Bordeaux 2018 Revisited: The Right Bank satellite appellations
Continuing his series on the challenging yet potentially excellent 2018 vintage, Colin Hay turns his attentions to the satellite appellations of the Right Bank, with detailed tasting notes on 70 wines. His Pomerol profile will follow shortly, with articles on each of the leading appellations of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan to be published later in the year.
It is a truism of sorts that one is best placed to gauge the quality of a Bordeaux vintage by looking at the wines of the less feted and less famous appellations. That was never more so than in 2018. What was evident en primeur is even more evident two years on: 2018 is a mixed vintage. But it is capable, at its best, of greatness. That makes it particularly interesting to have had the opportunity – over the last three months – to re-taste and in most cases, in fact, to taste for the first time some of the best wines of a handful of typically underappreciated right-bank appellations.
To be clear, having tasted ‘only’ 70 wines over 12 appellations (13 if you include Vin de France which is not, strictly speaking, an appellation), this is a far less comprehensive tasting that that for St Emilion [https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2021/03/bordeaux-2018-vintage-report-saint-emilion/] or Pomerol. And although I certainly wouldn’t claim to have tasted all of the better wines in each appellation, the selection below is likely to be skewed towards the upper end of the qualitative spectrum. So what follows is neither comprehensive nor truly representative and it is important to be clear about that from the outset.
But even taking that into account, I am, once again, impressed. If one were only to read some parts of the international critical commentary on the vintage, one would rapidly become convinced that it is only really the super-rich chateaux on the very best (and most expensive) of hallowed terroirs that had any chance of making a good wine in 2018; and that many of those without the financial resources to make a great wine also lacked the skill required to deal with the challenges of the vintage. That is categorically not my impression – neither in St Emilion nor the satellite right bank appellations.
Why is this so? The answer, I think, is a little complex. And there are at least 3 rather different factors at work here – one reputational, one climatic and the third more stylistic. First, the wine-making in at least some parts of these appellations is much better than is typically assumed.
Second, some of things that made 2018 challenging in St Emilion and Pomerol (even on the very best terroirs) actually helped compensate for some of the long-standing limitations of the satellite appellations. This is, above all, a story of ripeness. It is not unusual for satellite right-bank wines, even in good vintages, to be a little green, a little harsh, a little unyielding and not fully ripe – especially where there is a decent amount of Cabernet (Franc and, even more so, Sauvignon) in the vineyard and in the blend. And here, of course, most of what’s in the vineyard tends to end up in the blend.
But ripeness isn’t really an issue in 2018. The long hot dry summer allowed vignerons to pick precisely when they wanted – and the result, for once, is Cabernet fruit that is as ripe as the Merlot. That is excellent news for the satellite appellations. And note, too, that well over a third of the wines reviewed below contain some Cabernet Sauvignon, a much higher proportion than in St Emilion.
Second, and perhaps somewhat ironically, the evolution in wine-making style in St Emilion avove all – and, albeit to a lesser extent in Pomerol too – gives the better wines of Côtes de Castillon and Lalande de Pomerol a better chance of competing with their more illustrious neighbours. The ‘new modernity’ in St Emilion, for instance, is all about the precision, purity, lift and finesse that calcaire terroirs and, above all, calcaire tannins can impart. The point is that this was already the style of the leading crus of Côtes de Castillon.
More generally, if it is elegance rather than opulence that one is seeking, then the argilo-calcaire plateau of Côtes de Castillon, the continuation of the Pomerol plateau that leads on to Néac in Lalande de Pomerol and the argilo-calcaire and calcaire terroirs around Fronsac are all very good places to go looking for it. In a vintage where there is optimal ripeness too that makes for an enticing combination – all the more so when one considers that crossing the appellation border typically still brings with it a halving in price.
But it is not all good news. For 2018 was a challenging vintage in the satellite appellations too. There were risks and the dangers were perhaps most present in the cellar. The greatest risk of all was (accidental) over-extraction, a danger greatly reinforced by the higher alcohol levels that came with such a warm and dry summer.
The effect was to replicate a problem that the Rhone valley has now been dealing with for at least a decade. Alcohol is, of course, a solvent. The higher the alcohol content, the greater the solvent effect. That solvent effect means that, at even modestly elevated alcohol levels, the very gentlest of macerations leads to the rapid extraction of colour, flavoursome and aromatic phenolic compounds and, crucially, tannin. It is like leaving the tea leaves in the pot too long. But that is not all. For higher alcohol wines penetrate deeper into the barrel and extract raw wood tannins more effectively from it (though precisely the same mechanism).
This is why the heatwave-drought vintage of 2003 produced controversial wines that many now find desiccated on the finish; and it is also why producers in the Rhone typically now prefer to use larger barrels and foudres to reduce the surface area in contact with the wine. 2018 is, then, in the right-bank satellite appellation, as elsewhere, a bit of juggling act, a bit of a curate’s egg. But the best wines – and there are many – are exceptional and they really deserve a place in your cellars.
It is important to be clear at this point that I have included in this tasting a number of red wines from the Entres-Deux-Mers. As the name implies, these are neither right nor left-bank. But since they have more in common with the former, stylistically and in terms of the composition of the blend, this seems like the right place to include them.
Before turning to the wines themselves, it is perhaps worth adding just a few words on the assorted white wines of the right-bank. These are now a most diverse bunch and it is very difficult to generalise. There is a massive diversity of styles – reflecting a growing diversity of varietals grown in right-bank appellations. Amongst the ten wines tasted below, we find almost as many varietals: Sauvignon Blanc; Sémillon; Sauvignon Gris; Muscadelle and even now Chardonnay (as in the wonderfully exciting new ‘Elena’ from Grace Dieu des Prieurs).
There are wines here for all palates and, indeed, all price points. But just a word of warning. 2018 was not easy for the Bordeaux blancs secs. Unless in very skilled hand, these wines tend towards a certain flabbiness, lacking delineation and acidity; and, in some cases, there is an evident trace of residual sugar too. There vintage ‘flaws’ are most evident where the proportion of Sémillon in the blend is high – though there are exceptions (Stella Solare from La Croix de Labrie is a good example) where the limestone terroir has really helped to lock in the (necessary) freshness.
The tasting note for the white wines follow those for the red.
My top ten (in alphabetical order)
Aiguilhe (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux)
Alcée (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux)
Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol)
L’Infini de Ch. de Francs (Francs Côtes de Bordeaux)
Clos Lunelles (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux)
Montlandrie (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux)
Les Perrières de Lafleur (Bordeaux Supérieur)
Le Plus de la Fleur de Boüard (Lalande de Pomerol)
Le Rey ‘Les Rocheuses’ (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux)
Roc de Cambes (Côtes de Bourg)
Exceptional value top ten (in alphabetical order)
La Brande (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux)
Canon Chaigneau (Lalande de Pomerol)
Cap St-Georges (St-Georges St Emilion)
La Chenade (Lalande de Pomerol)
De la Dauphine (Fronsac)
Grand Village (Bordeaux Supérieur)
Le Grand Verdus Grande Réserve (Bordeaux Supérieur)
Haut Carles (Fronsac)
De Lussac (Lussac St Emilion)
La Papèterie (Montagne St Emilion)
The best Bordeaux blanc (in alphabetical order)
Elena de la Grace Dieu des Prieurs
Le Petit Cheval Blanc
The tasting process
Given the sheer complexity of assembling samples, the wines were tasted over a 4-month period between December and March, almost exclusively from samples supplied by the chateaux themselves. Other than a handful of properties that I visited in December (which are identified in the tasting notes below), all samples were tasted in Paris. As I have not sought to rate or score wines and so do not need to ensure that wines are tasted under identical conditions, I have had no qualms about trying to taste them at their best.
