, red, and semi-sweet white wines.

Graves de Vayres is located on the left bank of the Dordogne in the communes of Vayres (famous for its château, a listed historical monument) and Arveyres in the northwestern part of the Entre-Deux-Mers region. There are 40 producers and the soil consists of alluvial terraces.

I don’t often drink the wines, but had a bottle of the 2010 Château Lesparre squirreled away in the cellar and figured that it should be showing well at age nine.

The color displayed a very deep, dark core and was just starting to brick on the rim.

The nose was not very profound, but featured attractive aromas of humus, candied cherry, and fennel, as well as a marked oak influence (vanilla, roast coffee beans).

The oak also came through on the palate. The flavor profile may have been somewhat angular and a little hollow, but redeemed itself on the aftertaste, even though this was a tad dry and grippy on the tail end. I came away with the feeling that this is perhaps an example of what happens when a wine of medium potential is somewhat overworked. Still, it is the sort of wine that shows much better at table and I am a sucker for off-beat bottles such as this. It is probably not far from its peak and if my tasting notes may have given the wrong impression, I enjoyed drinking it and furthering my knowledge of Bordeaux.

Château Lesparre belongs to the Gonet family, who also make wine in Champagne and own several estates in the Pessac-Léogan appellation (Haut Bacalan, Haut Brana, d’Eck, Saint Eugène, and Haut l’Evêque).

Restaurant Quanjude – Chinese cuisine and Bordeaux wines

Even though I’m not very skilled at preparing it myself, I love Chinese food. My interest was therefore piqued in 2015, when a Chinese entrepreneur purchased Dubern, a Bordeaux restaurant and institution dating back to 1894.

Fifty-five-year-old James Zhou made a fortune by turning his small family firm into a powerhouse specialized in packaging, including the production of cans for Red Bull and Coca Cola in China. Francophile Mr. Zhou bought a wine estate in Tabanac (Château Renon in the Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux appellation – http://www.chateau-renon.fr/ ) in 2014, as well as the Auxerre football club in 2016.

In much the same spirit as he totally renovated Château Renon, Mr. Zhou successfully reinvented Dubern as Quanjude, which opened in November 2018. There are more than 50 Quanjude restaurants around the world, operated on a franchise basis. Some of them take up five floors and can seat up to 500 diners.

Three things make the one in Bordeaux unique.

For starters, it is the first to open in Europe, although several others are planned, starting with Paris.

The second reason is the restaurant’s hybrid Franco-Chinese style. Much effort was put into the decor, a very attractive blend of the Louis XIV style and Chinese chic, with tastefully-painted wall panels and beautiful furniture. The dining rooms are small and intimate. As might be expected, the porcelain is gorgeous. The staff are mostly French, including chef Olivier Peyronnet, and the cuisine is a delightful synthesis of French and Chinese influences.


I have a soft spot for restaurants such as Quanjude with a rather short menu. It shows that they have chosen to concentrate on what they do best. Normally speaking, I would have chosen the Peking duck, a dish on which Quanjude’s reputation was built, but this needs to be ordered by at least two people. Seeing as I was dining with my wife, who is allergic to gluten, this was not an option.

The series of dishes we sampled was visually enticing, delicious, and very refined. I will come back again for the Peking duck. To give you an idea of pricing, a seven course dinner revolving around this dish costs 100 euros. The regular evening menu is 60 euros. More information, of course, can be found on their web site: https://quanjude-bordeaux.com/

I came away totally enchanted with Quanjude. The setting is both luxurious and relaxed, and the food is exquisite. Just the day before, I had been invited to lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant I will not name. It was pretty much of a disaster. So the class act at Quanjude was doubly appreciated. I would best describe a meal there as a gracious gastronomic experience light years away from the typical Chinese restaurant (egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, etc.).

And as much as I love typical dishes from Southwest France – and I’m sure that is what visitors to Bordeaux are mainly seeking – I would warmly recommend Quanjude to anyone staying a few days who is looking for a refreshing departure from the usual litany of oysters, duck breast, entrecote, etc.


