Balanced Right Bank WInes

Finally some well balanced and luscious Right Bank wines!  While tasting some back vintage wines at a negociant house – I had the opportunity to taste some of the upper echelon St. Emilion wines and I was surprised. These wines were very well balanced.  While they still had the concentration, alcohol levels, and tannin characteristic of the vintage – the wines showed surprising finesse.    Ch. Troplong Mondot had an intense and beautiful nose of soft and seductive fruit with a luscious mouth fell and a long, long finish.  In good years I always find this wine to be very sensual.  Ch. Pavie was also very good but in a big and burly style.  It had overripe candied fruit, huge tannins, and massive acidity – but I liked it – and I am sure it will age well.  Ch. Canon was more restrained and elegant and was simply delicious. Ch. Figeac was also very good – with a much lighter body than the other wines – it seems to have been made in a more classic style.  I felt that Ch. Monbousquet was overripe and had a shorter finish than I expected.

The star of the tasting was a bottle of 1973 Ch. de la Dauphine.  This wine is not a blockbuster or a superstar.  It is simply a very mature wine that is holding up surprisingly well. The 1973 vintage was not a particularly strong vintage and so the condition of this wine was astonishing.   It was definitely showing signs of its age. It was very dark brown – almost caramel in colour and almost completely transparent.  The nose was intense with classic old Bordeaux aromas of earth, mushrooms, and a hint of fruit and vanilla.  On the palette, it had a medium body with refreshing acidity and a surprising amount of fruit and sweetness left.  The acidity kept it refreshing.  The best part about this wine is that it is not expensive.  It will retail in BC at a very reasonably price.  I will be making an offer of very old vintages of Ch. de la Dauphine when I return to BC.

Left Bank Tasting at Chateau Belgrave

Chateau Belgrave is owned by one of the large negociant company’s in Bordeaux.  They organized a private tasting this year where the wines could be tasted while seated at a table and without the press of the UGC tastings.  It was quite a nice way to taste the wines.  I was able to taste my way through quite a few of the wines while at Chateau Belgrave.  The tasting notes are below.

Bordeaux Sup. and the Cotes: Again, some of these wines were surprisingly good.  Ch. Thieuley – Cuvee Francis Courselle was stunning.  This is a special cuvee made from the best grapes that sees more oak than the basic Thieuley.  This  year is is dark and opaque with delicious fruit, a soft and elegant structure in the mouth, and a medium to long finish.

Haut-Medoc:  Most of these wines were from the Cru Bourgeois level and they often offer real value in good vintages like this one.  They did not disappoint.   They were far more concentrated than normal and had a lot more structure.  Some of the best wines in this category will age well for 10 or more years.  The wines that I really liked were Ch. Lanessan (which is made in the classic Bordeaux style) which was a little lighter and had more structure than the other wines; Ch. Senejac which was a dark, concentrated and big wine; Ch. Malescasse which was characterized by ripe fruit; Ch. Bellevue which was showing nice secondary aromas; and Ch. Cambon La Pelouse which was quite full in the mouth and more in the red fruit spectrum both due to its high percentage of Merlot.   Unfortunately, one of my perennial favorites – Ch. Beaumont – was too acidic and the tannins were far too soft – leaving it out of balance.   The Grand Cru Classes from the Haut-Medoc were not significantly better than the Cru Bourgeois wines and each of them had at least one characteristic that was holding them back: Ch. Sociando Mallet was the best of the bunch but was dominated by overripe fruit and the finish was a bit short; Ch. Cantermerle while very soft and elegant was lacking a bit of tannin to keep it in balance;  and Ch. Belgrave was the opposite with overbearing tannin.

Margaux:  In contrast to last year, these wines were very homogeneous and there was not much separating them.  All of these wines had very ripe fruit combined with sexy elegant mouth feel.  Most of them were a touch closed. The wine of the tasting was again Ch. Rauzan Segla. This year the wine was made in a softer style – if it is possible to say that about Rauzan-Segla.  Rauzan-Segla is a very tannic wine that is built for long aging.  The wine-making team’s toughest task each year is to tame the tannins and keep them soft and silky.  In this vintage, with the huge natural tannic structure of the grapes – it is stunning how soft and elegant this wine is.  Hats off to the wine making team.   Ch. Malescot St. Exupery was just as good as Rauzan-Segla, but in a different style.  It had ripe luscious fruit combined with amazing balance and a long sweet finish.   I feel that this chateau recovered from a below par showing last year. The next group of wines included Ch. Ferriere which always has nice ripe fruit; Ch. Cantenac-Brown and Ch. Lascombes both of which were surprisingly excellent this year; and Ch. Giscours which was a great wine if a tad overripe.  The next group of wines were a step below but still very good (in order of preference): Ch. Rauzan-Gassies, Ch. Durfort-Vivens, Ch. Du Tertre, Ch. d’Issan, Ch. Marquis D’Anselme, and Ch. Prieure-Lichine.  The only wines that I felt did not live up to their status or expectations in this vintage were: Ch. La Gurgue which for me was much thinner and more acidic than the other wines and out of balance;  Ch. Desmirail which I find always has odd secondary aromas on it that detract from the fruit; and Ch. Brane-Cantenac which was not even close to being in the same class as the other wines.

