Tag Archives: Médoc

2016 Château Latour

Château Latour stopped selling on a futures basis beginning with the 2012 vintage. They nevertheless invite professionals to taste the new vintage every year just like all the other châteaux. In addition, they pour older wines that have been released on the market on this occasion.


2016 Pauillac (54.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.9% Merlot, and 6.5% Petit Verdot): I must admit to once again being very taken with the Latour’s third wine. Even if rather subdued at present, it shows ripe, sweet, plummy, blackurrant preserves on the nose and reflects its terroir – a sort of apotheosis of Cabernet Sauvignon, even at this level and despite the much lower percentage of that variety in the final blend compared to the grand vin. It may be a tad weak on the middle palate and does not have quite the breadth of the latter, but is a very good wine.

2016 Les Forts de Latour (64.3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35.3% Merlot, 0.4% Cabernet Franc)
This is unsurprisingly one step up from the Pauillac AOC. It has a nice, fresh, promising nose with a slight, not unpleasant herbaceousness, as well as a meaty quality. The wine is big and spherical on the palate and spreads out with considerable richness. Les Forts displays the 2016 sweetness along with decent grip, great acidity, and a dry mineral aftertaste. The finish is layered and velvety.

2016 Château Latour (92.9% Cabernet Sauvigon, 7.1% Merlot) – The bouquet is at the same time seductive and aristocratic, with violet overtones. Divine.
To say the least, the wine has good structure on the palate. Very much the “iron fist in a velvet glove”. Big and develops with self-assurance and grace. The tannins coat the teeth and the aftertaste goes on and on. If this is a monster, it is a very well-behaved one… Superb potential.

The three 2016s were followed by same three wines from older vintages that are in bottle and out on the market:

2012 Pauillac (43.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54.5% Merlot, and 1.6% Petit Verdot)
This wine looks older than its years and the rim is just starting to brown.
It already has a nose of lovely aged claret with a trace of cocoa. There is also a definite greenness, the effect of a late-ripening year, but it fits in somehow. The wine is somewhat thin and angular on the palate, but the Latour style is definitely there. Austere. A Bordeaux for Bordeaux lovers. Others might be put off. Relatively long aftertaste, once again mineral.

2011 Les Forts de Latour (61.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35%% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
Very deep youthful color with an uplifting bouquet of red fruit, menthol, and graphite. Already quite expressive at this age. The wine starts off round and attractive on the palate, then dips somewhat before coming back with a deep mineral aftertaste. There is a slightly dilute quality to the wine, but this is redeemed by the forceful aftertaste, which is very dry. Not the greatest balance, but bears the unmistakable stamp of Latour’s terroir.

2005 Château Latour (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 0.5% Petit Verdot)
This looks perhaps five years little older than its age (twelve years). The nose is redolent of luscious ripe fruit with captivating earthy nuances, accompanied by notes of pencil shavings typical of this estate as well as other Pauillacs. This graphite quality comes through on the palate as well. The taste is thirst quenching and follows through flawlessly with liquorice, blackcurrant, and wildberry flavors. There is a beautiful silky texture that leads into a majestic aftertaste with extremely fine-grained tannin and candied black fruit nuances. Last year, the 2000 Latour was poured and everyone was surprised how ready to drink it was. This 2005 is another kettle of fish. Give it another 10 years at least to make the most of it. Très grand vin.

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?

La Tour de Bessan, a Margaux worth discovering



It would not be entirely accurate to say that Marie-Laure Lurton belongs to a well-known wine family… In fact, it would be much more apt to say she’s from a virtual dynasty, with huge landholdings throughout Bordeaux (1,300 hectares at 27 estates). However, Marie-Laure is no figurehead daughter looking after marketing and public relations… She’s a hands-on winemaker with a degree in enology and years of experience working at the family châteaux prior to acquiring two of her own. A measure of the woman’s stamina and character is that she was training for the Marathon du Médoc when I met her this summer.

Marie-Laure owns and manages Château La Tour de Bessan in the Margaux appellation and Villegeorge in the Haut-Médoc appellation. She is the mother of three children.

I asked Marie-Laure a question that fascinates lovers of Bordeaux. Since nothing would legally have prevented it (the 1855 classification is not subject to appellation controlée laws, and has not been changed since 1973, when Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second to a first growth), why was La Tour de Bessan not purely and simply integrated into Brane Cantenac or Durfort Vivens, both second growths belonging to the Lurtons – and selling at a much higher price? Her answer was very nuanced and had much to do with agreements made within her family taking existing situations into account. Let it suffice to say that Lucien Lurton acquired La Tour de Bessan in the 1970s and preferred to keep the estate separate.

