Posted by: jmbwineblog | April 27, 2011

2010 Bordeaux; Day 3 in Pessac-Leognan, Sauternes & Barsac

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Royalty and its Church

(Chateau Haut-Brion & Chateau La Mission Haut Brion)

The Chateau at La Mission
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This vintage the tasting of these two estates owned by the Dillon family was held at La Mission Haut Brion, and whilst the views out across the land from either of the two estates leaves much to be desired (as you are surrounded by the industrial estates of the suburb of Bordeaux called Pessac), the view across the road to Chateau Haut Brion and the view of the gothic Church styled Chateau itself are nothing but mystical. One certainly gets a sense that many years ago, these two estates would have seemed like the antithesis of each other. One the opulent king who flaunts with power, the other humble and religious always complaining about the noise brought by the courtiers across the road, and the wines here bring much of the same philosophy and style to your taste sensations.

Haut Brion from La Mission Haut Brion
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We started with the Reds, and this is a problem with Bordeaux that I don’t like… The reds splatter your palate with rich fruit and tannins and mask the palate when you want to get to grips with some lovely elegant white wines. As such, I will start by giving my thoughts on the white wines. We second white of Haut Brion is La Clarté de Haut Brion, a blend of 83% Semillon and 17% Sauvignon Blanc with an alcohol content of 13.8%, showing nice concentration, and a richness that is not normally found in this wine. Warming and quaffable, the wine is not necessarily fresh, but very much finely balanced. La Mission Haut Brion Blanc formerly Laville Haut Brion Blanc, (81% Semillon, 19% Sauvignon Blanc, 14.3% alcohol) was also rich and concentrated, but with more depth, poised and balanced but not crisp, silky, and nutty it is a very nice wine, but the alcohols are high here and do not feel completely balanced. Haut Brion Blanc itself, 46% Semillon, 54% Sauvignon Blanc, feels crisper and fresher because of its cépage, but the alcohol is 14.4% and you can feel its weight, even if it has more depth, more nervosity and silkiness, with that Haut Brion polish to it, and the acid just about balances it, but with these three, however good they are… Other whites from further North and further south just seem to hit the button much better if you like the white wines of this region.

The reds were a different story, and very much in tune. Again alcohols were high due to strong percentages of Merlot in the blends, but generally they were balanced and showed their class… I still worry for them as the alcohols are high and don’t quite have the freshness of the Medoc. Time will tell whether these wines age gracefully as their flavours suggest or become leathery and dominated by the alcohols. I’m happy to give them a positive skew for now, but bottled samples will be the only way to really know if they have cut the grain or not. La Chapelle de la Mission Haut Brion (27% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 14.8% alcohol) was smooth, herby, mineral and tobacco leaf infused, soft tannins, poised and elegant with classic rusticity. La Clarence de Haut Brion (52% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 14.4% alcohol) was more polished and structured, but again with classic Pessac terroir characteristics. Better balance was found here due to the lower alcohols, and this is certainly a wine to look for if the price is right. Chateau La Mission Haut Brion (37% Merlot, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, 15.1% alcohol) was richer, deeper, more polished and mineral, with complexity and typical terroir and rustic notes underlying the wine. The wine is just about balanced, but it was warming, and will need to be revisited in bottle after oak treatment to see whether the wine will be able to cope. It is however in a good enough place to do so if the winemaking is gentle. Chateau Haut Brion (23% Merlot, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 14.6% alcohol) was more lifted and polished, with richer fruit and less rusticity whilst maintaining those typical tobacco, cedar, mineral characters that give this Chateau a graceful edge. Again, less Merlot meant less alcohol and a finer more refreshing balance that will to some extent bode well for the future.

The glorious wines on offer, but watch out for the alcohols…
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The wines here showed their terroir and class well, but be warned that the alcohols were high and this is a slight worry. Time will be the true judge, but the wines spoke volumes even if they did not quite excite in the same way that the previous wines have.