St. Julien:  These wines were much more aromatic than the Margaux wines and had a touch more elegance.  Especially the Ch. Leoville Barton.  This is a stunning wine.  The aromas were just exploding from the glass.  In the mouth the ripe fruit was combined with a perfect balance of acid and tannin and the finish was extremely long.  This was the best wine I had tasted up until this point. Ch. Lagrange and Ch, Beychevelle are also very good this year.  Both had aromatic noses.  The Lagrange was a touch candied in the fruit but still very pleasant and the Beychevelle had a surprisingly long finish.  Ch. Gloria also showed surprisingly well.  I felt that the Ch. Saint-Pierre and the Ch. Talbot were a touch disappointing.

St. Estephe: As usual, these wines had much darker fruit and more secondary aromas on them than the Margaux wines.  Ch. Meyney and Ch. Phelan Segur were very good.  This felt, however, that this was a disappointing year for Ch. Lafon-Rochet. On the nose it had a classic Lafon-Rochet combination of dark fruit combined with savory animal aromas – but on the palette the wine had very soft tannins and a short finish. It is a shame because this is usually one of my favorite wines.

Pessac-Leognan and the Graves:  Wow.  Ch. Haut-Bailly is incredible again this year.  This is a super concentrated wine with luscious fruit that explodes out of the glass with a silky mouth feel and a finish that last 20-30 seconds or more.  This is incredible.  The two heavily oaked wines from Pessac also showed very well this year: Ch. Smith-Haut Lafite and Domaine de Chevalier.  I preferred the Domaine de Chevalier because I felt the acidic structure was more in balance. Ch. Malarctic Lagraviere was also very good again this year.  I felt it was was more balanced and well made than the other more prestigious wines of the appellation. For the price it should be a good value.

Overall these wines were of excellent quality and far more in balance and elegant than the right  bank wines.  The Cabernet Sauvignon of the Left Bank clearly outperformed the Merlot of the Right Bank in this hot vintage.

Planete Bordeaux Tasting at Millesima

Planete Bordeaux is the consortium of Bordeaux Superieur producers.  This tasting is held at the Millesima warehouse in the southern part of Bordeaux.   It is a perfect picture of the dichotomy that exists in Bordeaux between the Grand Cru Classe wines and everyone else.  To come from the UGC tastings and attend this tasting is like going through culture shock.   The UGC tastings are held in idyllic settings in beautiful chateaux in the Medoc with unlimited food and wine.  This tasting is held in a warehouse on the Quay de Paludate – and while the warehouse is beautiful inside- this is NOT an area of town you want to walk around in on your own (day or night).  It is industrial.  It is a club district that acts as a partial red-light district during the day.  The sidewalks and roads are in poor repair and it looks the part of the quintessential underprivileged urban area.

For Bordeaux Superieur producers there could not be a more fitting setting for their tasting.  These wines  come from the less desirable areas of Bordeaux and they do not have any classifications to rely on for sales.  They retail for between 1.90 euros and 5 euros a bottle. Some lucky owners can get 7-10 euros a bottle for their special cuvees.  In the current market system, these wines are very hard to sell.

Once, inside the warehouse, however, things are very different.  The tasting resembles the GCC tasting in almost every respect.  I decided to spend a lot more time than normal here this year – because of my belief that given the conditions of the vintage that the real bargains would be found at this level.  I was not disappointed. There were a number of excellent wines – many of which my customers will be familiar with.

Wine of the Tasting:  Ch. Tayet – Cuvee Prestige was deep and dark with a nose of luscious fruit that was exploding out of the glass.There was a surprising amount of acidity given the concentration and a good amount of tannin.  This will be another Ch. Tayet that will be able to age for 10 years or more.

