Tag Archives: bordeauxwine

Entre-Deux-Mers soon to be a red wine appellation?

The Entre-Deux-Mers is, of course, not between two seas, but rather two rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne. This is the heartland of Bordeaux, rarely visited by tourists, but of considerable historic interest and home to many “nuts and bolts” wines, some of which represent tremendous value for money.

 

The wines entitled to the appellation, created in the 1930s (and which encompasses the Entre-Deux-Mers Haut-Benauge AOC), are exclusively white. This is paradoxical to the extent that the Entre-Deux-Mers also produces most of the ocean of red wine sold under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations.

There are some 1,600 hectares of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle vines, but far more of Merlot and Cabernet.

The local winegrowers association has just voted to ask the INAO (the National Institute of Origin and Quality) to create a red wine appellation for the Entre-Deux-Mers. This is likely to be approved, and wines sold under this name may arrive on the market as early as 2023.

Considering the poor sales of basic Bordeaux, one might wonder as to the reasons behind a new appellation for entry level red wines. The purpose is to heighten the recognition of a specific area within Bordeaux and give impetus to sales of both red and white wines – in short to bolster a brand badly in need of it. Growers understandably also want to make a distinction between bargain basement generic Bordeaux and wines from a region with its own unique history and a number of beautiful well-run estates. In short, if wine is about a sense of place, then the Entre-Deux-Mers unquestionably qualifies as its own entity.

This also goes hand in hand with efforts to highlight the Entre-Deux-Mers as a tourist destination with beautiful rolling countryside, medieval fortified towns, and a number of Romanesque churches. Since most wine lovers visiting Bordeaux flock to the same prestigious appellations there is much work to be done to attract them off the beaten track.
The same, of course, can be said for the wines of the Entre-Deux-Mers, snubbed by label drinkers and virtually unavailable on some major export markets.

The creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation in 1987 was a secession and really in no way comparable. Red Entre-Deux-Mers is a step up from the somewhat indeterminate Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations (over half of all Bordeaux wines), and this narrowing down of terroir should only be seen as positive. The commercial challenge is, of course great. But by combining both red and white wines under one banner, I believe that this to be a positive move.

2000 Château Cantenac Brown

here are no fewer than 10 third growths in Margaux, and a couple of them are, let’s face it, pretty lacklustre. I have had Cantenac-Brown on any number of occasions and have tended to slot it into the “foursquare” category, i.e. reliable, and unquestionably a worthy reprentative of its appellation and its classification, but not on the exciting side.
The château has changed ownership a number of times in recent years. It belonged to Axa Millésimes from 1987 to 2005 and then to a Syrian-born English businessman, Simon Halab, who sold it in turn to the French Le Lous family a year and a half ago.

I also knew Cantenac Brown because it was the site of international seminars for the Axa insurance company and a venue for any number of corporate and special events with memorable banquets.

Anyway, 2000 is a great vintage in Bordeaux and I am starting to open an increasing number of fine Bordeaux from that year – and finding most of them arriving into their drinking window.


So, to accompany a traditional roast beef Sunday dinner, I decanted 2000 Cantenac Brown three hours before serving. There was only a small amount of fine sediment.

I am pleased to say that the wine outperformed my expectations. It was well and truly delightful. The color was fine and looked younger than its age. The nose was absolutely enthralling, with hints of graphite, truffle, and violet to complement sublime ripe Cabernet Sauvignon aromas. So subtle and so seductive! The wine was suave and velvety on the palate too, with attractive acidity. Only a slight weakness on the follow-through (I’m admittedly nit picking here) keeps this from the very pinnacle of Médoc wines. I certainly need to revise my opinion of Cantenac Brown and apparently the new owners are investing heavily in bringing the estate up to its full potential.
Stay tuned to this station for further developments :-).

Bordeaux at 1.69 euros a bottle…

 

Bordeaux is in a bad way. Oh, I’m not referring to the famous châteaux coveted by wine lovers around the world. I’m talking about the 55% of total production sold under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations. This ad in the local Sud-Ouest newspaper on March 10th by the German supermarket group Lidl promotes so-called “award winning” Bordeaux at 1.69 euros a bottle! If you deduct all the fixed costs from beginning to end, what amount can that possibly leave for winegrowers (seeing as it is forbidden to sell under cost price on the retail end)?

