Tag Archives: Margaux

2000 Château Cantenac Brown

here are no fewer than 10 third growths in Margaux, and a couple of them are, let’s face it, pretty lacklustre. I have had Cantenac-Brown on any number of occasions and have tended to slot it into the “foursquare” category, i.e. reliable, and unquestionably a worthy reprentative of its appellation and its classification, but not on the exciting side.
The château has changed ownership a number of times in recent years. It belonged to Axa Millésimes from 1987 to 2005 and then to a Syrian-born English businessman, Simon Halab, who sold it in turn to the French Le Lous family a year and a half ago.

I also knew Cantenac Brown because it was the site of international seminars for the Axa insurance company and a venue for any number of corporate and special events with memorable banquets.

Anyway, 2000 is a great vintage in Bordeaux and I am starting to open an increasing number of fine Bordeaux from that year – and finding most of them arriving into their drinking window.

So, to accompany a traditional roast beef Sunday dinner, I decanted 2000 Cantenac Brown three hours before serving. There was only a small amount of fine sediment.

I am pleased to say that the wine outperformed my expectations. It was well and truly delightful. The color was fine and looked younger than its age. The nose was absolutely enthralling, with hints of graphite, truffle, and violet to complement sublime ripe Cabernet Sauvignon aromas. So subtle and so seductive! The wine was suave and velvety on the palate too, with attractive acidity. Only a slight weakness on the follow-through (I’m admittedly nit picking here) keeps this from the very pinnacle of Médoc wines. I certainly need to revise my opinion of Cantenac Brown and apparently the new owners are investing heavily in bringing the estate up to its full potential.
Stay tuned to this station for further developments :-).

Tasting of 2017 Margaux

Boyd Cantenac
N: Fresh and pure with brambly overtones. Subtle.
P: Rich and chocolatey, with high-quality tannin. In a very classic mold. Very good.

Brane Cantenac
N: Strong, toasty oak and roast coffee aromas predominates at this point, somewhat hiding the fruit.
P: A different story on the palate, with a lovely, soft, caressing mouth feel and great purity leading into a long mineral aftertaste. Considerable delicacy and elegance, i.e. very Margauxlike. Great, long, cool aftertaste. Very good.

Cantenac Brown
N: Lovely floral aromas along with sweet black fruit nuances.
P: Medium weight, but oh so soft… Great balance. Svelte with fine acidity. Long textured aftertaste. Gives every indication of delivering much at an early age. Very good.

N: Bit dank, closed-in, and lacking focus. Penetrating in an odd way with a noticeable alcoholic presence. Not positive at the present time.
P: Better, with an inky palate and upfront fruit.  Vibrant acidity with a medium-long, slightly dry, and definitely oaky aftertaste. A more commercial style. Good.

N: A little one-dimensional with plenty of oak, although this may well integrate over time. Some blackcurrant, black olive, and mint/eucalyptus aromas.
P: Lively and fruity, but somewhat hard. Better than in recent vintages. Tangy, fresh finish. Watch out for the rest of barrel ageing so as not to overwhelm the wine. Potential sleeper. Good.

Durfort Vivens
N: Menthol aromas overlaying blackcurrant, along with some polished wood overtones.
P: Starts out soft, then goes on to show considerable tannic backbone. Assertive aftertaste with velvety texture. Somewhat old school. Some dryness on the finish. Needs to digest the oak. Good.


N: Lovely, well-integrated oak. Ripe, but not overripe, with berry fruit. Slight greenness, but this does not detract. Subtle coffee and blackberry aromas.
P: Refreshing and lively. Pure, but somewhat short. Attractive mineral aftertaste, but lacks personality on the middle palate as well as richness. A light Ferrière. Good.

N: Berry fruit (perhaps a little jammy) along with interesting floral (iris, jasmine) nuances.
P: Rich attack going into an oaky roundness with not much going on in between. Margaux characteristics there, but the oak comes across as really overdone at this stage. Needs retasting to form a valid opinion. OK

N: Muted. Some polished wood aromas.
P: Very soft and velvety. Lively and classic. Lovely vibrant fruit but on the simplistic side. Unquestionable finesse. Good to very good if the bouquet blossoms.

N: The fruit is not overshadowed by the oak, but there is not much there.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel but rather diluted on the middle palate. However, the powerful, long aftertaste bringing up the rear saves the day. This is vibrant, velvety, and characterful. Obviously needs time to come together. Somewhat of a liqueur/spirity aspect. Good.

N: Coming out of a dormant period with some original graham cracker, liquorice (zan), and chalky aromas.
P: Starts out rich, fruit-forward, and enveloping… and then drops. Shortish aftertaste. Going on round, then segues into a hard aftertaste. OK.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Muted, slightly alcoholic.
P: Lovely and soft, but with a decided tannic presence and good acid backbone as well. Good balance and cool, long aftertaste. An elegant Médoc. Good.