Then, of course, the third reason Quanjude Bordeaux is unique is wine. Reflecting the food menu, the wine list is on the short side, but with some very interesting bottles of various origins. Mark-ups are usual for this sort of establishment. I was delighted to see they offered a rare Palo Cortado sherry from the house of Lustau, so my wife and I enjoyed a glass as an aperitif. This was a medium-deep amber color and had a beautiful nutty, caramel nose. It was full-bodied with a soft, mineral, lingering finish. What a treat! It showed how much Bordeaux has changed over the years. Finding a unicorn wine like this would have been impossible not so long ago…

Seeing as I had chosen pigeon and my wife monkfish, we opted for a white wine, a 2014 Château Brown from Pessac-Léognan. I had discussed the choice with sommelière Thao Vo and she said that this was the one she would have recommended had I not mentioned it… I have appreciated white Château Brown (no, not a contradiction in terms!) for years and, in fact, prefer it to the red. The 2014 was a pale golden-yellow color with a complex bouquet of gooseberry, lemon, lanolin, and vanilla. The wine was luscious on the palate – very typical of its appellation – with a marked, but not obtrusive oak influence.

Chef Olivier Peyronnet

There is much discussion in France about matching wine and food. Frankly, I find much of it affected and superfluous. The same goes for wine with Chinese cuisine. I asked several people at Quanjude about this, and they agreed that other than a few very basic “rules”, most wines go very well with Chinese dishes. It’s as simple as that. I tend to favor white wines as a rule, but I’m determined to give the reds a go soon. Obviously, very spicy dishes do not partner well with many wines, but sweet white Bordeaux accompanies them surprisingly well.


As you might expect, Quanjude takes tea seriously. After the meal, my wife had red tea which was served with the appropriate decorum.

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Pessac-Léognan and Margaux

PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

There are so many events and châteaux to visite during en primeur week that I was not able to fit in my usual stop at the Union des Grands Crus tasting in Pessac-Léognan this year. Therefore, my coverage is limited this year.

Carbonnieux
N: A bouquet that is reduced and not well-defined. Will undoubtedly improve with age.
P: Smooth and melts on the mouth to begin with, but weak on the middle palate, ending with strong oak – a little too strong for me – on the aftertaste. Needs revisiting. OK.

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion
N: Slightly syrupy aromas with some cedar. Sweet and enticing.
P: Well-defined fruit going into a tangy aftertaste. Very classy, lacking just a little oomph and length to be catapulted to the very tip of the pyramid. Fine tannin and acidity. Very good.

Le Clarence de Haut Brion
N: Fresh and more ethereal than the second wine of La Mission. Fresh and not over-oaked. In fact, the oak is barely discernible. Faint herbaceous note.
P: Chunky and chewy, with oak showing, along with hints of tobacco. Svelte with beautiful development on the palate and tea tannin on the finish. Long aftertaste. Very good.

Fieuzal
N: Old-fashioned with odd metallic and even oyster shell overtones.
P: Mercifully, much better on the palate with tight-knit tannin, but the oak obscures this, as well as the fruit. Dry finish. Should improve over time and needs retasting at a later date. OK.

Château Haut Brion (white).
N: Some earthy, fresh mushroom aromas, as well as vanilla and lanolin nuances.
P: Soft, then the terroir and elegance come through, especially those qualities conferred by the gravelly soil. Very long aftertaste. Although over half Sémillon, this wine seems like the apotheosis of Sauvignon Blanc. Ageing may well change that impression. The length and power on the finish set it apart from, let’s say, a first-class Sancerre, but I find this not up to the standard of the red. Nevertheless, very good.

Château Haut Brion (red).
N: Cedar and “old library” bouquet. Very precise. Deep, fresh, mysterious cherry and stone fruit aromas , with vinification odors in the background.
P: Sweet, understated fruit. Spreads out on the palate seamlessly, suavely, and subtly. Great tension. Delicate with a velvety texture and new oak on the finish. Superb.

Château La Louvière (red)
N: Sweet fruit with some lead and a strong floral component. Delicate for sure.
P: Rich, mouthfilling, and reflecting the aromatics on the nose. Proudly displays its Left Bank origins. Good acidity and a long aftertaste showing fine tannin. This estate is looking up after somewhat of an eclipse. Very good.

