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Bordeaux 2019 by appellation: Pauillac

Pauillac in 2019 is fantastic and for such a large appellation it is remarkably homogenous in quality. That qualitative homogeneity does not in any sense mask the considerable range of stylistic diversity – if anything it accentuates it. But what is deeply impressive is that no Pauillac classed growth that I tasted en primeur lacked either appellation or terroir typicity.

Pichon Comtesse de Lalande was one of the stars of the 2019 vintage

Indeed, the signature notes of graphite and cedar that one tends to associate with Pauillac after a few years in bottle were already present, in a rather lovely way, in many of these wines – giving an enticing hint as to how they will evolve.

From my early tastings, conducted with samples kindly supplied by the chateaux themselves during confinement at home in Paris, it became immediately apparent that Pauillac in 2019 was particularly feted.

I rapidly formed the impression that if there was a particular Medoc hot spot (figurative not literal) in 2019 it was the Gironde-facing terroirs of St Julien and the southern part of Pauillac (running up the river from Beychevelle, past Ducru and the Leovilles in the south to Latour, the Pichons and Haut-Bages Liberal further north).

And, as the UGC tasting and a later visit to the Chateaux themselves confirmed, those river-facing terroirs clearly excelled. However, no less feted were the northern parts of the appellation, notably around Mouton, Clerc-Milon, Duhart-Milon and Lafite. Every single one of these wines is exquisite.

Among the first growths it is, perhaps surprisingly, Latour which is the most closed and impenetrable at this stage. It is a wine of complete harmony and staggering potential, but it is slightly reticent in revealing its considerable charms at this nascent stage.

Lafite is a shade darker in the profile of its fruit and somewhat more open. It unfurls in a very elegant and stylish way on the palate, balancing its natural austerity with the brightness and energy of the vintage.

Mouton by contrast is more explosive and immediately expressive. With Margaux it is, for me, the first growth of the vintage. Its structure – above all the integration of, and interplay between, tannin, acidity and minerality – and the unique texture that this produces in the mouth sets it apart. It is profoundly architectural and intensely intellectual – a temple to its terroir in this vintage.

But if Mouton is remarkable, no less remarkable is Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. Like the 2018 before it, this is for me at least on a qualitative par with Mouton and Margaux in this vintage. And its, too, prompts both an emotional and a physical reaction – the freshness allied to the softness and cool depth of the tannins is quite literally spine-tingling (for me at least). I was spell-bound and captivated.

There are plenty of other wines that deeply, deeply impress. Claire Villars Lurton has undoubtedly made the best recent vintage of Haut-Bages Liberal – a wine of great purity and precision, but also great depth and concentration. Lynch Bages, too, has made its best wines in recent vintage – certainly on a par with the fabulous 2016. It is exciting, too, to see the progression at Haut-Batailley, a wine that is rapidly converging on its more famous stable-mate in both quality and style. 2019 is, for it, a turning-point vintage.

It is difficult to find better value in the whole of the Medoc than in Reserve de la Comtesse or, as ever, in Batailley or Grand-Puy Lacoste. And finally, for a fraction of the price, Duhart-Milon and Clerc-Milon both manage to capture much of the style, classicism, charm and identity of their first growth stable-mates. There, in short, is a lot to like in Pauillac in 2019.

Wines of the appellations:           Mouton-Rothschild; Pichon Comtesse de Lalande

Best second wines:                     Reserve de la Comtesse; Le Petit Mouton

Most improved:                           Haut-Bages Liberal; Haut-Batailley

Quality/price ratio:                       Batailley; Haut-Bages Liberal; Grand-Puy Lacoste; Reserve de la Comtesse

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 further appellation profiles in the coming days.

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. 

Armailhac (62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Last vintage to be made in the old wine-making facility. More micro-vinification options will be available from next year. This is immediately fresh and floral. Sloes and damsons.

A cool menthol note too and a hint of liquorice. Graphite and crushed Szechuan peppercorns (green and red). This is very attractive, unfurling slowly across the palate. Interesting and distinctive, especially on the nose. Plump and plush and full, yet sufficiently deep and dark to give the impression of austerity too. Cool, chewy and crunchy. A nice evolution over the palate. Briary fruits – cassis and blackberries and mulberries. Earthy notes too. Nicely done.

Batailley (74% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Its own characteristic meaty, oaky, toasty cedary nose – slightly gamey. Easy to pick – and that’s reassuring as we know we’re in good hands. Big mouthfuls of rich, ripe, thick-skinned crunchy black cherries. Fresh and bright. A nice tension between the evident softness and the energy and freshness that comes from the acidity.

This has something for the top of the palate (the lively, lifted bite of crunchy berries) and something for the bottom of the palate (the dark cool black fruit and the svelte tannins). Spicy, as ever, but this never detracts from the purity of the fruit. Cherry pie and Christmas spices. On a par with the excellent 2018.

Clerc Milon (72% Caberenet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Very Mouton-esque in a way, rather more than usual. The highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon since the 1986. Cedary and very obviously of its appellation. Cassis, black cherries, graphite, hints of violets, cedar and walnut shells. Plush and opulent in this vintage. Refined, deep and powerful. Earthy with rather lovely truffly notes. Chewy tannins and a croquant berry-skin finish. Poised, lithe, nicely balanced and a little less sombre than it often is en primeur.

Duhart Milon (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. As ever, the nose greets you with Pauillac cedar and sous bois notes, a hint of tobacco too. Autumnal and dark-fruit scented. Classic and very Duhart Milon. Plums, indeed baked plums and plum skins, cinnamon and mace. Pure and focussed. A really lovely wine. Floral – peonies and, maybe, mimosa too (more of a Pessac blanc note in general).

Rich but restrained; quite tightly wound and will need years to reveal all of its charms. That said, this already unfurls nicely over the palate. Cool and closed at first, but it has plenty more to give. The considerable structure is reinforced by the linear seam of acidity, working in harmony and suggesting a long life ahead. Really good. Noble and ever so slightly austere – but in a good way. Better than the 2018.

Les Forts de Latour (65,8% Cabernet Sauvignon; 31,9% Merlot; 2,3% Petit Verdot; alcohol 14,3%). Tasted at the Chateau. A shade darker. Cherries, almonds and bramble jelly. A touch of wood smoke. Soft and seductive at first, but this is almost immediately punctured by the racy freshness of the fruit. Quite upright on the palate and slightly austere. Very pure and seamless, this glides over the palate, evolving all the time but without any noticeable change in direction or gear. Builds to a lovely succulent, juicy, sappy finish.

Grand-Puy Lacoste (83% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Merlot; 41 hl/ha – with quite a strict selection). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and form a sample provided by the chateau. Vivid purple hue. Cedar and graphite. Orange zest! Herbs – thyme, lavender too; heather. Blackcurrant and blackberries, mulberries, even sloes. Lovely dark intense fruit. Very Pauillac, with little hints of the cedar to come on the nose and on the palate.

Fresh and lively, yet elegant and even a tad austere. Gains definition with a little air – it’s almost like developing an x-ray and seeing the skeleton emerge on the photographic paper. Refined, stylish, quite sleek but well-formed. Graceful and slightly under-stated. Subtle and restrained; more classic than most, yet with all the freshness and energy of the vintage. Tense and lively. Better than the 2018.

Les Griffons de Pichon Baron (59% Merlot; 41% Cabernet Sauvignon; 60% new oak; 23% of the total production). Tasted from a sample provided by the Chateau. Garnet/purple with pink highlights. Much more lifted on the nose than Les Tourelles. A little more refined and more elegant, if hardly shy and retiring. Nice vein of pronounced minerality and freshness down the spine of this wine giving much more sense of poise, delineation and structure. Long, fresh finish. Quite floral. Not terribly complex and actually not as lively or energetic as Les Tourelles. A little stolid.

Haut Batailley (76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 14% alcohol; aged in 60% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Cashmere-coated and, as with Lynch Bages, that is evident even from the nose (strange how one can sense the softness of the tannins from the bouquet in this vintage). Deep, rich and possibly even a shade darker in the glass than Lynch – and very much closer in style to its more illustrious stable-mate than it used to be. Plush, plum, opulent and rather gorgeous. Held together – almost structurally – by the acidity. Lovely juicy fresh finish. A top wine in the vintage reflecting a marked upward progression.

Haut-Bages Liberal (49 hl/ha; pH 3,60; 14,75% alcohol). Tasted with Claire Villars Lurton at the Chateau. First year with EcoCert certification. Big and punchy, but also super fresh, with a lovely array of forest flower scents on the nose alongside the spicy, peppery black and red berry fruit. Very fruit forward (I hate that phrase, but it seems right here).

A hint of the Pauillac cedar and graphite that is to come as this wine ages. Refined glossy texture, great purity and precision but not at the expense of breath on the palate. A bigger, richer wine than I was expecting with considerable structure for the cru and considerable aging potential. The best I’ve tasted from here, though HBL has been on a steep upward curve for a while now. Something a bit Pontet Canet about it. Sappy; juicy; bristling with energy.

Lacoste-Borie. Purple-highlights. Sweet-tinged, gently oaky nose of raspberries, raspberry crumble and raspberry conserve. Touch of cinnamon and also pepper. Marzipan too and a little bit of liquorice. Darker fruit on the palate and less sweet. Nice freshness and good grip too. Quite plush tannins. Brambles, fresh raspberries, blackcurrants, hints of nuts. Briary. A little bit of spice, hints of the cedar to come. Nicely done. Not big and not very powerful, but stylish and focussed.

Lafite Rothschild (94% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; 13,4% alcohol; pH 3,9; 13,5% vin de presse). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Wow – this is rather special and a little more racy than Lafite often is en primeur. A truly gorgeous, if slightly under-stated, graphite/cedar-inflected nose. Great depth. This is plump, plush and opulent. Profound and impressively awe-inspiring even now.

The texture is sublime – not so much cashmere as eiderdown. A magical viscous liquid that fans out gorgeously from the first moment it touches the palate. The attack is instantly and strikingly broad; but then it immediately broadens further – a kind of double-shock. So soft too – a softness infused with cedar. Quite lovely.

Yet it is also nutty and croquant with a sustained and sustaining freshness that extends further the already considerable length. It is very rare to encounter a wine so intense with so much elegance. Exquisite. But also, and this is very much the mark of the vintage, so bright and lively – some achievement, given the evident depth, power and profundity of this magisterial wine.

Latour (92,5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7,5% Merlot; alcohol 14,1%; yield 44,7 hl/ha). Tasted at the Chateau. Deep purple and viscous in the glass with enticing radiant black highlights on swirling. Classic notes of cedar, crème de cassis and fresh blackberries. But floral too – rose petals, orange peel and blossom, with hints of kirsch and grated chocolate in the background.

The nose anticipates the Bohemian mouth-feel. Wonderfully svelte; the most beautiful texture. This is big and broad-shouldered but that power is very subtle and well-disguised. Pure, precise, focussed and linear, but with a wonderful sense of grandeur and harmony, if never quite opulence. Very fresh and fruity and always more elegant than it is opulent. Exudes balance and restraint – and ever so slightly austere.

Lynch-Bages (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; 14% alcohol; 70% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Very pure and precise, yet creamy too – an expectation confirmed on the palate but evident from the nose. Gorgeous. Succulent, seductive and quite rich and opulent with a gentle natural sweetness in the background. Deep and with very dark berry fruit. Cedar notes are already evident and that pronounced graphite minerality one associates with Lynch Bages. Blackberries, brambles and both red and black cherries. Cool. Incredible mid-palate intensity. Excellent. I love the pencil shavings! For me the best recent vintage of Lynch Bages.

Mouton Rothschild (90% Cabernet Sauvignon; 9% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; alcohol 13,5%). Tasted with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy at the Chateau. My expectations here were sky high; they were significantly exceeded. This is fabulous. A wonderful Mouton nose of dark, cool graphite, blackberries, brambles and black cherries with that distinct waft of sous bois, loamy soil and a hint of truffle. Curry leaf too!

The softness of the tannins is remarkable. But it is the structure of this wine that is most impressive for me. Cashmere at first as the wine ever so slowly unfurls on the long entry. Then the freshness kicks in as the fine, granular tannins start to build, finally unleashing little jets of sappy, juicy fruit at the top and bottom of the mouth and in each cheek. It’s like having a spray-gun in one’s mouth and the effect is to give an extraordinary crystalline brightness, energy and radiance to the fruit as it dances all the way to a very long finish. Philippe Dhalluin’s last wine at Mouton is a triumph.

Le Pauillac de Chateau Latour (55,8% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38,8% Merlot; 5,4% Petit Verdot; alcohol 14,8%). Tasted at the Chateau. Pure and rich with hints of graphite – pencil shavings – and cedar. Very Pauillac and very Chateau Latour too. Soft tannins and crunchy fruit with a pleasing freshness. Dark hued – blackberries, brambles, damsons and cherry skins too. Easy to like and very approachable. The alcohol, though quite elevated, is well-balanced by the acidity at this stage.

Le Petit Mouton (68% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot). Tasted with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Deep, dark and sensual on the nose and palate. Blackcurrants and blackberries, but sappy, juicy redcurrants too. This has an almost literally breath-taking mentholated plunge-pool coolness about it. Succulent, sumptuous and plush, this is extremely impressive.

The tannins are beautifully delicate. The acidity is (apparently) just a little higher than in Clerc Milon. But it is even better integrated into the structure of the wine, imparting added lift and delineation. Quite simply, the best of the second wines of the 1st growths in this vintage, as it was in 2018.

Pibran (53% Merlot; 47% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% new oak). Tasted from a sample provided by the Chateau. Garnet. Slight mauve highlights. Raspberry and cassis. Very fruit forward. Creamy nose. Slightly herbal, hints of saline minerality. Simple. Fine. Not very delineated and a little monotone. Nice heather and herb notes. Decent freshness but the fruit feels a bit blitzed; slightly raw tannic finish.

Pichon Baron (87% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Merlot; 80% new oak; 49% of the total production). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and from a sample provided by the chateau. Ruby with purple highlights. Limpid, quite viscous. Lovely cedary Pauillac nose in the making. Graphite, cassis but also brambles and that customary Baron note of fresh tobacco. Impressive density and concentration but, unusually for Pichon Baron, one is struck much more by this wine’s levity and energy.

Surprisingly ethereal. Tense and lithe. Nice precision and finesse. A beautiful freshness too. Sappy crunchy fruit on the finish. Long and poised. Better than the 2018 for me. Powerful but more flowing and stylish than it often is. It’s as if the vintage has reined in just a little the natural boisterousness of Pichon Baron rendering it a little finer and more elegant. I like this a lot.

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (71% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 60% new oak; no Petit Verdot this year; pH 3,75; alcohol 14,12%; 42 hl/ha). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and from a sample provided by the chateau. Utterly sublime. Just sumptuous. So elegant. So different from any other wine of the vintage – apart, perhaps from Latour, with which it has (as in 2018) some significant similarities.

Definitely for me now, and especially in this vintage, a first amongst the super seconds. Even better than the 2018. Gorgeous graphite-cedar nose with rich deep dark black, purple and blue fruits – cherries, damsons, bilberries, blueberries. Walnut shells too. Pure, focussed, precise yet profoundly seductive, enveloping and enticing – it draws you in. Just incredible texture. An almost spiritual moment – with little hints of incense to remind you. The softness is so profound it’s like entering a different dimension.

Spine-tingling; one reacts to this wine physically. So pure and finely pixilated. Intense yet the power is so well disguised. Seamless. Very close to perfection – or whatever that means for an en primeur sample. For me quite simply the left bank wine of the vintage, as it was in 2018. But this is even better. It is a privilege to taste this now – and it will be even more of a privilege to follow its, no doubt glacial, evolution. Chapeau to Nicolas Glumineau.

La Reserve de Pichon Comtesse (42 hl/ha; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 46% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; pH 3,70; alcohol 14,35%; aged in 40% new oak). Tasted from a sample provided by the Chateau. One of those second wines where you really have to do a double-take to check you haven’t opened the first wine by mistake. And with its striking new label, much more like that of the grand vin, that would be quite easy to do. Garnet/ruby in the glass. Quite light in terms of its extraction. Limpid.

That cool cool nose of Pichon Lalande – slightly sombre and austere and very pure. Red cherries, raspberries and wild strawberries, plums and damsons too reveal themselves as the nose gathers in the glass. Beautifully seamless on the palate from the entry to the long finish. Again, slightly austere and serious, an impression reinforced by its seeming coolness in the mouth (something I remarked on in the grand vin in 2018 as I recall).

The tannins, though considerable, are super-soft, giving an elegance and voluptuousness to this that has you back again checking out the label – yes, it definitely says ‘Reserve’! If Pichon Lalande is, especially in this vintage, a 1st growth amongst 2nd growths, this is a 1st wine amongst 2nd wines! Really excellent.

Les Tourelles de Longueville (68% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; aged in 30% new oak; 28% of the total production). Tasted from a sample provided by the Chateau. Garnet/crimson. Smokey; gamey. Touch of cedar. Big and broad if a little clumsy and unrefined. Lots of ferrous minerality. Less elegant than it sometimes is. Nice and fresh and decent concentration too, but not much finesse at this early stage. Spicy – hoisin notes too. Burly and big and the tannins feel a little aggressive. Touch of alcohol heat on the finish.

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