(A surprisingly good year for the finest terroirs)
I did not expect the highlights of 2006 to be as promising as they turned out. There was little talk about the vintage following the harvest, and after the wine press and the proprietors exhausted themselves with their praise of the 2005s, there was little need to start additional speculative fires. However, the 2006 vintage has produced many fine wines, and overall, it is superior to 2004. The weather was hot in June and July, but August was cool and rainy. The first two weeks of September were again torridly hot, setting the stage for what many believed would be a vintage to rival, possibly eclipse 2005. However, substantial rain fell across the region before the end of September. Overall, the entire viticultural season, from April’s flowering to autumn’s harvest, was much drier and warmer than normal.
In Pomerol, the Merlot harvest began for a handful of estates before the first heavy rains hit. The Cabernet Franc was generally picked during the last ten days of September, and the Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested from the end of September through the first two weeks of October. Consider the following statistics for the critical growing season – the seven months from April through October. During these months, it was hotter than normal every month except August, which was only 1.6 degrees centigrade below normal. June, July, September, and October were all at least 3 degrees centigrade above normal.
Precipitation figures are equally revealing. The average rainfall for these seven months is typically 979 mm (about 37.5 inches). In 2006, it was 901 mm (36 inches), a drier than average year. All of this explains why the 2006 crop had lower acids and yields than 2004 and 2005 as well as alcohols that are less than in 2005, but higher than in 2004.
It is an exciting vintage for the dry whites, largely because the grapes were harvested between the end of August and before the first rains began. That no doubt explains their super concentration, wonderful minerality, and zesty freshness.
The sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes experienced problems with rot in September, and unless estates were willing to do a Draconian-like triage, it was a challenging vintage. My first tasting trip is too early to taste these offerings, but I did taste the 2006 Château d’Yquem, which the estate believes will be one of their greatest efforts. According to Pierre Lurton, it will be the finest they have yet made under the new ownership. It is certainly impressive, and appears to be nearly as promising as the 2001, which I thought was perfect.
As for the red wines, the style of the Médocs is one where the finest terroirs excelled. Why? Only well-financed top terroirs were in a position to do de-leafings as well as crop-thinnings once or twice during the summer months as well as make a severe selection once the wines were fermented. It was not unusual for a Médoc classified growth to eliminate 40-65% of their production. 2006 appears to be a modern-day version of 1996 or 1986, two vintages that produced wines with high percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends, strong tannins, and, in the best cases, impressive concentration. Once past the top terroirs and the most famous names, the vintage becomes dramatically more mixed and problematic. As one might suspect, the estates that could not afford to do de-leafings, crop-thinnings, or severe selections have produced dry, hard, angular, generally charmless wines. In the Graves and Pessac-Léognan regions, aside from the brilliant whites, there are some top-notch reds. No doubt the reasonably early Merlot harvest explains such brilliant efforts as La Mission-Haut-Brion.
Unlike 1986 and 1996, which did not favor the right bank wines of Pomerol and St.-Emilion, 2006 presents a totally different scenario. The Pomerols are excellent across the board, including the satellite appellation of Lalande-de-Pomerol. These wines taste as though they are from a completely different vintage than those from the Médoc. They possess sweet tannin, low acidity, ripe fruit, and loads of flesh and charm. In many ways, they remind me of the vastly underrated 2001 Pomerols. The 2006 Pomerols will be gorgeous wines to drink young, but the best of them will age well. Moreover, a handful of true blockbusters were produced from vineyards where much of the harvest took place before the heavy rains arrived in mid-September. St.-Emilion appears to be the wild card in this vintage, with quality all over the board. Unlike 2005, which is a monumental vintage for all of St.-Emilion, 2006 includes some truly classic, great wines as well as some disappointments. Overall, it is good to very good, but this vast appellation, with its enormous diversity of terroirs, is more irregular than any other major appellation.
As for longevity, the 2006 Médocs should enjoy 20-35 years of life, but they will be more approachable in their youth than the 1986s or 1996s. The wines of Graves and Pomerol should be drinkable at reasonably young ages (much like the 2001s), but they should keep for two decades or more. Because of the diversity of the St.-Emilions, it is impossible to generalize. Some can be drunk young, whereas others have issues with high tannin levels that may or may not be resolved with both barrel and bottle aging.
There has been considerable demand by many who purchase large quantities of Bordeaux futures for prices to be rolled back to those of three or four years ago. Certainly prices will come down because 2006 is not a great vintage, but there are many fine wines, and some 2006s are even more complete than their 2005 counterparts. Furthermore, and another exacerbating factor, 2006 is not a big crop, at least for the top wines. Yields generally ran between a modest 20 and 45 hectoliters per hectare, which is significantly less than 2004, and little different from 2005. The Bordelais realize that many of their best customers are increasingly frustrated with their pricing policies. Despite the fact that there are enormous quantities of good Bordeaux available at reasonable prices, the image that Bordeaux prices are too high persists, even though one could argue that it is really only the first-growths and a handful of other estates that have actually become priced like rare art.