N: Softly penetrating inimitable trademark bouquet. Fresh, elegant, crystalline.
P: Striking silky quality going on to show a lovely acid backbone. Not big, but velvety and super long. Not monumental, but excellent.
I also tasted the white wine, Pavillon Blanc, which I normally speaking wouldn’t mention here, but this vintage is nothing short of extraordinary. Extremely poised and aromatic, with a finish that goes on and on. The best white Margaux I’ve ever had (there have been a number of hits and misses…) and one of the best white Bordeaux I’ve been privileged to taste as well. Great success.

N: Closed (at this early stage, of course) with more beeswax and oak than fruit.
P: Fortunately much better on the palate. Ripe fruit, yes, but far too oaky. Good, but nothing special.

Marquis d’Alesme
N: Attractive dark fruit underdeveloped at this time. Some toasty oak.
P: Silky, layered attack, then drops. A natural, fresh wine with well-integrated oak, but short. Good.

Marquis de Terme
N: Lovely blackberry liqueur and blackcurrant aromas. No terribly complex, but seductive. Oak as it should be.
P: A little dilute, and somewhat hollow, but this is a vinous crowd-pleasing sort of Médoc that will be enjoyable young. Good.

N: Lovely sophisticated nose of candied red and black fruit
P: Rich, a little spirity, with some tarriness, and develops beautifully on the palate. Tremendously long, seductive finish. Velvety texture. Very good.

Prieuré Lichine
N: Unusual, wild, New World type aromas. Not typical of its origin or seemingly of its grape varieties. Intriguing, almost Grenache-like bouquet!
P: Thickish texture and melts in the mouth. Starts out quite rich and spherical, and then drops, nevertheless going into a good mineral aftertaste. Off the beaten track. Will show well young. Marked oak on the aftertaste should integrate. Good.

Rauzan Gassies
N: Light, attractive, typical Margaux bouquet.
P: Watery, but goes into a decent aftertaste. Better than many other previous vintages. OK

Rauzan Ségla
N: Fine, polished, sweet Médoc nose of blackcurrant. Not overoaked. Haunting. Not pronounced.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satin texture and finishes with an attractive minerality. Quite round for its appellation. Light on its feet with a fine velvety aftertaste. Very good.

du Tertre
N: Off smells. Some stink. Not showing well.
P: Bretty quality carries over to the palate, which also displays loads of oak that overshadows the fruit. This may be just a difficult phase, or a bad sample.

2016 Haut-Médoc and Margaux (24 wines tasted)

Haut-Médoc appellation

Château Beaumont (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Deep and sweet, if a little simple. A slightly dusty, biscuity element.
P: Soft and round. Moreish. Good medium-soft tannin, but there is nevertheless marked acidity. This is the sort of wine probably best enjoyed young and fruity.

Château Belgrave (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Wildberry aromas with a touch of grenness. Inky and funky.
P: Fresh and easy-to-drink. Up-front. Will also go well with food because of good grip.

Château Camensac (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot)
N: Complex and slightly waxy. Mostly closed, but relatively promising.
P: Very soft and luscious on entry. Melts in the mouth. A really attractive early-drinking wine (5 years). Nippy with a nice little aftertaste. A bargain for people who drink wine rather than labels. This estate is coming up in the world.

Château Cantemerle (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Odd. Berry fruit there but also some unusual meaty aromas.
P: Brambly and better on the palate. Easy-going but fairly short. Best enjoyed young.

Château Chasse Spleen (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
This was one of two wines from Moulis I tasted and, as the Union des Grands Crus did at Château Cantemerle, I have included it along with wines from the Haut-Médoc appellation.
N: Not very expressive at this point. Some cosmetic aromas.
P: Smooth, almost oily then goes straight into a tannic finish. Not the greatest balance but can, of course, improve over time.

Château La Lagune (% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Well-defined with good focus. Deep and ethereal. Pure cassis and candied black fruit along with raisins, red fruit, and understated roast coffee aromas
P: Broad-based and fairly long. Definitely Margaux-like. Medium weight with lovely fine-grained tannin. Good young or old. Oak in check. This is La Lagune’s first certifiably organic vintage, and a very successful one it is too.

Château Poujeaux (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
This was one of two wines from Moulis I tasted and, as the Union des Grands Crus did at Château Cantemerle, I have included it along with wines from the Haut-Médoc appellation.
N: Subdued, but deep, with attractive cranberry aromas. Promising.
P: Lovely soft Médoc. Very well-made with high-quality tannin. The aftertaste spreads out beautifully. A wine for connoisseurs – and the budget-conscious.

Château La Tour Carnet (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot)
N: Very New World with strong oaky aromas.
P: Chunky and mouth-filling. Hot and oaky. If this sample is anything to go by, not a success in 2016.

Margaux appellation

Brane Cantenac (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Carménère)
N: Fruity and oaky. Seems a little hollow at this juncture, but then comes out of its shell.
P: The Margaux magic operates with silky tannin and refreshing 2016 acidity. Not full-bodied, but well-balanced. Very good lingering aftertaste. The fruit and acidity mark the palate more than the tannin.

Cantenac Brown (68% Cabernet Sauvignon and 32% Merlot)
N: Non-descript (read: closed) at this stage, but there are ethereal kirsch aromas.
P: Surprisingly soft, then vivacious and refreshing. Worthwhile and interesting. Traditional-style Médoc with classic acidity.