I was intrigued to discover La Tour de Bessan because I had rarely had the wine. I was not alone in erroneously thinking of it as a second wine of Brane Cantenac. The vineyards are located in three different communes: Soussans, Arsac, and Cantenac. The eponymous tower in Soussans dates back to the 13th century – predating the one at Château Latour in Pauillac, who therefore did not ask the Lurtons to change the name to just “Tour de Bessan”, as they did to other châteaux called “La Tour something or other”.

La Tour de Bessan was acquired by Lucien Lurton in 1972. Marie-Laure worked with her father from 1984 to 1991. He handed over full winemaking responsibility at La Tour de Bessan in 1992. Marie-Laure was not spoiled for her first vintage since the year was extremely difficult and challenging. She has since acquired precious experience running the estate, and her wine was sold on the Place de Bordeaux to négociants for the first time in 2010 (the 2008 and 2009 vintages).

The 30 hectares of vines are planted with 39.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 59.6% Merlot and 1.2% Petit Verdot. The soil consists of Pyrenean gravel and viticultural practices are sustainable, as attested by Terra Vitis certification since 2003. The Cabernet is machine harvested, but the more fragile Merlot is picked by hand. In general, picking is always adapted to the condition and ripeness of the grapes in each plot.

Annual production varies from 60-110,000 bottles of the grand vin and 20-40,000 bottles of the second wine, Page de la Tour de Bessan, depending on the vintage. A third wine is sold in bulk to négociants


Marie-Laure has been assisted by Technical Director Emilie Roulié, an agricultural engineer, since 1999. The vineyard manager is a Habib Achenglil.


La Tour de Bessan
A new cellar was built in 1999. The first thing you notice about La Tour de Bessan is its tasteful, striking, resolutely contemporary architecture. Made of reinforced concrete, the original building dates from 1934. In its present state, it looks like nothing so much as a modern art museum and cannot be compared to anything else in the Médoc.

La Tour de Bessan was included in the Cru Bourgeois classification in 2003. However, like several other well-known estates, Marie-Laure decided to withdraw after a series of upheavals within the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois, and for practical reasons.


I tasted through the 2011, 2012, and 2013 vintages of La Tour de Bessan with Marie-Laure Lurton. Eschewing the clichés often used when referring to wine made by women, I would describe the wines as very traditional in style, similar to the ones I tasted when I first came to Bordeaux in the late 1970s. By that, I mean that they are poised, digestible, on the light side, and with a very lacy texture in each instance. They are on the early-maturing side and what I, as a foreigner, see as in keeping with the French taste in wine – light years away from heavily-extracted oaky ones one finds. There is an ethereal aspect that makes them very drinkable and enjoyable.

La Tour de Bessan is also on the forefront of wine tourism (http://www.marielaurelurton.com/fr/oenotourisme/). The château offers a series of options including tasting wine from each grape variety, making your own blend, and leaving with a bottle of it to take home. Another possibility, “Gourmet Day in Margaux”, includes visits to Prieuré-Lichine and Rauzan Gassies in the morning, lunch at the Savoie restaurant, and tours of Kirwan and (of course) La Tour de Bessan in the afternoon.


In addition, Marie-Laure has established a partnership with the Officier de Bouche caterer in Margaux (http://www.lofficier-de-bouche.com/). The chef and owner, Mme Gaëlle Benoiste-Pilloire, is specialized in matching food and wine, and has her own professional kitchen. Participants prepare meals and eat them afterwards with the appropriate wines.

What does the future look like for La Tour de Bessan? Marie-Laure’s children have not, as yet, shown interest in taking over management, but time will tell… There is inevitably a time lag between a château’s renaissance and recognition by the marketplace. Marie-Laure has given herself a decade to turn things around completely and will then see what to do next. In the meantime, I wish her the best of luck, and encourage her to keep up the good work.


The 2016 vintage at Château Montrose

I was invited to Château Montrose on the 12th of October to see how the new vintage was going. I was glad to accept, because 2016 has been a very unusual year weatherwise and I curious to see what effect this had on the grapes. In fact, the harvest finished today (14th of October).

Château Montrose has 95 hectares of vines (90 in production). The estate is dramatically situated on a rise overlooking the Gironde Estuary. The vines go down the relatively steep slope almost to the river, which unquestionably has a positive influence on the microclimate, helping to avoid extremes of temperature. A soil survey defined Montrose’s gravelly terroir in the “terrace 4” category, not unlike Château Latour’s. Grape varieties are 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6 % Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.
A relatively recent estate in Médocain terms, Montrose was nevertheless classified a second growth in the 1855 classification. It belonged to the Charmolüe family from 1896 until 2006, when it was acquired by Martin and Olivier Bouygues, among the wealthiest people in France. Although they live in Paris, the Bouygues come frequently to Saint-Estèphe and are intimately involved with their estate.