I do not expect an active futures campaign, but the global marketplace has changed dramatically, and the emergence of new, potentially huge purchasers of fine Bordeaux in Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and the Far East are changing the scenario in ways that would have been impossible to imagine a mere five years ago. The traditional markets of England and the United States are in the process of being by-passed in favor of other buyers. Is this a short term blip on the radar screen, or a profound transfer of power in the marketplace? In my opinion, the Bordelais would be short-sighted not to recognize the importance of their most loyal customers.
Aile d'Argent Blanc (91-93)
Bellefont Belcier (89-91)
Bellevue Mondotte (96-100)
Bon Pasteur (90-92)
Bouscaut Blanc (86-88)
Calon Segur (90-93)
Canon la Gaffeliere (91-94)
Cantenac Brown (90-92)
Carbonnieux Blanc (90-93)
Certan de May (91-94)
Certan Marzelle (91-93)
Chapelle d'Ausone (91-93)
Cheval Blanc (92-95)
Clerc Milon (91-93)
Clos de l'Oratoire (90-93)
Clos de Sarpe (92-95)
Clos Fourtet (90-93)
Clos l'Eglise (92-94)
Clos les Lunelles (92-94)
Clos Nardian Blanc (89-91)
Clos St Martin (92-94)
Confiance Cuvee d'Exception (Gerard Depardieu) (89-90)
Cos d'Estournel (92-94)
Croix de Labrie (92-94)
Cuvee Numero 2 Denis Dubourdieu The Winemaker's Selection (90-92)
De Carles (89-91)
De Fieuzal Blanc (88-90)
Domaine de Chevalier (90-92)
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc (92-94)
Domaine de l'Eglise (88-91)
Domaine Saint-Pierre (92-94)
Ducru Beaucaillou (94-96)
Faugeres Cuvee Speciale Peby (90-92)
Feytit Clinet (90-93)
Fleur Cardinale (91-93)
Fombrauge Blanc (89-91)
Fougeres la Folie Blanc (88-90)
Haut Bages Liberal (89-91)
Haut Bailly (91-94)
Haut Batailley (89-91)
Haut Bergey (90-92)
Haut Bergey Blanc (90-92)
Haut Brion (92-94)
Haut Brion Blanc (94-97)
Haut Condissas Prestige (90-92)
Haut-Brisson La Reserve (90-92)
L'Eglise Clinet (96-98)
La Confession (91-93)
La Conseillante (92-95)
La Croix de Peyrolie Cuvee d'Exception (Gerard Depardieu) (88-90)
La Croix St Georges (94-96)
La Fleur (89-91)
La Fleur de Bouard (90-93)
La Fleur de Gay (91-94)
La Fleur de Jaugue (89-91)
La Fleur Petrus (94-96)
La Gaffeliere (89-91)
La Grande Clotte Blanc (90-92)
La Lagune (92-94)
La Louviere Blanc (88-90)
La Mission Haut Brion (96-100)
La Mondotte (93-96)
La Providence (94-96)
La Serenite (90-92)
La Tour Carnet (91-93)
La Tour Carnet Blanc (88-90)
La Tour Martillac Blanc (87-89)
La Vieille Cure (89-91)
La Violette (92-94)
Lafon Rochet (89-90)
Langoa Barton (90-92)
Larrivet Haut Brion Blanc (88-90)
Latour a Pomerol (89-91)
Laville-Haut-Brion Blanc (92-94)
Le Carre (90-92)
Le Dome (92-94)
Le Gay (93-95)
Le Moulin (90-92)
Le Pin (93-96)
Le Thil (Comte Clary) Blanc (87-89)
Leoville-Las Cases (93-95)
Les Asteries (89-91)
Les Carmes Haut Brion (88-90)
Les Cruzelles (89-91)
Les Forts de Latour (90-92)
Lynch Bages (91-93)
Ma Verite Cuvee d'Exception (Gerard Depardieu) (90-92)
Magrez Fombrauge (90-92)
Magrez-Tivoli Cuvee d'Exception (90-92)
Malartic-Lagraviere Blanc (88-90)
Monbousquet Blanc (90-92)
Pape Clement (92-94)
Pape Clement Blanc (96-100)
Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux (94-96)
Pichon-Longueville Baron (92-94)
Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (94-96)
Pierre de Lune (90-92)
Quinault l'Enclos (92-94)
Rauzan-Segla (Rausan-Segla) (90-93)
Reignac Blanc (90-92)
Rollan de By (88-90)
Servitude Volontaire (90-92)
Vieux Chateau Certan (94-96)
Robert Parker Jr.
Bordeaux Impressions by Andrew Caillard MW
April 17 Report
Bordeaux Impressions 3
One of Leoville Barton’s resident mutts, known as Laica (as in the Astro dog), is not really a connoisseur but a canine sewer – of Grand Classe swill. In the tasting room it will dance around your legs and watch every moment as you swish the wine around your mouth. Then as you spit into the crachoir it will carefully stand in a position to catch the projectile of oxygenated, saliva infused wine gob into its own razor-toothed cake hole. As wine dogs go, this is the doyen of them all. It’s a four-legged spitting bucket performing a miracle in reverse, turning wine into water. Unfortunately its doctor/vet has told it to stop drinking.