Dauzac (71% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot)
N: Broad, meaty, and jammy, with definite roast coffee and cherry lozenge notes. Fresh with good berry fruit and varietal Cabernet aromas.
P: Starts out rather chunky, then goes on to reveal good acidity. Tea flavors and a penetrating aftertaste of blackcurrant. A Margaux with attitude and a good Dauzac.

Desmirail (55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Very toasty and roast coffee aromas at this stage. The fruit is hiding, waiting to come out.
P: Mercifully not too oaky on the palate and there’s good fruit there too, but care should be taken with the rest of barrel ageing. Good intensity and excellent grip. Made to last.

Ferrière (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1 % Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and withdrawn. Sweet, and interesting with nuances of herbes de Provence,. Oak is toned down.
P: Svelte, velvety attack, then develops well on the palate with good acidity and fruit. Nicely-textured tannin. Classic and good with a touch of mintiness. Delicate structure and somewhat on the thin side, converging into a sharp finish.

Giscours (81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot)
N: Bit tanky but, looking behind this, there is a medium-deep bouquet of good berry fruit, some herbaceousness, and coffee-vanilla aromas.
P: Big, soft, and chunky on the palate, with fresh acidity. Blackcurrant flavors and a balance reminiscent of Saint Julien, although it finishes with the lean elegance of Margaux.

Kirwan (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Something a bit off here, with bretty, musky aromas.
P: Deep, foursquare, solid, and angular. Taut, persistent aftertaste and a dry finish. This wine is not showing well at the present time. Needs to be tasted at a later date

Lascombes (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Inky, berry, and mucilage aromas with graphite overtones.
P: Round, medium-heavy mouth feel. Dips on the middle palate, going on to show some harsh oak. Touch medicinal. Too much oak. Needs to age more to be correctly evaluated.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot)
N: Fresh and pure, but bit simplistic at this time. Nevertheless deep and promising.
P: Lovely resonance and great follow-through. Vibrant and delicious. Not big, but balanced. Bright Cabernet fruit. Fine textured aftertaste. A definite success in 2016.

Margaux: please refer to the previous separate post.

Marquis de Terme (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Fine, complex, understated bouquet showing primary fruit with plenty of blackcurrant as well as more unusual spicy aromas (cinnamon).
P: Sophisticated attack, then shows good fruit, but is a bit hard and oaky. Care should be taken during the rest of ageing that this does not get the upper hand. A class act.

Palmer (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot)
N: Sweet, but rather one-dimensional at this stage. Some briary and jammy notes. Not the ideal time for the bouquet to be evaluated.
G: Much more expressive on the palate. Big, round, full, and chewy, but the bracing freshness avoids any possible confusion with wines from the New World. Tight, concentrated, and gummy on the finish, which is also a bit dry. Good acidity to the point where you feel it on your teeth. Needs to be tamed by barrela ageing and, of course, years in bottle.

Prieuré-Lichine (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Fragrant, subtly cosmetic nose with hints of subtle berry fruit and oak that is under control.
P: Sprightly. Good and rich, but with marked acidity. Tremendously fresh. Very typical of its appellation. Round and firm, then that fresh acidity chimes in. Good structure and balance. An estate to watch.

Rauzan-Gassies (78% Cabernet Sauvignon and  Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot)
N: Fresh and fruity, almost as though there were no oak influence at all. Subtle with some chocolate nuances.
P: Starts off soft, seems as though it will be simple, and then bursts with fruit and personality. Rich and satisfying. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Long textured aftertaste. Restores my faith in this chronically underperforming wine, and is the best I’ve ever had from the estate.

Rauzan-Ségla (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Decidedly herbaceous, but there is also bright Cabernet fruit too, along with some violet aromas. Soft and nice, but lacks oomph. Aeration, however, could change that markedly.
P: Elegant. Starts out rather full-bodied then shows good acidity, finely-textured tannin, and tea-like nuances. Rather old-fashioned in style (not a criticism). Classic and restrained, with blackcurrant fruit not far under the surface… Slightly dry, but that can easily change.

du Tertre (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Roast coffee, dark fruit, and a not unpleasant greenness.
P: Fruity, smooth, and medium-light in body. Candied black fruit flavors. Will be drinkable and enjoyable young.

2016 Château Margaux

It was not quite the same to go to Château Margaux this year and not be greeted by Paul Pontalier. He was very special. Still, the show must go on… Philippe Bascaules, who worked with Monsieur Pontalier for over twenty years, had left Margaux to run Inglenook winery in the Napa Valley. He has since returned to Margaux as Managing Director while continuing to oversee winemaking at Inglenook.


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Pavillon Rouge (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Sweet upfront fruit in minor mode at this stage. Trademark characteristics of the estate. Pretty and already forthcoming. Some pine and camphor nuances along with crushed blackcurrant leaves and blackcurrant fruit.
P: Starts out rich, then seems a little thin. Some mintiness. A certain gumminess on the aftertaste rounds out the flavor profile. Great interplay between acidity and alcohol. Fresh, with spun-out aromatics. Fine-grained finish. Inherent softness hides significant tannin. Good length.



