Tag Archives: Pessac-Léognan

Day out in Pessac-Léognan – 13 châteaux



To give you an idea of how old I am, I can remember a time when the Pessac-Léognan appellation did not even exist. All the wines on the left bank of the Garonne southeast of Bordeaux were Graves. Period. The new appellation was created in 1987 after a sort of “civil war” between north and south. The northern part of the Graves, bordering on the city of Bordeaux, encompassed all the great growths (seven reds, three whites, and six both white and red) in ten different communes. There was some disagreement as to where to draw the borders of the new entity and even what to call it. After much discussion and negotiation, the hyphenated names of Pessac and Léognan were retained.

Interestingly, the great growths continue to call themselves crus classés de Graves, even though they are all in Pessac-Léognan…

The late André Lurton of Châteaux La Louvière,  Couhins Lurton, Rochemorin, de Cruzeau, etc. was a prime mover in creating the new AOC.It must be said that other than recognizing an élite within the Graves, the establishing of Pessac-Léognan also helped the region to fight urban sprawl seriously threatening prime vineyard land. The area under vine had dwindled to just 500 hectares by 1975, but now stands at 1,600.While many English-speaking wine lovers tend to associate the Graves with white wines, Pessac-Léognan produces 75% reds.

The Bordelais have a special fondness for Pessac-Léognan. The vineyards start at the outskirts of the city. Indeed, the postal address of Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, for instance, is 20 rue des Carmes, Bordeaux. However, the wines are also popular because they frequently represent better value for money than ones from the Médoc or Saint Emilion, and because they have the faculty of showing well both young and old. Pessac-Léognan wines are frequently found in local restaurants at an affordable price.

As those of you who follow this blog know, I am a great fan of the Portes Ouvertes (Open Days) in Bordeaux, when châteaux welcome the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to visit little-known estates and make discoveries.

So I set out on a Saturday with two friends in early December to visit thirteen estates in one day – a wonderfully intense, relatively frenetic, and very pleasurable learning experience.We started with Château Luchey Halde in the town of Mérignac, a suburb of Bordeaux where the airport is located. This 23-hectare estate had altogether disappeared, but was miraculously brought back to life and replanted in 1999.  It is now owned and managed by an agricultural engineering school, Bordeaux Science Agro (ex-ENITA). The winemaking facilities are, as to be expected, very modern and well-maintained. There was some discussion at the beginning of the tasting whether we should try the whites before the reds or vice versa. It is usual in Bordeaux to begin with reds, a practice to which I subscribe. So we went through the 2018 (grand vin), 2015 (second wine, Les Haldes de Luchey), 2012 (grand vin), and 2011 (grand vin) reds, with a preference for the 2018 and 2012. The other two vintages seemed pleasantly fruity, but somewhat weak. Next up were the whites, 2014 (second wine) and 2012 (grand vin) which were aromatic and angular.

Owned by the Calvet family, who gave their name to a famous Bordeaux négociant firm, Château Pique-Caillou is a stone’s throw from Luchey Halde. It is quite something to visit a château dating from the late 18th century in the middle of 20 hectares of vines completely surrounded by suburban houses – not unlike Haut Brion. We sampled three red wines: 2018, 2016, and 2015. The 2016 stood out and all three showed a lean, classic style on the early-maturing side. The 2017 white Pique Caillou was practically transparent with some lanolin and vanilla nuances on the nose. The wine was light and mineral on the palate.

The third estate we went to was Château Haut Bacalan in Pessac (8 hectares), a first for me. This is owned by the Gonet family from Champagne, along with several other Bordeaux vineyards, including Château Lesparre in the rather esoteric Graves de Vayres appellation. All of the Gonet wines were being poured, including their Champagnes, but I focused on just two of their five Pessac-Léognan estates. The red 2015 Haut Bacalan showed lovely sweet briary fruit on the nose. It was powerful, full-bodied, and rich, with textured tannin on the palate – one of the nicest wines we tasted all day. The 2014 red was not quite in the same league, but nothing to sniff at either. This was followed by the 2018 white wine from Château d’Ek. Anyone who has travelled from Bordeaux to Toulouse has noticed this beautiful medieval (12th century) château quite close to the motorway. I had very much enjoyed their 2010 red wine recently (it was the Cuvée Prestige), so was anxious to try the white wine, made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This had a subtle bouquet of peach and talc, and lacked only a little richness on the palate.