The “gold medal” in question is from two French journalists who, in my opinion, should be ashamed of themselves. Their ratings are widely reputed to be based on payments received… In addition, the same ad was run in France’s largest circulation newspaper, Le Monde, showing that the wine in question must be available throughout the country. Putting aside the notion of quality for a moment, how can a blend of such gigantic proportions be considered homogeneous enough to earn a medal?

The rock bottom sales price and misleading medal do an injustice to Bordeaux.

A statistic I recently saw floored me: some 10% of an average crop of Bordeaux wine – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of hectolitres – were distilled last year to make biofuel, paid for by EU and French government subsidies.
Something is very wrong here.

Beaujolais was in a similarly bad predicament not so long ago, with terrible press. But they picked themselves up by the bootstraps and things are better there now.

The French have always been wary of free markets, especially in areas as politically sensitive as agriculture. And city dwellers, who make up most of the population, have a nostalgic, protective attitude towards farmers and winegrowers. It has therefore been expedient for successive governments to avoid the root problem and placate the wine industry. Of course, this cannot go on forever because the situation is clearly unsustainable.

The causes of this sad state of affairs are multiple, but playing the blame game gets no one anywhere. I hope the powers-that-be react intelligently and effectively to find a way to bring supply and demand closer together. No one says that this will be easy, but the present impasse can only last for so long… There is much at stake, but particularly the future of entire swathes of the Bordeaux region’s agricultural land and the families who earn their livelihood from it. The name Bordeaux can bring to mind images of impressive châteaux and self-satisfied négociants, but the truth is that most of the wines are made at modest estates run by hardworking men and women who barely earn a living wage. And their children are increasingly disinclined to take over the family estate…

There are many, many fine examples of entry level Bordeaux. It is therefore heartbreaking to see the whole category rejected by so many opinion leaders, buyers, and consumers. The Bordeaux establishment must face up to the fact that there are simply too many sub-standard wines out there – and do something about it. While timid efforts have been made in the past, these need to be seriously stepped up. Likewise, marketing and promotional budgets should be significantly increased. Alas, there are no quick fixes here… On the commercial end, brand building and the promotion of quality wines from petits châteaux, cooperatives, and négociants needs to be encouraged by every possible means – and thin, weedy wines refused the right to be called Bordeaux.

Of course, there is no easy answer to a problem with such deep roots. I champion Bordeaux at all levels and sincerely hope that things will improve. The potential to do so is unquestionably there.

The market for Bordeaux runs into difficulty

CIVB headquarters in Bordeaux

As reported in the Feb. 12th issue of the local newspaper, le Sud-Ouest, the 2020 sales figures for Bordeaux wines have just been released. And they are not encouraging. The Gironde department sold 3.9 million hectoliters (the equivalent of 522 million bottles) of wine last year. This was 5% less than in 2019 in volume and 12% less in value (for a total of 3.5 billion euros).

Supermarket sales in France, by far the largest distribution vector for that market, fell by 4%. It did not help that the country’s huge restaurant and café sector has been closed for months.

Exports, which account for about half of all sales of Bordeaux, were down 3% in volume and 14% in value. These figures confirm that Bordeaux has experienced a third year of crisis in a row. The structural reasons are well-known: fewer people shopping in supermarkets, a drop in sales of red wine, difficulties on the Chinese market, customs barriers in the US and, of course, the Covid pandemic. With regard to America, while the volume of exports actually increased by 1% in 2020, value was down by a huge 29%. Despite Brexit, shipments to the UK were up 6% by volume, although a certain amount of that involved stocking up before Britain officially left the EU on Dec. 31st.

In order to cope with overproduction, some 550,000 hectoliters of Bordeaux wine, i.e. 10% of a normal vintage, were distilled in the past few months thanks to EU subsidies.  Uprooting vines is now an option being seriously considered.

Sales for the last three months of the 2020 were better than the same period the previous year, so there is some ground for hope. But the medium-term obstacles remain challenging. Some serious soul-searching and decision-making needs to be done. Of course, certain market segments are suffering more than others, with the great growths being in a separate and less-threatened category. Also, the value of French wines and spirits exports on the whole were down by 14% last year. So Bordeaux is not alone in having a difficult time.

