Tag Archives: winelover

New book: “Inside Bordeaux” by Jane Anson

 

Inside Bordeaux by Jane Anson, published in 2020 by Berry Brothers & Rudd Press.
Cost: 70 euros.

There is a real need for a book like Englishwoman Jane Anson’s every ten years or so because, although Bordeaux is often considered old hat and traditional – sometimes too much – things change all the time, and information is often outdated…

As a long-time Bordeaux resident and lover of the local wine, I pay homage to this well-researched and fascinating book.

You would expect sections on the great châteaux to be a rehash of things we have read a hundred times before, yet Jane introduces new insight and shows that there are developments even at the most famous estates.

The great pitfall of wine writers is complacency, the inability to be upset the apple cart and call established hierarchies into question. As the home of the 1855 classification, Bordeaux is the granddaddy of all such hierarchies! Jane deals honestly with each and every château in the classification (except Sauternes, oddly enough, where ranking is not noted) and does not mince her words. She bumps some châteaux up a notch or two (for instance, Palmer and Léoville Las Cases are put on an equal footing with the first growths and Grand Puy Lacoste goes from 5th to 1st!), while “demoting” others, such as Talbot or Boyd Cantenac.

Of course, with a minimum of 7,000 châteaux in Bordeaux, there is necessarily a subjective element at play in any book like this and some big holes. How could it be otherwise? The Cocks and Féret (AKA the “Bordeaux Bible”) is over 2,300 pages long, versus about 650 for Inside Bordeaux.  As the author of a blog about Bordeaux, I know how hard it is to avoid focusing on the famous wines, of which there are already a great number, to the detriment of numerous noteworthy and much more affordable wines.  Jane manages to stray off the beaten track, and that, along with updates on the estates everyone knows, constitutes the true value of this book. To many foreign wine lovers, Bordeaux is synonymous with the classified growths although, taken together, these represent only about 5% of production! The precious input of a book like this is to turn readers on to many excellent lesser-known wines. In a just a few years, Jane has been around the block and done her homework to an impressive degree. No lover of Bordeaux could fail to be delighted with reading about her discoveries. I’d say that this is a book one dips into rather than reads.

Burgundy lovers (which, it should be stressed, include many Bordeaux lovers!), sometimes talk about terroir as though this were somehow uniquely Burgundian and just a secondary notion in Bordeaux. Inside Bordeaux includes a series of geological maps that puts paid to this preconceived notion. These maps are displayed in an unprecedented way for a book meant for the general public. I can’t say that I spent a great deal of time pouring over them, nor do I think most readers will, but they are a timely reminder that Bordeaux is about terroir, just like any other great wine producing region.

One can nitpick about minor errors in the book, or regret that so little space is devoted to the largest regions within Bordeaux, but these criticisms are far outweighed by the scholarship and, clearly, the love that went into writing these pages. Special praise should be given to Jane’s engaging style, which keeps the subject matter from becoming too dry or academic.

No matter what your level of wine knowledge is, and especially if you are a fan of Bordeaux, this book is a major contribution to works on the subject. It does not pretend, like Robert Parker’s book, to be “The Definitive Guide”, because Jane has the humility to know that such a thing is impossible. But it’s an excellent overview that is bound to teach us all a thing or two.
 

 

 

May 2020: end of lockdown in Bordeaux

 

We definitely suffered from media overkill during this coronavirus pandemic, with journalists announcing daily fatalities here and there in a bored sing-song voice and repeating scientific explanations ad nauseam.

So, how about a breath of fresh air?

What are things like in Bordeaux these days? Well, for most of us, life during lockdown was pretty similar to everywhere else. However, not everyone stayed at home. Above and beyond those involved in vital services, there were jobs to be done in the vineyards and cellars.
No distance working here!

Like all of French agriculture, it has been difficult to find people to prune and do other necessary vineyard operations. The army of foreign workers that usually shows up has not come this year, and the French are often loathe to accept such physically-demanding low-paid work. Furthermore, opportunities for people to do so (for some much-needed exercise and to earn pin money) were poorly publicized…

And then there was the en primeur week debacle. Planning such a large-scale operation calls for months of effort and considerable expense. The primary organizers, the Union des Grands Crus, was convinced everything would go forward as planned until very late in the game. The cancellation was unprecedented and leaves many questions unanswered. When will tastings of the new vintage take place – and will the traditional March/April dates be maintained for the following vintage? Will the great wines be sold on a futures basis before, during, or after the tastings? Will the wines come out as usual, more or less at the same time, or will offers be spread out over months?
I am not alone in thinking that late March is not the ideal time to evaluate wines. My earnest wish is that the 2019 wines will be tasted by the trade in September, and that this will set a precedent for future campaigns. Failing that, “skipping a year”, and introducing the 2019 vintage in the spring of 2021, the 2020 vintage in spring 2022, and so forth would also be a welcome change.

Of course, this sort of timing means that château owners will be paid much later than usual. While this will be a hardship for some, many can tide themselves over without difficulty since they are (figuratively) sitting on a gold mine. Let’s be honest: no one is going to shed crocodile tears over estates that will, come what may, be selling their wine for a considerable amount.
That having been said, the market is challenging, even for the great growths, and catastrophic for the rest of Bordeaux.

At the bottom end (half of all wines in Bordeaux are from the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations), there are huge volumes of unsold stock and a storage problem for the upcoming vintage. A recent article in the local newspaper, Sud-Ouest, expressed the dilemma succinctly: Bordeaux currently produces 5 million hectoliters of wine a year, but sells only 4 million. Something has to give, and distillation seems inevitable. A shakeout is on the horizon, and basic Bordeaux will be profoundly affected for years to come. One can play the blame game here (the fault of: the négociants, dumping by foreign producers, disappointing quality, lack of government support, etc., etc.), but this gets no one anywhere. People with vision need to attack the problem at the roots and reinvent basic Bordeaux. This is not a pious wish, more like an imperious necessity.