We have been dog-legging it all over the left bank in the usual inefficient way; clocking up carbon debits to fit in with tight deadlines and appointments. On one day we visited 13 chateaux between Margaux and St Estephe. Indeed our last fixture took place in about the furthest place possible from Bordeaux Centre-Ville. Bleary-eyed and tooth-blackened the drive back took an eternity. This must have been the same feeling as when the 2006 harvest was brought in.
The growing season and the weather leading up to the 2006 harvest has been spoken about frequently more or less in the same vein as the political posturing currently happening in France. Rather than talking about fresh starts, cut backs and green policies, the wine makers speak about freshness in their wines, cutting back foliage and green harvesting. Considering what might have been, the 2006 vintage has yielded up some very good wines. There are few sloped shoulders among the Grand Cru Classe producers. Interestingly there are comparisons to the 1986, 1988 and 2004 vintages.
The growing season was typified by really hot, dry weather in July, cool cloudy days in August, intermittently hot and humid weather in September. The gates of heaven really opened up in mid September but if you listen to the producers it was like water off a duck’s back. Quite frankly ten years ago this would have been a huge problem.
However there is so much more emphasis on vineyard management, drainage, picking regimes, sorting in both vineyard and in the winery, batch vinification and winemaking philosophy these days. While some observers saw the troubles during harvest, this has been downplayed. I have never seen so many bar charts, tables and graphs supporting a positive argument about the vintage. Merlot on the left bank did not perform well but Cabernet Sauvignon with its thick skin and loose bunches ripened well and the tannins reached a decent phenolic ripeness in many of the top vineyards – especially on the higher ridges along the Medoc. I think it’s a very good vintage – on par with 2004 – but in the end it’s down to what’s in the glass and the prices offered. After the exceptional 2005 campaign there is an expectation that prices should come down.
Although yields are approximately the same, the percentage of Grand Vin is substantially down on 2005. This is as much a product of vintage as it is politics and the need to shorten supply. The First Growths are clearly positioning themselves to maintain prices. The super seconds may try the same strategy but at the next level there should be some sanity.
Perhaps the most articulate and seasoned of all 1st Growth winemakers is the relaxed and confident Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux. Questioned about the season, he shrugs his shoulders and says, “We have to accept we don’t know everything. There is not an easy correlation between grapes and the wine. It’s very easy to over-simplify things, but really you can only look at the end results.”
The 2006 Ch Margaux comprises only 4% Merlot – compared to an average of 10-12%. While Pontallier believes most of the Merlot lacked complexity, he felt the Cabernet Sauvignon was of exemplary standard, “They reached a remarkable level of ripeness.” Certainly the 2006 (tasted against the more powerful 2005) is a beautiful young wine that possesses freshness, delicacy, density and minerality. It pervades with violets/cassis/mocha/blueberry aromas and flavours. The palate is generous with lovely volume of fruit and lacy fine tannins. I think it’s really fabulous.
I had imagined on the basis of the Union des Grands Crus tastings that the wines from the Margaux commune – if anything – were slightly ahead of St Julien and Pauillac. In truth I think the left bank is about winemaker rather than commune. It is obvious that the First Growths must produce something that justifies their rank. Ch Latour – which now only produces around 10,000 cases of Grand Vin – has made yet another impressive wine. It is still very elemental and firm with deep brooding roasted coffee/mocha/blackcurrant aromas, lovely concentration, plenty of sweet fruit and fine slinky firm tannins. It is more refined than 2005 but has plenty of substance and power.
Ch Mouton Rothschild is the most consumer friendly of all the First Growths. It has a visitors centre and its staff are generally very charming and welcoming. If you ever visit Bordeaux, it is of course a must. However this year we tasted in the chais with a rather po-faced, humourless sommelier type who banged on about some famous English wine merchants not fully understanding what Mouton was all about. Apparently this year they provided these English numbskulls with a table looking over the elevated Grand Plateaux and Carruades blocks to emphasise the significance of Mouton’s terroir. You wonder why they ever built the cross-channel tunnel. Despite this lack of grace Ch Mouton Rothschild (87% Cabernet Sauvignon 13% Merlot) is a very successful wine in 2006 with lovely violet/dark chocolate/ liquorice aromas and sweet fresh deep set cassis/chocolaty palate. It has lovely density, energy and minerality. A really impressive wine.
Ch Lafite Rothschild – which borders and actually includes fruit from its St Estephe vineyards – is a very profound, powerful resonating wine with dark chocolate/liquorice/ graphite aromas, deep set concentrated blackcurrant/chocolaty flavours and savoury oak. The tannins are long, dense, very fine and almost ball-bearing like. The wine is perfectly ripe with wonderful flavour length and chalky firm finish. This is a beautifully made wine and completely envelops the idea of place. In a year like 2006 where viticulturists “played poker with the bosses monaie” it has come up trumps. The 2006 Lafite has to be one of the wines of the vintage.
