Tasting notes: 2023 Bordeaux great growths

SAINT EMILION

Angélus***1/2 – ****
N: Cellar aromas to accompany rich, deep, pure fruit along with some beeswax.
P: Big, but pure and smooth. Very well-made with finely-textured tannin and a certain hardness at this stage due to oak. I generally don’t mention second wines in my vintage appraisals to avoid information overkill, but I will say that 2023 Carillon d’Angélus showed remarkably well in keeping with this estate’s general toning down of oak influence and extraction.

Ausone****
N: Deep, dark, and mysterious. Restrained.  “Old library” aromas and other subtle notes waiting to emerge.
P: Round, but with very fine underlying structure. Seems like nothing so much as a first-rate Pomerol before the trademark limestone minerality kicks in seamlessly. Superb tannic texture on the long spread-out finish. Cool super-long aftertaste. A more feminine style of Ausone this year.

Badette***
N: Sweet dark fruit.
P: Dense, concentrated, and deep. Good backbone and acidity with velvety tannin that wins out over a certain rusticity. Generous and will partner well with strongly-flavored dishes.

Balestard la Tonnelle***
N: Polished black fruit (cassis) jelly aromas.
P: Very rich and round, but nevertheless balanced and with an aftertaste consistent with the rest of the flavor.  Strawberry. Not quite the length I’d have hoped for, but this seems a very up-and-coming cru classé even if not at the very top.

Barde Haut*** – ***1/2
N: Bit dumb at this time, but with some soft plum and licorice nuances.
P: More expressive on the palate. Luscious, with the richness overlaying the minerality on the aftertaste. Lovely balance and great potential. Candied red fruit finish. Touch dry.

Beauséjour****
N: Candied black fruit, open, generous, and promising.
P: Has weight and gravitas. Lip-smackingly good. Assertive, yet refined. Bit angular and uncompromising with a very long aftertaste. Classic Saint Emilion. Will age very well.
Since this estate has changed hands, it prefers not to go by the former name, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse, but to be called simply “Beauséjour”. The lack of a hypen between “Beau” and “Séjour” is believed to be sufficient to avoid confusion with neighbour Beau-Séjour Bécot.


Beau-Séjour Bécot***1/2
N: Understated. Floral and a bit cosmetic.
P: Excellent tannic texture and length. Well-made and shows subtle black fruit. Lacking somewhat in body, but fresh, with good acidity. Well-balanced and natural with an aftertaste reminiscent of a cool vintage.

Bélair Monange***1/2 – ****
N: Simply put, not very expressive at the present time.
P: Great balancing act between structure and roundness. Well-made in the traditional style of the best Côtes wines. Very different from its neighbour, Ausone, due to its marked, tight, non-easy-going tannin. Also, noticeable acidity appears after the initial impression. This is a grand vin de garde with a lovely texture which asks, no, demands to be aged to strut its stuff.

Bellefont Belcier***
N: Blackberry aromas and a little spirity. Some greenness of the right kind.
P: Smooth and unctuous, then minerality sets in. Big, but hollow. Quite a bit of oak on the mineral aftertaste. Not as good as the sister estate, Tour Saint Christophe.

Berliquet***1/2
N: Old library, floral, rose, and red fruit nuances. Very aromatic, sweet, almost Burgundian.
P: Great structure, good backbone, and flesh on those bones. Fine fruit and acidity with attractive strawberry flavors. Primary and oaky at this stage, but promising.

Cadet Bon***
N: Understated nose with background fruity and chocolate aromas waiting to emerge.
P: Starts out jammy, drops on the middle palate, then rebounds with soft velvety tannin on the finish. Some roasted coffee flavors. Bit dry at this stage.

Canon***1/2
N: Floral (rose) and sweet red fruit nuances. Very aromatic in an almost Burgundian sort of way.
P: Fleshy, but with a good backbone. Great fruit and acidity with strawberry flavors. Very typical of its appellation with well-integrated oak. Big, generous wine.

Canon La Gaffelière****
N: Harmonious and subtly perfumed. Delicate and very alluring.
P: Delicate and very alluring. Vibrant and resonant with oak that fits in well. Excellent dark fruit, great balance, and a cool long aftertaste. A very elegant Saint Emilion.

Cap de Mourlin***
N: Soft, simple, and attractive with little oak influence.
P: Thick rich texture going in a simple (once again) mineral aftertaste. Wildberry flavors encased in a soft structure without a great deal of depth.

Chauvin***
N: Beautiful ethereal blackberry nuances.
P: Tremendously juicy and thirst quenching. Oak influence is strong on the finish, but this gives some gravitas to the wine. Fluid, almost light in a way. I’d have hoped for more stuffing.

Cheval Blanc****1/2
N: Sweet and subtle with evanescent violet nuances
P: Big, luscious, melts in the mouth. Extremely vinous and sinewy with a satin texture and some roasted coffee notes. Super long on the palate and huge potential here.

Clos Badon Thunevin***
N: The sample was slightly oxidized, and there was a spirity side.
P: Pomerol-like tannin that melts in the mouth. Nevertheless, good acidity. Not as rich as other wines in this vintage, but sensual and worthwhile.

Clos Fourtet***1/2
N: Deep black fruit, especially black cherry. Pure and untampered with. Natural.
P: Soft and flavorsome with a fresh, almost primary taste and a long finish not troubled by harsh tannin or oak. Seems on the relatively light and easy-going side, but that is deceptive because this is a vinous wine of substance that will provide great pleasure. 

Clos des Jacobins***1/2
N: Pure fresh fruit with some roasted aromas.
P: Engaging cherry flavors go into a long aftertaste. Dynamic, not overdone, and with good acidity. Lovely aftertaste blending black fruit, minerality, fine-grained tannin, and oak.

Clos Saint Julien***1/2
N: Sweet and ripe with black cherries galore. Pure, natural, and very enjoyable.
P: Medium body, sophisticated, and lean-framed with an excellent limestone aftertaste. Balance, elegance, and a wine I was glad to get to know.

Clos Saint Martin***
N: Slightly smoky  with captivating subtle black fruit and good oak. Promising.
P: Fine tangy acidity and structure in traditional mode. Slender build with textured tannin. A little sharp. Will age well. Not the round and fleshy type of Saint Emilion. Austere, but not dry with a decidedly mineral aftertaste.

Clos de Sarpe**
N: Upfront strawberry, cranberry, and blackberry liqueur aromas.
P: Bit watery and disappointing. A better finish offsets the dilution and weakness, but not enough to make this wine truly satisfactory.

La Commanderie**
N: Primary berry and red fruit aromas. Very expressive.
P: Bit austere and weak with bitter tannin on the dry finish. Not showing well on this day.

Corbin***
N: Closed, but shows good berry fruit in the background.
P: Fruity and juicy, but slightly lacking in acidity. Pure and still primary. Tannin takes a back seat to the fruit. Very blackcurrant, then vinous, with licorice overtones. Delicious.

Corbin Michotte***
N: Simple, but aromatic with floral (iris), cola, and berry blossom overtones.
P: Berry fruit, especially blueberry, comes though on the palate as well an impression of sweetness. Round on entry, with a short, cool, attractive aftertaste. Will drink well young.

Côte de Baleau***
N: Roasted aromas with notes of sweet black fruit.
P: Compact and round. Well-structured, but rather short. Well-made (not over-extracted) in view of the lighter body and substance compared to other Saint Emilions in this vintage. Slightly dry finish, but mercifully not over-oaked.

La Couspaude**
N: A little musky and wild.
P: Soft, but weak. Dilute and acidic. Wish I could be more positive. A wine that deserves to be re-evaluated.

Couvent des Jacobins***1/2
N: Pure and fresh with some roasted and caramel aromas.
P: Engaging cherry flavor that is prolonged into a long aftertaste. Dynamic with good acidity. A very attractive finish combining black fruit, minerality, fine-grained tannin, and oak.

Croix de Labrie***
N: A little dusty, but showing pure deep fruit and hints of beeswax.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel with minerality and lots of blueberry flavor. Angular due to penetrating acidity and tannin that coat the teeth. This tannin is nevertheless finely textured, and resonant. Dry finish, but the bright fruit may well win out over time.

Dassault***1/2
N: Fresh and uncomplicated, with some floral notes.
P: Black fruit jelly. A beautiful, velvety, puckery finish to go along with the “sweetness”. Generous. Now incorporates a no-longer-existing cru classé, Faurie de Souchard. The estate has thus gone from 24 to 39 hectares.

Destieux***
N: Forthright back fruit and good oak.
P: Starts out well, but weak on the middle palate, then going into a relatively dry aftertaste with fine-grained tannin. Medium-weight. This good aftertaste saves an otherwise unremarkable wine.

La Dominique****
N: Delicate nose with marked floral nuances along with hints of chocolate and strawberry. First class.
P: Great balance between acidity and the rest. Successful. A synthesis of Pomerol and Saint Emilion. Only the slight shortness on the aftertaste keeps this from the very highest category. Everything else is in place here. Bursting with fresh fruit, but extraction seems expertly controlled. A very nice surprise.

Faugères**1/2 – ***
N: Subdued berry fruit waiting to emerge.
P: Melts in the mouth, but relatively weak in terms of concentration and flavor. Seems diluted and hard, but the level of acidity signifies both ageing potential and the possibility that may just not be in a good place at present. There’s an initial roundness and some nice raspberry notes but the wine was out of balance the day it was tasted.

Ferrand**1/2
N: Not well-focused at this time. Impression of alcohol and black fruit.
P: Chewy and big, but very short. A little dilute. Hotness and dryness characterize the finish.

Figeac****
N: A berry (blackberry, raspberry) liqueur-like quality. Very promising.
P: Floral aspects come through on the palate which is smooth and with a flavor reminiscent of red fruit and cranberry jelly. This then goes into a superb mineral aftertaste superb with excellent tannic texture. This texture, rather than structure, is the wine’s chief virtue.

Fleur Cardinale***
N: Classic pure fruit with hints of new leather and a not overpowering impression of alcohol. Understated and attractive.
P: Rich, round, generous mouthful of wine. Good structure and just a little short on the aftertaste, but true to its terroir and quite good.

