Bordeaux profile: Brane-Cantenac

Brane-Cantenac vertical tasting (2000-2018)

The vertical tasting took place at the property on the 18 October 2019. All of the wines presented were provided by the property itself. The wines were tasted in reverse order, the youngest first, and in parallel (at least two, and sometime three, consecutive vintages at a time). The tasting comprised nine consecutive vintages of Le Baron de Brane (2018-2010) and 19 consecutive vintages of Brane-Cantenac (2018-2000). I am immensely grateful to Henri Lurton, Marie-Hélène Dussech, Christophe Capdeville and the entire Brane-Cantenac team for their welcome and hospitality – and to Simon Bradford for his help, his support and his friendship.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2018 (74% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot). Great aromatic complexity already and that sublime Brane nose. Profound, deep rich and decadent dark plummy fruit; cool on the palate like many of the best wines of the vintage (Pichon Lalande and Las Cases have this too). This has gained in weight and power since en primeur. Great mid-palate density (if not – quite – at the level of the 2016). Very pure, delineated cassis fruit profile. Sweet-tinged but in all the right ways. No excess. The characteristic velour of Brane’s tannins in recent vintages. Elegant, harmonious and tapering to a beautifully lifted and sappy finish. Sleek, dark, complex and complete.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2017 (74% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot). A very similar encépagement to the 2018, but very different in personality and very much of the vintage. This has a delightful crunchy fresh fruit profile. Mulberries, cranberries, blueberries, with a slight touch of sweetness. This is lithe, lively, pure and focused. The signature notes of graphite and leather, heather and lavender. Just lovely. Elegant and yet very fresh in a ‘pre-climate change’ kind of a way. In a decade’s time this might offer a refreshing and nostalgic reminder or cooler climate claret at its very best.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2016 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Carmenere). ‘Golden Brane … texture like sun’. Just glorious and, for me, the wine of the tasting. The best ever wine I have tasted from Brane. An ethereal nose of Médocain perfection. Cool, calm, composed and utterly classy. Quite serious, even sombre and a little held back and insular at this very early stage – there is much more to come. But, on the palate, already a wondrous plunge-pool of deep, dark, rich fruit. The tannins are imperceptible, giving the impression of cool depth. Profound. Elegant. A bit Pichon-Lalande (not the first time I’ve thought that). White truffles (as found again in the 1962 over lunch). Then lovely cedar and graphite notes kick in. Beautifully rolling, rippling fruity sappy finish. It is as if the fruit was being dripped onto the palate. So long on the finish.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2015 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 1% Carmenere). Slightly stricter and slightly more classic in a way than the 2016. This has more in common with the older vintages than the more recent vintages. The fruit on the nose is a little more restrained and held back, but there is still a glorious signature of Brane. Fruits of the forest (also to be found in Le Baron 2015). Black berry fruit compote. Long. Black truffle shavings. Full, luscious. Great depth and concentration but at the same time quite light on its feet. Nice complexity. Not, for me, at the same level as the 2016. Less focused and precise but very impressive nonetheless. Long finish with lovely cedary notes and a beautiful saline-tinged minerality.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2014 (77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc). One of the revelations of the tasting – though hardly a surprise as I have always loved this wine. So very, very Brane. This is the nose that I imagine of when I conjure a mental profile of the signature of the estate. Tense, lively, lifted and chiselled. Cedar and cassis, leather, heather and thyme, with a touch of incense and even a little roasted fresh coffee bean. So pure in its expression. Truffly notes too. Very elegant. Nice acidity. This doesn’t have the the depth or mid-palate concentration of the two following vintages, of course. But it is a lovely, lovely wine with a long and sappy finish. Not big but wonderful.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2013 (84% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc). Quite an achievement in the context of a most challenging vintage. This is very attractive, very stylish and retains remarkably well the signature of the property. Slightly sweet. Very floral – with lavender, laurel and rhododendron on the nose and hints of cedar. Quite herby too, with a little touch of incense and tar. Light on the palate – almost a shell alongside some of the others. But the choices are all good – the style and personality of the terroir is retained, even if at the expense of some mid-palate concentration. The tannins on the finish are a little drying. Not a wine for the long haul, but very pleasurable now.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2012 (68% Cabernet Sauvigon; 32% Merlot). Stylistically very like the 2014, as it always has been. That wonderful nose again, just a little more evolved. Simply glorious. Here (in the vertical tasting) we start to pick up the secondary notes of Brane – more leather, sous bois, floral Margaux notes. Indeed, this is perhaps the most floral of the flight and very much, for me, the epitome of the appellation (and this part of it above all). Lovely balance and harmony; very refined and gentle tannins. Not the biggest wine but perfectly integrated. So poised and elegant.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2011 (56.5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 0.5% Carmemere). Very much of the appellation and of the vintage – not difficult, I suspect, to pick this as 2011. A little harsher, a little courser, a little bigger and a little more severe. The same signature but here with dried flowers and dry fruit. Long and quite tannic still – indeed, elongated on the finish by the slightly raspy tannins of the vintage. Needs food. A very different expression of Brane but still very true to its signature and terroir.