So, where I thought it might help reveal them at their best, I have not been reluctant to decant samples. I have also used a range of glassware from Grassl, Reidel, Zalto and Sydonios. All wines (other than those tasted at the chateaux themselves) were tasted at least three times over a period of 48 hours. I am extremely grateful to all those who sent samples and to all those who helped me in the Herculean task of tracking down samples. Only one sample was rejected and it was kindly replaced by the chateau.
Detailed tasting notes
Aiguilhe (Côtes de Castillon; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 20% aged in barriques, 20% new; 14.5% alcohol; organically farmed, yet no significant loss of yield to mildew). Each year this seems to get better. A very attractive and engaging nose. Lifted, herbal, but with a nice pain grillé element – subtle and complex. Red and black cherry fruit, wild thyme and a delicate florality. This has a focused purity about which I really like and the fine-grained tannins have been very well managed – refined and svelte on the attack but then with a lovely crumbliness on the mid-palate, supporting effortlessly a long, tapered rather elegant finish. There are nice touches of saline minerality and a subtle pepperiness too – this is perfectly seasoned. More refined and elegant than in previous vintages with more focus and precision, despite the slightly burly personality of the vintage.
Alcée (Côtes de Castillon; from Nicolas Thienpont; 96% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). This is rather impressive; the first time I have tasted this and I am very impressed. Fresh, herby, lifted. Raspberries and black and red cherries (darker on the palate than the nose which is more red berry and red cherry). Quite croquant. A little hint of violets. Tres calcaire with lovely crumbly chalky tannins (I looked this up and it comes from two sites on the argilo-calcaire plateau of Cotes de Castillon – the most recently acquired in the prestigious St Philippe d’Aiguilhe part of the appellation). Very powerful too and fans out on the palate, almost like a fire-hose – quite restrained at first and then someone turns on the taps! Sappy, juicy, quite taut and charged. Marred, just slightly, by a hint of alcohol on the finish (though the degree of alcohol is actually more moderate than many wines from the appellation in this vintage) – and, with air, that subsides and the freshness comes through more. I really like this. Must be excellent value. A wine to follow.
Clos Bertineau (Montagne St Emilion; 14% alcohol; 100% Merlot; argilo sableux en surface; argileux en profondeur; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; just 1800 bottles; élevage in oak, 33% new). Simple but well-made; pleasant red berry fruit – raspberries and wild strawberries, with a hint of candyfloss. Ripe and with decent freshness. Nice grippy tannins and nice to see a mono-cepage of Merlot at ‘only’ 14% alcohol in this vintage. Just a little sweet for me and lacks a little mid-palate density, but very accessible and already drinking nicely.
Clos de Boüard (Montagne St Emilion; from a vineyard of 30 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% alcohol). A big step up from the second wine, as it should be. Plump and impressively broad on the attack, with very supple and svelte tannins providing a gentle introduction to the quite considerable structure here. Broad and deceptively rich, this has a relatively simple raspberry, bilberry and loganberry fruit, but with a nice saline minerality and a gentle earthy herbyness about it. Not especially complex, but texturally quite refined.
Dame de Boüard (Montange St Emilion; the second wine of Clos de Boüard coming from the same vineyard on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol;). Pleasantly floral and herby on the nose, with plenty of fresh raspberry fruit and a touch of hoisin sauce. But, like many of the wine of the appellation in 2018, this has a sense of residual sucrosity about it and the tannins are just a little rough-edged. Light and accessible, maybe lacking a little stuffing and too sweet-tinged for my palate.
Bourdieu (Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; the terroir here is gravel and lime; 87% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; average age of vines 25 years). Pleasant peppery nose; sumac; coriander seed and curry leaf; liquorice root; nice tannic grip, but relatively simple and short on the palate and a little hollow in the mid-palate. Easy drinking once the tannins have resolved themselves and with a nice freshness about it.
Bourdieu No. 1 (Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; the terroir is argilo-calcaire et graveleux; 89% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; average age of vines 35 years). Strangely sweet nose – almost candyfloss and Turkish delight notes, with a touch of curry powder. More tannic and the tannins themselves are a little raw and forced; sweet too on the palate. Pushed just a little too far and with a touch of heat on the finish from the alcohol. I actually prefer the simpler Bourdieu 2018.
Bourdieu Absolu (Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; from an argilo-calcaire terroir; 79% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Cabernet Franc; average age of vines 35 years; elevage en barriques for 18 months). This has the same slight touch of sweetness on the nose and palate as No. 1, reinforced by the oaky notes from the barriques in which this was aged; the tannins though softer on the attack are quite brash, raw and assertive. Cinnamon, cloves and curry leaf. Baked plum fruit. No great harmony here. Again, I prefer the more basic version of this wine.
La Brande (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% alcohol; from Vignobles Todeschini). Lovely, engaging and attractive red cherry and almond nose – almost a bit like a cherry pie! A little hint of white pepper too. Lithe and juicy on the palate, with alternating littles ripples of red cherry fruit, again, and crumbly tannins. Very fresh with a nice, almost structural, vein of acidity. There is a pleasing balance to this and an impressively long tapered finish.
Canon-Chaigneau (Lalande de Pomerol; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Malbec; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted twice in the last 6 months, with similar notes (though on both occasions, it really needed 24 hours to come to life). This has a powerful yet refined, ripe and smoky nose with a pleasing hint of natural sweetness and a pronounced saline/ferrous minerality (that is very typical of the property). Plump, rich and well-structured on the palate, this retains a pleasant fresh acidity; it is also nice to find a wine from this part of the world in 2018 that is ‘only’ 13.5% alcohol. Plums and damson fruit with a slight flinty note, a splash of hoisin and the signature iron minerality and crumbly/chewy yet fine-grained tannins of the argilo-calcaire terroir. Very persistent and promising at this formative stage, though the 2019 is better still.
Cap d’Or (St-Georges St Emilion; 86% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; 6% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 51 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol; from Jean-Philippe Janoueix). This is the second wine of Chateau Cap St-George. Big and punchy for a second wine, but with quite a block of tannin that still needs to resolve itself. A little insular and closed at first, but with a nicely focussed pure raspberry fruit with aeration. Simple but nicely made; a little sweeter and lighter-toned than the grand vin.
Cap St-George (St-Georges St Emilion; 82 % Merlot; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Cabernet Franc; from Jean-Philippe Janoueix; aged in oak barrels, including Radoux, 50% new – you can pick up the sweet spice from the Radoux; a final yield of 42 hl/ha). From a vineyard of 19 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir, 12 hectares of which have a full southern exposure, and 7 hectares of which have a south-western exposure. Something of a revelation (in other words, I like this quite a lot!).
Dark and cool and with a penetrating and quite vertical cedar-scented brambly fruit nose. Very fresh and pure, with really crumbly fine-grained (and obviously calcaire) tannins. Very much at the top of the palate – a wine that sings in the key of its terroir (something I really appreciate). It reminds me a little of a wine like Berliquet (or at least, recent vintages of Berliquet). This may be painted from a relatively simple palate, but it is nicely detailed, very elegant and finely structured and it exudes a natural sense of place and balance. Worth seeking out. The finish is very lively and energetic – bringing something of the freshness of the previous vintage to the structure of 2018.
