Perfect and deliciously tasty Cabernet Sauvignon at Domaine de Chevalier. October 2019
Let me say that, and my honest opinion is based on having experienced 20 harvests between 1985 and 2019 - the 2019 vintage looks no less than incredibly promising.
Despite somewhat rainy and cold spring resulting in occasionally spread-out of coulure and millerandage, there were no violent outbursts from weather Gods through spring and summer. Flowering went more or less free of problems, only affected a little bit by continuous rain at the end of it. Then followed a very dry summer and well-needed rain at the end of July, which started the ripening process for real.
Rains in mid-September came at the perfect time and helped to separate seeds from the pulp in already very concentrated grapes, with diluted sugar content meaning less alcohol and tightened skins. Rains were especially advantageous for Cabernet Sauvignon. Leaf thinning was not used that much because winemakers didn't want to risk getting grapes burnt. Neither green harvest was widespread in 2019. The number of grapes brought in will be standard for Bordeaux in 2019.
It'll be a vintage of different styles and characters as winemakers have broken the rules of harvesting dates and harvested either early or late. The usual order for who did harvest first and who gathered late was not valid in 2019!
Some winemakers feared getting too much alcohol in grapes, so they harvested early. Some were harvested late to get the right balance in the grapes. Also, different soils reacted differently in 2019, and winemakers had to adjust to that. Is global warming guilty of that?
During my recent trip to Bordeaux between the 7th and 12th of October, I tasted a lot of fresh grape juice at different properties, mostly Merlot before and after alcoholic fermentation, and it promised a great deal. A lot of sugar and rich juice with fat and big tannin. Almost black colour after one day's maceration in the vat! IPT= Index Polyphenol Totale in grapes was high in 2019, 80 or more, meaning high quantities of tannin. I believe this, combined with the ripeness of the grapes, will make the vintage fascinating to watch and taste.
Mostly, in the Medoc, the harvest was over by mid-October. On the Right Bank, most properties have grapes in the cellar. In Pessac-Leognan, most properties have finished harvest before mid-October.
I do not doubt that 2019 will be an excellent vintage, possibly as stunning as 2010, 2016 and 2018, but of a different character. We have to wait until January 2020, when malolactic fermentation is over and the quality of tannin is to be discovered, before a clear view of 2019 in red.
White dry wines are rumoured to be of very fine quality with much better acidity than in 2018 and 2016, while the harvest of grapes in Sauternes & Barsac is still going on (mid-October). Still, first reports say that 2019 will be very small in quantity (Raymond Lafon lost 50% of grapes due to an excessive heatwave in August/September) but similar in quality to 2017.
During my visit, 2019 harvest at Valandraud has just started.
I asked to taste 2017s, but the line-up didn't have that many wines due to frost in the spring.
Virginie Thunevin - fruity and silky, uncomplicated, round and very tasty. Aged 1 year in vats. Perfect restaurant wine. 87p.
Bad Boy Syrah - very characteristic of this grape variety, spicy, flowery and with nice acidity. 88p. 2.000 bottles produced.
Bad Boy L'Original - good value for money. A meaty and fruity wine with some complexity. Tasty and attractive. 89p.
Domaine des Sabines - splendid acidity, spicy fruit, well-structured and with a meaty finish. Fine quality. 90p.
Valandraud - production is down to 25.000 bottles compared with the usually 40.000 bottles. Polished, great aromatic nose, delicate, silky fruit and tannin, great complexity and length. 95p.
Valandraud 2016 - very potent wine with excellent complexity, structure and depth, rich and with a sophisticated touch. Silky and distinguished. 97p.
Valandraud 2018 - excellent purity, precision and focus, great complexity and finesse, sophisticated touch and great length. If this wine acts like this after bottling, we have the best Valandraud ever produced. 98p.
Every year, visit at the property and talking to Francois Mitjavile was one of the highlights of my trip. This time our schedules allowed us plenty of time to talk and taste. I have known this winemaker genius since 1988.
