Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for the ‘Bordeaux’ Category

Bordeaux 2001 – claret as it used to be.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I’m grateful to Triturus, a group of wine-tasters here in Newcastle, who invited me to guide them through a few bottles of fine wine yesterday. I chose five top wines, all second growths, from the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux, an underrated but elegant vintage, which, in the best wines, shows a very appealing freshness of fruit.

We began with two wines from Margaux.

Chateau Rauzan-Ségla showed a bit of age – quite a mature ruby, but had developed a superb, almost floral bouquet (truly a bouquet), with hints of sweet vanilla and ripe black fruit. Initially rather dry, it was balanced, medium weight, with both quite pronounced minerality and also an aromatic, floral aftertaste.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac, looked a little younger and though also quite scented, was more cedary than floral, with black fruits and even licorice. It was much more chewy, even chunky, with quite firm tannins, but quite a perfumed aftertaste.

We then turned to St Julien.

Chateau Léoville Poyferré was big, ripe and cedary with lots of spicy fruit and maybe a touch too much unintegrated spicy oak. Sweetly ripe in the mouth with quite crunchy fruit and firm tannins it had a spicy, but relatively short finish. It was, perhaps, the least exciting of the five – relatively straightforward and lacking a little elegance.

Chateau Gruaud Larose was creamily ripe, with brambly, savoury fruit, and a great deal of spice, especially cinnamon. Quite intense, rich, soft and with a good concentration of black fruit, it also hinted at coffee and again, licorice.

And then Pauillac.

Chateau Pichon- Lalande was lovely, elegant, ripe and spicy with cedary black fruit and considerable concentration. Big and still structured, with lovely freshness of fruit, it was not only the wine that showed the greatest elegance and complexity, but also the one that promised to develop most in the future.

Conclusions? Five wines aren’t enough to make sweeping generalisations, but these were all hugely enjoyable balanced clarets, perfumed and elegant and great partners for food. Are they, I wonder, a style that we shall not often meet in the future? All the wines were bought from Richard Granger Fine Wines – a splendid source of fine, mature claret at prices that make the en primeur rates for the over-hyped 2009s seem even more ridiculous.

Bordeaux 2009 compared with 2008 with a glance at 2007 and 2006

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

There are high hopes for 2009. It was a magnificent summer; the grapes were healthy and ripe. It is not baked like 2003 and it certainly rivals 2005 as the most impressive harvest of the decade. But it is not uniformly great.  Some winemakers admit that although the quality of fruit was high, it had to be treated with care. The winemaking process was not altogether plain sailing. And even at this early stage, when the wines have only just begun to settle down in cask, it is clear that not every wine is wonderful.

A tasting of some leading Grand Crus Classés and associated wines at Somerset House, London on 28 April gave me an opportunity to dip a toe into this fascinating vintage and also to compare it with wines from the previous three years.  My initial reaction is that the best 2009s are astonishingly concentrated, with rich, quite silky fruit, though at this early stage, some lack finesse and complexity. 2008, a lighter, much fresher vintage, is also the most perfumed I have ever encountered. The best wines are delightful.

Here, then, are my tasting notes. I did not taste all the 07s and 06s on show: I wanted to try to do justice to the younger wines.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan

2009     Very deep, very concentrated spicy black fruit with sexy ripe tannins, real elegance and a delicious balance between fruit and acidity.

One of the best wines in the tasting. Florence Cathiard told me that they had never encountered such a deep velvety, almost Burgundian texture in their Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007     Quite deep, with a fine, spicy (cinnamon) aroma, supported by juicy acidity and a soft, ripe finish.

2003 (with lunch): Quite deep, but browning. Scented but overripe; soft, rich and short.

Les Hauts de Smith 2006 (Rouge), made from 15 to 20-year old vines.       Plenty of ripe, spicy brambly fruit, soft and quite big for a second wine, with a distinct minerality.

2009 (Blanc)      A big, creamy, lemony aroma, then plenty of ripe lemon curd-like fruit and great length.

2007 (Blanc)      Lemony again, with a good concentration of fruit, a lot more toasty oak and a creamy finish.

Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux

2009     Very deep, with rich, spicy fruit, but just a hint of elderberry stalkiness. Rich and soft, with a very silky texture and quite long.