Superhuman Strength…

(Bernard Magrez & Chateau Pape Clement)

The Chateau
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I was very much looking forward to tasting at Chateau Pape Clement. I didn’t know however that I would be tasting all of the Magrez wines that are to be offered En Primeur. Knowing the excellent work that the Magrez family do with wines in Japan (notably Koshu from Katsunuma Wineries and the increased quality there) simply heightened my senses. I left feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. Not that these are badly made wines in any sense and will give a lot of pleasure when mature, but more that I felt the terroir and class that these famous properties can produce was somewhat masked by a feeling that the wines were trying too hard to be modern and impress. In a vintage like 2010, all you need is for the grapes to do the talking. You will notice a lack of alcohol written in this passage and that is because I didn’t ask. There was no need, I didn’t feel that I wanted to be surprised that they were high but the wine was so fresh. These were not as fresh, and could have had low alcohol levels. It would not have mattered, all but a few were not balanced.

We started with the 40% Semillon, 30% Sauvingnon Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Gris, Chateau Frombrauge Blanc from the St. Emilion estate, which was fresh with good concentration and density, easy drinking and modern, it is a good little white wine from an area not known for great white wines. Something to look for. The 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Semillon, 16% Sauvignon Gris, 9% Muscadelle, Chateau Pape Clement Blanc was next up, and this showed a touch better with more concentration and power but again with nice crisp flavours, more zip and power, more warming but just about balanced, this should improve in bottle and be very pleasant. The second wine of this estate, Le Clementin du Pape Clement (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot) had some classic tobacco, smoke and earth note, was silky and soft but I couldn’t help feeling that it was a touch warm and lacked true focus like many second wines tasted so far on the trip. Still with more time in oak, the alcohol may calm or be taken by the “angels”. The next wine was a Medoc by the name of Chateau les Grands Chenes (55% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc) which was rich, powerful and chocolatey, with good freshness and a good length. In the value for money stakes, this could be one to look out for if you like a more modern style of wine.
The red wines on offer.
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Chateau Fombrauge, (St. Emilion Grand Cru; 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon) had surprisingly good freshness, but again was a touch warm although balanced, with modern kernel flavours, lacking a typical ashy quality I find in the better estates in this part of the world. Chateau La Tour Carnet, from the Haut-Medoc (53% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) was again rich, smokey and concentrated, with modern chocolatey notes. Balanced but again masking the terroir. The best wine on show here was the Chateau Pape Clement itself, this year a blend of half Cabernet Sauvignon, half Merlot. Whilst it was technically for me the best wine, and only because the terroir was doing its utmost to break through to the surface which it inevitably failed to do, being subdued by the more modern characteristics of chocolate and coffee. The terroir was there but it was masked, subdued and crying for help. This could have been a stunner, instead it was simply very good. Finally we tried the Magrez-Fombrauge, Cuvée d’Exception (St. Emilion Grand Cru; 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) which can not be faulted for not being well made, was big, round, silky, modern and could have been from any wine making region of the world. It will please some, but didn’t please me. Chilean Merlot would be cheaper and just as exciting if not more so than this.

I wouldn’t want to put people off these wines, as they are very well made, but they seem to subdue their terroirs and soils, which in the case of Pape Clement itself, should be shouting from the rooftops. The lesser wines with less grand terroir should be enjoyable wines in the short to mid terms, and should be sought after, but unless you are trying to create a vertical, back vintages of the top wines will be more exciting from this particular estate.

Into the Forest…

(Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte)

The fortress styled Chateau turret.
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Next time I am in Bordeaux, I think I would like to stay at the hotel attached to this estate. It is picturesque and grand, and they have a spa where you can have Vinotheropy. Sounds like a lot of fun! The other reason would be to taste lots of back vintages of this great estate. Both red and whites are left to let the grapes do the talking. Winemaking is gentle and allows the terroir to speak volumes. They do the Graves thing to great affect here, and they are humble about it at the same time, although they get passionate when talking about how the others are masking the terroir by over extracting and making big wines when the soils are designed for the more elegant and sophisticated.

We started with the whites, a quick swill of 2009 reminded me that in that baking vintage of ripeness, that this estate had made one of the freshest, focused balanced whites of that campaign and despite not being a great white vintage, this wine is a great white wine. Then it was onto the 2010, a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc 5%Semillon and 5% Sauvignon Gris. Some alcohols got up to 14% in these grapes but thankfully not into the final blend. Picking was done in 2 or 3 phases depending on plot in the early hours of the morning when temperatures were cool. The grapes were refrigerated, then pressed for 4-6 hours under nitrogen in order to only obtain the more gentle, delicate juice near to the skins and in this wine it shows. It is rich, concentrated and well balanced, with a wonderful delicate mineral character that races around the palate. Flavours are fresh and alcohol is kept well in check. This is a wine to look out for.