Château Brown in Léogan takes its name from John Lewis Brown, a Scottish wine merchant who owned the property in the late 18th century. It now belongs jointly to the local Mau family and Dutch businessman Cees Dirkzwager (also co-owners of cru bourgeois Château Preuillac in the Médoc). Brown is managed by the dynamic Jean-Christophe Mau, whose family have been négociants for five generations. His wines are expertly made and a joy to drink. As much as I like the red wine (the 2015 we tasted is no exception), produced on 26 hectares of vines, my heart has always gone out to the exuberant, rich, white wine (5 hectares), everything a fine white Graves should be. I bought a bottle of the latter for the cellar.

Domaine de Grandmaison (19 hectares) is close to the Centre Leclerc supermarket – with one of the finest wine selections in the region – as well as Château Carbonnieux. I have been here on several occasions and find the wines excellent value for money. Although the 2014 red was slightly rustic and disappointing, the white has never let me down. 2018 Domaine de Grandmaison white, selling at 16 euros a bottle is a vibrant, fresh, pure wine that would grace any table. While not quite as “serious” a wine as Château Brown or some others, it is nevertheless the perfect illustration of how good affordable Bordeaux can be. Especially when one thinks of the cost of white Burgundy…

Number six on our day out was Château Haut Plantade in Léognan (9 hectares), a worthwhile discovery for me. This ten-hectare estate produces mostly red wine. We tasted the 2017 red, not the greatest vintage, during which they lost half the crop due to poor weather conditions. That having been said, apart from a slight greenness, this was a very creditable effort. The 2018 white wine (50% Sémillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc) was very suave and subtle with a long aftertaste. It was definitely one of the best wines tasted all day. Winemaker Vincent Plantade is switched-on and funny.  So, I would definitely put this château into the category of “little-known gems I would like to get to know better”. I stopped and looked at the vines upon leaving. The fine gravel topsoil seemed the perfect illustration of Graves terroir…

Our next visit was to Château de Léognan (6.5 hectares) in the town of the same name, not far from Domaine de Chevalier. Going here served two purposes since there is also a good bistro-type restaurant there called Le Manège. After a very enjoyable lunch, we went to taste the wines. I wish I could be more positive about them…  We sampled two reds, 2015 La Chapelle de Léognan (the second wine) and the 2011 grand vin. The former was somewhat herbaceous and prematurely old, and I’m sorry to say that the latter did not leave much of a better impression. A 2018 white wine (AOC Graves) called simply “Le Blanc” (AOC Graves) was also poured. This was sound, but not noteworthy.

Château Haut Lagrange (8.5 hectares), likewise in Léognan, provided a better experience. We tasted four wines here. The 2016 red had an intriguing bouquet and a promising profile while the 2015 red featured a floral nose with a certain smokiness, accompanied by richness and sweet fruit on the palate. The 2006 red looked considerably older than its age with tertiary gamey notes and finished a tad dry. The 2018 white was fresh and classic, but lacked personality.

Our ninth visit of the day was to Domaine de la Solitude in Martillac. This is owned by nuns belonging to the order of the Holy Family and managed by Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier. The 32-hectare estate has quite a reputation for good reasonably-priced wines, which explains why the tasting room was thronged and people were walking away with full cartons. We tasted four wines. The 2016 red was in a seductive commercial style with upfront fruit. The 2015 displayed elegant understated aromatics accompanied by a soft mouth feel backed up by good tannin. Both of these wines are probably best enjoyed relatively young. The 2016 white had a classic bouquet with good oak, and was perhaps better on the nose than the palate. The 2010 had aged well, with floral and beeswax nuances and only a touch of oxidation.

We went from there to Château Mirebeau, a small (5 hectare) estate in the town of Martillac. Sometimes you just have to be honest. I am not reproducing my notes because they are extremely critical. We tried the 2016 and 2015 reds and they seemed flawed. The wine is made organically which is obviously a plus, but not enough. Organic wines need to be good as well.