Château Margaux (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot)
N: Not worlds apart from the Pavillon Rouge. Once again sweet, but with a chocolatey element. Refined oak influence.
P: Fresh and superbly balanced. More oak and a much longer finish than the Pavillon. Fairly massive for Margaux with a tarry, sweet, mellow aftertate. Obviously needs time to find more focus and definition, and will age for decades.


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Pavillon Blanc (100% Sauvignon Blanc)
N: Subtle nose of lemon and oak with a little waxiness as well as hints of butter and butterscotch.
P: Fresh and oh-so-different from Pavillon Blanc of years ago. Much more lean and elegant. The round attack converges into a decided mineral, lemoney aftertaste with honey nuances. Very dry and appetizing. What the French call a vin de gastronomie because it will truly shine at table with fine cuisine. Still, the question to be asked is: how does it compare to a good Pessac-Léognac at a much lower price?

Extensive tasting of second wines




I had never before attended a tasting of second wines as such, i.e. nothing but second wines, so I was very interested to do so on Saturday the 26th of September in Bordeaux.
This event was organized by Terre des Vins magazine, part of the Sud-Ouest media group and Cash Vin (http://www.cash-vin.com/), a wine merchant, in the newly renovated Marché des Douves next to the Capucins market.
Second wines are widely perceived to be a mixed bag and the sort of wine lover who thinks Bordeaux is limited to the great growths is likely to snub anything “less than the best”.
However, this reasoning only goes so far…
In fact, the history of second wines goes back a very long way. There are records of such wines in the 18th century, and their increased number in recent years has gone hand in hand with improved quality starting in the 1970s. In fact, most classified growths have a second wine nowadays.
The principle is quite simple: the grand vin, the estate’s flagship wine, can be improved by selecting only the best vats. The remaining wine is less good, but also less expensive and usually ready to drink earlier. For consumers, second wines are worthwhile to the extent that their quality does not lag too far behind that of the grand vin and that they cost significantly less.
They are also ideally suited to restaurant wine lists.
The selection process includes a variety of parameters. In difficult years, the proportion of second wine is generally much higher and, in extreme cases, can totally replace the grand vin. Also, vats from specific plots not quite up to the standard of the main label are put into the second wine, as are wines from young vines.

Then there is the issue of second wines that refuse to admit they are second wines… Examples that spring to mind are Forts de Latour and Clos du Marquis, but there are many others. Their owners claim that these come from a specific part of the vineyard and do not incorporate less good vats from the best part. They therefore must be seen as “estates within an estate”. I don’t find this explanation very convincing and despite the hype still consider them second wines. What else do you want to call them? Furthermore, Latour and Léoville Las Cases even produce third wines, respectively le Pauillac de Château Latour and Le Petit Lion. Château Palmer’s Alter Ego, is not presented as a second wine either, but this just boils down to semantic differences.
Created in 1930, Mouton Cadet was originally the second wine of Château Mouton Rothschild. Over the years, it has become a branded AOC Bordeaux négociant wine.
French for second wine is second vin rather than deuxième vin. The reason for this is that when there is a series of just two things, the word second is used. As soon as there are three or more things, deuxième replaces second.

Here are my impressions of the 21 wines – all red – I tasted.
C = color
N = nose
T = taste
Please note that the scores are out of 20 and that I am a tough grader.

The retail prices are in euros per bottle including sales tax (VAT).
The purchase of 6 or more bottles entailed a discount of approximately 10-15%.

Conclusion / bottom line: Like any tasting, this is a mixed bag, so generalizations are difficult. However, the best wines were well worth the money, and some were true bargains, for people who drink wine rather than money. Also, if you like the “grand vin”, there’s a very good liklihood you’ll like the second wine!



2012 Les Voiles de Clos Floridène, Graves rouge
Belonging to Denis (the famous professor, consultant, and Dean of the Bordeaux Faculty of Enology) and Florence Dubourdieu, Clos Floridène is located in Pujols, quite close to Sauternes, and is better-known for its white wine, produced in more significant quantity.
C: lightish
N: vibrant strawberry and petits fruits rouges, some confectionery notes
T: fresh, thirst quenching, soft, enjoyable young, well-made, and with a short aftertaste
Score: 12.5
Price: 10.95 euros

2010 Les Hauts du Tertre, Margaux
This is the second wine of Château du Tertre, a fifth growth in Margaux that is much appreciated by Bordeaux lovers who are seeking quality without paying a fortune.
C: purplish, with medium intensity
N: nice berry fruit, fresh blueberry
T: fluid, light, easy-going tannin, a great luncheon claret! The finish is a little gummy. Needs time, but not much.
Score: 13.5
Price: 21 euros