Meanwhile, at the upper end, traditional markets (post-Brexit Britain, protectionist Trumpian America, economically-challenged China, etc.) are going through hard times. With massive unemployment and depressed economies, fine wines will surely take a hit. The collapse of the market for great growth wines has been oft-predicted over the past decades, but the system has held firm. I only saw this happen once, in the mid-1970s. Something is going to have to give this time though, probably what is euphemistically termed “price adjustments”. I am sure that Bordeaux is resilient enough to roll with the punches.
Compared to other French regions, Aquitaine was relatively spared by the corona virus. However, the tourism sector has been devastated, as has the aerospace industry. I nevertheless remain optimistic about Bordeaux’s ability to rebound and adapt.
As I write, all the cafés and restaurants in France have been closed for two months. They will not open for at least another month. I am earnestly looking forward to frequenting some of my favorite haunts, and sharing good times with people who aren’t wearing masks or feeling worried.
Interacting via Zoom, WhatsApp, or Skype just isn’t the same…

My family and I had the time to enjoy a number of fine meals and good bottles during the 55-day enforced lockdown. Curiously, a number of the wines I opened were from outside Bordeaux. One of the reasons for this is that many of my friends expect to drink Bordeaux when they come to my house, as do all of my visitors from abroad. So, we enjoyed an onslaught of Burgundy, Rhone, Loire, etc.
However, I could never neglect my first love, Bordeaux. And so a word about the wine that illustrates this post: 2001 Lynch Bages. Coming after the much-hyped 2000 vintage, 2001 was relatively overlooked. And yet… there are some lovely wines, from this vintage the Bordelais call “Atlantic”, meaning affected by cool temperatures and moderate rainfall so typical of the region – Bordeaux-lovers Bordeaux. Not a big, blowsy year, but an elegant one with fresh acidity. This Lynch Bages was squarely in its drinking window with lovely aromatics of pencil shavings and blackcurrnt, along with a great texture and long lingering aftertaste. It is always a pleasure to reunite with an old friend.

 

Day out in Sauternes / November 2019: visit to 12 châteaux

Although I many not drink Sauternes every other day, I love the stuff. Sauternes makes a wonderful end to a meal and is unquestionably one of the world’s great wines. Served the French way, it is also splendid as an apéritif (mais oui!) and at table – although pairing Sauternes with food is a major challenge in promoting this fine wine.
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. In addition, the classified growths (accounting for a whopping one third of the appellation’s total production) gain little in value over time, so there are some great bargains to be had.

That having been said, things are looking up. Some major investments have been made in recent years. The dry white wine of Clos des Lunes has been a huge commercial success and there is a push to create a new appellation for dry Sauternes. Furthermore, Château Guiraud and Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey have opened restaurants and much hope is placed in developing wine tourism.
It can also be said that many producers are now seeking to make slightly less sweet and full-bodied wines, but still retain the unique character of their terroirs, to attract new consumers.

As a Sauternes lover, I have often taken advantage of the region’s Portes Ouvertes (Open Days) operation to visit the many estates that welcome the general public. I therefore headed out with my friends Mark and Lynn Gowdy to go château visiting on the 9th of November.
I delight in the fast pace, racing around from one vineyard to the next.

We started off with Château Filhot, with its the magnificent stately home. We were welcomed by jovial young Count Gabriel de Vaucelles and tasted two of his wines.
The 2017 Zest – a new wave Sauternes made to be less heavy, more lively, and appeal to younger drinkers thanks to modern packaging – had only been bottled a month, but was showing quite well, with good acidity and uncomplicated forthright fruitiness. As to be expected, the 2015 grand vin was in a more classic mold with a complex bouquet and luscious pure fruit flavors. It was totally in keeping with Filhot’s great growth status, and quite enjoyable young.

We went from there to Château Guiraud, one of the first classified growths in Bordeaux to farm their grapes organically. I would like to be more flattering about this Premier Cru Classé, but the wines I tasted were somewhat of a let-down, which confirms my impression that Guiraud can be either very, very good or else rather pedestrian. The 2016 second wine, Le Petit Guiraud, was unfortunately weak and lily-livered. The 2009 grand vin was fortunately better, with a raisiny, white fruit, and peach bouquet. It was lively on the palate, and I could see this as a wine to serve at table, even though it was somewhat lacking in personality. I haven’t written Guiraud off by any means and I must come back to the wines in other vintages to give them a fair shake.

Château La Tour Blanche, in nearby Bommes, is owned by the French state and houses a viticultural school, so the students are greatly involved in producing the wine. I’ve long been a fan of La Tour Blanche and we tasted through their entire range. The 2018 Les Jardins de La Tour Blanche is a dry wine made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It unsurprisingly featured marked varietal aromas and was rather short and angular on the palate. The 2016 Duo, also dry, was a different kettle of fish with decent fruit and oak on the nose. It may have lacked some richness, but was definitely a well-made wine.
Then it was onto the stickies. For want of calling it a third wine, the 2018 Les Brumes can be considered a second second wine. The style was reminiscent of Filhot’s Zest: on the light side for easy drinking, and not pretending to be a big hitter. The “proper” second wine from the 2016 vintage, Les Charmilles, had some grassy aromas and was soft, quite sweet, and typical of its origin. A successful Sauternes. It was thus fascinating to taste the next wine, the grand vin, also from 2016. The color was a little darker here and the enticing bouquet showed nuances of gooseberry and burnt sugar. The wine melted in the mouth and had a good long aftertaste with some coconut overtones. It confirmed my opinion of La Tour Blanche’s stature.

