Posted by: jmbwineblog | April 25, 2011

2010 Bordeaux En Primeur: Day 1 in the Haut-Medoc

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Day 1 in the Haut-Medoc

Making Andy Warhol Proud

(Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou)

This classic facade is a far cry from the Andy Waryol esque tasting room.
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Walking into the tasting cellar, and what is I assume a barrel room for show at Ducru-Beaucaillou one is immediately struck by how different the interior of the building is to the exterior. Of course, this is the prerogative of Jean-Eugene Borie and who are we to complain. I should have at least realised having seen a bit of psychedelic furniture neatly parked in the garden near the rear entrance to the tasting cellar. To be honest, I quite like the style, if not necessarily the purple plastic presentation boxes (but only because they sit in shops that do not match the decor of the Chateau interior) and there is an atmosphere that matches the wines that are being produced here. They are structured, mineral and rich, but have a flamboyance at the same time, and they have a terroir that certainly matches their rivals at Leoville-Las-Cases (our dog Boris took a liking to the grass near the vines, and he is a hunting dog so he must know something! 😉 ).

The harvest here took place between the 29th September and the 14th October when the last Cabernets were picked, the fermentation was gentle, and the juice came from four separate gentle presses. At this estate they did have some problems with coulour and millerandage with the Merlot but the alcohols for these grapes came in amazingly below 14%, matching their Cabernet partners almost to a T. There is something for everyone at Ducru, with a real rise in quality as you move up the spectrum. We started with as they like to call it, “their baby” not generally shown at the Chateau called Chateau Fourcas-Borie a property the family owns in Listrac. It is soft, accessible and very easy, gentle with nice minerality. It will certainly be good value and will drink younger than its cousins with a blend of 70% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, but there is no danger that this itself won’t age as well.

We moved on to the what may be mistaken for the third wine, but is actually since 2005 (for reasons to be explained shortly) the second wine of this estate, Lalande-Borie, taken mainly from a thirty hectare plot of forty year old vines, and then with some rejected plots from this vines siblings blended in, it is again ripe, caressing, but with depth and structure. Balanced with elegance, it is another wine that will be good value and give genuine pleasure to the drinker, with a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet France.

Since 2005, La Croix de Beaucaillou, has been taken from a separate plot to the Grand Vin, and is like many ‘second’ wines in Bordeaux these days, not actually a second wine. It is in terms of style, more accessible and will be cheaper than the Grand Vin, but it does have a unique terroir as this wine sourced from vines near to Leoville-Barton. It was bright and poised, a step up from the Lalande-Borie but with 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot an excellent foil for its superior sibling, but will age longer and is albeit a better and more interesting wine than its “younger brother”.

The Grand Vin is for all intents and purposes another stunner. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. A touch closed on the nose, but precise, focused, rich and balanced on the palate, it is very much in the running for best St. Julien in this vintage, and has more vitality, lift and flamboyance than at any juncture that I know from this estate whilst maintaining that wonderful Ducru minerality and depth. A wine to forget about, but that wont disappoint the drinker.

The four wines on offer at this estate.
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All the natural alcohols were below 14% here, so the labels will state 13.5% when bottled, but the acids although not the highest in the Medoc, balanced the wines beautifully across the board. Whilst the price of the Grand Vin will be high, there is plenty of class in the rest of the family to reward those with more of a budget to think about.

To the wall of fame… I’ll be there one day. 😉

(Chateau Leoville-Poyferré)

The cellars that are Chateau Leoville-Poyferré
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The wines at what many consider to be the lesser partner in the three way split of the great Leoville estate but that has shown its true promise in recent vintages left me feeling a touch cold this year. Perhaps the lack of grandeur and more clean cut feel of the cellars (there is no Chateau at this estate) or perhaps even the fact that it is hard for anything to stand out after tasting through the Ducru line-up led to this, and I hope that I will be able to taste these wines again. For those who like less polished more earthy, funky wines but perhaps not so-terroir driven, these are certainly wines for you.

The three wines on offer at this estate had rich purple colours to them.
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We started with the 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 13% Cabernet France, 7% Petit Verdot, Chateau Le Crock, based in St. Estephe. This wine with up to 14.5% natural alcohol, was very round, supple, earthy and broad. I didn’t feel that is was perfectly balanced with a touch of heat despite the freshness. Still it is open and accessible and shows the terroir nicely, if not quite as well as maybe it could. It is very much in the house style, and if you like the Poyferré wines, this will offer excellent value and an alternative terroir to the St. Julien property Chateau Moulin Riche, which this year is a blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 11% Petit Verdot, showed itself to have a slightly better balance even if there was some warmth, with a touch more depth and some terroir driven funk. It should provide value and nice drinking, but perhaps it loses its way without the Cabernet France that its siblings have, despite having alcohol levels below 14%.