2011 Esprit de Labrède, Graves rouge
Château de Labrède, a genuine castle and major tourist attraction, once belonged to Montesquieu, and stayed in his family until quite recently http://www.chateaulabrede.com/
The vineyard (4 hectares of red and 2 of white wine varieties) had gone out of existence, but was revived on a tenancy basis by Dominique Haverlan, owner of Vieux Château Gaubert, also in the Graves. This is his first vintage, and a very successful one at that.
C: good, medium deep
N: sweet fruit and oak in a minor key, hints of tobacco and a pleasant greenness
T: round, easy-to-drink, modern, with a puckery, lip-smacking finish. Wine of substance and an unexpected pleasure.
Score: 14
Price: 15 euros

2012 Moulin de Couhins, Pessac-Léognan rouge
Château Couhins is owned and managed by INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agricole). It has long been under the radar and is a good value for that reason.
C: OK, a little hazy
N: brambly and reflecting its origins, along with discreet oak, and a cosmetic quality
T: sweet, simple, cherry fruit, and light tannin. qaMore grip than most. Should be ideal in 3 years. Some greenness.
Score: 13
Price: 13.50 euros

2012 La Réserve d’Angludet, Margaux
Angludet has long had a strong following, and is especially well-known on English-speaking markets due, in no small part, to the owners, the English Sichel family.
C: medium, a little dull
N: upfront, direct, seems relatively commonplace, but pretty with some nice notes of black fruit jelly, with a touch of greenness
T: suave, light, and pure. Nice juicy aftertaste with good tannin but in a minor key. Attractive, to drink young.
Score: 14
Price: 19 euros

2012 Jacques Boyd, Margaux
Third growth Boyd Cantenac has long had a low profile, but it is a stalwart classic as far as I’m concerned.
C: a little weak
N: old-fashioned, classic Médoc typical of the Margaux appellation. Light, engaging, with some vanilla oak overtones
T: starts off chewy, becoming light on the palate with a pleasing mineral element on the tail end
Score: 13
Price: 24 euros
Lucien Guillemet was also showing the 2002 Jacques Boyd, but this was very tertiary and past its best.
2010 Diane de Belgrave, Haut-Médoc
This classified growth and exclusivity of CVBG (Dourthe-Kressmann) deserves more of a reputation than it has. My notes show a wine that is good rather than very good, but at 13 euros a bottle, this was tremendous value for money.
C: good, medium deep with purplish overtones
N: sweet, pure candied fruit with some class. Rather feminine.
T: sweet once again. Charming and seductive, even if quite simple. A real crowd pleaser. The tannin on the finish, however, is perhaps too rough compared to the wine’s intrinsic body.
Score: 12.5
Price: 13 euros

2006 Sirène de Giscours, Margaux
After going through a variety of phases, Giscours has seemed back on track in recent vintages. This 9 year old second wine, however, was not the best reflection of what the château can do.
C: looking older than its years
N: old, indeterminate, past it
T: ditto
Score: no score given
Price: 26 euros

2010 L’Arpège de Haut-Nouchet, Pessac-Léognan
I am not familiar with this estate in Martillac.
C: medium-light with darker core
N: simple and closed with berry fruit. Lacks depth.
T: better than the bouquet. Sweet, but hollow and rather one-dimensional. Tart, bitter finish.
Score: 10.5
Price: 13.5 euros

2012 Blason d’Issan, Margaux
Issan is unquestionably one of the best third growths (there are ten of them…) in the Margaux appellation. It is now 50% owned by Jacky Lorenzetti, who also owns Pédesclaux and Liliane-Ladouys.
C: good, youthful
N: straightforward, with lovely, subtle Margaux berry fruit
T: good body and melts in the mouth. Bigger than expected. Magical. Good balance. Nice to drink as of now.
Score: 14
Price: 21 euros

2011 Hostens-Picant, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux
This estate is located in the tiny and not well-known Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux appellation. I had only previously heard of their white wine.
C: average
N: some ash, quite one-dimensional
T: sweet, but not in a good sense. Barely drinkable. Dry, nasty finish.
Score: no score given
Price: 20 euros

2012 Amiral de Beychevelle, Saint Julien
Fourth growth Beychevelle is clearly on the up-and-up. This was one of the best wines of the tasting.
C: medium-deep
N: solid, well-focused brambly fruit with good definition
T: fleshy and big. Maybe not a long aftertaste, but lovely cherry flavors and good tannin. Potential for ageing there. Archetype of a good 2nd wine. Not second rate by any means
Score: 14.5
Price: 38 euros

2011 Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac
This has long been considered one of the best second wines in the Médoc. Only now, Pichon Baron will be producing another second wine – like Clos du Marquis and les Forts de Latour – that claims it isn’t really a second wine… This is called Les Griffons de Pichon Baron, and was first made in the 2012 vintage.
C: medium-deep with a lightish rim
N: deep and enticing, but closed. Some chocolate overtones.
T: silky, satiny texture. Sweetness on palate with high-quality tannin that melts in the mouth with just a hint of greenness. A round, friendly Pauillac that will nevertheless improve.
Score: 14
Price: 39 euros