The four subtle, delicate wines tasted.
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Next we moved onto the reds, starting with the 2007, which was charming, elegant, mineral, earthy and spicy, you would never guess it was a lesser vintage, and should be sought out, as it will give a lot of pleasure now and for many years. Next we tried the 2010, which is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. This still had wonderful terroir characteristics, tobacco leaf, cedar and wonderful freshness. Very well balanced, elegant and easy. A more upright and structured version of the charming 2007. The tannins are soft and everything is in check, with pleasant alcohol levels, despite some of the Merlots reaching 16%, and Cabernets reaching 13.8%. These are certainly a set of wines that one should look out for, gentle, elegant and very tasty!

The only Red in the Village!!

(Chateau Haut-Bailly)

The wonderful cube shaped Chateau.
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Well, its not the only red, but the only Chateau in Graves and Pessac-Leognan that doesn’t produce a white wine! Their nearest neighbours all do, but you have to go through forests to get to them, and as such the terroir is very different. To be honest, in 2009 I found this wine to be a bit big and drying, but very well made. In 2010, there are no such fears. They have made arguably one of the wines of the vintage, a really special creation. The Chateau are very welcoming, and the estate is beautiful. They have their own in house chef and host lunches and dinners regularly. I didn’t ask how much, but if you ever go to Bordeaux with a large enough group, it would certainly be worth checking them out and trying to book something… Knowing the 1983 of this estate well, you won’t be disappointed.

The 100 year old wines that go into this superb wine.
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The wine this year is a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Cropped at 37hl/hectare, seeing 55% new wood (a significant reduction on other recent vintages) and coming in at 13.9% alcohol, the wine is spicy, round, elegant, silky, smooth, incredibly well balanced, mineral and long. It is incredibly drinkable already and will give a huge amount of pleasure… Very subtle and restrained whilst being both soft and structured at the same time. It is to put it bluntly, an incredible wine that deserves attention in many ways regardless of the price that will be asked for it.

The manicured garden art is fairly nice as well…
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Finally, if you can’t a lunch booking for the group at the Chateau, then pop into the nearby village of Martillac and eat at Le Pistou… An excellent little restaurant with a large fun wine list to boot.

The Great Pretender

(Chateau Doisy-Daëne)/p>

We visited the prize estate of Denis Dubordieu (dean of the wine department at Bordeaux University), and were greeted by his son Fabrice who was more interested in talking about Asia than the wines, which didn’t detract from the quality, although there was certainly a sense that he had been told to try and push some of the lesser known wines. Not that I am complaining, the more wines to taste at all levels, the better for my knowledge and your reference points.

The view into the Chateau straight into the vineyard is quite lovely.
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We started with a little Grave property that the family lease called Chateau Haura, beginning with the 2008, which was round, spicy, mineral and true of the terroir with nice plummy, gravelly fruit, we moved onto the more structured and precise but still elegant 2010. The new vintage has the potential to age nicely, with soft tannins and good balance. Certainly something to look out for. The blend is generally 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Next up was the Chateau Doisy-Daëne Sec, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine which sees 20% new oak and is grown on limestone soils. Fresh, crisp, mineral and delicate were the hallmarks of the elegant 2010, but despite the freshness and the quality of winemaking, the fruit was more modern and slick than one would expect of a property such as this.

The main wine of the estate, and the others tasted.
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We moved onto the mainstays of the estate now. Starting with the AOC Sauternes Chateau Cantegril, which is just over the road from this estate in Haut-Barsac. The 2008 was a nice creamy wine, with flavours of lemon, honey and nuts with nice balance and botrytis, it was just shaded by the new vintage, 2010, which had a touch more focus and richness to marry with the minerality and freshness. A more complete wine, but somehow I still prefer the 2009 from here to the 2010. The same of which could be said for my impressions of the Doisy-Daëne itself. Delicacy underlies the fresh, crisp, rich fruit, classically mineral and focused with excellent poise and a very reserved elegant and subtle finish, I was always left wanting a little bit more, a little more oomph or alternatively a bit more definition and depth. This is one of the few producers where I really feel that the 2009 is clearly a better wine as opposed to simply being in a different style.

