Figeac, Raymond Lafon, Kirwan and Branaire Ducru: early September 2010
September 5, 2010
Visit to Chateau Figeac in St Emilion
My early September 2010 Bordeaux tour continues in early September with a morning visit to Chateau Figeac, one of my favorite wines of St Emilion, and a very unique wine because – unlike most St Emilion wines – it has up to 70% Cabernet! And the way the weather is developing for 2010 – dry and hot – this may be (yet another) vintage that will favor Cabernet driven wines…
It was a bit sad this time because Eric’s father-in-law, the owner and famous winemaker Thierry Manoncourt had recently passed away, but Eric and his wife Laure were as gracious as ever to welcome me to the estate. Well, Eric was miffed at me for criticizing his 2009 pricing, but I reassured him in the sense that as much as I thought the pricing in 2009 was too high, I continue to praise his wines because they are among the best in the region for their elegance, subtlety and class. For some odd reason, the overpowerful critic Robert Parker downgraded his impression of Chateau Figeac 2000, so I wanted to try three Figeacs blind, with one being the 2000, just to see how it would taste among other vintages. So here are my reflections before the vintages are revealed.
Wine A. Orange rim. A bit of truffle. A bit of meatiness to it. Very elegant. Smooth. And an exotic spiciness to it that reminds me a bit of the 1982. Very nice wine! Exotic… It turned out to be the 2003! Wow, this is one of my favorite 2003s.
Wine B A bit more matiere. A bit younger? A bit more tannic. A bit more tight. A bit more evolved on the nose compared to Wine C.Wine? These wines were popped and poured so we went back to the glasses 20 minutes later. And voila parfum au nez. Pipe tobacco with cinnamon. Beautiful wine, lovely. Very balanced. Is it better than the Wine C? Wine C has more stuffing, yes, but for now, this one is drinking better. 2001.
Wine C. OK, I did get an initial green pepper aspect here, reminding me somewhat of the 1995 I have had several times and which has not turned out to be one of the better Figeacs in my opinion. Very Cabernet. But that aspect is not nearly as evident in this wine, whose nose improves rather quickly with time in glass. And the palate is rich and thick, certainly more substantial than the two previous wines. It develops very nicely in glass with more harmony and flavor both on the nose and especially on the palate. I just think it needs more time and can still remember loving this back in January 2005 for three verticals in Germany I had organised. The 2000 impressed most tasters, and that was over a four hour period. Interestingly, the 2000 is not Eric’s favorite. He finds it almost too rich for his own taste and prefers the 2001.
Chateau Raymond Lafon
What a pleasure to return to this great estate in Sauternes. Marie Francoise Meslier has two lovely twins, each almost four years old: Gabriel and Michel. The house has taken a glow with the two sons. Brother and winemaker Charles Henri is the winemaking director and seems very happy, as does brother Jean Pierre who was once based in the US but now stays at the chateau to help with visits and sales. Retired, father Pierre Meslier is very content, having just celebrated his 80th birthday with an evening at Yquem with Pierre Lurton. They enjoyed 1989 and also a 1929 (since no 1930 was made).
Since I did not get a chance to taste the 2009 en primeur, it was a pleasure to try it here at the estate, and I can say that it easily rivals the highest classed growths and a fraction of the price. Take Fargues, for example, which was introduced en primeur at about 100 euros. Raymond Lafon is under 30 euros. A steal.
2009: Lovely tea aroma, bergamot, fresh pineapple with mineral aspects. Very good viscosity, rich. Some exotic elements including mango. Really lovely wine, recalling perhaps a mix of the 2005 and 2003. 95 points.
2008: Butterscotch nose. Not as exuberant as the 2009. Small harvest because of frost. Shows some orange rind flavors. Just not as focused or as powerful as the 2009, but a nice Sauternes. 90 points.
2007: Tobacco, pear, ginger. Very refined with sneaky persistence. Perhaps it lacks the ‘wow’ factor of the 2009, but it makes up for that in subtlety. Really a lovely perfumed Sauternes which I prefer overall. Indeed, Charles Henri later told me that it was not even showing at its best, since it is about to be bottled… So I suspect that it will be even better than the note. 93/94
2006: A bit more closed on the nose. Then it opens up in glass, displaying yellow apricot. They had to harvest late for some logistical reasons, Jean-Pierre said, not really by choice. But they were lucky it did not rain, resulting in extra concentration and some raisin like grapes. Did I detect a hint of raisin when he mentioned this? An agreeable style of Raymond Lafon, but somehow just a bit muted at this stage. It seems to have more stuffing than the 2008. 92
2005: An elegant mineral and tobacco nose, not unlike the 2007, precedes a rich palate with pear, white apricot and lovely grapefruit. Could this be my favorite of the vertical? There is a spherical grace about this wine that is also opulent; more so than the 2007, but somehow mirroring the 2007s elegance as well. A wonderful wine, which I would like to own in half bottles to enjoy. 95+
2001: Jean-Pierre believes that the chateau has since made better wines, and I may be inclined to agree. While the 2001 is very good, it may not have the same concentration as the 2005, 2007 or 2009. We did not taste the 2003, but I wonder if the 2003 may also eclipse the 2001 at Raymond Lafon. The nose was very elegant, showing some crème brulee, tobacco and real spice on the nose. The palate is subtle and medium bodied. Could it just be a closed phase? I recall tasting this in other years and liking it more. 92+/93
Over dinner we enjoyed a 2005 with liver pate to start things off and then ended the meal with the 2005 and Roquefort. For the main course of steak, we enjoyed a superb Haut Bailly 2006, which was meaty yet refined, as one would expect from this great Pessac-Leognan!