Fombrauge***
N: Inky, leathery.
P: Soft, then showing strong acidity which lasts through to the finish.  Concentrated and big with assertive follow-through and some chocolate and candied black fruit notes. Big, but well-made and enjoyable wine.

Fonplégade***1/2
N: Bit musty, but accompanied by sweet primary fruit aromas.
P: Rich and mouthfilling. The taste profile may be narrow, but the flavor is resonant and delicious within it due in no small part to the significant acidity. Big, but not hollow. Lovely long aftertaste with superb tannin that will age beautifully.

Fonroque***1/2
N: Complex rich grapey aromas with hints of dried fruit.
P: Melts in the mouth, but not simple and easy-going. Wine of character with the limestone stamp of the Saint Emilion plateau. Very round with good grip on the aftertaste. Fine balance and will age well.

Franc Mayne**1/2
N: Candied red fruit and cherry liqueur nuances. Ethereal and good.
P: Smooth and soft to begin with, but then falls down somewhat. Picks up a little on the aftertaste displaying definite minerality, but the wine tasted today was fundamentally out of balance.

La Gaffelière***1/2
N: Ripe rich fruit reminiscent of blackberry jelly. Very good.
P: Both soft and tightly knit (compact). Unexpectedly cushioned on entry and then a little harsh at first on the aftertaste, but this evens out on the finish. Thanks to good tannin and acidity, this will age well.

Grand Corbin***1/2
N: Tremendously perfumed nose, where the fruit just edges out the floral aspects.
P: Not quite as good on the palate, but very drinkable and refreshing. Avoids heaviness or too much oak. Classic, rich, supple, and smooth with an appetizing finish.

Grand Corbin Depagne**1/2
N: Jammy, in the good sense of the word, as well as featuring toasty/roasted aromas.
P: Rather dilute, soft, and simple with an aftertaste whose good length is out of kilter with all that proceeds. In other words, the body is too weak, especially on the middle palate.

Laniote**1/2
N: A slight whiff of oxidation but underlying fruit (sour cherry) is OK.
P: Better on the palate at first then rough tannin appears. A gutsy, vinious wine but lacking in refinement. That’s a pity because there are aspects of elegance on the finish.

Larcis Ducasse****
N: Good nose of a Côtes de Saint Emilion. Deep, inky, and candied black fruit aromas.
P: Round and full-bodied going on to show considerable (and welcome) acidity and limestone minerality wrapped up in sensual softness. Fine classic vin de terroir with good ageing potential. Raisiny finish. Long aftertaste.

Lamarzelle***
N: Lovely, wafting, old library, ethereal aromas.
P: Supple without being flabby. Discreetly mineral with a mouthwatering impression of sweetness. A thirst-quenching, crowd-pleasing sort of wine. There may be plenty of tannin, but this is essentially a soft and easy-going wine.

Montlisse***
N: Floral
P: Lovely raspberry flavors with a strong mineral finish and above average acidity. This, and lashings of oak, make the wine difficult to taste this young.

Moulin du Cadet***
N: Refined, floral, and enticing. Sprity in a good sense.
P: Lovely development on the palate. Chunky, then going into limestone minerality. Jammy quality and will be enjoyable young. Illustrates the big style of Saint Emilion. Relatively long aftertaste showing some dried and candied fruit flavors. Broad-shoulder. Seems more assertive and alcoholic than most.
This cru classé has less than 3 hectares of vines.

Pavie Maquin****
N: Sweet blackcurrant jam and blackberry liqueur aromas, but without being cloying or artificial. Perhaps a bit simplistic at this early stage.
P: Mouthfilling to the extent that it seems a little flabby at first, but fresh acidity and minerality counterbalance that impression. A successful marriage between richness and minerality. Long fruity finish.

Pressac***1/2
N: Deep engaging Merlot fruit.
P: Big on the palate and showing marked acidity. The wine speads out attractively with fine-grained tannin. There’s minerality on the finish to accompany the heaps of fruit. Very expressive.

Le Prieuré***
N: Nose of peony, rose, cherry, licorice and blossoms.
P: Big, rich, and penetrating with high-quality tannin and a puckery aftertaste. Starts out smooth , then the tannins – the kind that bode well for ageing – coat the mouth. Candied fruit (cherry, strawberry) finish.

Ripeau***1/2
N: Raisiny and candied fruit aromas along with a perfumed talc/cosmetic component.
P: Strong, virile wine that develops very well on the palate into a long finely-textured aftertaste. Great tannin. Meaty, but fine.

Rol Valentin**
N: Unusual, stands out in the line-up. Old library aromas along with overtones of leather, licorice, and flowers.
P: Big with some alcohol and leather aromatics coming through on the finish, which is harsh. Overdone. A disappointment to me who has come to appreciate this estate. Deserves to be retasted.

Sansonnet***
N: Funky wildberry, leather, coffee and chocolate notes. Sweet and deep.
P: Marked alcohol and acidity. Big and generous, almost New World in style. 87% Merlot, but seems more like Cabernet. A bruiser.

La Serre***1/2
N: Straightforward and not very pronounced, but fresh with underlying dark fruit (blackberry jelly), roasted, and humus aromas.
P: Rich, deep, and luscious. Fresh and fruity with good tannic structure, acidity, and limestone minerality. The finish features velvety fine-grained tannin.

La Tour Figeac****
N: Sweet and very attractive raspberry and chocolate aromas. Quite seductive.
P: The aromatics on the nose follow through beautifully on the palate. Velvety tannin. Such a smooth, silky texture! Good acidity and great potential.

Tour Saint Christophe***1/2
N: Muted forest fruit aromas with some vanilla notes.
P: More expressive on the palate and unexpectedly delicate. Soft mouthful and finely-textured tannins, but a little weak on the middle palate. Fresh with some menthol on the long aftertaste. Well-made, restrained, and quite good.

Trottevieille***1/2
N: Cherry-vanilla nose.
P: Well-structured and classic with medium body. Soft, rich, and round going gracefully into a long cool aftertaste showing fine-grained tannin. Well made. An exemplary Saint Emilion.

Valandraud***1/2 – **** (label not shown)
N: Smoky, fruity, bacon aromas. Classy and restrained.
P: Raspberry jelly, seemingly austere aftertaste, but this bodes well for long ageing. Tannin with lovely texture. Far-removed from the garagiste style of years ago. Excellent finish.

Villemaurine***
N: Dark brooding fruit with some chocolate overtones.
P: both rich and lively due to marked acidity. Some herbaceousness. Tight and dry on the finish. Archetypal vin de garde.

POMEROL

Beauregard***
N: Intriguing, worthwhile, and classy with subtle hints of incense and mint.
P: Good mouth feel. Typical of its appellation. Strong and solid with some alcohol coming through. Seems just round and simplistic on entry, but features some of those unique rubbery Pomerol tannin on the aftertaste.

Bonalgue***
N: Fresh, natural, simple medley of red and black fruit not hidden by anything else. However, lacks depth. All upfront.
P: Rich, but a bit flabby and one-dimensional. Strong oak does not overpower the linear progression towards an honest, forthright expression of Pomerol Merlot. Good value for money.

Le Bon Pasteur***1/2
N: Spicy, subtle blackberry notes on the temporarily subdued nose.
P: Plush, velvety textbook Pomerol. Medium body and very fresh. Balanced and elegant rather than powerful. Will age well. The new oak on the finish should be reined in over time.
This is a good score for a wine that was, years ago, a poster child for “Parkerization”.

Bourgneuf***1/2
N: Shy, but ripe Merlot showing through with hints of violet.
P: Rich, even thick on the palate, but more acidity than in recent vintages. Round, full-bodied, with toasty oak.

La Cabanne***
N: Coffee, vanilla and fresh dark black fruit.
P: Middle-of-the-road Pomerol with good acidity and candied red fruit flavors. A little short on the aftertaste, but the tannin is fine.

Cantelauze***1/2
N: Slightly herbaceous, but this does not detract from the seductiveness.
P: A serious Pomerol. Compact with an assertive finish to match the richness. Velvety texture and a very long aftertaste.

Certan de May
N: Cellar aromas along with currants and dried fruit and oak. Slightly cosmetic.
P: Thick, rich, and tangy, but somewhat disjointed. Not showing especially well at this time. Seems to go from round into acidic, with a diluted quality. Not rated at this time.

La Clémence*** –  ***1/2
N: Discreet sweet wildberry aomas coupled with those of freshly-roasted coffee beans.
P: Round, soft, and relatively simple to start off with, but with a good follow-through in a style that will appeal to everyone. Licorice and black fruit flavors. Typical of its appellation with what appears to be too much oak on the aftertaste at this time. Still, well-made and with a finish showing excellent tannin.

Clinet ****
N: Luxurious dark fruit, white pepper, coffee and licorice notes along with subtle blossom aromas.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel, rich but finishing dry and mineral. Truffle flavors and some spice. Blackberry on the tail end. Poised and graceful with good acidity.

Clos du Beau Père***
N: Chocolate and very ripe fruit (cherry) aromas, as well as slightly cosmetic ones.
P: At the same time a rather tight, but easy-to-drink Pomerol with tannin to back up the inherent roundness. Succeeds in walking the fine line between flashy and serious.

Clos Beauregard***
N: Almost syrupy nose that seems just post-fermentation with primary fruit aromas accompanied by caramel/vanilla overtones.
P: Plenty of body and a flavor that spreads out on the palate. Perhaps a little one-dimensional, but very enjoyable. The famous Pomerol tannin is currently melding with the oak.

Clos l’Eglise***
N: Lovely, fresh, and direct with overtones of berry bushes.
P: Chewy texture with medium-heavy mouth feel. Muscular tannin. Upper-middle level Pomerol with a fresh grapey quality along with marked oak on the finish that obviously needs time to integrate.

La Conseillante****
N: Expressive nose of violet, peony, and candied black fruit.
P: Plush, but with a welcome edge. Fine acidity to go with the chateau’s wonderful creaminess. Bright pure fruit. While not mouth-filling, the wine spreads out seamlessly on the palate showing first-rate tannin. The vanilla aromatics are due to the terroir as well as oak ageing.