2008     Quite deep and very scented, spicy and elegant with juicy fruit, but the oak masks the fruit a little at the moment.

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien

2009     Not as deep as some, and with a distinct whiff of elderberries. Quite a tight, chewy texture, with dry, elderberry tannins.

2008     Quite deep, beautifully scented,  with a good integration of fruit and spicy oak. Soft, quite ripe, light easy and surprisingly forward for a wine with 68% Cabernet Sauvignon – and also distinct minerality.

2001     With lunch: Still quite deep and nicely perfumed – scented and cedary. Quite light, elegant and fully mature.

Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien

2009     Immensely deep and purply, with a huge, concentrated aroma of coffee, chocolate and black fruits; then a big, soft mouthful of fruit, balanced by fresh acidity.  But after this explosion of ripe black fruit it finishes a wee bit short.

2008     Quite deep.  Exotically scented, with deliciously juicy fruit – easy to enjoy young and already delicious.

2007     Deep and young.  Quite spicily scented, but closed in comparison to 08 and far less exuberant. Big, concentrated and chewy, but a little short.

Château Moulin Riche, Saint Julien (Cru Bourgeois)

2009     Deep, with ripe, typically open, attractive St Julien-style fruit. Medium concentration, fruit to the fore and surprisingly soft.

2008     Quite deep and almost florally scented; juicy, fairly light and rather delicious.

2007     Again quite deep, with lots of ripe red fruits though not a great deal of complexity. Spicy, a little lean-texture and a bit short.

Château Pontet Canet (Pauillac)

2009     Incredibly deep and purply. A bouquet of extraordinary concentration, with masses of fruit and a palate dominated by luxuriously silky, ripe tannins. Outstanding in every way.

2008     Also deep and purply, with an explosion of scented fruit on the nose and in the mouth, with juicy acidity.

2007     Deep coloured, with a complex, spicy aroma and a little more obvious oak than the younger wines; juicy, but relatively lean and with quite a salty finish

2006     Very deep and still young-looking, quite scented fruit, but less oaky than the 07 and with more fruit: a chewy, balanced, concentrated mouthful, but needs a little more time.

Hauts de Pontet-Canet 2007       A lovely, young, approachably fruity wine, dominated by the cassis of Cabernet (Cabernet Sauvignon is 65% of the blend and 5% Cabernet Franc). Juicy, fresh and lighter than the grand vin, but with good length.

Pontet-Canet is now one of the very best wines of the Médoc, and was one of the highlights of this tasting for me. Since 2004 it has been managed biodynamically, though this was suspended in 2007 because of the extent of mildew in the vineyard. I pointed out to Alfred Tesseron that the morning of 28 April was not a favourable day for tasting wine according to the Maria Thun Calendar (a ‘root’ day until mid afternoon). ”Every day is good for tasting wine,” he retorted, “as long as the cork screw works.”

Château Le Crock (St. Estèphe, Cru Bourgeois)

2009     Very deep and concentrated, with big jammy fruit, soft, silky and slightly salty.

2008     Much lighter and very perfumed; light and aromatic in the mouth too with juicy acids and slightly hard tannins.

2007     Less aromatic, with chunky black fruit on the nose, but lighter, leaner and chewy.

Château Gazin (Pomerol)

2009     Very deep. Big, spicy, peppery, brambly fruit; very soft and seductive with silky tannins, but the 15% alcohol shows rather.

2008     Quite deep and quite scented, though more closed than some 08s. Light, juicy and brambly and relatively simply, with spicy oak.

Château Angélus (Saint-Emilion)

2009     Deep with lots of fruit, but also, again, that curious stalky elderberry character. Concentrated ripe black fruit with salty minerality. A big wine.

2008     Fairly deep. A sensationally scented bouquet, then a great depth of ripe brambly fruit, together with great elegance. A lovely, balanced, soft fruity wine. At this early stage of their development, I prefer it to the 2009.

Château Canon (Saint Emilion)

2009     Very deep and purply with really nicely focused black fruit and just a little spice; but a bit disappointing in the mouth: big soft and brambly, but short.