Our next stop was at Château Ferran, also in Martillac. I’ve rarely seen the wine, which is surprising since the estate is by no means small (19 hectares). It has been in the same family for five generations and boasts an attractive château. We tried three wines. The 2016 red was very promising with good acidity and an attractive mineral austerity. The 2015 red had a rich bouquet of candied red fruit even if it was somewhat one-dimensional on the palate. The 2018 white had a nose that screamed Sauvignon Blanc, and proved to be rounder than expected. I came away with a fine memory of our visit.

The next to last château was Bouscaut in Cadaujac, a large (47 hectare) classified growth owned by Sophie Lurton and her husband Laurent Cogombles. The 2016 red Bouscaut was unquestionably of cru classé quality: smooth and assertive, with tight tannins, violet overtones, and good length. The 2015 red was unfortunately not in the same mold. It showed more toasty oak on the nose than fruit. It was brawny, big, and hot on the palate, lacking the elegance of the 2016. Then it was on to the whites. The 2017 Les Chênes de Bouscaut (a much better year for Bordeaux whites than reds) had a spicy component and was quite classy, whereas the 2016 had unusual vanilla and matchstick aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy! It was in a modern, commercial style on the palate and I will be interested to see how it ages.

The final stop of a very full day was at Château Baret in Villenave d’Ornon (24 hectares), which has been in the Ballande family since 1867. Once again, we tried both the red and white wines. The 2015 red was a good middle of the road Pessac-Léognan with a tangy flavor. It was unexpectedly tannic on the finish, but time will surely soften the rough edges. The 2011 had minty old library aromas. It was fully evolved on the palate with a somewhat hard finish. Time to drink up.

And thus ended our excursion.







N: Lots of toasty oak with smoky nuances.
P: Fortunately, the oak is not overwhelming on the palate. Tasty, well-balanced, and typical of its appellation. Lipsmacking bright fruit. Natural with lovely aromatics (redcurrant, etc.). Good to very good.

N: Oak dominates the fruit at present, but not by a great deal. Red fruit (candied cherries) and smoky nuances.
P: Medium rich with sweet fruit, going on to show fine acidity. Light on its feet. Also cushioned and velvety. 2017 Carbonnieux reaffirms the improvement of the estate’s red wines (the whites were always good). Good.

Carmes Haut Brion
N: Exuberant cherry fruit aromas, almost Pinot Noir-like. Lovely, sexy, and deep.
P: Wonderful mouthful of wine. Sweet and hedonistic. Despite the considerable softness, the tannin says Bordeaux. Fine flavors, mineral freshness, and just the right amount of oak. Very good.

N: High-quality oak with glossy, impeccable black fruit (blackberry) aromas.
P: Concentrated and pure, with great development on the palate, continuing into a sensual aftertaste showing sweet fruit as well as minerality very typical of Pessac-Léognan. Fine acidity at the core of a delicious softness. Very Good.

de France
N: Liquorice and roasted aromas. Some smoky overtones, as well as interesting violet ones.
P: Quite sweet on the palate with flavors reminiscent of black fruit jam. Seems a little flabby, then weak, then comes back with a perfectly creditable aftertaste. Lots of black fruit here. Typical Pessac-Léognan. Good.

Larrivet Haut Brion
N: Subtle forest fruit aromas along with roast coffee and candied black cherry. Harmonious nose with a strong personality.
P: Great attack bursting with concentrated fruit. Pure, with nice acidity and high-quality tannin. Appetizing. Only flaw is a slight diluteness on the middle palate. Good to very good.

Malartic Lagravière
N: Pure fruit and a perfumed quality I often find in this château. The oak is under control.
P: Sweet, luscious, elegant cherry notes. Classy and neither big, nor dainty. Good to very good.

N: Soft and polished, but not tremendously expressive.
P: A little syrupy at first, but then shows marked acidity and good fruit. Sturdy rather than exciting.

