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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.

The subtleties of the 1855 classification

Most people tend to think of the famous 1855 classification of the Médoc and Sauternes (plus 1 Graves) as set in stone, but there have been important changes along the way. The promotion of Mouton Rothschild to first growth is the most famous, but far from the only one.

Take for instance the recent purchase of Château Lieujean, a 54-hectare cru bourgeois in Saint-Sauveur (AOC Haut-Médoc) by Bernard Magrez. This was sold by the AdVini group (Antoine Moueix, Rigal, Champy, Laroche, Jeanjean, etc.).

Along with several other crus classés, Magrez owns the huge (122 hectares, 560,000 bottles a year) fourth growth La Tour Carnet in Saint-Laurent, the next town over from Saint-Sauveur. Seeing as both Lieujean and La Tour Carnet are in the same Haut-Médoc appellation, there would be no legal impediment whatsoever for La Tour Carnet to simply absorb Lieujean wholesale and incorporate it into the grand vin, in effect rebaptizing it a full-fledged great growth. Magrez has said from the get-go that he intends to use Lieujean’s vineyards to produce La Tour Carnet’s second wine, Les Douves. But one of course wonders: why stop at the second wine?

There is much obfuscation here, as when château managers go through all sorts of Jesuitical explanations as to why their second wine really isn’t a second wine at all, but “something else”… So it goes with vineyards that have been recently acquired. Visitors ask what will become (or has become) of wine made from the new vines, but the answer is rarely specific..

The classification is, to a certain extent, outside the appellation contrôlée system. So long as a grand cru’s vines are within the same appellation, they are entitled to great growth status

Before anyone considers this an indictment of the 1855 classification (what could be more tiresome and futile?), it should be noted that the 21st century reality is quite complex compared to the 19th century one. The terroirs of some classified growth vineyards are radically different from what they were in 1855, but others are virtually identical. It is difficult to generalize. Certain vineyards have grown, others shrunk, and a great many plots have been swapped as well…

 

There are few precise statistics on the great growths, which means that much nonsense is written about them. In the example cited above, one definitely needs to factor in the notion of quality. If La Tour Carnet were to simply label most of Lieujan’s production as their grand vin, not only would they be unsure of finding a commercial outlet for the increased production, but they would also run the risk of lowering their standards, garnering lower scores from critics, and harming the wine’s reputation – in short, be shooting themselves in the foot.

No one lifted an eyebrow when, for example, second growth Château Montrose bought 22 hectares of vines from cru bourgeois Château Phélan Ségur in 2010. What would be unthinkable in Burgundy is considered normal in Bordeaux… In the last analysis, what counts is the quality of the wine, and if this can be maintained or even improved when new vineyard plots are added, who really has the right to complain

What this also goes to show is that far from being a staid place, where everything was defined a couple of centuries ago, things are in constant state of flux in Bordeaux, even among the top estates. Keeping up with the changes is both challenging and fascinating.

Tasting of 16 Clos de Vougeot

People in Bordeaux rarely have more than a passing acquaintance with Burgundy, but I try as best I can from so far away to understand this fascinating region that, yes, makes wines on a par with the finest of Bordeaux. In fact, pitting one of France’s great wines against the other is plain foolishness in my opinion. I, for one, like both enormously!
Seeing as I had amassed a number of wines from the Clos de Vougeot over the years, I decided to invite several friends to a tasting dinner. There were 12 of us altogether. Traveling from Paris, Tim Mc Cracken added three wines to mine, and Ian Amstad from London brought two as well. That made a total of 18 wines. I have only ever heard of one such large scale tasting of Clos de Vougeot in Bordeaux. This was organized by Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour, whose boss had recently purchased Domaine de l’Eugénie (who produced one of the wines we tasted).

A description of Clos de Vougeot (or Clos Vougeot) can be found in any comprehensive wine book. Wine was made here by Cistercian monks starting in the 12th century and the medieval château is one of Burgundy’s most famous landmarks. This was bought by the Chevaliers de Tastevin in 1934 and is the setting for countless tastings and banquets.

Exceeded in size only by Le Corton (97.5 hectares), the Clos de Vougeot is the second largest of all the 36 grands crus in Burgundy (Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits). The 50 hectares are divided among 82 owners. Considering the variety of soil types, position on the slope, and different winemakers, there is enormous variation.