2012 Fleur de Pédesclaux, Pauillac
This fifth growth was nothing short of obscure until Jacky Lorenzetti (an Italian speaker from Switzerland who made his fortune with the Foncia real estate chain) bought it and turned it around.
Pédesclaux is rare in that it is a Pauillac made from 100% Merlot!
C: medium thin with purplish rim
N: sweet, pure bouquet with coffee-vanilla nuances
T: round as one might expect, but also rich, sweet, gummy, and lip smacking good
Score: 13.5
Price: 21 euros



2009 Réserve de la Comtesse, Pauillac
One expects a great deal from a “super-second” that is universally appreciated, especially in a vintage like this. I was not disappointed.
C: OK, medium-deep, not entirely clear
N: a little simple, but reminiscent of the grand vin. Sweet with graphite overtones.
T: round and sensual with lovely soft tannin. Great finish and showing very well at present (can be enjoyed as of now), but will be fine for the next 5 years. Good acidity.
Score: 14.5
Price: 42 euros

On to the Right Bank…


2012 La Fleur Laroze, Saint Emilion
I am not very familiar with this 27-hectare grand cru classé.
C: light and bright
N: a little green and rustic but with deep fruit even so
T: big with good minerality
Score: 12.5
Price: 13.50 euros

2012 Clos La Gaffelière, Saint Emilion
I am not alone in having some severe disappointments in the premier grand cru classé Ch. La Gaffelière. But the owners have called in consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt and things have changed for the better.
C: medium light
N: lovely, pure, perfumed
T: very soft and upfront, melts in the mouth. Drink sooner rather than later. More voluptuous and big breasted than serious, but lots of pleasure there…
Score: “objectively” 13, but this is a joy to drink
Price: 19 euros – tremendous value for money.

2012 Dauphin de Grand Pontet, Saint Emilion
I’ve not often tasted wine from the 14-hectare grand cru classé Grand Pontet.
C: satisfyingly dark with purple highlights
N: a little weedy along with ripe and candied fruit overtones. Sweet and fairly simple with good, understated oak
T: round, big, and a little hot on the palate. Honest and foursquare, like a rich peasant.
Score: 12
Price: 13 euros

2009 Filia de Grand Mayne, Saint-Emilion
This 18-hectare classified growth has a strong following.
C: very deep
N: coffee, blackberry jelly, and a little rustic
T: big mouthful of wine but a little hollow (weak on the middle palate). Modern with some heat on the finish. Hearty, but lacks finesse. One wonders why the second wine has to be this concentrated. Perhaps a feature of the vintage…
Score: 12
Price: 16 euros

2010 Haut-Faugères, Saint-Emilion (sorry, not shown)
Faugères was promoted to grand cru classé status, and enjoys a good reputation, like the other Silvio Denz wines.
C: very dark and good
N: slightly oxidized
T: better on palate, but top-heavy and still off
Score: not scored
Price: 16 euros

2009 Croix de Beauséjour, Saint-Emilion
This second wine of Château Beauséjour (Duffau-Lagarosse) was a great discovery.
C: fine, with a deep core and slightly browning rim
N: lovely understated cherry-vanilla bouquet, that only lacks some depth
T: nice mouthfeel. Lush and rich, but backed up by fine minerality. Classic. Very good indeed. Drink now until 2022.
Score: 14.5
Price: 39 euros

2011 Marquis de Bellefont, Saint-Emilion
One of the newly-promoted grand crus classes, Bellefont-Belcier is 14-hectare estate recently acquired by a Chinese firm.
C: bit cloudy
N: oak, and more toasty oak, with coffee overtones, that overrides the fruit
T: overdone, intrinsic softness marked by bitterness. Another look needs to be taken at barrel ageing.
Score: 10
Price: 15.50 euros



After the tasting, my friend Pierre and I had lunch at the Cochon Volant, a nearby restaurant. This is a wonderful, earthy place featuring the best of cusine from Southwest France. Warning: portions are enormous!
We enjoyed a 2009 Ch. Moulin-à-Vent (Moulis) with lunch.

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 http://www.amazon.com/1855-A-History-Bordeaux-Classification/dp/0471194212 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.

An unforgettable tour of top-flight châteaux – day one

As mentioned below, I belong to a virtual community based in several countries called www.bordeauxwineenthusiasts.com

Along with a friend in Paris and others in London and the US, I organized a 5-day tour of top-flight Bordeaux châteaux for 18 people.
This took a great deal of planning, months in advance, but was well worth the effort.

We started off with Château Palmer. All my Bordeaux-loving friends adore Palmer, and I’m not about to disagree. It is not rare for me and others to find Palmer better than Margaux in certain vintages, and such was the case with 2014 in my opinion. Anyway, we were shown around by Céline Cassat, and I give her full marks for starting out in the vineyard, explaining the lay of the land, the estate’s winegrowing philosophy and, of course, their recent turn to organic and biodynamic viticulture. This was as opposed to most châteaux that only show visitors their cellars.
Palmer has been entirely renovated and is clearly in full swing. The grounds are beautiful, the château looks great, and the cellar is now magnificently-equipped.
We tasted 2011 Alter Ego and 2006 Palmer. The former was smooth and is in an early-maturing, more commercial style. The latter had velvety tannin and good grip, and will also show well before too long.