The incredible thing is that I did discover a few more things about how he makes his wine. I knew before that he uses all kinds of grapes (different maturity) during vinification to obtain as many flavours as possible. The new info was that all vin de presse and vin de lie go into Grand Vin and Francois Mitjavile says that this gives the flavour of roses to his wine. Nothing goes to waste here!!
I kindly asked Francois to taste both properties 2018, 2017 and 2016. Tertre Roteboeuf 2018 and 2016 were two touchdowns, wonderful wines with a unique style. 2018 was stronger, while 2016 was nobler. 99-100p respective 99p. 2017 was a bit scaled-down but still refined and sophisticated. It was bottled in mid-September 2019. 96p.
2018 Roc de Cambes was powerful, full of ripe cherries. 94p. 2016 was similar and will fight with 2018 to become the best RdC ever produced. 2017 tasted lighter and less intense. Still splendid wine. 92p.
There was also time to taste 2019 grape juice which was very aromatic, gentle, delicate and noble. A lot of promises.
2019 juice from the carafe into a glass - Francois Mitjavile at work!
L'Envers du Decor
I returned to Saint-Emilion for lunch and tried my luck at L'Envers du Decor. This restaurant was purchased in February 2017 by Perse family from Francois de Ligneris, who owned Chateau Soutard until 2006. Perse family owns nearby Hostellerie de Plaisance (app. 50 meters from L'Envers du Decor). Usually, it's fully booked, but I was lucky that day because it had several vacant tables. I wasn't disappointed. Quick service, tasty food (3-course menu for 32 Euros.) and a very attractive and tasty Lalande de Pomerol wine, 2009 Haut Goujon, to accompany the food.
At L'Envers du Decor
After visiting this property last year in October, I found my way to this property again in April 2019. I met Veronique Corporandy, the winemaker, at sister property Soutard on the other side of the road. Cabernet Franc (8th October) was being harvested and looked/tasted magnificent. She was delighted and optimistic that 2019 would be as exceptional as 2018. I tasted some vats with Merlot after alcoholic fermentation, and they were very promising, with intense flavours and fat tannin.
Winemaker Veronique Corporandy with gloriously looking/tasty Cabernet Franc anno 2019!
Croix de Labrie
A quick visit to this little property in Saint Christophe de Bardes and the owner Pierre Courdurie showed me around the property. I visited its cellar, where I spotted a barrel of 2019 grapes owned by Pierre's daughter Camille, 11 years old, who "vinifies" it every day after school.
Pierre Courdurie believes that 2019 at Croix de Labrie will be at least as exceptional as 2018 or maybe even better.
Left: Barrel of Camille, Pierre Courdurie's daughter. Right: Subsoil at Croix de Labrie
I arrived late afternoon amid workers' celebrations of the finished harvest, Gerbaude, and had a very quick tasting of 2017s, which had been in the bottle since June.
Quinault L'Enclos was strong, spicy, and meaty, with good complexity, balance, and a persistent finish. 90p.
Petit Cheval (48% CF + 52% Merlot) also show some muscles with more complexity and a stronger finish than Quinault. 92p.
Cheval Blanc, which lost 1/3 of potential grapes due to frost in April 2017, resulting in yield per ha reaching 21 hl, showed more power, concentration and length than in April 2018 from the barrel. Impressive. 96p.
After tasting, I tried to catch a taxi or Uber to return to Libourne, but with no luck. So I had to walk, and when I reached Petit Village, a car stopped close to me, and somebody well-known offered a ride to Libourne. Who was she? - Mme Dominique Vayron from Bourgneuf! Pure telepathy.
I talked to him during September and October, and he was very excited about the prospect of 2019. He's never seen so high ITP in his grapes, and the quality was excellent. He brought grapes in at properties he owns (f.i. La Croix St. Georges and La Confession) and rents in very favourable conditions, and he expects 2019 to be at least at the same quality level as 2018 or maybe even better!
My first visit of the day, and I was welcomed by the export director for Europe, Frederic Lospied, whom I've known since 1985. Vintage 2017 was on the wine menu that day, and I tasted six wines. Despite big frost in April 2017, Moueix came unscathed through it and produced excellent wines for the vintage.
