Posted by: jmbwineblog | April 28, 2011

2010 Bordeaux En Primeur Day 4 in St. Emilion & Pomerol

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Going around and around in circles

(Chateau l’Angelus)

Less a Chateau, more a winery but the interior is fairly retro.
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Finding Chateau l’Angelus amongst the many, must be one of the most difficult things to do in Bordeaux. In fact once you have spotted any Chateau in Saint Emilion, finding the entrance is a chore (except when looking for the construction site that is Chateau Cheval Blanc). The drive around this part of Bordeaux is far more picturesque than other parts of this vast landscape with more small producers making exciting wines. We did eventually arrive at the modern looking purpose built cellars and tasted two wines produced by this estate.

A modern but very tasty specimen.
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The first was Chateau Bellevue, a St. Emilion Grand Cru with 14.5% natural alcohol and a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. I feared for the worst when I heard this blend for the main event itself, but I shouldn’t have been worried at all. The Bellevue had bright fruit, was delicate, mineral, ashy with good freshness which just about held the wine together. The tannins were soft and this was a good start to events even if it wasn’t the most exciting wine tasted all trip. The Chateau L’Angelus itself whilst having a slightly lower alcohol content of between 14 and 14.5% seemed warmer and less well balanced, but it was clearly the bigger, deeper and more focused wine. Mineral, but with strong kernel flavours as well, it was just about balanced, and probably by the Cabernet Franc in this 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet wine. It wasn’t overblown by any means and if the alcohol remains in check, should give some real pleasure when it starts to hit its strides.

Over the hill and far far away…

(Chateau Ausone)

Entrance to the cellars, is through the hillside door.
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If there is one Chateau that could be considered the most picturesque and beautiful, with rolling hills and small estates all around, it is Chateau Ausone in St. Emilion. With cellars cut into the side of the hill it really is an experience entering the estate owned by the Vauthier family to taste their selection of wines and receive various books and freebies to try and stuff into your suitcase for the trip back home. The wines across the board here were superb and whatever your price range, there is something here for everyone.

The wooden vats in the cellar.
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We started with the St. Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau de Fonbel, (66% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 7% Carmenere, 14% alcohol). The wine will see 30% new oak for 12 months. It was round, soft, delicate, with good freshness and lift, silky and caressing. The Chateau Simard was built in a similar way but with a touch more minerality and rusticity, soft tannins with more ash and spice to it. Very nicely balanced again. The blend here was 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and is aged in concrete VATS. This should be another excellent value wine that will give a lot of classical pleasure in about 5 years time. The sister estate here, Chateau Haut-Simard (also a Grand Cru) has more Cabernet Franc in the blend (40%) but the same alcohol levels. It was a similarly styled elegant, caressing wine, but felt more serious and polished at the same time, more mineral and deeper, more focused and a very good balanced length to it. Another to look out for if you prefer a more chiseled wine.

Another tip for good value wine of the vintage based on inherent quality, is most certainly going to be Chateau Moulin St Georges, (another Grand Cru) a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc at 14.5% alcohol, this was another svelte, smooth, expressive wine that was full of spice, minerals, earth and red fruits, caressing, beguiling, subtle and elegant, a bit warmer than the other siblings but kept in check beautifully by the racy acidity. A wine that shouldn’t be missed out on.

One of the best value wines you will find this vintage.
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Finally it was to the main event here, starting with the Grand Cru certified Chapelle d’Ausone (a blend of 65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, at 14.5% alcohol) this was deeper with a Minty nose, poised, balanced, mineral and very fresh, beautifully defined black and red fruit, delicate and complex with a beautiful caressing long finish. This was only just out done by the main wine. Chateau Ausone (1er Grand Cru Classé “A” with a blend of 55% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot and 14.5% alcohol). This wine was more closed on the nose, but was deep, earthy, mineral, fresh and lively on the palate, structured but all the time remaining delicate, silky and mouth coating. Subtle and long, this has all the hallmarks of a wine that will be fantastic and live for a very long time. Never dark or overbearing, if only I had more money than sense!

Ripe, ripe and riper? Not this year!

(Chateau Pavie)

The slope outside Chateau Pavie.
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There is little to say about Chateau Pavie and waiting to taste the other wines in the Gerard Perse stable, other than I usually wait with trepidation. The wines are normally, big, brooding dark wines, filled with strong tannins and monstrous weight. One could say spoofulated. Wines on steroids if you will and to be fait, they still need to see a lot of new wood before bottling, but for once, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of these wines and just hope that the new oak doesn’t smother the chiseled fruit and minerality.

