This was my first serious encounter with the 2016 vintage and a great way to begin!
My friends and I were welcomed by Turid Helo Alcaras, who took us down to Haut Brion’s small intimate tasting room to take a look at all the Domaine Dillon wines from the 2016 vintage.
Here are the wines in the order in which they were tasted:
Clarendelle: This is a négociant blend from Clarence Dillon Wines, a totally separate entity from Domaine Clarence Dillon. It is not usually served to avoid any possible confusion. Like Mouton Cadet, we are told that the third wine of Haut-Brion goes into the final blend.
I must say that this is a very creditable, well-made wine with a sweet simple nose and very good tannin for this level of Bordeaux. I was not expecting such a good wine.
Dragon de Quintus: (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc): This is the second wine of Château Quintus in Saint-Emilion.
Nose: Soft with understated oak and lovely cherry-vanilla overtones and a trace of greenness.
Palate: Sleek, soft attack, then drops on the middle palate, which is slightly hollow. Plenty of oak on the finish.
La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion: (36.5% Merlot, 21.5% Cabernet Franc, and 42% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Pure Cabernet aromas, a little brambly. Understated and classy with good potential. Blackcurrant nuances and an overall sweetness.
Palate: Chewy, even a little chunky at this stage. Lovely development on the palate ending with fine grip. Good, velvety tannin and attractively fresh. This is an excellent second wine and will be enjoyable young or old.
Clarence de Haut-Brion: (51.3% Merlot, 13.1% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvingon, and 2.6% Petit Verdot)
Nose: Ethereal, perfumed, and feminine.
Palate: Almost piercing acidity showing that the wine will definitely age well. Fresh and penetrating. Authoritative finish. This seems a second wine of a first growth comparable to the way Les Forts de Latour relates to Latour, i.e. something special, in no way a pale copy. Roundness in a square tannic framework. Tangy finish. Classic. Reminded me of the grand vin in a middling year.
Château Quintus: (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
Nose: Berry, talc, and especially wild berries on the nose. Quite plummy at this stage and a little spirity.
Palate: Develops well on the palate and is broad-shouldered. Very typical of its appellation, with good grip and an assertive aftertaste that is maybe a little hot. Granular texture to the tannin and a long tannic finish. Sensual, but perhaps more vinous than elegant. 2016 Quintus is over 15% alcohol, accounting for the sort of balance an old timer like me has to get used to.
La Mission Haut-Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
Palate: Full-bodied, even chunky, as well as quite mineral with excellent follow-through. Otherworldly aftertaste with tannin of enormous finesse. There is first class acidity to counterbalance the full body. Killer, never-ending finish…
Haut-Brion: (56% Merlot, 6.5% Cabernet Franc, and 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Nose: Restrained and aristocratic. My notes say: “soft, soft, and soft”.
Palate: This quality comes through on the palate as well, within a delicate tannic framework. Elegant to the end of its fingertips… Velvety texture and no rough edges even at this stage. Superb acidity. Will be a great beauty down the line.
I might add that I have been fortunate enough to have had my fair share of meals at which Haut-Brion and La Mission from the same vintage are served side by side. The vineyards are just across the road from one another and are the perfect illustration of the importance of terroir in Bordeaux. Three times out of four, I find that Haut-Brion’s elegance trumps La Mission’s trademark style, somewhat more brooding and more masculine as compared with Haut-Brion’s femininity.
However, I have never tasted the two wines closer in style than in 2016. Oh, clearly different, but sharing what I can only call a feminine elegance.
Clarendelle: The counterpart to the red described above, but not as good. Well-made with pure, upfront Sauvignon Blanc fruit on the nose, but lacking body and length. Still, a wine that is perfectly honorable in its category.
La Clarté de Haut-Brion: (23.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 76.3% Sémillon)
Nose: Classic Graves nose. Lemon and oak along with ripe aromas of grape varieties grown in their terroir of predilection. Some lanoline notes.
Palate: Good focus. Rich but a teeny bit dilute. Fine mineral aftertaste. Very good, and you would have to look hard to find a flaw, but does not seem to be in the heavyweight category at this stage.
There is so little white wine at Domaine Dillon that La Clarté is a blend of whites from both Haut-Brion and La Mission.
La Mission Haut-Brion blanc: (62.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 37.3% Sémillon)
Nose: Discreet at this point. Sauvignon Blanc dominates, which is hardly surprising when you compare the percentage of this variety with La Clarté.
Palate: Much more body than La Clarté with a great balance between richness and acidity. Reveals its charms in a most enticing, seamless way. A certain waxiness there. Starts out fresh and fruity, but then there is a sort of double whammy when the aftertaste segues into tremendous minerality.
Haut Brion blanc: (70% Sauvignon Blanc and 29.5% Sémillon)
Nose: Lemon and lemongrass. The Sauvignon Blanc comes through more clearly than in La Misison. Obviously needs time to strut its stuff.
Palate: Very big and round, then fans out beautifully (makes me think of that French expression fait la queue de paon i.e. spreads like a peacock’s tail). The aftertaste is astonishingly long with the most extraordinary minerality.
I was in Burgundy in March and was able to taste some of the finest premier and grand crus from the Côte de Beaune. This wine is a match for any of them. It is very rare and expensive, but I was thoroughly impressed with its quality.