Perfect bunch of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Lascombes - October 2015
After a rather cold and rainy winter + rainy and rather cold spring, good weather came in May and assured almost perfect flowering, which finished at the beginning of June, copious, zero diseases, and an ideal climate. Only old Merlot had some minor problems. July was hot and almost dry, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius. Bordeaux needed some substantial amount of rain after that heatwave. Some rain fell during the end of July, app. 16 mm. On the 8th of August, Saint Emilion got 26 mm, and several mm of rain came on the 12th of August. This was very welcomed by vines.
Perfect flowering at Smith Haut Lafitte, as seen on the 13th of June, 2015
By the end of August, the harvest of "white" had been ongoing for at least one week, and many growers had finished harvesting their Sauvignon Blanc. This was different for Domaine de Chevalier, who finished harvesting Sauvignon Blanc the week after (beginning of September). The quality of white dry Bordeaux is staggering, with concentrated and very aromatic grapes and surprisingly much acidity; however, at a lower level than in 2014.
For precisely a month (12th August to 12th September), Bordeaux enjoyed perfect sunny and warm weather, which made the 2015 vintage look like a million dollars! Some rain, but not excessively much fell during the weekend of 11-13th September and through the next four days, mainly in Pauillac and Saint-Estephe (around 80-100 mm), half of it in Graves/Pessac Leognac and significantly less on Right Bank. Afterward came beautiful weather lasting until 2nd October!
I arrived at Bordeaux on the 28th of September; beautiful weather, sunny, blue skies, no wind, 25 degrees C, everything was looking perfect, excellent weather forecast until Saturday, at Ch. Seguin in Canejan, small CS grapes, 14 percent alcohol in Merlot, and sweet tannins. It was looking more and more like a blend of 2005 and 2009. The trend continues - 1945-55-75-85-95-2005 and now 2015; another trend is 2000-2005-2010 and 2015. Paradise!
Sunny weather until yesterday evening (2nd October), a light thunderstorm this morning (3rd October), and quite some rain since during the weekend (2-3-4th October). Rain fell mainly in Bordeaux and on Left Bank. Indifferent weather followed with rainy spells on the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th October. I left Bordeaux on the 7th of October.
The quality of grapes was astonishing all over the place. On Right Bank and especially in Saint-Emilion, they'd finished harvesting their Merlot and Cabernet Franc at the beginning of October, and the weather was perfect. On Left Bank, most properties were done with the harvest of their Cabernet Franc/Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Many properties there have safely brought in their Merlot. Good weather was predicted to last until mid-October, sunny, not that warm during the day, and cold nights.
Perfect Cabernet Franc grapes at Chateau Lafleur
All grape varieties provided small and concentrated grapes with thick skins, brown shoots (arms of vines on where grapes are growing), and brown seeds, which told us vineyards were in perfect balance with perfect maturity. Merlot won't reach the same alcohol levels as in 2009 and 2010, but in some places, Cabernet Franc surpassed 12% potential alcohol and Petit Verdot 14% potential alcohol. Tannin won't be as fat and concentrated as in 2010. We will know more in January 2016 after malolactic fermentation is over, but it is already evident that 2015 will be a great vintage, surpassing 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.
For the moment, Right Bank looks like a winner, and it remains to be seen how rain did affect harvest on Left Bank in mid-September and the beginning of October. I guess 2015 is agonizingly close to the 2005 vintage with some characteristics of the 2010 and 2009 vintage. Sweetness of 2009, concentration of 2010, and tannins of 2005.
Please notice the brown color of stalks in this Cabernet Sauvignon bunch - perfectly ripe. Chateau Beychevelle
Some info from Francois Mitjavile (Tertre Roteboeuf and Roc de Cambes) - "Just to say a lot of great growths harvested in first weeks of October…Even Ausone, generally harvesting early, had not yet harvested on the 5th of October!! Same for Troplong Mondot, La Mondotte, and so on…Figeac has not yet finished today its Merlots! Close to 2005 with some characteristics 2010-2009, yes it seems, but…let’s see, such a surprising vintage I don’t understand now....."
Funny to understand, as everybody in Bordeaux predicted early harvest. This vintage will be one of a kind and will further surprise us. For the record, TR's harvest was over last Saturday, and Roc de Cambes' yesterday. Ausone finished harvest on 15th October, and Angelus one day before. Both were harvested during one month, as did several properties on the Left Bank!! Valandraud will finish their Cabernet Sauvignon on Monday or Tuesday (19th or 20th October). A real "vendange tardive"!
One of these long-harvesting Left Bankers is Domaine Chevalier, and Olivier Bernard told me when I talked to him on the 15th of October - "We were not in a hurry, and we had time to wait for perfect ripeness of our red grape varieties. We expected some rain during harvest and got it, but it did not damage the vineyard, nor was it influential in disturbing the final harvest days. This one-month-long harvest made tannins extremely fine-grained, and cool nights assured grapes keeping aromas inside. 2015 vintage looks just wonderful, it's too early to say now what we have in our hands, but if I had to compare to another vintage with the same characteristics, I would say 2005."
Whites are stunning, probably less concentrated than in 2014, and have less acidity than in 2014. Sweet white harvest is still ongoing, but what they have in their cellars looks extremely promising! All properties in Sauternes & Barsac should have finished harvesting by the end of October. I received an email from Jean-Pierre Meslier on the 22nd of October in which he wrote - "We finished the picking this very morning with cloudy sky but no rain. A total of 4 pickings. We can confirm that 2015 will be an excellent vintage at Raymond-Lafon and everywhere in Bordeaux. Good sugar levels, great fruit, no fruit flies, tiny sour grapes indeed discarded. Great conditions to make another outstanding vintage. It is too early to say it will resemble 2009 or 2005 or 2011 or even 2001".
Last news - several winemakers from Left Bank properties have recently admitted that rains in September/October didn't affect grapes, leaving even better hopes for final products. It also seems there will be classic and exotic wines in 2015, especially on Left Bank, depending on when properties harvest and how wines were vinified. Nevertheless, it'll surely be an exciting primeur week in April 2016.
