Posted by: jmbwineblog | April 26, 2011

2010 Bordeaux En Primeur: Day 2 in the Haut-Medoc


The Inbetweener…

(Chateau Poujeaux)

Vines at Chateau Poujeaux.
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Chateau Poujeaux is one of those estates that seemingly like its Moulis stable mate Chateau Chasse-Spleen is all but forgotten about by all except the hard-core few fans that stick by them year in and year out. Poujeaux is an estate that I have been following for a while now, and have fallen in love with many an off vintage in which Poujeaux has excelled such as 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2007. Since the 2007 vintage, the estate has been owned by the Cuvelier family who own Clos Fourtet in St. Emilion (the chateau was previously owned by the Thiel family) and although I for one disagree with the notion that things have ‘improved’ since the take over, there is a greater feeling of assured consistency nowadays as oppose to being consistent but never really receiving any recognition. I was met by Director Christophe Labenne, softly spoken but with a laid back approach to both the winery and the way he makes his wines. They live by the terroir here and there is always a wonderful sous bois, spice box perfume to the wines. They own 70 hectares, 55 of which surround the Chateau, with 10 the other side of Chasse-spleen. The other 5 are littered around the Haut-Medoc and are predominantly blended into their third wine, which is always great quality and value, Haut de Poujeaux. The discarded wines from the Grand Vin go into their second wine La Salle de Poujeaux. The estate has 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Things don’t seem to change here, they are as they are. Some VATs are old, some are older. Why? “Because the workers know how to work the grapes with them!” There is no rocket science here. Things are done as they always are, and long may it continue.

Wood and Concrete are the name of the game here.
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I tried their 2008 as well as the barrel sample. The 2008 is a lovely wine in itself. Perhaps lacking the focus of the 2010 or the richness of the 2009, but it has great terroir, minerality, delicate with depth it sings of what Poujeaux is about. The 2010, is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot (they didn’t think the Cabernet Franc was up to scratch this vintage) and comes in at 13.5% alcohol. It has the typical spice, perfume and earth nose, it is elegant and refined with poised, fresh fruit characteristics. Another great showing to follow on from 07, 08 and 09 and as usual this estate will offer fantastic value for money as it always does, I won’t be missing it either!

The Irish Contingent…

(Chateau Langoa-Leoville-Barton)

The entrance to the Chai
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The Barton family are synonymous with wine in Bordeaux and own the Chateau Langoa and part of the great Leoville estate, and make uncompromising, structured wines that are always kept separate although the Cépage and treatment of the wines are identical. The terroir of the different wines make for very different taste experiences. The cellar is impressive and in some ways has a rustic feel to it, and although using the indoor fountains as a spittoon is to some extent a bit odd at first, it has a ring and charm to it once you get past the oddity that it is.

We were offered the 09s to sample as well, and whilst the were very nice, and they maybe starting to close, they seemed a bit curmudgeonly in comparison to their lifted vibrant 2010 counterparts. The Langoa-Barton, cropped at 40 hl/hectare and seeing 60% new wood, is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, with an alcohol level of 13.2%. The wine is round, ripe, smooth and structured, typically Langoa with a roundness that speaks of St. Julien. Muscular, complex but with a freshness and lift that make the wine very appealing, it is once again a way away from it’s sibling. The 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, Leoville-Barton with an alcohol level of 13.4% is more backward, structured, deep, poised, upright and very much in the style that one is accustomed to from this estate. Wonderfully balanced, it is a powerful wine that will require serious cellar time but I have little doubt that it will be a great wine when mature. These wines are usually at the better value end of the spectrum when it comes to price and I hope that continues. Anthony Barton and his team have made two spectacular 2010s.

The two superb wines that show their own unique charactars.
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Sibling Rivalry…

(Chateau Baron Pichon-Longueville)

Part of the old Pichon estate that was split between the girls and the boys, this is where the boys made their trade. Now owned by AXA, it is quite spectacular walking underground through the cellar with a lake above you and large blending VATS under your feet. Modern, polished and of high quality is the overall impression and the wines across their whole range fit the bill nicely in this sense. The wines are more sensual than the sister estate across the road, but the quality is certainly there for all to see.