It is only a short distance from there to Rayne Vigneau. This château was bought by Franco-American businessman Derek Smith in late 2015. The new owner has great ambitions for an estate which is not generally considered one of the best first growths in Sauternes. We tasted the 2015 Madame de Rayne which was slightly on the heavy side, especially for a second wine. It had a rich, honeyed flavor profile, but lacked freshness and acidity. The 2016 grand vin tasted quite young and had vanilla aromas due to barrel ageing. The wine was not especially long and needs to be re-evaluated in a few years. Rayne Vigneau also market a prestige cuvée called Gold that sells for several times the price of the grand vin. It was not offered for tasting, but I would definitely be intrigued to sample it. Furthermore, the château sells Audace, a Sauternes made without sulphur, which I would have thought very difficult to do in this day and age. My friend Lynn bought a bottle and I hope to sample it with her.

The next stop was Clos Haut Peyraguey, a first growth acquired by Bernard
Magrez in 2012. One of Bordeaux’s leading personalities, Magrez is still going strong at age 83. He is lucky to possess great growths in each region that has a classification: Médoc, Saint-Emilion, Pessac-Léognan and, of course, Sauternes. I have long been a fan of Clos Haut Peyraguey, but less so in recent years. We tasted two wines. The 2015 Symphonie was, I’m sad to say, only the shadow of what a Sauternes should be, light and characterless, perhaps good as an aperitif. The 2015 grand vin had a pure, subtle bouquet, but was not as expressive as I would have hoped. The lack of oomph came through on the palate too, although the overall impression was improved by the aftertaste.

The following visit was to Château d’Arche, where things have been happening lately. They have opened a hotel in the château and built a very New World type of cellar, both in terms of architecture, interior design, and winemaking facilities. Clearly, they believe in the future of wine tourism in Sauternes! I have long enjoyed bottles of Château d’Arche, considering it a reasonably-priced, foursquare, reliable sort of wine. The two wines we tasted confirmed that opinion. The 2016 Prieuré d’Arche may have been showing some sulphur and was perhaps not at its best, but the 2011 grand vin was a joy, with an interesting bouquet (a little green, but in a good way, with spearmint overtones) and great presence on the palate, with a long aftertaste of tropical fruit, especially pineapple.

We ate lunch at l’Auberge des Vignes in Sauternes. This small restaurant was completely full and service was friendly, but slow. We nevertheless enjoyed some very good food. I ordered an entrecôte steak grilled over a whole vine trunk (rather than vine cuttings), my friends had two different dishes in a sauce they said were excellent, and we shared a dish of cèpes that was utterly delicious. This is my go-to place to eat in Sauternes. The other restaurant in this tiny town, Le Saprien, also upholds the reputation of fine French cuisine.

Our next stop was first growth Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, acquired five years ago by Swiss businessman Silvio Denz, owner of Faugères and Cap de Faugères (respectively in Saint-Emilion and the Côtes de Castillon). Dating back to the 13th century (!), The impressive château houses the cellar, a new gourmet restaurant (where I intend to go soon), and a boutique selling wine – and crystal gifts. That is because Mr. Denz also owns the Lalique, the famous French firm known for producing glass art. It is therefore not surprising that the restaurant is also called Lalique. Back to wine, we sampled three different ones. 2015 La Chappelle had a light, lively, fruit salad nose. It was vivacious and very satisfying on the palate. People often snub second wines and, while one needs to pick and choose, I often stress that some are really worthwhile. La Chapelle definitely comes into this category. It is not at all second-rate! We went on to taste two vintages of the grand vin. The 2015 had a very interesting, subtle bouquet with hints of lime, talc, and spice among other fragrances. There was great balance on the palate with a lovely long finish, what the French call “retro-nasal”. This is clearly an up-and-coming wine in the firmament of Sauternes. The 1999, made by the previous owners, was definitely showing its age with a bronze color. The nose displayed good botrytized fruit and burnt sugar aromas, but was well into the tertiary stage. The slightly oxidized qualities continued onto the palate, which went into a long aftertaste. There is no reason to age this wine any further.

Château Rabaud Promis, another first growth in Bommes, does a roaring business during the Portes Ouvertes. There are always plenty of people and they move a lot of wine. This is unquestionably good, if not stellar, and the price is right. Imagine a bottle of first growth Sauternes from a very good year (2015) at 27 euros a bottle!
The château provided a venue for people selling cheeses, pâtés, and other hot foods which unfortunately emitted odors that made tasting conditions less than ideal… We started with the second wine, the 2014 Raymond Louis. It must be said that this was rather disappointing, with a subdued nose and marked tartness on the palate. On the other hand, the 2015 grand vin was in another league, with surprising minerality and without the top-heaviness I usually associate with this estate. This was one of the better wines we tasted on our excursion.

 

The next estate was very much a change of pace. Château Briatte in Preignac is an 18-hectare estate that is the Sauternes equivalent of a cru bourgeois. This is a real salt-of-the-earth kind of place and the prices were among the least expensive we encountered. Imagine a genuine, perfectly acceptable Sauternes at 12 euros a bottle! Much of the production is sold in bulk to négociants, but about a third is château-bottled. We tasted the 2013, which saw no oak. This was on the weak side and a little sharp, pure but weak. The 2014 cuvée special, was perhaps more reminiscent of a moelleux (semi-sweet) wine from the right bank of the Garonne, but had notes of quince and crème brûlée. Good value for money. The 1999 (aged in vat) featured honeyed overtones and a nice aftertaste. Not a great deal of depth, but honest and enjoyable.