The changes in Montrose in the past 10 years have been breathtaking. The 1,000 m² barrel cellar, completed in 2014, is a veritable temple of Bacchus, one of the most classical and beautiful in Bordeaux, which is saying something… All existing buildings were renovated and new ones built. Careful attention was paid to ecological concerns. The château has 3,000 m² of solar panels and draws on geothermal energy from a well dug some 100 meters deep…

In this same spirit, experiments are being made with organic viticulture. Fifteen hectares are being farmed in this way and, what’s more, expressly in the part of the vineyard considered to be the most vulnerable to vine diseases. The results are very encouraging and it is hoped that the vineyard will be entirely organic within the next 5 years.
The 2016 harvest started on the 23rd of September. Like elsewhere in Bordeaux this year, the growing season got off to poor start due to a cool, wet spring. Bud burst at Montrose took place around the 4th of April for Merlot, the 11th of that month for the Cabernets, and the 14th for Petit Verdot. Flowering occurred on the same day for Merlot and the Cabernets (the 10th of June) and on the 14th for Petit Verdot.

A heat wave in August changed things radically. Véraison took place on the 19th of August for Merlot, the 25th for the Cabernets, and the 29th for Petit Verdot.
Yes, there was some scattered scorching of grapes and vegetative growth was blocked for a time. But an important distinction must be made with 2003. The average highs in August of that year were 32°C, whereas they were 28°C in 2016. The vineyard manager, Mme Patricia Teynac, and the winemaker, M. Vincent Ducup, thought that this would spell high sugar levels. However, this was not the case. For instance, both Merlot and the Cabernets came at 13-13.5° potential alcohol, which is quite reasonable in a good vintage. All in all, this was a slightly early-ripening year.
The average yield was 41 hl/ha.

One of the hallmarks of 2016 is what can only be described as drought conditions. Precipitation from June until the present time has been abnormally low, and may well set a new record.
Montrose’s new (ten years already, even so…) owners have brought about two important changes in the wine. First of all, the selection process has been taken to great lengths. The second wine, La Dame de Montrose, has existed for years. However, a third wine was introduced in 2010, Le Saint-Estèphe de Montrose, and there is even a fourth wine now (!), which is sold in bulk to négociants. The grand vin now accounts for just one quarter to one third of the total crop depending on the vintage.

The second change involves winemaking. Montrose, renowned for its longevity, is now more open in its youth, but without compromising ageing potential. A neat trick, that seems to be working!
Montrose acquired part of Phélan Ségur, a large 21 hectare plot called Fonpetite in 2010. Wine from here has been integrated into the estate started with the 2010 vintage. It is nevertheless important to point out that this parcel was once part of Montrose, so the magical transformation of cru bourgeois land into great growth terroir from one minute to the next is inaccurate.
Be this as it may, much of Fonpetite’s production goes into the second wine.

At a time when 85% of all grapes in Bordeaux are machine harvested, there are 90 pickers at Montrose in 2016. As in years past, all of them come from the village of Pruna, near Seville. Fortunately, the winemaker speaks Spanish!

Among other innovations, Montrose is relying on drones that take infrared photos of the vines. These show different levels of maturity, even within the estate’s 90 separate plots. Montrose has also introduced the dividing of grapes from the premières grappes (bunches on the top of the vine) and deuxièmes grappes (ones from the bottom). The latter are riper and so are fermented separately.

The replanting program, begun in 2006, will take forty years to complete! Montrose is also experimenting with propagating the best vines rather than buying ones from a vine nursery.

Furthermore, Montrose has made an effort over the past 3 years to reduce sufur levels, going from 140 to 100 mg., with an aim to reach just 70 mg.

A visit to the vatroom revealed 65 stainless steel vats of varying capacity to keep wines from each plot separate in order to fine tune the final blend.
The ph of the new wine is about 3.5 for both of the main varieties. The anthocyanin content is greater than 2,000 for the Merlot and 3,000 for the Cabernets (measured according to the ApH1 Glories method)
I have a decent backlog of experience tasting young wines from barrel, but it is unfortunately beyond me to taste freshly pressed juice and appraise it. But going on Montrose’s track record, and based on the genuine enthusiasm of the winemaking team, I think something special is in store, and I look forward to tasting 2016 Montrose in March or April of next year.

Feudal Médoc…


As reported in the Sud-Ouest newspaper, Christophe Salin, the manager of Château Lafite Rothschild, got into trouble recently for a speech he gave at a tasting in Montreal a while back.
Salin probably figured that he was free to speak his mind 5,000 km from home. However, the speech was filmed and went on the Internet…
What exactly did Salin say?
First in French, then translated into English.

