Parker Jr.'s 100's
Another Royal Flush: Bordeaux 2010
Neal Martin – The Wine Advocate
Wotsits ‘n Wine: Saint Julien 2010
In a few days and counting, Chateau Branaire-Ducru will host the UGC tasting and a crack team of workmen are busy erecting a large marquee to host the impending arrivals. I peek inside and spot Patrick Maroteaux stationed at a trestle table spreading Marmite into triangular sandwiches. Meanwhile the disc jockey spins Shakin’ Stevens’ “This Old House” to test the sound-system and soon has the entire marquee filled with dry ice and strobe lighting. This may distract tasters next week.
In the middle of the marquee sits a giant bowl of “Wotsits”.
“We don’t want attendees to go hungry,” explains Patrick, licking a splodge of Marmite off his fingers.
“Wotsits?” I enquire. “Why not Quavers, the most delicious melt-in-your mouth crisp known to man?”
“Wotsits counter the build-up of tannin. They were invented by Professor Emile Peynaud in the early 1970’s at the University of Bordeaux.”
I make a mental note to check that out. My host then guides me around the rest of the facilities that are being prepared and remark upon one section in the courtyard cordoned off for pushchairs, another where critics will be able to leave their film crews (as long as they have not forgotten them like me.)
“You can tie your film crew to this iron rail. We had a terrible incident last year when two cameramen slipped their leads and started running around the vineyard. It took us ages to catch them. Made a right mess.”
He then shows me a fountain, an alabaster “Manneken Pis” except that the cherub micturates wine instead of water.
“This is for those on very brief visits without time to actually sample themselves. The wine is actually a blend of every single 2010 from Cru Bourgeois to First Growths. You see this dial welded to the base? See...it is pointing to “90”. That tells you the average score for the vintage, so no need to taste every sample. Just taste this et voila, an instant primeur report! It’s very sensitive. Allow me to demonstrate.”
With that, he pours in a sample of Mouton ’10 and the dial edges up towards “92”. He then pours in a vegetal Petit Chateau and it dials back down to “85”.
“Amazing,” I comment, making a note of the manufacturer...just in case.
Like Pauillac, I visited all the major properties in Saint Julien before the melee of en primeur week unfolded. I was afforded time to speak one-on-one with proprietors and allow samples time to settle in my glass. The one disadvantage of visiting chateaux prior to UGC week is that I miss the eye-candy at Ducru-Beaucaillou, the aesthetic joys of Bruno Borie’s harem of ladeez. No disrespect to his maitre-de-chai, but he cannot pull off the killer jodhpur and lycra combination quite as well as an olive-skinned Mediterranean twenty-something who has just walked off the set of the “Addicted To Love” video.
Bruno Borie outlined the harvest.
“We had to go three times into the field to pick the Merlot because of coulure and millerandage and we took off every bunch early in the season since some had both one or two big berries mixed with some pink ones and so on.”
The estate received just one-quarter of the average rainfall but 60-hours more sunshine. Cropped between 29th September until 14th October, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, the Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2010 has 13.95% alcohol with a pH of 3.62 and it will be aged in 95% new oak for 18-months.
It looks set to be another stunning, seductive Ducru.
Even though the nose takes some coaxing from the glass, it delivers a smorgasbord of aromas that are almost Pauillac in style, mint and cedar to the fore, opulent and yet refined and controlled. The palate is defined by cashmere tannins counterbalanced by a citric edge and again, an almost Pauillac-like finish. It will be a long-term Ducru that might appear less “fun” than the 2009 in its youth, but will be entrancing in adulthood. I know that prices have increased dramatically in recent years as it contends with Léoville-Las-Cases as the eminent Saint Julien but putting that aside, there is little doubt that the estate is currently reaching its zenith.
Somehow, I ended up discussing (and correcting) Bruno’s appreciation of R&B stars such as Beyonce and Rihanna. I suspect that Anthony Barton is not quite as au fait with the American R&B scene as Bruno, but he has made a smashing Chateau Leoville-Barton...