La Grave - lovely fruity nose of blackberries/cherries, spicy and a bit peppery on the palate. Nice structure and a meaty aftertaste. Grapes come from sandy soils. 90p.
Latour-a-Pomerol - more polished and detailed than La Grave, very good acidity and velvety structure, more bite and intensity here, round and tasty. Splendid effort for the vintage. 92p.
Hosanna - coming from the best part of Pomerol, "Le Plateau Argileux", this wine offers big scaled black fruit with the scent of truffles, big intensity and depth, great complexity and structure, and a long caressing finish. This is a stylish Pomerol with modern inputs. 94+p.
La Fleur Petrus - very catchy blackberry nose, sublime, pure elegance and finesse, great complexity and length, velvety structure, long finish. Pure delicacy. 96p.
Trotanoy - intense blackberries/raspberries, elegant and sublime, sophisticated, excellent structure and complexity, neither a powerhouse but finesse and subtlety here. Decadent stuff. 96-97p.
Belair Monange - this property's been on the run since Christian Moueix's son, Edouard, moved in and managed it. It's the same blend of Merlot (90%) and Cabernet Franc (10%) as Trotanoy. It resembled a great deal of Trotanoy but displayed slightly more power and intensity. Simply fabulous wine! 96-97p.
I always visit this property when I'm in Bordeaux. I was treated with the last three vintages, 2018, 2017 and 2016.
2018 - creamy with dense fruit and tannin, very complex and long. 95+p.
2017 - 20% of production was lost due to frost in April. Elegant with finesse, very seductive with splendid complexity. Stylish wine. 93p.
2016 - elegant, distinguished, precise and focused, with silky fruit and tannin. 95p
When I arrived, the harvest was finished a week ago, and winemaker Frederique Vayron told me she had big expectations concerning 2019 vintage.
Mother and daughter - Dominique Vayron and winemaker Frederique Vayron
La Commanderie, Haut Chaigneau and La Sergue
While tasting many wines at Grand Cercle in April this year, I came across La Commanderie in Pomerol, which impressed me greatly, and it was rewarded with a rating of 92-93p from me. Then I met the owners of the property since 2013, Melody and Andrew Kuk, at Jurade's Gala Dinner for Vinexpo hosted by Chateau Soutard in May 2019. They were pleased to hear about my rating of 2018 La Commanderie.
During my usual harvest trip to Bordeaux in October 2019, I wanted to visit this property and taste recent vintages. As the Kuk couple, which usually is present at La Commanderie during harvest, didn't want to travel from Hong Kong this year because of the unstable political situation, I was contacted by Pascal Chatonnet, consulting oenologist here, other wine properties in France and many places abroad. He's some very famous clients. He advised Kuk couple to buy La Commanderie when it was on sale.
You will find La Commanderie when you enter the village of Catusseau and turn right after passing Nenin and before wine laboratory of Dany & Michel Roland. This property is well-equipped with modern installations, and Kuk couple has invested much money in La Commanderie.
This property is 5.80 ha, sandy clay with some gravel and crasse de fer (iron dirt) in the subsoil, vines are, on average, 46 years old, and grapes are handpicked and sorted manually, mechanically and optically.
Then cold maceration for 5-7 days, alcoholic fermentation parcel by parcel in stainless steel vats of varying capacity depending on the size of the parcel, malolactic fermentation in 100% new barrels and maturing in 70% new barrels for 13-16 months.
La Commanderie as seen from the outside. Very modern and well-equipped vinification cellar
I tasted 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages.
2015 - 72% Merlot + 28% Cabernet Franc. A vintage with much old Cabernet Franc in the blend. Spicy fruit, nice acidity, elegant, a bit on the light side. Attractive and tasty wine, but it's not quite at the level of 2018 and 2016. 88p.
2016 - 93% Merlot + 7% Cabernet Franc. Silky fruit and tannin, velvety structure, perfectly ripe black fruit, splendid acidity, complexity and length. Noble wine with some style. Splendid effort. 93p.
