Stars of the Day
Haut Brion ~ Our wine of the day. Clearly a Rolls Royce with the finest of materials, craftsmanship and a sporting line.
Domaine de Chevalier ~ I can recommend without hesitation the 2015, which is brimming with understated refinement, character and long-term potential.
Leoville Las Cases ~ Here we have another wine of noble breeding, a grown-up wine that allows pleasure but asks for patience, that is as wise as it is handsome, laden with minerals and endlessly fascinating.
Day 4 and it was still dark as we left our hotel and headed for our first appointment, indeed too early also for the cafes of central Bordeaux who had to go without our regular order. However, we were eager to beat the Bordeaux gridlock and not start the day behind the clock, duly arriving at Haut Brion so early that Jean-Philippe Delmas offered us croissants with the wines.
Tasting at first growth properties is the pinnacle and none makes more of an impact than Haut Brion. The grand setting of the orangerie made for a quiet, respectful atmosphere, perfect for reflecting on the latest set of masterpieces. This year, the three 'second wines' were presented one after the other, with Le Clarence de Haut Brion putting in a particularly fabulous showing that had me sitting bolt upright in my chair. Then on to the three Grand Vins. I am still getting to understand Quintus, the St Emilion property formed after the purchase of Tertre Daugay and L'Arrosee. With conditions benevolent on the right bank, the property has certainly put in its best-ever showing in 2015, with full, plush red fruits reined in by careful tannin control. However, it was simply blown away by its stablemates. La Mission Haut Brion has the flamboyance, a low bass rumble like a Harley Davidson sitting at the lights, waiting for green while Haut Brion is far more classic, clearly a Rolls Royce with the finest of materials, craftsmanship and a sporting line. Our day was off to a good start!
The reds were followed by the whites. These were our first encounters with a series of dry whites and given the early harvest dates (picked from 28th August) we were keen to see if balance was to be found. Well no need to worry- Haut Brion Blanc was absolutely breathtaking, the raciness of the Sauvignon Blanc tamed by the fuller Semillon and seamlessly woven together with a gentle wooden caress.
Smiles on faces, we made our way through the suburbs and inevitable detours for roadworks to Haut Bailly. A beautiful property, surrounded by woodland, this is an easy place to enjoy coming to and we had an excellent tasting, with Veronique Sanders sharing her feeling that 2015 is between 2009 and 2010 in style. This is an expressive, joyful glass of wine with easy balance and no excesses.
With some of Pessac's finest freshly noted, we entered the UGC Graves, hosted at the upwardly mobile Malartic Lagraviere. I tasted 17 reds and 16 whites and while I concur with the view that this appellation has done well in general, I was a little disappointed to see so many wines that could have done better. The stars of the show were easy to spot, Domaine de Chevalier the clear winner for me in both colours. Pape Clement's white impressed me more than its red, which I found too big and powerful but there will be others who love it. Honourable mention to Latour Martillac whose red I thought much improved and closing in on the level of its always dependable white and also to Bouscaut for a very good white. James Snoxell was keener than I on the Malartic Lagraviere and I shall endeavour to have another go at it when I can.
A short drive to Domaine de Chevalier permitted us an extensive tasting of the whole range of the Bernard family's wines. I tasted 11 of them, only choosing to pass on the sweet wines that I had tasted previously. Chevalier has been a favourite of mine for many years and I can recommend without hesitation the 2015, which is brimming with understated refinement, character and long-term potential.
Olivier Bernard, also the president of the UGC, hosts a fabulous lunch, always adorned by anniversary vintages, this year all ending in the number '6'. The team had great fun trying a range of 2006s from magnum and then some 1996s in a variety of formats, including Mouton Rothschild and Domaine de Chevalier itself.
Ever the dedicated tasters, we tore ourselves away before the foie gras did permanent damage and headed back to the Medoc. Our first appointment of the afternoon was at Palmer. As expected, this was a very good showing, with the Grand Vin a big, structured wine that will keep for many years, full of rich fruit but with tremendous shape and control and a clean, crisp finish. Very polished and satisfying.
Then to the fun-house that is Ducru Beaucaillou. Bruno Borie always puts on an entertaining experience and his sense of fun and extroverted nature comes through in the wines. These are not wines for the shy but, much like the man himself, behind the swagger, Ducru is the real deal, a densely concentrated, intense and inky expression of the purest Cabernet Sauvignon (95%), wrapped in silk and creamy cashmere and yet fresh, vital and enlivening at the same time.
To Lynch-Bages, where our tasting reconfirmed that this is certainly at the level of the established super-seconds in Pauillac and once again a wine that makes a statement of intent. Here too we noted the powerful, grippy tannins and the great concentration of black fruit allied to fresh acidity thanks to the cool September. The team have clearly worked very hard on it, giving a wine of classic profile that will certainly last the distance.
Our final stop was at Leoville Las Cases. This is always a curious visit as there is something a little stand-offish about the place, which is a shame as the wines can be some of the very best to be found anywhere. There was no Nenin to taste this year, a particular disappointment to my colleague Will Gossip who is an ardent fan, but Potensac was on terrific form, as we had noted on Monday, showing unusual charm and fleshiness. Clos du Marquis also impressed but of course, it was the Grand Vin that we had really come to see and here we found a truly great Leoville Las Cases, only missing out on the wine of the day tag because of Haut Brion. Here we have another wine of noble breeding, a grown-up wine that allows pleasure but asks for patience, that is as wise as it is handsome, laden with minerals and endlessly fascinating.
Tomorrow is our last day and four first growths and one flying fifth await...