Tag Archives: BordeauxWines

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.

A Bordeaux Syrah and a 1983 Ducru Beaucaillou

Bordeaux almost inevitably involves a blend of grape varieties, one of the factors that accounts for its wonderful complexity. Of course, wines made from a single variety do exist, but they are very much in the minority.
As in other regions around the world, Bordeaux is worried about the effects of global warming and is timidly, and on an experimental basis, allowing wines to contain up to 5% of the following new varieties (six out of the fifty-two pre-tested) starting with the 2021 vintage – even if these are not permitted to be mentioned on the label. The purpose here is to adapt to hotter summers without altering Bordeaux’s typicity – so it is only normal to proceed gingerly.

REDS:
Arinarnoa – a hardy cross between Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon first produced by INRA (the  French National Research Institute) in 1956
Castets – a “forgotten” disease-resistant variety from Southwest France
Marselan a frost-resistant and disease-resistant cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache produced by INRA in 1961
Touriga Nacional – one of the main varieties used to make Port wine that is well suited to climate change and especially propitious to producing excellent ageworthy wines

WHITES:
Alvarinho – This variety is called Albarino in the Spanish province of Galicia, and Alvarinho in the Portuguese province of Minho. It is very aromatic and helps compensate for the loss of aromas due to climate change. It is also adaptable to climatic conditions and produces wines with good acidity.
Liliorila – a cross between Baroque and Chardonnay, this variety is resistant to gray rot and produces powerful aromatic wines.

That having been said, wines from “non-authorized” grape varieties, sold as “vin de France” rather than Bordeaux, have been around for a long time. I was nevertheless intrigued to see a Syrah for the first time recently in a wine shop, Pied à Terre on rue Judaïque in Bordeaux, and snapped it up. The wine is made by Château Thieuley, which I have often enjoyed through the years. Located in La Sauve Majeure in the Entre-Deux-Mers, Thieuley is a great success story and grew from a tiny vineyard in the 1950s to an impressive 83 hectares today. It is expertly managed by Marie and Sylvie Courselle.

Just 8,000 bottles of 2016 Syrah were produced from deep clay-limestone soil. The wine was fermented in small temperature-controlled cement vats and aged in barrel (50% new) for 18 months.
I served this wine blind at lunch to friends in the trade and, unsurprisingly, they were stumped. I can’t really say that it showed a lot of varietal character and there was nothing here reminiscent of the Northern Rhône, but it was certainly robust and user-friendly. I saw this as the kind of wine best consumed young and am grateful for the experience. For information, the price tag was about 16 euros.

This Syrah was served with my first attempt at making a parmentier de canard, a variation of what the English call a shepherd’s pie made with duck confit instead of ground beef. The hearty, fruity wine went well with the dish.

The best and oldest red wine is traditionally reserved for the cheese course in Bordeaux. A modern revisionist wave criticizes this practice, and I partially agree. On the one hand, a delicious old wine can sometimes by underwhelming after a vigorous young one that precedes it. And, on the other hand, it is true that certain cheeses overpower the subtleties of fine wine. Some people go so far as to ban red wine with cheese, insisting on serving only whites… In any event, my conservative streak comes through on this matter, especially when I have French friends over for a meal, because the best, oldest red wine with the cheese is what they expect.
For the record, we had four cheeses: a Selles-sur-Cher goat’s cheese, Roquefort, a Mont d’Or, and an utterly delicious Italian cheese, Moliterno sheep’s cheese with truffle. As for the Moliterno, it sounds terribly expensive and snobbish, but it was bought for a very reasonable price at the local Auchan hypermarket.