“The big difference between 2009 and 2010 is that we were short on Merlot. We had wet weather when the Merlot was flowering and in one parcel we only made one-third of the crop. The 2010 is changing rapidly. Two weeks ago I thought it was like the 1988 as it was quite aggressive on the palate. But it is beginning to become friendly.”
The Chateau Leoville-Barton 2010 is a touch more taciturn than the Langoa at this embryonic stage, but it opens wondrously to reveal blackberry, cassis, violets and a touch of cedar. Whereas Ducru-Beaucaillou bore similarities to Pauillac, I found this Barton to be more feminine and Margaux-like in profile. The palate is full-bodied with seamless tannins that gently but insistently grip the mouth, a wine that exudes bewitching harmony and precision towards the finish. To quote my own rather prosaic tasting note: it is utterly gorgeous.
Also, do not ignore the criminally under-rated Chateau Langoa Barton 2010 that displayed touches of oyster shell on the nose and borrowed Barton’s cashmere tannins so that this wine slipped down the throat with ease. A beguiling partner to Leoville-Barton, it will drink beautifully over three decades.
Anthony Barton was not the only one to suffer the loss of Merlot to coulure. David Launay at Château Gruaud Larose told me that they lost up to 80% and that the prevalence of millerandage meant that the optical sorting machine had to be employed for the first time at the estate. The Grand Vin is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, delivering 14 percent alcohol. It has a very intense, almost opulent bouquet with blackberry, cassis and again, a touch of oyster shell, the palate not quite as grandiose as Leoville-Barton but with seamless tannins and a sumptuous finish. I wonder whether it will last as long as the 1831 that the estate pulled out of their cellar the weekend before UGC week? Let me know in 2190.
Chateau Lagrange has been one of the appellations most consistent performers in recent years under the steady hand of manager Bruno Eynard.
“We are continuing with biodynamie despite a disappointing 2009,” he told me on a refulgent April morning. “We have learnt that you must anticipate rain and treat [the vineyard] earlier, whereas with chemical products, you can apply them more at the last minute. In 2010 we de-leafed more as it is important to avoid disease under biodynamics, which we will expand to 8-hectares in 2011 towards some of the best terroirs of Cabernet Sauvignon. There have been some changes in the reception and vat-room and we used optical sorting machine. We have experienced problems with the Petit Verdot that seems to add to much rusticity and harshness.”
The crop was picked between 29th September and 20th October, with much of the Cabernet picked between 13th and 19th October. A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, it has a strict, taut bouquet with scents of blackberry, wild hedgerow, cedar and graphite. The medium-bodied palate displays fine tannins with a real sense of symmetry and focus, belying the structure underneath. Tasted against a barrel sample of the 2009, the difference in styles was tangible, principally a noticeable dryness on the finish, the 2009 carefree and voluptuous, the 2010 more linear and in no mood to muck around. Both come highly recommended.
At Chateau Beychevelle there was a slight cock-up since Philippe Blanc had pencilled me on for the right time and the right date, but alas, not the right month. Cue confusion. Still, one of his assistants (a potential candidate for best looking girl at en primeur, nominated by several smitten visitors over that week) allowed us into the tasting room.
Cellarmaster Olivier Richaud told us that the harvest began on 27th September and finished 14th October, during which there were thirteen days of picking. The yield was 45.5hl/ha and the blend of the Grand Vin is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, similar to last year albeit with a little more Cabernet Sauvignon. The alcohol is just below 14% with more tannins, colour and acidity (lower pH), which Olivier opined lends the wine structure, but does not feel heavy. He also mentioned that with respect to the Second label, they used co-inoculation, the addition of friendly bacteria to help the malolactics that were retarded by the low pH. (I suspect that co-inoculation was more widespread than winemakers let on, especially with samples being tasted so soon or even before primeur.) With respect to the Grand Vin, around 30% to 40% of the malolactic was done in barrel.