Il y a des années, pour devenir directeur de Lafite ou le maître de chai de Lafite, il suffisait d’être le fils ou le petit-fils du précédent. Mais, malheureusement, génétiquement, ça n’allait jamais en s’arrangeant. Pour une raison bien simple: le Médoc est une presqu’île. Donc il y a beaucoup de mariages consanguins. Au bout de la troisième génération, il y avait les yeux qui se croisaient un peu… J’ai mis fin à cette pratique avec le baron Éric de Rothschild en recrutant des gens de qualité

“Years ago, all it took to become managing director of Lafite or cellar master of Lafite was to be the son or grandson of the previous one. However, unfortunately, that did not work out over time, for a very simple reason: the Médoc is a peninsula, and there was much marrying between blood relatives. By the third generation, there were some cross-eyed children… I ended this practice with Baron Eric de Rothschild by hiring qualified people from outside the region”.

These comments did not sit very well with Pierre Revelle, a municipal councillor in Pauillac – as well as the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Lafite cellarmasters, who decried Salin’s “obvious contempt for generations of workers who made Lafite what it is today”. Revelle went on to say “The great 53, 61, 82, 85, 86, 89, and 90 vintages were produced by people without diplomas”.

Salin apologized to Lafite employees and declared to Sud-Ouest, “I am unhappy. I have no excuse to offer. What I meant to say is that the people of the Médoc were specialized in their work and close to the terroir. Honestly, this affair is all very sad to me”.

Without wishing to crucify Monsieur Salin, what this brings home is the feudal, “upstairs/downstairs” side of the Médoc, much more so than on the Right Bank. There are the people who own the grandiose châteaux… and those who work for them, the underlings. Salaries at some world-famous estates are surprisingly low. And, although labor relations are generally cordial and strikes virtually unheard of, there is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots. You sometimes get the feeling that the 20th century (never mind the 21st!) has bypassed the Médoc…

Dinner at Château d’Yquem on 09/09/16


The Académie du Vin de Bordeaux kindly invited me to dinner at Château d’Yquem last night (9th of September). I have visited the château on a fair number of occasions, but certainly never enjoyed a meal there, so I was really looking forward to this.
The château has three dining rooms and there were about 60 of us in the largest one.



The meal started out with 2014 Y on the terrace. This wine has changed completely from when it was first introduced in 1959. For many years, the grapes were picked after the ones used to make Sauternes. Now they’re picked before. The 2014 (60% Sémillion, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, and no Muscadelle) was an ideal aperitif. Whereas Y used to be on the thick side and pretty much like a dry, or mostly dry Sauternes, the new generation Y is crisp, elegant, and seemingly on the light side. This 2014 is so enjoyable now that I wonder how it will change over time or if it actually needs to age. The oak is definitely unobtrusive.

By the way, Pierre Lurton explained that 2016 Y has already been picked and pressed. This year has been really odd weatherwise, with a rotten spring and early summer, but a long-lasting heat wave in September, with temperatures a full 10°C above the seasonal average on certain days. Problems with scorching have been encountered in the red wine vineyards…




The first course (thon mi-cuit, gelée de gazpacho, avocate guacamole au citron vert, sorbet tomate-basilic) was accompanied by white 2012 Ch. Fieuzal. I’ve had a few premoxed bottles from this estate in the past, but when white Fieuzal shows well, it shows very well. It is one of those rare estates in Bordeaux where the white wine has better press than the red, and sells for much more. In any event, in all honesty, the Pessac-Léognac was better in my opinion than the dry Sauternes. It displayed great balance and a wonderful flinty aftertaste. The marked acidity seemed to fit in beautifully with the overall structure, and the oak influence was positive.

The second course (pigeon au foie gras, polenta au chorizo et piquillos, gaufrette safran, mousseline de cerfeuil) was served with two red wines, both of which I quite enjoyed. Incidentally, both were made by women who were present at the meal and who commented each other’s wines for everyone’s benefit.

Château Dassault is a Saint Emilion grand cru classé owned by one of the richest men in France (aerospace, etc.). The 2008 had a sweet, plummy bouquet with good oak and a very rich flavour with a velvety texture. I would only fault the overly obvious presence of alcohol on the finish. This was a strong wine that can use a little more time to show its best.
Château Phélan Ségur in Saint-Estèphe has long been a much-respected cru bourgeois (previously an “exceptionnel”, although this distinction has disappeared). The 2005 was classic claret with a lovely Médoc nose featuring graphite and violet overtones. The texture was silky and the aftertaste was long and assertive. I expected this 2005 to be more forward than it was. It wasn’t terribly closed-in, but clearly has good mid-term ageing potential.