2017 - 90% Merlot + 10% Cabernet Franc. Black and red berries, elegant and subtle, attractive and tasty, smooth fruity finish. 91p.
2018 - 91% Merlot + 9% Cabernet Franc. Yield only 25hl/ha! I was impressed by this wine during Grand Cercle tasting in April 2019, which showed even better in October 2019. More powerful and concentrated than 2016. Slightly longer finish. This is a real treat! 93+p.
La Commanderie is undoubtedly a property to watch in the future because of its big potential, and I look forward to tasting their 2019 next year during primeur.
Afterwards, Pascal Chatonnet and I went for lunch to the nearby restaurant La Table de Catusseau, which serves excellent food for reasonable money, and colourful and delicious dishes. It's a must place to eat when you're in Pomerol.
Then it was time to visit Haut Chaigneau in Lalande de Pomerol, a property owned by Pascal Chatonnet and his home, and taste some samples of 2019. Some of these belonged to a special selection of best grapes from different plots (La Sergue) and had Malbec in the provisory blend. It was fascinating to taste these samples. It is pure science to make everything suit together in future blends!
Up: Pascal Chatonnet. Below: Exciting tasting of different 2019 blends at Haut Chaigneau.
A quick visit and retasting 2018 was as thrilling as in April 2019. 98p. Alexandre Thienpont expected 2019 to be an awesome vintage, maybe as exciting as 2018 and 2016. He told me that rains shortly after mid-September did bring balance to the grapes, diluted sugar/alcohol and made the phenolic ripeness finish its job perfectly!
After VCC, I went to Le Pin and met Jacques Thienpont. I can't believe I met this guy by accident 34 years ago, in 1985. I've retasted 2018, which tasted exactly as kinky as in April this year. 98+p. I also tasted a sample of 2019, which displayed a huge promise. Jacques Thienpont was excited about 2019 prospects. Both 2018 and 2019 went then back from my glass to respective barrels!!
Jacques Thienpont with a sample of 2019 Le Pin
I arrived there in the morning, and the harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon was still going on. The grapes looked stunning and tasted stunning. We began at the upper floor of the cellar, tasting some Merlot 2019 from different plots together with PR-chef Geraldine Marquay Santier and Romain Ducolomb, Beychevelle's technical director since 2012 (see the picture below). It was exciting to look into the birth of the vintage, and you could taste a lot of promises.
Beychevelle has in all 80 different parcels (plots) of their grape varieties, so it's a big work to find the right parcels and blend for Grand Vin when the time comes.
Samples of 2019 from different parcels. Grapes coming in specially designed containers to transport afterwards into vats.
Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at Beychevelle. Notice the big bunches of grapes.
Afterwards, it was time to taste 2017 and 2016 Beychevelle. 2017 was an elegant wine with finesse, splendid complexity and a persistent finish. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon + 45% Merlot + 5% Petit Verdot + 1% Cabernet Franc. 13.4% alcohol. 92p. 2016 behaved like a noble aristocrat with great complexity, silkiness and sophisticated touch. 47% CS + 47% M + 5% PV + 1% CF. Fabulous effort. 96p.
I often pass by Leoville/Langoa Barton in Bordeaux, either for primeurs or during the harvest. But strangely enough, I've never visited this property before, despite coming to Bordeaux for 35 years. Boooo, shame on me!! I'm sorry, but I don't have any explanation!
When planning my 20th harvest trip to Bordeaux this year, I realized that it was time to see something new and complete my triple of Leovilles by including Barton. It's the first Leoville you see on Route des Chateaux coming from Bordeaux, and the two others are app. 1 km further the road from Barton.
The owner, Lilian Sartorius Barton, whom I meet every year at Beyerman tasting in Copenhagen in September (new vintage + an older one from c 40 chateaux) and who I was sitting next to by the table at Vinexpo's Yquem dinner in May 2019, was so kind to invite my friend from Bordeaux and me to so-called Gerbaude. Gerbaude is tradition, a lunch to say thank you very much from the owner to all people involved in the harvest. Harvest finished the day before, Wednesday the 9th of October. Lunch was cooked by people participating in the harvest from local ingredients, including famous cepes and girolles from Medoc forests! The dishes were delicious!