The tasting was not conducted blind and, for the grand cru, went from youngest to oldest.

 

 

We started off with a village wine, a 2014 Les Petits Vougeots, from Château de Charodon. The labels say that just 715 bottles were made. This was fairly light in color. It was slightly musty on the nose, which showed a little sulphur and not much else… The wine was very light and thirst-quenching on the palate with little body. A minor Burgundy that’s fine to drink now. Not a noteworthy village wine by any means. OK.

The next flight, if you can call it that (just one wine) was a 2009 premier cru, Clos de la Perrière, a monopole (exclusivity) from Domaine Bertagna. This proved to be the biggest surprise of the tasting.
The color featured a thin mahogany rim and there was a lovey nose of ripe Pinot, roast coffee, and a touch of alcohol. The wine started out very well on the palate before evolving into a very attractive candied black fruit aftertaste with notes of leather and earthiness. The finish was deliciously appetizing. Re-tasted the next day, this premier cru was still in great shape and I was not alone in finding it better than at least half of the grand cru wines we tried.
Very good, and I’d like to visit the domaine one day.

 

Grand cru (16 wines):

 

2011 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Medium-deep and just starting to show some browinsh highlights.
N: Very musky with some leather notes and definite sulphur.
T: Starts out silky and rich, but then becomes somewhat dilute. Picks up again on the aftertaste with pure fruit. Lacks breadth, but there is depth there. Lingering aftertaste. Good plus.

2010 Domaine Gérard Raphet
C: Rather watery with a weak core and some browning on the rim.
N: Smells older than its years and although not very expressive, there are some cranberry and fruit jelly aromas, as well as some tertiary notes there. However, the bouquet lacks oomph.
T: Seems slightly diluted at first, but then goes on to show a silky texture and the wine’s class comes through on the aftertaste. Worthwhile potential, but should have more energy at this stage. Good

2009 Domaine Chantal Lescure
C: Even brownish-red color. Looks too developed for a 9 year-old wine.
N: Sulphur, musky, leather, and somewhat meaty nuances.
T: Ripe berry fruit with a certain seriousness and weight on the palate. A clear alcoholic presence on the candied black fruit aftertaste. Disappointing up until that finish, which however justifies the wine’s grand cru status. Good.

 

2009 Domaine Louis Jadot
C: Much more youthful color than most of the wines with purple highlights.
N: Fresh, but alcoholic bouquet showing the wild, unbridled side of Pinot with some black fruit jelly aromas.
T: Displayed considerable weight and more tannin than most. Clearly too young, but promising. Well-made and elegant. Quite a long aftertaste. Needs plenty of time to come together. Very good.

2008 Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat
C: Looking a bit tired.
N: Very developed, subtle, earthy, and funky.
T: Starts out a little weak and then shows some guts with a long aftertaste. There’s nevertheless an imbalance here, but it’s not great. A wine that has prematurely aged. Good.

2008 Domaine de l’Eugénie
C: Not deep, but vibrant and more dynamic and youthful than most.
N: Roasted aromas and some menthol. A little exotic. Pure, fresh, and unusual. A more modern style?
T: Bright black fruit with fine acidity to provide a good backbone and length. Long, lingering aftertaste. Perhaps too much oak, but this one is made for the long haul and it may very well integrate. Very good.

 

2008 Domaine Tortochot
C: Good, deep, dark purple and crimson.
N: Some sulphur, but there’s also fruit in the background. Too much oak comes through in roast coffee aromas.
T: Chewy, big, but clearly out of balance. Does not have the class of a grand cru. Charitably: good.

2008 Domaine Lamarche
C: Bit dull, but OK.
N: Sulphur, but also good Pinot fruit, showing some of the variety’s wild side with overtones of leather and terroir.
T: Spherical but somewhat hollow. And OK finish, but I was expecting a more vigorous expression.
Good.

2006 Domaine Jacques Prieur
C: Lovely deep color with a thinning brownish rim
N: Unusually powerful candied fruit aromas. Altogether penetrating bouquet.
T: Caressing texture on the palate. Strong mouthfeel. Big, somewhat old-fashioned style of Burgundy with a long aftertaste. Well-made. Great ageing potential. Very good.