Croix de Gay**
N : Green, earthy, rustic.
P: Aromatics on the nose follow through on the palate, which is not up to the standard of other Pomerols tasted side by side. Time will undoubtedly improve this wine that did not show well on the day it was tasted. Needs to be re-evaluated.

Eglise Clinet****
N: Fine cherry-vanilla overtones to the fresh fruity nose.
P: Cushiony, but not at all flabby. Excellent texture and softly penetrating aftertaste. The tannin is of the utmost quality. Sophisticated, understated, and utterly delicious.

Evangile****
N: Floral aromas, especially violet.
P: Apotheosis of Merlot, with satiny tannin. Very long, incredibly fresh aftertaste with blueberry flavors. Good acidity and an overall impression of freshness. Great texture. Subtle minerality on the finish.

Fayat **1/2 – ***
N: Restrained low-key sweet fruit (blueberry) aromas.
P: Structure and tannin more reminiscent of a Saint Emilion. Starts out big, then drops precipitously. Solid, but clearly not in the top tier.

Feytit Clinet ***
N: Ripe brambly nose. Agreeably green and accompanied by good toasty oak.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fresh and round, with heaps of oak on the aftertaste. Great balance and considerable finesse. Fluid, with medium body and a fine black fruit finish.

Le Gay****
N: Focused, pure, and delightful. Ethereal perfume (dominated by iris), accompanied by almond aromas. Impeccable. Penetrating, yet delicate.
P: Sinewy, fine structure inside a framework of cushioned softness. Delicious aftertaste of great purity featuring the quintessence of raspberry. Seems sweet, but not in the way of wines with high alcohol. Mineral finish with superb tannin.

Gazin***1/2
N: Rather old-fashioned in a way with leather, berry fruit, and slightly musky aromas.
P: More fluid than rich with a tannic finish of very high quality. This is a foursquare wine with good acidity propitious to ageing. Confirms Gazin’s position as one of the pillars of the appellation.

La Grave***1/2
N: Sexy and upfront, although a little simple, with violet and candy nuances.
P: Round, silky, well-made with good tannic aftertaste.  Medium-heavy mouthfeel.  The wine’s “come hither” aspect hides the its intrinsic depth. Maybe not the widest range of flavors, but those within it are excellent.

Hosanna****
N: Subtle ripe fruit that is well in check. ”Sweet,” but not exaggeratedly so. Ethereal and classy.
P: Sheets of satiny flavor assault the palate with softness. This then unfolds into wonderful fresh acidity. Relatively heavy mouth feel with sweet wonderful finely-textured tannin on the aftertaste. Similar to Latour-à-Pomerol, but with more gravitas and potential. Super long finish of red and black fruit. Obviously elegant and feminine – with just the right amount of perfume.

Lafleur****
N: Good, but not remarkable. Very closed as Lafleur often is during the en primeur tastings.
P: This mutism is more than compensated by a truly lovely taste profile: sensual, perky, dynamic, and with regal soft tannin. Both gentle and pervasive. Unique with a tremendously long aftertaste. Incredible finesse and precision.

Lafleur Pétrus ***1/2
N: Attractive, but not delivering much at this stage other than shy fruit and some oak.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Full-bodied from the get-go, and then spreading out to blossom into a an aftertaste with textbook Pomerol tannin (empyreumatic) that has extracted to just the right degree.

La Grave***1/2
N: A little simple and upfront, but sexy with violet and candied fruit aromas.
P: Stylish, round, and silky. Well-made with good tannin on the finish. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Misleadingly fruity in that this tends to overshadow the wine’s intrinsic depth. The range of flavor may be narrow, but the wine is very accomplished within it.

Latour à Pomerol ***1/2 – ****
N: A clear step up in sophistication in the range of Moueix Pomerols. Although seemingly less open, it is unmistakably Pomerol with plenty of room for development.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Sleek tannin with surprising minerality on the aftertaste. Great balance and structure. Made to last for many years. Classic and uncompromising.

Montviel***1/2
N: Forthcoming rich nose. A toss-up whether it is more floral or fruity (forest fruit). Seductive vanilla nuances as well.
P: Rich on the palate too, with stylish tannin and a good long aftertaste. Considerable balance and finesse. Medium-bodied, well-made, and unmistakably Pomerol.

Petit Village***1/2
N: Cranberry and red fruit jelly. Refined and ethereal. Very promising underlying quality.
P: Plummy with the influence of Cabernet Franc out of all proportion to its part in the final blend. Tightly-knit with good length. Medium light body.

Pétrus****1/2
N: Strong, but not overpowering nose with violet and cassis leaf nuances.
P: Very mouthfilling, but well-focused, cool, and restrained with some raspberry flavors. Fairly tannic, but extremely elegant.  Creamy and concentrated. The tannin coats the teeth, but is so very gentle. Very long, lingering aftertaste. A wine with great panache and tannin that is pure velvet. Huge ageing potential.

Le Pin ****
N: Soft and ethereal with violet overtones and a whiff of kirsch.
P: Considerable restraint here, but unbelievably soft and caressing on the palate. The plush long aftertaste shows lots of oak that obviously needs time to integrate. This finish is extremely long, but not assertive. The great acidity means that the softness is tempered and that the wine has character as well as seductiveness. Great resonance on the tannin. The acme of power and elegance.

La Pointe***
N: Forest fruit, cherry, and vanilla aromas.
P: Rich and full-bodied with good acidity and a long finish. Easy-going but, on the whole, not terribly typical of its appellation despite a certain creaminess.

La Rose Figeac ***1/2
N: Bright black fruit with subtle vanilla overtones. Not tremendously expressive at this stage, but promising, with some white pepper notes.
P: Melts in the mouth with great sensuality. Extremely lush with some violet and exotic (incense) nuances. Maybe lacking some tension, but you have to love the sweet fruit. Rubbery tannin on the finish. A worthwhile discovery.

Rouget***1/2
N: Intriguing modern-style nose with buttery vanilla along with blackcurrant and candied black fruit.
P: Black fruit and cranberry jelly flavors with round tannin giving way to tannin of a more characterful sort combined with those from oak. Full and generous and will be very good even young although such good tannin also bodes well for the future.

Trotanoy****
N: Not as overtly enticing as the previous Moueix Pomerols at first with some coffee and vanilla overtones due no doubt to new oak. But dig a little deeper and pure black fruit and other aromas come to the fore. The nose is nevertheless fairly closed.
P: This is a big mouthful of wine, a consummate Pomerol i.e. “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Unabashedly tannic, but what tannins – and so different from those in the Médoc! Made for the long haul.  Velvety texture on the characterful commanding aftertaste of astonishing length. Give it a good 30 years!

Vieux Château Certan****
N: Subtle and floral (sample tasted rather cold, so there is surely more to tell).
P: Smooth and velvety, as always, but the tannin seems more prominent than in other vintages. Very long cool aftertaste. Narrow breadth, but very deep within this range. Elegant, with vanilla and almond aromatics to go with the red fruit. Mineral finish. Atypical for the château.

Vray Croix de Gay***1/2
N: Sweet ripe Merlot fruit.
P: Rich, big-breasted, but finishing with an attractive tartness (acidity) and those unique Pomerol tannins. Textbook example of the appellation. Medium length. Lots of oak, but this is not bothersome.


PESSAC-LEOGNAN REDS

Bouscaut – The château produced no red wine in 2023

Carbonnieux***
N: Toasty with good fresh varietal Cabernet aromas.
P: Thin body, but with a linear taste profile leading to a medium-long velvety aftertaste. Seems like nothing so much as a very good wine in a lesser year. Nevertheless in classic Left Bank mode. Touch of greenness on the finish, but this in no way disqualifies the wine.

Les Carmes Haut Brion****
N: Tobacco leaves, fresh fruit, and roasted aromas.
P: Seems like a synthesis of the best the Right and Left Banks have to offer. Lovely fresh, floral (iris, violet) overtones. Rich, but lively. Bright acidity to accompany the fine-textured tannin that coats the teeth, cheeks, and palate.

Domaine de Chevalier***
N: Gentle nose just beginning to blossom. Good underlying aromatics.
P: Bit angular and certainly not big-framed. The fine aftertaste makes up considerably for the lack of body. Tealike tannins. Wise winemaking prevailed because heavier extraction would have been a mistake here.

Fieuzal***1/2
N: The soft understated nose is very reminiscent of forest fruit. There’s also a slight cosmetic note.
P: Round and soft, transitioning into a very welcome austerity conducive to structure and length. Some licorice and a gentle grip. Not a rich or big wine, but clearly a success in 2022.

Haut Bailly***1/2
N: Typical Pessac-Léognan nose with blackberry and smoky nuances. Very good.
P: Rich, but with a solid backbone and fine tannic texture. The aftertaste is somewhat dry, but it is also long and delicious. Excellent balance. Floral (violet) uplift on the tail end. A smooth, supple vintage for Haut Bailly.

Haut Brion ****1/2
N: Low-key candied fruit and a little peppermint. Sophisticated and understated.
P: Spreads out beautifully on the palate. A top model in a formal evening gown. Definite cassis overtones. Finds a balance between a certain greenness (rather than an off-putting herbaceousness) and fruit. Superb very fine-grained tannin. Puckery extremely long finish. Superb. Velvety texture, for sure.

Malartic La Gravière***
N: Fresh and ethereal, but not very expressive.
P: Bright fruit with marked acidity reminding me of a lesser vintage. Tannins arguably too extracted in light of the body. Lacks richness. Very Cabernet, but with less than optimum ripeness.

Olivier***1/2
N: Open, generous, floral, and forthcoming.
P: Velvety, with assertive tannin. Long textured aftertaste. Strong oak, too much at this time. If it can be kept under control, this wine’s intrinsic quality will make it rise among the other Pessac-Léognan great growths. 2022 Olivier has presence and gravitas.

La Mission Haut-Brion****
N: Ethereal old library aromas along with deep dark fruit, good oak, and a touch of mintiness.
P: A big mouthful of wine with lots of tannin displaying marvelous texture. Chocolate and mint on the nose come through on the palate. Long. Serious. Huge potential.

Pape Clément***
N: Not overoaked (a problem in the past). Lovely, pure, and fairly closed, but promising. Cherry-vanilla and tobacco nuances.
P: Soft, then penetrating. Nice progression on the palate into an aftertaste with tannic overload (extraction and oak). Unrelenting dry finish. Ultimately unbalanced because the finish is out of kilter with the rest of the taste profile.