1955 Yquem was served with dessert (crémeux de citron, pamplemousse mariné au miel et citron vert, sorbet agrumes). The color is hard to describe, and people at my table agreed that the wine looked a little older than its years, with a mahogany and golden hue as well as a faint pinkish tinge. Although unspectacular, the nose was engaging with hints of mandarine orange, orange peel, and spice. However, the wine well and truly strutted its stuff on the palate, which was gorgeous. The texture was caressing, silky, and phenomenally sensual. There were flavors of crème brûlée and caramel as well as a host of citrus and tropical fruits (mango). I also found the unmistakable vanilla component that is a hallmark of Yquem to me – and which I do not attribute to oak. This vintage of Yquem showed good acidity and will of course live for decades to come, but it is as good as it ever will be in my opinion.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Friday evening…




42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: sweet, with olive nuances, cosmetic overtones and primary fruit showing. Good underlying depth. My notes say “serious and mysterious”.
P: very forward. Big, but not too big. Blackcurrant and fruit paste flavors, and develops very well on the palate. Classic.

Branaire Ducru
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: fine, assertive, a little dusty. Somewhat one-dimensional and a touch green, with resin and menthol notes.
P: mouthfilling, but somewhat lacking in weight and richness. Good acidity. Very Cabernet and medium-light. Nice sweetness on finish but not very long.

Gruaud Larose
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 9 % Cabernet Franc
N: closed with some mint-eucalyptus notes
P: not showing well at the present time. Alcohol and tannin dominate. Hard finish. Needs to be revisited later on.



75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot
N: interesting, subtle, and a touch grassy, with black fruit liqueur and vanilla overtones. Promising.
P: heavy mouth feel. Starts out soft and then somewhat disjointed. Slightly hot aftertaste. Needs to be retasted at a later date because not showing well now.

Langoa Barton
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and 8 % Cabernet Franc
N: winery aromas along with sweet subtle fruit. Notes of blueberry and coffee, but not very complex at this stage
P: amazingly soft, round, and sensual with a juicy tang. Winner.

Léoville Barton
86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot
N: very closed, but with some underlying mint, blackcurrant, and toffee.
P: more open on the palate. Big, penetrating, and loads of black fruit flavours. Long and authoritative. Very fine indeed.


Léoville Las Cases
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc
N: underlying fruit just emerging
P: considerable weight on the palate. Big, rich, and delicious with the classic blackcurrant flavors of this terroir. Develops beautifully on the palate with a zingy aftertaste. Very good, but perhaps not great.
I tasted the other wines from the Delon stable and particularly liked 2015 Potensac.
Also, 2015 is the first year that a second wine of Clos du Marquis – La Petite Marquise – was produced.

Léoville Poyferré
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot
N: Powerful, inky, very Cabernet and rich, with jammy and medicinal overtones. The bouquet is confused at the moment and needs time.
P: Starts off rich and soft, going on to reveal tight a tight tannic structure and plenty of backbone. Unabashedly tannic on finish. Once could resume the taste by saying it segues from softness into harshness. The tannin will inevitably enable this wine to age well, but the balance is a little off.

Saint Pierre
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc
N: pure and youthful, with exuberant fruit in keeping with the château style. However, this is the antithesis of a fruit bomb. A little green, a little cosmetic, and there may have been a touch of acetic acid.
P: fluid, tangy, bright, and satisfying, with new oak on the finish. Great wine for mid-term drinking.

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66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: bit withdrawn, but with underlying dark fruit
P: chewy and rich, but short. Good acidity, but this does not lead towards a long aftertaste, which is nevertheless fruity. The wine seems to lack overall richness and body at this stage.




60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: just fine with hints of cherry
P: big, mouthfilling, textbook Pauillac but lacks weight despite its richness. New oak predominates on the finish. Not quite the same class as Clerc Milon.

77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: discreet sweet, typical Pauillac nose of medium intensity
P: Big, melts in the mouth with ripe fruit. Only a lack of depth and length keep it out of the top flight category. Lots of new oak, let’s hope they make sure to tone it down during ageing. Well-balanced, although not as complex as the Lynch Moussas.

Clerc Milon
51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, and 1% Carménère
N: sweet black fruit and cranberry overtones, crushed blackcurrant leaves
P: lovely, rich, full, straightforward, and long. A real crowd pleaser.



Croizet Bages
73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot
N: forthright, pure, and open with some hints of black fruit jelly
P: very tart as well as weak and watery on the palate. Simple fruit juice flavors. I really wish I could be more positive for this consistently disappointing wine.

Grand Puy Ducasse
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot
N: discreet, in fact overly so
P: much better on the palate with a velvety texture and good tannin on the aftertaste. This estate is doing better.