 

I have long been a fan of Château Haut Bergeron in Preignac, but this time around I was struck by the wines marked sweetness and heavy body. One might say an old-fashioned sort of wine. We started off with the 2018 (not bottled yet), which was tremendously sweet with promising tropical fruit nuances and some acidity to back-up the sugar. The following wine, 2016 Îlot, is made from a 4-hectare plot on the peninsula (rather than an island), where the two branches of the Ciron River meet.  There was a certain weightiness on the palate, but backed up by fresh acidity – a more “digestible” wine than its older brother. 2016 Haut Bergeron was big, very full-bodied, and quite sweet. The 2012 was just starting to show its age. It was quite rich, with a silky texture and considerable concentration. This is definitely a dessert wine, or for people with a sweet tooth. In my opinion, it is best enjoyed on its own, rather than at table. I believe that it is preferable to drink Haut Bergeron on the young side to take advantage of its exuberant fruitiness.

We crossed the border into Barsac to visit Château Gravas. My friends Florence and Michel Bernard were there to greet us. We tried just one wine, the 2016. This had an intriguing bouquet of honey, incense, and a slight greenness. As befits a Barsac, the structure was less rich, and more mineral. There was good acidity to back up the sweetness. Michel described this as a very “Anglo-Saxon vintage”. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that because I didn’t have an opportunity to ask him, but let us say that the style was the opposite of Haut Bergeron we had just visited. This really drives home the point that there are different types of Sauternes for different occasions.

Our twelfth and final visit of the day was to Château Doisy-Daënes where we met Jean-Jacques and Fabrice Dubourdieu, the sons of the late Denis Dubourdieu, Dean of Bordeaux University’s Institute of Vine and Wine Science and famous consultant at many prestigious châteaux. The first wine we tried was a 2010 Château Haura, from the tiny Cérons appellation. Wedged between the Graves and Sauternes, Cérons tends to make wines even less sweet and lighter in body than Barsac. However, the two appellations are more like brothers than first cousins in great vintages. This was the case in 2010 and Haura is a delightful wine that was a steal at 12 euros a bottle. I bought 6 of them. Château Chantegril is the “other” Dubourdieu estate in Barsac that is frequently overlooked due to cru classé Doisy-Daëne’s international reputation. Its price reflects this. 2015 Chantegril is nevertheless quite a serious wine, not heavy in any way and easy to drink.
Three vintages of Doisy-Daënes followed. The 2016 had an engaging subtle nose with hints of vanilla and the wine was very elegant and poised on the palate, with a long, mineral aftertaste. This would shine with food. The 2014 was quite pale in color with an understated bouquet. Although there was good acidity to balance the sweetness, this was good rather than great. The 2003 was typical of its vintage, a little overblown with perhaps too much sweetness for its make-up, but showing good botrytis and a smidgen of oxidation.
We finished with a taste of dry white Doisy-Daënes from the 2018 vintage. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc seemed a bit tart, one-dimensional, and with too much varietal character at the expense of everything else, but it was probably unfair to sample it after the sweet wines…

And thus ended our very action-packed day out in Sauternes.

 

2018 En Primeur Tasting Notes: Pauillac, Saint-Julien, and Saint-Estèphe

PAUILLAC

 

Aile d’Argent (Bordeaux AOC)
C: Medium pale
N: Just about screams Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc, along with a smoky quality.
G: Some oak, but not too much, and decent fruit and acidity, but this does not bespeak a great terroir. Good.

Château d’Armailhac
N: Not pronounced. Some Pauillac graphite aromas, but not much more.
P: Pretty and light. Dryish, slightly short aftertaste. Black fruit and some olive flavors. Good.

Château Batailley
N: Attractive, but simple.
P: Full-bodied, tangy, and very approachable. Zingy tannin and fine acidity. Candied fruit flavors and good tannic texture. Worthwhile potential, just needs time for the aromatics to come through more clearly. Good to very good.

Château Bellegrave
N: Penetrating pure Cabernet and candied red fruit aromas, but lacking definition at this point. Coffee, vanilla, crandberry, and blueberry nuances.
P: Full, a touch austere and a bit hollow in light of its body. Fluid. A commercial style, even though the aftertaste is fairly uncompromising and thus may indicate greater ageing potential than it at first seems. Good.

Carruades de Château Lafite
N: Subtle and sweet with cedar overtones and Lafite fruit (how to describe such a bouquet with words?) in minor mode.
P: Rich, medium-heavy mouth feel with sheets of flavor. Goes into velvety fine-grained tannin exuding class rather than power. The finish shows ripe, more rubbery tannin. Very good.

Château Clerc Milon
N: Subdued black fruit. That which is showing is excellent and encouraging.
P: Bigger than sister château, d’Armailhac, with fine balance. Great structure, good fruit, and lots of oak, but not too much (will integrate). Slightly mineral aftertaste. Very good.

Château Duhart Milon
N: Blackcurrant jelly, but rather underdeveloped.
P: Seems maybe a little flabby at first, but that impression is corrected to a great degree by the aftertaste. Aromatics of violet, blackberry, and raspberry. Fine structure accompanied by delicious flavors. Very good.

Château Fonbadet
N: Rich and rather floral with sweet fruit and good, subtle toasty oak.
P: Very full-bodied and unabashedly vigorous. A virile wine (despite a female winemaker!). Natural textbook Pauillac with promising fine-grained tannins and a promising future. Much better than my previous encounters with this wine. Good.

Les Forts de Latour
N: Sweet Cabernet fruit with good oak. Violet overtones. Rather closed, but showing good potential.
P: Round and fresh, with fine-grained tannin. Lots of oak on the finish, but the wine’s intrinsic structure will undoubtedly be able to handle this with age. Long aftertaste. Very good.