Smith Haut Lafitte***1/2
N: Fruit forward with good lively wildberry aromas
P: More stuffing than most Pessac-Léognan classifieds this year with a slick fruitiness. Somewhat unctuous going into a rather hard aftertaste due mainly to new oak. Still, there’s plenty of fruit to back that up.

La Tour Martillac***
N: Fresh and ethereal, but not very expressive at this stage.
P: Bright fruit and marked acidity. Perhaps too much tannin in light of the body. Cabernet character predominates, but this does not seem to be very ripe.


HAUT MEDOC & MARGAUx

You will notice that there are only two wines of Margaux here. That is because during 10 days of intense travelling around Bordeaux to try to fit in as much as possible, I did not manage to make it to the UGC tasting of Margaux great growths.
However, I did visit the appellations two most famous estates…

Belgrave***1/2
N: Charming and elegant with pure understated cassis aromas.
P: Interesting balance. Very fluid and drinkable. Natural. Good volume of flavor. Welcoming fruit and a fine medium-long aftertaste. An unadulterated serious Médoc with well-extracted tannin. A successful wine and a good showing for Belgrave.

Camensac**
N: Unremarkable nose of an unoaked petit Médoc. True to its terroir but not much more.
P: Angular, harsh, rough tannin. Not the level of a classified growth. This is due, in my opinion to poorly or overly-extracted tannin.

Cantemerle*** to ***1/2
N: Soft and simple.
P: Much more character on the palate. Svelte and velvety, but a Médoc in minor mode. The English would view this as the perfect luncheon claret because of its lightness and drinkability. Strawberry and red fruit flavors and a cool aftertaste. As always, a dependable quality-price ratio.

La Lagune***1/2
N: Pure elegant nose evoking fresh blackberries.
P: Very Cabernet with some spicy and floral notes. Converges towards a puckery aftertaste. The flavor profile is not wide, but deep.  Some menthol on the aftertaste.

Margaux****
N: Spicy as well as fruity.
P: Light body. Model of elegance. So soft that the tannin very much takes a back seat. Not one look to for power. Cool aftertaste with the stamp of the fantastic terroir. This having been said, I feel that this is not a major success for the château.

Palmer****
N: Lovely scent with well-integrated oak.
P: Round, sensual, silky, and aristocratic with very fine tannin. Medium-heavy mouth feel with fresh blueberry flavors. Attractively tart and appetizing aftertaste. Will show well relatively young.

La Tour Carnet**
N: Sweet fruit and oak, but not too much of the latter.
P: Less massively oaked than in some previous vintages, but the dryness from new barrels is definitely there. A more modern style that features brutal tannin on the finish. Somewhat hollow to boot. A different winemaking strategy would be welcome.

SAINT JULIEN

Beychevelle***
N: Oak and cassis aromas that are ethereal without being complex.
P: Better on the palate with vibrant acidity and good length. Narrow breadth but good resonance and fine fresh finish. Well-made, but not exciting.

Branaire Ducru***1/2 (label not shown)
N: Brambly, very much in character for this estate. Sweet fruit and oak. Sophisticated, low key, and fresh.
P: Lively and very fruity with good acidity for an aftertaste that is nevertheless not quite up to the overall flavor profile. However, this is a fine, well-made, charming Médoc with good balance.  

Gruaud Larose*** – ***1/2
N: Mostly closed, but there’s a subtle very Saint Julien nose that is quite floral in this vintage (rose)
P: Big, chunky, and generous, but lacks richness. A little hollow, but displays a long aftertaste somewhat overshadowed by oak at present. The dip on the middle palate reflects a lack of backbone.

Lagrange***
N: Muted at present. Soft underlying Cabernet fruit.
P: Better on the palate with delicious tannin. Pure, thirst-quenching quality, but a short aftertaste. Blackcurrant flavors. Fine tannin, but extraction seems to have been rather timid. Best enjoyed young.

Langoa Barton*** – ***1/2
N: Sweet fruit, but slightly green and with some coffee nuances. Focused but not assertive.
P: Good structure and fruit, even if on the thin side. Elegant and light, but also solid. Great aftertaste.

Léoville Barton***1/2
N: Great Cabernet fruit and spiciness.
P: Svelte and develops beautifully on the palate. Dynamic with great acidity, as well as superb texture and length. A classic wine whose only shortcoming is not to have the length of great years.

Léoville Poyferré***1/2
N: Open and with a perfumed (cosmetic) quality. Feminine and seductive.
P: Rich and round. Tremendously fruity with a restrained, measured aftertaste. Medium body. Refreshing and very drinkable. Ideal for mid-term ageing.

Saint Pierre***
N: Upfront, but not very subtle fruit.
P: Tightly wound and exuberant with good tannic texture. The aftertaste is not long, but this is a wine for Cabernet lovers with heaps of fruit that will deliver even when young. Too much oak at present, however this will surely integrate over time.

Talbot***
N: Fresh roasted aromas indicative of heavy toast on barrels. There is sweet fruit though to back this up, and even some truffle nuances.
P: The oak comes through even more strongly on the palate, where it dominates black fruit flavors. This overreach is probably temporary and the wine deserves retasting down the line.

PAUILLAC & SAINT ESTEPHE

Armailhac***
N: Deep characterful nose. Good toasty oak to match the fragrant berry fruit and floral notes.
P: Not quite so endearing on the palate, but full-bodied and spreads out with red candied fruit flavors. Impression of softness and then tannin. Mineral rather than dry finish. May deserve an upgrade over time.

Batailley***
N: Cassis leaves and some alcohol.
P: Very rich and ripe with great tannic texture on the finish. Big and powerful, but less finesse than other Pauillacs in this vintage. Fine-grained tannin on the sweet finish. One of the better fifth growths in the appellation, but not top of the list this year.

Calon Ségur***1/2
N: Deep wildberry nose redolent of ripe Cabernet along with some fruit blossom aromas.
P: Waves of flavor. Compact with archetypal and very good Médoc tannin. Leather and iron notes. The development on the palate is, however, not the smoothest, despite this being a good wine.

Clerc Milon***1/2
N: Very classy, pure, seductive nose with the inevitable Pauillac hallmarks (graphite, cigar box) as well as pure, understated fruit.
P: As big and round as d’Armailhac, but with more acidity and, especially, length. Tastes like a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Luscious.

Cos Labory **1/2 (label not shown)
N: Subdued dark fruit with noticeable presence of alcohol.
P: Tannin here is decidedly tough and it is a moot point whether age will round it out. I have no doubt that the change in ownership (acquisition by Reybier of Cos d’Estournel just across the road) will alter this chateau’s taste profile for the better in the near future.

Cos d’Estournel***1/2 – ****
N: Closed and uncommunicative at this time.
P: Ah, much more expressive on the palate! Bright candied red and black fruit flavors with wonderfully-textured tannin. Plush. Starts out chunky then shows considerable elegance with that great tannin.

Croizet Bages**
N: Upfront fruit and oak without good definition.
P: Lively, with a little gas, and then thirst quenching until the aftertaste, which is disappointingly hard in light of the overall flavor profile. Relatively uninteresting and the finish is off-putting.

Duhart Milon***1/2
N: Chalky nose with sweet fruit starting to blossom.
P: Big mouth feel, aromatic, and unctuous although not big-framed. Black fruit flavors as expressed only in the Médoc. Elegant and seems more simplistic than it really is. Fine violet nuances like it’s older brother, Lafite, with velvety tannin to boot. Interesting that this should always be put before les Carruades in the line-up at the château.

Grand Puy Ducasse** to **1/2
N: Toasty oak and roast coffee aromas presently overshadow sweet blackcurrent fruitiness, although not by a great deal
P: Starts out round, but dips rather precipitously into marked acidity and rough tannin.

Grand Puy Lacoste***
N: Bright fruit and some alcohol.
P: Trademark fine-grained tannin, but not a stellar showing for the estate. Soft into velvet tannin and long aftertaste nevertheless. Probably needs revisiting to be re-evaluated. 

Haut Batailley***1/2
N: Appealing classic nose of ripe blackberry.
P: Good tension, albeit relatively short. Very well-made with good acidity. Spreads out on the palate. Seems like there’s a family resemblance with Lynch Bages. Chewy with waves of “sweet” blackcurrant. Very good. Haut Batailly is on the rise!

Lafite Rothschild****1/2
N: Unmistakable wonderful floral aromas (especially violet) unique to this great wine. Some graphite nuances. Ultimate refinement.
P: Graceful, pure, aristocratic, resonant, and well-structured with a seamless development on the palate. The tannin seems harsher than usual for Lafite, but this may be a misleading impression. Slick texture on the aftertaste and the spring flower aromatics follow through from the nose.

Latour**** – ****1/2
N: Understated blackcurrant nose along with lead, peony, and iris nuances.
P: Unabashedly showing fine acidity with inimitable velvety tannins that grip with tenderness. Medium body. Seems a middling vintage for Latour. Elegant more than powerful. Black cherry and cassis flavors and, of course – noblesse oblige – a very long aftertaste.

Lynch Bages***1/2
N: Cool, enticing nose of tobacco, toasty oak and, of course, blackcurrant,
P: Melts in the mouth and then has good Pauillac tannin on the aftertaste. This is not a great vintage for Lynch Bages, but it is well-made and in the much-loved style of the château. Blackcurrant rules here and the finish is, in any event, long.

Lynch Moussas***
N: Inky, mysterious, and brooding. Fresh, with blackcurrant leaf aromas.
P: Soft and well-structured, going into a fairly oaky aftertaste, but that fits into the framework. Seems on the light side at first, but the seriousness shows through on the delicious finish which has a fine texture.

Montrose****1/2
N: Lovely, open blend of fruity and vanilla aromas. Sophisticated and very appealing.
P: Cherry-vanilla with tannins of the highest order. Cashmere. Very long sensual aftertaste that unfolds by degrees. Delightful.

Mouton Rothschild****1/2
N: Utterly sweet and pure with some “old library” nuances.
P: Chunky, meaty, and big while also showing great refinement. That tannin just doesn’t let go, but it’s hold is loving. Coats the teeth and the entire mouth. Typical flavors of blackberry and cassis with incredible freshness. One for the long haul. Super-long aftertaste with some black olive nuances.