2008     Medium deep and very scented – red fruits with spicy oak. Deliciously round and soft with more red fruits.

Clos de l’Oratoire (Saint Emilion)

2009     Deep coloured and scented with lots of ripe fruit. Very rich and ripe with multi-layers of plum, bramble fruit and huge length. Very impressive indeed.

2008     Quite deep. Spicy, scented with ripe (black) fruit. Quite chewy and lean.

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (Saint Emilion)

2009     Very deep, with an amazing, spicy aroma of cinnamon and leather, then lots of soft ripe fruit. Quite mineral.

2008     Deep coloured and powerfully scented. A surprisingly ripe, even over-ripe mouthful, but also with quite lean acidity and slightly hard tannins.

La Mondotte (Saint Emilion)

2009     Big, brambly and a bit closed. Huge concentration of chewy fruit, but no great length. Spicy alcohol seems greater than 14.2%

2008     Unusually deep. Highly scented with black fruit and very juicy: cassis and bramble. Again, no great length, but at this stage more immediately attractive than 2009.

2006     Deep. An open bouquet, but also rather volatile. A big, ripe wine, with chocolaty fruit, but relatively straightforward – no great complexity.

I came to the tasting determined to concentrate hard and out aside any previous, rather negative impression of La Mondotte. But I still don’t get it: it just doesn’t do anything for me. I find it powerful, but unsubtle – even rather clumsy. I’d sooner drink von Neipperg’s other wines, especially Clos de L’Oratoire.

Château d’Aiguile (Côtes de Castillon)

2009     Very deep, rich and ripe. Lots of up-front fruit and surprisingly juicy acidity.

2008     A big, rounded wine: very perfumed, but also rather jammy, with quite a lot of oak showing. Overall, a good, enjoyable wine.

Château Giraud (Sauternes)

2009     Not yet fallen clear and quite light-coloured. Nose still a bit closed, but very sweet indeed, with lots of botrytis. Rather a bitter finish.

2008     Lighter and much less sweet. Quite sweet, with juicy acidity and not a lot of obvious botrytis character. Fresh and fairly straightforward.

2007     Much richer and deeper, with intense pineapple fruit and lots of botrytis, though a touch of hardness at the end.

2006     Intense barley-sugar nose, but medium weight in the mouth and quite fresh – confit of pineapple and again a touch bitter.

Le G de Château Giraud 2009 Bordeaux Sec        Lively citrus fruit, crisp juicy and balanced.

2008     A big, soft wine showing a lot of oak: toasty pineapple.

Old wine

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I had half an ear on the radio this afternoon. Oz Clarke was interviewed on BBC Radio Newcastle (he has a new TV series on the box at Christmas). The final question was (roughly speaking), What’s the oldest  wine you’ve ever tasted – and what was it like?”  What is it about old wine that fascinates so many people?

The majority of wine is meant to be drunk as soon as it hits the supermarket shelf, and it won’t get any better if left under the stairs for a year or two. Most of it will only become less fruity and less attractive. But now and then an older bottle does come my way and I too can’t help but jump at the chance to try it, even though, I know, as Oz pointed out, that it may well be distinctly vinegary.

A bottle of Cinzano Rosso donated to the local church Christmas Fair this Saturday was over twenty years old – it carried a competition linked to the 1986 World Cup (!). I took it off the stall and discovered that it was, as I might have expected, way past its best. It was just good enough still to be added to the mulled wine – to give it more sherry-like ‘complexity’ – or so I pretended.

The same evening I opened a bottle of Croque Michotte 1959 given to me by Pierre Carle, who now manages this superb St Emilion estate.  It was from the private cellar store at the chateau. A deep tawny, after decanting it took at least half an hour for the bouquet to open out and to shed a faintly volatile (i.e. almost vinegary) edge,  but to my surprise and delight,   an  underlying sweet, figgy fruit gradually took over. It had a rather dry finish, but was otherwise rich, and sweetly ripe, with more than a ghost of ripe berry fruit. It was an old, fragile wine for sure, but one that was a rewarding and fascinating experience, and still quite flavoury enough to be a thoroughly enjoyable partner for braised pigeon.

I guess the real fascination of old wine is to imagine all hat has happened since it was made – and if it tastes nice too, that’s a bonus.