Many tasting notes from Bordeaux, just before harvest 2010
September 8, 2010
Chateau Sociando Mallet / Chateau Palmer / Chateau Pontet Canet / Chateau Lynch Bages / Chateau Leoville Barton / Chateau Leoville Poyferre / Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande / Chateau Brane Cantenac
This was only the second time I have been to Sociando Mallet. The last time was at least four years ago and I did not realise that one could just drive along the river, pass Château Montrose, and voilà, arrive at Sociando Mallet. The terroir is truly excellent, surrounded by and close to the river, on a high gravely mound over clay. And it was great to meet owner Jean Gautreau again and taste a mini vertical of his wines, which are comparable to classed growths and generally cost far less, although lately Sociando has also got up in price. And yet, it was one of the few I purchased en primeur in 2009. At 83, Gautreau is full of energy and verve.
Sociando: 55% Cabernet, 45% Merlot and 7-8% cabernet France.
Blind tasting of the second wine, Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009)
Wine 1. Very nice. Straight and fresh. An equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There is a cranberry freshness that is, as the French say croquant. It turned out to be the 2009. Really very nice. At about 13.2% alcohol, very well integrated.
Wine 2. Here we have a thicker nose, with a licorice aspect also on the palate which exudes more corpulence. This turned out to be the 2006, which, as we shall see, matched the body of the 2005 but not its elegance.
Wine 3. Here we feel more alcohol. It is the least pleasurable wine but that does not mean it is not good. Indeed tasted afterwards, when the wines were revealed, it was fine. An yet. This wine has lower alcohol levels than the others but feels more alcoholic. Only 12.5-12.7%, said Jean Gautreau. One detects the alcohol more because the wine itself is a bit thinner. Turned out to be the 2008.
Wine 4. Here we have a more subtle wine, the most subtle of them all. With a complex nose and palate, whose richness is matched by elegance and nuance. Very nice, 2005. WOTF
Sociando Mallet blind tasting (2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009)
Wine 1. Very substantial wine, orange zest. Graphite. Chocolate noir au nez. Just a bit of heat on the finish? Could this be the 2003? It was indeed the 2003! I am glad I have a full case of this wine. 93
Wine 2. Here we have a more discrete nose, with a fresher fruit aspect. Red fruit. Very straight. Clean. 2008. 91+
Wine 3. More complex here, Vincent said. I got more black fruit and milk rather than dark chocolate. Very nice on the palate. Tannic edge on the finish. Very nice. 2005. Very rounded overall. 94 WOTF?
Wine 4. Fruity, juicy nose. Chocolate again, good, frank. Nice tannic edge. 2006. Lovely, if just a bit more austere than the 2005. 92+
Wine 5. Very dark purple. Rich and suave. 2009. Very cassis. Pure. Not a monster. Interestingly, Vincent likes his 2005 more. For me, rather a tossup, because the 2009 has fine freshness and I would love to see how it does in 2015. 94 WOTF?
After this blind tasting of Sociando Mallet, whose prices are hardly offensive, I can safely and with confidence say that one could rather buy Sociando Mallet blind. Year in, year out, it performs very well.
Side note on Bordeaux pricing: Jean Gautreau is certain that ‘this bubble’ will explode. ‘Every year, I buy a case of each first growth,’ he said. ‘But this year I did not. Not because I am scared of losing money but there are things that we must not do in life. If this pencile is worth.20 euros. And we want to sell it for 50 euros, I will not buy it,’ he said. ‘Petrus and Le Pin at least are small production. But 2 million bottles of first growths, altogether? And if the stocks are investing in wine, this is a period of decadence. I started in 1948,’ he said. ‘Born just 10 kilometrres from here, I know Bordeaux. Wine is what you see in the vineyard. The people who work. Not the people who go to Paris who are the richest. They have nothing to do with wine, these people.’
His philosophy: ‘I want to make the best possible wine and that the maximum people can buy it.’ Sounds good to me.
Since 1995 the estate has been making ‘Jean Gautreau’ wines, only on sale at the property and for the same price as Sociando Mallet. Only about 15 cases of these wines are made each year. An experimental wine. More Cabernet Sauvignon, with selected barrels from the very best lots picked for the blend in Sociando Mallet. In other words, the same as Sociando Mallet, but with less lots blended in, with an accent on the Cabernet Sauvignon lots. Also malolactic fermentation in new oak barrels. Overall, I like these wines, but – interestingly – I got the general impression that Sociando Mallet is the fresher and more pleasing wine. Again, blind, same vintages (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009)
Wine A. Really rich and fleshy yet I was surprised it was the 2008, very fine. Indeed, of all the wines so far, this was the best 2008!