Chateau Beychevelle has improved dramatically over the last 4-5 years and the 2010 continues an impressive run. It is endowed with a very intense nose with aromas of dark berries, Dorset plum and an almost Margaux-like floral element similar to Leoville Barton. The palate is full-bodied, certainly a very powerful Beychevelle with some of the sinew of Ducru Beaucaillou and yet there are silky smooth tannins and (again) that beguiling symmetry imparted by perfectly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. It is on par with last year’s wonderful offering.
At Château Léoville Las-Cases Jean-Hubert Delon joined us and as is customary, I discretely let off a helium balloon so that his bass-trembling voice would be within audible range. We were presented with the usual surfeit of information with regard to the growing season, including fascinating graphs of the vintage that whenever I have a spare weekend, I will sit down and analyse. In a nutshell, 2010 was not quite as dry as 2005 but much cooler, equivalent to the 1997. The Grand Vins was harvested between 28th September and 13th October at 36.7hl/ha, a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, offering 13.7% alcohol and a pH of 3.56, to be raised in 75% new oak.
The nose has a brooding intensity, not as immediate as the 2009 last year but unfurling with touches of tobacco and black truffle, beautifully defined and cerebral. Naturally, the full-bodied palate is enveloped with silky smooth tannins and a thrilling sense of harmony, a composed and complete Las-Cases under-pinned totally by the ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, it did remind me of the 2005 at this early stage. If you cannot wait for it to reach its drinking plateau, there is always the ever-reliable Clos du Marquis or the superb bona fide Deuxième Vin, Le Petit Lion. A blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, this is like a “Las-Cases Mini-Me”. Wonderful!
Meanwhile at Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Didier Cuvelier’s wine writer graffiti wall is just about full up with all the big name: Robert Parker, Michel Bettane, Steven Tanzer, Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier and even ‘lil old me. Every time I look at it, I wish I had thought of something more inspiring to scrawl. The wine is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, a pH of 3.7 and alcohol at 14%. It is blessed with a spellbinding, extraordinarily pure bouquet that reminded me of a Romanée St. Vivant whilst the palate does not veer away from that ravishing opulent style that he has perfected in recent vintages. I suspect this will drink earlier than others thanks to its lushness and is yet another great Saint Julien.
Another stupendous offering from a property that has come from nowhere to the top tier of the appellation is Château Gloria. I was only able to sample this courtesy of a négociant but wow…this is a spectacular Saint Julien that I would place alongside Ducru and Las-Cases. Incredibly precise on the nose, the palate was defined by chalky tannins and an awe-inspiring powerful finish suggesting that this should be cellared for 15-20 years before opening.
Finally, Château Branaire-Ducru…
“In 2010 we cropped at 40hl/ha, which is 20% less than 2009,” Patrick Maroteaux informs me. “From the beginning of July it was the driest period since 1949. This year we paid a lot of attention towards the pressed wine. We had more than 250 barrels that we divided into four groups and we are proud of this precision in 2010. We have never had Branaire Ducru so powerful and yet so precise, the most elegant we have ever done.”
A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23.5% Merlot, 4.5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot including 10% of the vin de presse, the Grand Vin consists of 13.8% alcohol with a pH of 3.53. It has a backward, primal, powerful nose with high-toned dark cherries, dark plum and cassis. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tensile tannins, very good acidity and precision; linear compared to Ducru Beaucaillou but with a subtle spiciness towards the finish that I appreciated. This will be a great Branaire-Ducru that does not quite have the flair, the profundity that I think Patrick is seeking, but that is not to say he will never get there.
With that, there were more sausages to spear onto cocktail sticks…
To sum up, Saint Julien is once again, a very reliable source of Claret in 2010. There was not a wine that approached the perfection of some of the finest Pauillac’s further north, but collectively that form a strong set of wines that should age gracefully over many, many years. Like Pauillac, it is the Cabernet Sauvignon that drives these wines to the heights that they achieve, although they are very different in style to the 2009s: much less flamboyant and showy, square rather than round.