Château Grand Puy Ducasse
N: Rich peppery bouquet with a little greenness.
P: Better on the palate Big, oaky, and tight, with teeth-coating tannin. Aged 100% in new oak, and this shows. Good.

Château Grand Puy Lacoste
N: Toasty oak background to lovely uplifting fruit, especially blackcurrant. Quite subtle.
P: A soft, feminine sort of Pauillac with great follow-through. Delicious black and red fruit flavors. Long, well-focused aftertaste. The epitome of elegance. Excellent.

Château Lafite Rothschild
N: The unmistakeable hallmarks are there (lead pencil, cassis, etc.), but the bouquet is keeping its cards close to the chest at present.
P: Cool, rich, and juicy. The very definition of “velvety” on the palate with tannin of incredible finesse. The never-ending aftertaste never lets go of the coolness. Superb.

Château Latour
N: Subtle aromas of incense and graphite.
P: Weighty on the palate, showing ripeness, concentration, and authority. The ultimate Cabernet Sauvignon wine, with Latour’s fabulous tannic texture and super-long aftertaste. Extremely well-structured. The fruit comes through beautifully on the finish. Superb.

Château Lynch Bages
N: Sweet and understated with tobacco and blackcurrant liqueur nuances.
P: Full-bodied, vigorous, and dynamic. Full of fruit (more red than black) with uncompromising tannins that account for the grip and long aftertaste. Little dry on the finish. Will age beautifully due to the strong, but high-quality tannin. Very good.

Château Lynch Moussas
N: Sweet, undoctored, and somewhat ethereal ripe Cabernet aromas, although timid.
P: Starts out rich and sensual, going on to reveal fine-grained tannin, followed by a long aftertaste with some minerality. While the bouquet is underdeveloped, the wine is very good on the palate.

Château Mouton Rothschild
N: Very Pauillac, “butch” with meaty and graphite aromas along with some cassis and truffles
P: Tightly-wound, compact, big, and long with exquisite class and classic Cabernet tannin. Superlative.

Château Pédesclaux
N: Interesting aromatics with some toasty oak, but not very developed at this time.
P: Lively, fruity, and straightforward. Delicious. Nice tannin on the aftertaste with oak in check. Great fruit, but by no means a fruit bomb. Tad dry on the finish, but that will change over time. Very good.

Château Pibran
N: Sweet black fruit and briar aromas, along with blackcurrant leaves.
P: Not complex, but very satisfying. Big mouth feel and melts in the mouth. Fine tannic texture. Not great, but irreproachable. Good to very good.

Château Pichon Baron
N: Spicy, funky, terroir-driven Cabernet nose. Very concentrated and sweet.
P: Great balance, length, and potential. Sensual. Fresh. Classic. Uncompromising great Pauillac that, once again, has made a great showing. Very good.

Château Pichon Comtesse
N: A little dusty, but fine, subtle bouquet, including a floral element.
P: Seems very forward, but that is deceptive because there is plenty of oak and grape skin tannin on the finish to show the wine’s backbone and ageing potential. Touch dry on the finish at this time, but the estate’s profile is obvious and quite attractive. Very good.

Château Pontet Canet
The château unfortunately lost two thirds of the crop in 2018 due to mildew.
N: Highly original and lovely bouquet that is already extremely captivating, subtle, and spicy one could just sniff forever.
P: Regal, poised, fresh, and precise. A very elegant wine with fantastic minerality. Excellent.

SAINT JULIEN

 

Château Beychevelle
N: Delightful, tiny bit reduced.
P: Beautiful fine-grained tannin with a sweet bite, i.e. tangy acidity encased in pillowy richness. Firm, yet gentle aftertaste. Very good.

Château Branaire Ducru
N: Sweet refined brambly cassis aromas. Ethereal and promising.
P: Refreshing and tasty, but somewhat weak on the middle palate, with a short finish. Middle of the road wine. Neither the fruit nor the tannin is outstanding. Good.

Château Ducru Beaucaillou
N: Dark, concentrated fruit that would immediately make one think of a great Pauillac or Saint Julien if tasted blind. Very suave.
P: Dense, strong, and concentrated, but carrying its 15° alcohol with grace. Long aftertaste once again not burdened by alcohol. Fresh and full of blackcurrant and berry fruit. Regal. Excellent.

Château du Glana
N: Slightly off (problem with barrels?) with prune aromas.
P: Rich, but lacks backbone. Easy-to-drink and round into a slightly harsh aftertaste. Seems unbalanced at this time with striking acidity on the finish. Needs to come together more and be retasted. OK.

Château Gloria
N: Ripe, but simple.
P: Full, with dark fruit flavors. Fruit forward with perhaps more tannin from oak than grapes. This tannin nevertheless gives character to a wine that would otherwise be just easy-going and crowd-pleasing. Oak and cedar on the finish. Good.

Château Gruaud Larose
N: Fascinating nose redolent of lead pencil, spice (cinnamon), coffee, and blackcurrant. Textbook Saint Julien. Monumental.
P: Thick, big, voluminous, and with a silky texture. Delicious cherry flavors. Serious wine with a great deal of class. Excellent.

Château Léoville Barton
N: Blackcurrant, tobacco, and that indefinable something special found only in the finest Médocs. Somewhat reserved at present, but all the signs are encouraging.
P: Starts out angular, then round with assertive, but superb quality tannin. Long textured aftertaste. Will age beautifully. Excellent.

Château Léoville Las Cases
N: Attractive, spicy, exotic bouquet.
P: Big, but restrained. One does not feel the 14.5° alcohol, the most ever recorded at the estate. Lovely silky texture going into fresh acidity and pure fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon as one dreams of finding. Superb.