Carat de Ch. Reaut (Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Cabernet Franc; 20% Merlot; alcohol 14.5%; a selection from the best parcels, hand de-stemmed and vinified en barrique). Much darker in the glass than Chateau Reaut, as you’d expect, and almost opaque still at the centre. A much darker and more autumnal black/purple berry fruit, with cracked black pepper and a pleasant suggestion of hedgerow flowers. Brambles, blueberries and walnuts, with copious black cherries and a touch of cedar joining the party with more air. Remarkably cool and soft on the broad-shouldered attack, before all is engulfed in a wave of fine-grained but puissant argilo-calcaire tannins. The oak is nicely restrained and there is a pleasing earthiness about this; but it is going to need some patience. Quite closed for now, but with significant forward potential. Modern – in the style of Defi de Fontenil or Le Plus de la Fleur de Boüard.
De Carles (Fronsac; 90% Merlot; 5% Malbec; 5%; Cabernet Franc; 30k bottles; the average age of vines is 30-35 years; 14.5% alcohol). Much lighter in colour than, say, Plain-Point or Tessendey. This is attractive, but quite simple. Cracked black peppercorns, red liquorice, sweet spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves) and a pleasant mix of red and black berry fruit – raspberries and blackberries. The mid-palate is a little slender, but it starts to fill out with some aeration, revealing a not unimpressive structure. Relatively simple, but nicely made. This will make for a charming and accessible bottle in 2-3 years’ time.
La Chenade (Lalande de Pomerol; made from the younger vines of the 10.5-hectare vineyard of Les Cruzelles on gravel/sand and gravel terroirs on the plateau de Néac; 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). A lovely bright and expressive nose, that is fresh and engaging, with baked plums but also the more marked acidity of redcurrant and blackcurrant, freshly pounded black peppercorns, hazelnuts and a rich earthiness that I find particularly attractive; with air we get a little red cherry, too, and the ferrous-saline minerality of the terroir comes through more (as the vines mature the minerality of Les Cruzelles is more and more evident in La Chenade).
This could easily come from the other side of the appellation boundary (it comes from vines that are only a kilometre from Eglise Clinet). This has impressive depth and density and fine-grained tannins that are increasingly crumbly in texture. And, interwoven with the grain of the tannins, is a fresh fruity juicy sappiness which defines the long and focussed finish. Really excellent and, as ever, fantastic value. To say that it is the best second wine of Lalande de Pomerol comes nowhere close to doing it justice!
Croix Mouton (Bordeaux Supérieur; from Jean-Philippe Janoueix; 13.5% alcohol). Always excellent value and easily mistaken for a Satellite Saint-Emilion. Fresh, peppery and spicy, with plummy fruit and soft tannins, the 2018 edition is typically unpretentious and nicely balanced. Easy, accessible and it won’t break the bank.
Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol; from a vineyard of 10.5 hectares on the plateau de Néac and just 1 kilometre from Eglise Clinet on a clay and gravel terroir; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new). This was fantastic en primeur; but it is significantly better now. Indeed, I was not prepared for how genuinely exceptional this was going to be. We really could be over the appellation border in Pomerol and much though I love the wines of Lalande de Pomerol, that is a phrase that I was not expecting to write in this vintage. The nose is fresh, lifted and very complex – with dark freshly ground high acidity Arabica coffee beans, blackcurrant, white currant and blueberry fruit, a lovely quite intense sous bois note, hints of fresh marjoram and oregano, freshly grated nutmeg and walnut oil.
This is soft and calm and slightly cool on the entry, and then there is a little pause as the wine seems almost to relax and breathe, before the fruit starts to unfurl and unfold across the sinuous long mineral-charged tannic spine. The crumbly tannins are very fine-grained and they give a lovely sense of grip, definition and layering to the mid-palate; and, as ever, there is that distinct Cruzelles ferrous minerality. But above all, it is the purity, precision, focus and finesse that I love about this. The 2019 may well be even better –I certainly preferred it en primeur to the 2018. But this has benefited so much from its élevage, exceeding even the very high expectations that I had generated for it almost exactly two years ago.
De la Dauphine (Fronsac; there are 40 hectares under vine here on an argilo-calcaire and Astèries terroir; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 30% new barrels; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 15% alcohol). A lovely wine. Just the right degree of extraction and the right amount of oak. Baked plums, blackberry and wild strawberry, cinnamon, hoisin and five spice and twists of cracked black peppers and nice hint of the cedar to come as this ages. Fresh, lively, vertical, energetic and already easy to appreciate; but at the same time, there is something more substantial and structural here and it is that which impresses me the most. This builds nicely, fanning out slowly through the mid-palate unlike any other wine of the appellation in this vintage before signing off in a long gently tapering finish. Stylish, elegant, delicate. A nice herby earthiness to this too. Though the bottles states 15 degree of alcohol, I really don’t feel any heat on the finish and would guess this were a whole percentage point lower. Appropriately noble given the history of the property and very fine indeed!
Defi de Fontenil (Vin de France; Michel Rolland; from a tiny vineyard of 1.66 hectares and so only 2600 bottles; 100% Merlot; 15.5% alcohol; the vines are over 80 years old; 100% new oak). This is declassified from Fronsac due to the use of plastic sheeting between the rows of vines – like Interdit de Valandraud 2000 – ostensibly to reduce rain penetration in wet vintages (hardly much of an issue in the summer of 2018). Quite oaky and a little sweet on the nose – a hint of vanilla and of a new barriques. Dense, intense and opulent.
There is a lovely floral elements to this – violets, irises, peonies and dried rose petals. Blueberry coulis and black raspberries; tapenade. Walnuts from the ripe pip tannins too. Rather classy and impressive if just a little oaky at this early stage – but the oak, I am pretty sure, will be supped up by the fruit in time. Promising and elegant. This has a lovely long tapered finish and remains fresh throughout despite the rather elevated alcohol. Distinctly modern and not to everyone’s taste, but certainly impressive and likely to prove something of a crowd-pleaser. If one had to be critical, you might say this tastes more of (accomplished) wine-making than it does of its terroir.
Domaine de Cambes (Bordeaux; from a section of around 6 hectares of the Roc de Cambes vineyard entitled only to Bordeaux appellation status; planted on an argilo-calcaire vein with a full southern exposure; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged for 18 months in 100% new Redoux blend barrels; 15% alcohol). Gosh, this is very dark in the glass (as expected) and very closed at first on the nose (not expected); but when it starts to open the fireworks are unleashed and we know immediately that this is a François Mitjavile wine.
This has that gorgeous signature summer pudding, dark soft plum, bramble and even pomegranate fruit and those almost iconic intense tobacco, incense, clove and vanilla pod notes of the Radoux Blend barrels in which this is aged. Unique – or, at least, unique to his little family of wines. The only question really is which one is it – it’s certainly good enough to be mistaken for Roc de Cambes. Exquisitely creamy, full and plump, spicy and sweet and with more of a meaty, charcuterie note than I remember from en primeur and with loads of ferrous minerality too. Yes, one can sense the alcohol, but it’s almost part of the identity of this wine – along with the sensation of being in the Marrakech spice market! Instantly recognisable, highly accessible and a hedonistic indulgence. For some, I suspect, this is a step too far. I can never quite decide.