Showed well:  Ch. de Parenchere was excellent.  This wine is not oaked and is made to preserve the fruit flavours and aromas.  This was an excellent strategy this year with the high tannin levels naturally in the fruit.  This wine was deep blood red with yummy fruit.  It is not for ageing like Tayet but will be delicious drinking for 5 years or more. Ch. Beau Rivage was also surprisingly good – this is a real value wine and so if you see some of this from the 2010 vintage pick it up.  Ch. Lestrille-Cap Martin was also very good.

Overall, these wines had far more concentration and structure than they normally do. Some of them were actually approaching Cru Bourgeois quality levels.  Given that they cost 1/3 to 1/2 of a Cru Bourgeois price – these are real bargains.   Combined with the Bordeaux Sups from the Rive Droite tasting, I think there are at least a dozen excellent wines at this level that will offer real value in this vintage.

Ch. Angelus Tasting

This was an odd tasting.  It was held at Ch. Angelus in St. Emilion and it included all of the wines from around the world that are associated with the owners of Chateau Angelus including Anwilka (South Africa), Bodega Ostatu (Spain) and Gran Monte (Thailand).  I focused on the Bordeaux wines – but I can’t help but comment that the similarities among all of these wines was stunning – it would be hard to leave this tasting and refute that fact that there is definitely an international style developing as a result of international wine consultants  – many of whom originate form Bordeaux.

There were a few wines at this tasting that really stood out.  In particular the two wines from the Graves:  Ch. Chategrive and Ch. de FieuzalChategrive is often a great value wine in good vintages and this year is no exception.  It was quite dense with an aromatic nose and ripe fruit – but it had surprising structure for Chantegrive that will allow it to age like a Grand Cru Clasee.  Ch. de Fieuzal was excellent as well – but is probably not going to be worth the extra price paid because of its Grand Cru Classe status.  I would rank it in the same quality level as the Ch. Chantegrive.

The two St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe’s were excellent as well.  Ch. Bellevue was surprisingly good with lots and lots of structure for a Merlot based wine but with great balance.  The Ch. Angelus while not as good in previous vintages (where it may have been one of the best wines) was stunningly well balanced with huge tannins.  Although, the finish was a touch shorter than would be expected.  These two wines were much more restrained and balanced than the Grand Cru Classe that I tasted at Le Cercle Rive Droite tasting.

Le Cercle Rive Droite Tasting

This tasting was held at the Hotel Grand Barrail in St. Emilion.  It was just a beautiful gorgeous day with hot and sunny weather – which is really rare during en primeur week.

This was also the toughest tasting I have ever been too. These wines were huge and not in a good way.  Many of them were too alcoholic, with too much acidity and too much tannin.  After tasting 10-12 wines, I found it hard to continue and I was, quite possibly, a little tipsy from the alcohol – even though I was spitting.  The general conclusion from this tasting is that this was not a good year for the Merlot based wines.  With the hot and sunny weather the grapes matured to levels that made making an elegant wine very difficult.  The wines that are normally very concentrated were over the top.  The wines that are normally very elegant and lithe – were extremely concentrated.   The surprise of the tasting was that many of the lower quality wines that are often thin with astringent tannins – made wines that are plush and sweet with mature tannin.  Here are some notes on the highlights of the tasting:

Wine of the tasting:  It was not the best quality wine of the tasting but I really liked the Clos des Jacobins– it was just dripping ripe fruit with a beautiful balance and amazing structure.  Depending on the release price it could be a real value this year.

Showed Well:  The most surprising wines of the tasting were some of the Bordeaux Superieur wines and wines from the Cotes.  In particular, Chateau Thieuley had surprising concentration and structure and Ch.  La Tour Mirambeau and Ch. Reynon were just a notch below.  Of the more recognized names the two that I really liked were: Ch. Rol Valentin was distinct and had a wonderful aromatic structure; Ch. Quinault L’Enclos was beautiful and concentrated – but this is not the typical elegant Quinault L’Enclos (you have been warned!).  Other wines that showed well included: Ch. Fleur Cardinale,Ch. Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac,  Ch. La Fleur de GayCh. Le Bon Pasteur, and Ch. La Clemence.

 Disappointments:  I felt like the Ch. Faugeres and Peby-Faugeres were a little over the top this year.  Their super-concentrated modern style was just not well suited to the vintage.

2007 Wines:  The lunch at the Rive Droite tasting is always wonderful – if a bit chaotic.  This year there was a nice selection of back vintage wines to choose from during lunch.  I got there a bit late and so most of what was left was Right Bank wines from the much maligned 2007 vintage.  And, I am surprised to say, I was pleasantly surprised by these wines.  The 2007s have matured extremely fast and are already showing some wonderful tertiary aromas and flavours to go with fruit that is still fresh.  I particularly liked the 2007 Clos des Jacobins which had beautiful fruit combined with soft tannins and a wonderful maturing nose of Bordeaux funk.  If you are looking for wines to drink now 2007s are something to consider.