Château Malartic Lagravière
N: Not terribly expressive now, but showing overtones of mocha, black fruit, and flowers.
P: Starts off by melting in the mouth, then goes on to reveal a very perfumed, pretty, feminine quality I often find in this wine. The aftertaste is more “virile”, giving the wine good balance between fruit, velvety tannin, and acidity. Very good.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (white)
N: Varietal Sauvignon Blanc aromas with a hint asparagus. Some cherry and vanilla notes along with mineral nuances.
P: Vanilla, caramel, and meringue. Great acidity, with less class, but more power than the Haut Brion blanc. Tremendous minerality on the finish. Great balancing act between power and delicacy. Very good.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (red)
N: Coiled and showing sheer class with discreet new oak. Reminds me of a great Médoc. Some chalkiness and fancy floral notes.
P: Medium weight with a tangy, long, and almost relentless aftertaste with great tannic texture. One for the very long haul. Tarry and candied black fruit flavors. Excellent.

Château Pape Clément
N: Fresh notes of forest floor and tobacco.
P: A treat from beginning to end. The extraction and barrel ageing are under control and the aftertaste is long, resonant, and aristocratic. Far more traditional than in the past and very much to my taste. Textbook Graves. Oak is strong, but the wine has enough character to support it. Excellent.

Château Séguin
N: Deep very pure fruit (raspberry, and especially blackberry) where Cabernet seems to define the bouquet. Some coffee and dark chocolate nuances.
P: Elegant rather than powerful with zippy tartness. Both extraction and barrel ageing have been done with the golden mean in mind. Great balance between fruit and tannin. Somewhat under the radar, this estate is worth discovering. Very good.

MARGAUX

 

Château Brane Cantenac
N: Earthy and brambly with good fruit and good toasty oak.
P: Excellent on entry, then drops a bit, but comes into its own with very classic, sophisticated tannins that coat the teeth and auger well for long-term ageing. Great presence. Very good to excellent.

Château Cantenac Brown
N: Good berry fruit and sweet cedar aromas.
P: Lively, tart, and refreshing fruit. A welcome change from certain over-oaked and over-extracted wines. Delicious aftertaste in which tannin and good acidity vie for predominance. Traditional style. Very good.

Château Le Coteau
N: Understated sweet primary fruit with a beguiling incense quality and some graphite nuances.
P: Soft with medium body and good grip. It might appear light, but this is more indicative of the balance of wines from Margaux.W ell-made and restrained for people who prefer elegance to power. Can be enjoyed young. Nice discovery. Very good

Château Desmirail
N: A little off because slightly reduced at this early stage, but showing a solid base of black fruit. A subtle perfume emerges with aeration.
P: Massive on the palate with grippy tannin. A Margaux displaying more similarities with wines from further north in the Médoc, although the aftertaste has the quintessential Margaux elegance.

Château Ferrière
N: Really rather mute at this time. There are positive underlying aromas needing time to emerge.
P: Very full attack with a somewhat raisiny flavor and lots of assertive tannin. This seems as little too much at present, but time will tell. Good to very good.

Château La Fortune
N: Forthright and fresh, but simple.
P: Better on the palate. Striking acidity, but not over the top. Rather too much oak. There is potential here for sure, but nature should lead the way. The winemake should not try to force things. Good.

Château Giscours
N: Gentle, unobtrusive oak. Fresh and classic for the appellation.
P: Primary fresh red fruit with marked blackcurrant overtones. Starts out quite soft, going on to show considerable structure and freshness. Well-made with a long, tempered finish. Very good.

Château Kirwan
N: Upfront sweet blueberry nose.
P: Round, bright user-friendly friendly. Very open an attractive, but with enough good acidity and high-quality tannin for further ageing. A little dry on the finish, but this will most likely change over time. Very good.

Château Haut Breton Larigaudière
N: Rich chocolatey nose and some black fruit, but not very forthcoming at this time.
P: Chunky with marked oak influence. Seems rather strong. Some dryness on the finish, an impression that may be lessened if care is taken during barrel ageing. Good.