Wine B. This wine showed greater nuance while being just as rich. The 2005. WOTF
Wine C. Here we have more licorice aspects and a bit more austerity on the palate which is nonetheless pleasingly tobacco like. 2006
Wine D This wine is good but a bit tight. Seems to be showing off structure at the expense of sap – here I find a clear preference for the Sociando Mallet. 2009.
Chateau Palmer with Bernard de Laage de Meux on Monday 6 September, where we spoke about how wine estates use the web to better promote their brand. Château Palmer is one of the few Bordeaux estates to be doing a particularly good job in this field, having recently hired a web marketing expert in Annabelle Grellier, who since March, has been in charge of Web 2. I re-tasted the 2009, and the Alter Ego is truly fine. Over lunch, a lovely truffle like 1999 was brilliant.
Although I did not schedule an appointment to re-taste Leoville Las Cases, Chateau Palmer reminds me a bit of that great St Julien in 2009, in a Margaux manner. It has such amazing fleshiness combined with grace. The second wine, which I have not always liked, is worthy of many a first wine in 2009. Indeed, it gets high honors for being perhaps a candidate for best second wine in the Medoc. Les Forts de Latour is perhaps the very best and Pavilion Rouge at Chateau Margaux, which also excelled in 2009, rivals it. So the Alter Ego displayed a rather dark color, with fine aromatic intensity, more dark fruit with distinct violet notes, yet also very fresh. Wonderful job! 51% Merlot and 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, close to 13.7% alcohol but nicely balanced.
Chateau Palmer really shined again as one of my top wines of the vintage. Although I gave the edge to Chateau Margaux en primeur, I did not taste Chateau Margaux again this time. But Chateau Palmer exuded distinct black cherry pit aromas and flavors combined with floral aromas. As much as I liked Alter Ego, Chateau Palmer was more focused, and very pure. The texture was velvety, with rich, full flavors – I was getting fine milk chocolate – with freshness and lift on the long, thirst-quenching finish.
I did not get a chance to taste Pontet Canet en primeur, but heard many great things about it. Owner Alfred Tesseron raised a large Greek flag in front of his chateau to welcome me, which was very thoughtful and amusing at the same time. Like other highly rated Bordeaux chateaux, Pontet Canet is getting very expensive, but there is no denying its excellence. Here we find a very Pauillac nose of cassis. It is pristine and focused in fact, with a hint of dark chocolate on the very smooth and full-bodied palate. The wine clocks in at 13.2% alcohol. Overall, very deep and full bodied but never over-bearing. Whereas its 2003, and to a lesser extent, its 2005, appeared to me to be frolicking with some overripe elements, the 2009 comes across as a sculptured athlete. Or something like that. It is very strong, yet deep and delicious. In many cases, I seem to prefer 2005 over 2009, but not at Pontet Canet. Alfred Tesseron has made a magical, velvety wine here. Certainly more masculine, in the mold of Pichon Baron, which I did not taste again on this trip.
With Jean-Charles Cazes. I had a hard time tasting Lynch Bages en primeur. Was it the sample? Indeed, it was. Like the Haut Bailly, I must have had a slightly off sample… so read on.
First I tasted the Les Ormes de Pez St Estephe 2009, also owned by the Cazes family, and which displayed a fine color. At 13.6 alcohol, dark fruit aspects. Nice. Quite rich with just a bit of heat on the finish, but there is pleasure to this. Unctuous pleasure.
Echo. This is the new name of the second wine, which used to be called Haut Bages Averous. Just the second vintage with this new name. 13.1 alcohol. 72% Cabernet. Nice fresh nose. A bit more merlot and cabernet franc here. Nice frank feel on the palate. A mix of red and black fruits. A bit of heat on the finish. Just a bit short, too. But overall, good.
Lynch Bages. The vineyard itself has 73% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and about 2% of petit verdot..13.4. Lovely sweet, cassis nose. Aspect of dark chocolate, as experienced at Pontet Canet. Some orange rind freshness too on the finely textured palate, which shows good sap. Not at the very top of the Pauillac totem pole, but very nicely done.