Note:  I was not able to taste as many wines at this tasting as I usually do – so there were probably a lot of gems at this tasting that I was not able to identify.

UGC – Sauternes Tasting

This tasting took place in the vat room at Ch. Dauzac.

The Sauternes this year are very good.  They have great body and concentration and the best ones also have great acidity and structure.  Again, as with the other tastings, there was significant variation in the wines – some of the wines were great and some of the wines were not.  It is becoming obvious that this is a vintage where wines should be purchased only after tasting.  Overall, it is a good vintage for Sauternes, but I feel that it is a significant step below the 2007 vintage when almost every wine was great.

Wine of the tasting:  Ch. Suduiraut had it all.  Great concentration, beautiful flavours and aromas, elegance and a finish that lasted forever.

Other great wines: The Ch. de  Fargues was just a touch below the Suduiraut.  The only detractor on this wine was a touch of the odd vasoline aroma that botrytis can give off in a Sauternes. But, I am only splitting hairs, this is still a classic wine. The other wines that I liked (in roughly this order): Ch. Nairac was super concentrated, Ch. Rieussec was more elegant, Ch. La Tour Blanche was very consistent,  Ch. de Rayne Vigneau was an explosion of sweet fruit on the palate, Ch. Rabaud Promis, Ch. Broustet and Ch. Lamothe-Guignard.

There were a few wines that I felt did not measure  up to their traditional levels of quality and I would be cautious buying them in this vintage based on the en primeur tasting: Ch. Guiraud, Ch. D’Arche, and Ch. Doisy Daene.  I am hoping that there was something wrong with the sample of Ch. Guiraud that I tried because this is one of of my favorite Sauternes.  It had its traditional big full bodied mouth feel but the nose was very closed and the wine lacked fruit concentration.

UGC- Margaux Tasting

April 1st, 2010

This tasting was held at Ch. Desmirail. 

I arrived at lunch time and was surprised to discover that they were offering Ch. Desmirail 1999 and 2000 with lunch.   The 2000 was dark ruby red and had a beautiful medium intensity nose of ripe cassis.  On the palate, it was a little closed and I felt that it lacked complexity. There was a lot of structure left on this wine but I felt that the acidity was tart and  I am not sure that there is enough fruit to balance that acidity. The 1999 was a touch lighter in colour and starting to brick on the edges. It had a pleasant mature nose of cassis, wood and Bordeaux funk.  On the palette, it was medium bodied with seemingly good balance.  However, that tart acidic attack was present again on the finish and it  left your mouth puckered in an unpleasant way.  This was much softer and smoother than the 2000 and is drinking much better right now. Overall, a nice wine – if you can get over the odd acidity on the finish.   Overall, it was a generous opportunity to taste these wines and another example of the fact that the 1999 vintage wines are drinking well right now.

I then moved on to the tasting and was a little disappointed.  This was the group of wines that I felt had the most variation in quality.  It surprised me because I had heard from other tasters that the wines of Margaux all showed well at a tasting earlier in the week.  On the whole, these wines had really ripe fruit, great concentration and an almost velvet like quality to them that made them silky in your mouth.  The best wines combined these qualities with structure that was well balanced.  However, the structure of the wines was all over the map.  Some were too acidic, some were too tannic, and a little less than half of the wines were not well balanced.

The star of the tasting was Ch. Rauzan Segla. I actually tasted this three times – the second time to be sure – the third time for pure enjoyment.  It is a classic wine for serious aging.  It has tons of concentrated black fruit, lots and lots of structure, and a remarkably long and pleasant finish.  I will be buying some of this for my cellar so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.

Other favorites:  Ch. Ferriere had extraordinary ripe fruit aromas exploding out of the glass combined with more structure than most of the other wines.  It finished all in balance.  It is a special wine.  Ch. Cantenac-Brown was extremely velvety in the mouth with sweet fruit and a touch of smoke.  Ch. Du Tertre was excellent with ripe fruit, smoke, caramel, and a soft balanced finish.  It could be a great value depending on the price. Ch. Lascombes also had good concentration combined with structure.

The most curious sample at the tasting was the Ch. Malescot St. Exupery.  This is usually one of my favorite wines and there was quite a buzz about this wine among the tasters this year – I believe the buzz was created by James Suckling’s (Wine Spectator) score of 97-100 that was released earlier in the week. In my opinion, this is not a 97-100 point wine.  In fact, I would not rank it in the top half-dozen wines of the tasting.  The wine had great concetration, maybe a touch too much oak, and too much acidity that may never integrate. I would be careful buying on that score. . .

