Monthly Archives: August 2015

Classic French wines, including a 2001 Ch. La Conseillante

1996 Charles Heidsieck

Many wine dinners start out with a glass or two of Champagne, but people rarely give this more than passing mention when remembering the line-up of wines they have tasted. I think this is a pity, so I’ll break the mold and give special praise to a 1996 vintage Champagne from Charles Heidsieck.
I have a soft spot for Charles Heidseick (owned by the Descours family, along with Piper Heidsieck, since 2011) because I did a six month internship there in Reims when I was a college student.
I honestly think that this is one of the best grandes marques available today, from the Brut Réserve on up.
1996 is widely considered a fine vintage, and Mr. Parker rates it 97/100, considering it “slow to mature”.
The wine we had was in excellent shape, neither too young nor too old. The color was medium-gold and the bouquet was wonderfully subtle: slightly biscuity, understated, sophisticated, and sexy. The wine followed through in much the same way on the palate, with not a hair out of place, and a long, cool aftertaste. Wonderful.

Our guests that evening were Jakai Zhang (Ch. Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol), Nerissa Chen (Ch. Kirwan), and Denis Darriet, owner of Ch. Seguin in Canéjan (appellation Pessac-Léognan). Feedback was very positive about the upcoming 2015 vintage which started today, August 24th, in Bordeaux for grapes destined to make Crémant.

2002 Corton Charlemagne

The first course was accompanied by a 2002 Corton Charlemagne from Domaine Bruno Clair. This also had sentimental value to me since it was a gift from the winemaker, Philippe Brun, whom my wife and I met when we lived in the Napa Valley years ago.
Mercifully, the wine did not suffer from the Burgundian blight of premature oxidation (I had two back-up bottles of chilled white wine just in case). The color was pale gold and the nose ultra-classic and exquisite. Not even an inkling of oxidation. Rather than hazelnut overtones I often find in white Burgundy, there were fine almond nuances. The wine surprised me by being not very rich on the palate, but it lived up to its grand cru status by the way it so gracefully evolved into a super long aftertaste, with controlled power. This wine is delicious now, but has the stuffing to age much longer.
Enough to restore one’s faith in white Burgundy.

I am a great fan of Côte Rôtie, and have attended the Marché aux Vins in Ampuis ( on three occasions. I very much recommend this 4-day event, with the proviso that you go on Friday and/or Saturday morning. Seeing as it is open to the public, there are simply too many people thereafter. Among a host of other wines, I bought two bottles of 2007 Château d’Ampuis 4 years ago at the Guigal stand. This was one of the most impressive wines I tasted all day.
Seeing as I had two bottles, I thought I would try one on the young side to see how it was doing.
The color was very deep and vibrant and the nose had the tell-tale aromas of fine Côte Rôtie: violet, black pepper, and even a smell of blood and raw meat (not as gruesome as it sounds). Despite what one may read in wine books, I tend to think of Côte Rôtie as a feminine wine. However, this one was fairly butch and had plenty of energy, vigor, and ageing potential. Yes, I will wait a long time before opening the second bottle.

The wine with the cheese course was 2001 Châteu La Conseillante. This was served blind, and most people thought it from a more recent vintage. The color certainly looked younger than its age and the nose had the trademark humus and truffle aromas of the finest Pomerol. The wine was luscious on the palate and very rich, but not overpowering or alcoholic – the balancing act of the finest Bordeaux. The texture was funky, velvety and even what I call “furry”. The aftertaste was assertive and featured deep black fruit nuances. As good as this was, the wine will improve further. It also confirms the good opinion I have of the 2001 vintage – and Château La Conseillante.

02 Ch. Sociando Mallet, 01 Ch. Talbot, and 04 Ch. Durfort Vivens



Everybody loves a success story, and Sociando Mallet certainly falls into that category. When Jean Gautreau bought the estate in 1969, there were just 5 hectares of vines. There are currently 85! However, it was not only production that increased. Sociando Mallet also built up a solid reputation for quality and established a loyal following.
The vines grow on a rise overlooking the Gironde Estuary east of the village of Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne, the northernmost commune in the Haut-Médoc appellation. The soil is very gravelly, with a clay-limestone subsoil.
Sociando-Mallet did not even ask to be included in the most recent cru bourgeois classification. They felt above it, and the price their wine commands tends to confirm that…
The first time I tasted 2002 Sociando was at the Darroze restaurant in Langon, where I had been invited to lunch by Xavier Gonet-Médeville of Ch. Gilette in Sauternes. This was about 5 years ago and the wine was quite closed at the time. The situation was compounded by the fact that young wines rarely have the chance to open up in restaurants, even when properly decanted.
Anyway, by August 2015, this wine was, unsurprisingly, much more developed. It was decanted 3 hours before the meal. The color made the wine appear younger than its age.
As for the bouquet, Sociando is noted for displaying a decided green pepper quality in certain years, to the point where some people have found it too overpowering. The 2000 vintage is a case in point. Personally, I have never felt this way, but that green pepper factor was there in the 2002, albeit in an understated way.
The wine has a velvety texture and good grip on the palate. It also seems to share characteristics with nearby Pauillac. My friends know that I prefer my wines on the young side, but at 13 years I must admit that this is still not all it could be. It is heady and virile, the perfect wine to have with red meat, making up in vigor and assertive Cabernet fruit what it may lack in elegance. That having been said, Sociando Mallet has just 48% Cabernet Sauvigon (and 5% Cabernet Franc), but this variety seems to dominate the flavor profile.
I would love to taste this wine blind in a line-up of California Cabernets…


I have visited Château Talbot, a 4th growth Saint Julien only once, a long time ago, and have not tasted their wines as often as I’d like to… I have a fond memory of the odd proprietary bottles the Cordier estates used to come in, with a picture of old man Cordier and his white moustache on the embossed part.

