September 1 in Bordeaux: very dry July and August plus notes from Haut Bailly, Domaine de Chevalier and Malartic Lagraviere

Chateau Haut Bailly

For over 10 years now, I have been visiting Bordeaux at least twice a year, and I have come to like certain wines more than others. One of my favorites in the appellation of Pessac-Leognan, located in the southern Leognan part, is Haut Bailly. Chateau director Veronique Sanders and winemaking director Gabriel Vialard welcomed me to re-taste the 2009 along with the 2008 and 2007 blind, before a lunch at the chateau.

During the en primeur tastings I must have had a slightly off sample, tasted blind among other Graves 2009s, because the 2009 Haut Bailly was excellent in this tasting at the chateau. Gabriel poured the wines, masked by a cover.

Wine A showed good sap on the nose, rich with hints of charcoal. The palate was more austere, with a slightly short finish. I was thinking 2007. Coming back to it over time, it opened up in glass, showing good flavors, but just not quite as interesting as the other two wines. It was indeed the 2007.

Wine B showed a cooler, more discrete nose, which I liked more, even though it was not quite as flamboyant – the nose – as Wine A. It was like smelling blueberry for me, and the palate was more elegant and polished, somehow more complex. It turned out to be the 2008, something one could guess when coming to Wine C, which displayed an impressive nose of licorice and blackberry and a creamy palate that was not overbearing, in spite of the 13.7 alcohol.

Overall, Wine C was exciting wine, opulent yet precise.
Will it reach the heights of the 2005 (13.2 or 13.3)? I wonder if the 2005 – from memory – was perhaps more balanced, but the suave nose and unctuous texture of the 2009 please the palate, and there is much tannin and structure underneath, so it will be great to taste this once again from bottle. Although Gabriel said that, by 2009, work in the vat room had improved, that there was more precision, the 2009 had to be fermented at slightly lower temperatures, to prevent too much extraction, since alcohol levels were higher. The 2005 needed no such allowance, because the alcohol levels were not as high. Still, Gabriel feels that the 2009 is the smoother, less evidently tannic wine. It will be interesting to try both side by side in 10 years.

2010 so far (as of 1 September!)

After some initial problems during the flowering period, where Merlot was mostly affected, there has been very dry and warm if not always very hot weather throughout July and August. Some problems mainly for Merlot during the flowering period from late May and into June were due to millerandange or “shot berries” in which grape bunches contained berries of greatly different size and, most important, different levels of maturity. This seemed to have been set off by coulure, which was triggered by periods of cold nights in late May, when the Merlot was flowering, and sudden rains in June. Some Merlot flowers stayed closed, the caps did not come off, as Gabriel explained. Thus they were not pollinated and the grapes failed to develop. Because the Cabernets flowered later, and because they were not as sensitive to the coulure or millerandange, they were not as fragile to the weather conditions and are thus in far better shape.

Could this be a 1984, where almost no Merlot was used? Gabriel replied that the 2010 will almost certainly have less Merlot than usual. Veronique reminded me of the fine 1986 which was if I recall correctly almost all Cabernet Sauvignon. Flowering for Merlot was at the end of May; for Cabernet it was 10 June. The cap was not easily discharged for the Merlot during flowering…

Later in the day, at Domaine de Chevalier, owner Olivier Bernard spoke of a long, if not very cold, winter, with bits of frost in the later spring, followed by extremely dry if not very hot July and August. Rains fell in June, but in bursts, on two separate occasions. Since late June, it has been very dry: just 40mm of water for both July and August, which was confirmed later at Domaine de Chevalier. There was more rain in 2009 during the same period, said Olivier Bernard.

Every winemaker I have met said that a little rain would be welcome. Some heat stress was showing for younger vines, everywhere, with yellowing leaves. But many of the older vines or vines where the soil has been well worked – at Haut Bailly and at Domaine de Chevalier where I noticed the vines more carefully – the grapes look small andhealthy, with thickening skins, and this is a good sign.

Lunch at Haut Bailly was prepared by Tanguy Laviale, a chef who had worked in Michelin rated restaurants and who wants to learn more about winemaking, so he has been employed by Haut Bailly over the last year. He prepared an exquisite ravioli with freshly picked cepe mushrooms from the Dordogne region, with a savory parmesan crème, followed by a roasted rack of lamb perfectly cooked, just a bit pink, with subtly sweet potatoes with two somewhat incongruous if quirky coconut slices! The sauces and flavorings for both were subtle yet tasty, a perfect reflection of the wines: Haut Bailly 2001 and 2000. The 2001 showed very well, with some tertiary aromas as Gabriel pointed out, rather smoky and tobacco like, very Graves… It was a smooth wine, with good body and substance but never overstated, hardly ‘modern’ and I liked it a lot. But I have to tip my hat to the 2000 which seemed slightly closed in comparison, and at first misleadingly monotone. Time in glass showed a wine with lurking substance and a lovely richness, underscored by a pleasing charcoal like aspect. It was like you took the 2001 and put in through an amplifier. Both show the class of this wine, but the 2000 is just a bit more pronounced, and likely on a slower evolutionary track.