 

2006 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Good for its age with some definite browning on the rim.
N: Roasted, earthy aromas, but not enough fruit.
T: The finish is a bit hot and harsh. However age may even this out, because that harshness may be a sign of promise, i.e. ageing potential. The afteraste is puckery, then hard. Good plus.

2004 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Thin browning rim.
N: Green, green, and green. Unroasted coffee beans.
T: Oops, green meanies here. Herbaceous. Not successful.

2002 Domaine Joseph Drouhin
C: Medium, about right for its age.
N: Lovely ripe Pinot nose. Balanced and classy. Made me sit up and take notice.
T: Sweet fruit. Juicy. Fine long aftertaste. A joy now or in years to come. Excellent.

 

2002 Domaine Lamarche
C: Rather wishy-washy
N: Odd with a touch of vinegar
T: That acetic quality carries over onto the palate and there was some discussion as to whether the wine was corked or not too. Not rated.

1998 Domaine Méo-Camuzet
C: Very pale, going on rosé!
N: Sulphur and brett. Not pretty.
T: Off, over-the-hill. Not rated.

1991 Château de la Tour
C: Good for its age.
N: Cosmetic and subtle with a soupçon of liquorice. Seems more interesting than good at first. As the Italians say “a wine of meditation”. Surprisingly long aftertaste. Old but worthwhile. Good plus.

1977 Jean DeLaTour, négociant à Beaune
C: Burgundy going into Madeira!
N: Very ethereal. Rose petal and… soy sauce aromas.
T: Soft, with some iron oxide nuances. Long, tender, gentle aftertaste. Somewhat indeterminate, but a great pleasure to sip and appreciate the subtleties. Good plus.

Tim tallied up the group scores, which revealed some wild variations. One man’s funky tertiary was another man’s tired, bretty mess!
There was, however a strong consensus about the number one wine: 2002 Jospeh Drouhin.

As an apéritif, and with the first course, we enjoyed a magnum of 2010 Clos Blanc de Vougeot from Domaine de la Vougeraie (Boisset). This is a monopole, or exclusivity.
This premier cru, consists of 2.3 hectares of vines (95 % Chardonnay,  4 % Pinot Gris, and 1 % Pinot Blanc) on the middle of the slope. White wine has been made here for centuries.
This 2010 we had featured a brilliant medium gold color and a nose that turned some people off because of the new oak. While this was strong, I felt that it was nevertheless attractive and that the vanilla nuances will blend in more with age because the wine clearly has some way to go yet. It was very sensual, melt-in-your-mouth Chardonnay and I enjoyed it.

Had I been better organized, I’d have plotted the vineyard holdings of each of the domaines within the Clos on a map, but I’m afraid I didn’t really have the time to do my homework there…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 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!

Bordeaux Carménère – a resuscitated grape variety

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

2016 Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut Brion

 

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I couldn’t believe it, it took me just 20 minutes to drive from the center of Bordeaux to Château Haut Brion on the 30th of March. The gods were smiling at me that day .
This was my first serious encounter with the 2016 vintage and a great way to begin!
My friends and I were welcomed by Turid Helo Alcaras, who took us down to Haut Brion’s small intimate tasting room to take a look at all the Domaine Dillon wines from the 2016 vintage.
Here are the wines in the order in which they were tasted:

RED WINES

Clarendelle: This is a négociant blend from Clarence Dillon Wines, a totally separate entity from Domaine Clarence Dillon. It is not usually served to avoid any possible confusion. Like Mouton Cadet, we are told that the third wine of Haut-Brion goes into the final blend.
I must say that this is a very creditable, well-made wine with a sweet simple nose and very good tannin for this level of Bordeaux. I was not expecting such a good wine.

Dragon de Quintus: (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc): This is the second wine of Château Quintus in Saint-Emilion.
Nose: Soft with understated oak and lovely cherry-vanilla overtones and a trace of greenness.
Palate: Sleek, soft attack, then drops on the middle palate, which is slightly hollow. Plenty of oak on the finish.