Updated the 16th December 2015
VISITS (28th September to 6th October)
Monday the 28th of September
Morning look at Seguin's vineyard
The first visit was to Seguin in Canejan, a little town situated approximately 11.5 km from Bordeaux and which borders famous communes in the outskirts of Bordeaux town, Pessac & Leognan. Seguin is one of only two wine properties existing in Canejan. Seguin has several parcels around the city. They were not harvesting on the day of my visit; they started with young Merlot a few days before but planned to harvest "old" Merlot by the end of the week and then Cabernet Sauvignon if ripe. I "visited" two vineyards of Seguin, small sweet grapes on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and many grapes. 2015 is a vintage that looks just extremely fabulous here.
I tasted 2014 (barrel sample), 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2005 of Seguin, the 2012 organic version of Seguin (Cuvée de La house), and 2010 luxury cuvée of Seguin, Confidence(s) de Seguin:
2014 Seguin - impressive nose of violets and black cherries/blueberries, splendid acidity, excellent structure, fine complexity, balance, and long finish. Excellent effort for the vintage. 93+p.
2012 Seguin - aromatic, very fruity, very well-balanced, velvety texture. Good! 91+p.
2011 Seguin - succulent, violets, fleshy, crisp fruit, great acidity, depth and length. Fine wine work. 92+p.
2010 Seguin - fat fruit and tannin with perfect ripeness, rich, big structure, exquisite balance, and long, long finish. Best Seguin ever made. 95p.
2005 Seguin - not made by the present winemaker, but it doesn't matter. This wine is just a beauty with an excellent aromatic nose of dark cherries and blueberries, stunning complexity, and length. 94p.
2012 Seguin Cuvée de la House - not distributed commercially. Similar to normal cuvée, slightly fresher and fruitier than normal cuvée. 91+p.
2010 Confidence(s) de Seguin - edges normal cuvée with more concentration and depth. Exceptional stuff. 95+p.
After Seguin finished the harvest in mid-October, I got a message from the owner, Denis Darriet, that he expected the 2015 vintage at Seguin to be a mix of 2009 and 2010. I'll check this "forecast" in March/April next year.
Tuesday the 29th of September
This day started with a tasting of 2005 vintage at Chateau Haut Brion, but before it, my host, Turid Alcaras (see above), and I went to the vineyard in the front of Haut Brion to see the harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes looked beautiful, were in excellent shape, and tasted sweet and concentrated. Astonishing quality. Afterward, we went to see the sorting table and optical sorting machine at work. Great sightseeing! The use of an optical sorting machine was very widespread all-over Bordeaux during the 2015 harvest.
Tasting of 2005s started with the second wine of La Mission, 2005 La Chapelle de LMHB - dusty cherry flavors on the nose, fine ripe tannin, fine acidity, and bite on palate, well-balanced, and fleshy finish. Splendid for the vintage. 90p. Then the second wine of Haut Brion, 2005 Bahans de HB - similar to La Chapelle with more grip, concentration, and depth. 91p.
2005 La Tour Haut Brion - very well-knitted wine with fine midpalate and acidity, well-balanced with tasty cherry fruit and a long sweet finish. 91+p.
2005 La Mission had chosen to show its tannic "face" this particular day, but also the exquisite complexity, depth, and sophisticated touch. In a deep sleep. 98+p.
2005 Haut Brion welcomed me with open arms, showing powerhouse approach, fatness, thick flavors, stunning depth, was crammed with perfectly ripe fruit and tannin, and showing fantastic structure and finish. 99-100p.
2005 Les Plantiers de Haut Brion's second white wine made from an LMHB and HB "leftovers" blend had fine acidity, acacia flower, apple, gooseberry, and lemongrass flavors. Soft and mellow finish. 88p.
2005 Laville Haut Brion (72% Semillon + 28% Sauvignon Blanc) displayed a great classy nose of acacia flower and lemongrass, splendid acidity and depth, great complexity, balance, structure, and length. Impressive effort. 96p.
2005 Haut Brion white (52% Sauvignon Blanc + 48% Semillon) was as impressive as Laville Haut Brion. The only thing that put Haut Brion in front of Laville was more intense, bigger acidity, and longer finish. 97p.
2005 vintage has been incredibly successful here, and we sincerely hope 2015 will follow in 10 years older brother/sister's footsteps.
Les Carmes Haut Brion
The new cellar at Les Carmes Haut Brion (Copyright: Philippe Labeguerie)
I was picked up at Haut Brion by Stephanie Libreau, public relations responsible at Les Carmes Haut Brion, with whom I arranged the visit. In contrast, she visited Copenhagen at the beginning of September this year with negociant Beyerman to present the 2014 vintage. I knew her from Troplong Mondot, where she worked before moving to Ulysse Cazabonne in Margaux and arriving at LCHB in October 2013. After a few minutes' drive, we arrived at LCHB. My first visit here.
This property is situated inside the Bordeaux city limits, even closer than Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. After several purchases of vineyards, there are now around 29 hectares of vineyards with 35 years old vines planted with 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Les Carmes Haut Brion changed hands in 2010. The surroundings are beautiful, with a lake, a large park, and an old bridge.
, The new owner hired two famous French architects to design a new cellar Copyright Giorgio Bocoshvili)
It looks like a ship lying upside down, in black color. It changes color when the sun is shining directly on it. For the 2015 vintage, Les Carmes will use different vats for each grape variety: concrete for CS, stainless steel for Merlot, and a wooden one for Cabernet Franc. All these three types of vats are, of course, equipped with thermoregulation. According to the demands of future vintages, the choice of vats for a given grape variety can be changed. Parcels are vinified separately. The entire work at the property wasn't yet finished when I visited it, but the new cellar was 100% functional.