So, I had opened my bottle of 1983 Ducru Beaucaillou about 3 hours beforehand and decanted it just prior to serving it blind. My guests immediately said “Left Bank Bordeaux”, and such is the classicism of this wine that this was, in fact, pretty obvious. It was thought to be a more northerly Médoc, possibly a Saint-Estèphe, from the late 80s/early 90s. Its pedigree (i.e. cru classé status) was never doubted and, in light of its quality, my guests were not really surprised when it was revealed to be a “super-second”. 1983 Ducru exemplified the elegance and restraint of the finest Bordeaux. The color was a little more youthful than its age would suggest and the nose was a sublime mix of anise, tar, humus, cassis, and a myriad of undefinable aromas to form a very special bouquet. The wine was fresh on the palate, with the unmistakable stamp of fine Cabernet and a surprising amount of tannin on the aftertaste. This was largely resolved and fit in beautifully. The notion of peak is highly subjective, but I would say that this was slightly past it, but still very much alive and kicking!
1983 is the year my daughter was born, so this held special significance for me. It was also what the Bordelais call an “Atlantic vintage” i.e. more typical of the region’s climate, which is fairly rainy and temperate, than a hot, dry year accounting for richer more alcoholic wines. To many Bordeaux lovers, the former are more authentic, digestible, and loveable wines than ones from much-heralded great years. This 83 had 12.5% alc./vol., which would seem pretty lily-livered by today’s standards…
I was a bit worried because there was a period in the late 80s/early 90s when Ducru had a serious TCA problem and many bottles had to be poured down the drain. However, this 83 was from before that period, which is long since past.

We ended the meal with a half bottle of 2010 Château Guiraud, a premier cru from Sauternes that was perhaps too young, and perhaps did not receive quite the attention it deserved, but was a fine accompaniment to a lemon meringue pie.

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 :-).

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 28th 2020: the en primeur campaign begins haltingly

It is so easy to criticize, to come onto the scene after the fact and tell others what they ought to have done – to be, as the French say, un inspecteur de travaux finis… This is very tempting with the 2019 en primeur campaign, which is navigating in uncharted waters and progressing in a way that is not always easy to understand. However, the corina virus pandemic has necessarily imposed a radical departure from past campaigns, and the powers-that-be in Bordeaux are reacting as well as they can.

There are three main dilemmas facing the 2019 vintage today.

The first involves the barrel tastings of the new vintage. For many years, these have taken place in late March/early April and have been a resounding success, like nothing else in the world of wine. Wine professionals from all over the world routinely attend. The problem this year is that the tastings had to be cancelled in extremis.
Château owners have decided to rebound as best they can. For instance, a mammoth tasting of the 2019s will be held in Bordeaux on the 5th of June for some 450 French négociants, brokers, and journalists. In addition, the Union des Grands Crus will host tastings in Paris, Brussels, Zurich, and Hong Kong (none planned so far in London or New York). The famous châteaux will welcome visiting professionals starting in June, but will be taking every precaution: social distancing, gloved staff, disinfection, groups limited to 8 people, etc.
This response is to be admired, and once again proves the resiliency of the Bordeaux wine trade. However, it is not without its problems and challenges.

The networking that is part and parcel of the en primeur tastings will be sorely missed. Foreign buyers travel to Bordeaux not just to taste hundreds of wines like robots. They also come to learn about the state of the market, as well as to meet producers, merchants, competitors, etc.
There is a technical aspect to this as well. What about wines sent abroad and the conditions under which they are tasted? Samples are refreshed every single day at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux. But what about those in foreign capitals?
As opposed to group tastings organized by the Union des Grands Crus, individual châteaux are also sending a scattering of samples to clients and noted critics. If these arrive very shortly after shipment, there is, of course, no reason they cannot be professionally evaluated. However, the whole point of en primeur tastings is to compare wines! If four châteaux from, let’s say, Saint-Julien send samples, which arrive on different days and are tasted separately, an extremely important frame of reference has been eliminated. Results are biased. And if the four samples are kept back to be tasted together, they will not be in the same condition.
I agree with many of my friends in the wine business that it would have been a better idea to hold the tastings in Bordeaux in September rather than June in light of the many restrictions currently weighing on all events involving groups of people. In fact, it was earnestly hoped in some quarters that the en primeur tastings would “skip a year”, and take place in early 2021 (before bottling), thereby setting a precedent. The advantage here is that the wines would be much further along and therefore a much truer reflection of their ultimate quality.