Phélan Ségur*** (label not shown)
N: Dense and mysterious.
P: Bright fruit with fine-grained tannin which nevertheless comes across as too dry at the present time. I’ve been more enthusiastic about other recent vintages of Phélan Ségur, which have held their own with classified growths, so I’m a little disappointed and need to retaste this down the road.

Pichon Baron****
N: Fresh, pure, and soft aromas typical of Pauillac (graphite). Restrained oak. Very promising.
P: Tight structure and bursting with flavor. Tobacco and lead overtones as well as humus/forest floor nuances. Superb texture. Classic.

Pichon Comtesse****
N: Subtle coffee aromas complemented by black fruit, especially ethereal blackcurrant.
P: Mouthfilling with fresh acidity and velvety fine-grained tannin. Round attack expanding into a smooth, slightly creamy aftertaste. Great Cabernet fruit and unique tannin.  The antithesis of a Napa Cab.

2000 Ch. Sociando Mallet

Sociando Mallet is a wonderful success story.

Jean Gautreau, a wine broker turned négociant, bought a tiny, little-known, and much-neglected vineyard in the northern Médoc in 1969. These 5 hectares of vines in Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne, just north of Saint Estèphe, have since grown to 83 hectares and the estate has gone on to a earn a stellar reputation.

Sociando Mallet (54% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Cabernet Franc) is located quite close to the Gironde Estuary, making for a very temperate microclimate. The terroir consists of gravel soil overlaying a deep clay-limestone subsoil. The vines are an average of 35 years old.

I have only visited the château once, at which time I was impressed at how well-maintained everything (buildings, landscaping, vines, cellars…) was. I did a horizontal tasting that proved the wine’s excellent regularity, even in so-called off years. I would describe Sociando Mallet as a Médoc lovers Médoc, not one for label drinkers. Prices are definitely in the affordable range, and the wine represents very good value for money.  Sociando Mallet is so well-known at this point that they decided not to submit their candidacy for inclusion in the cru bourgeois classification.

A week ago, I opened a bottle of 2000 Sociando Mallet, decanting it two hours before the meal. The color was beautifully deep and lustrous. The nose was ultra-classic, showing the hallmarks of fine Médoc: pencil shavings, humus, essence of blackcurrant, and incense. The wine was almost as good on the palate, with smooth, resolved tannin and a cool long aftertaste. At age 24, this Sociando Mallet from a great vintage was at its peak and as good as many a bottle of classified growths I’ve had, even if the depth and length did not quite qualify it for the uppermost echelon.

Jean Gautreau died in 2019, but his name lives on in a special cuvée of Sociando Mallet amounting to 3 special barrels per vintage. I do not know this wine, but have one bottle each from the 2005, 2009, and 2016 vintages and am looking forward to trying them.  

Two 2005 Bordeaux: Gazin and Bahans Haut Brion

What was the best Bordeaux vintage so far this century? Putting aside the oversimplification inherent in such a question, most wine lovers would probably scratch their head and end up picking from 2000, 2005, 2010, 2016, or 2019.
2005 certainly has a good reputation by anyone’s reckoning, and so I decided to take a look at a couple of fine wines from that vintage this past weekend, mostly to see if they were open for business. Nineteen years is, after all, quite a respectable age.

Friends were visiting from England over the weekend and as an aperitif at Saturday dinner I served a wine they were unlikely to find in the UK, a sparkling Savoie from the Maison Mollex – their 1931 Seyssel Brut (1931 is the year their firm was founded). Mollex is a producer (and négociant) whose wines I have followed for quite some time. At 9 euros a bottle, this dry fruity fizz is a definite steal.
On one memorable occasion I served it after a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and everyone agreed that the Seyssel was more enjoyable!

Since asparagus is currently in season, my better half prepared a dish of large white spears with hollandaise sauce. According to an old wives’ tale, asparagus does not go with wine, the flavor being too strong and herbaceous – an opinion to which I do not at all subscribe!
Anyway, we had a white Burgundy donated by our guests with this, a 2013 Saint Aubin Premier Cru En Remilly from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. This grower is much loved and it’s not hard to see why. The wine had a seductive hazelnut and varietal bouquet along with inimitable match stick nuances indicative of controlled reduction. The wine was not a heavyweight on the palate, but was nevertheless very good.

The main course consisted of paupiettes de veau in a cep sauce. What in the world are paupiettes? Well, you take a slice of veal, stuff it with spiced sausage meat, and tie it up into a small bundle with string (which you cut off before serving).

On to the red wines.

The first, also an offering from our guests, was a 2004 Chambertin Clos de Bèze from Drouhin-Larose, a domaine in Gevrey Chambertin that I have visited on several occasions. I wish I could be more positive about this wine from such an illustrious vineyard. There was certainly nothing wrong with it, but it was tired, rather inexpressive, and lacking in depth for a grand cru. I think the vintage factor counted enormously here and also that the wine would have been much better in its youth.

The first Bordeaux was a 2005 Château Gazin from Pomerol. This estate is considered by many to be one of the appellation’s dependable, if rarely exciting stalwarts, a member of the B team. While I’ve never had a great Gazin, I came to this 2005 with an open mind. Well, the upshot is that I would unhesitatingly promote this to a B+! The color was remarkably deep and concentrated, most satisfying. The nose was textbook Pomerol with gorgeous truffle and almond nuances. Beautiful. The palate was not a let-down either. It was not only rich, but earthy and ferrous, with a velvety texture. A truly delicious wine entering its drinking window i.e. not too young.

Next up, with the cheese platter, was 2005 Bahans Haut Brion. Although a second wine, I expected this to be a step up from the Gazin, yet it was not. The color was as it should be for its age and the nose showed classic cedar, tobacco, and graphite notes. So far, so good. However, the wine seemed somewhat disjointed on the palate and had a strangely alcoholic finish (speaking here of the impression of alcohol rather than in a laboratory analysis sense). I did not really find the imprint of this great terroir which even a second wine should have.  Could this 2005 simply have been two young? Was I wrong to go on the assumption that a second wine would necessarily come around much sooner than the grand vin?  It so happens that I have one more bottle of this wine, which I will be sure to hold back for several more years. It could very well be that wine will round out the rough edges and bring it into balance. Time will tell.
Starting with the 2007 vintage, Bahans Haut Brion changed its name to Le Clarence de Haut Brion in honor of Clarence Douglas Dillon, the first member of the Dillon family to own the château.

2018 Château Pontac Lynch, Margaux

Pontac Lynch. The name is so steeped in the history of the Médoc that it sounds almost made up! And yet… These two famous wine families – the Pontacs, onetime owners of Haut Brion, Lafite, Latour, Mouton, and  Calon Ségur, and the Lynch family of Lynch Bages, Lynch Moussas, and Dauzac – joined forces to build a hunting lodge in Cantenac in 1750. This beautiful small “château” remains in excellent condition and is surrounded by luxurious vegetation thanks to a former owner who was also a botanist. Located just a stone’s throw from Château Margaux, it is surprising that Pontac Lynch is not better-known.

The estate was long given over to raising dairy cows (!), but its winegrowing vocation was resuscitated by the Bondon family who acquired the property in 1952. That proved to be a very wise decision since the 8 hectares of vines border on those of Palmer, Issan, and Rauzan Ségla. Château Margaux is just across the road. Given this superb location, it is amazing that the wine has maintained a rather low profile and that the vineyards haven’t been swallowed up by more illustrious neighbors.

Change is in the air. I met the 4th generation of the Bondon family, Valentine, last week at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants. All of 25 years old, Valentine is a very go-ahead young woman. She is converting to organic viticulture, seeking advice from the famous enologist Eric Boissonot, renovating the vatroom and cellars, and opening up a bed and breakfast at the château. I will be following the developments and am willing to bet that we will be hearing a lot more about Pontac Lynch in the future.

I’ve not often had the wine, a cru bourgeois, but opened a bottle of 2018 on Sunday to reacquaint myself. Six years is not very old for a Médoc, but I uncorked the wine four hours before the meal and decanted it two hours before. The deep color showed a touch of purple indicating its relative youth. The bouquet was the best part of the wine: rich, almost Pomerol-like with a meaty side as well as hints of forest floor and truffle.  Although the palate didn’t quite live up to the nose, it nevertheless showed a certain elegance, starting out rather round, then appearing on the thin side, with a few rough edges to the tannin and a slightly dry finish. Oak influence was there for sure, but well-integrated. 
The upshot is that this was a very good cru bourgeois in a traditional style, entering early maturity. While not of classified growth standing, I’m convinced that, in the capable hands of Valentine, very good things are on the way. This is an estate worth following.

2015 Château Fourcas Hosten

Listrac (pronounced “Lees-trahk) is probably the Médoc communal appellation with the lowest profile, even less so than Moulis. Although the latter is of comparable size (630 hectares vs. 570 for Listrac), it boasts a greater reputation and better-known châteaux.
What makes Listrac unique? For a start, it is the highest point in the Médoc and has a greater proportion of Merlot than its sister appellations. There are twenty châteaux altogether and a cooperative cellar. Listrac wines can hardly be said to have a loyal following and the local wine trade considers them on the rustic side.

The leading châteaux are Clarke, Fourcas Dupré, Fonréaud, and Fourcas Hosten.

Fourcas Hosten has had a number of owners over the years, including the négociants Sichel and a consortium of Americans. The estate was purchased in 2006 by Renaud and Laurent Momméja, scions of the Hermès luxury group. There are 50 hectares of vines: 58% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc. A small quantity of white wine is also made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris.

I opened a 2015 Fourcas Hosten this past Sunday, uncorking the bottle 4 hours before the meal and decanting it two hours before. I wasn’t expecting anything remarkable, more like a sturdy, perhaps old-school Médoc. I have to say though that this was disappointing. At nine years of age the color was deep and fine. The nose was subdued, with black cherry and more dominant mushroom, forest floor, and truffle notes. But where the wine fell down was on the palate. This started out well enough, but went on to reveal rough, unfriendly, bitter tannin that no amount of ageing will soften.