Grand Puy Lacoste
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc
N: deep, seductive, brambly and black fruit bouquet. Very promising.
P: round, medium-light and seemingly slightly diluted. Not overdone in any way. Tart, refreshing acidity. A thirst-quenching sort of wine for people who like elegant,digestible Bordeaux. Very good.



Haut Bages Libéral
65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot
N: sweet and simple with a touch of greenness and ash
P: fluid texture and on the light side but picks up on the surprisingly long, attractive finish. One to watch out for.

Lafite Rothschild
91% Cabernet Sauvignon et 9% Merlot
N: delicate and feminine, very much in the château style with cedar and floral nuances giving way to subtle Cabernet fruitiness.
P: 2015 Lafite proves that not just Merlot has tannin that melts in the mouth! The wine deploys its charms with great finesse. The body is on the light side and seemingly low in alcohol. More a satiny than a velvety texture. Very fine.

97.1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.6% Merlot, and 0.03% Petit Verdot
N: relatively closed, with some menthol overtones
P: big, chunky, and penetrating with all the hallmarks of the château. Unrelenting progression of flavors into a zippy, tremendously long aftertaste. Super concentrated, but also elegant. Huge ageing potential.
The second and third wines were also good. As well as wines from the most recent vintage, Latour served 2010 Pauillac, 2009 Les Forts de Latour, and 2000 Latour to en primeur tasters. Not that Les Forts were in any way disappointing, but both the 2015 and 2010 vintages of the Pauillac “over-performed” and represent excellent value for money.



Lynch Bages
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: very deep with strong blackcurrant and a little clove on the nose
P: medium-heavy mouth feel. Certainly round and attractive, but overwhelmed by the oak at this stage. A wine made to last, but need to be re-tasted at a later date.

Lynch Moussas
75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot
N: nice balance between sweet fruit and oak, nuances of spring flowers
P: stalwart with medium-heavy mouth feel. Fairly assertive with good long aftertaste showing candied black fruit and new oak. Very good. Sleeper.

Mouton Rothschild
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc
N: some talcum powder and beeswax on the monumental nose. Virile, deep, and promising.
P: Rich and big on the palate. As good as the bouquet is, the flavors are even better, including some olive nuances. Great velvety texture, balance, and a long aftertaste. The absolute epitome of Cabernet Sauvignon. Radically different from Lafite tasted just one hour previous because this is – comparatively speaking – a bruiser. Regal. Wonderful.



Pichon Baron
77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot
N: lovely characteristic black fruit (especially blackcurrant) along with biscuity and brambly nuances
P: pure and fresh. Great balance and texture, length and grip. Beats the Comtesse and the best Pauillac at the UGC tasting.

Pichon Comtesse
68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot
N: coffee/vanilla with sweet pure fruit. Lacks complexity at this point and is a little spirity.
P: beautiful feminine Pauillac that stops just short of great because the requisite volume is just not there. Nevertheless round and attractive with a tangy tea tannin on the finish.

Pontet Canet
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: sweet and captivating with some floral overtones (iris)
P: not as easygoing on the palate as the nose suggests. Great balance between roundness and backbone. Restrained. Classic, with very pure fruit. Wonderful transition from softness to long mineral aftertaste.





Calon Ségur
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: sweet, spirit (but discreetly so), and chocolatey
P: melts in the mouth. Sleek, rich, and no off-putting hard-ass tannin whatsoever. Great acidity but inconclusive impressions on the aftertaste. Give it time to judge accurately. Big changes at this estate showing through.

Cos Labory
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: not very expressive
P: juicy and starts out soft, then goes on to show slightly harsh, but not outright rough on the palate. Good length and some gumminess on the aftertaste. Better than I have known this château in the past.

Lafon Rochet
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: rather closed, but with subtle vanilla and fruity notes
P: tight, tangy, balanced, with great black fruit flavors and good grip and length. Nothing to excess. A class act. Lacks richness, but this will probably come with age.

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67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc
N: Bright, open, chocolate overtones, very promising
P: Big wine. Overtones of sour fruit, with finely-grained tannin and definite minerality, but harder than Pontet Canet tasted just before. Silky long finish. Wine of character.




A few remarks:

It is impossible to taste everything, but I did evaluate a great many wines over an intense 4-day period. Seeing as I am reserved about numerical rating, especially for wines at the beginning of barrel ageing, there are no scores.
Also, I have not mentioned color because most young Bordeaux of this caliber has a lovely deep color – not to mention the fact that it is deucedly difficult to describe colors with words!

I have included the proportions of grape varieties in the final blend because this can vary considerably from year to year.