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2010 (62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc). Actually, for me, one of the more difficult wines in the flight to appreciate at this point. There is massive potential here, but it is more closed and hemmed in than practically any other vintage tasted. Very much a vin de garde. Serious, classic and quite restrained, but with that cool, plunge-pool dark fruit of the 2016. Svelte tannins. Big, long, plump and rich. Needs time. Not as delineated as other vintages (yet). Just a little stolid and slightly stern. Cedar, graphite, pencil shavings, saline minerality. An easy pick as Brane, though this is a little firm at this stage. I’m not 100 % convinced that this (great) vintage really flatters Brane’s delicate, elegant side. Time will tell.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2009 (53% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc). Almost the antithesis of 2010. Open, really flattering and enticing – already in full voice. Exotic. Plump. Exuberant. Energetic. Flamboyant. Generous. And strikingly complex too. This has a lovely acidity. Lithe and limpid in the glass with those dried lavender notes of Brane. Heather. Incense. Mocha. An undoubted highlight of the tasting and the vintage. Richly deserving of its reputation. This sings every time I taste it.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2008 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc). This is already quite mature, with just a slight hint of oxidation. Very attractive on the nose – and very much in the style of the 2012 and 2014. Seductive and lithe. A little slender perhaps and lacking a bit of mid palate density. But very elegant and stylish – and instantly recognisable as Brane. Dry, like the 2011, but much softer.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2007 (53% Cabernet Sauvignon; 39 Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc). Dried flowers again, signature Brane. Quite light, as you’d expect; not unlike the 2013. Not much substance and a touch of dryness on the finish. Very fine in the context of the vintage, but needs drinking quite soon. A slight harshness too beginning to develop at the back end of the palate.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2006 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc). Never my favourite vintage – having taken a long time to come round, it now seems to be aging quite rapidly. Relatively light mid palate. Stolid and somewhat stern finish. Quite smokey, but less expressive of the signature of the estate than the other wines in the flight.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2005 (51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc). Another truly wonderful wine. Very much in the style of the 2009. Sweet-tinged. Accessible. Pure, focused and yet rich and with gloriously svelte tannins. Not quite the mid-palate concentration of the 2009, but really excellent. For once one notices the higher proportion of Merlot in the blend – Brane is so much a wine of its terroir that the blend (which varies greatly between vintages) often seems irrelevant. Very pretty, very floral, yet at the same time this has a rare savoury, meaty note – seared cote de boeuf! And that saline minerality one finds in so many of Brane’s best vintages. Truffly and smokey on the long finish. So utterly indulgent, just as it should be.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2004 (67% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc). This, too, is very attractive and a highlight of the tasting. Mature, but soft and lovely in a very approachable way. Quite grand and surprisingly powerful for the vintage. Sage, herbs, floral notes – very elegant and all in harmony. Stylish and cut from the same cloth as the 2012 and 2014. A long sweet finish.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2003 (65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc). A very challenging vintage. This is impressive on the nose and it manages to retain the style and signature of the property. But on the palate there are all the tell-tale signs of a scorching summer (an early taste of global climate change) – this is roasted, sweet and a little porty. Dry fruit flavours and less floral than other vintages. A touch jammy too. The only vintage to lose its Margaux typicity on the palate.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2002 (59% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc). A bit of a revelation in another challenging and difficult vintage. One is struck once again by the capacity to retain the signature Brane style. This is reasonably mature, but seemingly very stable. A tad dry on the finish and perhaps a little austere. Slightly smokey, with lovely cassis Cabernet notes. Quite punchy and powerful too – surprisingly so. Much better than it has any right to be.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2001 (40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc). An unusual encépagement for Brane, with 10% Cabernet Franc and relatively little Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a fascinating wine. It needs a little more coaxing to reveal its identity than some of the others and at first seems to lack a little the signature of its terroir. But it is all there. Indeed, this is one of the most complex and layered wines of the entire tasting. Soft and enticing, with beautifully svelte tannins but impressive concentration (the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove). Rose petals are much in evidence. Quite an intellectual wine with an impressive density that is a little disguised at first by the velour of its tannins. With all that Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot too, in 2001 Brane is the Pomerol of Margaux. On a par with the 2000.

 

Brane-Cantenac 2000 (42% Cabernet Sauvignon; 55% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc). Another great wine from a great vintage. This is a little more open on the nose than the 2001. Rose petals – indeed, rose petal preserve, almost hints of Turkish delight. Very stylish. Lavish. Quite sweet. A slightly dry finish now. Racy, elegant, pure, very Brane.

 

Wines of the tasting: 2016 (‘Golden Brane’), 2009

Other highlights: 2018, 2017, 2014, 2012, 2005, 2001, 2000

Exceeding expectations: 2013, 2004, 2002

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