 

Château d’Issan
N: Discreet and fresh with Médoc forest floor nuances.
G: A serious wine on the palate with a fine structure and focus. Elegant, precise, and fashionably thin. A fine example of wine with great volume of flavor, but without weight. Much better on the palate than on the nose. The fruit is complemented by some graphite notes. Very good.

Château Lascombes
N: Toasty oak and dark fruit aromas along with smoky overtones.
P: Straightforward and satisfying with interesting cherry and licorice nuances. Marked acidity and strong tannin contribute to a long finish. Some aniseed overtones and plenty of oak. Good to very good.

Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Sweet berry fruit and aromas I tend to associate with Merlot. Subtle oak.
P: Starts out very pure and natural,, very Margaux-like, and then displays rather tough and uncompromising tannin. Influence of oak is best monitored. Good to very good.

Marojallia
N: Coffee and new oak (100%) pretty much completely masks the fruit.
P: Starts out quite soft, then bang, the oak hits you. Good if you like the style.

Château Marquis d’Alesme
N: Some chocolate and mint nuances, but subdued at this stage.
P: More aromatic on the palate. “Iron fist in a velvet glove” kind of wine. Marked acidity, somewhat uncompromising style, and made to last. Margaux flavors just emerging. Long, tangy finish, but oak must not get the upper hand. Good.

Château Marquis de Terme
N: Understated at this time, but promising. Floral and forest fruit aromas.
P: More expressive on palate. Round, full, well-balanced, and refreshing. Medium-weight with a delicious long aftertaste. Will show well young. Very good.

Château La Tour de Bessan
N: Classic, but subdued. Sweet, but rather indeterminate at this early stage.
P: More expressive on the palate. Good texture and fresh acidity. Promising, For mid-term drinking to take advantage of the fruit. More structure than in other vintages. Good.

Château Margaux
N: A nose not unlike the Pavillon Rouge, but with more depth and aromas of black fruit liqueur.
G: Satiny, creamy texture. Feminine and sexy. Super fine-grained tannin with lilting acidity. Fantastic balance. Great potential. Excellent.

Château Marsac Segineau
N: Muted red fruit (cranberry) but not much there.
G: Better on palate with good, fresh acidity. Medium body. Quite tannic (too tannic?) on the penetrating aftertaste in which the alcohol can be felt. Good.

Château Palmer
The estate produced just 11 hectoliters per hectare in 2018, so there is no second wine this year.
N: Sweet, seductive candied red and black fruit.
G: If Margaux is feminine, this is a buxom young lass. Full-bodied and sensual. The texture reflects silky tannin backed up by good oak. This wine is fairly big and will unquestionably age well. Long aftertaste. Superb.

Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux (AOC Bordeaux)
C: Pale gold with green tinges.
N: Very Sauvignon Blanc, but one must wait for tertiary aromas.
G: Did not strike me as much as the 2017. Oak is mercifully under control. A fine wine, but does not seem special. Only the aftertaste shows its breeding. Good to very good.

Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux
N: Monumental, with nuances of cedar, spring flowers. red berries, and cherries.
G: Tart with exquisite tannin. Svelte, with a fresh, long finish. Should be fine for medium-term drinking. Does not seem at all like 14.5° alcohol. Very good.

Chateau Prieuré Lichine
N: Candied black fruit and chocolate. Almost Pinot-like. Very aromatic and attractive.
P: Starts off beautifully, drops a bit, and then comes back with delicious Margaux fruit. Seems a tad over-oaked at this early stage, but altogether natural. Not especially long, but quite fine. Very good.

Chateau Rauzan Gassies
N: Somewhat weak and lacking in definition, with some roast coffee nuances.
P: Much better on the palate with a great texture. A bit old-fashioned in style with fine-grained tannin. Interesting aftertaste. The antithesis of an oaky, over-extracted wine. Perhaps a little light, but ageing may work wonders here. Good to very good.