Indeed Pauillac has made some really good wines. I re-tasted Ch Pichon Longueville Lalande and Ch Pichon Longueville Baron and both samples looked really good again. Since Philippe Casteja took over the family’s fifth growth property Ch Batailley in 2001 the wines have really moved up a notch. Denis Dubordieu’s is working magic here; the very generous and loose-knit 2006 will have to be one of the bargains of the vintage.
Both Ch Haut Batailley and Ch Grand Puy Lacoste – now owned by Francis Xavier – are also remarkable wines and will be worth hunting down. Indeed the Grand Puy Lacoste is utterly sensational with its pure cassis aromas, mocha oak and chocolaty tannins. This is a wine for the Australian palate; it has tremendous volume, power and fruit sweetness.
The wines from St Estephe seem to be especially muscular this year. No doubt there will be some takers for the very fresh but sinewy Ch Montrose. It is immensely concentrated but very brambly and tough. You could crack your teeth on the tannins but there is fruit volume. In some respects this is an estate where ‘work in progress’ comes to mind. Generally I think the St Estephes are not that good in 2006.
I also re-tasted Ch Beychevelle, Ch Langoa Barton and Ch Leoville Barton (with the canine sewer!) at St Julien on the way up to Pauillac. These are again reliable performers in 2006. I loved the Ch Beychevelle especially and I do think it will be one of the best value wines of the vintage. It’s great to see such progress here. Ch Leoville Lascases – with its blackberry/ dark chocolate aromas and dense but lacy tannins – was a very likeable wine.
Back in Pessac Leognan, the big news is that Ch Latour Haut Brion will no longer be made. There have been problems in establishing winemaking facilities here so the fruit is now going into La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion – called “Chap de Miss” by the English wine trade. The 2006 Ch La Mission Haut Brion and Ch Haut Brion both with similar encepagement are yet again the strongest performers in this region. The La Mission (59% Merlot 40% Cabernet Sauvignon 1% Cabernet Franc) is still very elemental with cassis/mocha/aniseed/ herb garden aromas and a very rich concentrated palate with dark bitter chocolaty flavours and grippy firm tannins. The 2006 Ch Haut Brion (57% Merlot/ 41% Cabernet Sauvignon/2% Cabernet Franc) is really fresh with plumy/liquorice/herb garden aromas, sweet plummy/chocolaty flavours, underlying savoury oak and long al-dente tannins. It is interesting to see the how reliant these wines are on Merlot. As a consequence it is probably Ch Haut Brion that has been edged out as a top performing 1st Growth this year. It’s still worth the trouble as these wines really build interest and complexity with time.
Overall the 2006 is a hugely interesting vintage. It has been described by Ch Cheval Blanc as “a highly technical vintage in Bordeaux and the results are somewhat uneven.” Others have described “typical Atlantic weather”. Notwithstanding the posturing on all sides and the endless reams of justifications, I have tasted and re-tasted hundreds of samples. In Pomerol and St Emilion a lot of the Merlot was harvested before the rains and on the left bank Cabernet Sauvignon proved resilient.
There are many lovely wines made in 2006. While the 2005s will certainly have the glory and reputation, the 2006s will provide plenty of pleasure. In the end it will come down to the producer and the price.
The following are my scores out of 100. Please note that the wines are all taken from barrel and were offered for tasting as a representation of vintage.
Best First Growths
Haut Brion 92-94
Best St Estephes
Cos d’Estournel 88-92
Pichon Longueville Baron 93-95
Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 93-95
Grand Puy Lacoste 93-95
Grand Puy Ducasse 93-94
Les Forts de Latour 92-94
Haut Batailley 91-93
Lynch Moussas 90-92
Duhart Milon 89-92
Lynch Bages 87-90
Best St Juliens
Leoville Barton 93-95
Leoville Lascases 93-94
Ducru Beaucaillou 92-95
Langoa Barton 90-92
Branaire Ducru 87-90
Leoville Poyferre 87-90
Gruaud Larose 86-89
Alter Ego 93-95
Malescot St Exupery, 93-94
Marquis de Terme, 93-94
Prieure Lichine 93-94
Brane Cantenac 91- 93
du Tertre 89-91
Durfort Vivens 87-90
Best Pessac-Leognan/Graves (Reds)
Haut Brion 92-94
La Mission Haut Brion 92-94
Haut Bailly 92-93
Domaine de Chevalier 90-92
Smith Haut Lafitte 90-92
La Louviere 88-90
Larrivet Haut Brion 87-90
de Malle 94-95
La Tour Blanche 93-95
Clos Haut Peyraguey 92-94
de Fargues 88-91
de Myrat 88-90
Sigalas Rabaud 87-89
La Fleur Petrus 95-97
Le Pin 93-94
Vieux Chateau Certan 90-92
La Conseillante 88-91
Best St Emilions
Cheval Blanc 94-96
Monbousquet 93 -94
Clos Fourtet 93-94
Canon la Gaffeliere 92-94
La Tour Figeac 92-94
Pavie Decesse 92-94
La Gaffeliere 88-91
Beausejour Becot 88-91
Chapelle d’Ausone 88-91
April 9 Report
Left Bank – Right Bank
Hurtling down a minor road between Bordeaux and Chateau Siran in the wee hours of the morning at 160km/hr kept me extremely alert and happy that I had taken out life insurance. The extroverted and Manila-based Edouard Mailhe had just taken me to the Ban de Millisme at the Bourse Maritime, an 18th century warehouse converted into a museum of modern art. About 350 people filled the enormous vaulted room. Many of the wine producers of the Grand Cru Classe kind, negociants, wine press, importers and hangers-on were there. It was a kind of vinous love-in with many good vintages, people dressed up in robes and the usual banquet of earthly delights. There is no way I could live in France. I would become a balloon.
