Bordeaux 2008 + video!
March 18, 2011
Did we get carried away just a bit with 2008? Certainly Robert Parker’s scores were very high and the talk of grade inflation abounded. But after tasting from bottle in September last year, and now again in New York, in late January, I think we have a rather fine vintage before us, overall, at relatively modest prices. I did not want to mention this until now (March 2011) but I had also taken part in a blind taste test for Decanter Magazine late last year and the results were only recently published. Along with Steven Spurrier and Margaret Rand and Richard Bampfield – tasters with far more experience than yours truly – I got a chance to evaluate St Emilion. What was remarkable was the consistency. Some estates excelled, including of course Cheval Blanc, but there were some surprising results, with all of us picking out Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse as particularly successful.
Although now, as of this update – 19 March 2011 – prices for some of the wines have shot sky high because of Asian demand… Some importers are telling me that there is a crash waiting to happen, with Lafite selling for as much as $2,000 per bottle! And to think I could have bought that as a future for under $200. I did buy some Latour and Mouton and would have bought Haut Brion but I am not ultra wealthy either.
In this update, you can compare some of my barrel tastings with the in bottle tastings, plus a video from NYC this past January 2011:
One thing to note: an excellent – perhaps unexpectedly so - showing from Sauternes and Barsac.
Some wines shined more than others from the first growths on down to the bottom level. I particularly like Lafite and Latour, followed by Mouton and Haut Brion, with Margaux not quite as good. As for appellations, Pomerol seems to excel: I recall how nice it was to taste Petrus, for example, from barrel, and look forward to tasting from bottle later this year. The few Pomerols on hand in NYC were all quite good, with the curious exception of Gazin, but I owe that more to a possible bad sample. Even though I had four hours to taste, there were at least 100 wines. And in a crowded room, you meet fellow writers and merchants and other people. And you also want to take time to properly evaluate a wine… I plan to taste Bordeaux 2008 from bottle again in Germany in March during ProWein – just later this month!
Last September, during another visit to Bordeaux - a few months after the barrel tastings of the spring - I found that some 2008s were a bit monolithic, when compared to their more graceful 2007 counterparts. The 2008s had just been bottled, so I chalked it up to bad timing. Certainly, they showed more potential than the 2007s, which – with one year more in bottle as an advantage – seemed more charming nonetheless if lacking, generally, the body and the finish in the 2008s.
In New York, the wines showed better. Like wine critic John Gilman, I found some older school style structure that may dismay some tasters. For example, I liked wines like Kirwan and Brane Cantenac in Margaux, both rather elegant, showing structure for certain but also good potential for aging. Kirwan, in particular, seems to be enjoying a Renaissance since the father and son Boissenot team took over as consultants from Michel Rolland. In Pauillac, I did not taste as many as I would have liked, but the two Pichons were superb. The Baron is more structured but has some seductive chocolate aspects overlaying the very impressive tannins. The Comtesse is more feminine as one would imagine. Not softer, but somehow, more charming. But also with much substance. These two Pichons were cleary my Left Bank favorites. To St Emilion, I really liked Beau Sejour Becot as a modern styled pleasure wine, but my two favorites were Canon and Figeac. In Pomerol, La Conseillante was terrific, but both Clinet and Beauregard impressed me as well. On to the notes…
Wines in bold I liked, in red and bold, I liked even more, and when underlined, truly special.
Note to the winemakers: Please do not take my criticism too much to heart. I am but one humble taster, calling things as I see them, when I tasted the wines. My notes are not meant to be the be-all and end-all, so please… take it easy. There will be other tastings.
GRAVES AND PESSAC-LEOGNAN Some consider this region to be the most consistent in 2008. I would still give that honor to Pomerol or St Julien, but there are a lot of fine wines to be had here – both in red and in white.
Chateau de Chantegrive: Both the red and the whites were good at this estate, always providing economical pleasure, so look out for these as excellent price quality ratios, particularly the red. Both are upper 80s, lower 90s if you need a score.