The present manager/director of Les Carmes Haut Brion, Guillaume Pouthier, who arrived from the same position at a famous producer in Rhone, Chapoutier, in 2012, has introduced a particular technique that winemakers frequently use in Rhone. Instead of putting already sorted grapes in vats, whole bunches are placed there before fermentation and maceration. It should give more freshness, flavors, and aromas to the wine. This technique was introduced first time at Les Carmes in 2012 vintage. This property has never before made hugely concentrated wines, merely elegant and graceful ones.
Stephanie Libreau and Guillaume Pouthier
I was treated to a vertical tasting of Les Carmes - vintages 2012, 2010, 2007, and 2005.
2012 (40% M, 40% CF, and 20% CS) was impressive for the vintage, very aromatic with Cabernet Franc shining through, silky and smooth, complex, graceful, and with excellent balance. I gave it 91p for a barrel sample in 2013, but now it's in the bottle and even better! What a transformation - a new technique responsible! 93p.
2010 (55% M, 30% CF, and 15% CS) couldn't hide all the superlatives this vintage deserves. Happily, for previous staff at Les Carmes, they knew exactly what they were doing. A beautiful wine crammed with perfectly ripe fruit and ripe fat tannin, excellently constructed with great complexity, grace, and depth. Exquisite balance. As many other 2010s did, this wine improved dramatically after a stay in the barrel and when in the bottle. As in 2005, elegance is well-present here. 94+p.
2007 (55% M, 30% CF, and 15% CS) expressed softness, spiciness, nice acidity, smoky fruit, and light structure. Quite mature already and ready for consumption. 87p.
2005 (50% M, 35% CF, and 15% CS) confirmed all the great things about this vintage. I regard this vintage as one of the very best since 1961! Enchanting aroma of blueberries, perfectly ripe fruit, finely grained tannin, excellent acidity, depth, balance, and long caressing aftertaste. More emphasis here on elegance than on concentration. No sign of advanced aging here! Heartbreaker wine of great caliber. 94p.
Les Carmes Haut Brion started the 2015 harvest on 21st September and finished on 8th October. They expect an excellent vintage based on extremely high-quality harvested grapes and will likely come up with something extraordinary.
Short but exciting visit!
I met Todeschini Karl a few years ago when visiting Tertre Roteboeuf, and he invited me to come and see this estate. I went there in April this year with my Croatian wine journalist friend, Niko Dukan, but he got lost on the road, and we arrived late, and we needed more time to do a proper visit.
However, I had plenty of time while visiting Bordeaux during harvest 2015 in September/October, so after Les Carmes Haut Brion, I took a train to Libourne and then a taxi to Mangot.
This property is situated in the commune of Saint-Etienne- de-Lisse, about 5 km drive from St.Emilion. Mangot is 34 ha of vines divided into 21 parcels lying between 45 and 89 meters above sea level, situated on a plateau, foot of the hill, on hillsides, and top of the mountain. The soil here is different clay-limestone combinations. Michel Rolland, a famous consultant of wines worldwide, says that the soil of Mangot is of PGCC quality. The Todeschini family also owns Chateau La Brande in Castillon, Cotes de Bordeaux.
The view from the Mangot building toward the vineyards and from the hills toward Mangot is simply priceless and stunningly beautiful.
Mangot is made in three versions, standard version, Quintessence, and Todeschini. The regular version is made from 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; vines are 37 years old, and wine is aged in 40% new oak for 13-15 months. Quintessence is made from 4 ha old vines (60+ years old), 100% Merlot growing on clay/limestone soil with a rock bed. Half of the grapes undergo breaking the cap (pigeage) in the vat, the remaining half is vinified in a barrel, malolactic fermentation is in 100% new barrels, and the wine matures there for 14 months. Todeschini is made from three grape varieties growing on four blocks, 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot, all vinification is performed in 100% new barrels, and the wine stays in a barrel for 16 to 18 months.
Todeschini Karl was kind to open bottles with 2010 and 2005 vintages of family wines.
2010 La Brande (75% Merlot) was strong with earthy flavors, ripe fruit, and tannin, a firm aftertaste. It needs time to soften, but it will be a nice wine in 5 years. 88-89p.
2010 Mangot had a powerful nose of blueberries, quite some fat fruit and tannin on the palate, fine concentration and depth, and a long finish. Splendid future here, but this wine needs time to soften. 91p.
2010 Mangot Quintessence (95% Merlot + 5% C.Franc) displayed more depth, purity, and longer finish than Mangot, with more softness and precision. They polished fruit and tannin. Complete wine here worth a rating of 92-93p.
2010 Mangot Todeschini was strong and concentrated, fat and creamy, but also very tannic (ripe tannins!). Excellent future, but this wine needs to soften. 93+p.
2005 La Brande displayed spicy flavors, slightly warm fruit, and nice tannin. Good fruity finish. 86p.
2005 Mangot was strong and truffy, concentrated, and with a long finish. 90p.
2005 Mangot Quintessence reminded many of its 2010 sibling with this fat, creamy fruit and tannin, complexity, great balance, and long creamy finish. 92p.
The day I visited Mangot, they didn't harvest; the next day, they did and continued until 20th October. Todeschinis have great hopes for the 2015 vintage. It was a great visit to a lower-class property with some clever and talented brother winemakers trying to improve their wine as soon as possible. I look forward to tasting their accomplishments in the 2015 vintage.
Wednesday, the 30th of September
It turned out to be a long day with many visits. I had an appointment early morning at a wine shop in Saint-Emilion, L' Essentiel, below Jean-Luc Thunevin's offices. Still, before that, I went from Saint-Emilion train station to Chateau Pavie to collect three small jars of honey, acacia, early flowers, and late flowers. 2015 is the first vintage of love at Pavie, and as a honey fan, I can say these three types of honey tasted great! It was quiet at Pavie, and the manager, Henrique Da Costa, told me they hadn't started harvest yet, waited for grapes to be perfectly ripe, and expected great things.