Chateau du Tertre
N: Closed at present with some vinification odors simply due to its youth.
P: Moreish, elegant, and rich for a Médoc. Soft. Caresses the palate. Medium body and good development on the palate. Sensual. Good, fine, relatively long finish. Very good.

Château Tour de Mons
N: Good fruit to oak ratio. Black fruit jelly notes on the interesting bouquet.
P: Full and chunky. Elegant commercial style. Long flavorsome aftertaste. Good to very good.

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Saint-Emilion

Château Angélus
N: Soft, with some spice.
P: Chunky, but silky. It appears at first to be medium rather than heavy-bodied, and then strong oak kicks in on the aftertaste. I mark the wine down for excessive oakiness but, in all fairness, would need to retaste it 10 years from now to see if I have been too severe or not. Good.

Château Ausone
N: Deep, dark, and mysterious.
P: I could invent something here to rise to the occasion and gush about this first growth. However, I will be neither critical nor full of praise. I will state that that 2018 Ausone is playing hide and seek at present and is only a shadow of what it will be one day and is difficult to taste today. It shows great acidity, power, elegance, and restraint. And the texture is wonderful. But this wine is presently hiding its light under a bushel. I will rate its potential as excellent, but in a line-up it I’m sure its reticence would not make it stand out as it should – or as it undoubtedly will in a few years’ time.

Château Beauséjour Bécot
N: Very closed at this time.
P: Much better on the palate. Rich and tight, with good structure and texture. Not overly broad, alcoholic, or overdone. Wonderful long, but slightly dry (at this time) aftertaste. Very good if aromatics develop as they should.

Château Bellevue
N: Pure, slightly spirity, and discreet.
P: Great balance and texture. Moreish. Classic. Good oak. Manages to be both stylish and traditional. Tasted alongside Angélus, I far preferred this. Excellent.

Château Canon La Gaffelière
N: Deep, satisfying, ethereal bouquet with notes of dried cranberry.
P: Seems rich, but paradoxically dilute at first before the fruit is unmasked. Priority has obviously been given to careful winemaking according priority to freshness. The Cabernets (together making about 50% of the blend) come through on the delicate attack and then again with the unbridled fruit. Fine, very long aftertaste. Excellent.

Château Le Châtelet
N: Nice, but rather neutral at this stage. Some coffee/toasted notes, but these are not overly strong.
P: Rich, spicy, and saturates the palate. Very concentrated, yet elegant. A big mouthful with loads of fruit. The aftertaste is strongly marked by oak at present, but indications are that if will integrate. A nice discovery. Excellent.

Château Chauvin
N: A little smoky with good fruit. Deep and interesting.
P: Good volume and mouth feel. Lovely Merlot fruit going into angular minerality on the aftertaste. Finishes a tad dry due to the oak, whose influence should be watched carefully. Good.

Château Cheval Blanc
N: Earthy as much as fruity, but clearly in the very early stages.
P: Gorgeous texture and tremendous fruit. Medium-weight on the palate with a commanding aftertaste worthy of a first growth. Excellent. One of the best wines of the vintage.

Château Corbin
N: Some stewed fruit, cedar, and incense aromas, but rather closed-in at present.
P: More expressive on the palate. Full and rich with a fairly weighty mouth feel, but nevertheless balanced. Big, muscular and sweet. Dark fruit flavors. Terroir-driven and fairly traditional. A fine wine for medium-term ageing. Very good.

Château La Couspaude
N: Toasty oak and a little on the spirity side (blackberry liqueur). One can nevertheless not help but be drawn in to it.
P: Soft on entry, almost to the point of being flabby. Pomerol-like except for the finish, in which the limestone minerality is attenuated. Really soft. Not terribly balanced and the aftertaste is a bit harsh, but it the lingering red fruit is quite attractive. Good to very good.

Château Destieux
N: Smoky with dark fruit, but not very expressive. Have to look for the bouquet at present. Give it time.
P: Definitely brambly with strong (slightly over-extracted?) tannin. Too hard and grippy. Will undoubtedly soften, but enough? Good.

Le Dôme
N: Slight reduction at this stage, but there are elegant truffle and raspberry aromas.
P: Mouthfilling, with a wonderful tannic texture and deep flavors. Very good.