Chateau Rahoul (red): Also a frank red, perhaps showing more body than Chantegrive, and once again, a wine that will provide good pleasure at a decent price. 89-90
Chateau Bouscaut (white): Good body, showing lemongrass aromas and fine acidity and finesse. A real success here. 90-92+
Chateau Bouscaut (red): A bit foursquare and somewhat muted on the nose, the wine lacked vivacity but will likely improve in bottle. 87-89
Chateau Carbonnieux (white): Good crispy notes of red apple, with a slightly waxy texture and taste although now dominated by Sauvignon Blanc acidity. I suspect that this wine will be fine over time, as it usually tends to. 89-91
Domaine de Chevalier (white): Here a far more subtle expression of white pepper, at once rich and subtle, with fine focus. It has fattened up just a bit since I last tasted it in September last year. A very good sign. Critics who have heaped high praise are probably correct. This may outlast the 2007, but it would be nice to re-taste the 06,07 and 08 again side by side in a year. 93-95+
Domaine de Chevalier (red): Tasted on two occasions in two days! In NYC, it showed well, a bit closed but with good fruit and excellent structure. Did not wow you as much as Haut Bailly, but may end up being the more subtle wine. The next day, during a lovely 16-vintage vertical and lunch, it showed better. 91-92+
Chateau de Fieuzal (white): Lemon/lime expression, not as subtle as the previous wine. 89-91+
Chateau Haut Bailly (red): Beautiful spice-driven aromas and cassis. Excellent body. Do I detect just a slight drying on the finish? Something to re-examine next time around… 91-93+
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere (white): A fine success here, full bodied with white peach and hints of orange freshness. I really like the whites from Malartic Lagraviere. 91-93
Chateau Pape Clement (white): I recall being more impressed with their 2007 at this time last year because the 2008 seems too dominated by oak. It is rich certainly and I do hope that things settle into something special over time, but I am not as sure. The 2007 seemed far more convincing. Will likely get better in bottle but judgment reserved for now.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte (red): A fine showing from this estate, which used to be a bit too big for my tastes, and has steadily lowered the tone. I am happy about that. Not as impressive as Haut Bailly, but going in that direction. 90-92
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte (white): Excellent acidity, very primary Sauvignon Blanc driven nature. Does it lack perhaps a bit of richness which one detected better in the more successful 2007? Perhaps, but a fine showing nonetheless and will probably richen with time in bottle. 89-91
ST EMILION A bit all over the place from barrel, and not unexpected, given the size and variety of styles to be found in St Emilion. I did not get a chance to evaluate some of the major estates in NYC and will do so in March. I mostly liked what I did get to taste.
Chateau Beau Sejour Becot: Some refer to modern winemaking here, but by Golly, they did a lovely job in 2008. This wine displays good sap, aromatic pleasure and richness, without heaviness. Perhaps it lacks the subtle gravitas of wines like Figeac or Canon and the sheer elegance of wines like La Conseillante, but it makes up for this in (1) excellent pricing and (2) sheer pleasure. 90-93
Chateau Canon: There is a subtle perfume to this wine that is completed by a smooth and fresh delivery on the palate, with an underlying substance that is sneaky. Canon is getting better and better, and the 2008 is yet another example of this wine’s finesse under John Kolasa’s capable direction. 92-94
Chateau Dassault: This estate also did a fine job in 2008. Another pleasurable St Emilion, made from 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc and 5% Cab Sauv, aged in 75% new oak, there is a certain modern feel, but I really enjoyed its smooth and giving nature, marked by a nice, dry (not drying) finish. Good job. 89-91
Chateau Figeac: Here we have as expected a gentlemanly like refinement marked by the Cabernet perhaps that leaves one with some tannic edginess on the finish. But the mid palate is flavorul and already showing signs of lovely complexity. The overall impression left is of red fruit, expressed in a very refreshing and refined manner. I had tasted this twice from barrel and remain convinced that it is a successful Figeac. 92-94+
Chateau Clos Fourtet: Here a more sumptuous Merlot driven wine, with excellent berry fruit expressed with finesse. Just a tad brooding, perhaps? Reminded me a bit of Angelus in that regard, where the structure took some precedence over the fruit. 90-93
Chateau Franc Mayne: Very fresh and tasty, more red than black fruit – and very upfront in that regard. A pleasure to try in fact. May not have the structure of some of the wines tasted, but it is very pleasurable. 90-92
Chateau Grand Mayne: Yet another success from this somewhat underrated estate. The terroir is magnificent, including a fine slope close to the famous plateau with old vines. It has richness and poise, and I smell a bargain here. 90-92+
POMEROL This was a favored appellation overall in 2008, but it was hard to get a sense at the UGCB tastings with so few Pomerols to taste… but they were impressive for the most part.