At L'Essentiel, I tasted a range of wines in the 2014 vintage, produced and consulted by Jean-Luc Thunevin plus Valandraud in 2009, 2008, and 1998 vintages. Besides white grapes already harvested and young Merlot, I was told that harvest hadn't started yet at Murielle and Jean-Luc's properties.
2014 Domaine Virginie de Thunevin, St.Emilion - round with freshness, fruity and attractive wine, good acidity, balance, and a nice finish. 88p.
2014 Bad Boy, Bordeaux - tasty, ripe fruit, nicely knitted, charming, and attractive. 88p.
2014 3 de Valandraud - meatier than Bad Boy, more fruit intense, tannic, and longer finish. 88+p.
2014 Domaine des Sabines, Lalande de Pomerol - fleshy, ripe spicy fruit, perfect structure, and length. 88-89p.
2014 Le Clos de Beau Pere, Pomerol - powerful, fleshy fruit and tannin, good backbone, perfect future. 89-90p.
2014 Clos Badon (organic), St.Emilion - sappy and juicy, splendid acidity, strong backbone, quite complex with splendid length. Fleshy finish. 90p.
2014 Virginie de Valandraud, St.Emilion - aromatic cherries, silky fruit and tannin, nice structure, fine complexity, and fruity aftertaste. Nice wine for the vintage. 90-91p.
2014 Valandraud, St.Emilion - great nose and palate, excellent acidity and complexity, fabulous structure and depth. This is just so impressive wine! 95p.
1998 Valandraud, St.Emilion - attractive sweetness, very aromatic, elegant, and well-balanced, on the light side but very seductive with silky fruit and tannin. At its apogee now and a joy to drink. 93p.
2008 Valandraud, St.Emilion - crammed with ripe fruit and ripe tannin, great complexity, excellent balance, and finish. Very, very classic wine for the district! 94p.
2009 Valandraud, St.Emilion - smoky, tight, powerful, meaty, and long on the palate, with great depth and structure. It has yet to reach its apogee. 95p.
2014 Virginie de Valandraud white - excellent acidity, aromatic with acacia flower and lemon/lemongrass, fine structure, and mellow aftertaste. 89p.
2014 Valandraud white - more intense, tighter, and with more depth and length than Virginie. 91p.
"Welcome to my world", says Francois Mitjavile
Visiting this property is always one of the highlights of my trip. You won't find a winemaker like him and the wines he makes in Bordeaux. They are of astonishing quality and incredibly distinctive. Francois Mitjavile told me that neither Tertre Roteboeuf nor Roc de Cambes was ready to be harvested, as grapes needed more time to ripe inside and outside. Slow maturation indeed. At Tertre Roteboeuf, harvest finished on 10th October. He also told me that he'd had difficulty understanding this vintage's weather influence on long harvesting time. He's never experienced vintage like that but was never in doubt that he'd have magnificent grapes in the cellar.
He treated me to both 2014, 2011, and 2010 wine vintages.
2014 Tertre Roteboeuf - beautifully scented nose and palate filled with aromatic cherries and blueberries, sublime wine with fabulous structure, depth, and balance. Sophisticated and riveting. Awesome stuff! 96p.
2014 Roc de Cambes - more acidity, more tannin here, fleshy and strong. Great potential, but this wine needs time to soften. 91-92p.
2011 Tertre Roteboeuf - impressive stuff, sublime wine with great complexity, style, and length. 95+p.
2011 Roc de Cambes - Extremely aromatic, black cherries everywhere, grilled flavors, perfect balance, mineral, sappy, persistent, and meaty aftertaste. Impressive effort. 92p.
2010 Roc de Cambes - crammed to the edge with fruit, fat tannin, and strong structure. Everything was in great balance. A fantastic wine with incredible aromatic touch and complexity. Surely the best RdC I've ever experienced here. You could cut this wine into "slices"! 94p.
2010 Tertre Roteboeuf - imho one of the best wines of the vintage and for sure the best vintage ever produced by Francois Mitjavile. Already a legend, fantastic with an unforgettable finish. 100p.
After this extraordinary visit, I went for lunch at a recommended restaurant in St.Emilion, Logis de La Cadene. I had a company of two guys from California, Andy Katz (father) and Jesse Katz (son), who I met at Tertre Roteboeuf. Andy is a well-known photographer, and Jesse makes wine at Devil Proof Vineyard in Alexander Valley.
Soup made from cèpes served at Logis de la Cadene
Great location of this restaurant, well-prepared food, elegant and tasty dishes. Next time I'll have dinner at this place. De Bouard family from Angelus now owns Logis de La Cadene.
After lunch, I quickly visited this property, approximately 1 kilometer from St.Emilion town, to see the harvest there. Grapes looked beautiful, small, thick-skinned, and very sweet. Jean-Philippe Janoueix was extremely happy with the quality of the grapes and compared the 2015 vintage to 2009. I'm sure he'll come up with something extraordinary.
Jean-Philippe Janoueix sorting La Confession's "black caviar"!
It was quite some time ago I did visit this PGCC property, so I was ready and fresh for an update. On my way to Clos Fourtet from La Confession, I met Michel Rolland, who is a consultant for three other properties owned by the Cuvelier family since March 2013, Les Grandes Murailles, Cote de Baleau and Clos St. Martin, close neighbors to Clos Fourtet. I couldn't resist asking him about his view on the 2015 vintage - he told me it seemed to be a cross between 2005, 2009, and 2010.
Clos Fourtet did harvesting this particular day, so everyone was busy. Matthieu Cuvelier, who is in charge of Clos Fourtet and Poujeaux in Moulis as well, prepared a little vertical for me, Clos Fourtet in vintages 2014-2012-2010-2005 and Poujeaux in vintages 2014, 2012 and 2010.
2014 Poujeaux - powerful, chewy, and meaty, with remarkable acidity, depth, and balance. Well made. 90p.
2012 Poujeaux - vegetal, earthy, spicy flavors, nice concentration, fine acidity, and presentable length. Good for the vintage. 88p.
2010 Poujeaux - as expected, a lot of perfectly ripe and concentrated fruit and tannin, great depth and complexity, finishing fruity and caressing. 92p.