The Grand Vin certainly had the most depth and poise, and was the best wine of the three, with better structure and balance. Despite this, it still left me a touch cold, more kernel flavours, longer, broader and more complex it held its 14.5% alcohol the best despite a touch of heat. Perhaps it is a touch awkward right now and will blossom in the future. I will have to retry this 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc wine again at some point, but it maybe that I just don’t like the style of this particular estate that is very different to the other Leovilles.

The modern barrel cellar at this estate
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Funk, earth and flowers…

(Chateau Latour)

The world famous tower in all its glory.
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There is something magnificent about seeing the famous tower in the distance as you cross over from St. Julien and into Pauillac passing just in front of the two Pichons to drive into the cellars of this first growth, but at the same time I wanted to find something to dislike in these wines (not least because I wanted to perhaps be part of bursting a bubble, perhaps because of being held up by 25 minutes and thus arriving late for my next appointment, probably because the appointment of Chinamen beforehand were asking for seconds… ;-)) I am sorry to say (for those who want value) but happy to say (for those who just want great wine) that I could find no faults, not even when it came to the very high alcohol levels, despite the fact that grapes were picked early (for the vintage) and because the acid levels (4.5g/l) made these wines balanced and perfumed, even verging on flamboyant.

The third wine, Pauillac, whilst being funky, farmyardy and wanted to be drunk is probably the least balanced of the three wines, despite it having the lowest alcohol at 13.9%. The blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44.5% Merlot, and 0.5% Cabernet France is still age worthy and will improve with time. It being Latour won’t be the cheapest wine on the market, but in context will represent value and pedigree. If sense prevails, the earthy, dusty, 72.5% Cabernet, 25.5% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 14.3% alcohol, Forts de Latour, being fresher, daintier, more precise, focused and deep should provide longevity and value. The alcohol is balanced and there is no worry about heat here. Terroir driven, it is a very good expression of what Pauillac and Latour is, but in many ways it is trumped by the perfumed, elegant, flashy, complex, deep, smokey, Minty wine that is the Grand Vin. Despite 90.5% Cabernet, 8.5% Merlot, 0.5% Petit Verdot and 0.5% Cabernet France, the alcohol here was 14.4%. Not that one could feel it, as acids were so high. Blind, you would say the highest alcohol was in the Pauillac. Surprisingly, despite the age ability of the Grand Vin, unless the oak is not properly managed, this will not be an upright, tannic monster. It is a complete wine that whilst rewarding cellaring, will certainly give pleasure in the not TOO distant future.

The exceptional wines on display.
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At Latour, they admitted that they were not completely happy because the alcohol levels were so high, but are thankful that acids were rasping and the wines are both concentrated and balanced with soft tannins.

Poor Man’s Mouton?

(Chateau Lynch-Bages)

A view of the wonderful Chateau from the doorway.
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Well, you can’t be poor if you want to buy this wine anymore! Not an eye-catching Chateau, but more a laid back one, you could spend a lot of time here and in Ville-Bages just behind (popping into Cafe Lavinal for lunch will not disappoint, as the food is excellent and they have a nice selection of wines).
My dog here certainly enjoyed it…
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This estate never fails to amaze with the quality of their wines. Whilst the style has never been to blow your socks off, the wines have a vitality and lift to go with the depth, and in 2010, they have made trademark wines with structure, poise and that trademark Lynch/Pauillac peppermint. The wines are so unbelievably fresh that there is no worry of alcohol, and if it had been 16% I probably wouldn’t have noticed. In fact, I could feel the enamel being eroded. Not quite wine of the vintage, but right up there and something to look out for.

Not because I don’t like it, but because it is in a different style to Lynch-Bages, I will take you to the other estate owned by Jean-Michel Cazes in St. Estephe called Chateau Ormes de Pez, a Cru Bourgoeis Exceptionelle. Only going to see 45% new oak, it is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, with 13.8% alcohol and a pH of 3.59. The wine is rich, deep, powerful and mineral. Not stellar or monstrous, but a really lovely deep elegant wine, that will reward some cellaring, but like the same wine in 2005, will give pleasure quickly compared to the Lynch stable, is certainly a wine to look for and to enjoy, it is nearly always good value.