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion: (36.5% Merlot, 21.5% Cabernet Franc, and 42% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Pure Cabernet aromas, a little brambly. Understated and classy with good potential. Blackcurrant nuances and an overall sweetness.
Palate: Chewy, even a little chunky at this stage. Lovely development on the palate ending with fine grip. Good, velvety tannin and attractively fresh. This is an excellent second wine and will be enjoyable young or old.

Clarence de Haut-Brion: (51.3% Merlot, 13.1% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvingon, and 2.6% Petit Verdot)
Nose: Ethereal, perfumed, and feminine.
Palate: Almost piercing acidity showing that the wine will definitely age well. Fresh and penetrating. Authoritative finish. This seems a second wine of a first growth comparable to the way Les Forts de Latour relates to Latour, i.e. something special, in no way a pale copy. Roundness in a square tannic framework. Tangy finish. Classic. Reminded me of the grand vin in a middling year.

Château Quintus: (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
Nose: Berry, talc, and especially wild berries on the nose. Quite plummy at this stage and a little spirity.
Palate: Develops well on the palate and is broad-shouldered. Very typical of its appellation, with good grip and an assertive aftertaste that is maybe a little hot. Granular texture to the tannin and a long tannic finish. Sensual, but perhaps more vinous than elegant. 2016 Quintus is over 15% alcohol, accounting for the sort of balance an old timer like me has to get used to.

La Mission Haut-Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
Palate: Full-bodied, even chunky, as well as quite mineral with excellent follow-through. Otherworldly aftertaste with tannin of enormous finesse. There is first class acidity to counterbalance the full body. Killer, never-ending finish…

Haut-Brion: (56% Merlot, 6.5% Cabernet Franc, and 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Restrained and aristocratic. My notes say: “soft, soft, and soft”.
Palate: This quality comes through on the palate as well, within a delicate tannic framework. Elegant to the end of its fingertips… Velvety texture and no rough edges even at this stage. Superb acidity. Will be a great beauty down the line.

I might add that I have been fortunate enough to have had my fair share of meals at which Haut-Brion and La Mission from the same vintage are served side by side. The vineyards are just across the road from one another and are the perfect illustration of the importance of terroir in Bordeaux. Three times out of four, I find that Haut-Brion’s elegance trumps La Mission’s trademark style, somewhat more brooding and more masculine as compared with Haut-Brion’s femininity.
However, I have never tasted the two wines closer in style than in 2016. Oh, clearly different, but sharing what I can only call a feminine elegance.

Ch. La Mission Haut Brion

Ch. La Mission Haut Brion

WHITE WINES

Clarendelle: The counterpart to the red described above, but not as good. Well-made with pure, upfront Sauvignon Blanc fruit on the nose, but lacking body and length. Still, a wine that is perfectly honorable in its category.

La Clarté de Haut-Brion: (23.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 76.3% Sémillon)
Nose: Classic Graves nose. Lemon and oak along with ripe aromas of grape varieties grown in their terroir of predilection. Some lanoline notes.
Palate: Good focus. Rich but a teeny bit dilute. Fine mineral aftertaste. Very good, and you would have to look hard to find a flaw, but does not seem to be in the heavyweight category at this stage.
There is so little white wine at Domaine Dillon that La Clarté is a blend of whites from both Haut-Brion and La Mission.

La Mission Haut-Brion blanc: (62.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 37.3% Sémillon)
Nose: Discreet at this point. Sauvignon Blanc dominates, which is hardly surprising when you compare the percentage of this variety with La Clarté.
Palate: Much more body than La Clarté with a great balance between richness and acidity. Reveals its charms in a most enticing, seamless way. A certain waxiness there. Starts out fresh and fruity, but then there is a sort of double whammy when the aftertaste segues into tremendous minerality.

Haut Brion blanc: (70% Sauvignon Blanc and 29.5% Sémillon)
Nose: Lemon and lemongrass. The Sauvignon Blanc comes through more clearly than in La Misison. Obviously needs time to strut its stuff.
Palate: Very big and round, then fans out beautifully (makes me think of that French expression fait la queue de paon i.e. spreads like a peacock’s tail). The aftertaste is astonishingly long with the most extraordinary minerality.
I was in Burgundy in March and was able to taste some of the finest premier and grand crus from the Côte de Beaune. This wine is a match for any of them. It is very rare and expensive, but I was thoroughly impressed with its quality.