Before Gerbaude lunch, we tasted Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton in vintages 2015-16-17-18 plus Mauvesin Barton (Barton's property in Moulis ) 2015-16-18. Classic and stylish wines of very high quality. I rated Leoville Barton 96+p (2018), 94p (2017), 96p (2016) and 95p (2015), Langoa Barton (93+p (2018), 92p (2017), 93+p (2016) and 93p (2015) and Mauvesin Barton 91p (2018), 90p (2016) and 90p (2015). More detailed tasting notes are to be found on my website in the profile of Leoville Barton/Langoa Barton.
Now all excitement is directed towards 2019, which Lilian Sartorius Barton expects to be a stunner vintage.
Up: Many very happy faces during Gerbaude lunch. Bottom: Extra portion of cepes and girolles
For the second time in a row, my friend and I were welcomed by Stephanie Danglade, an oenologist at Comtesse. She did also receive us back in April this year. She lives not that far from the property and told us that it's very convenient to have short travel from home to work, especially when things get urgent and need to be resolved immediately.
They are very enthusiastic about 2019 at Comtesse. Will it be Nicolas Glumineau's best vintage ever? We'll know more in 6 months!
After short info about 2019 harvest, we went to the tasting room to retaste the 2017 and 2018 vintage.
Since the 2017 vintage, the second wine has changed its name from Reserve de La Comtesse to Pichon Comtesse Reserve.
2017 Pichon Comtesse Reserve - quite powerful with a nice backbone, fruity (raspberry drops), some mint flavour, well-balanced, and a persistent finish. Fine effort indeed.
2017 Pichon Comtesse - 13.2% alcohol. Thick and tight. A very impressive intensity and concentration for the vintage. Sensual and seductive. Many layers to discover. Exceptional effort. 97p.
2018 Pichon Comtesse Reserve - fleshy, meaty, aromatic, splendid structure and length. Seemed to have gained some more weight since tasting it in April 2019. Excellent second wine. 92-93p.
2018 Pichon Comtesse - big, bold and massive, an epitome of sophisticated touch, sensuality and richness. A bit more weight here than in April 2019. Wood and fruit are building a true monument together, and this is a masterpiece. 98-99p.
We went straight to the tasting room for tasting line-up of 2016, as I kindly requested. Reds in vintage 2016 in Bordeaux are fantastic, while white wines lack acidity and suffer a bit from Semillon not being perfect.
Clarendelle is a wine based on grapes bought around Bordeaux and those not used at HB/LMHB and Quintus.
Clarendelle Bordeaux - easygoing, supple, round and soft. 86p.
Clarendelle Medoc - more intensity and concentration, nice acidity, length and finish, tasty fruit. 87p.
Clarendelle Saint-Emilion - light, gentle. Soft, round and tasty. 85p.
Clarendelle Pessac-Leognan - fruity and meaty, with very nice structure, length and finish. 87p.
La Chapelle de LMHB - juicy and sappy, splendid structure, cherry flavours, fine ripe tannin and delicate acidity on the palate, well-balanced and with a smooth finish. Fine effort. 92p
Le Clarence de Haut Brion - was slightly more intense and longer on the palate than La Chapelle. Otherwise same style. 92p.
La Mission Haut Brion - closed a bit that particular day and, therefore, not showing everything. Still, the enormous potential of this wine was more than evident. 95+p.
Haut Brion - this wine was in an excellent mood bringing everything forward. Stunning depth and concentration here, noble yet voluptuous style, sophisticated touch and mega-long finish. Awesome wine. 98-99p.
La Clarte - lemongrass, citrus, green apple, lovely acidity, crispy and smooth finish. 90p.
La Mission Haut Brion - delicate aromas of pear and peach, crispy and vibrant with excellent acidity and depth, great complexity and balance. Splendid for the vintage. 94p.