Chateau Beauregard: Very juicy and fine. Another pleasurable offering. 90-92
Chateau Clinet: Here we have a wine that is somewhat more refreshing than usual because it includes grapes from young vines (20%) in the blend. I really enjoyed this Clinet because of what seemed to me to be greater lift than in other vintages, plus its usual richness. Fine job. 91-93
Chateau Gazin: I may have had an off sample because it was a bit unexpressive and somehow off, so no comment. Will taste again in March. Judgment reserved.
Chateau La Lagune Haut Medoc: Very smooth and appealing wine. Good palate texture with fine primary cassis notes. Lovely! 91-93
Chateau La Tour Carnet: I still cannot get myself too excited about this wine, which seems overly oaky. But it is well made. Different strokes for different folks…
Chateau La Tour de By: John Gilman encouraged me to try this, and he was right, this is very nicely made, with a certain smoky aspect, with some tar. A wine of character, with good sap. And not expensive. 90-92+
MARGAUX As sometimes is the case, Margaux was all over the map in terms of qaulity. Sometimes you have very different styles (Lascombes vs Kirwan) or perhaps underperformance. Something not easy to avoid given the fact that Margaux is the largest of the prestige Medoc appellations… In any case, 2008 does not seem to be like, say, 1983 or 1999 – vintages which favored Margaux in particular.
Chateau Brane Cantenac: Quite typically an elegant expression albeit a bit thicker than usual. It reminds me a bit of the 2001. Give this more time. The structure is showing more but there is a lot of fine perfume. 90-92
Chateau Cantenac Brown: I like the aromatic perfume on this wine, too, but the palate tightens up quite a bit. This wine shows even more structure. As with Brane, needs more time to really appreciate, but there is potential here – it is just not quite as elegant. 89-91
Chateau Dauzac: This is more expressive than the above wines, although with somewhat choppier tannins. A good effort, but not quite showing the elegance I would expect from a Margaux. 88-90
Chateau du Tertre: Here we have a very successful Du Tertre. My goodness, it has a lot of Cabernet Franc spice and character, with a full bodied richness that does not get too big for its own good. Fine! 90-92
Chateau Durfort-Vivens: Talk about old school. There is something about the structure here that I like, that bodes well for the future. There is a lovely nose, to be sure, but the palate is a bit austere. But it is not a drying austerity, rather a youthful austerity: there is a difference! Give it time. 89-91
Chateau Ferriere: I was quite seduced by this wine. I want to underline it, as the nose was so beguiling. I fell in love with its minty and floral aromas, even though it was a tad tight on the palate… which is what makes this rather a borderline. 91-93
Chateau Giscours: I dunno. I love Giscours, but in this vintage, there was something just slightly underripe that bugged me. I am a proud owner of 2002 and 2000. Let’s taste again and see… but of the two properties under the same ownership, Du Tertre is a clear winner, to me at least. Judgment reserved.