Pape Clément
N: Toasty oak (hardly surprising for this estate), but also sweet fruit to go with it. Multi-faceted.
P: Thick, with resonating tannin. Mercifully, no oak overkill. In fact, the wine’s intrinsic smokiness goes well with it. Great balance. Aristocratic. The tart finish is also somewhat dry. The only thing missing is a little more oomph. Very good.


La Tour Martillac
N: Classic cherry aromas. Clear-cut, sweet bouquet of medium intensity.
P: Starts off with a plush, round texture, then reveals sharp, but fresh tannin that will probably even out over time. Attractive red fruit flavors. Good.

2016 Pessac-Léognan (13 wines)

Bouscaut (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and 7% Malbec)
N: Soft, simple, and direct. Understated and good.
P: Unexpectedly light and feminine. Not in keeping with the château profile. I can only deduce that this is not the best sample, because I feel the wine is only a shadow of what it should be. Very oaky aftertaste. To try again down the line.

Carbonnieux (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot)
N: Slightly medicinal. Relatively closed and not showing much fruit at this time.
P: “Fluid”, easy-going, and not over-extracted. However, too light and disappointing when the improved performance of this château’s red wine in recent years is considered.

Carmes Haut Brion (41% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: A certain tankiness there but, once again, that cannot be held against a wine this young, and may well dissipate. The alcohol overwhelms the berry fruit somewhat at this stage.
P: Soft and lively. Good acidity and discreet fine-grained tannin. Considerable sweetness and Graves typicity on the finish. Agreeably old-fashioned in a way. Needs time for greater balance, but promising.

Domaine de Chevalier (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Inky, serious, and enticing nose of ripe black fruit with a touch of mint.
P: Smooth and sophisticated with a vein of fresh acidity. Good fruit, resonant tannin, and a long aftertaste. Oak seems fairly strong at this stage. Very good indeed.

Fieuzal (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Rich soft-pedalled wildberry aromas.
G: Certainly refined, but on the light side and lacks stuffing. Relatively long, but not very vigorous finish.

Haut Brion: (56% Merlot, 6.5% Cabernet Franc, and 37.5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Restrained and aristocratic. My notes say: “soft, soft, and soft”.
P: This quality comes through on the palate as well, within a delicate tannic framework. Elegant to the end of its fingertips… Velvety texture and no rough edges even at this stage. Superb acidity. Will be a great beauty down the line.

Larrivet Haut Brion (62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc)
N: Slightly rustic but forthright with intense berry aromas and a bit of greenness. Honest. Not messed around with.
P: Quite natural on the palate as well. Vibrant acidity with an oak kick on the finish, but this is not over the top. Good middle-of-the-road wine reminding me somewhat of La Louvière, although different, of course.

Latour Martillac (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc)
N: Elegant, including the oak. Restrained and aristocratic with black cherry aromas.
P: Gorgeous ripe fruit at first and then thins out some. Typical of its appellation. Sleek and on the light side. Good medium-long aftertaste.

La Louvière (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Upfront with fine blueberry aromas. Not overoaked.
P: Plush soft berry fruit. Very Pessac-Léognan. Medium-light body. Clean mineral aftertaste with a mint/eucalyptus component. One for mid-term ageing.


Malartic Lagravière (53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot)
N: Ethereal and pretty cherry liqueur bouquet.
P: Round and feminine with lovely follow-through. Wonderful perky tannin with vivacious acidity. Not rich, but not light either. Despite a thirst-quenching quality, this is a serious wine with great aromatics. My notes say “vin de gastronomie” meaning it would shine especially at table with refined cuisine.
Mission Haut Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
P: Full-bodied, even chunky, as well as quite mineral with excellent follow-through. Otherworldly aftertaste with tannin of enormous finesse. There is first class acidity to counterbalance the full body. Killer, never-ending finish…

Mission Haut Brion: (57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Monumental and Margaux-like with some tarry overtones. Lovely integrated oak. Incredible blackcurrant and essence of red fruits.
P: Full-bodied, even chunky, as well as quite mineral with excellent follow-through. Otherworldly aftertaste with tannin of enormous finesse. There is first class acidity to counterbalance the full body. Killer, never-ending finish…

Olivier (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
N: Penetrating nose with alcohol coming through more than fruit. Also a note I can only describe as acetone.
P: Chewy, a bit hollow, rough, and dry. This wine is not together and needs to be retasted to form a more accurate impression.