The argument against this, of course, is that château owners have become used to pocketing payment in the spring following the vintage and that delaying this by months or, worse still, a full year, would constitute a huge handicap. Does this hold water? While many estates have to finance major investments, i.e. repay debts, it must be said that, by and large, the great growths are in a very sound financial situation – in fact, quite a priviliged one considering the plight of modest Bordeaux, in very dire straits indeed.
The second challenge facing the 2019 campaign is timing. If the tastings are being held this summer, when will the wines be marketed? September, before the harvest, seems a logical time, but no one can say for sure, which is understandable in light of the unprecedented circumstances. What is to be feared is a long, drawn-out campaign. Whether it be organizing tastings or putting wines out on the market, the Bordeaux industry has much to gain by joining forces and working together, coherently. Doing things piecemeal would only be harmful.
The third issue is, of course, pricing. We know for a fact that 2019 is a very good vintage. Detractors of Bordeaux mock such statements, and die-hard antagonists predict, for the umpteenth time, that the market will collapse, the bubble will burst, and that the elite wines of Bordeaux will be a thing of the past unless they drastically reduce their prices. We have regularly heard such forecasts through the years… However, the 2019 campaign is well and truly different. The signals from major markets are worrying. Economies around the planet are suffering and the most expensive wines are assuredly luxury i.e. non-essential products.
But let’s not dramatize the situation! If there are no takers for the grands crus at the prices being asked, those prices will come down. It’s as simple as that. President Calvin Coolidge famously said “The business of America is business”. This is true of Bordeaux too, and a realistic response would occur in short order. While it would be humbling to have to go back and bring down prices, the region has seen numerous crises through the centuries and can cope quite well, I am sure.

So, while not exactly sitting on the edge of my seat, I am quite intrigued to see how the campaign will go this year. Care must nevertheless be taken not to misinterpret information and fall prey to fake news. For instance, while such and such a château may “come out” at a given price, that first tranche price may be just to test the water and involve only a small part of production. It could be totally misleading and unrepresentative. By the same token, you may hear, as I have, that the cellars in Bordeaux are bursting at the seams with unsold wine. This, too, must be taken with a grain of salt because the situation varies enormously among hundreds of châteaux. So, no pontification, please.
In any event, few critics’ scores will be trustworthy in my opinion for the reasons outlined above. So the parameters for setting prices may well change. Those rare critics who have travelled to Bordeaux and tasted across the board will undoubtedly have greater influence.

I wrote this text on the 27th of May in the morning and by late afternoon I had received my first offer to buy wines from the 2019 vintage: Arsac, Beaumot, Lannessan, and Tertre Roteboeuf.
When will the big guns come out? Your guess is as good as mine…
2020 is decidedly a very atypical year for Bordeaux – as it is for the rest of the world.

 

Restaurant Lalique: gastronomy in Sauternes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

2017 EN PRIMEUR TASTING: PESSAC-LEOGNAN

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Tasting of 2017 Pomerol

I’ve been later than most in posting my tasting notes for the 2017 primeurs. I’m starting with Pomerol and will continue with the other appellations in short order.

Beauregard
N: Ripe, with a subtle ethereal perfume of violet. Understated and elegant.
P: Classy, melts in the mouth with luscious Merlot fruit, empyreumatic ovvertones, and almond flavours, and then stops fairly short. Light and elegant. Lovely tension with a velvety texture. Not one to stand out in a tasting, but lovely with refined. Vin de gastronomie. Reminds me of La Fleur. Very good.

Bon Pasteur
N: Very natural and pure, but underdeveloped at this time. Some chocolate and tar nuances. Elegant and promising.
P: Somewhat heavy mouthfeel going into a certain hardness, but accompanied by granular tannin. Oaky, but less so than in the past. Floral aromatics come through surprisingly more on the palate than on the nose. Obviously needs age to even out. Shortish aftertaste. Good to very good.

La Cabanne
N: Deep black fruit and fruit jelly. Aromas are quite primary, but potential there to evolve.
P: Round, upfront mouth feel followed by refreshing acidity. Lovely fruit (cherry, blackberry). Voluptuous and somewhat tarry. Quite well made. Very good.

La Clémence
N: Sweet, pure black fruit. Not much depth now, but shows good oak.
P: Lovely, sensual, round, and assertive. Candied fruit flavors and well-integrated oak. Not boring. Promising. Very good.