Chateau Kirwan: Another wine I really liked in this tasting. Very subtle aromatics, showing off black tea, black fruit, soft and subtle on the palate, just lovely. I recall tasting this in September and it was more stolid – having just been bottled. Today, it is quite fine. And very different from the Michel Rolland wines made here a few years ago. More Margaux to be sure. 91-93
Chateau Lascombes: Ah, the 100% new oak. Why oh why? This has potential but it is masked by the coffee, vanilla oak. It does not remind me of Margaux. A style for other people, not me.
Chateau Malescot St Exupery: Here I must part ways with fellow tasters with a more traditional bent. There is something just very positively fragrant about this wine, floral and elegant. OK, OK – I give. Could it be just a bit too smooth for its own good? The 2000, for example, has evolved into something more vague than Margaux-ish, but it is a very good wine… I still like very much the 2008 overall. If this is modern, I’ll take it. And it is not that expensive, for now. 91-94
Chateau Marquis de Terme: I recall buying this in French supermarkets as a decent Bordeaux. It has never been very top tier Margaux for me and this is not an exception. I get an overall too funky aspect here. Oh well… no surprises.
Chateau Prieure Lichine: Good, solid Margaux. Perhaps lacking in the elegance category, but not bad at all. 89-91
Chateau Rauzan Segla: Here perhaps the overall best Margaux of the tasting? Yes, a bit of oak is showing through. But unlike, say Lascombes, it will be well integrated with time in bottle. And there are floral elements and fine fruit expressions. A serious wine, with Margaux in mind. 92-94
ST JULIEN Often the case, St Julien seems to be the “safest” appellation in a vintage tasting… Quite consistent in 2008. Although I did not encounter a wine that wowed me like the two Pichons in Pauillac, almost all were impressive in their own ways and denoted their respective styles.
Chateau Beychevelle: Wow! This was a revelation. A fine expression of Cabernet, with some orange zest freshness and a good palate feel with much nuance. Jeff Leve remarked that this wine would be appealing to Old School Bordeaux fans. He is not mistaken. Nice job! 91-93
From barrel, not as exciting, but this shows how full barrel aging can improve the wine: Good brambly fruit, with agreeable red and black fruits on the palate and nose. A bit lacking in focus, but tasty juice. 88-90+
Chateau Branaire Ducru: Another wonderful wine from Patrick Maroteaux and Jean Dominique Videau. There is a real St Julien silkiness here that makes it more subtle than the neighbor across the street. But the tannins and the structure are there. Fine job! 91-93
Chateau Gruaud Larose: Here we have a meaty big and juicy Gruaud that is typical of this estate over the years. Not as finesse oriented as Branaire, and not quite as Old School as Beychevelle, but it has more corps than either of the above. Let’s see how it evolves, but already rather promising, in terms of the Gruaud style. 90-92
Chateau Langoa Barton: A soft, no rough edges wine. Like other tasters, I was pleasantly suprised by how elegant this was showing so early… A very nice job! 90-93
Chateau Leoville Barton: Here we have more power and more substance as expected, with very fine aromatics belying the elegance of the appellation, but also a tighter and more tannic finish. This is yet another fine offering from the Barton family. Just needs more time. 91-93
Chateau Leoville Poyferre: Here we have a more intensive expression than the Barton, but also a bit more oak showing through. A different style of course, from somewhat later pickings, but very well made! 90-93
Chateau Saint Pierre. Wow, this is an estate that is making inroads. Very cohesive palate, with a lovely herbal nose with light cherry and cassis. A bit tight on the palate, but good structure for the future. Wonderful! 92-93+
Chateau Talbot. There is something just a tad superficial about this wine which seems to lack depth. It is OK, but not quite worthy of its classed growth moniker.
PAUILLAC I did not get a chance to taste all the Pauillacs – missing alas Batailley, for example – but here we have a bit more variance in quality, with the two second growths clearly overshadowing the others.