The Chateau itself.
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We started with the Pauillac estate that is also owned by AXA, Chateau Pibran, which is a blend of half Merlot and half Cabernet Sauvignon which is unique in the appellation and this is because of the clay soils on the estate. Only 50% of this wine sees new oak barrels, and the alcohol despite a high Merlot content, came in at 13.7%. This wine is smooth, silky, round and polished. It doesn’t have the depth of its cousins, but it is still a lovely wine that gives immense pleasure already. Soft, mineral and voluptuous, this will be another good value wine to look out for. Next we tasted the 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.8% alcohol second wine called Tourelles de Longueville, which sees the same oak as the Chateau Pibran, but is taken from a 18 hectare plot of mainly old vine Merlot called St. Anne and receives some plots not considered good enough for the Grand Vin, this is another perfumed, soft, round wine, plush fruit, with nice minerality, this will provide more good early drinking that can still be aged. With more depth than the Pibran it is certainly a wine that whilst tasty now, will be lovely in about 5 years time, the freshness and acid gives this wine great lift and again it will provide great value for money.

The three wines tasted…
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The Grand Vin (79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 80% new wood, 13.8% alcohol) sees each plot vinified separately, in order to have complete control over the quality of the wines, and it shows. The wine is deeper, more focused, classier, but remains round, silky and elegant. The finish is long and this is certainly a classy specimen. Complex and svelte, this wine is another that will require cellaring, but will give a huge amount of pleasure. Freshness keeps this from being over the top in terms of rich fruit, but it is not austere. A super wine in the making.

(Chateau Pichon-Longueville; Comtesse de Lalande)

A room with a wonderful view.
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Part of the Louis Roederer group of estates, the wonderful classical chateau is currently undergoing some renovation. In terms of beauty and elegance this estate has it in spades, but whilst the brother is slick, controlled and modern (the wines are soft and velvety), here the wines are much more upright, muscular and structured. That isn’t to say that they aren’t elegant, but simply that they are the antithesis of the wines produced at Pichon-Baron. It was odd to taste in a room being renovated but the wines and the view did most of the talking. We started by tasting the Medoc estate under the same ownership, Chateau Bernadotte (51.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48.5% Merlot, 13.7% alcohol, 33% new barrels), which was round, perfumed, elegant, balanced, very crisp, with soft tannins and plummy fruit, drinkable already but it will age rather nicely. Moving on to the wines of Pichon-Comtesse, we started with the 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 13.4% alcohol, Reserve de la Comtesse. The wine showed more depth and poise, lean, structured, finely balanced with crisp fruit characters. Very much true to form, with its powerful upright profile, this wine will need time to soften but has all the hallmarks to be a very good wine and should be good value to boot.

The three structured but seductive wines.
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The Grand Vin having a higher Cabernet content, and less Merlot is even deeper, more structured, more powerful, but again with soft tannins and crisp freshness. The fruit is crisp and crunchy, with a long mineral, tobacco finish, this again bodes very well for the future. Whilst being powerful the wine retains a refinement and elegance that puts it right up there along with its sibling and also the very best of the rest of the Medoc. The wine has an alcohol content of 13.6%, and a final blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. This will require a lot more cellar time than the second wine, but once again, it will be rewarding to do so.

Way up North…

(Chateau Montrose)

The view from the winery.
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The other great St. Estephe estate that with all the hullabaloo that comes screaming out of the elephant encrusted towers at Cos d’Estournel, seems to get left behind, clinging to Jean-Guillaume Prats’ coat tails. This, however, is no reflection on the quality of the wines on offer at this Chateau, and with ownership of Chateau Tronquay-Lalande, they have a range of wines to fit all palates and budgets. All speak strongly of where they came from, and whilst St. Estephe is always usually the most difficult wine region to taste en Primeur, one gets a sense that given time they will come good, and I would very much like to retest these wines in the not too distant future to get more of a grasp of where they are heading.

Tronquoy de Sainte Anne, with a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and has an alcohol level of 13.8%, is a nice little wine that has classic terroir, rustic characteristics, is fresh, balanced with earthy fruit. Although I found the finish short, it should come good in time and offer some enjoyment to the drinker. The Tronquoy-Lalande itself was also a touch short on the finish, but it did have more depth, minerality and class than the second wine. The slightly higher alcohol is hidden well behind the acid, and the wine is generally much slicker and well proportioned, which is to some extent surprising, given the higher Merlot content in the blend and the alcohol levels as such being higher (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 14.1% alcohol). Both these wines should however be good value and show what good winemaking and classic St. Estephe terroir can produce.

The four wines produced by the Montrose team.
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La Dame de Montrose, showed more nervosity, concentration and tightness. Dark, brooding, earthy but with good freshness to hold the alcohol in check. With 13.7% alcohol, and a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot and perhaps contained most of the 20 hectares recently purchased from Chateau Phelan-Segur next door, it will require patience not just for the structure to calm and the wine to open up, but to see how these new plots of vines perform under new stewardship. The wine is good, and will certainly improve. The Montrose (53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 13.8% alcohol) itself is an even more structured, dense, rich, powerful but rustic beast, meaty, and animal, it perhaps lacks the freshness of other wines this vintage, but certainly is very finely balanced. True of the terroir and not overly polished. Again cellaring and patience will be required but the future does look promising. Whilst they have that classic St. Estephe grumpiness to them, they are not overdone and leathery. I certainly look forward to retesting these in the future.