Money no object: Château Ducru-Beaucaillou
For the cellar: Château Léoville Las-Cases, Château Léoville-Barton
Potential value for money: Château Gloria
Watching the pennies: Le Petit Lion, Les Fiefs de Lagrange
Girls In Uniform: Saint Estèphe 2010
I can tell that I have just landed at Merignac Airport.
Instead of two shaven-haired, square-jawed male army officers with guilt-inducing accusatory glares at passport control, there are two French femme fatales dressed in camouflage fatigues brandishing matching sub-automatic machine guns. Military chic…so 2010. I suspect their duty is to check nobody is entering Bordeaux with contraband of nasty comments about en primeur and as my passport is stamped, in a distant room the painful cries of an opinionated wine merchant are audible as his interrogators find a use for the thumb screws left over from the Revolution.
My trip to Merignac had been uneventful, save for a brief chinwag with Andrew Caillard MW, who explained that he would be touring Bordeaux with obligatory film crew in tow.
I knew I had forgotten something! I call the emergency line and Mrs. M puts down the sprogs and picks up the phone.
“Darling, you are not going to believe this, but I left the film crew at home.”
“You idiot,” she scolds. “Where did you leave it?”
“I think it’s in the hallway…next to my car keys.”
“Hold on a moment...”
A momentary pause.
“Yes I found them. There are two cameramen and a boom operator standing in the porch. They don’t look too happy.”
“Blast. Give them my apologies. Tell them I will take them down to Stellenbosch in May...”
I hear Mrs M inform the abandoned film crew and there is an audible whoop of delight. Bless them.
Saint Estèphe has quietly become more than the triumvirate of Montrose, Cos
d’Estournel and Calon-Segur in recent years. Perceived as a little “dowdy” and “conservative” compared to Saint Julien, these robust, earthy wines have been steadily improving and though generally not as flattering as Saint Julien or Margaux in 2010, the best wines will repay cellaring in 15 or 20-years.
Visiting the work site that is Château Montrose, I made my annual attempt to scale the flagpole that overlooks the estuary. I got about a dozen steps up before vertigo halted my skyward progress and an irritated workman yelled at me to get down like I was a naughty schoolboy. What is he going to do? Put me in detention? I hope that the new owners will not dispense with the flagpole...please don’t.
With the summer drought, I expected Montrose to come up trumps in 2010 thanks to its clayey soils that can retain water more effectively than gravel and so it turned out to be. Apropos the 20-hectares acquired from Château Phelan-Segur, I was told that one-third of its Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines are now blended into the Grand Vin and these may be augmented by other plots within their new acquisition down the line. They remain cautious since plots have just been pruned and some of the vines may need to be replanting.
“During all the key periods we had perfect conditions,” technical-director Nicolas Glumineau tells me. “It was a dry but warm season. We could wait for the phenolic maturity, which is not our style, but everything was just there. It was remarkable that the juice was black without pumping over, which shows that the fruit was just ripe.”
The Grand Vin is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot picked between from 27th September through to 15th October, cropped at 45hl/ha, delivering 13.8% alcohol with a pH 3.65. Montrose is always a difficult wine to assess at en primeur, one of the true vin de gardes recommended for those with patience. The 2010 is no different. Jean-Bernard Delmas has conjured a Montrose with a tightly wound, broody bouquet: blackberry laced with a touch of coca, tertiary notes with time. The palate is comparatively fleshy compared to the 2008 and 2009, but underpinned by a firm tannic backbone towards the masculine finish. A no-frills but regal Saint Estèphe destined for long-term ageing, the Château Montrose 2010 might be considered conservative compared to its peers, but consider gems like the 1989 and 1990 and you know there is a wonderful Montrose in store. Incidentally, the Deuxième Vin also impressed me this year, often one of the communes more reasonably priced offerings.