Château la Dominique
N: Inky and ethereal, but not very complex bouquet.
P: Big, with a richness that comes in waves before the finish with hard tannin that does not preclude elegance. Soft framework ending in a certain relentlessness. Unbalanced at this stage, but certainly an ageworthy wine that deserves to be retasted later. Good.

Château Faugères
N: Odd, withdrawn, lurking.
P: Crowd-pleasing up-front fruit followed by slightly artificial tasting oak influence and strong acidity. Out of balance now, but may come together over time. Good.

Château de Ferrand
N: Subtle with notes of incense, white pepper, and underlying fruit.
P: Starts out big and swaggers, only to skip the middle palate to go into an oak-dominated aftertaste that is really dry because of this. Care needs to be taken during the rest of barrel ageing. Good.

Château Figeac
N: Pure, but rather closed.
P: Concentrated and develops beautifully on the palate with good acidity and soft tannin. Great long finish with a desirable sort of firmness that gives the wine ageing potential. The 14° alcohol does not show through. Minerality at the end gives tremendous balance. Very good to excellent.

Château La Fleur Cardinale
N: Subtle cherry-vanilla aromatics I associate with this estate. Enticing, with just the right touch of oak.
P: Big volume and seamless development on the palate with superb tannin. Elegant rather than powerful. The château is going from strength to strength. Long aftertaste with great tannic texture. Excellent.

Château La Fleur Morange
N: Bit reduced and not showing particularly well. Graham cracker overtones.
P: Out of balance and mean at this time. Harsh, rather dry tannin. Too much oak. Needs to be retasted at a later date.

Château Fonroque
N: Old-fashioned in a good way. Unmessed with expression of the terroir. Pure black fruit with some coffee overtones.
P: Plush, oh-so-soft and then the tannin makes itself felt with circumspection and restraint. Big. Some vanilla flavor. Lovely balance and typicity. Very good.

Clos Fourtet
N: Toasty oak along with red and black fruit. Some spice. Understated and subtle.
P: Starts out delicious and sophisticated, neither too big nor too rich, going into a long drawn-out aftertaste with excellent tannin. Not your hulking Saint- Émilion, but certainly not a wishy-washy one! Antithesis of a Parkerized wine. Very good.

Château Franc Mayne
N: Fresh, concentrated, and penetrating, but in a subtle sort of way. Fruity and floral notes emerge with aeration.
P: Fresh and pure, but there is the curious sensation of dilution on entry. However, the wine develops from then on and the aftertaste comes back with a vengeance to show tremendous minerality typical of the limestone plateau. Good to very good.

Château La Gaffelière
N: Fresh chocolate mint aromas as well as good red fruit (strawberry) and slight camphor overtones.
P: Great tannic template that does a sort of somersault from plush cushioned richness into a high-quality fine-grained aftertaste. Will age beautifully. A beautiful performance. Excellent.

Château Grand Mayne
N: Really exuberant blueberry notes, very aromatic.
P: Seems somewhat spirity with strong tannin from both oak and grape skins. Your archetypal big Saint Emilion rather than your refined one. Still, forthright and fruity. Good to very good.

Château Haut Sarpe
N: Little dusty, with pure sweet ethereal red fruit.
P: Very full and compact, but the rich, smooth attack goes immediately into hard tannin without transition. Watch out for the oak influence during further ageing! Potential is there for something very nice. Good to very good.

Clos des Jacobins
N: Lively raspberry aromas and a refined, engaging spirity side.
P: Tight, rich, and – surprisingly – slightly herbaceous with dark fruit. Tannin on the aftertaste may be too much in light of the wine’s intrinsic structure, and seems to come more from oak than skins. Starts out straightforward, but the tannin on the finish is disproportionately harsh. Good.

Château Jean Faure
N: Marked wildberry aromas. Really fresh and powerful. Sensual and strangely reminiscent of Côte Rôtie!
P: Bright natural fruit flavors with great acidity and good tannin too. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fine linear development on the palate. Teeth-coating, but refined tannin. Strong minerality on finish. A revelation. Excellent.