2014 Clos Fourtet - elegant and aromatic nose of flowers, excellent acidity, depth, and length, classy and well-knitted. 93+p. This is a major improvement compared to the barrel sample that tasted six months ago.
2012 Clos Fourtet - fruity, soft, round, and tasty, fine ripeness of fruit and tannin, mellow and fruity finish. 91p.
2010 Clos Fourtet - excellent ripeness, fat fleshy fruit and tannin, big concentration, and strong structure. Killer wine. 95+p.
2005 Clos Fourtet (magnum) - similar to 2010, but tannins are a bit different, more delicate, and silkier. 95p.
Poujeaux is excellent value for money, and Clos Fourtet is made semi-modernly. The high quality of the latter is indisputable.
Then I came over to nearby Corbin, and I expected Anabelle Cruse Bardinet (see picture below) to be harvesting this particular day, but she wasn't. She told me that all the staff, including her, took a well-deserved break from harvest. She confirmed what many other proprietors said - the 2015 vintage will be great at Corbin, no doubt about it!
I arrived during a busy time there, but they didn't harvest this particular day. Soon I had a short meeting with Cheval Blanc's technical director, Pierre Olivier Clouet, who's just finished tasting samples from different vats/parcels (mainly Cabernet Franc) with the staff. He kindly allowed me to taste these samples (see picture above) and increase my wine knowledge again. It was quite an experience, and parcels with old Cabernet Franc vines tasted tremendous. Pierre Olivier Clouet was extremely satisfied with the quality of grapes in 2015. He expected an exceptional vintage but didn't want to reveal which other great vintage he compared it to.
Then I tasted vintages of 2006 and 2008 of Cheval Blanc, Pierre Olivier Clouet didn't make the first one, and the latter was his responsibility.
2006 - 60% Merlot + 40% Cabernet Franc. Strong, tannic, and truffy, a bit dry tannin. Not up to the promises the barrel sample offered; it seems a bit lean. I agree 100% with Neal Martin's recent comment on this wine. 92p.
2008 - 56% Cabernet Franc + 44% Merlot. Cabernet Franc reached perfect maturity in this vintage, and it shows. Plenty of perfectly ripe fruit, silky ripe tannins, pure elegance, finesse, and sophisticated touch, all combined with excellent balance and a long smooth finish. Simply excellent stuff. 96p.
I arrived at this little property or merely garden with vines, and to my big surprise, I was told that harvest took place more than two weeks ago. Henri-Bruno de Coincy and the staff were afraid of damage by rain. Still, maybe they took a hasty decision because in 2015, there was absolutely time to wait, according to other winemakers I talked to, and vines weren't that sensitive to rain. We will undoubtedly see during primeur if this decision has backfired.
2014 Belle Brise, which tasted light and watery in April this year (the weather was cold and rainy on the day of tasting), showed a great deal better this September. Truffy on the nose with this special flavor of crasse de fer, very stylish and sophisticated, silky fruit and tannin. Simply delicious wine. 93-94p.
Thursday, the 1st of October
When I arrived, I noticed no harvest activity at the property but much activity in the cellar (pumping over). Looking at the relatively old cement vats, I'd like to know if Frederique Vayron, the winemaker, has considered investing in 1-2 stainless steel vats to try vinification in these separate parcels.
Frederique Vayron, Dominique Vayron and Bourgneuf's oenologist
After a short visit to a parcel of old Cabernet Franc close to Trotanoy (grapes looked just fantastic) with Dominique Vayron, Frederique Vayron, and their oenologist, I tasted vintages 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2005.
2013 - very little to be excited about. Light, charming, round, and short on the palate. It seems that staying in barrels didn't improve this wine. 87p.
2012 - much better than 2013. It gained a lot from staying in the barrel. Seductive and aromatic, fine ripeness, silky fruit, and tannin, fruity finish. 91-92p.
2011 - tasted tighter and longer than 2012, had better acidity and more depth. 92-93p.
2010 - fatter in fruit and tannin than 2011; ripeness here is perfect, with great depth and bigger complexity. This wine's left the "baby fat" stage and is moving in a more rustic direction, showing more and more soil character. Still, this vintage is the best made by Frederique Vayron during her reign. 95p.
2005 - made by Frederique's father, Xavier. Very reminiscent of 2010 and clear proof that this vintage's made itself. According to many winemakers, this vintage was effortless to make and didn't need much intervention. Still, it's great work by Xavier Vayron. 94p.
I managed to arrange a meeting with Jacques Thienpont, a cult winemaker I met first time in September 1985. 30 years ago! Time goes quickly! As he was busy with some important meeting, but there was time to talk and taste afterward, I borrowed a bicycle from him and went for a short drive lasting app. 10 minutes to Lafleur. After half an hour, I was back.
In 2015, Jacques didn't harvest all in one day; he went through the vineyard three times in the space of a week(s). He told me that grapes were just magnificent. It'll be interesting to taste what he accomplished during primeur next year.
Jacques was very kind to open half bottles of 2011 and 1990 for me.
2011 - kinky wine with a silky texture, great complexity, seductive sweetness, exquisite balance, fabulous depth, and creamy finish. Impressive. 95-96p.
1990 - Jacques wasn't satisfied with this bottle; he told me he had better ones. "Our" bottle had remarkable sweetness, signs of advanced age, spicy flavors, and excellent balance. Fine aftertaste. 93-94p
Very short "sightseeing" as I had to come back to Le Pin. Harvest at Lafleur was happening at full speed. They were harvesting Cabernet Franc, and grapes looked and tasted just astonishing. Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau, their vineyard chef and cellarmaster, were big smiles! (see down left).
From the left, Sylvie Guinaudeau, Jacques Guinaudeau, and Omri Ram (vineyard's manager)
My contribution to Lafleur 2015!
Certan de May
This property already had 2015 grapes in its cellars. Jean-Luc Barreau presented the following vintages for me 2014-2012-2011-2010.