Overview of the 2016 vintage from the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (University of Bordeaux)

As we go into en primeur week, this is the first “official” look at the 2016 vintage now that the wines have begun to age:

Professor Laurence GENY and Doctor Axel MARCHAL
Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux University, Oenological
in conjunction

V. LAVIGNE-CRUEGE*, E. GUITTARD*, N. DANEDE*, C. BAZ*, L. RIQUIER*, A. BARSACQ* and Ph. PIERI**

*Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux
University, Oenological Research Unit

** Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux
University, UMR 1789 Functional Ecophysiology and Genomics of the Vine, INRA (the French National Institute of Agricultural Research)

 It is always somewhat risky to announce a second great vintage in a row without appearing unduly optimistic. However, 2016 is unquestionably remarkable in Bordeaux, combining quality, quantity, and a very classic

Before looking into the effect of weather conditions on vine physiology and grape composition, let us once again consider the main parameters of a quality vintage in Bordeaux. A successful red wine vintage depends on five essential conditions:

(1) and (2) – Relatively quick flowering and fruit-set during weather that is sufficiently warm and dry to ensure good pollination and predispose towards even ripening,

(3) The gradual onset of water stress thanks to a warm, dry month of July in order to slow down and then put a definitive stop to vine growth no later than the beginning of véraison (colour change),

(4) Full ripening of the various grape varieties thanks to dry and warm (but not excessively so) weather in the months of August and September,

(5) Fine (relatively dry and medium-warm) weather during the harvest making it possible to pick the grapes in each plot at optimum ripeness without running the risk of dilution, rot, or loss of fruity aromas.

An incredibly wet spring was quite worrying for winegrowers at the time (danger of fungal diseases), but later proved to be a godsend. The soil’s water reserves were largely reconstituted, enabling the vines to cope with the exceptionally dry, hot summer. The grapes finished ripening during beautiful, relatively warm weather, with very little rain and cool nights. This unhoped for, simply incredible weather for Bordeaux made it possible to harvest deeply-coloured, aromatic grapes with beautiful acidity.

The best white wine terroirs in Bordeaux (limestone, clay-limestone, and clay-gravel soils) protected the vines from premature or overly severe water stress. Sauvignon Blanc grapes retained surprising aromatic freshness and acidity on these types of soils. The Sémillon grapes were also very successful: plump and tender.

The dry, hot summer of 2016 was also conducive to the perfect maturity of grapes in Sauternes and Barsac prior to the development of botrytis. This is a vital prerequisite for the quality of sweet white wines. Two short, but significant rainy periods triggered the development of noble rot starting in mid-September. This was followed by a return to an anticyclone propitious to concentrating the grapes. Very spread out in 2016, the harvest began in the latter half of September and finished in early November.

A mild and extremely wet winter, followed by a gloomy spring, caused a delay in vegetative growth.

 Although 2015 ended on a particularly dry, sunny note, the first three months of 2016 had above-average rainfall with accumulated precipitation close to 500 mm compared to the 30-year average of 230 mm.

Despite this grey, wet weather, temperatures were mild. In fact, the winter of 2016 was the most clement since statistics have been kept. No daytime sub-zero temperatures were recorded and there was frost on just five days.

That is why the first signs of vegetative growth (swelling buds) that appeared in late February gave the discomforting impression of extreme precociousness. However, temperatures dropped to the seasonal average starting on the 20th of February and even less in the second ten-day period of March.

Cold temperatures in March and waterlogged soils due to heavy precipitation in the early part of the year delayed bud break, which began the last week in March, one week later than usual, but earlier than 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015 (and later than 2011 and 2014).

Cool temperatures beginning in late February lasted until May. As often happens at that time of year, there were alternating warm and cold periods, with a large diurnal temperature difference that did not facilitate regular vine growth. Despite the rather early bud break, the weather until late May delayed vine growth. Phenological development was also slower than usual. This situation was compounded in some regions by frost on the last three days of April that caused major damage in localised areas.