Château Léoville Poyferré
N: Lovely, subtle, and classic nose with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Beautiful velvety tannic texture with a sweet bite on the finish. Loads of blackcurrant fruit and tealike tannin. Fresh, with a long aftertaste. Very good.

Petit Lion de Léoville Las Cases
You can’t help but like the cuddly lion cub peering out from underneath the famous arch… I mostly avoid reviewing second wines, but this is one of the few that deserved special mention.
N: Ripe, but ethereal berry fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel with considerable freshness and plenty of fruit. Good length and a lip-smacking deliciousness. Good to very good.

Château Saint-Pierre
N: Discreet with some meaty and Cabernet Sauvigon varietal black fruit aromas.
P: Sensual, full, and bright. Bit modern in style with plenty of oak. Mouth-puckering tannin on finish, due in no small part to the oak. Good.

Château Talbot
N: Bit reduced and not forthcoming at this time.
P: Better, with chunky tannin and a brawny flavor profile. Not the most elegant of Saint Juliens, showing some tobacco and oak along with quintessential Cabernet fruit. Needs to be retasted at a later date. Good.

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

Château Calon Ségur
N: Deep forest floor aromas.
P: Super rich and “sweet” with candied black (cassis) fruit flavors. Bit of a bruiser. Quite tannic finish, but this shows great texture and, especially, great ageing potential. Licorice and blueberry flavors. Very good.

Château Cos d’Estournel
N: Incense, toasty oak, and a powdery quality.
P: Mouthfilling and big, going on to show great development on the palate. Finishes a little had due to the oak. Richer and smoother than Les Pagodes, with a longer aftertaste, but the gap is not that huge. Tremendous blackcurrant flavours. If the oak integrates this will be a treat. Very good.

Château Cos Labory
N: Not very forthcoming at this stage. Inky, with some white pepper notes.
P: Starts out soft and attractive, then shows the hardness and austerity I usually associate with this wine. Uncompromising and sturdy. Good.

 

Château de la Haye
N: Very sweet, extroverted nose of ripe Cabernet Sauvignon with a little smokiness. Deep and seductive.
P: After such a bouquet, the wine is unsurprisingly round and voluptuous on the palate. Big volume then dips on the middle, but picks up again to show good acidity and tannic texture on the aftertaste. Good to very good.

Château Lafon Rochet
N: Largely withdrawn, but some encouraging underlying fruity and floral aromas.
P: Starts out quite rich with good tannic texture and concentration. Puckery mouth feel. Well-made and elegant for an appellation not always known for that quality. Long velvety aftertaste. Let us hope the aromatics come out further. Good to very good.

Château Haut Marbuzet
N: Deep, pure, serious black fruit bouquet.
P: Rich, with teeth-staining tannin. Brawny, touch dry. Plenty of oak, but also plenty of fruit. Faithful to the estate’s style. Good to very good.

Château Meyney
N: Brambly, with fine cassis fruit and coffee nuances.
P: Rich, big, meaty, and fruity. Good tannic texture. A touch dry at present. Grand cru quality as is often the case with Meyney. Very good.

Château Montrose
N: Refined, restrained bouquet with floral and cedar nuances.
P: Big, but seems curiously less massive than the second wine, La Dame de Montrose. Slightly dry finish. Everything is here to blossom in the coming decades. Great balance between dark fruit and tremendous structure. The tannin coats the entire mouth, but it is of the highest quality. Excellent.

Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel (white) – Bordeaux AOC
This wine comes from further up the Médoc peninsula i.e. is not from Saint Estèphe.
C: Pale chartreuse.
N: Pure Sauvignon Blanc aromas along with some vanilla and crème brûlée nuances.
P: Angular, mineral, and overoaked. Good, but nothing special.

Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel (red)
N: Very marked by incense and resin aromas.
P: Great tannic texture and marked acidity. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Tart and refreshing despite the alcoholic degree. Will age well. A serious second wine. Very good.

Château Phélan Ségur (sorry, no photo)
N: Showing pure aromas of spring flowers and graphite.
P: Soft tannin, good fruit (blackcurrant), and fine-grained tannin. Perhaps a little short on the aftertaste but this is probably the best Phélan Ségur I have ever tasted. Very good.

Château Tronquoy Lalande (sorry, no photo)
N: Fine, pure, and fresh bouquet with blueberry overtones.
P: Full, but a little overblown and weak on the middle palate. Still, a fruity wine with a decent finish showing this estate’s ongoing ascension. Good to very good.

 

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: Pomerol

Château Beauregard
N: Subdued black fruit and some toastiness with floral overtones. In a relatively dumb phase.
P: Mouthfilling and saved from flabbiness and banality by good fresh acidity. Big, friendly, Saint Bernard of a wine. Good.

Château Bellegrave
N: Deep, dark, lovely Merlot fruit. Soft, with black cherry nuances. Really attractive.
P: Structure to accompany the plush roundness. Big with a huge follow-through. Majestic, with a long red fruit aftertaste. Sensual. Very good.

Château le Bon Pasteur
N: Intriguing fragrant understated nose with an ethereal floral aspect.
P: Those floral aromatics carry over onto the palate. Excellent Pomerol with good ageing potential. Good acidity and maceration that was carried out enough for good longevity, but not too much. Perfumed aftertaste. Very good.

Château Bourgneuf
N: Attractive ripe floral and fruity (blueberry) aromas, as well as a little caramel.
P: Meaty, broad-shouldered, and sensual. Melts in the mouth, then shows great texture. Fine acidity and tight, velvety tannin. Shows intrinsic pedigree with power and authority. Good to very good.

Château Clinet
N: Aromas of iron, licorice, and cotton candy. Something earthy here too.
P: Rubbery high-quality tannin that is more remarkable than the fruit. Leathery, blueberry, and stewed fruit nuances. Maybe a little heavy-handed, but good to very good.