Chateau d’Armailhac: Honest and upfront expression of Cabernet from Pauillac. There is good fruit and modest richness, with some fine structure. A good job here. 90-92
Chateau Haut Bages Liberale. This seems to be very solid wine, with rather soft chocolate overlaying the Cabernet character. A good mouthfeel and rather giving on the palate if not all that complex. Fine. 90-92+
Chateau Lynch Bages. A bit underwhelming here. Was it the sample? I recall liking this much more at the chateau when tasted this past autumn. Judgment reserved.
From barrel, this was better: Since tasted en primeur, when it was more full bodied, robust and suave, the wine seems to have tightened up in June 2009, retaining pure black cherry and cassis aromas with black licorice and hints of toast , but more tannic and just harder to evaluate but evidently showing promise. 91-93+
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron: Wow, here we have an excellent expression of Pauillac poise and power, enrobed in a soft chocolate-like sweetness (not oversweet or too rich, mind you!). There is something very independent about this wine, something very confident. Certainly among the very best tasted all around, reflecting its second growth breed. 92-95
From barrel at Vinexpo, June 2009: The in bottle tasting confirms my tasting from barrel. 2008 fulfills its promise as the best of the non first growth Pauillacs. It shows substance and energy, with subtle chocolate and vivid blackberry and cherry aromas, also cassis and cherry, in a full-bodied, finely structured palate, which is focused yet rich, with good vibrancy, and a pleasing creaminess. A low 52 percent of the total crop went into the first wine, after two green harvests (beginning July and end August), with average yields of about 36 hectoliters per hectare. The blend includes 71 percent Cabernet aging in 80 percent new oak, which seemed again very well integrated. If the futures price remains interesting, this is a strong buy recommendation as it flirts with First Growth quality. 92-95
Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande: Musc, cinammon, with plum fruit and ripe cherry, this is a beguiling wine. While the Baron is more about power and poise, the Comtesse is more about charm and seduction. Hard to pick which one, but if I had to, I think I would go for the lady in this vintage. Better yet, get both! 93-95
From barrel: Nose is discrete yet complex in the late June 2009 tasting, which showed an improved performance from April. Violet, licorice and wintergreen mingle with blackberry (29% Merlot in the mix) on the nose, and the palate shows good sap and freshness, also displaying impressive Pauillac power and a smoother finish than en primeur. But it lacks a bit of the verve and substance of the Baron But, from bottle – an improvement!. 90-93+
SAUTERNES/BARSAC Now this appellation is sandwiched between the pristine elegance of 2007 and the bold 2009. Smart seekers of stickies take some advice: if the prices are good, stock up on somethings nice!
Chateau Climens (Barsac): Pure, pristine precision. Very expressive notes of pear and white peach, but minerality and botrytis derived tea notes. Beaufiful wine that rejected spitting. 93-95
Chateau Coutet (Barsac): Not quite as impressive as the above, but not far behind. Also a very fine expression of botrytis. With good focus and a layered feel on the palate. 91-93
Chateau Doisy Daene (Barsac): Here very much on the finesse. More so that at Coutet, and just about as much as at Climens albeit lacking Climens’ more substantial palate perhaps. Still, I was really seduced by Doisy Daene in this tasting. Lovely. 92-94
Chateau Guiraud (Sauternes): Spicy and rich and full bodied. Real pleasure here, with good verve and fruit. A fine effort from Guiraud. 91-93
Chateau La Tour Blanche (Sauternes): Another fine Sauternes although I get just a bit of pineapple here, as it seems to lack just a bit of body when compared with, say, Guiraud or Suduiraut, but time in bottle works magic… Wait and see. 89-91
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes): A more cyrstaline expression of fruit, more like a Barsac – if you will – than a Sauternes. There is real elegance here. 90-92
Chateau Sigalas Rabaud (Sauternes): A poised and balanced Sauternes, exhibiting fine pear and yellow peach expressions. Fine job. 90-92
Chateau Suduiraut (Sauternes): My favorite Sauternes (exluding the Barsacs!) of the tasting? Perhaps. Here we have a textbook richness combined with orange zest and lots of finesse and botrytis derived spice. Lovely job. 92-94+