 

 

2005 Château Chasse Spleen

I haven’t opened a 2005 in a while, but figured yesterday was the day for my bottle of 2005 Chasse Spleen to accompany a nice roast of beef.
This cru bourgeois (previously in the “exceptionnel” category, and now voluntarily outside the classification) is often considered an honorary great growth and frequently cited as the best wine of the low-profile Moulis appellation. Incidentally, Moulis is the second smallest appellation in Bordeaux, after Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion, with 630 hectares of vines.

I’ve had mostly good experiences with Chasse Spleen, although I’m not a fan of their white wine.

For what it’s worth, there’s a quotation from Lamartine’s “Le Lac” on the strip label for the 2005 vintage: “O temps ! Suspends ton vol, et vous, heures propices, Suspendez votre cours !”
Translation: ” Oh Time! Pause in your flight, and you, happy hours, stop your race.
Chasse Spleen’s odd name is said to have come from a comment from Lord Byron who, visiting, said that the wine “dispelled the spleen”. The French verb “chasser” means to drive out or chase away.

THe château belongs to the Merlaut famiy, and is presently managed by granddaughter Céline Villars. The château building is beautiful and welcomes visitors.

Decanted two hours before the meal, this 2005 proved to be a fine example of what the château can do. The color showed the wine’s age, but seemed more youthful on the nose (hints of graphite and violet) and, especially, the palate. There was a delightful sort of double whammy here, staring off with a rich, voluptuous flavor, then going into an austere and frankly tannic aftertaste that made it particularly appetizing with red meat. This pronounced, but not unrelenting, tannin seems to be the hallmark of Chasse Spleen.

The notion of peak is hard to pin down and, of course, the question of personal preferences comes into play… While I believe this wine will improve with age, I also feel it shouldn’t be kept too long because by the time the tannin further softens, the fruit will become more subdued. In the trade-off, I’d say 2005 Chasse Spleen should be ideal in 2025.

This wine was a joy to drink and it is always nice to see that the estates you considered stalwarts have maintained their standing.

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.

 

Château Clinet: a first division Pomerol


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronan had arranged a small vertical tasting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

2010 Ch. Lesparre: an interesting Graves de Vayres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 primeurs: Saint Julien, Pauillac, and Saint Estèphe

SAINT JULIEN

 

Beychevelle
N: Perfumed, lovely, fresh, and understated bouquet with fancy oak nuances.
P: Medium-weight showing great delicacy and delicious fruit flavors. Seems almost Margaux-like. Lacy texture, fine balance, and great acidity. Very good.

Branaire Ducru

N: Suave, but not very complex. Quite fruity with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Not full-bodied, but tasty, with marked acidity. More tannin than Beychevelle, but not quite up to its quality. Good.

Ducru Beaucaillou
N: Sweet, subtle fruit, the expression of fine Médoc through the ages.
P: Dense, resonating fruit and considerable concentration. Powerful ripe Cabernet character with some black olive nuances. Extremely long aftertaste. Very good.

Gruaud Larose
N: Very classic, very Cabernet nose with some pencil shaving aromas. Fresh and attractive, but I was hoping for more…
P: Rich cassis flavors with a good texture, going on to show acidity, then minerality. Not particularly well-balanced. The sudden drop disappoints. The degree of acidity means the wine will age well but it lacks richness, body, and if the truth be known, fruit for its standing. Nevertheless good.

Lagrange
N: Very reserved, a little smoky, and already leads one to believe the wine may be lacking in concentration on the palate.
P: Starts out relatively full-bodied, then goes into acid mode. Will age well thanks to this, but will always remain a little hard and a little short. Good.

Langoa Barton
N: Soft, sweet bouquet, but not very concentrated. Oak is in the background.
P: Seems chunky at first, but then fresh piercing acidity shows through. Classic blackcurrant notes, but the range of flavours is relatively narrow. Somewhat thin on the finish. Good.

Léoville Barton
N: Strong cedar aromas to match the fruit. Both classic and charming.
P: Silky/satiny texture with good concentration. Showing plenty of blackcurrant, and enough body to back up that 2017 acidity. Very long and dry (not negative here) aftertaste. Streets ahead of Léoville Poyferré. Very good.