Of course, I won’t damn this estate because of one unfortunate encounter and I’ll make a point of tasting recent vintages at upcoming Union des Grands Crus tastings. A lot of things can change in nine years. I have had the white Fourcas Hosten, which is fairly rare (7,000 bottles a year). It will make a welcome addition to the Médoc Blanc appellation that is in the works.

2000 Château Chasse Spleen

Château Chasse Spleen in Moulis

I drank this on Sunday with a roast free-range chicken. Isn’t it amazing how such a simple dish, if the bird is first rate (i.e. not industrially raised) and cooked right, provide so much pleasure? By the same token, the thin-skinned creamy-fleshed Agata potatoes with crème fraiche and chive were a reminder that gourmet delights don’t need to be complicated and expensive to be delicious.

Yes, the wine. This exceeded my expectations and reaffirmed my faith, if need be, in the wines of the Médoc. Moulis is a tiny appellation, one of the smallest in Bordeaux. It nearly merged with Listrac not long ago, which would have made a lot of sense, but ran into a few ego-fuelled problems along the way… Anyway, Chasse Spleen has long been considered one of the leading wines of Moulis and was a cru bourgeois exceptionnel for many years. However, for whatever reason, it is not one of the 14 wines included in that category, or any other for that matter, in the 2020 classification.

Moulis may be small, but with 130 hectares of vines, Chasse Spleen is large, taking up 20% of the entire appellation. It has belonged to the Merlaut family (Gruaud Larose, Chasse Spleen, Haut Bages Libéral, Ferrière, Camensac, etc.) since 1976. They also make a white wine, but this is nothing extraordinary in my experience.

I tend to think of Chasse Spleen as a stalwart old-fashioned sort of wine representing good value for money and taking a lot of time to come around. The last vintage I drank was the 2015 which was good, but not particularly so. This 2000, however, was markedly better.

The color was splendid, with only a slight bricking on the rim. You could easily take this for a much younger wine. While not spellbinding, the nose was fresh and pure with pencil shaving, licorice, tar, and blackberry nuances. The wine was even better on the palate, with a very fluid, easy-going side along with a seductive, soft, melts-in-your-mouth texture and candied black fruit flavors. The wine seemed plush and marked by Merlot to me, although this constitutes only 20% of the blend. While 2000 Chasse Spleen is not a weighty wine, nor one of great breadth, it is truly delicious, with one taste inviting another. The only demerit I can think of is a certain roughness and dryness on the finish. At age 24, this is, in my opinion, as good as it will ever be. To my mind, the price/quality ratio here shows that Bordeaux is very much in the running amidst global competition.

Trip to the Argentinian wine country

What in the world is a report on Argentinian wine doing on the Bordeaux wine blog? Well, it is not healthy for any wine lover to be totally focused on just one region. But also, as you read along, you will see that there are links between Bordeaux and the Argentinian wine country.

I had never been to Latin America until November 2023, so I was pretty excited about a trip to Argentina, a country five times the size of mainland France.
My wife and I arrived on the eve of the presidential elections there. Despite a massive campaign budget (funded, it seems, by the government in power…) the Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa, lost to the eccentric if not downright weird Javier Milei. It is hoped that Milei can turn the country around and put a stop to the 200% inflation rate. Although the heavily devalued peso wreaks havoc on the Argentinian people, it is a decided boon to tourists, who pay far less for things than in Europe or North America.

We spent a total of ten days in Buenos Aires and seven in Mendoza.

A few words about the capital before talking about Argentina’s wine country.  The city proper of Buenos Aires has 3 million inhabitants, with 13 million in the urban area. As opposed to other South American cities, the population is largely of European origin (mainly Spanish and Italian) and the architecture there is also very reminiscent of Europe, with some tree-lined streets looking eerily Parisian. We went on several walking tours, including in the La Boca district, with its bright colours and unique charm. There is a monument on the Plaza San Martin to the 650 soldiers who died in the Falkland Islands war. I was worried that my wife, who is English, might run into some negative feelings because of the conflict, but most Argentinians seem to acknowledge that the war was an ill-conceived action taken by a military dictatorship seeking to make the country pay less attention to the disastrous situation at home.

Food and wine: We found it possible to eat well in BA and everywhere else we went in Argentina. In 2023 you can enjoy a full meal for two with a good Malbec for the equivalent of 30 euros. We learned that it was often wise to split the main course because servings can be huge. Wine is reasonably priced and nearly always very young. There is a tradition of serving inexpensive wine in el pingüinito penguin-shaped ceramic pitchers in Buenos Aires. You can’t go wrong with these.

One address I would like to share is Fogón Asado on Gorriti 3780 in BA’s Palermo district. This provides the consummate Argentinian beef experience in an intimate setting.  Ten of us (6 different nationalities), sat around a sort of bar surrounding a custom-made barbecue system in a small town house. The 9 course meal included various cuts of meat cooked to perfection, including types of wood adapted to each one! We opted for a Malbec wine to go with each course, including a sweet one with dessert.

Argentina is the 5th largest wine producing country, and about roughly 70% of that comes from the province of Mendoza, over 1,000 km from Buenos Aires, not far from the Chilean border.  My wife and I flew from BA to the city of Mendoza and stayed in the region for a week, spending 4 days visiting wineries. We hired a driver because we don’t speak Spanish and because there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving in Argentina. Therefore, even if we spat everything, I’m sure we would still be over the limit. As it turns out, our driver, Mauricio, spoke excellent English and was very well-acquainted with the wine industry.

There is a very go-ahead, can-do spirit in Mendoza and a pioneering approach reminiscent of California in the 1970s and 80s. Many of the cellars we visited were well-equipped, and with winemakers having extensive overseas experience.  There were over 1,500 wineries in Argentina at the turn of the 21st century. For a variety of reasons, the industry, which goes back to the 16th century, declined and acquired a reputation for cheap wine of mediocre quality. This image has since been turned around, especially abroad (exports go primarily to the US, UK, Brazil, Canada, and the Netherlands).

The two largest companies are Bodegas Esmeralda (which owns the widely-exported Alamos brand) and Peñaflor (which owns Trapiche, also widely exported). Between the two of them, these firms are responsible for nearly 40% of total wine production in Argentina.

Several things set Argentina apart. For a start, most of the vines are ungrafted. Even though phylloxera is not uncommon, the most frequently-found strain causes little damage. Then, there is the country’s leading grape variety: Malbec. It is hard to know the exact percentage, but Malbec accounts for roughly half of all vines. Originally from France, where it is the primary variety in the Cahors appellation, Malbec thrives in Argentina because of the semi-arid climate, but with cool evenings. Many of the vines are irrigated with water that runs down from the Andes via conduits dating back centuries. Drip irrigation is common.

Located at the foot of the mountains, Mendoza is a city of about 120,000 people built on a grid pattern.  A terrible earthquake in 1861 killed thousands and destroyed most of the historic buildings. The guide books tend to downplay Mendoza, but my wife and I found it an enjoyable place to stay. It is the center of a burgeoning wine tourism industry.

We visited thirteen wineries in four days and tried many other wines at restaurant meals.

Our first visit was to Bodega Alandes in Maipú. The tasting room is located in a historic mud brick building although the small cellars there are mainly for show. The main facilities are elsewhere.  The winery buys grapes from various regions rather than growing them. Also in the New World mold, winemaker Karim Mussi, whom we did not meet, maintains a high media profile, reflecting  the star system approach to marketing. He has also presided over Altocedro since 1999 and Alandes since 2012.
We started out with a 2022 Torrentés. We were to encounter this variety again and again in Argentina. Unfortunately, I never really took to it. Most times it is semi-sweet, but this one at Alandes was very tart and not really to my liking.  Another white, the Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon Paradoux was much better, if a little too oaky for me, The red wines were quite good. The 600 Qaramy 2021 from the Uco Valley – a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah blend – showed berry fruit aromatics, good structure, and a promising future. Quite a successful wine. The 2011 Jardin de Los Caprichos  No. 19 Malbec, one of the few older wines we tried in Argentina was a touch rustic, but packed with flavor. It reminded me a bit of a Rioja, with a dry finish. The Jardin de Los Caprichos 23 was big, strong, and Zinlike, with 15% alcohol.

Family-owned Cinco Sentidos (Five Senses) is an attractive modern winery incorporating the original utilitarian building. They have 100 hectares of vines on the banks of the Mendoza River.  We tasted through their range in a room that was once a huge vat.  The sparkling Torrentés was unremarkable. The 2020 Malbec Reserva was fresh with cedar and peppery notes. It was big, smooth, and crowd-pleasing, but short on the palate. The 2019 Gran Reserva is a blend of Malbec and the two Cabernets. It was rich and round with soft silky tannin. Although once again a tad short and a touch hot, it was nevertheless a very worthwhile wine.  The 2021 Maluco was very New World in style, with eucalyptus on the nose. It was a little too hard and dry for me. “Maluco” means crazy in Portuguese, a language referring to the owners’ roots.

Bandini : Finca Bandini very much corresponds to the European conception of a wine estate. It is in a a beautiful oasis bordered by the Mendoza river, which irrigates 60 hectares of vines in a single block.  The soil is full of rocks washed down from the Andes, whose snow-capped peaks provide a dramatic backdrop. We met Federico Bandini, a native son who moved to Houston, where he made a fortune in the oil business. He jumped at the chance to buy this amazing site in his home town, Lujan de Cuyo and entirely reinvented it, planting vines as well as building a new winery and visitor center. Everything is geared up for wine tourism (visitors are taken around in a golf cart).
We tasted through seven Bandini wines.

The 2022 Dos Cauces (Two Streams) is made from Uco Valley grapes.  This is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Viognier, and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. This proved to be simple, with good acidity. After a Gewurtztraminer and Malbec Rosé, we sampled the 2019 Dos Cauces Malbec, from Mendoza. This was very forthcoming and with a gentle tannic bite. Elegant and very seductive. The 2020 Los Muros (The Walls), an estate wine, consists of 87% Malbec and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It showed dark fruit on the somewhat subdued nose. The wine was spicy and interesting on the palate, with good acidity. We went on to the 2019 Magna Corpore Malbec. The nose was a bit off at the time and the wine clearly needs time to come together, so judgement is reserved. The last wine was the 2022 Limited Edition 100th anniversary wine, a 100% Malbec from Lujan de Cuyo. The bouquet was redolent of green and black pepper and the wine obviously has considerable ageing potential. It is fermented and aged in new French oak barrels, whereas the other reds are kept in egg-shaped cement vats. 