We went from Palmer to 5th growth Château du Tertre, which has belonged to Dutch businessman Eric Albada Jelgersma since 1997, as has 3rd growth Château Giscours. Several members of the group had specifically asked to go to du Tertre because the wine offers such excellent value for money. We were very well received by Marc Verpaalen and not disappointed with what we tasted. After sampling the elegant and fairly forward 2012 du Tertre and 2012 Giscours, we went for a light lunch on a beautiful veranda overlooking a swimming pool and the château.
You have to admit that Bordeaux does some things extremely well…
The wines we had at lunch were 2009 du Tertre, 2006 Caiarossa from Tuscany (also owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma), 2014 Giscours and du Tertre, as well as 2004 Giscours. The 2014s are very promising and the 2004 was good for the vintage and ready to drink now.
Marc informed us that since the owner’s son is allergic to red wine, Château du Tertre will be soon be producing a white wine.

While organizing this trip, I learned that the first growths now limit the number of visitors, which made planning things a little hairy. Such was the case with Château Latour, who accept no more than 10 people. However, much to their credit, they agreed to welcome two groups in succession.

While the first group visited Léoville Las Cases, the other half, including myself, went to Latour. Like many top-flight châteaux, they have expanded and renovated their cellars, which are now in tip-top condition. We were first of all ushered into a room to watch a film about the château. This had tinkly faux-Zen music and didn’t seem particularly to focus on Latour rather than any other wine estate. Once past this rather boring introduction, we went on a guided tour. The facilities were as impeccable as one would expect at a first growth. We also admired their new wine library, with magnums going back a very long way. The tasting room is wonderful, and we sampled three wines there: the 2011 Pauillac, the 2008 Forts de Latour, and the 2004 Latour. The Pauillac was very attractive, Les Forts lacked some richness and concentration, but was still quite nice, and the Latour proved to be lovely with fine textured tannin. It is also quite enjoyable to drink now. No, you don’t always have to wait decades to drink these wines, even if that is the case in great years.

Gruaud tower

After Latour, I went with half the group to Château Gruaud Larose. This was a wonderful visit. It started out with a trip up a steel tower that has just been built to house an observation post and a visitor reception center. This affords a fantastic view of the estate and the surrounding countryside, including manicured grounds and gardens. We were taken around the cellars by winemaker Stéphanie Lebaron Bouchonneau. As always, it’s the person and not the surroundings, however luxurious they may be, that makes visiting a wine estate memorable. Stéphanie is charming, relaxed, funny and, above all, extremely competent. She poured us a number of wines. 2014 Sarget (the second wine) was simple and nice, 2014 Gruaud Larose quite tannic and promising, 2006 GL a little too oaky, and 1998 GL – 17 years old – perhaps a little dry, but at its peak and very enjoyable. It is a treat and a rarity to drink a wine that old when visiting a Bordeaux estate.

Afterward, we went to Château Léoville Barton, where Liliane Barton welcomed us warmly, despite the fact that we were not on time… Liliane’s family have owned Langoa and Léoville Barton since the 1820s, and are definitely part of the Médoc aristocracy. However, Llilian is a relaxed, down-to-earth person and very much a philosopher in her own way. Trends come and go, but the Bartons have nearly two centuries of experience in making fine wine, and so are very circumspect. For instance, Liliane is against green harvesting because she feels that what works one year complicates things the following year. We started out by tasting the other Barton estate, 2011 Château Mauvesin-Barton, which I have talked about elsewhere on the blog. We then sampled 2012 Langoa Barton which, like some other wines from this vintage, was already showing very well. The 2014 Léoville Barton was sweet and seductive on the nose, lacking perhaps just a touch of weight and richness to back up the structure. It is nevertheless a fine, classic wine.

The final château that day was Léoville Poyferré, where we were welcomed by the bubbly Anne Cuvelier, who speaks good English and clearly enjoys explaining the ins and outs of winemaking. The group had dinner at the newly-refurbished château (a recurring theme, as you can see).

If you have read this far, please note that all of the above was in just one day, which is about the maximum anyone could possibly fit in!

We tasted the wines at dinner rather than beforehand. The 2014 Moulin Riche was light, fruity, upfront and – unsurprisingly – less serious than the grand vin. The 2012 was better than expected and I am not far from thinking that 2012 may actually be better than 2011 in many instances in the Médoc. The 2008 Léoville Poyferré had a fine ethereal nose and lovely blackberry flavors on the palate. The 2007 was light and refreshing and the 2005 was deep and classic, with rich berry fruit.