Léoville Las Cases
N: All the hallmarks of the château with fresh, mythical blackcurrant nose.
P: Great velvety texture and develops beautifully on the palate. Both sensual and mineral. Tremendous finish. In no way can this be considered a poor or even middling vintage for Las Cases. Very good.

Léoville Poyferré
N: Not very expressive, but inevitable blackcurrant and tobacco aromas.
P: Seems both soft and a little diluted. Does not spread out on the palate as hoped. Lacks body and richness. Somewhat redeemed by a long and fairly mineral finish. Needs re-evaluation later on. Good.

Saint Pierre
N: Sweet upfront bouquet with toasty oak. Charming and immediately attractive rather than deep.
P: Some richness there and lots of fruit and, once again, oak. This needs to integrate. A more modern style, but one that suits both connoisseurs and people with less experience. Fine, tangy aftertaste superior to many other classified growths in Saint Julien on this day, and perhaps less acidic. Good to very good.

Talbot
N: Rather closed. Not much fruit showing at present, but with some cedar notes.
P: On the thin side for a Saint-Julien though it will undoubtedly put on weight and mellow out with age. Definitely not a great Talbot, however there is a nice long aftertaste with some black olive nuances. Good.

PAUILLAC

 

d’Armailhac
N: Pretty, perfumed, even a little cosmetic (in a positive way – elegant and under control).
P: Lovely, rich, and generous, going into that 2017 acidity, but still very fine. Medium-bodied. Tarry and slightly mineral aftertaste with plenty of oak. I was not alone in thinking that this is a rare instance in which d’Armailhac is better than sister château, Clerc Milon. Excellent.

Batailley
N: More developed than most with intriguing red berry (raspberry) fruit. Some earthiness, a touch spirity and a little green.
P: Spherical, but hollow and short. More commercial style than sister château Lynch Moussas, and also less good. Lots of tannin and oak here. OK to good.

Clerc Milon
N: Roast coffee notes and a little spirity. Withdrawn and less refined than d’Armailhac.
P: Better on the palate. Richness gives way to acidity. On this day d’Armailhac outclasses Clerc Milon, but what will things be like in the long term? Good to very good.

Croizet Bages
N: Fruit in minor mode, but attractive and fresh. Fine, if restrained blackcurrant nuances along with new oak.
P: Medium heavy mouthfeel. Starts out fresh, with decent fruit, but a little watery and then dips before going into an aftertaste with textured tannin and plenty of oak. This may very well integrate over time. Croizet Bages is on the upswing. About time too… Good.

Grand Puy Ducasse
N: Unfocused, with fermentation aromas and a bit of a stink. Showing poorly, which just goes to show how tasting these wines at such an early stage can give a false impression.
P: Very acidic and frankly poor at this stage.  Not up to cru classé standard. To be fair, needs to be re-tasted later on.

Grand Puy Lacoste
N: Subdued, but good potential there.
P: Rich, round, and much, much more expressive on the palate than on the nose. Lovely development. “Sweet” without asperity. Fine red and black fruit flavors. Not too much acidity, oak, or anything else really. Good to very good (if the bouquet comes out).

Haut Bages Libéral
N: Not a great deal there, just some blackcurrant leaves.
P: Starts out rich and showing medium-heavy mouthfeel, but then seems somewhat on the thin side. Fine flavour, and plenty of good acidity as it develops on the palate. Really good balance. In fact, significantly better on the palate than on the nose. A nice surprise. Very good.

Lafite Rothschild
N: Trademark violet nuances with some lead and plum aromas. Fresh and dashing.
P: Quite tannic, but tannins of exquisite quality. Not particularly rich, and presently holding back, but will be a great bottle. Lafite defies trends and changes little – because it doesn’t need to. Excellent.

Latour
N: Aromatics are low key now, but that apotheosis of Cabernet on gravel soil is all there and needs just time.
P: From the attack and up until the aftertaste, this was not particularly impressive. However, the finish is nothing short of tremendous. Medium bodied and very juicy. A baby born under a lucky star needing only to fill out and develop.

Lynch Bages
N: Fine, ripe blackcurrant nose with some emerging cedar notes. Promising.
P: Round, then sinewy. Lovely satisfying aftertaste with well-integrated oak.  Good acidity. Classic wine in a good, rather than a great vintage. Rich, vigorous fruit and acidity is under control, as is the effect of barrel ageing. Very good.