Enclos de Viaud (Lalande de Pomerol; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; from Vignobles K). Gosh. Big and bold and very mineral. Iron ore and saline notes, plums and damsons on the nose; black pepper too. Very dark and rich and even a little burly and aggressive; but Pomerol-esque nonetheless. A bruiser! Wild thyme too – which is rather nice, and a touch of wood smoke – barbeque notes. Tannic and with a hint of alcohol on the finish (though ‘only’ 14.5%). Very spicy. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. Needs to soften and to harmonise, but there is potential here. A little rustic – making for a bit of a rollercoaster ride at this stage; this needs time.
L’Excellium de Ch. Barros (Bordeaux Supérieur). Perfectly fine for what it is and very easily appreciated, but nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy here. A pleasant ferrous note.
La Fleur de Boüard (Lalande de Pomerol; 85% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 34.2 hectares, including 16 hectares on the plateau de Néac; 14.5% alcohol; around 75% new oak though it is nicely incorporated). Big and rich and plump but nicely aerial on the nose, with both a nutty and a slightly herbal element to accompany the dark plump black and blueberry fruit, with an attractive hint of cedar too. The cedar is present again on the broad and soft attack. One of the best wines from la Fleur de Boüard I can recall, this has a lovely transition from the svelteness of the attack through the lithe and grippy mid-palate to a lovely long soft and savoury finish. There is a delicious, juicy black cherry fruit and, again, hints of walnuts and a very natural earthiness. Better than I recall en primeur – though I liked it then too.
La Fleur de Ch. Haut-Piquat (Lussac Saint-Emilion; a cuvée parcellaire from 2 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir from Jean Pierre Rivière; 100% Merlot; aged in 50% new oak; 14% alcohol). The oak is quite evident, imparting fruit cake and sweet gingerbread and spice-box notes and a hint of tobacco; but there is also a nice earthiness and a hint of cedar that I like very much; the tannins are quite soft, certainly on the attack. Smokey and spicy on the palate and quite vibrant and punchy on the finish. Distinct and certainly not lacking in personality. The wood tannins are perhaps just a little dry but I like this.
De Francs (Francs Côtes de Bordeaux; 70% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol; aged 50% in inox, 50% in barrel used for the second time). Spicy, peppery nose; baked plums; simple and quite basic with slightly dry tannins. Nice grip on the finish. Inoffensive and accessible but nothing much to write home about.
De Francs ‘Les Cerisiers’ (Francs Côtes de Bordeaux; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol; aged 50% in inox, 33% in new barrels). This is brighter and more engaging. More lifted and distinctly more impressive. Herby and with much softer tannins on the entry. Plums, blueberries and, appropriately enough, red cherries. Nice sense of lift and grip. Decent length and a nice finish on grape skins and garrigues herbs. A slight hint of almonds too. Appealing and impressive.
Fontenil (Fronsac; Michel Rolland; 100% Merlot; from a vineyard of 9 hectares; 59,000 bottles; 15% alcohol; aged for 15 months in 60% new oak, after malolactic en barriques, 40% of which are new). Garnet/purple, but nicely translucent with a beautiful sappy limpidity in the glass; there is nice viscosity to this. The tannins are enticingly soft, drawing one into a wine that is quite lifted, aerial and nicely fresh in the mid-palate. Blueberries and raspberries compote with a hint of cinnamon and a rather enticing note of Palma violet sweets. Fine-grained tannins reveal a well-structured mid-palate. Perhaps a little monotone, though with a pleasingly floral element; attractive and very well made; and with a good sense of place and terroir. Finishes nicely on grape skins, but with just a hint of hotness from the alcohol.
Domaine de Gachet (Lalande de Pomerol; 50% Merlot; 50% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol; from the Néac plateau; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, around 30% of which are new; from Vignobles J-P Estager). Attractive, lithe, lively, energetic and lifted on the nose. Strawberries, grainy notes too (like a young single-malt scotch whisky) and a floral element too – lilacs perhaps. A lovely rippling finish. Not big or powerful, but rather elegant, with impressively soft and yet structural tannins. I was really impressed by the balance of this wine. A super introduction to a fine line-up of wines from François Estager.
Le Grand Verdus Essentiel 2018 (Bordeaux; 100% Merlot; from an argilo-calcaire terroir; 14% alcohol; a vineyard with a north-western exposure; essentially no SO2 and 9 months in concrete). Le Rey-esque. Very vertical on the nose, which is actually more impressive than the palate. Herby, fresh, lifted, lithe, distinctly interesting and engaging. Spicy – cinnamon, cracked white, green and black peppercorns; slight floral notes too; and root liquorice; but the refreshing absence of anything sweet (my standard gripe with some of the wines of this vintage).
But the nose prepares you for something that is not quite delivered on the palate, which is just a little blended and smudgy. It might resolve itself with time and it certainly finishes nicely – with lovely spicy-peppery notes (think baie de Timut and cracked green Szechuan peppercorns) and fresh, croquant berries too – loganberries, raspberries, brambles. There is a nice sense of the calcaire terroir here – very crumbly fine-grained tannins. It’s just the mid-palate that loses me a bit – a loss of focus for a wine which is, otherwise, rather exciting. I’d love to see how this evolves; and, indeed, other vintages.
Le Grand Verdus Generation 2018 (Bordeaux Supérieur; a selection of the best of the estate; from Sadirac; 47% Cabernet Franc; 42% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.5% alcohol). This has a very attractive nose with nice graphite and cedar notes developing with a little air. Nicely done. Refined. Spicy and peppery. Vibrant and fresh but with decent substance and length. The tannins are impressively svelte, not too substantial and give this a gentle but very discernible structure of the kind that is very rare in wines at this price point. All and more than one can expect from Bordeaux Supérieur. Great value and already really quaffable.
Le Grand Verdus Grande Réserve 2018 (Bordeaux Supérieur; a parcel selection – 5 in total; all argilo-calcaire; small yields, careful use of oak; a final yield of only 22hl/ha; 55% Merlot; 27% Cabernet Franc; 18% Cabernet Sauvignon; – which is already exciting! And 14% alcohol). Gosh – lovely tannins. Super svelte. Nice lift and verticality, expressing its argilo-terroir really well. On the nose one picks up the lift first, then the fruit (baked plums), then an earthy/loamy note and then the pronounced slightly ferrous minerality; there’s a nice touch of fresh thyme and lemon thyme too. This has impressive density and concentration on the mid-palate. In a blind tasting, I’d guess this came from the plateau de Néac in Lalande-de-Pomerol. Belies its appellation – or, at least, the reputation of its appellation. Lively, engaging and moreish. Chapeau!
Grand Village (Bordeaux Supérieur; 22% Bouchet; 78% Merlot). Tasted with Omri Ram at Chateau Lafleur. This comes from a wonderful vineyard on the argilo-calcaire soils of Mouillac in the canton (but not actually the appellation itself) of Fronsac. Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau of Chateau Lafleur are now 20 years into this project, slowly replanting the vineyard with massale clones from Lafleur itself. They started with the Bouchet (the local variety of Cabernet Franc) but are now increasingly turning to the Merlot too. The wine-making here increasingly resembles that at Lafleur, which means an extraordinary attention to detail. This is the best vintage yet, but the 2019 is better still.
This is one of those wines where you can detect the softness and identity of the tannins from the nose itself, which is lifted, nutty (walnuts), with blackberry and raspberry fruit and a slight hint of fresh tobacco leaf and roasted coffee beans. On the palate, this is rich and creamy yet with great freshness and energy. The tannins loudly proclaim their argilo-calcaire identity, with an extremely tactile chalky crumbly grip. That gives this wine a fantastic structural frame to which the fresh, mineral-charged, fruit, clings tightly. There is a lovely harmony and a very natural sense of equilibrium here, even if there is less delineation and layering in the mid-palate that one finds with, say, Les Perrières or, indeed (as I recall) the 2019 Grand Village. Each year this is more and more of a revelation.