2014 - powerful wine with remarkable acidity, tannic, broad, and excellent potential. 91+p.
2012 - fresh and aromatic with some sweetness, fine grip, and structure, finishes fleshy and fruity. 91p.
2011 - muscular, ripe to the edge, splendid acidity and grip, Firm meaty aftertaste. 91+p.
2010 - Sappy and powerful, tight and complex, concentrated. A bit of rustic style. 92p.
Domaine de Chevalier
I went there in the evening. Funny enough, they didn't harvest either at D.d.Chevalier this day. As Olivier Bernard later told me, there was no hurry for him to pick grapes; he could wait for optimal harvesting conditions.
The tasting started with a line-up of Clos des Lunes wines. Clos des Lunes is situated between two communes in Sauternes & Barsac district, Sauternes and Bommes, and covers the app. 55 ha vineyard planted with 35 years old vines of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc. Olivier Bernard became interested in this vineyard some years ago after realizing how excellent Semillon was growing there and that he could produce high-quality white wines, different than his own D.d.Chevalier white. The first vintage at Clos des Lunes was in 2012.
Clos des Lunes is made in three versions; Lune Blanche, which is the dryest, to enjoy young with its fruitiness and freshness; it's matured in small vats for 6-7 months. Next is Lune d'Argent, treated with 6-7 months in 25% oak and 75% small vats; it's more sweetness. The third version is Lune d'Or, which is kept in barrels for 15 months and has more depth, vibrancy, sweetness, and purity than Lune Blanche and Lune d'Argent.
2014 Clos des Lunes Lune Blanche - aromatic with nice acidity, green apple, and acacia flower. 88p.
2014 Clos des Lunes Lune d'Argent - more complex, intense and with better structure than Lune Blanche. 89p.
2013 Clos des Lunes Lune d'Or - on the line with Lune d'Argent 2014, maybe less intense. 89p.
2012 Domaine de La Solitude white - 52% Sauvignon Blanc + 48% Semillon. Splendid acidity and depth, fresh, aromatic, green apple and acacia. 88p.
2013 Lespault Martillac white - 70% Sauvignon Blanc + 30% Semillon. Powerful, fresh, lot of acacia flower and green apple, splendid acidity and long finish. 91p.
2012 L'Esprit de Chevalier white - similar to 2013 Lespault Martillac with less concentration and length. 90p.
2012 Domaine de Chevalier white - pure joy, sophisticated, Fine aromatic nose of apple and acacia, lush palate with excellent acidity, fine balance, smooth aftertaste. Great complexity and sophisticated touch. Stunning wine for the vintage. 94-95p.
After tasting, we went "sightseeing" in the cellar, where we tasted fresh 2015 juice in both colors, astonishing 2014 white Chevalier (97p) and excellent 2014 red Chevalier (94p), and stopped to look at one single barrel of grapes from 200 years old vine growing at Place de la Victoire (see picture at the end of this article).
Dinner wines at Domaine de Chevalier
Olivier Bernard always serves wines for dinner with vintage; the last digit is the same as the present year one. So we were treated to wines with digit 5 ending the vintage. After being welcomed with excellent champagne, we poured two whites into our glasses, 1975 “Carte d’Or” from Veuve Clicquot in magnum. I quickly guessed it was Burgundy Chardonnay on the left and white Bordeaux on the right. It was correct! Knowing that both wines had five as the last digit in the vintage and neither too young nor too old flavors, I concluded that both were in 1985. It was correct too! Olivier Bernard revealed that on the left, it was Puligny Montrachet Village from Leflaive, and Domaine de Chevalier on the right. Both fresh and tasty, with Domaine de Chevalier being better with its incredible complexity and refinement. PM 92p and DdCh 95p.
So on to red wines; first was a great bottle of wine with truffles, remarkable elegance, and finesse, well-balanced and pleasing length. There were different guesses, but all were wrong, and when Olivier Bernard revealed that this wine was Cos d'Estournel 1925, we were amazed. 93p. The second one was 1955 Grand Puy Lacoste, with an aromatic and truffy nose, but it had gas like champagne or unfinished fermentation on the palate. It was not rated.
Then a trio of wines, which we all quickly detected as 1975s. We had Leoville Lascases, Domaine de Chevalier and Cos d'Estournel. 1975 vintage hasn't a great reputation on Left Bank; many wines are too heavy and dry. However, I was pretty pleased by the performance of all three wines - I could feel the same soil flavors in 1975 Cos d'Estournel as in the 1925 version added graphite and fine concentration. 88p. 1975 Domaine de Chevalier had fine fruit and tannin, remarkable complexity and length. 89p. 1975 Leoville Lascases also had a powerful structure and a graphite scent on the nose. 88p.
We rounded off with two sweet wines, which didn't need much guessing concerning vintage (also 1975), but it was challenging with the property's name. The first one was fresher, had better sweetness and balance, more acidity, and a longer finish. It turned out to be 1975 Guiraud (94p). The second one had a heavier style, sweeter, and was clumsy. It turned out to be 1975 Gilette Creme de Tete (92p). I know this property very well, and it has a unique way of keeping wine in small concrete vats for 20+ years before release.
Friday the 2nd of October
Jean-Pierre Meslier, who welcomed me, told me that also here at Raymond Lafon, harvesting wasn't happening as they waited for further botrytis attacks (see picture below).
Jean-Pierre Meslier, who welcomed me, told me that also here at R.L., harvesting wasn't happening as they waited for further botrytis attacks (see the picture above).
Anyway, there were some nice lots already in the cellars. As usual, he prepared a little vertical for me.
2014 - striking acidity and sweetness, botrytised flavors of peach, oranges, mango, citrus fruits, vibrant and refined, great complexity and structure, long honeyed finish. 95p.
2013 - pineapple, high acidity, pear and mango, sophisticated, great balance and depth, creamy aftertaste. 94+p.
2009 - walnuts, almonds, and grapefruit, great acidity, rich, complex, and excellent length. Refined and sophisticated. Exceptional wine. 96p.