Château Larcis Ducasse
N: Modern style with sleek new oak and bright fruit in the background along with a powdery (talc) cosmetic component. Clean and impeccable.
P: Melts in the mouth and then fresh acidity checks in even more than the tannin. The assertive oak is a little obtrusive at this time, but let’s give this wine the benefit of the doubt. Excellent.

Château Larmande
N: Upfront, complex, and understated bouquet of black cherry, vanilla, beet juice, and floral elements.
P: Quite soft with flawless follow-through, but lacks depth. Limestone minerality on the long finish for this wine that is more delicate than sister château Soutard. Very good.

Château Laroque
N: Distinguished, classic bouquet. Tremendous sublimated fruit notes with some coffee aromas.
P: Not entirely clean. A gout de terroir whose aromatics are not found on the nose. Massive body, but lacks grace. Tannins in the same mold. Plenty of blackcurrant on the aftertaste. Good to very good (when helped by further ageing).

Château Laroze
N: Layered bouquet of cherry, vanilla, and berry fruit. Suave and not too oaky.
P: The smoothness and seduction on the nose carries over to the palate. Spreads out beautifully with fine-grained tannin. Sensual mouthfeel with structure and length to match. Touch dry on the finish at this stage. Very good.

Lynsolence
N: A medley of various aromas: incense, oak, stewed black fruit, and… soy sauce.
P: Meaty and mouthfilling with a strong tannic profile to go along with the considerable body. Assertive aftertaste with tannin that needs to age for a long time to be resolved. Beefy and a touch dry on the finish, but a pleasurable hearty wine. Good to very good.

Magrez Fombrauge
N: Attractive raspberry aromas. Concentrated, but suave and classy. Not overly oaky as I had feared.
P: Rich, with high-quality resonant tannin. Stops short of showing too much oak on the palate too although this is hardly shy. Obviously a carefully crafted wine. Good tension. Big, yet restrained. A nice surprise. Very good.

Château Montalbert
N: Berry fruit with mocha, strawberry, and forest floor nuances.
P: Good tannic tension from the get-go. Lovely fruit accompanies the development on the palate. Great texture to the tannin and fine ageing potential. Very good.

Château Moulin du Cadet
N: Very ripe with some mint and crushed blackcurrant leaf nuances.
P: Big and strong. I expected it to be a little hollow but, no, it fills out nicely and goes into a fine, fresh aftertaste with good tannin. Concentrated and has a weighty mouth feel. Verging on XXL in style, but avoids overkill. Good to very good.

Château Pavie
N: Rich, concentrated, and resonant, with some violet and emyreumatic overtones.
P: Rich and big, as expected, but not as in-your-face as in previous vintages. Long aftertaste. Let’s be fair here. Good to very good.

Château Pavie Macquin
N: Deep, quite classy, and very attractive bouquet with some prune and polished wood/old library aromas.
P: Great volume and fine velvety texture that does not obviate a certain hardness. In fact, the wine is ultimately soft on the whole, with high-quality tannin bringing up the rear. Despite the slight dip on the middle palate, there is a long, textured, black fruit aftertaste. Very good.

Château Péby Faugères
N: High-class fruit to oak ratio. Obviously well-made.
P: Normally, I don’t like to talk about fruit that “explodes on the palate”, but that pretty much describes this wine. It also features great acidity. Vigorous and assertive, but not top-heavy or aggressive. Quite concentrated. Much better than Faugères. Good to very good.

Château de Pressac
N: Fine, understated bouquet, but needs time to evolve recognizably.
P: Curiously a bit green at first, then shows somewhat aggressive tannin and overwhelming oak. Chunky with a dry finish. Really too early to taste this wine, as is not rare in March after the vintage… Good.

Château Le Prieuré
N: Pure candied black fruit aromas with considerable freshness.
P: Soft and rich going into a tangy aftertaste. Big volume and zippy acidity on the finish. The oak is as it should be. Lovely red fruit flavors. Very good.

Château Ripeau
N: Some reduction so not ideal at this time.
P: Rich chocolate here, but dips on the middle palate. Subsequent flavors then come back with authority, accompanied by tannin which shows the wine will age well. Broad-shouldered and concentrated. Good to very good.