The top of the Perse… Excuse the pun.
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We started with the Clos les Lunelles, a Cotes du Castillon situated in Sainte Colombe. A small sight with low yields, and good age to the vines. Made from 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, with only 60% new wood and 14.2% alcohol, this wine was mineral and smokey, with plenty of soft red fruits, tobacco, cedar, ash, earthy and with nice structure, it was a little short on the finish but was still a very nice, elegant little wine that will provide excellent value for money. Next we came up to Chateau Monbousquet, a Grand Cru from St. Emilion. Blended from 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, with only 60% new wood and 14% alcohol, I was surprised with how zippy and fresh the wine was from these gravelly soils. The tannins were soft and the wine had good acid levels and was balanced, but there is something overly modern and hammy about the fruit character at this estate that I have never quite understood, and never really come to terms with, but then perhaps I just have a strange palate… It was however one of the best wines from this estate that I have tried! The next wine came from the tiny estate that is Chateau Pavie-Decesse, a St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé with a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The alcohol came in at 14.5%, but the wine had enough freshness, perfume and lift to combat the alcohol nicely. Dark fruits, definition and structure were the key factors here, but whilst the finish was not very long, it had a herby freshness that I really liked that gave that extra bit of complexity to a wine that is normally not outrageously expensive.

I have always wandered why the next estate is not a Grand Cru Classé and simply Grand Cru. Production is tiny but the quality is all there. One issue is certainly that the fruit is always ripe and the wine sees a lot of new wood. However, the Chateau Bellevue Mondotte, a blend of 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with 14% alcohol, had plenty of freshness and lift to it this year, poised, mineral, ashy, kernel, tobacco, plum and cassis intermingle nicely here, the finish is grippy and spicy and this wine should age. In fact I think that this year it could be argued that it is better than the main event. Something to look out for! Chateau Pavie (1er Grand Cru Classé “B”) is a large estate compared to those within its family and has received a lot of criticism, which in many cases seemed justified and I worried that this 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% wine would be another monstrous wine with lots of black fruit and tannins. I was pleasantly surprised when despite the ripe black fruits, it came across the palate, balanced, fresh, with a Minty, herby, limestone edge to sooth the palate from the high alcohols. With nice length and minerality with a touch of classic coffee. Much better than expected and quite elegant, but I worry about all the new oak that both these wines will receive. If it integrates properly, these wines will be absolutely stunning.

The lone white ranger in the bunch.
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We finished off with the 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc, 1/3 Sauvignon Gris, but 14% alcohol, Chateau Monbousquet Blanc. Technically. bordeaux Blanc from a tiny patch within the estate. It is quite a modern wine that lacks a punch in the finish, but has lots of lovely grassy notes on the palate. A spot of light relief from within all the reds that were being tasted, but it will only be when these 16 year old vines are older that this will become something for white wine drinkers to look for.

The Cabernet Kings of the Right Bank

(Chateau Figeac)

The facade of Chateau Figeac
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It is sort of odd that the one right bank estate that resembles a Chateau rather than a Gothic church, or is cut into the hillside or being renovated with a new cellar has a blend that isn’t really right bank in style at all. In fact, it is the right banks equivalent of a left bank wine with plenty or Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon around. However, in a vintage where Cabernet was King, this was brilliant for this St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé “B” estate.

The one room mods immaculate than the tourist tasting room
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We were whisked inside the cellar, not to their Gentleman’s Club style tourist tasting room, but into the Press Room in order to taste their 2010, this year is a classic blend of 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot, coming in at a reasonable 13.7% alcohol, it may not be wine of the vintage, but it is certainly getting right up there with the best of them. Crisp, fresh, grippy, ashy, mineral, subtle and very well balanced, with complexity, subtlety and a whole array of interesting flavours, including herbs, mint, squid ink, pencil shavings, chocolate, plum and cassis, it will need time for the concentration to unfurl into something beautiful, but if it is only half as good as the 01,98,90,89 or 75 it will be a wonderful wine to drink. It is certainly something that should be looked out for and hopefully the prices will remain sane. Time will tell, but it should be interesting to watch the story unfold.

Where did all the terroir go?