Haut Brion - offered more of everything than LMHB, especially concentration depth and finish. 96p.
When we arrived, the workers cleaned the equipment after harvest a few days earlier. Seguin's cellarmaster, Xavier, let us taste some samples of 2019, which promised a lot by having a lot of sugar and fat tannin. He told us that he considered 2019 a hotter year than 2018 and that Merlot was simply perfect in 2019, while Cabernet Sauvignon was slightly less so. After losing 100% potential grapes to frost in 2017, they're delighted at Seguin to have another and possibly excellent vintage following 2018, safe in the cellar.
Domaine de Chevalier
Me and my friend from Bordeaux, Alex Rychlewski, I arrived at a hectic time amid harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon and spent just a short time with extremely busy Olivier Bernard. He was pleased with what he already had in the vats but said that Cabernet Sauvignon would be "icing on the cake!" It remains to be seen and tasted if this vintage here will exceed 2018 and 2016!
After a quick look in the backyard at the incoming Cabernet Sauvignon, we went to the tasting room to taste 2017s.
Domaine de la Solitude - fruity, easy to taste, soft texture, charming and attractive. Lovely to drink already. 87p.
Lespault Martillac - more spicy character here than in DdlS, somewhat tannic with good zest and firm aftertaste. 89p.
L'Esprit de Chevalier - resembles Lespault Martillac to great extent with similar style and concentration. Ready to drink in a few years. 90p.
Domaine de Chevalier - a lot of elegance, finesse, minerality and fine acidity. Great effort for the vintage. 94p.
Clos des Lunes d'Or - pleasant, semi-sweet, round and tasty. Aperitif wine. 86p.
Clos des Lunes Argent - more crispiness and sweetness, concentration and length. It will go well with light dishes of chicken and pates/rillettes. 88p.
Domaine de la Solitude - acacia flower, lemongrass, crispy, fine acidity and structure, and fine concentration. Tastes well. 91p.
Lespault Martillac - more of everything than in DdlS, deeper and longer, attractive, catchy flavour of peach and green apple. 92p.
L'Esprit de Chevalier - similar to Lespault Martillac. 92p.
Domaine de Chevalier - as usual, a lot of nuances and aromas, sophisticated touch, great depth, long finish and great complexity. 96p.
Suau (Sauternes) - splendid botrytised flavours of mandarines and oranges, superb acidity, elegant with fine length, honeyed finish. A fine effort for the vintage. 93p.
Les Carmes Haut Brion
My friend from Bordeaux, Alex Rychlewski and I arrived at the property with great expectations concerning what Guillaume Pouthier would have to say about the new vintage baby, 2019.
The day we arrived at LCHB, his birthday, so I brought a box of Danish chocolate from Løgismose as a gift for him.
We started our visit with a tasting of recently bottled 2017 Grand Vind. 40% whole bunches were used during maceration, aged in 75% new barrels, 15% two years old foudres and 10% amphoras. Creamy, aromatic, excellent-grained tannin, fruity and silky texture, elegance and fruity finish. Great, great quality and style. 95p.
Afterwards, we had a fascinating lecture as he spoke to us about what he seeks in the wine and what is essential for him to have in the wine:
3. Typicity of the place (terroir).
4. The capacity of ageing.
It was a very informative go through every aspect of winemaking!
Then we were allowed to taste three different samples of 2019 from 2 weeks of harvest.
1. Cp 7. 70% Merlot + 30% Cabernet Franc - very creamy and tasty.
2. Cp 3. 70% Cabernet Franc + 30% Merlot - from a parcel with 90 years old vines, dense and creamy, very tasty and concentrated.
3. Cp 5. 30% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot - big freshness, Cabernet Sauvignon dominating, thick and dense, big tasty tannin.
2019-vintage will be something spectacular, be very sure of that!
Three samples from 2019, different parcels, and 2017 vintage.
My Bordeaux friend, Alex Rychlewski, listens carefully to Guillaume Pouthier's speech.