I have been criss-crossing between the left bank and the right bank for a few days now in one of those Japanese cars that run on electricity and petrol. It took a few days to work out exactly how the technology worked. In between swearing at the electronic lady and trying to start the bloody machine, I was thinking a lot about distances within Bordeaux's sub-regions. Two things crossed my mind; it takes about an hour and forty minutes to drive from St Julien to St Emilion, and there is a large expanse of shrub land and scrappy forest between St Julien in the mid north of the Medoc and Margaux in the south. This is significant. St Emilion and the Medoc are about as close as Clare Valley and the Barossa. Most of Coonawarra would fit in between St Julien and Margaux.
In 2005 there was great consistency in the weather patterns across Bordeaux. Frankly the vintage was a no-brainer. In 2006 micro-climate and sub-regional differences come into play. It appears that accumulated heat degrees, the level of rain, how the grapes were picked and sorted are key factors to this vintage. In short 2006 is a vineyard management year. Those that really worked hard in their vineyards (including maintaining well ventilated vines and the right balance between leaves and grape bunches) and at the sorting tables have been able to make more than half-decent wines. Some are exquisite. This goes pretty much across sub-regions. While yields are roughly the same as 2005, the potential crop was higher, meaning that many producers triaged their vineyards during harvest to maintain optimum ripeness. The stamp of winemaker is also a feature of the vintage.
This is not really a right bank or left bank vintage although degree of difficulty seems to increase towards St Julien and Pauillac. If anything Margaux and Pomerol are the strongest performers. However some top-notch St Juliens and Pauillacs have also been made. St Emilion – the stamping ground of rock-star wine consultants – are as usual a mixed bag of the great, the good and the utterly bewildering.
Ch Ausone which sits on top of an escarpment overlooking La Gaffeliere in St Emilion evokes the serenity of a monastery. As many will know it makes up the eight modern first growths; the five classified in 1855 (or elevated in 1973), Ch Petrus and Ch Cheval Blanc being the others. New investment, new money and aggressive politics have worked hard to re-order the established hierarchies. Claim and counter claim have seen updated classifications hauled through the court system in recent months. Both the Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel and the most recent update of St Emilion Grand Cru have been voided. Ausone however, sits both metaphorically and physically above the din of dissent.
The 2006 Ausone is a beacon in this vintage. It is an incredibly dense and perfumed wine packed with black cherry, meaty fruit and chocolaty tannins. It is very elemental, beautifully concentrated and fresh. Only 18,500 Bottles were made. If proportioned out across the world of fine wine and then adjusted according to each export country's popularity, Australia can expect roughly about half a bottle. The Chapelle d'Ausone, even rarer, is more structured with some graphite notes and a fair whack of malty oak characters.
Ch Pavie – the cross-Atlantic whipping wine – has enjoyed more than its fair share of ping pong wine politics in recent years. I think the 2006 is a better wine than 2005. It has clear deep set plum/ dark chocolate aromas and flavours with lovely dry loose-knit chalky tannins and cedar oak. The overall weight and structure of the wine is excellent. It will be interesting to see how the arguments unfold. Ch Monbousquet – from the same Domaine Persse stable – was also very impressive, perhaps slightly outgunning Pavie with its earthy/plum/blueberry aromas and slinky loose-knit tannins.
Michel Rolland's full throttle style is utterly obvious. His wines are generally more concentrated with slightly musky notes reminiscent of the new world. The wines also have strongly amplified fruit volume. In a year like 2006 there is something artificial about the wines of Ch Grand Mayne, Ch Ballestarde La Tonnelle and La Couspaude. The terroir is trying to speak but it has been muffled by over-handed winemaking. On the other hand Ch Angelus – which came up trumps in a blind tasting – is terrific with redcurrant/plum aromas and beautifully fine gravelly tannins and savoury/bisquity oak. The convincing wines of Stephane Derenoncourt – who I met very briefly – represent a really nice balance between the new and the traditional. He is clearly a rising star on the left bank and a beneficiary of the highly innovative ideas of Michel Rolland. Both Ch Canon Gaffeliere – owned by Count Stephan von Neipperg and Derenoncourt's own Ch Rol Valentin (an original garage wine) – are both dense and chocolaty but have minerally classical structures.
Overall the most impressive wines in St Emilion are (roughly in order): Ch Ausone, Ch Cheval Blanc, Ch Figeac, Ch Monbousquet, Ch Pavie, Ch Angelus, Clos Fourtet (Rolland), Ch Belair, Ch Canon-Gaffeliere, Ch Tour Figeac, Ch L'Arrosee, Ch Magdeleine, Ch La Gaffeliere, Ch Beausejour Becot and Ch Berliquet (another Derenoncourt wine). Ch Troplong Mondot, Ch Canon and La Dominique – usually really good performers – were a touch disappointing either possessing sinewy, unresolved or hard tack tannins. The aromatic and creamy Ch Monbousquet Blanc is truly excellent.