Domaine de Chevalier

At Domaine de Chevalier, I had very much liked both the white and the red 2009 during the en primeur tastings. In fact, the red was one of their best ever for me. Tasted again, it was just a confirmation. Top- of-the-line Pessac Leognan and the price is not as high as many others in its class. For those of you on budgets, but still tempted by Bordeaux 2009, go for Domaine de Chevalier… I also tasted some back vintages, starting with the 2006 this time. Technical manager Thomas Stonestreet – he is French but his family originally came from the UK – was on hand to guide me through the tasting, as was Xavier Planty of Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes.

We started with the reds. The 2006 is very fresh on the nose and shows fine richness on the palate, but not overdone. This is a wine like Haut Bailly: classy and rich but not big. The 2006 is one I would look for: if you can get a good price, do not hesitate. It is like a mini 2009.

The 2007 is pretty but just a tad angular. Going back to it later, I liked it and suppose it would be a good dinner wine for the next few years.

The 2008 was slightly more refined than the 2007 but not as much better as I was expecting. It was a bit closed actually, so it was slightly difficult to judge.

When we got to the 2009, I was met with a minor explosion of black fruits and perfume. There was a real purity to the nose and the palate that really transcended the other wines tasted before: here we have a very special wine. At 13.8 alcohol, I thought I caught just a bit of warmth, but it was ephemeral. Once again, it will be very interesting to compare the 2005 with the 2009 in 10 or 15 years. As much as I am charmed by the 2009, I wonder if the 2005 will prove more balanced… And let’s not forget the lovely 2000s, the initial ‘vintage of the century’ of this last decade!

The whites of Domaine de Chevalier can rival those of Haut Brion. And they cost much less. One finds a real precision and purity in almost every vintage. The 2006 seems almost ready to drink because it has a more evident richness that is beguiling, displaying what Xavier Planty noted as the telltale Domaine de Chevalier ‘laurel leaf’ aroma. I was getting just slight beeswax but ever so subtle! Certainly some grapefruit freshness. An artful combination of richness and verve.

The 2007 is tighter and more closed in on itself, but as I noted back in January this year and again in March, when previously tasted, that this is a wine that will be great in a few years. Seems to have more potential and on a slower evolutionary track than 2006.

The 2008 has even more acidity. Thomas says that it will outlast the 2007 but I am wondering if perhaps it is a bit too tight for its own good? Certainly this wine will shine, and I like its razor focus, but I wonder if 2007 shows more balance, more ‘comforting’ richness.

The 2009 was hard to taste, a bit yeasty, but quite rich and yet very disciplined. Some candied grapefruit and orange rind. Well on its way!

Malartic Lagraviere

I have more recently begun tasting the wines of this estate and the Bonnie family is ever so welcoming, too. Michel Rolland advises them in the winemaking. So, yes, there is a more “modern” aspect here compared to the previous estates, but they are all very well made and the price point for the quality is excellent as well: very important to consider. I recall enjoying both the white and the red in 2009, and in 2005 but also in other vintages, this estate does well.

As at Haut Bailly, I tasted these wines blind and owner Jean Jacques Bonnie had prepared the corks under different tissue papers so he would know which was which. I did not know that he had done so, and, taking a photo of the masked bottles, I cleared away the tissues! So when he came back, he said this will be blind for both of us… And we did figure it out. All three wines had a certain fullness to them that made them more similar than different, but the vintages were discernible.

Wine A was thickly laid out on the palate, showing good sap and yet freshness on the finish, also marked by some notable tannin that gave it more gravitas than Wine B. It turned out to be the 2008.

Wine B seemed to show more oak influence, but a somewhat metallic aspect on the nose and just slightly short finish made me think it was the 2007, but I was not too sure. Like Wine A, there was a kind of thick aspect to it, with oak, although time in glass revealed some pleasing floral notes. It was indeed the 2007.

Wine C I thought was the 2009, with a far more pronounced nose and greater substance and weight on the palate. It was certainly fuller in body than either of the previous wines. It was indeed the 2009, which I had graded highly en primeur, and like today as well.

As for the whites, also blind, the first wine – 2008 – was very lemon pie like on the nose. A lip smacking palate, too. Very pleasing, with good acidity.

The next wine was the 2009, which fooled me, because it was so light colored and also showed fine acidity with a tea-like aspect. The fruit was a bit muzzled, as the wine is still aging in barrel. But this shows fine promise.

Finally, the 2007 was noticeably darker in color. It showed pleasing notes hints of mahogany and tobacco on the nose, a fulsome palate, both pleasing and pleasurable, with finesse.

Many thanks to all three estates for having me over to taste their wines.

More notes coming… photos, too!

One Response to “September 1 in Bordeaux: very dry July and August plus notes from Haut Bailly, Domaine de Chevalier and Malartic Lagraviere” (Leave a Comment)

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