Clos du Clocher
N: Fresh blackberry and floral aromas. Not deep, but not troubled by oak.
P: Attractive tactile sensation and exuberant fruit. Great acidity and “rubbery” Pomerol tannin on the finish. Sensual. Excellent.

Château La Conseillante
N: Pure sophisticated fruit and a decided floral component (iris), as well as spice.
P: Incredibly velvety and sensual tannin. Violet nuances. Wonderful. Long. A dream. Excellent, one of the very top wines of the vintage.

Château La Création
N: Rich, but not complex berry fruit.
P: Quite rich on the palate too, but with good acidity. Satisfying and vinous but lacks a spark. Oak on the finish complements the sleek Pomerol tannin, but is still somewhat overbearing i.e. may make the finish too dry in the long run. Time will tell. Good.

Château L’Ecuyer
N: Meaty, brambly, and blackberry liqueur aromas with an iron nuance. Makes you expect to taste a big plush wine on the palate.
P: Heavy mouth feel followed by really powerful tannin with a coarse texture. Earthy, typical of its appellation and quite concentrated. A big wine, but with typical Bordeaux elegance. Very good.

Château L’Eglise Clinet (sorry, no photo)
N: Just starting to come out.
P: Superb tannin that melts in the mouth. The rich fruity flavors are followed by new oak which will take time to marry with this Pomerol’s sublime roundness. Good to very good.

Château L’Evangile
N: A little dusty, but showing tremendous potential. Overtones of blueberry, as well as black fruit jelly.
P: Satiny texture accompanied by beautiful acidity and length. Both ripe and subtle with exotic aromatics, including violet. Superbly elegant tannin. Excellent.

Château Feytit Clinet
N: Fine and ethereal, with toasty oak bringing up the rear.
P: Chewy and big. Plenty of oak there to complement the exuberant fruit. Round, satisfying finish, although somewhat dry. Natural well-made wine, just watch out for the oak during the rest of ageing. Good to very good.

Château la Fleur de Gay
N: Classic aromatics. Ripe forward black fruit. Not profound, but very pleasant.
P: Well-made with a great interplay between fruit, tannin, and acidity. However, the oak is too strong and leaves a dry aftertaste. This needs to be re-tasted at a later date. Good.

Château Le Gay
N: Inky, wild, floral and rich with loads of personality.
P: Chunky and mouth-filling with superlative velvety tannin. Big wine, but with plenty of elegance and will age well. Wonderful aftertaste with considerable, but not insurmountable oak. Excellent.

Château Gazin
N: Dark berry aromas and good oak.
P: Lots of volume here. Seems to start out light, but then spreads out beautifully on the palate. Melts in the mouth to reveal delicious red fruit flavors. Elegant with good acidity. Will age beautifully. Fine-grained tannins add a great deal to the finish. Very good.

Château Le Moulin
N: Subtle, sophisticated, and slightly cosmetic (perfumed talc) nose.
P: Delicious and well-balanced with a delightful puckery aftertaste that will make this shine at table. Very classy and poised. Long aftertaste. Excellent.

Château La Patache
N: Pure, faithful to its Pomerol origins, understated, undoctored, ripe, and very engaging.
P: Big and full with velvety tannin and marked acidity. Not your fat kind of Pomerol. Very good.

Château Petit Village
N: Dried fruit and spring flowers.
P: Chewy and fruity with smooth, velvety tannin. Seems simple before moving on to a strong tannic aftertaste. A little empyreumatic. Quite enjoyable, but still top of the second tier rather than belonging to the top one. Very good.

Château Pierham
N: Suave black fruit. Ripe and sweet, but not complex. Hint of cranberry jelly.
P: Starts out quite rich, and then the tannin and acidity coat the palate and teeth. I have the impression of someone trying very hard to make a great wine, but less interventionist winemaking and less oak would be a better path to follow. Good.

Le Pin
Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the label. I tasted the wine at Jacques Thienpont’s house in Pomerol rather than at the cellar.
N: New oak, truffle, and red fruit. Obviously young, but many fine aromas clearly around the corner.
G: Magnificent texture to the tannin. Luxurious, but very much under control. All the finesse of a legendary Pomerol. Not disappointed. Excellent.

Château La Pointe
N: Vaguely fruity with some toasty notes.
P: A narrow register of flavors, but concentrated within it. Earthy funky flavors and rubbery tannin. Not light as I have known this wine to be in the past. Not showing especially well and needs to be retasted at a later date. Good.

Château Rouget
N: Ripe stewed fruit aromas some nice blackcurrant, but rather one-dimensional at this stage.
P: Sensual and big with good follow-through, but seems more of a technically flawless wine than a vin de terroir. A bit empyreumatic. Crowd-pleasing. Good.

Château Sacré Cœur
This means “sacred heart” in French. The label is tremendously kitsch, but let’s get past that…
N: Pure and showing potential, but not expressive at this time.
P: Rather big and certainly velvety. To nitpick, the finish is a little weak, but this is a quintessential Pomerol that is worth getting to know. Very good to excellent.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Flawless, subtle, polished, and showing great potential.
P: Juicy and incredibly poised. Unbelievably fine tannin. As Alexandre Thienpont says: “cashmere”. Far more elegant than big despite its 14.4° alcohol. Excellent.

Château Vieux Taillefer
N: Smells like cough medicine (black fruit syrup). A little overdone.
P: Thick, rich berry fruit, almost New World in style, but then good acidity kicks in and lightens the wine up. Almost a caricature of Pomerol, the epitome of a big, rich Merlot. Still, quite enjoyable. 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.