Unquestionably the top Pomerol wine is Ch L'Evangile, now owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild. The vineyard lies adjacent and across the road from Cheval Blanc. New investment in winemaking equipment and an under ground circular cellar shows that this Estate means business. The wine – which comprises 86% Merlot and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon – is aged in 100% new oak. The overall encepagement may indicate why the Pomerols generally are slightly ahead of St Emilion in 2006. Merlot seems to have performed really well.
Ch Lafleur – the charming, low-key and Lillipution four hectare estate close to Ch Petrus – has also made a beautiful wine. It would be impossible to swing a cat in this tiny winery and cellar. The wine has aromatic liquorice/dark cherry/ violet aromas and toasty/savoury nuances. The palate has lovely volume and sweetness of fruit, balanced with loosknit dry boney tannins and tremendous flavour length. It is a very generously proportioned wine. The wines of JP Mouiex are as usual very impressive. Ch Petrus is highly perfumed with camomile/blackberry/ dark chocolate aromas and cedar/malt oak. There is plenty of energy and concentration on the palate with fine loose-knit chalky tannins and flavour length. It is difficult not to be impressed. However I preferred Ch Lafleur Petrus. It is perhaps the most perfumed and exotic of all the Pomerols this year with lovely fruit sweetness and chocolaty tannins.
The top Pomerols this year (roughly in order of my preference) are Ch L'Evangile, Ch Lafleur, Ch Lafleur Petrus, Ch Petrus, Ch Providence, Le Pin, Ch Trotanoy, Ch La Pointe, Ch Clinet and Ch Conseillante.
Although I have yet to completely work through the Left bank (I still have to taste through all the first Growths etc) I have tasted enough of the Margauxs, St Juliens, Pauillacs and St Estephes to see a pattern emerge. Generally the wines seem to get better as one moves south. As discussed in previous correspondence, the key to this vintage is tannin ripeness and fruit volume. As a generalisation the St Estephes are muscular and sappy; the Pauillacs are very strong, tannic and powerful; the St Juliens are chalky and firm and the Margauxs are classically fine grained and possess an attractive core of fruit sweetness.
Despite having a First Growth Chateau – the Margaux commune – does not have as many famous wines as St Julien or Pauillac. Yet this year the various chateaux have made some lovely wines. Ch Palmer – so far – tops the list. The multi-turreted storybook Chateau glistening in the spring sun and flying the colours of France, the US and the United Kingdom is the first grandiose landmark as one drives up through the Medoc from Bordeaux.
Last year I thought he sample was stale, but somehow my notes were recorded on the Estate's website. However the 2006 is mightily impressive and intensely aromatic with blackcurrant pastille/ liquorice/violet aromas and cedar nuances. The palate is richly concentrated with chocolaty tannins and underlying savoury oak. It's 'other' wine Alter Ego is a highly competent and minerally wine with blueberry/ liquorice aromas, loose knit tannins and mocha characters. The best Margauxs (in rough order of preference) are Ch Malescot St Exupery, Ch Marquis de Terme, Ch Lascombes, Ch Prieure Lichine, Ch Brane Cantenac, Ch Giscours, Ch du Tertre, Ch Montbrison, Ch Desmirail and possibly then Ch Durfort Vivens. There were few real disappointments. Ch Cantenac Brown, Ch Ferriere and Ch d'Angludet all kicked up fur balls of tannin at the finish. The Margauxs may well offer up some of the best value wines when the primeur campaign gets under way.
The drive north from Margaux to St Julien takes much longer than planned. Yet again I have forgotten the expanse of scrappy land and forest between Ch Palmer and Ch Ducru Beaucaillou resulting in an extra bit of foot on the accelerator. I have now tasted almost all of the wines except for Ch Leoville Lascases. This commune has performed evenly neither reaching spectacular low nor high points. Ch Ducru Beaucaillou is one of the better wines this year with blackcurrant pastille/aniseed aromas and some gamey complexity. It's sweet and concentrated on the palate with slinky dry tannins and plenty of flavour length. Even the pretty girls in their Thierry Mugler boots lacked that extra swagger this year. Ch Talbot, Ch Beychevelle and Ch Leoville Barton have also performed well in this vintage and will probably offer some of the best value wines this year.