N = nose
P = palate




Brane Cantenac
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Carménère
N: soft, very pure sublimated cherry – and cherry vanilla ice cream! – aromas.
P: lovely balance between fruit, sexy texture, and acidity. Good sappy fruit. Clearly a boring wine no longer.

Cantenac Brown
61% Cabernet Sauvignon and 39% Merlot
N: bit old-fashioned, but floral and attractive
P: both soft and chewy with a satisfying zing on the aftertaste. Very good third growth. The future looks bright for this estate.

72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot
N: indeterminate and mostly absent
P: heavy, ponderous mouthfeel. Big, but lacks delineation and subtlety. Converging berry fruit, but a little clunky and dry.


60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and and 5% Petit Verdot
N: sweet typical Margaux aromas as well as some coffee nuances and a little tankiness that will undoubtedly disappear over time.
P: heavy mouth feel. Classic. Good tannic grip, but never overriding the Margaux magic. Great acidity. Good ageing potential. A wine to follow.

69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: subtle dark berry fruit with some caramel nuances
P: plush, sensual, and melts in the mouth. Develops well into a characterful aftertaste. Considerable finesse.

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: lacks personality at this stage
P: much better on the palate with a good, generous mouthfeel. Sturdy, but not very smooth and fizzles into a hard, dry (oak) finish. Needs to be tasted again after bottling.


50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: attractive and cherry and chocolate nuances, as well as marked floral overtones. Seductive.
P: the liveliness and aromatics continue onto the palate, which has a silky texture. Very good this year.

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: some vinification odors, but deep berry fruit in the background
P: lovely velvety texture with a lipsmacking finish. Soft, well-made, typical of its appellation. Very good.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot
N: not very expressive, but some underlying spirity fruit and a perfumed quality
P: nice, rich mouth feel with a great balance thanks to fresh acidity. Good, lingering black fruit and tarry aftertaste with textured tannin. Very successful.


87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
N: fragrant, sophisticated, and extremely pure, with the subtle perfume of spring flowers. Long caressing aftertaste. Fresh with velvety tannin. Superb example of soft power.

Marquis de Terme
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: some cherry, good fruit, good potential
P: develops nicely on the palate, starting out round and ending with a soft, pure, mineral finish. Very well made. Marquis de Terme is on the up-and-up.

57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: soft, beguiling, subtle, and elegant with talcum powder aromas
P: medium-light with a pure mineral aftertaste. A feminine wine that would shine with refined food.


Prieuré Lichine
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot
N: fine and deep with floral and plummy aromas
G: heavy, almost syrupy (!) mouthfeel. Thick and with cosmetic nuances. Oak overwhelms at this point. Dry finish. Care should be taken with moderating oak influence if time alone does not, as I fear, do the trick.

Rauzan Gassies
84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot
N: fruit… as well as soy sauce aromas.
P: better on the palate. Some greenness there, but there’s a fine texture. Old school and an improvement over past vintages.

Du Tertre
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Petit Verdot
N: straightforward, slightly spirit
P: sweet and showing bright fruit. Maybe a little weak on the middle palate, but still very nice with good grip. Surprisingly, a little hotness going only with the impression on the nose.

1998 Margaux and 1998 Lafite

Bordeaux may be a provincial city, but it is a tremendously cosmopolitan one, and wine lovers from all over the world always end up here one way or another. Dinner at my house on Saturday included people from several continents. The lingua franca was English.


We started off with a fine Champagne. Francis Boulard has many fans and his Les Rachais is arguably the top of the range. The 100% Chardonnay vines are grown organically and are an average age of 43 years old. Les Rachais is a “brut nature” with zero residual sugar. The wine is aged in barrel, undergoes malolactic fermentation, and is neither fined nor filtered. It is much appreciated and well noted in France. For what it’s worth, I see that it has received a score of 93+ from Parker.
We found the wine bone dry but gracious and ethereal. A great aperitif.

Foie gras and toast usually means Sauternes in Bordeaux, but I figured a full, rich white Burgundy from a very ripe year should also marry very well.
I might add that trade professionals in Bordeaux freely acknowledge that the great white wines of Burgundy are among the best in the world.



Bâtard-Montrachet is a grand cru with about 12 hectares of vines (Le Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet each have 8 hectares, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montachet has 3.7 hectares, and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet has 1.6 hectares).
Leflaive is by far the largest owner of vines in Bâtard-Montrachet (a quarter of the vineyard) and the domaine has a stellar reputation.
Jasper Morris in his book “Inside Burgundy” writes that Bâtard reflects “weight and power rather than vibrancy and elegance”.
After this lengthy explanation I’m sad to report that despite the reputation of the vineyard and the producer, this was not a memorable wine. It was not prematurely oxidized or corked, just blah, neutral and flabby. When you consider the price, this is very disappointing.
It must be due to the vintage.