Lynch Moussas
N: Interesting floral as well as ripe, slightly candied, and jammy black cherry notes.
P: Easy-going and rich on the palate. Melts in the mouth and is then followed up by ripe tannin, complemented by new oak that it just a little too harsh on the finish. Perhaps a little light for a Pauillac but a very good effort and a pleasure to discover. An estate that deserves to be better known. Good to very good.

Mouton Rothschild
N: Oak, graphite, cigar box, and deep fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel and the lead/graphite component on the nose comes through, followed by great fruit and that acidic component so common in 2017. Virile, velvety, and aristocratic aftertaste. Tremendous length. A stand-offish Mouton, but by no means a poor one, and should age well. Excellent.

Pichon Baron
N: Super elegant nose, clear, pure, and rich. Complex and very promising.
P: WIldberry and blackcurrant flavors. The only drawback is the lack of oomph on the aftertaste. And easy-to-drink even slightly dilute Baron –  that is until the finish, which features the requisite high-quality oak and tannin. Tasted just after the Comtesse, I confess I preferred the female. Still: very good.

Pichon Comtesse
N: Soft, straightforward black fruit. Good, but nothing special at this stage.
P: Fairly heavy mouthfeel. Rich, sensual texture going into an aftertaste with plenty of smooth tannin. Finishes with fine, sweet fruit. Everything is in place and the wine is extremely well made. Very good and a potential star when the nose starts delivering. I often prefer the Baron, but not in this vintage or, should I say, at this point in their life cycle.  Very good.

Pontet Canet
N: Juicy, soft, and a little musty, with subtle candied fruit aromas. Very enticing.
P: Fresh, with excellent structure. Straightforward, with a fine tannic backbone. A delicate balance and great finish. Long mineral aftertaste. Very good.

 

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

 

Calon Ségur
N: Dark fruit and a little beeswax, but not very expressive at this stage.
P: Fairly heavy mouth feel. Dense, penetrating and very Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely, long, persistent aftertaste with good acidity as opposed to others in this vintage with more shrill acidity. Very typical of its appellation and estate (…so different from Cos). One for the long haul, but with charm even so. Very good.

Cos d’Estournel
N: Penetrating black fruit aromas with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Sleek and well-made. No longer flirting with a bigger, more modern style, this Cos shows great class with superb tannin. Very good.

Cos Labory
N: Soft, ethereal Cabernet fruit with interesting nuances.
P: Richer than expected on the palate, but goes into an aftertaste that is not only strong, but rather rustic. Somewhat harsh finish. OK.

Lafon Rochet
N: Very closed at present, but with underlying classic Médoc nuances and a little earthiness.
P: Fresh, vibrant, and refreshing and with some weight on the palate. Lovely fine-grained tannin, but lacks some richness and there is a certain hardness there. However, the estate’s profile comes through beautifully on the aftertaste. An elegant Saint-Estèphe, as always. Good to very good.

Montrose
N: Lovely coffee, violet, and ripe black fruit aromas. Serious, complex, and very pleasing.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel, moving forward towards a rather unyielding, but very promising aftertaste. Fine ageing potential. Very good.
(I usually don’t include notes on second wines and associated estates, but I’ll make an exception here because the other Bouygues estate in Saint-Estèphe, Château Tronquoy Lalande, was particularly successful in 2017 and this is now a wine deserving of special attention).

Ormes de Pez
N: Fine marriage of fruit and oak and clearly above average thanks to exuberant red fruit (rather than black fruit). Not intense, but expressive and appealing.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel. Fresh and straightforward. Fine, pure fruit. Good tension and tight tannin. Very good.

de Pez
N: Fresh and restrained, with black fruit overtones and medium body, with the oak influence under control.
P: Marked acidity and a bit mean on the finish, but should age into a decent lightish (for Saint-Estèphe) wine. Good

Phélan Ségur
N: Odd, slightly synthetic nose backed up by some leathery notes. More unusual than good or bad…
P: Better on the palate, showing some richness to start out with, but also some sharpness thereafter. The tannin coats the mouth. Good, medium-term ager. Well-made, although perhaps a little too much tannin in light of its body. Good.