Do it Yourself Winemaking…

(Chateau Climens)

This stop was probably one of the most fun out of the whole trip. It was one of the most relaxed and generally most felt like we were actually tasting from barrel and tasting the real thing, as oppose to simply having samples poured out for us in a more formal and structured setting. Perhaps more professional than at Doisy-Daëne, I was taking around the barrel room at Chateau Climens by Virginie Achou-Lepage, head of Commercial Development and Communication, armed with glasses and a pipet in order to take samples from various different barrels from different juice harvested from different periods.

In the barrel room at Climens to taste the exquisite samples.
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We tasted from 8 different barrels, four of which came from the final and most important trie(selection period/harvest). The first took place from 28-30 September, the second from the 5-14 October and the final crop came in between the 19-23 October. The harvest here was the largest crop of good grapes ever coming in at almost the same levels as most of the red wines and the quality was high. The first barrel was from grapes taken on the 28th September, showing concentration, poise, freshness and balance. The barrel from the 29th September was more mineral and had more powerful concentration. The 8th October barrel was richer and freshness with more silky flavours and more botrytis whilst the 9th October barrel showed more sweet spice and delicacy. The 19th October barrel was all floral and crisp, concentrated but not overblown. Whilst the 20th October barrel could have been a complete wine. Poised, nervous, elegant, balance, complete and concentrated, to the point where I would love to just buy that one barrel and drink it!! The 22nd October barrel was rich and minerally, but with good balancing freshness, and the final 23rd October barrel was rich, concentrated and intense. All the while every sample maintained great freshness, and whilst the final blend hasn’t been made, and some barrels will undoubtedly be discarded or declassified into the second wine, the Grand Vin looks set to be a stunner and when complete could vie for wine of the sweet wine vintage, but as we do not know the blend right now, higher praise will have to wait until the bottled wine is sampled.

The mini-vertical showing off the class of this estate.
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We then had a whistle stop mini-vertical of Climens from 2005 to 2008 with a lone bottle of the 2008 second wine for reference. The 2008 Cypres de Climens, was crisp, balanced, mineral and very much in the house style and better than the 08 Chateau Cantegril. The 2008 is elegant, refined with lots of floral and peach flowers, a little short on the finish but still a lovely wine. The 2007 is quite simply an incredible wine, regal, upright, concentrated, powerful and elegant, fresh, balanced, complex and long. It will be a long time before the flavours completely unfurl but it is a wonderful wine and the 2010 will probably follow a similar pattern if not necessarily the same one. The 2006 is a wonderful, concentrated flavoursome wine that you simply have to feel sorry for being surrounded by two outstanding sweet wine vintages. Finally, the 2005 has a lot of botrytis and concentration, structured but with good balance, tropical fruit, it is long and will need time. The 2009 is probably more similar to this than any other vintage.

The King of Kings

(Chateau d’Yquem)

The most Chateau-esque of Chateau.
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Driving up to Chateau d’Yquem is quite a sight… Perched neatly on top of a gently rolling hill overlooking the rest of Sauternes on all sides, you can immediately grasp why when it comes to the Golden nectar, Yquem is the King! Even in wet difficult vintages most of the rains will flow down the slopes onto the plains, allowing Yquem to produce less watery grapes and also less grey rotten grapes. Of course, this isn’t a vintage in which one has to worry so much about too much water, and rains at the right times brought excellent botrytis to this grapes. Yquem had five tries, the first from the 20-22 September, the second from the 27-30th. The third and most important for quantity and quality with a peak in cropping on the 19th was from the 14-24 October. The final pass for grapes destined for the Yquem was on the 26-29 October with the final grapes, sold off in bulk or used in lesser wines being picked on the 4th and 5th November. All dry grapes picked in early September will go into the dry wine “Y” de Yquem. The crop came in thus at 22hl/hectare, 40% of which is in the Grand Vin.

The vines sloping down the hill into Sauternes.
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The blend is 87% Semillon and 13% Sauvignon Blanc, with 141 grams per litre of sugar, a pH at 3.80, and alcohol levels at 13.55%. The wine is absolutely stunning, refined, delicate, very fresh with excellent length. The finish is subtle and keeps on going and going, with both fresh and tropical fruit in abundance. A restrained, refined power envelops the palate and lingers for minutes. This will be a very special wine.

Next time, The final day in St. Emilion and Pomerol

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