Pape Clément (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot)
N: Deep, brooding dark fruit aromas just emerging. Strong but unfocused. Rhônish.
P: Round inside a framework of fruit and oak tannin. Too much oak? Time will tell. Bit dry on the aftertaste, but also mineral. Uncertain prognosis at this time.

Graves, more Graves and… Pessac-Léognan – DAY TWO


Day two was spent exclusively in the Pessac-Léognan appellation.

My first stop was at Château Le Sartre in Léognan. This estate originally belonged to the Perrin family of Château Carbonnieux and since 2004 has been managed by Marie-José Perrin-Leriche and her husband, René Leriche, assisted by the Burgundian Jules Guyot. The 36 hectares are mostly planted with red wine varieties (12 ha. Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.7 ha. Merlot, and 1.1 ha Cabernet Franc), but there are also 10.2 hectares of white wine grapes (8.2 Sauvignon Blanc and 2 ha Sémillon). The vines are an average age of 20 years old.
The main 26-hectare plot is located in a single block south of Fieuzal and east of Domaine de Chevalier. The terroir here is ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Unfortunately, it is also prone to frost damage, and Le Sartre produced only a quarter of a normal crop in 2011… That is why you see wind machines here, like in California.

A second 7.6 km plot, one km. away, between Fieuzal and Malartic-Lagravière, as well as a small 1.7 hectare plot near Carbonnieux, have more early-maturing terroirs and are less subject to frost damage.
Things are stirring at Le Sartre. The cellar has state-of-the-art winemaking equipment and the château building is being entirely renovated. Furthermore, the wine is finally gaining the reputation it deserves and is definitely one to watch out for! The French wine critic Jean-Marc Quarin includes Le Sartre in a group he calls “the Outsiders” – wines currently undervalued and well worth following. I couldn’t agree more with his analysis…

I went from Le Sartre to Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, where a major tasting of red Pessac-Léognan wines had been organized. M. and Mme Cathiard could only greet us at the end because an Air France strike had prevented them from arriving any earlier.

Smith Haut Lafitte is geared up to receive visitors in an almost New World way, with knowledgeable staff and facilities suited to tours. The château’s improvement over the past 20 years is one of Bordeaux’s great success stories.

Here are my notes from the tasting, once again leaving out references to color, which was invariably good for these young wines:


2011 Ch. de Léognan
Nose: soft, simple, straightforward
Palate: shows candied fruit, but does not develop a great deal on the palate. Marked acidity, but still shows good balance.

2011 Lespault-Martillac
Nose: subtle and fairly earthy, with penetrating black cherry aromas and an ethereal spirity side
Palate: chewy with nicely-grained tannin and lively acidity. Shortish aftertaste with liquorice overtones. Good to drink young.

2011 Gazin Rocquencourt
Nose: understated sweet cherry and cranberry sauce aromas
Palate: lovely balance and lip-smackingly good. Great acidity and cherry-vanilla flavors. Not a show stopper, but a wine lover’s sort of wine, with a long aftertaste and just the right amount of oak.

2011 Carmes Haut Brion
Nose: classic, discreet oak, with the fruit just starting to come through
Palate: rich, a little weak on the middle palate and with a certain dryness on the aftertaste due to barrel ageing. However, I would like to give this wine the benefit of the doubt, and hope that everything comes together well in a few years’ time.

2011 La Louvière
Nose: lovely soft cherry-vanilla aromas. Irreproachable.
Palate: lively acidity and good tannic texture. Digestible sort of wine. The oak should even out, but it contributes to a dry finish at present. One of the better wines at the tasting.

2011 de France
Nose: great, typical Graves with a vivacious, rich, fruity bouquet but too much oak comes through at this stage.
Palate: Round, big, full-bodied, with a velvety texture and a nice lift. Question mark about the oak.