La Grande Dame de Ch. de Lavagnac (Bordeaux Supérieur; this comes from selected parcels on a sandy clay terroir; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% alcohol; aged in 100% new oak barrels; this comes from Maison Rivière – owners of Clos des Menuts in St Emilion). Slightly sweet on the attack, but fresh and fruity; very much on the top of the palate; a nice sense of grip too. No great depth or concentration, but nicely made.
Haut Carles (Fronsac; 90% Merlot; 5% Malbec; 5% Cabernet Franc; the average ages of the vines is 35 years; 15% alcohol). A significant step up in quality from the (already) not unimpressive Chateau de Carles. Svelte tannins, especially on the attack, more noticeable wood presence, but it will incorporate nicely (and is doing so already). Graphite, white pepper, blueberries and black raspberries, liquorice root and a pleasing slightly ferrous saline minerality. Nice mid-palate density and a lively, fresh and focussed finish.
Haut-Surget (Lalande de Pomerol; from a 25-hectare vineyard on a mix of gravel and argilo-calcaire terroirs; a long maceration and aged partly in new oak; mainly Merlot, but with both Cabernet varietals making up the balance; 14.5% alcohol). More translucent in the glass than most, despite the extended maceration. Quite soft and gentle at first, this comes across as almost a little slender and hollow. Quite oaky, both on the nose and on the palate, with pronounced notes of fresh tobacco leaf alongside the raspberry, blackberry and bramble fruit. Quite closed and a little subdued for now, but more aeration seems simply to reveal more oak, a slightly dry wood tannin – and an interesting Lapsang Souchong note. Not entirely harmonious and a little difficult to decipher.
L’Infini de Ch. de Francs (Francs Côtes de Bordeaux; a selection parcellaire from Chateau de Francs; vinification and elevage in 225 litre barriques; 100% Merlot; hand-picked from the bunch and crushed by foot; 14.5% alcohol). Beautiful glossy garnet/purple core, pronounced rim and an attractive limpidity. Lovely, floral, herby nose. Svelte tannins. Rather special. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but it’s really very good indeed. Elegant cedar-charged nose, with floral notes (peonies and irises) and with just a little hint of vanilla and cinnamon patisserie from the barrique (childhood memories of Danish pastries!); modern, yes, but subtle, refined and elegant too. This has a nice hour-glass shape in the mouth show-casing well its argilo-calcaire terroir. Very fine indeed. This will age gracefully for at least a decade and make for a stunning advert for the appellation (my mischievous alter ego has me thinking that this could cause some considerable embarrassment if smuggled into a St Emilion blind tasting in a few years’ time).
Leroy-Beauval (Bordeaux Supérieur). This is something of a revelation. Really lovely, fresh, spicy, lifted and showing off very well its argilo-calcaire terroir. I had never heard of this wine (made from parcels from Saint Sulpice and Camerac). Principally Merlot, with both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Lovely cracked wild peppercorns, baie de Timut and herbal notes – wild garrigues herbs, thyme and rosemary. Raspberry compote, with a great intensity on the nose. Less substance on the palate, but frankly this is extraordinarily good and just the kind of wine I love – intensely aromatic, lively, bright and fruity. Super.
Le Lion de la Fleur de Boüard (Lalande de Pomerol; 50% Merlot; 50% Cabernet Franc; 14,5% alcohol; 15% new oak; an impressive final yield of 50hl/ha). This is the first time I have tasted this, the second wine, of Hubert de Boüard’s La Fleur de Boüard. Delicate, light, but with impressively soft and caressing tannins and a nice grip in the mouth. Unpretentious and relatively simple, but actually rather classy, this coats the palate rather well. The gentle suggestion of cinnamon from the oak is very appealing too.
Clos Lunelles (Côtes de Castillon; from a vineyard of 8.5 hectares on a limestone plateau terroir; 80% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Suvignon; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Olivier Gailly at Chateau Pavie. This is, as ever, one of the great wines of the appellation; it is also, as ever, one of my favourite wines of the Perse/Pavie tasting and since it is one of the cheapest, that makes it excellent value. It is, in fact the first property one comes to as one crosses the appellation border with St Emilion.
It comes from a 100% limestone terroir on the plateau that extends from St Emilion into Castillon, neighbouring Chateau Faugères. This is beautifully defined by the limestone, with all that lift and radiance. It is pure, fresh and bright, but be in no mistake, this is a wine with considerable density and mid-palate concentration too. The tannins are soft and supple, but there is no soupiness; indeed, this is a beautifully shaped and chiselled wine. The palate is crystalline, the fruit sappy and crunchy in equal measure and although the tannins on the finish are considerable they are super-fine grained imparting a crumbly juiciness to the long elegant finish. This used to be a wine that was rather dominated by the oak at least in its youth; that is no longer the case. This has great charm, considerable freshness and lift and excellent balance.
De Lussac (Lussac-St-Emilion; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; from a vineyard of 28 hectares; but with a final yield of just 20 hl/ha; on argilo-calcaire and argilo-limoneaux soils; 15% alcohol; elevage in barriques, a third new, and concrete amphorae). Under the same ownership as Vieux Maillet in Pomerol. Unpretentious and relatively straightforward, but at the same time a lovely expression of the vintage. Quite tense and taut and with good grip and freshness. This has a pure plummy fruit with a gentle hint of minerality. The fine-grained tannins are already quite soft and, though lacking a little mid-palate density, there is very decent length to this. An excellent advert for the appellation and the wine-making.
Montlandrie (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; from a 12-hectare vineyard on a clay-limestone terroir on the plateau and côtes of the Côtes de Castillon purchased by Denis Durantou in 2009; the vines have an average age of 25 years; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; and, for the first time, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon (planted in 2013); aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). This was my favourite of Denis Durantou’s ‘satellite’ 2018s, as indeed it was in 2019 – and it remains my favourite now (though Les Cruzelles runs it very close and, frankly, who needs to choose between them?).
Noémie and Denis have done a great deal of work in the vineyard over a number of years here and it has really started to show in the progression of the wine. It is earthier than Les Cruzelles and darker fruited, more cool and austere – even slightly gothic (and a little like Eglise Clinet itself in that respect). There is a lovely bright energy to this but also a supreme sense of calm and harmony. We have black cherries, brambles and blueberries with a hint of pepper, fleur d’oranger and oolong tea.
The tannins are super soft on the entry and, as for Les Cruzelles, they remain ultra-fine grained. They are a little sterner, perhaps, and more structuring of the wine – stretching the fruit out along the graphite-mineral backbone of the wine rather than allowing it to express itself too quickly or too flamboyantly. And they become as much a delivery vehicle for the fresh bright juicy fruit they are as for the crumbly chalky limestone texture that they also impart. This is ample and fleshy with great length, impressive fruit density and a fine sense of balance; but it needs a little longer in bottle than Les Cruzelles. It’ll definitely reward that additional patience.
La Papèterie (Montagne-St-Emilion; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol; clay and limestone-clay terroir; 30% new oak; Vignobles J-P Estager). There is a nice graphite seam in this and the Cabernet Franc really makes a massive difference to this wine. Bigger, deeper, plusher than the Domaine de Gachet, with earthy undertones. Plump and plush but with the same svelte yet structural tannins and an impressively lengthy, crumbly, fresh finish. Another excellent wine – one of the stars of the appellation. Savoury and sappy and light on its feet, yet with depth and substance.