Château Rochebelle
N: Enticing subdued candied black cherry aromas that are sweet, but not obvious.
P: Big mouthfeel. Full-bodied with lovely follow-through going into decided minerality. Very long aftertaste with lovely texture and altogether typical of the best Saint Emilion. Thrist-quenching and well-made. Very good to excellent.

Château Rol Valentin
N: Almost Pinot-like with clove, Viandox, and new leather nuances.
P: Starts out with sheets of flavor and a satiny texture, going into tannin that is a little unyielding. This quality may well last throughout the wine’s life. Good.

Château Saint Georges Côte Pavie
N: Soft, wafting, simple, and rather muted blueberry bouquet.
P: Blueberry flavors on the palate too. Very fluid, fresh, and relatively short, but fine, very mineral aftertaste. Quite representative of its appellation, but lacks punch. Good.

Clos Saint Martin
N: Good Merlot nose. Pure, somewhat peppery, and redolent of Saint-Emilion.
P: Gorgeous mouth feel and texture in keeping with the region’s finest wines. Great minerality on the extremely long aftertaste ultra-representative of the limestone plateau. Medium body and acidity. Very good.

Château Sansonnet
N: Strong, spirity, and a little jammy with some cosmetic overtones. The alcohol is obvious here.
P: Extremely rich, concentrated, and seemingly literally sweet. Big, fat, and strong. Would tire one out if more than a couple of glasses were consumed. The oak is mercifully not too strong. Good.

Château La Serre
N: Pure primary fruit that seems strangely dominated by Cabernet (only 20% of the blend…). Oak complements the fruit beautifully.
P: Big, with a welcome bite to follow the sweet fruit. Strong , with toasty oak and fruit galore. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Somewhat New World in style, but not overwhelming. Great berry finish. Very good.

Château Soutard
N: Nice enough, but rather non-descript.
P: Shorter, seemingly more early-maturing, and altogether less good than sister château, Larmande. Open and easy to drink. Serviceable. Good to very good.

Château La Tour Figeac
N: Soft, but not very expressive. Berry fruit with a floral component.
P: Beautifully smooth, and caresses the palate. Seems to be lacking a little in personality, but then blossoms to reveal enticing flavors and polished tannins. Although a little weak on the aftertaste, this is a very charming wine hard to resist. Very good.

Château Valandraud
N: Sweet uplifting and well-focused red fruit. Precise and natural.
P: No reason to fear too much oak or extraction as in the past. Subtle and fruity above all. A fine wine, not a modern monster. Very soft, going into infinitely long tannic aftertaste. Oak influence is there, but under control. I overcome my prejudices and rate this wine excellent.

Château Villemaurine (label not shown)
N: There’s understated and understated. What is showing at present is faint hints of black fruit jelly.
P: More personality than the nose would lead one to expect. Hearty, but high-quality tannin. Needs to come together. Good.

Château Yon Figeac
N: Full and open with aromas of freshly-pressed grapes, blossoms, and spice.
P: Not quite as positive as the nose. Bit rustic, but honest and very vinous. Long textured aftertaste, with tannins that are not very polished. Good.

2005 Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac

 

 

English speakers sat up and took notice of this wine when it did extremely well at a tasting organized by Decanter magazine. My previous experience with Pédescalux led me to consider it a wine not to age for very long. So, I opened the 2005 at lunch recently (decanted 2 hours before the meal). I was very impressed. My guests were served it blind and immediately targeted it as a classified growth from Pauillac. It had all the hallmarks of great Cabernet from that commune – a lovely nose of graphite and black fruit, in fact reminiscent of Mouton. The wine showed tremendous class on the palate, with medium body and a very fine balance between smoothness and good tannic structure. An elegant Pauillac rather than a broad-shouldered one. The aftertaste was perhaps not tremendously long and powerful, but that is largely quibbling. I wish I had another bottle because, in the event, the wine needs another few years to reach its peak. A very pleasant surprise.

 

 

2017 EN PRIMEUR TASTING: PESSAC-LEOGNAN

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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