(Chateau Troplong-Mondot)

The Wonderful facade to the Chateau.
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This St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé “B” must have one of the prettiest views in the whole of Bordeaux, and with its steeper slopes surrounding the modern, state of the art winery, and from tasting older vintages of this estate, it is clear that they have wonderful terroir, and if not least because I would love to drink the 47 by the glass, would be more than happy to stay in their new bed and breakfast that they have just recently completed construction work on. This would should be fantastic in almost any good to great vintage, but of late they have taken the route to over-extraction. Whilst some like the style, it is not to my taste and I long for the days when the wines were more terroir driven and refined. Still there is quality that can’t be masked and the wines ARE good. I just feel that the search for ever higher scores from professional critics are drawing them away from what made them a class act in the first place, their terroir.

The wonderful terroir doesn’t really appear in this famous wine.
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We started by tasting their 2006 which was earthy, mineral with nice fruit and definition, but at the moment is slightly closed and deep. The tannins are somewhat gritty and the wine has elegance, but it needs more time to unfurl and shown its true colours and character. It should be lovely in 5-7 years time if not more. Unfortunately for people like myself who like fresher more elegant styles of Bordeaux, the estate has gone for extraction, power and high alcohol again in 2010 much like they did in 2009. The one saving grace here, is that there is genuine natural freshness to the grapes this year, that gives the wine a touch more elegance and balance, although for me it is not perfect or fine balance. Even in the New World, they would have trouble balancing a wine that is approaching 16% alcohol with the official figure being 15.5% (remember that unless the figure is exact, the wine can be 15.99% and still read 15.5% on the label, and of course, with long enough ageing, the angel may take some of the alcohol away into the atmosphere). Spicy and smokey on the nose, with rich black fruits and a slight fresh herby note because of the acids. I just never found real balance here, and I hope that it comes around in barrel to be a bit more civilised in bottle!

Twin Sisters with a different Fashion Sense.

(Chateau La Conseillante)

Vines from the cellars at La Conseillante.
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I will come straight out and say that this is one of my favourite estates in the world, let alone Bordeaux, and I don’t even like Merlot that much. Well it is the Nottingham Forest of grape varieties (normally OK but capable of something really special in the right hands). In the past the beauty of this estate was it consistently being inconsistent. Fantastic in great Pomerol vintages, average to good in other vintages. Like its next door neighbour Vieux Chateau Certan (the twin sister) it shares the hill (when I say hill it is more like a gentle slope) in Pomerol with Petrus, Gazin, Trotanoy and Cheval Blanc in St. Emilion. They have without a doubt some of the best terroir in Bordeaux, and the wines are usually fresher and more red fruited than on the plains. Since 2004 under the new stewardship of winemaker Jean-Michel Laporte, La Conseillante has been striving for consistency without compromising the elegant, effeminate style of which the estate is famous for. Having tasted, 1964, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and now 2010, one can see that this is being achieved.

another exquisite wine on this trip.
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The current vintage is a classic blend of 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, this year with only 80% new wood, alcohol at 14.5% (0.1% lower than the exceptional 2009), and pH3.16 (2009 was stupidly high for the vintage at 3.69), this La Conseillante is crisp, almost rasping, with structure, elegance, minerality, wonderful balance, and a silky, smooth texture, dark, deep, poised and concentrated, cassis, plum, forest fruit, tobacco and mint. Very complex, but always subtle… The freshness and perfume is impressive and tingly, with soft elegant tannins this is another super effort to follow the 08 and 09. Hopefully the price will be closer to the 2008, because if it is, then this should not be missed out on.

(Vieux Chateau Certan)

The old Chateau of Certan
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The twin sister with the same heritage and terroir as La Conseillante (although always different owners and winemakers), this estate couldn’t be more different in terms of style. Where as La Conseillante wants to go nightclubbing in the city with her friends, Vieux Chateau Certan would rather day dream in the fields watching the clouds blow over. They are the same in many ways, but so utterly different in others. Whilst La Conseillante wants to show off the diamond ring, VCC wants to smell the roses in the garden. They look the same, they are both elegant and suave, sophisticated and beautiful but they find pleasure in different parts of life. Whilst La Conseillante seemingly calms and retires back to the Pomerol hill with age, VCC simply never left in the first place. You sense it in the attitude of the winemakers, and in the feel of the tasting room. One with everything on display, coming out to greet you, the other more laid-back and reserved waiting for you to say hello!

Amongst the barrels that contain this wonderful juice.
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The blend at VCC this year was 86% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, with alcohol at 14.5%, and 75% new wood. The wine like its sister glides across the palate, effortlessly balanced, with more plum and red fruits, more perfume, Minty and fresh again, mineral, nervous and zippy, earth, clay, deep and contemplative. This coats the palate and lingers for minute after minute. Herbs, cassis, soft and caring but more red than black. Like La Conseillante you can feel the minerals and terroir which are obviously the same. But it is the delicate red fruits and perfume that make VCC complete now, whereas La Conseillante will need more time to return to her roots. They are both exceptional wines which will age effortlessly, but right now, I could finish a bottle of VCC and wait for La Conseillante to come home to roost. Another stunning wine and a candidate no doubt for Wine of the Vintage from VCC.