Agostino: This winery is located in the Barrancas region of Maipú, where the family firm have 305 hectares of vines. These grow on a former river bed with stony soil ideal for viticulture.  We didn’t actually visit here and only came to eat lunch in their restaurant which was, by the way, up to the most exacting European standard.  The 2020 Agostion Familia Corte de Uvas Tintas is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tempranillo  grapes from the Uco Valley.  This was a nice introduction to the house style. It was fresh and fruity although the 15 year ageing potential mentioned on the back label should be taken with a grain of salt. The 2018 Agostino Legado Malbec, also from the Uco Valley, was a step up, with more structure and gravitas. We ended with the top of the line, the 2019 Beta Crux, a big oaky wine, but not without elegance.

Cantena Zapata : This was one of the highlights of the trip. Built in 2001, the winery’s striking design was inspired by Mayan temples the owners had admired during a trip to Guatemala. Dating back to 1902, the family business developed out of all recognition in the late 20th century under the leadership of Nicolas Catena Zapata. He innovated on many fronts: clonal selection and propagation of his best Malbec vines, developing a reputation for quality Argentinian wine on export markets and, above all, planting at high altitudes (up to 1,500 meters) in order to produce fresher more balanced wines. Furthermore, he established a Wine Institute, which makes Cantena one of only a handful of producers in the world with their very own. The Adrianna vineyard, source of their top wines, is one of the most analysed in the world.  Experimentation is never-ending.  Nicolas’ daughter, Laura, now runs the show. She is a medical doctor with a degree in biology from Harvard who splits her time between San Francisco and Mendoza.

My wife and I tasted several wines with Fernando Buscema, Director of the Wine Institute and winemaker. The overall quality was really very good. We started with the impressive 2021 Malbec Argentino that we had already appreciated in Buenos Aires. The eye-catching label depicts four women involved with the history of Malbec including Eleanor of Aquitaine and Laura Cantena herself.  The bouquet was sweet and Italianate with chocolate nuances and subtle toasty oak (the wine is barrel fermented and aged). It was full-bodied, strapping, and had a long leathery finish. 

We then tasted the 2020 and 2016 vintages of Nicolas Cantena Zapata (one of two wines sold on the Place de Bordeaux), consisting of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, and 10% Cabernet Franc. I preferred the 2017, with graphite on the nose along with soft plummy aromas and trademark Malbec floral notes. It was Pomerol-like on the palate with a tarry sweet finish. A very fine wine by anybody’s reckoning. We finished with one of the rare old wines we were to taste on our trip, a 2003 Cantena Alta. The purpose was to show us that Argentinian wines have staying power, and we did indeed come away convinced.

Cheval des Andes: This was one of the wineries I really wanted to visit, so I wrote an e-mail to Pierre-Olivier Clouet at Château Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion to ask if he could arrange this since the two estates have shared ownership (Bernard Arnault/LVMH).  Almost immediately, I received an e-mail from Gérald Gabillet in Argentina inviting me to visit and also to stay for dinner, which I thought was pretty amazing.

Cheval des Andes in Lujan de Cuyo is a young, but not exactly new estate since their first vintage was in 1999. The wine has, until now, been made at nearby Terrazas Los Andes, another star in the LVMH constellation. However, this is about to change because a new winery is being planned on site. I discovered this at dinner because several architects were there visiting from France. And much to my surprise, the team from Château Cheval Blanc was there as well! So there we were there in a very French context enjoying a barbecue and drinking Cheval des Andes – an incredible experience.

Cheval des Andes’ 50-hectare vineyard is in an idyllic location, with roses planted at the end of vine rows, a small lake and, in keeping with a new trend in Bordeaux, fruit trees planted between vine rows (agroforestry). The effect is really very striking. The soil consists of sand (36%), limestone (48%) and clay (16%). Stones at a depth of 1.5-2,5 meters add minerality to the wine. I was privileged to do a vertical tasting of the 2015, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 vintages. Without transcribing my tasting notes in detail, let me say that Cheval des Andes is well on the well toward realizing their ambition of “South American grand cru” status. I particularly liked the 2017 with hints of graphite on the soft plummy nose. The wine was poised and elegant on the palate with plenty of character and Malbec’s finer floral characteristics. This variety accounts for nearly 60% of the blend, the rest mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Petit Verdot.

The next day was spent in the Uco Valley, about a 2 ½ hour drive from Mendoza. One of the region’s great successes is Clos de los Siete, the brainchild of Bordeaux’s Michel Rolland. He started coming to Argentina as a consultant in the 1980s and saw an opportunity to buy a huge (850-hectare) tract of land with good winegrowing  terroir (higher altitude than elsewhere in Mendoza) in the late 1990s. He and six other wine families each bought part of the estate to make their own wine and to contribute part of their production to the Clos de les Siete brand, which amounts for over a million bottles a year. The first vintage was in 2002. Other members include the Péré Vergé/Parent family of Châteaux Le Gay and La Violette in Pomerol, the Cuvelier family of Château Léoville-Poyferré, the Bonnie family Bonnie of Château Malartic-Lagravière, and the Rothschilds of Lafite (who have since left the consortium, but continue to make their own wine within the Clos).

We were once again very much in a French environment at Cuvelier Los Andes, where Argentinean winemaker Adrian Manchon took us around the modern well-equipped winery in the French language. Cuvelier Los Andes has 55 hectares of vines (Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Petit Verdot) grown organically a stone’s throw from the Andes foothills.
Founded by Bertrand and Jean Guy Cuvelier, the estate dates from 1999. Bertrand’s sons Mathieu and François-Xavier are now in charge. Much about the winery is reminiscent of Bordeaux and the labels of the top wines are close to that of Léoville Poyferré. Bertrand and Evelyne Cuvelier were there when we visited and kindly invited us to stay for lunch, at which time we drank the wines we had sampled at the tasting.  The ones I liked most were the 2010 Grand Vin and the 2017 Grand Malbec. The latter had a deep bouquet and a taste profile like an elegant Zinfandel.

The second winery we visited in Clos de los Siete was Michel Rolland’s own.
Rolland is a controversial character, praised to the skies by some for improvements to modern oenology in Bordeaux and vilified by others for his supposed responsibility in the making of high-alcohol, heavily-extracted, over-oaked Bordeaux.
I have no prejudices one way or the other and no axe to grind with Mr. Rolland, but I must say that I came away very disappointed by his Argentinian wines. I tasted Bodega Rolland’s 2022 Sauvignon Blanc, 2021 Pinot Noir, 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2020 Cabernet Franc, and 2020 Single Vineyard Malbec.   These were sound and well-made, but soulless, with little evidence of terroir. They were also very expensive. 

Our last day in Mendoza started with a visit to Huarpe winery in Agrelo, in the Lujan de Cuyo department. The name Huarpe pays homage to the indigenous people who, alas, no longer exist.
We saw llamas grazing in a field across from the winery, which added a rather exotic touch. Huarpe is a medium-sized modern winery (40,000 cases a year) belonging to two brothers, Max and José Toso who inherited a long winemaking from their Italian ancestors. The winery dates from 2003. They have vines in the Agrelo, Maipu, and Uco regions. The soil in Agrelo consists of sandy loam over gravel.

I tasted 6 Huarpe wines, starting with the inevitable Torrontes from the 2022 vintage (which didn’t leave me with a better image of this variety).
The others were:
2021 Riglos Gran Chardonnay, from Las Divas single vineyard in the Gualtallary district: more yellow than gold in color with a varietal, but herbaceous nose.  The wine was unfortunately served too cold to taste it properly, so it seemed more neutral than it probably was. Too much oak came through.
2017 Huarpe Vista Flores Bonarda and Petit Verdot (also some Corbeau, a grape variety from Savoie): Good, medium-deep color  with a floral, licorice, and blueberry nose. Soft, then tangy, then somewhat harsh on the palate with granulated tannin and high acidity. Needs to age. More interesting and off the beaten track than good.
2017 Riglos Gran Cabernet Franc, from Las Divas vineyard in the Gualtallary district: fine color with tertiary, chocolate, and Port nuances. A little green on the palate with white pepper nuances. Short oaky finish.
2016 Guayquil “El Elegido” (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, , Petit Verdot, Tannat, and Bonarda): browning rim, looking older than its age. The nose was funky and slightly oxidized with cherry liqueur overtones. Lively, with marked acidity. Dry tannin on the finish, indeed, ultimately too dry, but still a good wine.
2019 Taymente late harvest Sauvignon Blanc: 6,000 bottles produced. Nose of white fruit with some mercapatan. Well-made, but more of a technological success than a delicious wine.

Budeguer: Located in Agrelo, this winery was founded in 2005 by Juan José Bueguer who made a fortune in sugar cane. The attractive modern winery, geared up for wine tourism and affording a great view of vines against the snowcapped Andes, now produces 1.2 million bottles a year. Their 105 hectares of vines are located in both Maipu and Agrelo.

We were taken around by a young man who was nervous because this was his first tour in English, but he had nothing to worry about. We tasted six wines while admiring the beautiful landscape. The 2022 Sauvignon Blanc was understated and relatively short, but pure and mercifully not overoaked. The 2021 Pinot Noir looked surprisingly old. It featured a cherry-vanilla and slightly ferrous nose. The wine was unfortunately a bit hollow and sharp on the palate, with none of Pinot’s softness.  The 2023 Malbec Natural had a lovely deep purplish color and an upfront candied fruit nose. It displayed the better aspects of so-called natural wine and was superior to most I have tasted. I especially appreciated the berry blossom aromatics. The 2001 4000 Mendoza Malbec weighs in at 14.2 % alc./vol.  It had a lovely color and lots of oak, but somehow this was not really bothersome.  The flavor was strong and penetrating with rather high acidity. It needs to age. The 2020 Black Blend had a soft bouquet and a taste that reminded me of a big satisfying Côtes du Rhône with a pleasing berry fruit finish. My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2021 Corte de Bodega that had a nose of lovely dark fruit and a sensual melts-in-your-mouth texture. A very successful blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and the two Cabernets.