Blanc de Lynch Bages is getting better and better. Gone are the days when this wine tasted heavy handed, with too much oak and a far too heavy texture. This wine was served a bit too warm, but by golly it passed the test with high marks. White peach and flower aromas and freshness on the palate. Low temperature fermentation and softer extraction is the key it seems, and yet it is aged in… 80% new oak! 12.9% alcohol yet good acidity (pH 3.07). There has been more Sauvignon Blanc in 2009, which has more verve than the Semillon. Also relatively early picking. Good job!
It is always a great pleasure to visit Chateau Langoa/Leoville Barton. The chateau is actually Langoa – because there is not building for Leoville Barton – and both wines are made at Langoa. Lilian Barton was in her office as a slight drizzle fell, welcoming news for the grapes which have been a bit too dry, she said. We went to the very elegant tasting room to try the 2009s where she also told me about her work with the famous father and son wine consultants Jacques and Eric Boissenot about whom I am working on an article.
Langoa Barton 2009. Lovely nose. Cassis. Yields around 43 hectoliters per hectare, which are slightly lower than average. ‘If we can do 50, we do,’ said Lilian. The grapes were small so there was less juice in 2009. About 13 percent alcohol. ‘We aim for 12 or 12.5,’ Lilian said. For her, even 13 is an ‘upper limit.’ Depth and crackly. What does Lilian think of Langoa? ‘I thought it was extremely ripe wine, but all the same it has kept the roundness of Langoa, does not show agressivity.’ A lot of red and black fruit. She prefers the 2005s. ‘What saved our wines from this ripeness is that we picked quite early, we managed to keep some freshness. You want wines for meals. It is a drink, so you want something refreshing,’ she said. Langoa vineyard lies mostly to the south between Beaucaillou and Beychevelle, whereas Leoville is higher, next to the other Leovilles. The Leoville difference? It is a question of hills being southfacing and slightly further up, so roots have to go deeper to get to the water table, Lilian said.
Leoville Barton 2009. Slightly deeper color. Licorice.mineral. Full of sap and vibrant. Darker chocolate. Perhaps a bit brooding. Hardly a behemoth or over extracted, as one very famous critic described it. Actually, very subtle. Here I think we have a case of a superb 2009, but I think I remember being more excited with the 2005 at a similar stage in its development and would share Lilian’s general feeling about 2005 being slightly superior. But we shall see!
I had not been to this estate in a long while so looked forward to meeting the very friendly Didier Cuvelier. We re-tasted the 2009 but also some back vintages over lunch with a Taiwan based merchant and writer.
Leoville Poyferre 2009. The nose is almost tobacco like. It has a lovely palate presence, with very nice sap. There is a very ripe feel to this, straddling modernity and classic structure because it does have freshness and tannic presence. A particularly successful effort from Leoville Poyferre, this 2009. Is it better than the 2005? I am not sure. I prefer the tannic power of the 2005 in general, and yet there is a real sumptuousness to the 2009 that reminded Didier of the 1982. Perhaps he is correct. Over lunch he brought a 2003 and a … 1982!
Chateau Le Crock St Estephe 2009. This we tried after lunch. Fine nose. Pure. Dark fruit and licorice. There is a tightly wound aspect to this wine that is not showing very well today, but one can sense the potential lurking in the brooding palate feel. Not nearly as bright as the next wine.
Chateau Poujeaux Moulis 2009. Mathieu Cuvelier of Clos Fourtet in St Emilion arrived, so that we could talk about organizing a series of tastings in Germany. He brought with him the 2009 Moulis which I liked best when tasted blind at the UGCB tastings this past spring. It did not disappoint this time! Very rich fruit aromas followed through to a deep and delicious, even sumptuous and slightly glossy, palate. But with substance, mind you. Perhaps not quite as structured as the 2005, but this is just such a pleasure to drink. Buy it with confidence!
Over lunch at Le St Julien restaurant
Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2003. As in many other wines, there is a hint of fig on the aroma. But this wine has a lot of substance – matière – on the palate. With time in glass, it develops an orange rind flavor combined with cinnamon. And it offers much pleasure indeed. I do not think it is as balanced as the 2009 or 2005, but it is delicious. With time in glass, it actually freshens up, and shows fine depth and length with a tannic edge that augurs well for the future. And the en primeur price was fair, so I did buy some and am happy to have done so.