2000 Fonréaud (Listrac), 2004 d’Issan (Margaux), and 2004 Bessane (Margaux

2000 Château Fonréaud, Listrac
I’ve long been a fan of Fonréaud and its sister château across the road, Château Lestage, both owned by the Chanfreau family, who made wine in Algeria before they came to the Médoc.
Listrac is a small appellation that does not have much of an identity with wine lovers. There are nevertheless some fine estates there. Fonréaud has 38 hectares of vines (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot). The château also makes a rare white Médoc (AOC Bordeaux) Le Cygne Blanc.
I opened this 2000 (red), figuring that most mid-range Bordeaux from that vintage is ready to drink. As it turns out in this particular instance, the wine probably would have been better a few years ago…
The color was showing its age, and then some, with a brown rim. The bouquet was the best part of the wine, showing sweet, subtle fruit and some humus overtones.
The taste was of aged Cabernet, in an old-fashioned style. The rich, velvety attack proceeded to turn dry, grippy, and austere, without the richness one would hope for in this great vintage. This is the sort of wine that is fine with food, but judged on its own, I would have to be fairly severe. Of course, this is a reflection on one wine, not on the estate as a whole. It makes me want to try a younger vintage soon!


2004 Château d’Issan, Margaux
Dating back to the 17th century, Issan is one of the loveliest châteaux in the Médoc. The estate’s history goes back to the Middle Ages. As one of ten third growths in Bordeaux, its reputation is better than most. Associated with the Cruse family since 1945, a new partner appeared in 2013 when Jacky Lorenzetti (owner of Ch. Pédesclaux in Pauillac and Château Lilian Ladouys in Saint-Estèphe) acquired a 50% shareholding.
Coming to the conclusion that most 2004s are ready to go, I opened and decanted this 2004 d’Issan two hours before drinking. The color is of medium intensity. There’s still some purple there, and good legs. The nose is sweet and ethereal, with humus, raisiny, and menthol nuances, as well as a pronounced smell I can only describe as lead, which I tend to attribute to appellations further north… As beguiling as the nose is, the wine disappoints on the palate, which is medium-long and refreshing, but dips on the middle and becomes angular. The lead aromatics follow through. This wine is like an overly thin top model. It will hold for quite some time thanks to the acid backbone, but will always lack generosity and richness.


2004 Château La Bessane, Margaux
Martine Cazeneuve is the driving force behind the 32-hectare cru bourgeois Haut-Médoc, Ch. Paloumey in Ludon, between La Lagune and Cantemerle. I’ve always been a fan of Paloumey. Madame Cazeneuve also owns 3 hectares in Cantenac, in the Margaux appellation. Ch. La Bessane is little-known because it is so small. It is also off the beaten track because it has a very unusual mix of grape varieties: 50% Petit Verdot (!), 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot.
The 2004 is a very deep purplish-red and a little fuzzy on the rim. My notes for the nose come in two stages. After two hours in the decanter, the bouquet was rather dumb, with caramel overtones. However, after another 4 hours it was singing, with pure, subtle, seductive, black cherry and pipe tobacco aromas. My better half tasted the wine blind and did not think it was a Bordeaux. I’m not really surprised because one doesn’t often come across such a huge percentage of Petit Verdot. The wine seemed big and brooding on the palate at first, but with increased aeration showed a sappy cherry quality, followed by an acid zing. Although many of the 2004s I’m drinking are not going anywhere, 2004 Ch. La Bessane definitely has more to deliver in the coming years.

2010 Clos Floridène (Graves blanc) and 2004 Ch. Durfort Vivens (Margaux)


I enjoyed two Bordeaux wines on Sunday, starting off with 2010 Clos Floridène, a white Graves from Denis Dubourdieu, Dean of the Institut des Science de la Vigne et du Vin, well-known consultant, owner of several estates in Bordeaux (including the great growth Doisy-Daënes in Barsac), and acknowledged authority on the making of white wines.



So, it was a fairly safe bet that this would not be a dud! In fact, I’ve known Clos Floridène for years, and it is widely considered a model of what white Bordeaux should be.
Clos Floridène has 17 hectares of red vines and 23 of white. It is located in Pujols, a stone’s throw from the Sauternes appellation. The white wine is made from 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 44% Sémillion and 1% Muscadelle.
The color of the 2010 was pale gold with green tinges and the nose was fresh, tart, lemony and showing subtle overtones of honey. The wine was really all that it should be on the palate, with citrus overtones and a dry mineral finish – more akin to a Pessac-Léognan than a Graves blanc, but fortunately with the latter’s price tag, making this very good value for money.  This is by no means a great wine, but it is a poster child for disbelievers of what Bordeaux can do with dry white wines!
It is fine to drink now, but will hold for years.
One odd thing. I’m used to encountering citrus overtones in wine, but this is the first time I can remember smelling lime nuances!






The red wine of the day was 2004 Durfort Vivens. I had great hopes here because when I tasted it en primeur alongside other great growths in the Margaux appelation, it seemed one of the top wines. A few other tasters agreed with me. Unfortunately, this promise was not borne out ten years later. The wine’s color was encouraging: a very dark core with only medium bricking, looking younger than its years. The nose was satisfactory as well, with hints of plum, although not very forthcoming. However, the wine fell down on the palate which showed far too much of an acid edge. On the whole, this 2004 Durfort came off as thin and mean, with ungracious tannin on the finish. A big disappointment. I have 2 other bottles, and I’m hoping that this one is not typical.
By the way, the label has changed with the 2007 vintage, if none of you has seen it: