Bordeaux 2019 by appellation: Margaux

Overall, 2019 is a relatively homogenous vintage – with no great qualitative difference between left and right bank nor really between appellations. Yet if there is a left-bank appellation that is more heterogeneous than the others in 2019 it is Margaux.

That heterogeneity comes, in part, from the capacity of different terroirs to cope with the hydric stress of the most intense periods of the Medoc summer. But it comes rather more significantly, I think, from stylistic choices in winemaking.

The top wines are truly fantastic and clearly now on a par with those of Pauillac, St Julien and St Estephe. Margaux itself is one of the wines of the vintage. It is wonderfully refined and restrained – a study in elegance and precision. It has a cool and slightly sombre subtle beauty that sets it apart from the other first growths. Indeed, in a way it is stylistically closer to one of the right-bank’s superstars of the vintage, Cheval Blanc.

Palmer, as it so often is, is very different – more athletic, more assertive, more vibrant in a way. It is more obviously big and rich, more opulent than elegant perhaps. But is also a study in purity and precision. The fruit is crystalline and the wine vividly encapsulates the energy and liveliness of the vintage.

Rauzan-Segla and Brane-Cantenac continue their remarkable recent runs of form. Both properties now seem to have the capacity, each year, to make a wine that challenges the previous vintage for the title of ‘best ever’. For me, both wines in 2019 are clearly at least as good as the 2016. For a long time Margaux’s second growths were seen to languish behind those of St Julien and Pauillac, and their current prices continue to reflect that. But both of these wines now deserve their place amongst the ‘super-seconds’.

But their competition now comes not just from outside of the appellation. For the up-and-coming star of the Medoc is, for me, Durfort-Vivens. In 2019 this is something of a revelation – the most improved wine in the entire Medoc and an object lesson in what respect for appellation and terroir-typicity can achieve. What I love about this wine most of all is that it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for coming from any other appellation. It captures very beautifully the identity and soul of Margaux.

And that, for me, is perhaps the crucial point. For too many middle-tier Margaux classed growths have lost or chosen to disguise, in a way, their terroir and appellation specificity.

The wines of Pauillac, St Julien and St Estephe of course vary greatly – in both quality and in style. But they tend to taste like they come from their appellation.

With notable exceptions, including all of the above, that is rather less the case in Margaux. And that for me is a shame, especially in a vintage like 2019 with so much freshness and lift and with the potential for the kind of mid-palate delineation that can actually draw greater attention to the herbal-floral character of these wines.

But let me finish on a positive not a negative note. For two other wines particularly impressed. Marquis d’Alesme and du Tertre have, for me, made their best wines in 2019. Stylistically, they are very different; but both express their terroir with greater precision and focus than I have seen before – and both represent excellent value for money.

Wines of the appellations:          Margaux; Brane-Cantenac; Durfort-Vivens; Rauzan-Segla

Most improved:                          Durfort-Vivens; Marquis d’Alesme; du Tertre

Quality/price ratio:                      Marquis d’Alesme; du Tertre

Colin Hay is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po in Paris where he works on the political economy of la place de Bordeaux and wine markets more generally. His Bordeaux 2019 coverage will continue with a series of appellation profiles in the coming weeks.

Detailed tasting notes

All tasted from samples supplied by the chateau unless otherwise stated. Samples tasted, at least twice, from Zalto, Grassl and Reidel stemware over a two-month period from early May to early July. Around 5% of samples were rejected as damaged and/or unrepresentative of the barrel from which they were drawn.

Alter Ego de Chateau Palmer (51% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 9% Petit Verdot). Tasted at the Chateau with Thomas Duroux. Black/purple core, but a shade lighter than most of the grands vins of the appellation which is very much what this is. Ample and generous and defined by both the very ripe Merlot and the very fresh Cabernet Sauvignon. Pure, lifted and quite aerial. Griotte and Morello cherries, frangipane. Sappy, juicy and quite spicy and peppery on the long finish.

Angludet (45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 12% Petit Verdot; aged 50% in amphora; 30% in new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Cassis. Quite pure nose. But rather indistinct at present. A melange of forest fruits. Nice juiciness and freshness but other than that not a great deal of terroir character. The hint of the graphite minerality to come is nice and there are also some subtle herby notes, but this for me lacks identity and doesn’t sing of Margaux. Time will tell. Others like this more than I.

Baron de Brane 2019 (54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 1% Carmenere; alcohol 14.2%). This is a really excellent second wine and probably the strongest ever Baron. Lively, racy and very fruit driven, this is quite approachable even now. It is fresh and fruit-forward, with pure and focussed cassis and blackberry notes at first and then the hereby florality of the appellation, enrobed in the beautiful plump tannins of Brane. Those tannins are just a little more noticeable than in the first wine, but this too has a lovely elegance and a vivid freshness that keeps everything in balance. Nicely poised, very attractive and very much characteristic of its appellation. What I love is how much of the identity of Brane this manages to capture.

Blason d’Issan (40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 60% Merlot; this represents 55% of the total production; pH 3,65; alcohol 13,49%; aged in 35% new oak). Garnet/purple bluish tinge. Limpid. Pure rather lifted aerial nose of crushed raspberries and blackcurrant, and summer rain on warm pebbles. Slight floral notes, too and a sweet nuttiness. Soft and plush with a subtle hint of graphite and cedar right from the start. The tannins, though very soft at the start, become a little aggressive by the finish. Raspberries again, and herby notes – thyme and oregano. Not terribly complex, but a good second wine in this vintage. Lacks a little terroir specificity perhaps.

Brane Cantenac 2019 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; 1% Carmenere; alcohol 14.1%). Tasted three times: first from a sample supplied by the chateau, then at the UGC in Paris and finally at the chateau itself – over a period of a full month. Continuing a splendid run of recent form, this is certainly on a par with the 2018 (which I also loved) and very close in quality to the exceptional 2016. But though authentic to its distinct terroir (the first wine this year comes exclusively from the croupe de Brane itself) and to its appellation, it is very different from both of these wines.

As always with Brane, one is struck first by the gorgeous nose – blackberries, with walnuts and lavender and a lovely, energetic, fresh and vivid fruitiness. It does not yet have as much stuffing or concentration as the 2016. But what it does have are the softest and gentlest of tannins and, crucially, enough energy, freshness and acidity to cover the elevated alcohol that is one of the signatures of this vintage. The texture is sublime, the tannins fantastically well-managed (with no pumping over and the use of the innovative R’Pulse system).

With a little more time to breathe (the advantage of samples kindly supplied by the Chateau) the wine really starts to blossom, gaining in mid-palate depth and complexity, with notes of griottes and freshly ground Arabica coffee (with its points of acidity). Almost imperceptibly powerful, very gentle and svelte with a lovely long, racy finish. Very pure, almost crystalline – the Pichon Lalande of Margaux (as I have said before).

Cantenac Brown (planted 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 60% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Strict selection. Plump. Rich. Full. Quite peppery. A melange of dark berry fruit. Yet it is slightly difficult to pick out any individual one. Oaky. Nice restraint. But this for me lacks Margaux typicity. And there is a little hint of alcohol heat on the finish. Almonds, vanilla, sweet spices, plums and fruit cake. Attractive and quite sensual, but I’d like more of a sense of place and terroir.

Dauzac (73% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 14% alcohol; aged 2/3rd in new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Lively, energetic, engaging and lifted. Pure and focussed cassis and blackberry fruit. Brambles too. Touch of spice. Quite grippy. Juicy and reasonably long on the finish. Not very floral, with just a suggestion of violet petals in the background. Bigger and richer than the 2018. Sappy finish. No great evolution on the palate and though very fine this lacks a touch of terroir character for me.

Desmirail (planted at 70CS; 29M; 1PV). Tasted at the UGC and again from a sample supplied by the chateau. An often rather forgotten third growth Margaux. A rather singular nose. A nice touch of cedar; pot pourri and dried flowers; brambles and plums; vanilla and sweet spice box aromas from the oak. Simple and a little four-square on the palate. Quite chunky and substantial on the attack, but no great delineation or evolution and finishes quite short. A nice vein of freshness down the spine of this, however, and a nice finish of chewy grape skins – but the finish arrives a little sooner than anticipated. A little sweet and although there is only around 30% new oak, it needs time to integrate.

du Tertre (54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 6% Petit Verdot; alcohol 13,4%). Tasted over Zoom with Alexander van Beek and again at the UGC in Paris. The new consultant here is Eric Boissenot. Quite simply the best du Tertre I have tasted. The vineyard coped very well, as it tends to, with the hydric stress. Very gentle tannin management and low temperature relatively short maceration. A lovely balance and freshness here, but with a not inconsiderable density and intensity in the mid-palate that sets this apart from other vintages, despite the significant upward trajectory here over a number of years. Precise, fresh and focussed.

Nice complexity coming from the distinct varietal composition of the vineyard. The unusually high proportion of both Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc brings additional character and personality. Red/garnet with purple/violet highlights. Lovely intensely floral nose, especially after a little aeration. Irises, peonies and pressed rose petals. Thyme and lavender. Heather, black tea too. A berry compote – blackberries, redcurrants, blueberries and blackcurrants, raspberries too.

Gorgeously cool, soft tannins on the entry. The freshness serves to draw one’s attention to the structure. A little hint of smoke and an impressive graphite minerality. Touch of cedar. Fresh blackcurrant and blackcurrant leaf. Very fine. Precise and focussed. Long composed juicy sappy finish. Really good; energetic. Excellent value.

Durfort-Vivens (90% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10%). Tasted at the Chateau. One of the most remarkable transformations in all of Bordeaux has been occurring at Durfort-Vivens over the last few years under the guiding hand of Gonzague Lurton. Vinified by micro-parcel using essentially no electricity at all – 1/3rd in amphora; 2/3rd in barrique; certified organic and biodynamic.

This is something of a revelation. A wine that is so essentially Margellais. Deep dark cool purple/blue fruit – cassis, blueberries and black crunchy cherry skins, with cedar and graphite and fresh new season almonds. Intensely floral and herby, too, with irises and violets and a hint of wild lavender and wild thyme.

There is a cool sense of depth and calm here; yet the wine is also vibrant, energetic, bright and fresh. This feels very natural. And it is utterly gorgeous. The tannins are incredibly soft, yet the fruit is also exceptionally fresh and, although it is beautifully disguised by the lift and energy here which tickles the tongue and dances on the top of the palate, there is considerable density here too. Great length. A remarkable achievement.

Ferriere (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; aged in 40% new oak, 40% oak of one year and the rest in amphorae and concrete eggs; low yields of 30 hl/ha; farmed biodynamically; pH is 3,60). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau and, later, with Claire Villars Lurton at Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal. Less Merlot than in previous vintages; just the old-vine Merlot remains.

More extracted than La Gurgue. Viscous and glossy in the glass. Garnet/purple. Very Margaux, very floral in a lovely and lively way and very expressive. Dried rose petals and pot pourri, lavender with a touch of dark chocolate and a hint of fresh tobacco. Soft and gentle on the attack and takes time to gather itself together.

Deceptive at first – the depth, power and concentration (which are certainly there) are all rather hidden and it takes a little time for the structure and identify of this wine to start to reveal itself. A little shy, in contrast to the nose; this has more to give. Spiky, fresh saline minerality – almost crushed rock salt notes and flint too, almost a hint of struck matches. Lacks a little complexity at present but quite long on the finish. Needs time; but has great potential.

Giscours (65% Cabernet Sauvignon: 35% Merlot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and over Zoom with Alexander van Beek. Thomas Duclos is the new consultant here. A change – or evolution – in character. Harvested over weeks (almost a month in fact) – the longest harvest ever at Giscours, Alexander van Beek tells me – with the grapes picked in a succession of tries (as in Sauternes) to optimise ripeness.

Very refined and elegant, though there is considerable power hidden behind the gentle exterior of this wine – not so much a wolf in sheep’s clothing, more a fox in llama fleece. Unbelievably silky, but so much power and concentration here too. Opulent for Giscours; yet lively and energetic too. Nice tension.

Everything was done very gently and it is just as well – as there was a big risk of extracting too much. Lovely restraint giving this wine a plunge-pool cool mouthfeel and texture which, at times, feels almost more right than left bank. Plums and Christmas spices, pepper too with a hint of nori salinity. But the personality of this wine is all Margaux – very floral and herby with already enticing hints at the cedar and graphite that will develop with time. Very harmonious and more true to its terroir than it used to be. A good advert for the vintage. A vin de garde that is already highly accessible.

Issan (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 45% of the total production; pH 3,72; alcohol 13,37%; aged in 50% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the Chateau. Garnet/purple with a pronounced bluish tinge. Spicy toasty notes over baked plums and crushed raspberries on the nose, hints of cassis and, as in the second wine, summer rain on warm pebbles. Quite spicy for Margaux – star anise, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and grated dark chocolate, a touch of coffee bean too. Lovely velour-coated tannins on the deep and broad attack.

Plenty of intensity, density and mid-palate concentration; yet a sense of elegance and restraint too. Creamy and moreish. Raspberry compote, blueberries, brambles and hazelnuts – think of an autumnal fruit crumble, with a background hint of cinnamon and vanilla. A nice herbyness too – marjoram, oregano and lemon thyme. Plenty of graphite and hints of the cedar to come.

I miss just a little the floral side of Margaux – though there is a delicacy and depth to the fruit that is very much of the appellation. An impressive wine and very good in this vintage, if perhaps not quite my style of Margaux. The creaminess and sweet spiciness almost serves to disguise the progression of the wine on the palate, detracting a little from the appreciation of the layered structure. But that is a quibble; this is very fine, with a lovely chewy fresh finish.

Kirwan (included 1% Carmenere for the 1st time). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Stylish nose – quite interesting and distinctive. Black and red cherries, pencil shavings and freshly ground coffee. Plump, rich yet nice delineation over the palate, the oak noticeably more refined in that in the past. Less personality reveals itself on the palate than the nose at this early stage, but there is considerable potential here I think. Good structure and mouthfeel.

La Gurgue (54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40& Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot; 13,5% alcohol). Tasted first from a sample supplied by the Chateau and then, with Claire Villars Lurton, at Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal. Eric Boissenot is the consultant; farmed biodynamically. Pink rimmed. Garnet core, with ruby and purple highlights. Quite light extraction. Fresh, direct and engaging. Lively and quite energetic. Nice slight chewiness to the tannins. No great depth or concentration and quite light. Fresh with a touch of fleur de sel. Raspberries and plums. A little short. But appealing and accessible.

La Sirene de Giscours (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Merlot; 9% Petit Verdot; 9% Cabernet Franc). Very different from du Tertre (tasted just before). Plump and rich, especially for a Margaux second wine. Rather more obvious toasty oak and a hint of vanilla that is not present on the nose of the first wine. Raspberries and black cherries. Soft and gentle entry and impressively broad shoulders. Chewy and tannic on the mid-palate but a nice balance too. Long and juicy finish but neither the elegance or composure, nor indeed the harmony of either of Alexander van Beek’s first wines. Feels a little like it’s made of the bits that didn’t make the cut for the first wine (which is fair enough).

Lascombes (50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 60% new oak; 48 hl/ha; 13,75% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and from a sample supplied by the chateau. Crimson/garnet. Limpid and with lots of glycerine as ever, almost slightly viscous. Beautiful Margaux nose from a top terroir – so floral, as it always is – lavender, irises, hyacinths, a hint of vanilla (but not overdone), bracken, saffron and dried petals.

A pure almost crystalline fruit, brambles and blueberries. Unmistakably Lascombes (a wine that is often more difficult to identify en primeur and which seems to take time to come together). Cool on the palate from the softness of the tannins. Very seductive, refined and elegant on the front of the palate, if not perhaps as energetic as some. A touch undefined in the mid-palate, where it seems to lose a little focus, but a nice fresh long finish; fine-grained crunchy tannins. I’d like to re-taste this in 6 months’ time. Shows lots of character and potential on the nose and attack, but loses it ways a little in the mid-palate at this early stage. That might resolve itself with time.

Margaux (90% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; 13,9% alcohol; pH 3,66; 37% of the total production). Tasted at the Chateau with Philippe Bascaules. Black/purple core; purple robe. This glistens in the early morning sunshine with a little swirling. This is so refined and elegant. Classic notes of cassis, brambles, griottes, with cedar and a slight hint of tobacco leaf and vanilla from the oak. Cracked red peppercorns too.

The viscosity in the glass is reproduced on the palate. This rolls around the mouth – so gently at first but then its starts to impart a certain chewiness from the considerable tannins. The texture is sublime, almost shockingly so, with the coolness and freshness stretching the wine out over the palate towards a vanishing point far off in the distance.

There are lovely enticing floral notes – violets, peonies, rose petals and magnolia. The Merlot is opulent, the Cabernet dark and elegant and the combination is magnificent. This is very sleek and stylish and it embraces the personality of the vintage so sympathetically. Energy and harmony. Truly compelling.

Marquis d’Alesme (57% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot; 14% alcohol; 50% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and from a sample supplied by the chateau. Lovely nose. Distinct and lively. Toasted brioche, the sensation of walking through an ancient oak forest in the autumn, cedar and freshly ground spices. Irises and peonies.

Black cherries, with a hint of black forest gateau, brazil nuts too and a note of saline minerality. Plush and creamily textured. Rich and seductive. Deep, dark and intense. A big step up in quality here. Glossy and silky at first, but with a gathering sense of croquant crunchiness to the dark fruit. Nice pronounced acidity. This flows. Well integrated with a harmonious evolution across the palate. Earthy and floral and true to both its terroir and its appellation. Onward and upwards!

Marquis de Terme (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot; c. 13% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and from a sample supplied by the chateau. Deep ruby/purple. Limpid. Lovely intensely floral nose – actually, more petals and dried flowers – something of the parfumerie about it. Black cherries and blueberries and an impressive rich creaminess too – a lovely dark fruit profile.

Exquisite velour tannins. Cool and composed. Quite chewy. Very much a vin de garde. Black cherries again, a hint of walnut shells. Nice purity and a precision and focus to the fruit delivery, but at the same time good depth, density and intensity in the mid-palate. Elegant, a touch of opulence too, but held in check by a combination of the freshness and the chewy juiciness imparted by the tannins. A nice balance. This continues an impressive upward trajectory – Ludovic David is doing a super job here.

Palmer (53% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; yields of 45hl/ha). Tasted at the Chateau with Thomas Duroux. Very different in personality from Margaux, as in a sense it always is. A shade darker in the glass than Alter Ego, with a garnet/purple robe. Very bright, lifted and energetic – this is very much about the bite and crunch of the expressive and explosive fruit.

Highly pixilated and with the focus carefully honed to capture every detail and nuance of the fruit profile of this terroir in this vintage. Black cherries, cassis and dark berry fruits, and just a touch of almond (everything else is fruit). Very fresh but also very powerful. This is an athletic and physical wine with considerable muscle to flex and although the tannins are very fine-grained there is something slightly angular about them in this nascent phase. Less accessible than many of the grands vins of the vintage and very much a vin de garde.

Pavillon rouge de Chateau Margaux (76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; 14,2% alcohol; just 27% of the total production). Tasted at the Chateau with Philippe Bascaules. Red and black fruit – Morello cherries, blackberries, a touch of almond and the slightest hint of grated black chocolate. Just a suggestion of cedar and pressed wild flowers.

This is cool and dark and very supple on the palate with lovely fine-grained tannins and that sense, very much of the vintage, that the acidity is part of structure of the wine, bringing with it impressive delineation and layering to the mid-palate. Long and juicy in the mouth, there is a lovely silky balance and finesse to this. Slightly sombre in personality yet at the same time marked by the energy of the vintage.

Prieure-Lichine (62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Floral, herby. Quite extracted. Rich. Soft and quite plush. Classy. White and black pepper; cassis. Nicely refined. Elegant, quite substantial; opulent for Prieure Lichine. Cedar and graphite prominent already. A little reminiscent of the 2010. Tannins very soft and with a lovely graphite minerality, giving a sensation of depth and seriousness. Better than the 2018, if not quite the complexity of the very best.

Rauzan Segla (62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35,5% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 0,5% Cabernet Franc; pH 3,73; 42 hl/ha; 14,2% alcohol). Tasted with Nicolas Audebert at Chateau Canon. This is about half the total production. Another wine that it is so tempting to buy when you taste and consider the release price. Purple rim with a garnet core.

Plush. Very full. Blackcurrants, crème de cassis, cherries – red and black, cedar, graphite and a sprinkling of fine white pepper. Seems very dark, brooding and even slightly serious on the nose – but in a very classic and utterly gorgeous way. A pronounced crisp freshness on the attack. This is tense with excellent delineation across the palate. Lilies, rosemary and lavender complete the tasting profile and remind one that we are in Margaux. Sappy, juicy, energetic and very good in this vintage with a very fine-grained tannin.

Segla (45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 54% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot). Tasted with Nicolas Audebert at Chateau Canon. Cranberries and crushed Szechaun and black pepper corns on the nose with black cherries and blueberries appearing with gentle aeration; cassis too. Light on the extraction and all the better for that. Very lifted and with just a hint of cedar. Very pure yet also nicely integrated and harmonious across the palate. Crunchy fruit, juicy and with a peppery finish. Quite earthy. Impressive stuff.

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