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Bordeaux 2020 by appellation: Haut-Médoc, Listrac, Médoc and Moulis

It’s easy to overlook the less renowned appellations of the Médoc, but in a vintage like 2020 that’s even more of a mistake than usual, as there are some fantastic wines to be found by those prepared to look for them, at almost all price points, says Colin Hay.

I will leave the detailed tasting notes that follow largely to speak for themselves. But I would particularly wish to highlight the quite brilliant La Lagune (one of the southern Medoc wines of the entire vintage), the startlingly impressive Branas Grand-Poujeaux (for me now reliably the leading wine in the appellation) and the revelation that is Eric Boissenot’s Les Vimières (though remember too his equally profound Les Vimières Le Tronquéra highlighted in my Margaux report).

Finally, it is difficult to look past the sheer value of Beaumont, Sénéjac and St Paul.

As I hope this already makes clear, to overlook these appellations is to miss out on wines that invariably represent considerable value for their typically modest release prices.

Picks of the appellations: La Lagune (93-95+)

Branas Grand-Poujeaux (92-94)

Value picks: Agassac (89-91)

Beaumont (90-92)

G d’Estournel (89-91)

De Milleret (89-91)

Sénéjac (90-92)

St Paul (90-92)

Revelatory: Les Vimières (91-93)


Full tasting notes

D’Agassac (Haut-Médoc; cru bourgeois exceptionnel; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new). It’s very interesting now having the chance to evaluate the new cru bourgeois classification with a fresh vintage and it seems to have been very well done. This is an excellent wine which, certainly in this vintage, is well deserving of its cru bourgeois exceptionnel status. A lovely classic Haut-Médoc nose, with cedar, pencil-shavings and a lovely stony-gravelly minerality accompanying the rich, dark cassis, bramble and mulberry fruit. Soft and lithe on the palate, with filigree tannins and a lightless that belies the not inconsiderable concentration. The ambition is clear both in the quality of the tannin management and, indeed, the volume of tannins here. They are just a touch dry on the finish; but that should not detract from what is an excellent wine.

Beaumont (Haut-Médoc, cru bourgeois supérieur; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 41% Merlot; 8% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). I always think of this as a very classical Médocain claret in the British tradition, but it is important to remember that this is part of the Beychevelle group of wines and there is something of Beychevelle now in the quality of the tannins here. On the nose, this has a lovely note of wild herbs that seems to fold itself into the ripe and crunchy red and darker berry fruit; and then a little suggestion of cedar starts to build in the glass, hinting at the wine’s evolution. Gloriously soft and refined on the entry, with cool, compact and very fine-grained tannins, this is impressively ample and broader-shouldered than you might imagine. More impressively, despite that it remains lithe and translucent – and it has a radiant fresh finish. I can’t recall a better Beaumont.

Belgrave (Haut-Médoc; 53% Cabernet Sauvignon; 44% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, a third of which are new; 13% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and then from a sample sent from the chateau. Classic claret – cassis and red cherry, this is fresh and lifted on the nose. Fresh and lively on the attack, with quite pronounced chewy tannins and a pleasing hint of lavender and cedar on the finish. This is good, but it’s not the most complex and it loses a little focus and delineation through the mid-palate. That said it is fresh, bright and refreshing even if the mid-palate feels a little dense and heavy.

Blaignan (Médoc; cru bourgeois). Dense, firm and a little strict – it feels very northern Médoc – and, indeed, that is where it is on a clay and limestone terroir. This needs a little time to open. When it does the ferrous-mineral element is quite pronounced, accompanying a slightly baked plum and red cherry fruit, with baking spices, especially nutmeg and perhaps a hint of sage too. The attack is bright and the calcaire tannins grip nicely, but it becomes a little unfocussed in the mid-palate and rather drifts on the finish.

Cantemerle (Haut-Médoc; from a vineyard of 95 hectares on silica-gravel soils; 58% Cabernet Sauvignon; 29% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc; 6% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; the final yield is around 80% of that for the 2019; 13.5% alcohol). Limpid, glossy and with a surprisingly uniform garnet/magenta colour, translucent at the core. This has a very classic Cantemerle nose of cedar, graphite, baked plums and cherries with flakes of dark chocolate. On the palate this is quite lively and bright with pronounced and chewy tannins which seems to pick up and interweave themselves with the cocoa and chocolate notes in quite a distinct and interesting way. Medium-bodied, this lacks a little complexity and I find the tannins just a touch dry on the finish.

Castera (Médoc; 65% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, a third of which are new; with a final yield of 47 hl/ha; pH 3.55; IPT 72; 13% alcohol). Light, bright and freshly fruity – with red and darker berry fruit, hints of thyme and oregano and earthy undertones. This is cru bourgeois supérieur and one can understand why. A lovely silky entry and a sinuous mid-palate with nice grippy tannins (from the significantly argilo-calcaire terroir) that build towards the focussed finish. Very accomplished.

Charmail (Haut-Medoc; cru bourgeois exceptionnel). I’m not convinced by this sample. It has no date on it and the wine seems to lack the signature freshness and brightness of the vintage, from a property that is typically very good at finding it. I will reserve judgement.