2011 Luchey Halde
Nose: pretty, deep, and brambly, with dark fruit
Palate: round, juicy, up-front attack with good acidity to follow. Well-made wine with a great tang on the finish. Although it lacks richness and voluptuousness, it is still very good with a lovely cherry lozenge finish. Thank goodness the oak is low-profile. One of the best wines in the tasting.

2011 Rouillac
Nose: straightforward, “petits fruits rouges” and primary fruit
Palate: light and fluid, uncomplicated, with an aftertaste that adds seriousness to the wine.

2011 d’Eyran
Nose: fine fresh forest fruit bouquet, beguiling, lovely. Mercifully not too much oak, but some roast coffee aromas.
Palate: plush and melts in the mouth, but underpinned by good acidity. Some (but not too much) oak on the long, textured finish. Traditional, however not one for the long haul. Nice discovery and one of the best wines.

2011 Haut Bergey
Nose: attractive and classy. Sweet plum and berry fruit.
Palate: mouth-filling, but falls down somewhat on the middle palate. Too much oak on the aftertaste. One has the impression of prime fruit that has seen too high a percentage of new oak barrels.

2011 Olivier
Nose: fine bouquet. Deep, inky, with somewhat unexpected honey nuances!
Palate: starts out round, and plush, but proves to be weak on the middle palate. The oak ageing is over-ambitious.

2011 Bouscaut
Nose: sweet cedar and slightly confected fruit. Very good and concentrated.
Palate: Starts out nice, rich, and supple going on to show good acidity . Fine tannic texture. Great to see Bouscaut on the upswing and this was one of the best wines of the tasting.

2011 La Tour Martillac
Nose: a little spirity and closed in at the moment
Palate: soft, a little dilute to start off, but segues into a wine of character with a fine aftertaste. Elegant tannin and oak under control.

2011 Couhins
Nose: sweet with good oak
Palate: melts in the mouth, then proceeds to follow through well with authority and good acidity.  Nice oak background and a good finish. Thirst-quenching wine of distinction. Recommended.

2011 Couhins Lurton
Nose: ripe, fresh, and pure, with a subtle perfume
Palate: serious wine. Great balance. Very representative of its appellation. Velvety texture. One of the best wines. Only a certain diluteness and weakness leading up to the aftertaste keep it out of the very finest category, but nevertheless a wine to reckon with.

2011 Carbonnieux
Nose: discreet but promising
Palate: mouthfilling with good acidity, as well as nice texture and length. A tad dry, though.

2011 Malartic Lagravière
Nose: subtle, fresh, and brambly with understated oak
Palate: rich and melts in the mouth, but provides a fresh fruit tang on the aftertaste. Sensual. One of the best of the tasting.

2011 Haut Bailly
Nose: brilliant, nuanced, and classy with well-integrated oak
Palate: tightly-knit, superb balance, with deep dark fruit flavors. Wonderful, and my finest score.

2011 Smith Haut Lafitte
Nose: pert, perfumed, uplifting, and not too oaky, with fine berry aromas
Palate: mouthfilling and delicious, neither over-extracted nor over-oaked. Touch dry on the finish, but this is indeed a fine wine.

2011 Domaine de Chevalier
Nose: sweet and subtle with floral and berry overtones
Palate: light on its feet and refreshing due to lively acidity. Superb, a sort of sublime luncheon claret. Fine, textbook Graves.

After the tasting, I was invited to a lunch at Château Larrivet Haut Brion hosted by Emilie Gervoson, Bruno Lemoine, and his daughter, Alice, who runs the boutique.

Larrivet Haut-Brion has a fantastic terroir very close to Haut Bailly, and the estate is truly lovely, including an imposing château, landscaped grounds, and a pond with swans and a fountain…
Emilie Gervoson is the new face of Bordeaux: young, bouncy, given to wearing jaunty hats, and diametrically-opposed to the prim, proper, and slightly boring variety of Bordelaise (she’s actually Parisienne)…

The Gervosons made a fortune in jams and fruit-based desserts and still own the family firm (Andros). Bruno Lemoine was formerly manager at Ch. Montrose, and responsible for making the legendary 1990. He has been in charge of Larrivet Haut Brion since 2008. Michel Rolland is the consulting enologist.