Tasting of 2017 Margaux

Boyd Cantenac
N: Fresh and pure with brambly overtones. Subtle.
P: Rich and chocolatey, with high-quality tannin. In a very classic mold. Very good.

Brane Cantenac
N: Strong, toasty oak and roast coffee aromas predominates at this point, somewhat hiding the fruit.
P: A different story on the palate, with a lovely, soft, caressing mouth feel and great purity leading into a long mineral aftertaste. Considerable delicacy and elegance, i.e. very Margauxlike. Great, long, cool aftertaste. Very good.

Cantenac Brown
N: Lovely floral aromas along with sweet black fruit nuances.
P: Medium weight, but oh so soft… Great balance. Svelte with fine acidity. Long textured aftertaste. Gives every indication of delivering much at an early age. Very good.

Dauzac
N: Bit dank, closed-in, and lacking focus. Penetrating in an odd way with a noticeable alcoholic presence. Not positive at the present time.
P: Better, with an inky palate and upfront fruit.  Vibrant acidity with a medium-long, slightly dry, and definitely oaky aftertaste. A more commercial style. Good.

Desmirail
N: A little one-dimensional with plenty of oak, although this may well integrate over time. Some blackcurrant, black olive, and mint/eucalyptus aromas.
P: Lively and fruity, but somewhat hard. Better than in recent vintages. Tangy, fresh finish. Watch out for the rest of barrel ageing so as not to overwhelm the wine. Potential sleeper. Good.

Durfort Vivens
N: Menthol aromas overlaying blackcurrant, along with some polished wood overtones.
P: Starts out soft, then goes on to show considerable tannic backbone. Assertive aftertaste with velvety texture. Somewhat old school. Some dryness on the finish. Needs to digest the oak. Good.

 

Ferrière
N: Lovely, well-integrated oak. Ripe, but not overripe, with berry fruit. Slight greenness, but this does not detract. Subtle coffee and blackberry aromas.
P: Refreshing and lively. Pure, but somewhat short. Attractive mineral aftertaste, but lacks personality on the middle palate as well as richness. A light Ferrière. Good.

Giscours
N: Berry fruit (perhaps a little jammy) along with interesting floral (iris, jasmine) nuances.
P: Rich attack going into an oaky roundness with not much going on in between. Margaux characteristics there, but the oak comes across as really overdone at this stage. Needs retasting to form a valid opinion. OK

Issan
N: Muted. Some polished wood aromas.
P: Very soft and velvety. Lively and classic. Lovely vibrant fruit but on the simplistic side. Unquestionable finesse. Good to very good if the bouquet blossoms.

Kirwan
N: The fruit is not overshadowed by the oak, but there is not much there.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel but rather diluted on the middle palate. However, the powerful, long aftertaste bringing up the rear saves the day. This is vibrant, velvety, and characterful. Obviously needs time to come together. Somewhat of a liqueur/spirity aspect. Good.

Lascombes
N: Coming out of a dormant period with some original graham cracker, liquorice (zan), and chalky aromas.
P: Starts out rich, fruit-forward, and enveloping… and then drops. Shortish aftertaste. Going on round, then segues into a hard aftertaste. OK.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Muted, slightly alcoholic.
P: Lovely and soft, but with a decided tannic presence and good acid backbone as well. Good balance and cool, long aftertaste. An elegant Médoc. Good.

Margaux
N: Softly penetrating inimitable trademark bouquet. Fresh, elegant, crystalline.
P: Striking silky quality going on to show a lovely acid backbone. Not big, but velvety and super long. Not monumental, but excellent.
I also tasted the white wine, Pavillon Blanc, which I normally speaking wouldn’t mention here, but this vintage is nothing short of extraordinary. Extremely poised and aromatic, with a finish that goes on and on. The best white Margaux I’ve ever had (there have been a number of hits and misses…) and one of the best white Bordeaux I’ve been privileged to taste as well. Great success.

Marjolia
N: Closed (at this early stage, of course) with more beeswax and oak than fruit.
P: Fortunately much better on the palate. Ripe fruit, yes, but far too oaky. Good, but nothing special.

Marquis d’Alesme
N: Attractive dark fruit underdeveloped at this time. Some toasty oak.
P: Silky, layered attack, then drops. A natural, fresh wine with well-integrated oak, but short. Good.

Marquis de Terme
N: Lovely blackberry liqueur and blackcurrant aromas. No terribly complex, but seductive. Oak as it should be.
P: A little dilute, and somewhat hollow, but this is a vinous crowd-pleasing sort of Médoc that will be enjoyable young. Good.

Palmer
N: Lovely sophisticated nose of candied red and black fruit
P: Rich, a little spirity, with some tarriness, and develops beautifully on the palate. Tremendously long, seductive finish. Velvety texture. Very good.

Prieuré Lichine
N: Unusual, wild, New World type aromas. Not typical of its origin or seemingly of its grape varieties. Intriguing, almost Grenache-like bouquet!
P: Thickish texture and melts in the mouth. Starts out quite rich and spherical, and then drops, nevertheless going into a good mineral aftertaste. Off the beaten track. Will show well young. Marked oak on the aftertaste should integrate. Good.

Rauzan Gassies
N: Light, attractive, typical Margaux bouquet.
P: Watery, but goes into a decent aftertaste. Better than many other previous vintages. OK

Rauzan Ségla
N: Fine, polished, sweet Médoc nose of blackcurrant. Not overoaked. Haunting. Not pronounced.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satin texture and finishes with an attractive minerality. Quite round for its appellation. Light on its feet with a fine velvety aftertaste. Very good.

du Tertre
N: Off smells. Some stink. Not showing well.
P: Bretty quality carries over to the palate, which also displays loads of oak that overshadows the fruit. This may be just a difficult phase, or a bad sample.

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…