Bordeaux, Day 3: A tasting tour of Pauillac, St Estephe, St Julien, Margaux and Barsac

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 Stars of the Day

 Leoville Barton ~ Our wine of the day. From the moment that I first started to taste it, I could see that this was something really exciting, not because it is flashy and noisy but precisely because it knows its strengths and plays to them. 

Lafon Rochet ~ Once again, it is clearly Lafon Rochet that is leading the chasing pack. The intensity of the rich black fruits are beautifully offset by the earthy, tobacco note and the tannins also melded beautifully into the wine. Well done.

Grand Puy Lacoste ~ We all agreed that pound for pound, it would be hard to find a Pauillac better to buy. 

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Do weather forecasters get it wrong more ofter than right? Wednesday was meant to be the day of brollies and raincoats but so it was that in bright sunshine, we departed Bordeaux for a day of UGC tastings which would ensure that by stumps we would have covered the vast majority of major properties in the Medoc, plus the glories of Sauternes.

Maybe, of course, it's more the case that Bordeaux's weather is notoriously hard to read. The localising effect of the Gironde on weather fronts means that you simply cannot generalise across the whole region. This was as true today as it was during the 2015 growing season and the impact of this on the wines is exactly what we have been attempting to assess all week.

So, we commenced at du Tertre, this year's host for the UGC Margaux. Now this tasting has a reputation for being the most erratic, however the reports of 2015 suggest that Margaux enjoyed the best of the conditions of the Medoc communes, so could this be the year that everyone turned an ace?

In one word: no. We were disappointed to find a number of wines that really weren't at the races and when we sat down at the end of the session and looked at what we all collectively liked, it was something of a case of the usual suspects. So for brevity, we consider Rauzan Segla, Brane Cantenac and Cantenac Brown to fill the podium places, with honourable mention to Malescot St Exupery, Kirwan and Prieure Lichine. There is still, from the evidence in front of us, a wide interpretation of what 'Margaux style' is- not dissimilar to the identity crisis in St Emilion- but from these six, those who like a fuller style should go for Cantenac-Brown and Malescot, those who like something more middle-weight should try Kirwan, Prieure-Lichine and Brane-Cantenac, while those who simply want a really fine wine that can go toe to toe with any appellation should buy Rauzan Segla.

That does not mean, however, that Margaux underperformed. In fact, it does seem apparent from Rauzan in particular, for example, that tremendous wine could have been made in 2015. Some have done- it's just that quite a number haven't and it feels like it is man who is to blame for this, not the weather gods.

We then sped up to Lafon Rochet for this year's gathering of the great and the good of Pauillac and St Estephe. Guessing that it would be the quieter end of the room, I headed straight to St Estephe and got stuck in to the five wines being shown. After the strong showing from the commune's big three on Monday, I was eager to see if any of them need to be looking over their shoulder and once again, it is clearly Lafon Rochet that is leading the chasing pack. Basile Tesseron was on hand to show us his excellent wine and I was pleased to see that he has dialled back a bit on its power and looked instead for balance. The intensity of the rich black fruits are beautifully offset by the earthy, tobacco note and the tannins also melded beautifully into the wine. Well done.

Of the dozen or so Pauillacs on display, there were some big names to try. Firstly, we got our chance to re-examine the Pichons and were relieved to find both on better form than Monday, and while neither emerged as wine of the day, we felt more enthralled by today's showing. However, with Lynch Bages and Grand Puy Lacoste flanking them, they were in need of impressing and this latter pair were exactly as one would expect, perfect demonstrations of Pauillac's qualities and clearly revelling in the fine growing conditions. Honourable mention should also be made of Batailley, which has long shaken off the reputation of 'old man's claret' and has for several years been something of a head-turner. The 2015 should prove to be a cracking buy.

Then to Gruaud Larose, host of the UGC St Julien. It has been a couple of years since I had been to Gruaud, but the sight of a metal-clad watchtower dominating the skyline rather than a beautiful stone chateau with ornamental fountains and manicured lawns was something of a shock. We quickly checked for advancing Viking Raiders but seeing none, we presumed it safe to proceed into the tasting room. Now where Margaux and St Emilion don't seem to offer consistency of style, St Julien certainly does and yet again, the average quality level here was the highest of any of the major communes. Any of the ten wines tasted could be happily recommended but our unanimous winner was Leoville Barton, also our wine of the day. From the moment that I first started to taste it, I could see that this was something really exciting, not because it is flashy and noisy but precisely because it knows its strengths and plays to them. The control, the calm and assured delivery, the impeccable tailoring with nothing out of place, this is a wine that builds and builds on the palate, driving through to an impressive, concentrated finish which lasts for minutes. A wine to lay down for many years and enjoy as often as possible.

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Stablemate Langoa Barton has also done very well and its neighbour, Leoville Poyferre gave a rich, polished and confident performance, showing great appeal and immediacy with everything in the right place. As for the host wine, Gruaud put in a fine showing, not perhaps at quite the same level as the Leovilles but certainly an excellent, well-judged wine that has plenty of good times ahead of it.

The chef from the nearby Restaurant Le St Julien put on a fantastic lunch for the attendees and the chateau generously allowed us to sample 2011 and 2003 Gruaud Larose at the tables, the latter drinking really nicely.

Much as we could have stayed to enjoy the surrounds, we quickly headed back up the D2 to Grand Puy Lacoste, to taste with Xavier Borie and his charming daughter, Emeline. They showed three wines: Lacoste Borie (the second wine), Haut Batailley andGrand Puy Lacoste itself. The Grand Vin is comprised of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc in 2015, the first time since 2009 that that Cabernet Franc has made it into the Grand Vin. Emeline explained that they have been refining their parcel by parcel vinification and in splitting their Cabernet Franc into smaller batches, they had been able to separate out the best bits that made it worthy of inclusion. It gives a little seasoning to the final wine and we all agreed that pound for pound, it would be hard to find a Pauillac better to buy than Grand Puy Lacoste.

Bidding goodbye to the Bories, we then went to another famous Bordeaux family, the Bartons. Lilian Barton and husband Michel Sartorius purchased Mauvesin in Moulis in 2011 and have spent the last 5 years restoring and renovating, including the construction of a substantial cellar. Despite a broken wrist, Lilian was on fine form, assisted by daughter Melanie and we spent a very happy hour in their company tasting their three 2015s as well as the 2014s and some older vintages. Leoville Barton itself confirmed its performance from earlier in the day as an out-performer. Lilian referred to it having the "charm of the 2014 but with more structure and power".

Our final venue of the day was the UGC tasting of Sauternes and Barsac, held at La Lagune, handily on the road back in to Bordeaux. Having dipped a toe in with Yquem at Cheval Blanc on Tuesday and Suduiraut at Pichon Baron on Monday, expectations were set high and we were not disappointed. The brave Sauternais have done a fine job in 2015, another "odd" vintage that has performed very well. Olivier Casteja, whose Doisy Vedrines again performed exceptionally and will be a great bargain buy, explained that while 2011 and 2013 had more of the "roti" character in the botrytis that gives additional complexity, he thinks 2015 has a straighter, purer style in the vein of 2005 and that the freshness of the wines is even more striking. We tasted two dozen wines and the clear highlights were de Fargues, Suduiraut, Coutet, Doisy Vedrines and La Tour Blanche although we could easily recommend another 5-10 wines as the standard was generally so high.

Today we tackle the Graves in the morning and spend the afternoon with some of the super seconds in the Medoc. Stay tuned!

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