Bruno has changed things considerably and is totally open to new methods, including “concrete eggs”.
Our dinner conversation was free-wheeling and far-ranging, including such controversial subjects as Isabelle Saporta’s book, Vino Business. The wines (2010 white and 2006 red) showed very well and dynamic changes taking place at present bode well for this superbly-located estate.

The next stop was Château de France, where we were welcomed by the owner, Arnaud Thomassin. However, there was not to be a tour of his château. Instead, we tasted through a line-up of white Pessac Léognan. Here are my notes for the 12 wines I tasted:


It was also explained to me that Pessac-Léognan is only twice the size of Pomerol, one of the smallest appellations in Bordeaux – and that only 15% of the wine is white. Furthermore, at several prestigious estates, it is worth noting that the white costs more or considerably more than the red…

2013 Grandmaison
Nose: very varietal Sauvignon Blanc characteristics, but not much else there
Palate: better, lemony, tart, fresh, and good

2013 Luchey Halde
Nose: attractive and expressive with peach and floral overtones
Palate: clean, sprightly, tart, surely even better with food

2013 Couhins
Nose: grassy and not saying much at this time
Palate: sharp and not very fruity

2013 Couhins Lurton
Nose: very varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but not in an exaggerated way
Palate: fuller and richer than expected after the nose, and showing good balance. Ripe, fresh, and clearly one of the better wines at the tasting.

2013 Smith Haut Lafite
Nose: understated
Palate: silky and “sweet”, with good oak. What the French call “un vin de gastronomie”. Persistent aromatics. Not overdone in any way, tremendously well-balanced and refined. Tied for first place in my notes, and far from some of the overdone versions of SHL I’ve encountered in the past. Congratulations!

2013 Fieuzal
Nose: tropical fruit
Palate: round and more of a pronounced mouth feel than most of the other wines. Svelte and dry, with citrus overtones. Quite fine.

2013 Malartic Lagravière
Nose: characterful with discreet tropical fruit, and like nothing so much as a dry Sauternes
Palate: mouthfilling with resinous nuances sliding into a beautiful mineral finish. Seriously good, and tied with the Smith Haut Lafitte for wine of the tasting.

2013 Bouscaut
Nose: classic, with beeswax and lemon nuances
Palate: lanoline, vanilla, and clove going into an unexpectedly pronounced mineral finish coming into its own after a little flabbiness on the middle palate. This should not imply this was not a very good wine, because it was. Between this white and the red I tasted the day before, I applaud the renaissance at Bouscaut!

2013 Lespault Martillac
Nose: seemed a bit chemical and technical. The bouquet is fresh and there’s some lemon there, but it lacks definition.
Palate: good, soft attack but empty on the middle palate. Penetrating vibrant acidity.

2013 La Louvière
Nose: fresh, but closed in at this stage.
Palate: fairly mineral with an acid edge. Good, but needs to age.

2013 La Garde
Nose: very varietal Sauvignon Blanc, and somewhat in your face
Palate: round, commercial style. Little obvious and with a salty finish.

2013 Rouillac
Nose: soft and enticing
Palate: softness here as well for this elegant wine that segues into a mineral aftertaste showing the intelligent use of new oak. A really nice discovery for me.

The day ended with a gala dinner at Château de Fieuzal for a group of about 100 or 120 people. This was all of a 10 minute walk from Ch. de France and it was a joy to go there on foot and admire the ripe grapes on the way.

I enjoyed a memorable evening with Véronique Bonnie-Laplane of Malartic Lagravière, Fabien Teitgen of Smith Haut Lafitte, Francis Boutemy of Haut Lagrange, Rémi Edange of Domaine de Chevalier, Emmanuelle Jeannerot of the Pessac-Léognan Syndicat, Philippe Miecaze of Ch. de Léognan, and an English Master of Wine student. Conversation was lively and the wines were wonderful, including Smith Haut Lafitte, Malartic Lagravière and Haut Bailly, all from the 2000 vintage – and nowhere near as backward as one might expect.

And so my two days in the Graves drew to a close…