When the sheep fly…

(Chateau Mouton-Rothschild)

A view from the tasting cellar at Mouton.
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A wine that some love to hate, often with the notion that it is all clever marketing, or that the wines were better when Mouton was simply a second growth that commanded higher prices than the first growths, that the Sheep rest on their laurels. Well based on the quality of the wines, that is on the whole complete rubbish. Whilst she may not produce the best wines of the first growths every year, there are years when she is simply a cut above the rest. Yes, the winery is all modern, yes the marketing game is played with rigour and vivacity and yes, they may be trying to pander to China (for the record, I like the 2008 label!) but there can be absolutely no doubting that the wines made at this estate are top quality and have been ever since Baron Philippe took hold of the reins in 1924, with perhaps the exception of the blip that was 1990 (Francis Bacon label) excepted.

We started with the Petit Mouton, a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, with alcohol at 14%, the wine was structured, stern, deep, but with poise, freshness, and soft caressing tannins. Held together very nicely by the freshness. Well balanced and upright whilst remaining approachable. Whilst perhaps not the best value to be had here, this lamb will provide pleasure and some Mouton style for a fraction of the price of real thing.

Next up were the two estates that are owned by Mouton very nearby Chateau d’Armailhac (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 14% alcohol) and Chateau Clerc-Milon (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere, 14.5% alcohol). I normally prefer the former to the latter, but this year the roles were reversed. The former, whilst well made, structured and mineral had a touch of nail varnish quality to the nose, and didn’t seem to hold its lower alcohol so well. Whereas the Clerc-Milon was polished, zippy, round, velvety, structured and powerful, although warming, the acid was so high that you would never have noticed. In fact in terms of value for money, Clerc-Milon could be considered wine of the vintage, to the point where the only reason it isn’t, is because of a certain je ne sais quoi character and hidden depth that the Big Daddy Sheep held in spades.

Value wine of the Vintage?
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Wine of the Vintage?
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Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 14% alcohol) is for me wine of the vintage along with perhaps one or two other wines this vintage. The terroir sang like it did at its neighbour Pontet-Canet, but with just that extra little bit of zip and polish. It builds on you in the same way, it isn’t showy although it is flamboyant. Wonderfully, mineral, superb balance, and an incredible length that I could taste all the way through lunch. Cassis, mint, cigar box, tobacco spice. Concentrated and poised. This really is something special, with genuine complexity and depth. An incredible wine that however much I want it to fail so I can afford some of this wine (greedy old me!) certainly deserves all the plaudits that it will surely receive.

Moving on up now…

(Chateau Malescot St Exupery)

An angle on the Chateau.
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An estate that in the last decade or so, is starting to have a Renaissance. Wonderful in the 50s and 60s, dire in the 70s, better in the 80s, improving further in the 90s, the 00s are seeing this estate become a force again. The winery is old and small, and in fact one could say it is quite homely, I could have been tasting in the drawing room overlooking the garden, not in the chai with a stench of not yet cleaned fermentation vats seeping through the doors to where I was standing. Talk with the proprietors brought up conversation of prices being similar to 2009 from the Chateau side, and at the same price, I know that I would rather have 2010 to 2009, but after tasting the Mouton, I do feel that I should retest this wine somehow, because it was understated and very true to its terroir, but I was left feeling a touch cold. Who wouldn’t after tasting the wine of the vintage?

A very good bottle of Margaux on offer here.
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Cropped at 44hl/hectare (high for the vintage) with alcohol at 14.2% (2009 was 13.8% with a higher percentage of Merlot in the blend), but with much better acidity readings of 3.74pH. The blend is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. It will see 60% new wood before being bottled. Fresh, with the alcohol kept in check, soft tannins, round, red and black fruit, earth, soil, minerals come to the fore and whilst it is riper than further north in the Medoc, it isn’t overdone. A very accomplished wine that is warm and silky, with a nice tobacco finish. It will certainly improve but I don’t think it will be too long before it starts to give pleasure.

The Merlots Kings of Margaux.

(Chateau Lascombes)

The leafy green Chateau.
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If you didn’t know, Merlot isn’t exactly my favourite grape, but in a few cases I think it can make fantastic wines in the right hands. So I entered the living room of Chateau Lascombes with a little bit of trepidation because knowing that alcohol levels were high and knowing that Lascombes is the only estate in the Medoc with more Merlot planted than Cabernet Sauvignon, I expected to be hit by a rich monstrous spoofulated wine that would knock me sideways and put me out for the count. To be fair part of the trepidation was also because I had never tried a Lascombes that was produced under the stewardship and consulting nous of Michel Rolland. I was wonderfully surprised not just by the barrel samples but also by the other wines that I was offered to taste.