2010 - vast quantities of pineapple and grapefruit aromas, sophisticated and rich, exquisite balance. Utterly impressive. 96+p.
2011 - almonds, candied oranges/orange peel, apricot, grapefruit, intense, great complexity and length. This fine is something! 95p.
Neither at this property could I notice any harvest activity; Nicolas Heeter-Tari and I inspected the vineyard/vines, and everything looked great.
This time I asked Nicolas to let me taste vintages with an odd number as the last digit.
2013 - only bottled in the middle of September, slightly disturbed, not easy to taste. 92+p?
2011 - this wine offered a wide range of botrytised flavors like almonds, candied mandarines, grapefruit, lemon peel, pineapple, and pear, distinguished and long on the palate with great sweetness, acidity, and graceful aftertaste. Silky texture. Extremely impressive wine. 94+p.
2009 - very aromatic, sweet pineapple, apricot, honey melon, excellent acidity support to intense and luscious fruit, long and honeyed aftertaste, great complexity and style. Sophisticated and refined. Better than 2011. 95+p.
2007 - this wine showed a big nose of candied oranges, orange peel, and pineapple. Full-bodied, great depth on the palate, splendid acidity, and great balance. Rich and refined. Fabulous stuff. 96p.
2003 - wonderful sweetness and great acidity. Many criticized the lack of acidity in this vintage and not supporting enough sweetness. They have been wrong, as this wine proves the exact opposite. Candied mandarines and heather honey. Extravagant fireworks of flavors. Long lingering aftertaste. Simply the perfect wine. 97+p.
2001 - while the 2003 vintage isn't considered a classic vintage in Sauternes & Barsac, this vintage is exactly the one and a big milestone in the district's history. Stunning acidity, stunning richness, elegance, perfect balance, and richness. Sophisticated and refined. Heavenly stuff! 98p.
I'd an appointment with Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu (see picture below), son of famous oenologist and white wine expert Denis Dubordieu. Before tasting wines, we had a little vineyard tour, and I saw old buildings bordering Doisy Daëne. Jean-Jacques told me that these were Doisy Dubrocas's ones. Denis Dubordieu acquired all of Doisy Dubroca in 2014 from Lucien Lurton, father of Berenice Lurton from Chateau Climens. In 2012, all vines were pulled up, as no one from the Lurton family wished to be responsible for making wine at Doisy Dubroca. Denis Dubordieu will plant new vines next year and renovate the whole property with a storage building and new offices.
While walking around, I saw a big hole in the wall (see below) separating Doisy Daëne and Doisy Dubroca, and I asked Jean-Jacques where it came from. He told me that his grandfather Pierre waited so long to reunite both properties, so when the purchase was confirmed, he took a hammer and made this hole in the wall!
Afterward, there was time to taste some vintages of Doisy Daëne and its luxury cuvée, L'Extravagant. While tasting, Jean-Jacques told me that the quality of whites (Reynon and Clos Floridene), reds, and sweets in 2015 was staggering.
2012 Doisy Daëne - 90% Semillon + 10% Sauvignon. Elegant, acacia honey on the nose and palate, candied oranges, orange peel, splendid acidity, and depth. Very reliable wine. 91p.
2010 Doisy Daëne - 89% Semillon + 11% Sauvignon. More concentration in this wine of botrytised flavors, remarkable richness, splendid sweetness, acidity, the significant taste of rasp honey and orange peel flavor, fine structure, and persistent aftertaste. 93p.
1989 Doisy Daëne - brown sugar, candied oranges, creme brulee, elegant and with great length. Pretty flavourful. 92p.
1986 Doisy Daëne - similar to 1989 in style, slightly less concentrated with less sweetness and more apparent acidity. 90p.
L'Extravagant de Doisy Daëne - luxury cuvée of Doisy Daëne. It's made from old vines. First vintage of L'Extravagant was 1990.
2004 - 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon. Extremely concentrated wine with exceptional acidity, sweetness, and richness. 94p.
2010 - 60% Semillon + 40% Sauvignon. More richness and complexity here than in 2004. Delicate and sublime wine with remarkable sweetness, acidity, depth, and length. Big concentration and intensity of flavors. Fabulous quality. 96p.
Monday the 5th of October
When visiting this property, I'd the company of Alexandre Rychlewski, owner of Traduction Aquitaine in Bordeaux and an extensive wine fan. We were welcomed by Sebastien Vergne, the technical director at Chateau Margaux, since June 2014 (see picture below).
Harvest was expected to finish tomorrow (6th October), and as in every place I visited, hopes for yet another great to exceptional vintage were big. We tasted 2005 and 2014 both Pavillon Rouge and Grand Vin in the underground tasting room.
2005 Pavillon Rouge - delicate and soft, nice intensity and complexity, round and tasty, silky fruit and tannin. 89p.
2005 Chateau Margaux - sophisticated and classy nose of blackcurrants and blueberries, refined with great complexity, remarkable purity, and long finish. Striking elegance and sheer class. 98p.
2014 Pavillon Rouge - very fruity and impressive on the nose with the scent of violets and blueberries, excellent depth and complexity, remarkable acidity, and persistent aftertaste. Very impressive wine. 92p.
2014 Chateau Margaux - This wine hasn't changed since tasting it in April this year. Still a lot of freshness, strong structure, splendid depth, and a long aftertaste. More masculine wine this term thanks to perfectly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. 96p.
We arrived mid-harvest; it was Cabernet Sauvignon on the day. Dominique Befve (see picture above), Lascombes' manager since 2001, was a happy man - sure that 2015 will be an excellent vintage! Fresh, unfermented juice from the vat tasted sweet and concentrated. At Lascombes, they practice cold maceration - for one week at 6 degrees C with the addition of dry ice. They were expected to finish harvesting their Cabernet Sauvignon at the beginning of next week(12-13th October).
After detailed "sightseeing", we tasted 2014 Merlot, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Petit Verdot, 2014 Chevalier de Lascombes (second wine of Lascombes), and 2014 Grand Vin.