I tasted Château Cos d’Estournel on two occasions at the Château, several days apart. During my second visit, I met the Shanghai branch of the hitherto unknown “Neal Martin Fan Club”, so big shout to you guys ‘n gals out in the Far East. Once I finished dishing out autographed photographs and I had inspected all the tattoos (I was particularly fond of the one depicting yours truly typing away at my computer...an amazing likeness), Jean-Guillaume Prats, who doubtless has his own fan club in Shanghai, offered an overview of the vintage.
“We cropped at two-hectolitres per hectare more this than last year,” he explained. “This was due to the clay soils that helped the vines during the drought. It was as if the tannins have been cut with diamond, which comes from the gravity in the winemaking. It does not improve the quality but it impinges upon the style.”
The good news is that following last year’s excursion to various ports in the New World, Cos d’Estournel has returned home to the more tannic, “classic” style that makes the 2008 such a compelling wine. A blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot cropped at 36hl/ha, delivering 14.5% alcohol with a pH of 3.5 (3.68 for 2009), the 2010 has a extraordinarily focused bouquet of pure blackberry and Dorset plum, the palate sinewy and assertive, a masculine Cos d’Estournel that will arm-wrestle Montrose in years to come. It had perhaps a greater sense of symmetry and may drink slightly sooner, but the bottom line is that Jean-Guillaume has fashioned a stunning wine that remains true to its terroir.
Over at Château Calon Segur, I was met by the winemaker outside the cuverie and once we had donned rucksacks, survival gear and our food rations, we set off on the five-day hike towards the tasting room. The tasting room is capacious with high ceilings and no windows, austere and a little soulless, just a hearth above which hangs the estate’s “heart” shaped emblem. And there, standing alone on wooden table so long that it could cater for the 5,000, stands a solitary bottle: Château Calon-Segur. It takes longer to walk to the sample than to actually taste and write the note. However, this year it was joined by Château Capbern-Gasqueton and I will join other voices in saying that this Saint Estephe is well worth seeking out: an affordable alternative to the more famous names with its brambly black fruit on the nose and a very natural sensibility.
Unfortunately, the vineyards of Calon-Segur suffered 50% hail damage on 9th May. (This also affected other estates such as Haut-Beauséjour, but not to the same degree.) Flowering was on 5th June and so it meant that the sun’s energy could be focused on half the number of berries in 2010. A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, the Cabernet cropped between the 5th and 14th October it has a tertiary, smoky, more rustic bouquet, brusque tannins on the palate and a nascent aggression that will be tempered by bottling. It is potentially a great Calon-Segur, although personally I feel that the wine does not need the 100% new oak and neither does the Capbern-Gasqueton need its 80%.
Elsewhere is a very impressive Château Lafon-Rochet 2010. With a freak free 20 minutes we chose to make an impromptu visit to the estate to see if Basile Tesseron was in. Unfortunately we gate-crashed a private lunch for his coterie of negociants and courtiers and so there was a great hullabaloo as we entered and a great hullabaloo when we departed ten minutes later having tasting his wine and that of his wife (the Cru Bourgeois Château Larriveaux...worth seeking out.) The Lafon-Rochet is very pure on the nose with blackberry and cassis, the palate tarry and graphite at the moment: signs of ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins were a little coarse like Calon-Segur but they will soften. This will hopefully represent good value.
For those on a budget, there are a number of cheaper alternatives that should be considered including an improved Château Lilian Ladouys (although I noticed some inconsistency between samples), the dependable Château Meyney, a sturdy Château Les Ormes de Pez and Château de Pez. There is also a clutch of excellent Cru Bourgeois: Château Andron-Blanquet, Château Haut-Beausejour (from the Pichon-Lalande stable), Château Laffitte Carcasset and Château Petit Bocq.
Money no object: Château Cos d’Estournel
For the cellar: Château Montrose, Château Calon-Segur
Potential value for money: Château Lafon-Rochet, Château Capbern-Gasqueton
Watching the pennies: Château Andron Blanquet, Château Laffitte Carcasset, La Dame de Montrose
Neal Martin – The Wine Advocate
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