We started with the Chevalier de Lascombes, the second wine this year being a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot. The wine had a touch of volatile acidity sticking out, but not enough to make the wine off-putting. Round, red fruited, silky, herbaceous with a nice finish. This will give pleasure very early on, but will age as well. The 2008 of this was more perfumed and earthy, softer and more mineral. Very pleasant and very easy drinking, and once again well balanced. Both the 2010 and 2008 will be good value and accessible in their youth.

Following on from this, not only was I allowed to taste the barrel sample of 2010, but also the constituent parts that went to making the blend. The Petit Verdot (5% of vines planted, 14.5% alcohol) was all about power and structure, incredibly fresh, it held its alcohol beautifully, strict and the sort of wine that puts hairs on your chest whether you are male or female, character building would be an understatement. The Cabernet Sauvignon (45% of vines planted and 13% alcohol) had more cassis perfume, herby and mineral with a touch of cedar, it was again big and structured but not as foreboding as the Petit Verdot. The Merlot (50% of the vines planted, with 14% alcohol) was richer, plummier, and instantly appealing with depth and minerality but still with structure and freshness.
The bottles, samples and individual grape samples in the living room.
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Giving the assembled Lascombes a blend of 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, with an alcohol 14% a terroir driven, minerally, balanced, tobacco, herby, concentrated, fresh fruited wine with pure definition, and a smokey character. Very true of where it comes from and not overdone by any stretch of the imagination. Only slightly better now (but simply because it has had two years of bottle age and is a finished wine) was the 2006 that I was offered, red fruited, perfumed, toasty, smokey, earthy, with a nice soft but mouth filling structure and flavour profile, it is elegant and smokey and true to the character of this estate. In time, the 2010 will probably be a better wine, but the 2006 already seems like it may be getting into the early stages of its stride and should be a wine to look out for.

The Egyptian Goddess

(Chateau Margaux)

The famous facade that is this magnificent Chateau
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The quite beautiful drive down to Chateau Margaux is a sight to behold, and only just ruined by the fact that half way down you have to turn off into the car park and fight to the office because of the Chinese tourists who all want a glimpse of this fabled sight. I suppose having to turn off saves one from having your pictures filled with tour busses and cars full of people beeping their horns, but some romantic part of me wants to drive right down into the bowels and walk straight through the front door. The cellars however are very nice and elegant and very much in keeping with the decor of the Chateau itself. Paul Pontallier was there to greet us and discuss the wines, and he seemed very pleased with the wines that he had made, if not necessarily so pleased that he had to discuss the same wines with a bunch of Chinese tourists who were probably wandering why he wasn’t discussing Lafite… 😉 well now I’m being cruel, the group were very interested and were actually from Hong Kong, although I don’t think Paul was too happy with their attitude when they nearly walked out with my camera in tow!!

The two red wines…
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Talk was of natural alcohol levels in some of the Merlots getting as high as 15.5%. However, acid levels again were high in Margaux and there is a restrained elegance to the wines as a whole. They are mineral, terroir focused, structured for sure with soft elegant, silky fruit. The Pavillon Rouge being a blend 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot, has the higher alcohol at 14% and whilst being balanced is the less focused and poised of the reds. Still an excellent wine but just not quite with the same pedigree as the Grand Vin (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 1.5% Cabernet Franc) which despite having a slightly subdued nose that will appear with time to settle and develop, was silky, restrained, smooth, deep, delicate, understated, long and infinitely better balanced due to the lower alcohols due to the record high levels of Cabernet in the blend. This is certainly a Cabernet vintage and these are two very very good wines that will need time to unfurl but will be perfumed and true to form. Never showy or in your face type wines… Classic terroir driven Margaux.

The vines that make these wonderful wines.
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I got a sense from Mr. Pontallier that he was most excited by the Pavillon Blanc, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, picked early and with only juice from each first press to keep the wines fresh and delicate, with 13.8% alcohol, the wine will see 20% new wood and again whilst being balanced and restrained, this wine has freshness and concentration in abundance. Delicate but powerful at the same time. Complex, smooth and round. Critics will say that it seems New World in style, and in some ways the fruit is ripe, but that completely misses the understated, complex minerality that is hard to match. Wonderful length, properly cellared this wine will age effortlessly, but could be enjoyed now without hesitation. This is looking like a successful vintage at Chateau Margaux.

Next time, Day 3 in Pessac, Leognan, Martillac, Barsac & Sauternes



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