Fortunately, Ian and Maureen had contributed a rare white 99 Château Pape Clément which saved the day. This was pretty much the polar opposite of the Bâtard: light gold in color, with a zippy nose and vibrant acidity to match the richness. People often think of Bernard Magrez’s wines as being a little overdone. This was not at all the case here. The wine shone and went well with the foie gras. It also has years of life ahead of it.
The main course was milk-fed lamb, accompanied by 3 red wines.

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The first one was a fun, rather than a serious wine: a 100% varietal Carménère from the Côtes de Castillon that I mentioned in an earlier post about a visit to that appellation.
Carménère is genetically related to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. This variety was extremely widespread in Bordeaux in the 19th century, but when the vines were grafted they produced less and were also much more subject to coulure. So, Carménère all but disappeared in Bordeaux. However, it is making a modest comeback in the Libourne region.
Our 2012 Carménère came from Château Lapeyronie the Côtes de Castillon. The wine was a little sharp, but it’s always fun to taste oddball wines like this, as well as instructive to get a handle on varietal character. This Lapeyronie was great as an introductory wine, but no one is expected to take it seriously in the Bordeaux hierarchy.



Received wisdom is that 1998 Right Bank wines are wonderful and that Left Banks ones are much less so… Parker’s vintage chart gives the former a full ten points higher! Less damning, Jancis Robinson, notes “Very good on the Right Bank but a less starry performance in the Médoc, whose 1998s are a bit stolid, means that these wines, and their equally successful counterparts in Graves have tended to be overlooked”.
Féret says that “the 1998 red wines are balanced, powerful, and generous” but that “Merlot-based wines are better than Cabernet-based ones”.
Well, Lafite and Margaux are poster children for Cabernet: 70% for the former and 75% for the latter. What would their 1998s taste like 18 years down the line?

The wines were served blind. Margaux was fairly evolved with earthy, musky aromas and mostly resolved tannins. There was some dryness on the finish. Lafite was clearly the more enjoyable of the two. In color, bouquet, and flavour it was pure and zippy, with much life ahead of it. A joy.
The tasting notes are a little skimpy, but you know how it is when you are the host…

As for the last wine, I wrote in a blog post last year: “Ch. Laville in Preignac (AOC Sauternes) produces a late harvest Riesling-Gewurtztraminer blend! Of course, this is not entitled to the appellation, but not only is it very rare – dare I say, a unicorn wine? – but also quite delectable, with the zippiness and spiciness of its two main components. It will be an excellent one to serve blind one day when I am feeling particularly sadistic…”
Well, friends, that day had arrived, and the wine was indeed served blind at the end of the meal.
Of course, hell would freeze over before anyone nailed this! But everyone loved it. There were candied fruit flavors of apricot and other white fruits and somehow it seemed more like a late harvest than a botrytized wine. But above and beyond it’s oddball quality, the wine was also very tasty.


We ended the meal with a glass of Crème de Cassis from Mouton Rothschild. This seemed not very alcoholic (16-18°) and everyone enjoyed the sweet concentrated flavors.

2000 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

There’s a saying going back many years that “Lynch Bages is the poor man’s Mouton”, although the former’s rise in quality – and price – make this a little less true nowadays… 
Some witty person later added: “… and Haut Bages Libéral is the poor man’s Lynch Bages”!

Half of Haut Bages Libéral borders on Château Latour and the other half is just behind Château Pichon Baron. From the 1960s until the early 80s, this thirty-hectare 5th growth Pauillac was owned by the Cruse family, and then acquired by the Villars family. Claire Villars Lurton is now at the helm.



We all know about the year 2000 and the speculative fever it induced. I have always liked the wines, but do not agree with people who think the great growths need “decades to age”. On the contrary, my experience has showed that sixteen years down the line many of them are well within their drinking window. So, wondering what wine to serve with a leg of New Zealand lamb I decided to open a bottle of Haut Bages Libéral, which has the reputation of being a reliable if unexciting wine.

Well, I must say I was underwhelmed. The color looked older than its years. The nose was really very muted, but if you looked hard you could discern cherry, briar, humus, graphite, and cigar box aromas. The wine had a thin oily mouth feel and a wimpish aftertaste. I’m all for subtlety, but not to the point where this is the shadow of what a great growth Pauillac in a good year should be. This 2000 Haut Bages Libéral would unquestionably have been better years ago to all but the most hard-bitten adepts of old tertiary Bordeaux. And I’m willing to bet even they would be disappointed with this wine.

I’ve tasted more recent vintages of Haut Bages Libéral and think the estate is on the upswing. However, as a consumer, I will make sure to drink mine on the young side from now on.