Pavillon Beauregard (Lalande de Pomerol; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). Until I looked more closely at the label, I assumed this was the (renamed) second wine of Beauregard (Benjamin de Beauregard is the second wine, I now recall). The first time I’ve tasted this. Organic and vinified in the rather impressive new chai at Chateau Beauregard. Ooh, this is nice. A lovely cedary nose, with freshly turned loam and a mix of red and black berry and cherry fruit. A touch of frangipane or almond purée. Soft and caressing on the attack, but then the impressive crumbly tannins announce themselves, giving shape to the evolution of this through the mid-palate. This is nicely balanced, with just the right amount of extraction. If I am allowed to be picky, it lacks a little definition in the mid-palate. But, in essence, what we have here is stylish, super value and rather classy.
Pavillon de Trianon (Bordeaux Supérieur). Well, this is a little fresher than Pézat. Very much a right-bank Bordeaux Supérieur. Pleasant herb and plum notes on the nose. But rather sweet and slightly confected on the palate – one almost senses candyfloss (honestly); more positively, raspberry compote, but a little jammy. Not really for me. The tannins are rather brutal and unrefined and there is a slight raspy bitterness on the finish.
Les Perrières de Lafleur (Bordeaux Supérieur; 51% Bouchet; 49% Merlot). This is the first vintage of this wine under its new name, Les Perrières de Lafleur. It is the evolution of Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau’s Acte series (born in 2009 with Acte 1 and finishing in 2017 with Acte 9). This is what you get if you grow Lafleur’s wonderful massale-cloned Bouchet (the traditional name for Cabernet Franc) on the calcaire Plateau de Menet of Fronsac. A truly great wine from a unique, intensely calcaire, terroir that deserves to be better appreciated. This is garnet/black at the core with a lovely limpidity, accentuated by the rays of bright winter morning sunshine coursing through the windows of Lafleur’s new tasting room. The nose is fantastically bright, lifted and vertical – and extremely complex.
The fruit is dark and cool and rich – blueberries, blackberries, sloes and brambles too, with the early suggestions of the cedar-graphite notes that will come through more as this ages. But this is also very floral, with violets, peonies, irises, rose hips and incense; there is a singular ferrous note to the pronounced saline minerality too; and then walnut oil, marzipan and the roasted coffee beans that are also present in Grand Village. The palate is extraordinary – highly tensile and tactile, charged with acidity and energy and with an amazing structural evolution.
At first it is soft and round and almost voluptuous, but then the grip of the fine-grained chalky tannins reins things back, re-focussing the fruit around a tight cylindrical core before releasing a wonderful fresh puff and plume of sappy, juicy fruit and saline minerality. Wonderful stuff. With all its structure there is a good case to be made for giving this a decade in bottle before starting to pull the corks; but one understands much better the centrality of structure to this wine if one starts to drink it earlier. Either way, this is a wine I covet!
Pézat (Bordeaux Supérieur – right-bank, 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 15% alcohol). Honestly, there is not a great deal of Pizzazz about this. A little rustic, charnu (certainly) and burly. Charcuterie, a little hint of sweat, plums and damson compote with cinnamon and all spice. Quite sweet. Plump and rich and the alcohol is very noticeable. A good line-up of wines from Jonathan Maltus in 2018; but I can happily pass on this one. I like to like things; I would like to like this more.
De la Pierre Levée (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; argilo-calcaire; 70% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol). A joint venture between Yvon Mau and Hubert de Boüard. Relatively simple, but nicely made. Peppery and spicy on the nose with good energy. Lively red berry fruit and pronounced red liquorice notes too. No great density and the tannins are a little punchy and slightly harsh on the finish, but this will still provide plenty of unpretentious pleasure in the short-to-medium term. Slightly dusty on the finish, but I actually rather like that.
Plain-Point (Fronsac; from an 18-hectare vineyard with a limestone clay soil over a limestone sub-soil; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; the average age of the vines is 42 years; 20 months élevage en barrique, 40% of which are new). This has a very spicy and peppery nose, with pronounced red berry/raspberry fruit. Attractive. Quite nicely lifted and vertical; clearly from a calcaire terroir. Cracked black pepper; baie de Timut. A little raw and raspy on the finish and lacking complexity; one has the palpable sense here of a rather long maceration and that impression is not helped by the presence of some quite dry oak tannins too. Needs a year or two in bottle to soften, but the basic ingredients are fine.
Le Plus de la Fleur de Boüard (Lalande de Pomerol; old vine Merlot, average age of 60 years; a final yield of 20hl/ha; just 4500 bottles; vinification and aging in 100% new oak for 33 months – so not yet in bottle; situated on a gravelly mound which includes 15% to 20% of clay). Tasted from a barrel sample as this is not yet in bottle. Cool and savoury and very ‘Merlot’; a wine that exudes silkiness on the nose and on the palate. Thick, dense, concentrated, rich and plump; even more broad shouldered on the attack than La Fleur de Boüard and at this early stage a little more monolithic – but undeniably impressive.
Raspberry coulis, preserved rose petals and a touch of cedar on the nose (more with aeration). Very nutty on the palate, with kirsch and frangipane much in evidence too. For me this lacks just a little focus and definition. Spicy and a little exotic even with considerable density; very long on the finish. Unremarkably at this still formative stage (this is one of the few 2018s still in barrel) the vinification and long élevage in new oak dominate just a little. Impressive, but not for the faint hearted. After 48 hours, however, this is rounder, richer still and more structural. Class and elegance and poise in abundance – and considerable aging potential.
Reaut (Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux; from a vineyard of 26 hectares on a mixture of limestone-clay hillside , where the Merlot is planted, and a gravel terrace at 100 metres of altitude above the Garonne river where the Cabernet Sauvignon is planted; 70% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14.5%). One picks up instantly the influence of the argilo-calcaire terroir. Glossy, limpid in the glass and quite vertical on the nose. The tannins are fine-grained but quite considerable – they will soften, but this needs at least another year in bottle. There is a nice purity about this and a forward thrust on the palate that brings interest and dynamism. Refined and quite elegant, with a nice hint of almonds to accompany the red berry fruits.
Le Rey ‘Les Argileuses’ (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; 85% Merlot; 15 % Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol; from parcels on blue clay; this sees no oak). Always a favourite of mine and this doesn’t disappoint my expectations. Pure and lithe. Precise, lifted raspberry and redcurrant fruit, with a touch of blackcurrant leaf and sage and marjoram. Pure. Intense. Lovely tannins – this has something of the texture of a sage leaf! Wonderfully fresh, lively and energetic.
Le Rey ‘Les Rocheuses’ (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 15% alcohol; from parcels on limestone; aged in oak of one year’s use). Wow. Much darker in hue than Les Argileuses. Superb pure cassis fruit here. Vertical on the nose and intensely aromatic, with baie de Timut and red Szechuan pepper corns, lilies and lilacs too. Considerable breadth on the attack, but reined back a little (producing a lovely tension) by those archetypical limestone-terroir tannins with their hour-glass shape in the mouth. Pure, precise and focussed, yet rich and intense with a lovely tannic grip. Like Les Argileuses this can be enjoyed now but it is a little more serious and really deserves to be given 2 or 3 years of bottle age. Excellent.