The two Lynch wines, are cut from the same cloth but will give pleasure in different measures and at different times. The 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 9% Cabernet France, 13.8% alcohol, with pH of 3.54 Echo de Lynch Bages (formerly until 2007 Haut-Bages-Averous) was fresh, structured, deep and poised. Impeccably balanced, but soft and generous, this wine will age but I could see it giving pleasure to the drinker who simply can’t wait to get stuck into this vintage as well. As long as this wine releases for a price that is common for it, I say get your hands on as much as you can, because it will be in short supply as it is only 26% of the crop this year, whilst the Grand Vin represents 70%. Made from 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot and just 18% Merlot, with a pH 0.01 lower and alcohol 0.2% lower than the Echo, the wine is rasping. The combination of those two data points makes a huge difference to how the wine feels. The freshest wine tasted all trip with the exception of perhaps one other, it is classic Lynch with peppermint, spearmint, cassis, tobacco and smoke gliding around the palate with class and elegance. This is another wine that I would love to have for myself and my heart wants the price to be the same as in 2008, but my head thinks that that unfortunately won’t be the case. However, if you do want the Lynch Bages Grand Vin, and don’t want to pay a lot of money, the 12.8% alcohol Blanc de Lynch-Bages is a wonderful fresh, concentrated age worthy wine. Made from 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon and 18% Muscadelle it is as good as the whites of the Graves if not better and will again offer great value if you like Bordeaux white wine.

And the cellars themselves.
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These are certainly wines to look out for, and I highly recommend all the wines. If money is no object, you don’t want to miss the Lynch Bages itself, but if you are on a shoe-string, the Echo is a brilliant alternative that shouldn’t be missed.

Beware Horse Droppings…

(Chateau Pontet-Canet)

A very convenient sign at the Chateau here.
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There is something wonderful, delicate, calm and mystical about Pontet-Canet. Maybe it is the sense of assuredness of winemaker Jean-Michel Comme, maybe it is the knowledge that because the 2010 vintage is the first to be certified as both organic and biodynamic that winemaking guru Michel Rolland can only inspect the wines and do little else (as he clashes with owner Alfred Tesseron) and Comme insists on letting mother nature do the work for him, or maybe it is the signs that notify you of the four horses who help to work this wonderful landscape and coax the best from the terroir. To be honest, this is not the flashy, all guns blazing estate that one would expect with the name Rolland and with the Parker scores in tow, but a humble estate. In fact, Jean-Michel Comme is almost apologetic that only 30% of the land is worked by horses (they aim to increase this) and that 70% is worked by electric powered tractor. I like his philosophy on winemaking, and I like his humble nature, although I don’t know how necessary biodynamics is in the scheme of laissez-faire winemaking, but it does the trick for him and his wine speaks the best about itself than either Monsieur Comme or I can!

Discussing the wine with Mr. Comme without forgetting the philosophy.
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Whilst I can see what Neal Martin means when he says maybe they should have made a blend with higher Cabernet Sauvignon and less Merlot, this wine still spoke to me and I think it is right up there with the best of the vintage. I didn’t catch the alcohol levels and I would guess they are getting up towards 14.5%, the freshness balances this enough to make the wine exciting, and it has a je ne sais quoi that never rears its head, but sits below the terroir and keeps you hooked. It is a wine to contemplate and it is long, seductive and beguiling. I loved it, but I can see that this wine may divide opinion. It is cut from a similar silk to its neighbour Mouton-Rothschild but perhaps with less polish. It is with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot a wine that is clucking for wine of the vintage but is only just pipped by a few thoroughbreds.

The view from the window isn’t the only thing that caught my eye.
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Now I’m the king of the Swingers, yeah, a St. Estephe VIP…

(Chateau Cos d’Estournel)

The famous Asian Turrets make an appearance.
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I was looking forward to our stop at Cos d’Estournel, not so much for the wine I must admit, but more to see the famous Asian influenced Chateau, and the new chai (cellar) which now adorns this chateau that I once loved… Well, to be honest I still love the Chateau and I still love some of the wonderful wines that have been produced here over the years, including some that have come about recently. The 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2008 are to die for, but to my mind, Jean-Guillaume Prats has taken a turn for the worse with his 2009 and only to a slightly lesser extent his 2010. I really liked the decor and feel of the Chateau, and wanted to love the wines which were obviously more balanced and elegant than the uber rich 2009s, but again cut from the same cloth of richness and ripeness that doesn’t necessarily marry so well with a terroir that in many ways is more Pauillac than St. Estephe (being a neighbour of Chateau Lafite). The alcohols for the Cos d’Estournel (78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) and the second wine Pagodes de Cos (62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot) were 14.5% and 14.13% respectively. Whilst not scary, they are not balanced in the way of others (for reference the 2009 was 14.6%). The Merlot harvest here seems a touch later than at most estates in the Medoc and perhaps this gave the riper, leathery flavours, making the grumpy terroir, even grumpier despite its silk clothing.