Ch Pichon Longueville Lalande is a very elegant classic style with lovely cassis/meaty aromas and chalky tannins. I preferred Ch Pichon Longueville Baron, which lies across the road and is something of a construction site at the moment. It has more volume of fruit, a really lovely core of fruit sweetness and fine chocolaty tannins. Ch Grand Puy Ducasse, Ch Lynch Moussas and Ch d'Armailhac are also top performers. Ch Batailley with its inky blackcurrant cedar aromas, cedary complexity and chalky resolved tannins has also performed well this year. Indeed it is one of the major surprises of the vintage. It should represent good value. On the other hand I was disappointed with Ch Lynch Bages. While it’s perfectly decent it has a hell of a reputation as a super second. It is very elemental at the moment with elderberry/ cassis/ cranberry aromas and graphite nuances, deep set chocolaty texture, fruit sweetness and cedary notes. It finished a touch sappy. However the wine seemed incredibly premature. Ch Pontet Canet (tasted twice so far) possessed dense sappy green tannins. While it had good fruit sweetness and flavour length, this is a wine that seemed too astringent this year.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing wines in Pauillac is the tiny ½ hectare Estate in Pauillac called Iris du Gayon. It comprises only 13 rows of vines delineated by a couple of yellow markers. Its boundaries run along a vineyard block owned by Ch Mouton Rothschild and Ch Fontplegarde. The 2006 has plenty of dark cherry chocolaty aromas and flavours and dry sinewy tannins. In the context of the en primeurs this wine is some thing of a mouse that roars. The highly enthusiastic and warm Pierre Sin – who has a face like cracking clay – is probably having the time of his life. Production is barely a few barrels and there is no shortage of people banging against his tiny garage winery door.
Not far away and just across the ditch is St Estephe's Ch Cos d'Estournel, another building site. This Estate has pretensions of greatness. Only a stone's throw from Ch Lafite Rothschild it has always played the game of reflected glory. The wine has intense blackcurrant pastille/lead pencil inky dry almost sinewy tannins and plenty of sweet – almost too sweet – oaky notes. The Ch Lafon Rochet is also quite sweet and slightly astringent. Ch Phelan Segur is minerally and firm with black cherry/blackcurrant flavours. Ch Les Ormes de Pez is also very sinewy. I have yet to see Ch Montrose.
While I have covered most of Bordeaux, I still have to taste most of the First Growths, Ch Leoville Lascases and Ch Montrose. Over the next few days I will also have an opportunity to re-taste many wines. This is actually really important. All of the wines that I have tasted are barrel samples and present only a snapshot of vintage. Cross referencing is helpful to work out exactly what is happening. The 2006 vintage is actually a really interesting one. If the wines are offered at realistic prices, buyers can expect to pick up some very classical wines at decent value.
Next Report – First Growths – Left Bank
April 5 Report
The English like to queue. The French like to herd. These two philosophies of waiting for something to happen are a palpable cultural difference that impact on the way contemporary buildings are designed to the basic transaction of language. The new Quai de Branly Museum in Paris is a postmodern drover’s yard that takes you on a journey around the world of indigenous art. After working through the mass of push and shove and the cabinets of Oceanic masks, spears, skulls and shields one finally arrives at the Australian corner.
After seeing the remarkable collection of Papau New Guinean, West Papua and Solomon Island art and artifacts, the Australian offering feels curiously inadequate. There is a beautiful Rover Thomas which resonates a longing for home with its earthy pattern, texture and feeling of place. And there are some beautiful bark paintings and impressive old hunting boomerangs cased in a gloomy, badly lit cabinet. But the relatively small collection of contemporary aboriginal paintings seem out of place and almost artificial in this company. Both the Helicopter Tjungurrayi and Mick Namerari pictures are modern cutting edge paintings with powerful, vibrant and indelibly deep set colours. They are entrancing yet composed on linen canvas. Somehow these paintings are divorced from the rest of the collection because they feel so modern, abstract and excitingly different. But they hang away from the madding crowd almost like an afterthought and perhaps evoking Australia's isolation from the rest of the world?
The waiting game is part and parcel of making Sauternes and Barsac. Hope is another. Botrytis development is rarely even and harvest can be bloody complicated. The herds of pickers – extremely experienced – have to triage through the vineyards many times. The 2006 growing season was a rollercoaster ride through hot, cold and stormy weather patterns. July was the hottest in record but August was relatively cool. At the end of August there was a major rain event which soaked Sauternes to an inch of disaster although Barsac escaped the full impact of the deluge. At the beginning of September there was an Indian summer but storms returned right in the middle of harvest.
Chateau d'Yquem started harvesting its first triage on the 6th September but Chateau Climens started on the 13th September. Precision harvesting – through a series of non-compromising tries – was the key to success in 2006. While the ignoble moulds of mildew and grey rot were prevalent many producers worked hard and successfully to leave these type of rotters hanging on the vine or lying like snot on the ground.
The tasting – which was conducted in blind format – showed that there were some excellent Sauternes and Barsacs made in 2006 despite the difficulties leading up to harvest. I also tasted an assemblage of 2006 Ch D'Yquem and tasted through twelve barrels of 2006 Ch Climens at Barsac.
The top wines of 2006 are clearly and pretty much in order of preference: Ch Climens, Ch d'Yquem, Ch Suduiraut, Ch de Malle, Ch Clos Haut Peyraguey, Ch Caillou, Ch de Fargues, Ch Suau, Ch de Myrat and Ch Sigalas Rabaud. These are all wines that showed classicism, overall puissance, minerality, richness and generosity. Ch Coutet, Ch Rieussec and Ch Filhot – traditional Australian favourites – were all quite disappointing considering their reputations. Although one should always give a wide berth in barrel sample tastings, these ranged from the skinny and unsubstantial to possessing unattractive ignoble bass notes.