Roc de Cambes (Côtes de Bourg; from an excellent 14-hectare vineyard comprising two natural amphitheatres on a south facing slope across the river from Chateau Margaux; 80% Merlot; 20% old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new Radoux Blend barrels; around 50% of the potential crop was lost to mildew; 14.5% alcohol). Very, very Mitjavile, but in a subtler more refined way than Domaine de Cambes. Camphor, incense, cloves, sage, figs and a rich dark plummy fruit; but here with a more marked pretty hedgerow floral dimension and, crucially for me, with less marked vanilla pod notes and a more integrated oak signature. Lithe, juicy, sappy and with just enough freshness – but, like Domaine, this is quite sweet at first on the palate.
The tannins, however, are beautiful even if quite considerable. This has a very pronounced cool menthol element and, unlike other wines of the appellation where this is so, it lingers here through the mid-palate all the way to the refined and very long finish – almost like the effect of sucking on an extra strong mint, with the sense of cool freshness accentuated by the cylindrical grip of the tannins on the top and bottom of the palate and the cheeks. Instantly recognisable as Roc de Cambes (it’s not quite earthy enough to be Tertre Roteboeuf) and yet different from any other vintage of this wine I have tasted – though perhaps most like the excellent 2015.
Siaurac (Lalande de Pomerol; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; from a vineyard of 46 hectares on an argilo-grave terroir on the extension of the Pomerol plateau; 14.5% alcohol). Garnet core; nice limpidity in the glass. Very attractive on the nose. Quite refined with a nice lift. A little sweet on the attack – baked plums, wild strawberries and all spice. A hint of tobacco and garrigues herbs. This is relatively simple, but there is decent substance and a nice grip and chewiness to the tannins. It tapers quite quickly, too, but to an elegant and long if slender finish.
Synonyme (Vin de France; 33% Cabernet Franc; 24% Grenache; 22% Merlot; 17% Syrah; 4% Mourvèdre; 14.5% alcohol). Bordeaux meets the Rhone Valley. You wouldn’t believe what goes in this, so let me tell you! It’s a blend of 9 barriques (8 of them new) from a variety of different vineyards and 2 different regions. There are 2 parts Châteauneuf-du-Pape (from Château Maucoil), 1 part Côtes de Rhone Village Valréas (from La Décelle), 1 part Côtes de Rhone Village Rasteau (from Domaines des Evigneux), 2 parts Bordeaux Supérieur (from Château Le Grand Verdus) and 3 parts Pomerol (from Château de Valois). Overall .. well, this is one of the strangest wines I have ever tasted – and, in a way, that’s the point.
There is, I think, only one appellation in France that combines Rhone and Bordeaux varietals in the way we have here – Cabardès (near Carcassonne) – and I suppose this resembles a superior wine from that appellation. It comes in a rather exotic, expensive and weighty Rhone bottle, was assembled (so the capsule reveals) in the Rhone valley and is the strangest kind of Bordeaux-Rhone marriage. On the positive side, this is bright and fresh, the alcohol more moderate than you might expect it would be (especially in this hot, dry vintage), the fruit is fleshy, and the oak is already very well incorporated and not at all dominant (despite all bar one of the 9 of the barrels from which this was made being new). The nose, however, is a little flat (more so with aeration).
There is a little bit of blueberry at first (from the Cabernet Franc) but it is rapidly overwhelmed with air by the peppery fruit of the Rhone – red cherries, some plums, a bit of liquorice, curry powder and coriander and a hint of leather. The palate is more interesting and expressive, with a gentle soft entry and nicely fine-grained tannins, garrigues herbs, warm spices and a note of game and charcuterie. But it’s all a little homogenous and blended – as if the various elements are still fighting each other or, perhaps more accurately, cancelling each other out (I keep searching for the Cabernet Franc that was there when the cork was first pulled, but its lost in the intensity of the southern Rhone valley).
This is like a bag of snakes – there are lots of interesting, exciting and exotic things inside, but it’s very difficult to make them out and one has the suspicion that they’d all prefer to be somewhere else. Whether it was a good idea to put them all in the same bag in the first place is an interesting question – perhaps they’re still getting to know one another and all will be well in the end.
Tessendey (Fronsac; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol; 25% new oak; from a vineyard of 8 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir; the average age of the vines is 30 years; 40,000 bottles; from the d’Arfeuille family from La Serre in St Emilion). Not dissimilar to Plain-Point, though a little less extracted. A nice sense of argilo-calcaire identity. Quite spicy – five spice and cinnamon, hoisin and a pronounced saline minerality. A little rustic, with quite a simple plummy fruit and the tannins are quite rakish on the finish. Needs time and I suspect this is always going to come across a little raspy and raw, but there are pleasing terroir notes here.
Vieux Chateau Palon (Montagne St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5 hectares on an argilo-calcaire ‘croupe’; the average age of vines is around 30 years; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 15% alcohol). Very impressive if just a little sweet for me. Lifted and quite racy and vibrant, this has a very pure sweet-scented raspberry and red cherry fruit accompanied with spice box and fruit cake notes and a dollop of ferrous minerality. Quite oaky. The tannins are quite supple and the attack is broad and rich, even if this tapers quite quickly on the mid-palate, but with a long nicely-focussed, if again rather sweet, finish.
Vieux Rivière (Lalande de Pomerol; from a vineyard of 13.5 hectares at the heart of the plateau of Néac on a lime-gravel and sandy-gravel terroir; grown and vinified organically since 2003 by the team from La Croix Taillefer in Pomerol; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Glass staining and almost opaque at its viscous black/garnet core. Richly earthy with moss and herb-tinged dark fresh briary fruit – mulberries and blackberries and, with more air, cassis too – and with a note of freshly ground coffee beans and a hint of walnut. Quite glossy and creamy on the entry but the tannins build rapidly on the palate and are quite harsh at this stage, rather overwhelming the bright and fresh fruit. This is a little brutal for now, especially on the finish, and needs time to soften and coalesce.
Aiguilhe blanc (Bordeaux blanc; 100% Sauvignon Blanc; with a final yield of 44 hl/ha; bottled in May; just 7% new oak; 13% alcohol). Quite vertical and lifted. Very calcaire. Lemon and lime on the nose, a hint of verbena too and seashells picked off the beach. Sprightly and bright with the fresh crunch of a juicy apple. Grassy and herby. Fresh and nicely focussed, but with decent substance too. Nice juicy, sappy finish. Clean, pure, not terribly complex but very well made. No oak I suspect (in fact, very little – 80% inox, 20% oak, with 7% new and for only 6 months).
Blanc de Fontenil 2019 (Bordeaux blanc; this is the first vintage; 2200 bottles; 32% Sauvignon Blanc; 26% Sémillon; 21% Chardonnay; 16% Sauvignon Gris; 5% Muscadelle; the vines here were only planted in 2017). A fascinating wine – look at the blend for a start! – which I have decided to include in this piece, even though it is from the 2019 vintage. Vinified en barrique and in cement eggs. Lovely and fresh, especially for the blend. Classy and quite distinctive. Intensely calcaire and after it settles and comes together with a little air, it is the Chardonnay that defines the nose – rather Chablis-esque. Chalky and vertical. Floral (linden and verbena) with guava.
Quite rich on the palate with substance and breadth from the Sémillon and the Chardonnay; a little strange, with an almost metallic sense of minerality, a strange smoky barbeque note (do they still make smoky bacon crisps?), and a slightly dry, crumbly, grippy bite that I rather like, but this needs more time to come together; a little marked at present by the wood and one senses that the Chardonnay and the Bordeaux varietals are not yet altogether comfortable in each other’s company. At present the nose is more impressive that the palate. Long and always quite rich, but with a nice vein of acidity. An interesting wine and an impressive debut. It will be fascinating to follow this. Like a blend of the two whites of La Croix de Labrie!