Losing my Religion…

(Chateau l’Eglise Clinet)

The view to the church is quite lovely at the ‘art gallery’ that is this Chateau.
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To be completely honest, I do not have a huge amount of joyous experiences with is estate. Not because they don’t make fantastic wine, but because I have only ever tried the wines when they have been at an awkward stage of their evolution and only ever felt regret that I hadn’t waited longer to open them up. These wines are also of a different style to my favourite Pomerols. Having had a discussion with various people at different estates I was expecting much richer, deeper, more upright Pomerols from here and that is exactly what I got, but they weren’t monstrous or demanding. In fact they were quite laid back. Denis Durantou greeted us and showed me into the tasting room, with modern art paintings on the bare white walls, IKEA-esque glass tables littered around, dirty glasses littered around like half full paint pots, and reused bottles, constantly refilled from the barrels in the next room like the paint brushes from the hand of the master artist, this could have been an art studio, let alone a world famous winery. Denis, pouring samples and walking back off to his corner like an art student submitting work for an exam, or an old master showing his paintings to a big collector scrutinising every stroke. Surreal, but at the same time fun. Whilst the wines may not suit everyone’s palate with their textured, rich, dark fruited style, they are well made and of a high quality. Like the other two Pomerols tasted… They very much reflect the ideas of their maker, and that to my mind is no bad thing. Alcohol levels ranged from between 14.2 and 14.9%, with the Grand Vin having the lowest alcohol and highest acid, ranging from pH 3.65 to 3.56 across the range. Very similar statistics to La Conseillante in 2009.

The exterior belies the minimalist interior
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First up we were poured the Saintayme, a St. Emilion Grand Cru made from 100% Merlot. The wine was deep, concentrated, powerful with cassis, plum, ash, earth, limestone, chocolate and coffee. Modern but balanced and holding its alcohol well. Very nice now, but could be overblown if made like this in a very hot vintage. Next we were offered the 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, Lalande de Pomerol, La Chenade. This was much rounder and silkier, powerful but with freshness, earthy and mineral, ripe black fruits and more depth and structure, just about balanced, with a rustic touch at the end. Something to look out for. Next up was another Lalande de Pomerol made with 10% less Cabernet Franc called Chateau Les Cruzelles, which came out rich and powerful, but with a soft appealing fruit character, elegant fruit profile of cassis, plum, coffee, chocolate and a slick modern minerality. The length was impressive and whilst dark and brooding was never imposing… More caressing and elegant with a fascinating perfume. Another excellent effort with super balance. Before we hit the big guns, there was a Castillon, Cotes de Bordeaux called Chateau Montlandrie, made from 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet France. The wine was round, mineral elegant and fresh, with crystalline black fruits, soft tannins and subtle power and a crunchy mineral Minty finish. It is interesting to note that the picking dates for the grapes were much earlier than the rest of the wines for both the Grand Vin and Les Cruzelles in order to preserve freshness in the grapes and keep alcohols manageable, which around the rest of Bordeaux seemed to be done in the opposite order!

The big guns didn’t outshine the little guys by the great margins of the past.
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Next up was the second wine of the Chateau, La Petite Eglise, made from 100% Merlot picked in the three days after all the grapes for the grand vin were brought in during the last ten days of September. The wine was rich with hints of smoke, bonfire and forest floor, crisply balanced, lively but with delicate tannins. Mineral, focused and poised, structured, dark fruited and poised, warming but not overblown and cloying, with some creamy smooth characteristics as well. A hint of delicacy underneath this will age well, but I don’t think it will be so much better than the Les Cruzelles to demand a hugely higher price. Finally, we came to the Chateau l’Eglise Clinet which this year has 10% Cabernet Franc (picked on the first of October) and 90% Merlot (picked between the 20-27th September which was the earliest of all these wines). It is very fresh, very focused, poised and dark fruited, cassis, plum, soft tannins and a delicate structure. Hugely mineral but silky and creamy at the same time. The alcohol is well kept in check by the freshness, it was rich but with a subtle earthy power, which will need plenty of time to unfurl. A wine to forget about in the cellar but will nevertheless give a lot of pleasure in the future!

The next time, my concluding thoughts to this wonderful vintage.

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