La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc; 87% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 42 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are new, for 12 months; 14% alcohol). Sadly the sample arrived after taking quite a circuitous route and it’s not at its best. I will have to defer judgement here. There’s impressive breadth to this and a nice northern Médoc smoky earthy saline minerality, but a fresher sample would I suspect have more lift and energy.

G d’Estournel (Médoc; the northernmost part of the Médoc; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 46 hl/ha; pH 3.94; TIP 65; 13.2% alcohol). The wine formerly known as Goulée. Tasted over Zoom with Dominique Arangoits. Not, of course, from the appellation of St Estèphe at all, but very much cut from the same cloth and produced by the team from Cos d’Estournel.

Very pure and crystalline with a fresh and nicely focussed blackcurrant nose, with a touch of raspberry, redcurrant and red and blackcurrant leaf, chervil and sorrel and lemon thyme. This is soft, gentle and very elegant on the attack, with perhaps a slightly less fresh and direct mid-palate as the nose prepares you for; it’s also a little broader and more open-knit than I was anticipating and it loses just a little bit of its focus and precision with that. Very fruit-forwarded, not especially complex, but a delightful expression of the vintage with that signature marine salt and pepper of the extreme north of the Médoc.

D’Hanteillan (Haut-Medoc, cru bourgeois). Quite a classic cru bourgeois Haut-Medoc nose, with a hint of cedar already alongside the loganberry and blackberry fruit. A little thin on the mid-palate but the tannins are nicely judged and this will probably fill out a bit in élevage. Needs a bit more of a crescendo on the finish and just feels a little etiolated, the fruit stretched thin over too big a canvas. A slight change in style and it’s maybe been taken too far?

Haut-Médoc de Dauzac (Haut-Médoc; from a vineyard of 4.1 hectares on a gravelly hilltop terroir; 69% Cabernet Sauvignon; 31% Merlot; 14% alcohol). Simple, light, elegant, extremely accessible and very easy drinking with soft and lithe tannins which have just enough grip to bring interest and texture without breaking up the fruit. Nicely judged.

Haut-Médoc de Giscours (Haut-Médoc; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol). Pure. Bright. Fresh. Fruity. Loads of Cabernet cassis, with a nice grip from the tannins. Engaging and energetic, this is very accessible and instantly appealing.

La Lagune (Haut-Médoc; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels for 14 months; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 14.1% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and then from a much fresher, brighter and more expressive sample at the chateau. Whilst in Paris this was closed and firm – indeed, firmly closed – on the nose, at the property it was radiant and beautiful, shimmering with fresh, bright crunchy fruit and singing eloquently of its biodynamic vineyard management and wine-making. On the nose this has lots of lift, with that bright, plump cassis, black cherry and bramble fruit.

There’s a very natural floral note, some mint, wild herbs and heather, with a trace of graphite and jet black pen ink. At first, this is compact and tight on the palate, too, though the tannins have been very well managed and are finely textured; but as it opens it seems to relax and stretch itself out along its sinuous spine. As it does so, it seems to come alive, dancing and pulsating in and through the generous and finely detailed mid-palate.

Luminous, clear and radiant in texture this glides and flows seemingly effortlessly. In Paris this was clearly excellent but so closed as to be practically inaccessible; at the chateau it was a revelation. I love the touch of cedar that emerges with air and patience, the gracious slowly tapering finish, the trace of toast on the finale and the lingering sensation of chewing on grape and cherry skins. Balanced, energetic, lithe and in total harmony, this is the best wine I’ve tasted from La Lagune.

Lamothe-Bergeron (Haut-Médoc; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 37hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, a third of which are new; 13% alcohol). Very ripe with an impressive and very natural sweetness coming from the ripe cherry and berry fruit (rather than any residual sugar). This is fresh, vibrant and joyous. Awarded cru bourgeois supérieur status in the recent re-classification and very worthy of it on the evidence of this wine.

Liversan (Haut-Médoc, cru bourgeois, from Antoine Moueix). Tasted alongside Patache d’Aux, this is a bigger and more structured wine, with less gentle and voluptuous tannins. It’s a little more rustic, I guess, and possibly a little more traditional, with a rather darker berry fruit – brambles and blackberries, with a nice note of wild herbs. It also has a slightly fuller mid-palate but, as a consequence, it’s a little firmer and more foursquare. But ultimately, this too will turn out well.

Madame de Beaucaillou (Haut-Médoc; 24% Cabernet Sauvignon; 66% Merlot; 10% Petit Verdot; pH 3.68; TPI 89; aging in oak barrels, 20% of which are new, for 12 months; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Bruno Borie and Tracey Dobbin from Flaconwit samples. Clean, bright, quite fresh – with a combination of red and darker berry fruit – raspberries, loganberries and mulberries, with a nice twist of the pencil sharpener, a hint of vanilla and a herby/earthy undertone. Light, soft and gentle – very gently extracted, maybe a little thin in the mid-palate and with tannins that are only just fully ripe on the finish, but soft enough for this not to be a problem. Bright and fresh, especially on the finish, and creamily textured.