‘Elena’ de La Grace Dieu des Prieurs (100% Chardonnay). The first vintage of this wine and, quite possibly, the first vintage of any St Emilion Chardonnay; not publicly released. Tasted twice – at the chateau in June 2020 and then in November 2020 after bottling. White/green highlights in the glass. Nice and fresh yet plush and full. White flowers at first and then pears, peaches, hazelnut and, with air, almonds and frangipane. The oak is present – more noticeably on the nose than for the 2019. One picks up the slight clove notes of the Radoux blend barriques in which this was made.
Tasted blind, you might guess this to be one of those micro-parcel Chardonnays from a high altitude site in Barolo – big, bold, rich and powerful but with a chiselled sense of fresh acidity and a hint of the fine-grained oak in which it comes to life; and there is that saline minerality too. A hint of sweetness, but loads of freshness too. There is a touch of ginger to go with the fennel seeds. Green tea and verbena on the finish and a hint of smoke. Bigger and richer than any of the other St Emilion Chardonnays and quite structured but super-fresh with a nice punch, bite and linearity too. An excellent forward thrust on the palate drives the wines along its spine. A wonderful debut.
Grand Village (50% vinified en barrique). Tasted with Omri Ram at Chateau Lafleur in October 2020. Purer, more precise, less obviously rich. Very marine/saline, with even a touch of smoky bacon – smoke and ocean, rather reminiscent of an Islay whisky (Caol Ila perhaps). Flinty, chalky. Very fresh fruit notes – grapefruit, lime, with a hint of nuttiness. Very long pure focussed finish – with that spine that is so characteristic of white wines from the Guinaudeau family. Bergamot and green tea. More firm and closed than the 2017, but at least as promising, with more substance and depth to it (even if it remains a little more restrained and held back at this stage). Limestone mouthfeel and structure, very mineral too – silex and a hint of iron. More saline still with air; very creamy and attractive, if just a little heavy on the finish.
Hubert De Boûard Le Chardonnay– 100% Chardonnay. Clean, pure, quite precise but with depth and concentration and a little richness. Peaches, guava, pear, confit ginger and a little umami note. Nice balance; quite tart and vibrant acidity, giving a hint of structure. Just a suggestion of a slight butteryness (beurre noisette) from the oak in the mid-palate; toasted brioche too. Good balance, if just a little lacking in personality and with a slightly tart and metallic finish. Not quite as accomplished as the 2019, tasted during en primeur, en confinement.
Hubert De Bouard Le Sauvignon – 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Comes with a green capsule (unlike the others which are yellow) and the wine is greener too, as you’d expect. If they are summer, this is spring. Quite Graves-y, actually. Fresh, quite lifted light and more floral than the Sémillon. A lovely saline minerality contributes to the decent length. Citrus much in evidence with little white flowers and a pleasant slight nuttiness too. Another well-made and nicely balanced wine for early drinking.
Monbousquet blanc (Bordeaux blanc; this comes from 1 hectare of the Monbousquet vineyard on a gravel terroir that was planted in 1993, the first vintage being 1998; 65% Sauvignon Blanc; 30% Sauvignon Gris; 10% Semillon; 13.8% alcohol). This is floral, rich, powerful, quite big on the attack and little marked by the new oak – with an impressive fresh, sappy juiciness but also a pronounced note of toasted butter. Lemon and lime, grapefruit, lemon meringue pie, peaches and cream, vanilla, fleur d’oranger, nutmeg and a hint of walnut shell, with a touch of refinement coming from the acidity and the minerality. This is undoubtedly a fine wine, but I’d prefer less oak.
Le Nardian (Sauvignon Blanc; Semillon; Muscadelle; 14,5% alcohol). Never my favourite and I find this slightly confected. Very marked by the oak. Exotic fruits – lychees above all but guava, mango and passionfruit; the back label suggests pineapple and coconut too and, indeed, there is something almost Sauternes-esque about this. Quite a dollop of residual sugar here as well (and it’s marked 14.5% alcohol). Clearly intended to be “outrageously exotic”, as it boldly states on the label; it is certainly that and, as such, might well divide opinion. For me this is almost too rich and cries out for a little more of the citrus notes that are there but which seem a little swamped by the exoticism.
Le Petit Cheval Blanc (74% Sauvignon Blanc; 26% Sémillon – the first vintage to contain Sémillon). Wonderfully rich and powerful, but with all the disguise and poise of Cheval Blanc itself – in a way a white that only Cheval Blanc could make. Singular and unique and reliably now my favourite white of the entire region. So subtly beautiful and so wonderfully vibrant, fresh and lifted. This is a wine that seems to defy gravity in that it is breathlessly light and elegant and delicate and fresh and slender on its feet; yet it is also a wine that has extraordinary gravitas, complexity, richness and power – with remarkable purity and length.
Close your eyes and the mouthfeel is reminiscent of the velour of the grand vin’s sublime cashmere tannins which here enrobe the pure agrume citrus fruits. On the nose, which needs a little air, white flowers – acacia, honeysuckle and even a hint of saffron. On the palate, peach skin (with something of their texture too), pears and all varieties of lemon – pressed, preserved, fresh, bergamot, even a little tarte au citron. Wonderful saline minerality which is like a spine – once one tunes in on it, it is there from the attack all the way to that vanishing point tapered finish. Remarkable.
Stella Solare de Croix de Labrie (60% Sémillon; 20% Sauvignon Blanc; 20% Sauvignon Gris; 13.5% alcohol). Coming from a one-hectare vineyard of 60-year old vines in Saint Christophe des Bardes on an argilo-calcaire terroir. Fermentation en barriques of 225 litres; aged in 50% new oak for around a year. An extraordinary and singular wine. Much more golden in the glass than I was expecting, with almost a hint of amber. Very distinct and very floral nose with passionfruit, passionflower and guava very prominent, lychees too with air and then lanolin (from the Semillon). Exotic (kiwi, lychees, almost a Gewurtz thing going on here), but light and aerial at the same time with that verticality that is the signature of the limestone (crucial here). Very saline.
There is quite a Sauternes-esque nose here and one anticipates residual sugar on the palate. And, yes, there is definitely that, but a wonderful succulence and yet freshness generating tension too. Quite big and plump in the mid-palate – very much showing off its 60% Sémillon. Maybe just lacking a touch of complexity. At this (early) stage, it’s a little monochrome (golden!). But fascinating and certainly very distinctive. Not everyone is going to love this and it would be very difficult to pick where this came from in a blind tasting; but what’s not to like about that! 1,600 bottles.
Valandraud blanc (50% Sauvignon Gris, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Sémillon). Very mineral-intense on the nose, flinty too, with that slight hint of struck match, a little plume of smoke too and those fresh, new season white almonds that one finds on the 2017 too. Vertical with that recognisable note of St Emilion calcaire. Bright and chirpy on the nose; instantly appealing. But, even given this, the crisp bight and searing vertical freshness and acidity comes almost as a shock on the palate; as is the undelying depth, concentration and intensity of this wine. Wow.
Beautifully focussed and defined – very chiselled and with a very interesting slow and evolution on the palate as one encounters the contours of this very fine wine. Lime, white grapefruit, beeswax, with a pinch of saline minerality and very floral too – mimosa and honeysuckle, with a hint of verbena and lime zest on the sappy finish. Really excellent. There is a quality in this – the calcaire notes and the flinty minerality – that reminds me of Dauvissat’s Chablis La Forest.