The Ch D'Yquem is outstanding with its ginger/lemon curd/honeyed/camomile aromas and underlying spicy complexity. The palate is minerally and long with plenty of pear/lime/honey flavours and richness of fruit. The wine simply sparkles with energy and a lightness of touch. Not quite perfect it is a beacon of quality in this vintage. I tasted this wine at the Chateau in a suitably formal and snooty drawing room which looks over towards Ch Suduiraut in the neighbouring sub-region of Preignac. Filled with wine writing royalty including the Queen of England and the King of France I made my bows and curtsied out into the draughty courtyard and aimed for Ch Climens.
The tasting at the understated Ch Climens was like participating in the twelve stations of the cross. It seemed appropriate considering Easter is coming up this weekend. Berenice Lurton is warm and welcoming. "There's not much to see here. Only barrels!" Armed with a wine thief and accompanied by her technical wine man Frederic Nivelle, we tasted twelve different barrel samples of the 2006 vintage. It was like walking along an inexorable pathway to nirvana. This is an Estate that uses 100% Semillon. Saddled adjacent to the Garonne at Barsac the vineyards lie on a weathered limestone base with red sandy clays. It is a very different soil profile to Sauternes. The wine is assembled very late in the stage and close to bottling. The 2005s – which I also tasted have yet to be bottled. I tasted two versions – both excellent – and feel confident they will choose the wine where the wine shines through the oak. The 2006s however are beautifully fresh and vibrant wines with nectarine/apricot/lime aromas and lovely honeyed nuances.
The palate structure is truly excellent with fantastic concentration, grilled nut/lemon curd/ pearskin complexity and creamy flavours. The wines finish long with touches of aniseed. I have a strong feeling that this is the Sauternes/Barsac wine of the vintage. Utterly seductive it just has marvellous presence, plenty of interest and life. This was a vintage not without drama. During a critical phase of the vintage Ch Climens lost power for 36 hours. Thankfully the Lurton siblings (there are ten of them with various chateaux around Bordeaux) at Ch Bouscaut – where I am staying in actual fact – brought round a generator.
I tasted the Graves wines at the beautiful but low-key Chateau Bouscaut at Caudejac the following morning. Sophie and Laurent Lurton-Congombles, roughly in their early forties, are relaxed and welcoming. They have four children – all boys. Bordeaux will have a decent number of Lurton offspring hanging for plenty more generations. Some years back all of the Lurton siblings were each given an estate by their father (who is now 82) and still dabbles in wine business. The Lurton- Congombles live on the Estate but not in the Chateau. Sophie (who is the sister of Berenice) lives in fear of her children drowning in the various water features – including the swimming pool – around the building. The Chateau has a slightly empty unlived-in feeling. The rooms are generously proportioned and the plumbing is noisy. My thin long bed has the same properties as a camembert cheese. Every time I move I seem to sink further into the mattress. The windows are large and the light just floods into the large reception room with faded old tapestries of 18th century aristocracy at play. There is one where a young women has fallen off a see saw much to the amusement of her friends.
The tasting of Graves was also something of a see saw affair although at the fulcrum there were plenty of decent well made wines. For Australians white Graves is really a curio. We have enough Semillons and Sauvignon Blancs of our own to keep us happy and richer. Indeed a McWilliam's Lovedale Semillon would outrank much of this company; so much for beautiful vineyards and grand buildings.
There was only one wine which had clear remnants of botrytis in the wine. Generally good Graves will have intense lemon grass/lime aromas with touches of lanolin or underlying savoury oak. The palate will have volume and generosity of fruit with minerally long acidity. Some will have a touch of oak to bring more complexity. In actual fact there were plenty of sound wines here. The acidities are very strong in 2006 with only a few showing slightly sappy green notes. I will be seeing the white wines from Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion next week, but the best of this mob were Ch Larrivet Haut Brion, Ch Bouscaut, Domaine de Chevalier, and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. The latter is clearly on-song these days.
The impossibly energetic Cathiards seem to have a more realistic approach to their wine making these days. The reds are typically muscular. Tasting blind once again, the usual suspects reached the top of the pile. Ch Haut Bailly – still elemental – with elderberry/aniseed/ liquorice aromas and underlying nutmeg/toasty oak had lovely fruit concentration and chocolaty tannins. Ch Smith Haut-Lafitte came in second equal with deep set black cherry aromas and hints of violets. The palate was really well rounded and modern with clear fruit and minerality. Ch Domaine de Chevalier was really fresh and chocolaty with fine gritty tannins and lovely bright fruit. It was not quite as full throttle as the others but was pretty impressive all the same. The chateaux that have it right are those who have paid particular attention to underlying structure. Selection in the vineyard has been paramount.
While the 2006s fall in the shadow of the 2005s, there are some bright lights. I have now tasted through many of the Pomerols and St Emilions and just finished a tasting of Margauxs. Hopefully I can get something written up tonight. Must away. Off to Ch Palmer and running late.
Andrew Caillard, MW
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