Chateau Leoville Poyferre 1982. Made from yields of 62 hectoliters per hectare. Didier said that we are making better selected wines these days. Tasting this, I do still wonder sometimes: ‘What’s the point?’ This wine was basically lead-penciled perfume. The nose I could have kept sniffing all day. It was complex and a real bouquet, combining floral aromas with freshness. A hint of truffle. And more graphite. Like a fine Cuban cigar. The palate was appropriately fresh and thirst quenching, not big. This was Didier’s first ‘major’ vintage, after he started making wine at the estate in 1979.
I tasted my favorite Pichon Comtesse ever in the 2009 barrel sample. So I was eager to try it again along with the 2008s and 2007s, just to see how these two previous and less heralded vintages were doing…
La Bernadotte 2007. This is a fine Haut Medoc wine. Lovely nose of cacao. Very easy to drink, and although nothing too profound, not a hint of green or edginess, either. A restaurant wine to be sure, and not likely expensive.
La Bernadotte 2008. More structure felt on the nose, this wine promises greater things. But like other just bottles 2008s I tasted this time of year, it was a bit muted, even a bit reduced. But there is a finer tannic grain and a more substantial palate than the 2007. Give it time.
La Bernadotte 2009. What youthful fruit and density. Once again, this followed through on my positive experience tasting this en primeur. The best La Bernadotte I have ever tasted, superior to the 2005.
Reserve de la Comtesse 2007. Interestingly, this was my least favorite of all the wines tasted. I got a hint of green on the initial nose, which later blew off and became more mineral like. A good licorice component followed through on the palate which was not green. And yet, it was not particularly exciting, either.
Reserve de la Comtesse 2008. A far richer, more substantial nose. The palate was slightly compacted, but – again – this is timing. Still, it shows much promise, like La Bernadotte.
Reserve de la Comtesse 2009. Tobacco and cedar aromas precede an unctuous palate. This is just a pleasure to drink! Not particularly complex, but very good.
Comtesse de Lalande 2007. Very cigar box like aromas here. With a pot pourri aspect. Thomas Do Chi Nam got more fruit jelly. I got some orange zest freshness on the palate, which turned out to be rather creamy and soft. Some tannic edge on the finish promises further positive aging, but this is a wonderful 2007.
Comtesse de Lalande 2008. Here is a more substantial wine. Slightly closed but what a vinous nature, with more orange rind freshness.
Comtesse de Lalande 2009. Very fresh and pure. Very high tannin and yet so soft and elegant. Juicy. Reminds me of the 1996 plus an extra dimension of richness. Another 1982? Just beautiful and a top ten Medoc wine in 2009. Confirms my en primeur experience.
I must say that I have always liked this wine for two reasons. One, it is not too expensive and, given its increasing quality, it has to count among the best price/quality ratios of the classed growths. Two, I like its nose. Brane Cantenac has the advantage of having one of the most perfumed aromas in the Medoc, let alone Margaux. As so often with wines, Brane Cantenac is a reflection of the people behind it. First and foremost Henri Lurton, who is very thoughtful and analytical in his approach to the wine. There is indeed a sophistication to this wine. And that is what came through most to me when I tasted again the Brane Cantenac 2009. It gave off as expected beautiful aromatics – violet and flowery with a hint of powdered coco. On the palate, a lot of definition. When tasted en primeur, it was more sunny and sumptuous, but at the September 8 tasting, it was more, well, intellectual. But also very smooth and refined. The second wine, Baron de Brane 2009, exuded a soft, ‘Margaux’ nose followed by a red fruit freshness on the palate, croquant, and just delicious. Two nights before, Corinne Conroy, who works at the chateau as head of communications (she is also very attuned to Web 2), generously invited me to her home for dinner where we had again tasted the 2009 Brane, but I confess to having been too tired after a long day of tasting to have studied properly my reaction to it. I just recall it being very good. She also served a Baron de Brane 2005 which was delicious and, again, exuding red fruit freshness.
In keeping with the inevitable 2005-2009 comparisons, I may just give the edge – at Brane – to the 2005. It seems to me to have more of a tannic edge, and a more classic profile, which is what I personally prefer.
Over dinner, we also had a Brane Cantenac 2003, which is very sexy and alluring, but not quite as good as – again – more classical vintages like 2002, 2000 to be sure, and 2004. Two other fine wines we had at dinner were Domaine de Chevalier 2000 white, which I recall being the best in a horizontal of white Pessac Leognans from that vintage, which was great for the reds but not that great for the whites. I brought a bottle of Chateau Raymond Lafon Sauternes 2005, whose almond like freshness and white fruit aspects just make this – year in, year out – a top Sauternes that rivals the very best cru classés.