Times have changed, and most of those estates (Gruaud Larose, Meyney, Lafaurie-Peyraguey) have now been sold. Château Talbot, though, acquired by Désiré Cordier in 1917, has been in the family ever since. Talbot has 106 hectares of vines, which is absolutely mammoth in Burgundian terms, and big even in Bordeaux. They also make a small quantity of white wine, Le Caillou Blanc, AOC Bordeaux.
I had just one bottle of Talbot in my cellar, from the 2001 vintage, one usually overshadowed by 2000. However, I’m a huge fan and it is not rare for me to prefer a 2001 to the 2000 from the same château.
So, we enjoyed the 2001 Talbot just after the Sociando-Mallet. The Talbot is the weightier wine, with a deep regal color. The nose is gorgeous, everything I love about the Médoc and classic Bordeaux. It smells like a room with old mahogany furniture polished with beeswax, as well as subtle, pure blackcurrant fruit – none of the famous bretty/phenolic odors sometimes referred to as the “Cordier stink” that existed years ago… The wine is also very traditional, refreshing, and well-balanced on the palate. It is a lovely drink, and while not at its peak, is not far off. This 2001 Talbot is an excellent wine to serve to people who think that “modern Bordeaux” is over-extracted, over-oaked, and over-alcoholic. In fact, it is just the opposite.

2004 Durfort-Vivens

2004 Durfort-Vivens

Château Durfort-Vivens is one of several great growths owned by the Lurton family, but it never seems to attract the same attention as the other Lurton great growth in Margaux, Ch. Brane-Cantenac. The fact that Durfort has 55 hectares of vines compared to Brane’s 75 may have something to do with this, but that doesn’t explain everything. I once enjoyed a lunch with Lucien Lurton and he told me that the “dur” (meaning “hard”) in Durfort describes the wine’s character. It is perhaps this slightly austere and unyielding side when young that makes Durfort less popular.
The Lurtons sold the actual château building to Philippe Porcheron, who renamed it Château Marojallia. The château is now a luxury hotel as well as the name of the AOC Margaux garage wine Monsieur Porcheron produces.

2004 Durfort Vivens has a browning rim and dark core, with thick legs. The nose is soft and smoky, with subtle cosmetic and chocolate overtones, along with a major earthy/truffle component.
The wine starts out smooth on the palate, showing textured tannin, but the finish unquestionably displays that Durfort hardness, and the wine is starting to dry out.  While enjoyable at table, this smelled better than it tasted, and the balance is such that any evening-out of the tannin in a few years will leave the fruit behind. In short, I am somewhat disappointed, especially since I rated the wine highly when tasted en primeur in spring 2005.


2009 Durfort-Vivens

2009 Durfort-Vivens


Two fine Médocs and a reflection on vintage reputations

I was invited to dinner recently and served 2 fine wines that belied some received wisdom about Bordeaux.

The meal started out in the back garden of my friends Dewey and Catherine Markham with white and red Lillet (I prefer the white). This patent aperitif is made in Podensac, in the Graves, and was sold by the Borie family of Ducru-Beaucaillou to Pernod-Ricard seven years ago.

Dewey wrote the definitive (and only!) book on the 1855 classification and his wife is office manager at Ch. Clerc Milon (Ph. de Rothschild). Other guests included Hamilton and Wendy Narby, former owners of Ch. Guiraud in Sauternes.



The first wine, 2005 Ch. Brane Cantenac, was served blind. I didn’t venture to say what it was because I was confused. There were elements of Right Bank smoothness, or so I thought, but also the tell-tale graphite smells of the Médoc – but without the body of the Pauillac and Saint-Julien wines I usually associate with those aromatics. I should have deduced from this that the wine was a southern Médoc, but didn’t and remained baffled. I was very surprised indeed when the label was revealed because here was a second growth Margaux from a great vintage, just ten years old, but fully enjoyable and ready-to-drink. The structure was supple, without any tannic asperity.
A wine like this confirms that vintage reputations are misleading. This 05 Brane is as good as it’s going to get. I don’t see it any better a decade or two from now, despite the qualities people associate with the 2005 vintage.
I might add, as an aside, that Brane Cantenac is coming up in the world. I did a vertical tasting at the estate with Gonzague Lurton not long ago and was particularly impressed with the 2010 – the best Brane I have ever had.



Wine number two was 2003 Mouton Rothschild. We all know what is said about 2003: record heat and wines that are supposedly alcoholic, low-acid, and often flabby. Well, I don’t know anyone who would taste this Mouton and find those characteristics… Furthermore, I think that even the most hard-bitten old-school English claret lover would agree that the wine is enjoyable to drink NOW. Why wait? The lovely trademark blackcurrant and pencil shaving nose is perhaps lacking in complexity and it’s true that might develop a little over time, but the wine is all there on the palate. Where the 2003 vintage has left its mark is in the wine’s exuberance, not unlike that found in some high-class New World Cabernets. A very enjoyable experience. The label celebrates the 150th anniversary of Mouton’s purchase by Nathaniel de Rothschild.