Clinet
N: Tremendously lively and interestingly fruity nose. Slightly confected and almost Burgundian!
P: Plum and cherry flavors. As the French say, “a basket of red fruit”. Nice follow-through on the palate, almost as good as the nose, but weak on the middle palate and a tad thin. Brambly, rubbery and oaky notes on the finish. Good.

Clos l’Eglise
N: Empyreumatic and fresh, but closed.
P: Spreads out beautifully on the palate with bright fruit. A bit hot. Medium-long aftertaste. Borderline too much oak, but this can change with the rest of barrel ageing and afterward. Good to very good.

La Conseillante
N: Floral, subtle, wafting.
P : Clean-cut, rich going into vibrant acidity. Long tangy aftertaste with finish showing rubbery Merlot tannins. Spherical. Velvety/soft with an iron rod for a backbone. Very good.

La Croix de Gay
N: Somewhat confected, roasted aromas along with ethereal fruit. Not very forthcoming.
P: Big, round, and cushioned on the palate with an alcoholic presence and some hard oak. Modern style. Good.

La Croix Saint Georges
N: Not expressive at this time. Some violet overtones.
P: Silky and spherical, with easy-going roundness giving way to tannin of a quality only found in Pomerol. Obvious new oak on the finish, along with marked acidity. Unusual balance, long aftertaste, and here’s hoping that the oak does not get the upper hand in the next year/year and a half. Good.

Fayat
N: Black fruit with oak and an odd cheesy smell.
P: Much better on the palate, but something’s a little off here. More acidity and less roundnessthan other Pomerols tasted alongside. A good wine that needs to age. Shows red fruit, a touch of spice, and lots of oak that may well become well-integrated on the aftertaste. Good – despite the strange nose.

Feytit-Clinet
N: Lovely understated bouquet of blueberry and blackberry. Toasty oak fits well into the profile.
P: Very ripe and rich. Lively, and with great balance. Very much of an up-and-coming estate, as well as good value in an expensive appellation. Fine, well-modulated aftertaste. Pure pleasure. Very good.

La Fleur de Gay
N: Powerful blackberry aromas, with some humus.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel and then shows more balance than expected. Round and full, yet light on substance. Too much oak on the finish, but does not reach sledgehammer level. Good to very good.

Gazin
N: Lovely lift of sophisticated black fruit jelly and an attractive, less obvious sweetness, then some. Sensual. Glossy.
P: Very round, but not fat. Delicious cherry flavours and a silky texture with a lovely follow-through on the pure, refreshing, very long aftertaste. Velvety tannin. Impeccable. Not big, but flavorsome.  Very good/excellent.

Maillet
N: Bursting with berry fruit. Fresh, with good oak and incense aromas.
P: 1,000% Merlot. Melts in the mouth and shows plenty of volume. Sensual. Rubbery, emyreumatic flavors and a slightly hot aftertaste. Not so long, but the experience is like good sex. Very good.

Petit Village
N: Showing a little dumb at this stage. Fruit in hiding.
P: Starts out very round and rich, almost flabby then, as if skipping the middle palate, segues into fresh, strong acidity. Gummy, persistent tannin, but perhaps too much oak. Definite hardness on the finish that is somewhat at odds with the fruitiness. Textured tannin on the aftertaset. May move up significantly over time. Good.

 

Rouget
N: Lovely, subtle, ethereal nose of blackberry liqueur.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Lovely tension and velvety texture. Will age well. Strong oak presence, but this should incorporate over time, I believe. A wine to follow. Good to very good.

Saint Pierre
N: Blackberry liqueur, fine oak, understated, and showing lovely balance.
P: Elegant on the palate as well. A class act. Merlot tempered with good acidity and moderate use of oak. Some floral overtones. An exciting discovery for me. The Pradel de Lavaux family own 9 Right Bank properties, including half of Ch. Bellevue, across from Angélus (who own the other half). Very good.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Aristocratic fruitiness with some coffee overtones
P: Liquid elegance. Mouthwatering and creamy. Incredible texture. Lipsmackingly good. Lovely fruit bringing up the rear. Aftertaste nothing short of regal. In a week of tasting, I think this is the wine that provided me with the most pleasure, even if others were more “serious” or “classic”. Outstanding.

 

 

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.