Could these vines be doing more?
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Colour and oomph smother the terroir.
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These two wines could have been made anywhere by buying these same grapes and in many ways I long for the early Jean-Guillaume days, and the days of his father Bruno, when I believe the wines truly had the quality like other super seconds of the first growths. Now I just can’t see it, but the terroir is there and the future can be bright for this estate, and perhaps the longing of Mr. Prats to be a first growth will seem more realistic. On the bright side, he has made another wine that whilst a similar style is actually really nice in a modern sort of way. This is the Goulée, a 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot blend from the farthest point of land in the Northern Medoc. With similar acids and an alcohol level of ONLY 13.74% it represents for me, whilst not greatest wine one will ever encounter, a wine that is still lovely to drink, even if it doesn’t have the terroir or character of the great estates of Bordeaux. It will also offer up value and pleasure in abundance to both hardcore traditionalists and those who like the modern style of Cos. Certainly a wine to look out for.

The Big, Small and medium Lions!

(Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases)

A winery not dissimilar to Leoville-Poyferré.
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The Delon family own a few estates around Bordeaux, this one being the most famous. I tasted through the wines of all three estates in the tasting room. The building like that of Leoville-Poyferré is purpose built many a decade ago for winemaking as oppose to being a tourist picture postcard, and walking in to taste can leave one again feeling a bit bland without the grandeur, but the wines speak for the themselves. They were all lovely and fit their space in the collection well. Alcohol levels across all the estates here were lower than in 2009, with more acid and tannins, giving lovely poise and structure to the wines.

We started by tasting the Pomerol wines, the Fugue de Nenin (92% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 13.9% alcohol, 14% new wood) and the Chateau Nenin (82% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 13.9% alcohol, 33% new wood). The wines were round, warm and pleasant. Showing their rich meaty, tobacco minerality and terroir well, I think they are lovely balanced expressions of good Merlot with some earthy Cabernet structure to give the wine backbone and poise. These should both represent good value wines that will reward cellar time but not need the sort of time that the grander cousins will need.

Chateau Pontensac (42% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 13.6% alcohol, 30% new wood) from the Medoc is a lovely Cru Borgeouis that does well in both good and lesser vintages. This one is spicy, perfumed and balanced, without having a heavy structure. Slightly chocolatey note in there gives some complexity, and this will give a lot of pleasure to those with patience. If you don’t have patience, then you should look to the second wine, Chapelle de Potensac, (56% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 13.2% alcohol and 10% new wood) for a wine with a sweet perfume, clean fresh fruit that shows its terroir whilst remaining very easy to drink. It will give a lot of pleasure in the very near future and like its bigger brother will represent excellent value for money.

A lion in the doorway!
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In the recent past, a part of Leoville-Las-Cases was replanted and these vines are considered too young to go into the Grand Vin, so a second wine called Petit Lion (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 13.7% alcohol and 22% new wood) represents great value to those who like Leoville-Las-Cases but want something with a better, price to quality ratio, then this is the wine for you. It is cut from the same cloth as its more illustrious siblings and will drink earlier, but simply because the young vines simply don’t have the depth or precision of the Grand Vin. This Lion cub should not be pooh-poohed and neither should the Clos du Marquis (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 13.6% alcohol and 37% new wood). This wine shows a more round, soft terroir, precise and poised with lovely finesse, it is balanced, mineral and shows its own individuality and in comparison to other wines, will represent value as well. The Grand Vin is a stunner, there are only a handful that seem to have performed better and this, 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 13.7% alcohol wine that will see 75% new wood, has all the hall marks of a long lived classic Leoville-Las-Cases. Rich, powerful, balanced, poised, precise, structured, mineral, funky and fresh. The Big Lion roars again!!

Egos and Alteregos

(Chateau Palmer)

The famous facade that adorns the labels of Palmer.
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When you drive into Chateau Palmer, you don’t really get a good view of the famous Chateau that adorns the labels, but you do get a feel for the splendour with the cellars being directly attached to the main building. In fact there is probably more mystique when spying the Chateau from nearby Chateau Margaux! The tasting room, is grand and spacious although despite the profile of this wine, their are no smoking jackets or leather armchairs littered around, not that it really matters, the wine is more than capable of bringing those images forward itself!

For the first time in a long time, one could say that there isn’t a huge step up in quality between the two wines produced here. The Alter Ego (51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Merlot, 14.4% alcohol) and Chateau Palmer (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 14.5% alcohol) could be mistaken for two different samples of the same wine. Both are warm and silky wines, that caress the palate, and just about balance their alcohols with the high acid levels. They show the Margaux character very well, and both will be super to drink once the soft tannins fall away to leave more of the perfume. The only difference between the two is perhaps that the Palmer was a touch more depth and silliness to it. I do think they will be super, and the wines are understated but the quality throughout Margaux is such that it will be a hard push if the prices are high. There is however no questioning the wine.

They didn’t ask a photographer’s opinion when the designed the most un-photographable labels known to man!
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Next time Day 2 in the Haut-Medoc

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