This meant that, by late May, precocious vegetative growth was no longer the case and phenological maturity was comparable to 2014.

A providential window of fine, dry weather at the beginning of flowering limited coulure

After a gloomy winter and rainy spring, there was some apprehension about flowering. Depending on the type of soil and its water retention capacity, some vines showed normal development, whereas others with a skimpy leaf canopy or on cold clay soil were behind. That explains why coulure (as in 2013) was feared.

Flowering began during rainy weather in the last days of May. However, there was a providential window of dry, warm weather between the 3rd and the 11th of June. Mid-flowering in our reference vineyards took place around the 11th of June, i.e. 8 days later than the 20-year average (Table II). The change in the weather fortunately avoided widespread coulure. The end of flowering in certain late-ripening plots was slightly perturbed by a a final rainy period that caused some millerandage.

Fruit set occurred 8 days later. Bunches were relatively homogeneous and the number of seeds greater than average – the sign of good pollination.

After three days of rain in mid-June, beautiful weather finally set in and proceeded to lasted for quite some time. This definitively changed the nature of the vintage. High temperatures in the last ten days of June enhanced berry development. These grew very quickly, and became “pea size” by the end of the month.

At this stage, the first two prerequisites for a good vintage, i.e. quick even flowering and fruit set, were fulfilled in most plots. Overall maturity was uniform with little coulure.

An exceptionally hot, dry summer leading to lasting water stress

The remarkably fine weather in late June continued into July and August.

A few very hot days around the 15th of June degraded the herbaceous aromas without bringing growth to a halt. Rainfall was infrequent and light, while temperatures were normal and there was slightly more sunshine than usual. (Table I). Due to heavy winter rains, the lack of water stress during vegetative growth accounts for the rather large size of the berries. Bunch closure took place about the 20th of July, as in 2011 and 2015.

The water balance in late July was not conducive to stopping vegetative growth definitively (figure 6) or triggering véraison in a significant way, except on clay-gravel soils. The grapes first began to change colour in the last days of July on terroirs prone to early ripening. However, seeing as vegetative growth had not completely stopped, véraison got off to a slow start. It took until the first week of August for colour change to become noticeably widespread.

Water stress was accentuated by the absence of rain. The situation was comparable to 2010 midway through véraison. These conditions were conducive to good structure in the cell walls and the accumulation of phenolic compounds, as well as facilitating the end of véraison.

A halt to vegetative growth, the 3rd condition for a great red wine vintage, was attained by mid-véraison. Although this occurred slightly later than hoped, colour change was complete enough for a perfect start to ripening.

The month of August featured real summer weather.  It was very hot (5°C more than usual) with a remarkable amount of sunshine (+30% compared to an average year). Fortunately, minimum night-time temperatures were close to the thirty-year average, and even less on some nights. This large diurnal temperature difference guaranteed the potential formation of anthocyanins, while limiting the degradation of aromas and acids in the grapes. The absence of major precipitation caused excessive water stress in some locations, especially in plots of young vines, ones with high yields, and ones with shallow soil.

Much-welcomed showers in early September gave a new boost to ripening

In late August, a few instances of scorching were noticed in vines that had undergone excessive leaf thinning and everyone began to wonder about the danger of inhibited ripening. A heat wave arrived in early September, with average temperatures of 30-32°C. The first 13 days of September were the hottest since 1950, reaching a record 37°C in Sauternes on the 12th of September.

A storm arrived from the Basque Country late in the afternoon of the 13th of September. It rained throughout Bordeaux the following night, with varying intensity depending on the region. A depression lasting three days brought as much as 40 cm of rain in some parts of Bordeaux.

However, the sun returned on the 20th of September and, with it, fine weather that lasted until the end of the harvest.

This rainy period gave a new impetus to ripening. Cabernet Sauvignon and late-ripening Merlot grapes benefited particularly from this.

A sunny mid-September and month of October virtually without any rain completed ripening and made for a leisurely harvest

Once again, the month of September was decisive for the quality of the vintage. October was dry and sunny, with cool nights making it possible to wait serenely for the best time to pick all grape varieties.

The rain in early September gave a boost to maturity, which nevertheless took more time than usual to be reached. The sunshine and relatively cool night-time temperatures were conducive to the unusually large accumulation of phenolic compounds, as well as the preservation of aromas and acidity.