Lunch with Ferdinand Mahler Besse at an excellent Bordeaux restaurant, Gravelier, where the daughter of three star Michelin chef Michel Troisgros works. Did not meet the daughter but enjoyed the cuisine with a bottle of Alter Ego of Palmer 2004. The 2004 was all bright red fruit with some floral aspects. A delicious and drinkable second wine, one of the few second wines in Bordeaux that is worth buying. Too many are not as interesting and not as good as the first wines from cru bourgeois terroirs. But I digress. Mahler Besse repeated his claim (for an article I wrote in Wine Business International) that the 2009 en primeur campaign is ‘the most dangerous’ he has seen. With a real threat of a bubble burst. ‘I know we have been crying wolf [over vertiginous pricing] for the past 10 years, but it just may happen this time.’
Visit to Kirwan and blind tasting
Kirwan has turned things around since the departure of Michel Rolland. As much as Rolland put the wine on the map in recent years. it became the valid object of criticism for lacking some Margaux grace, and being a bit too concentrated and merlot-like. Proof because we tried a 2001 over lunch at the chateau with winemaking director Philippe Delfaut. Over a fabulous lunch of lamb, the 2001 Kirwan was certainly smooth and tasty but almost too fluid for my taste and more plum notes for a Medoc wine than I would have expected. I caught myself indeed thinking ‘a Pomerol in the Medoc?’ But as you can see in the wine notes below for the last three vintages – indeed the first three for Delfaut – things have changed for the better at Kirwan.
Wine B: A bit of green pepper on the initial nose [these wines were popped and poured]. But then nose gets floral, actually more like smelling a rose bud. A bit mentholated. Softer on the palate than the preceding wine. More suave. Rather long on the finish, or rather lingering. I like it, although it lacks the substance of the above while being more elegant. 2007.
Wine C: Immediately guessed by the color that this was the 2009. A hint of oak on the nose – in its 10th month of aging – but just very floral and fresh and fruit-driven. It has much elegance and weight, nicely balanced. I could not believe it when general manager Philippe Delfaut said it was 14 degrees alcohol. This is very nice wine. Tasted better here than it did en primeur, and I would seek out the Kirwan 2009 if the price is still rather low. Proposed for only about 29 euros as futures.
Interesting side note: I have always reported that the difference between 2008 and 2007 was July. Indeed July was a better month for 2008. Delfaut explained to me why. The light of July generally diminishes the amount of metoxy perazyn in the grapes. This substance brings forth green pepper aromas, he explained. So the 2007 July, not as luminous, did not break that substance down as much (at least at Kirwan) as it did in 2008.
Blind tasting at Branaire Ducru
It was great to see Patrick Maroteaux and his wife Evelyn again. I had met Patrick during a Heart’s Delight tasting in Washington D.C. back in 2003. And have always enjoyed his wines – never too expensive and always well made.
Wine A: Nice violet/red color. I should have recognized its primary aspect! Sweet nose with very floral aspects. Some licorice and vanilla. The palate is rich and full and returns to a fresh rose stem like flavor. Beautiful yet almost light. I was wondering at first if it were the 2007 or even the second wine from a super vintage. Wrong! It was the … 2009!
Wine B: At first an aluminum and beef blood note. Then blackberry and plum. Compared to Wine A, this has more evident tannic presence but not as refined. Not sure. 2007
Wine C: A serious wine. Licorice, spice, cassis. A bit closed. But brooding and one can get the substance. I was thinking perhaps 2006? It was 2006.
Wine D: This was the most complete of all the wines, with clear cassis and cherry notes followed by a very mouth filling palate that showed tannic edge, richness and flavor. Certainly needs time to mellow just a bit, but I was thinking that this has the concentration and presence of a great young vintage like 2005. It was the 2005.
So how did I miss the 2009? What is amazing about the 2009 here at Branaire is that it does not overpower you but rather charms you with subtle floral notes. And yet, going back to the barrel sample, it showed underlying power that was indeed subtle. A very promising barrel sample.
Over dinner at the restaurant St Julien, we enjoyed a superb 2001 which I thought was a 1996. It had a fine Cabernet Sauvignon driven backbone and yet a richness that was very subtle, married well with an unctuous sea bass grilled over a red wine reduction sauce. We also had a mellowed 1998, which proved to go well with the cow milk based cheeses. 1998 is not such a great vintage in the Medoc, but it did well at Branaire Ducru. Did not take copious notes over dinner…