2014 Merlot - fine acidity and tannin, ripe fruit, silky texture, long aftertaste.
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon - strong structure and backbone, big acidity and big tannins, remarkable acidity, and immense concentration.
2014 Petit Verdot - a compelling, almost iron strong- structure with remarkable depth and concentration. It's obvious how much this grape variety completes a wine! Kicks ass!
2014 Chevalier de Lascombes - good grip, a little kick of tannin, good acidity, soft texture, nice fruity finish. 87p.
2014 Lascombes - barrel sample tasted in April 2015 could have been more exciting; maybe this sample suffered from something during the UGCB tasting at Rauzan Gassies. It got much better when tasted again during Vinexpo in June 2015, and tasting at Lascombes confirmed it. Excellent acidity, elegance with finesse, fine structure, and length, the oak taste is gentle and works fine with fruit. 92+p.
Pichon Comtesse's tasting room rewards you with high-class wines and a priceless view of the Gironde river (see below!). Vineyard is Latour's.
Harvest was still on with Cabernet Sauvignon, the one to be harvested on the day. After looking around, seeing harvest and work in the cellar, we were treated with 2014, 2012, 2011, and 2010 Grand Vin. However, we tasted wines in a rather unusual order. During the tasting, we talked briefly with Nicolas Glumineau, Pichon Comtesse's technical director since November 2012, who was unsure if 2015 could be compared to 2005.
2012 - 59% Cabernet Sauvignon + 28% Merlot + 8% Cabernet Franc + 5% Petit Verdot. Quite tight, well-knitted, long, complex, and well-balanced. Fine smooth finish. Well-made and successful for the vintage. 92p.
2011 - 78% Cabernet Sauvignon + 12% Merlot + 8% Cabernet Franc + 2% Petit Verdot. Lot of acidity here, tannic and rather dry. An unusually high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in this vintage requires patience for this wine to soften. 90p.
2014 - 65% Cabernet Sauvignon + 22% Merlot + 7% Cabernet Franc + 6% Petit Verdot. Even more evident acidity here, great complexity and length, powerful with strong backbone, remarkable depth and finish. Excellent for the vintage. 94+p.
2010 - 66% Cabernet Sauvignon + 24% Merlot + 7% Cabernet Franc + 3% Petit Verdot. Strong, powerful, tight, fat fruit and tannin with excellent ripeness, remarkable depth, complexity, and balance. Impressive effort for the vintage. 95-96p.
Remontage (pumping over) at Pichon Comtesse
This cellar will soon be a distant memory because of modernization works at Beychevelle
There's a lot of modernization going on at Beychevelle. A new cellar, new facilities like f.i. Reception and tasting room. When the modernization work is finished, it'll be exciting to see how the new buildings will melt together with already beautiful other parts of this property.
Merlot harvest started on 22/9 and finished on 29/9; Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon began on the 30th of September and were still harvested, while Petit Verdot would be harvested in all on the day of our visit.
I want to avoid repeating myself, but Philippe Blanc, Beychevelles manager, expected other winemakers in Bordeaux 2015 to be very close to 2005. He arranged a little vertical for us.
2014 Amiral de Beychevelle - 57% Cabernet Sauvignon + 43% Merlot. Big acidity, meaty with earthy flavors, tannic. Very different from tasting it in March this year, where this wine was rounder, fruitier, and more accessible. 88p.
2014 Beychevelle - 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 51% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Very aromatic and velvety, with excellent acidity, full of blackberry fruit, pure elegance and finesse, a lot of style, and a long aftertaste. More tannin was detectable this time. A sublime effort, and kudos to Philippe Blanc for creating this beauty! 94+p.
2012 Beychevelle - 47% Cabernet Sauvignon + 44% Merlot + 4% Cabernet Franc +5% Petit Verdot. Very aromatic, fine ripeness for the vintage of fruit and tannin, a bit light but very seductive, long fruity aftertaste. 92p.
2011 Beychevelle - deeper and longer than 2012, stronger structure, creamy fruit. 92+p.
2010 Beychevelle - 54% Cabernet Sauvignon + 38% Merlot + 5% Cabernet Franc + 3% Petit Verdot. Aromatic, chocolate, cacao, fat fruit, and tannin are sophisticated, refined, long, rich, and complex. Beauty wine and an extremely graceful one. 95p.
Tuesday the 6th of October
Perfect Cabernet Sauvignon at Palmer!
My only visit of the day and the last one of my trip. They harvested Cabernet Sauvignon and wanted to finish at the latest the next day. Harvest of Petit Verdot finished on Monday, the 5th of October. They were afraid of possibly more rain coming, so there was a little hurry. Cabernet Sauvignon looked stunning, and my host for a day, Chris Myers (Palmer's export director for Europe), told me that until mid-September 2015 looked like a copy of the 2010 vintage, but then hopes faded a bit because of rain.
Chris Myers arranged a little vertical of Palmer for me - 2012-2011-2009-2005.
2012 - 48% Merlot + 46% Cabernet Sauvignon + 6% Petit Verdot. Splendid, well-knitted. Fine acidity, great complexity, and sheer class, sophisticated and with a long finish. Fabulous style. 95p.
2011 - 55% Merlot + 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite similar to 2012, but more concentration here and more softness. Aristocratic. 95p.
2009 - 52% Merlot + 41% Cabernet Sauvignon + 7% Petit Verdot. Meaty had excellent complexity and structure, refined and deep. A very stylish and sophisticated wine with an extremely well-established combination of elegance and power. A wine of great charisma and excellent quality. 97p.
2005 - 40% Merlot + 53% Cabernet Sauvignon + 7% Petit Verdot. Great stuff with grace, finesse, and elegance. Incredibly classy and stylish. Immense depth and complexity. Fantastic effort. 97p.
This machine (pictured above) at Palmer adds microorganisms for fermentation while grapes are transferred to vats, so the use of sulfur can be vastly decreased.