These weather conditions stopped grey rot from developing, except in certain parts of Bordeaux where fairly heavy rain in early September forced winegrowers to pick early.

The rain in early September, followed by a dry, but not excessively hot period, ensured that ripening would start up again – the fourth condition for a great red wine vintage. The month of October was just as sunny, but cooler, enabling the Cabernets to ripen fully. 

Despite the heat in June and July, the 2016 vintage was not particularly early.

The dry white wine harvest began in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations at the very beginning of September, about one week later than in 2015. After a remarkably dry month of August, the grapes were in perfect condition, without a trace of grey rot. Although they quickly attained sufficient sugar levels, their potential fruitiness, which had stayed in the background for a long time, also came to the fore at the end of ripening. The showers in mid-September did not have a major effect on the grapes, which could be picked without any need to hurry. Yields were very satisfactory, especially for Sauvignon Blanc, where such prolific production had not been seen in years.

The freshly-picked grapes had lower sugar levels than in 2015, but in keeping with the previous 5-year average. Total acidity was slightly lower than in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and similar to 2011 (Table IV). The balance between sugar and acidity gave rise to hopes that 2016 would be a good vintage for white wines, especially those from soils where they are traditionally successful (limestone, clay-limestone, and clay-gravel) and which are conducive to retaining good acidity.

The red wine harvest began with the most early-maturing plots of Merlot in the third week of September, but most grapes were picked in early October, i.e. one week later than usual. Harvesting of the Cabernets and Petit Verdot went on until just after mid-October during sunny weather.

Therefore, the fifth and final prerequisite for a good red wine vintage – fine weather during the harvest – was perfectly fulfilled in 2016.

Ideal conditions for harvesting excellent quality grapes

The red wine grapes in 2016 were characterized by a reasonable degree of potential alcohol and an outstanding phenolic composition.

As opposed to other French regions adversely affected by violent weather, the vintage in Bordeaux was generous. This can be explained by the large number of grapes per cluster as well as their size.  Because water stress manifested itself rather late, the berries were comparable in weight to 2015, but lighter than in 2010. The very low malic acid content – the lowest since 2009, except for 2011 – was due to the hot, dry summer weather.

These meteorological conditions enhanced the degradation of isobutyl-methoxypyrazine. This compound, responsible for “green pepper” aromas in Cabernet, was practically unable to be detected from the very beginning of the ripening.

Alternating cool nights and sunny days in September was conducive to the remarkable accumulation of anthocyanins. Content was higher than in 2015 or 2009, and close to 2011. Extraction took place slowly and varied according to grape variety. Extractability was greater for the Cabernets than for Merlot – proof of excellent maturity in the later-ripening varieties. Colour was deep and the tannin in the seeds was most often ripe and of high quality in 2016.

Due to the lack of rainfall until mid-September, botrytis took its time to appear and so grapes in Sauternes and Barsac were essentially concentrated at first thanks to raisining. However, showers on the 13th and 30th of September triggered the development of noble rot on perfectly ripe grapes, and their concentration was enhanced by the return of fine weather. Picking during the second trie, or pass, constituted the lion’s share of the best part of the harvest, which lasted until early November. The quantity of wine made at several estates reached a record high.

 Good dry white and sweet white wines, and outstanding red ones

The 2016 dry white wines are good. They are fruity and flavoursome, less acidic than the three previous vintages, and well-balanced. The Sémillon wines were especially successful in 2016, adding body and softness to the blend, but without heaviness.

The great wines of Sauternes and Barsac are extremely pure. Very rich and showing candied fruit overtones, they display a style that emphasises power rather than bright aromatics or freshness.

At the beginning of ageing, the 2016 red wines give every indication of being outstanding. They have an amazing colour. They are also fruity, without any herbaceousness, and combine the tannic power of great vintages with a deliciously velvety texture. Their relatively high level of acidity gives them an admirable freshness and tremendous balance, without any hardness. The vintage is unprecedented, more classic than 2009 or 2015, and seems to have very long ageing potential.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Château d’Yquem

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

Château de Fargues

Château de Fargues

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

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

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