UGC – Medoc, Haut Medoc, Moulis & Listrac Tasting


April 1, 2010

Haut Medoc
An example of the vineyards in the Haut Medoc

This tasting was held at Chateau Cantemerle.  It is always an interesting tasting because most of the wines are from Cru Bourgeois properties and can offer real value – especially in good vintages. 

The quality of the wines was very consistent, the fruit of these wines was darker than the wines from the Graves that I had tasted the day before, but on the whole the concentration and body of the wines was a little less. 

There were only two wines that stood out: Ch. Chasse-Spleen was quite special with ripe fruit and good structure.  Ch. La Tour Carnet was also very good but in a more fruit forward easily accessible way.

Most of the other wines fell into a category just below the top two wines.  They were good but there was nothing special about them.  Depending on the prices they could be interesting.  The softer wines that showed well included: Ch. Beaumont, Ch. Clarke, and Ch. Lamarque.  The wines with a little more structure included: Ch. PoujeauxCh. CantemerleCh. Fourcas Dupre, Ch. Belgrave, and Ch. Coufran.

There will clearly be some great values to be had from this group of wines in this vintage.  I will post full tasting notes on all of them on my return to Vancouver.

UGC – St.-Emilion Tasting

March 30, 2010

Ch Beasejour Becot
Ch. Beausejour Becot

This tasting was held at Ch. Beausejour-Becot in St-Emilion.  It was pouring rain.

The wines here were far more consistent (and homogenous) than at the Pessac-Leognan tasting.  There was not as much variation in quality. 

These wines are huge, dense, voluptuous, and rich wines.  Again, the best wines balanced all of that with good acidity and structure.  There were not as many superstar wines as the Pessac-Leognan tasting, but good wines were more prevalent here.

The star of the tasting:  Ch. Troplong Mondot. This is simply a sexy wine.

Other Favorites (in rough order of preference): Ch. Beausejour-Becot, Ch. Cannon La Gaffeliere, Ch. Larcis Ducasse, Ch. Cannon,  Ch. La Couspade, Ch. La Gaffeliere, Ch. Franc Mayne, and Ch. Pavie Macquin.

Potential value wine: Ch. La Tour Figeac.

UGC – Pessac-Leognan and Graves Tasting

March 30, 2010

Ch. Smith Haut Lafite on a Rainy Windy Tasting Day

This tasting was held at Ch. Smith-Haut-Lafite in Pessac.  It was an awful rainy and windy morning.

It was also the first tasting that I attended with good representation of the Grand Cru Classé wines and, so for me, it was the real first test of the vintage.  I tasted only the reds on this day.

As a result of the tasting, I am going to go on record with an unpopular opinion: This is not a mythical vintage or the vintage of the century. 

The wines are very good.  But, there is a lot of variation in the quality of the wines. Even among the Grand Cru Classé – “the rising tide did not lift all ships.”  The best wines are extremely good – maybe even shockingly good.  But, the rest of the wines are a touch below where they should be in terms of quality.

The hallmark of this vintage is high alcohol. Some of the wines are exceeding 14.5%.  It is not surprising then, that some of the North American wine critics and press are extremely high on this vintage – it has a kind of New World flair to it.  For traditional Bordeaux drinkers, however, it is a bit of a disappointment.  The best wines have high fruit concentration and alcohol, but, they have sufficient acidity and tannin to keep them in balance and are still “refreshing”.  This feat must have been very difficult and this is a vintage that was probably decided in the cellars with a lot of hard work.  Among the other wines, at least 1 in 4, have some significant balance issues holding them back.

Wine of the tasting:  Ch. Haut Bailly.  This is one my favourite wines and it did not disappoint. It was able to maintain its elegance even in this big vintage.

Other wines of note:  The two heavily oaked Pessac wines – Ch. Smith Haut Lafite and Domaine de Chevalier were both excellent.  The fruit this year had the stuffing to accept all that oak with style.  In fact, the Ch. Smith Haut Lafite, which I usually find to be too heavily oaked, seems to be better than the Domaine de Chevalier this year.  The Ch. Pape Clement is also very good this year. Although, it is not significantly better than the others and will likely not be worth the premium it will cost.

Surprise wines:  There were two wines at this tasting that provided quality that far surpassed their expectations.  Ch. De Fieuzal and Ch. Carbonnieux.  Depending on the prices they get released as these might be the value wines of the vintage.

Graves Soil
A great example of the gravelly soil of Pessac Leognan