We did not taste Budeguer’s top of the line: Patrimonio. This is the most expensive wine we saw in Argentina, weighing in at 78,400 pesos, or 96 US dollars.

We went on to enjoy lunch at a winery we did not in fact visit: Bonfanti in Lujan de Cuyo. This small boutique winery has just 8 hectares of vines in Perdiel and Marrancas (Maipu), as well as olive trees. We ate outside in an idyllic setting almost literally between vine rows under a clear blue sky, and the food was seriously good. A wonderful memory. We enjoyed the straight Malbec, the 2021 Lote 1915 (year of the winery’s founding) Reserve Malbec, and the 2019 Uco Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Like most Argentinian wines we sampled, these showed very well young and made a fine accompaniment to the cuisine.

Lunch at Bonfanti

Our final visit was to Carmelo Patti, a very old-fashioned winery, a one-man show run by the eponymous owner who emigrated from Sicily as a child. Production is small (25-30,000 bottles a year), and Carmelo has been at it for over forty years. The scale and atmosphere are very reminiscent of a Burgundian producer.  Carmelo holds many of his wines back a few years until he feels that they are ready to drink.  We tasted two young wines and two old ones. The 2019 Cabernet Franc had an appealing chocolatey aroma and was somewhat acidic on the palate, but needs to be appraised down the line. The 2017 Gran Assemblage looked older than its age and featured a nose of old Bordeaux. Once again, there was marked acidity, but this was, even so, a very worthwhile wine to discover.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon looked decidedly old with an accompanying tertiary bouquet and was perhaps more interesting than together on the palate. A Malbec from the same year was unquestionably past its best with oxidative notes. Carmelo is a salt-of-the-earth vigneron and his wines need to be taken in a certain spirit. He is emblematic of a longstanding tradition.

There, this is one of my longest posts. Can I come up with an insightful conclusion?  That would be pretty pretentious of me seeing as I only scratched the surface of Argentinian wine in one week.  I will, however, say that the overall quality was really rather good. I see the wines as fruity, affordable, and enjoyable young. They represent good value for money. There is definitely a buzz there and some very dedicated winemakers aiming to make it on the international market. Wine tourism is developing apace, largely fuelled, when we were there, by Brazilians. The climate in Mendoza, thanks to the altitude, and despite the semi-desertlike topography, is conducive to wines of medium alcohol (14 %, much less 15% wines were the exception) and we are far removed from bruising New World monsters.

And what of Malbec? First of all, the relation between Cahors and Argentinian Malbec seems rather tenuous. It’s not just the terroir either. The clones in Argentina are very different.  Putting forward Malbec to promote the wines of Argentina is a double-edged strategy because, on the one hand, it gives the country a unique identity but, on the other hand, it overshadows the excellent wines made from other varieties. This makes me think of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand… Like California three decades ago, Argentina is on the up-and-up and I have come away convinced that they will be a more important player on the world scene in years to come.

Returning corked wine in a restaurant

A few days ago, my better half and I were kindly invited out to dinner by a William Nash, a retired US general, and his wife Elizabeth Becker, a journalist and author. We first went to my favorite wine bar, Le Sobre, on the Quai des Chartrons for an aperitif and a platter of nibbles (charcuterie and cheeses). The bottle of Champagne (LPM, for La Petite Montagne, Extra Brut barrel aged, 100 Pinot Meunier from Ullens) we shared was delicious.

We then went to Symbiose, a nearby restaurant I was unfamiliar with, but which had a good rating on Trip Advisor. We skipped the first course and our host ordered a 2016 Ch. Grand Puy Ducasse for the mains. This unfortunately turned out to be corked. We pointed it out to the server and asked him to replace it. He replied that he was incompetent to say one way or other and took a glass to the chef, who insisted that it was fine and just needed a little air.
Needless to say, this left us in somewhat of a quandary, because my wife agreed that the great growth wine was unquestionably corked.

Fortunately, the sommelier, who was off work that day, just happened to come by the restaurant. He was solicited for an opinion and concurred that the wine was indeed corked (admitting to a face-saving “a little”). This was a huge relief and defused an awkward situation, especially seeing as it wasn’t me who was paying the bill. A bottle of 2016 Haut Marbuzet, a reliable Saint-Estèphe, was substituted for the Grand Puy Ducasse. This proved to be delicious and saved the day. I was very glad that things had worked out well, especially as the automatic reaction is to replace the corked wine with another bottle of the same wine. This means, of course, that the risk of running into another corked bottle is magnified…

This is not the first time I’ve encountered such a situation. I was once was in Tunisia, where I had ordered the most expensive wine on the list. Being Muslim, none of the staff knew enough, or admitted knowing enough, about wine to deal with my complaint. They probably hadn’t run into this problem before either. After conferring, they replaced the bottle.

Of course, a huge percentage of the population is unable to identify the presence of 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (also known as TCA) in wine and another segment can, but doesn’t want to make a fuss… Also, there are degrees of TCA contamination. A slightly corked wine can still be just about acceptable. It’s all a question of concentration and sensory thresholds.
TCA is produced by fungi, mold or certain bacteria in the bark of the cork tree. There’s a good article about it from the Wine Enthusiast site: https://www.wineenthusiast.com/culture/wine/cork-taint-wine-fault-guide/
I was struck by the following statement: “Humans have a remarkable sensitivity to cork taint, with people able to smell TCA between two and five parts per trillion, and some even below one part. That’s like being able to identify one teaspoon of water from 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools”.

In my opinion, restaurant policy should be that “the customer is always right” and that they should replace any bottle identified as corked. On the other hand, I can understand a restaurateur’s point of view if he is convinced the wine is not flawed and does not wish to lose money unfairly. It’s a delicate situation.

Waitstaff at restaurants, sometimes even very good ones, often receive little or no training with regard to the wines they serve or how to serve them. I hope that Symbiose kept the wine back and showed their employees what a corked wine tastes like for future reference. Unless they purchased it years ago, it should be possible for them to contact the négociant that sold them the wine and obtain a refund.

2009 Château Belle-Vue, Haut-Médoc

I actually drink many more Bordeaux wines than I mention on my blog. That’s because lots of them are consumed at dinners (chez moi or at friends’ houses) where you would look like a real nerd if you wrote down tasting notes of the wines you were enjoying…

However, Sunday lunch is usually at home, slow-paced, and relaxed, with every opportunity to take an unhurried look at the wine.

I decanted 2009 Château Belle-Vue two hours before the meal. I had good expectations for this wine. In fact, a bottle of this same vintage was featured on the cover of the Revue de Vins de France. It seemed like a very safe bet.

I unfortunately cannot say I came away impressed. The wine had a good deep colour, still showing some purple, but also beginning to brown on the rim. The bouquet was the best part of the wine. This was unmistakably Médoc, with graphite nuances. The wine fell down, however, on the palate. While there was an attractive black cherry component, it seemed thin and mean on the whole, with bitter tannin and the decided impression of alcohol (as though there were more than the 14% alc./vol. listed on the label – not that such a degree is anything to condemn out of hand).

Belle-Vue (there are about 20 wines in Bordeaux with the same, or approximately the same name) is a 15-hectare estate in Macau, in the Haut-Médoc appellation that was promoted to Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel status in the 2020 classification, one of just 14 wines. The château was acquired by Vincent Mulliez, along with Château de Gironville and Château Bolaire in 2004. The Muilliez family own the huge Auchan supermarket chain in France, the equivalent of a Walmart or Tesco.

I have one more bottle of 2009 Belle-Vue and will revisit it down the road. The saying goes that “there are no great wines, just great bottles”. Between bottle variation, the hazards of storage, etc. one experience cannot be deemed definitive by any means. If the next bottle is better when I revisit it, I will be sure to mention it on the blog.
I also have a couple of bottles of the rare Belle-Vue 100% Petit Verdot that will be the subject of a separate report down the line.

A tale of two Saint Emilions

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing… Here I was thinking that I was pretty clued-in to the wines of Bordeaux, especially the great growths, and then the following happened.
I was particularly interested in getting to know unfamiliar (to me) estates included for the first time in the 2012 Saint Emilion classification. So, I snapped up a bottle of 2010 Château La Fleur Morange, Cuvée Mathilde.  Here I was thinking that I would discover a newcomer and broaden my knowledge. But no, Cuvée Mathilde is something different from the real Mc Coy and I ending up feeling as though I’d been had…

Let me explain.

Named after the owners’ daughter, about 10,000 bottles of Cuvée Mathilde are produced a year. The classified growth (i.e. without any mention of a cuvée), produces half as much… and costs more than twice as much. Most second wine labels make a discreet allusion to the grand vin rather than misleading consumers, as this was the case here, into believing they were buying a cru classé.
 
Buyer beware!

What of the wine?  I wish I could be more positive. A 13 year-old wine from a great year, it should really have been better. The color was about right for its age. Despite 15° alcohol, the nose was gentle and sweet with hints of dark chocolate and anise with some underlying spice.
However, the wine fell down on the palate, which showed too much oak and the decided presence of alcohol, accompanied by a dry finish.  I do not think that ageing will even things out.
While I may give “Cuvée Mathilde” a pass next time around, I am still intrigued about how the cru classé tastes in recent vintages.

I posted a profile of Château La Tour Figeac last year:
https://bordeauxwineblog.com/chateau-la-tour-figeac-a-great-st-emilion-cru-classe/

Seeing as I happened to have a bottle of the 2009 in my cellar, I decided to open this for lunch on Christmas day, to accompany a roast leg of baby lamb from the Pyrenees.
I decanted the wine three hours before the meal and was richly rewarded with something wonderful.
The nose was subtle and extremely attractive even if, curiously, thanks to its hints of graphite, I think it could easily be mistaken for a fine Northern Médoc. There was no question, however, that this was an upper tier Right Bank wine on the palate. The attack was soft, enveloping, and voluptuous, and went on seamlessly to show the backbone Bordeaux is famous for, but without any harshness or austerity. I like this wine so much, I figure that it could easily hold its own with the Premier Crus Classés in this vintage. A really positive experience and a great pleasure.