De Malleret (Haut-Médoc; cru bourgeois exceptionnel; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are new). Another opportunity to ‘test’ the new cru bourgeois classification and another cru bourgeois exceptionnel with Stephane Derenoncourt as a consultant that passes the test with flying colours. Tasted just after d’Agassac, this is slightly more open-textured, a little less dense and with a little more oak influence. But it’s very much at the same level and remains, despite the oak, quite a classic expression of its terroir. Black cherries, cedar, graphite, a twist of black pepper and super-svelte tannins – what’s not to like?

Patache d’Aux (Haut-Médoc, cru bourgeois, from Antoine Moueix). This is sapid and nicely balanced, with juicy, fresh yet fully ripe red berry fruit and with soft and yet engaging quite fine-grained tannins. It has an impressively gentle mouthfeel and glides effortlessly over the palate. It needs to flesh out just a little more in élevage otherwise it risks remaining just a little hollow in the mid-palate, but this is a very attractive Haut-Medoc.

Potensac (Médoc; 44% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels 20% of which are new; pH 3.63; IPT 76; 14.1% alcohol). This has a nice lift about it and a focussed and precise cassis nose, with just a touch of cedar. There is impressive density and concentration on the mid-palate and a pleasing bite and grip from the fine-grained tannins. Fresh, pure and, as ever, excellent value.

Reysson (Haut-Médoc; cru bourgeois supérieur 93% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc). Quite a pronounced minerality on the nose – saline, ferrous, almost slightly feral too. Bright, fresh and herb-encrusted blackberries and raspberries. Lithe, fresh and with a pleasing sense of forward momentum on the palate with crunchy raspberry and mulberry fruit and, again, a slightly wild herbal note too. Refreshing on the finish.

Sénéjac (Haut-Médoc; 54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 34% Merlot; % Petit Verdot; 6% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels for 15 months, 30% of which arenew; 13.9% alcohol). This is quite refined and elegant, with a slightly introspective and delicate herb-scented, floral-tinged, deep dark berry fruit nose – fruits of the forest and autumnal brambles and blackberries. Creamy and in very much the same vein on the palate, this is impressive. Soft and gentle on the lively and engaging entry, with full, plump, fleshy fruit, the detail of the mid-palate nicely highlighted by the fine-grained grippy tannins. I like this a lot.

Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc; from 77 hectares on gravel and clay over clay and limestone, a vineyard famously so far north that its wines were not considered for the 1855 classification; 53% Merlot; 46% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1% Cabernet franc; aging in oak barrels, 90% of which are new, for 12 months; a final yield of 42 hl/ha; 14% alcohol). This is not the best sample – or, at least, not by the time in arrived in Paris after its rather circuitous route – so I am going on rather less here than is usual or ideal.

Quite a lifted wild herby northern Médoc nose, with its classic iodine-saline sea-breeze note alongside a bright red and darker berry and stone fruit. Soft but immediately spicy and saline on the attack, with a nice sense of lift reinforced by the ferrous minerality; nice chewy chalky tannins that grip well in the mid-palate and remind you that there is limestone in the subsoil here. I like too the ‘just ripe’ brambles on the finish. I’d like to re-taste this.

St-Paul (Haut-Médoc, cru bourgeois). This is rather good. It has a lovely authentically and classically Haut-Medoc nose, with a rich and dark graphite and cedar note already alongside the equally deep and dark wild berry fruit – brambles, blackberries and wild blueberries. Quite plump and plush on the attack, my only slight concern is whether this becomes a little over-blended and monochromatic in the mid-palate, but the bright fresh fruit and acidity just about come to the rescue. It would be good to re-taste this in bottle, but it’s rather promising and I’m giving it the slight benefit of the doubt for now.

La Tour Carnet (Haut-Médoc; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; aging in oak barrels for just 12 months; alcohol level not declared). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. This, too, is quite closed on the nose, with a just the suggestion of red cherries, mulberries and raspberries, walnuts and a more obvious and slightly confected floral note. On the palate this is quite fleshy, with good freshness and lift and one finds additional notes of baked plum, cassis and graphite. Difficult to gauge at this early stage.

Les Vimières (Haut-Médoc; from a tiny vineyard of around 1.5 hectares at Lamarque on a Terrasse 5 graves terroir; c. 60% Merlot; c. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon with a little old-vine Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, around 30% of which are new, for at least 18 months; a final yield of just over 40 hl/ha; pH 3.65; IPT 85; 13.8% alcohol). Many of you will not have heard of this wine; but to taste this for the first time was, for me, one of the most exciting moments of en primeur 2020. This is Eric Boissenot’s home estate and, as that might lead you to expect, it’s a fabulous wine – a bit of an insider’s secret.

I love the nose, which has a mix of plump, ripe red and black berry and stone fruit, a deep earthy loamy undertone and the hint of the cedar and graphite that will come with a little more age (and, indeed, even with gentle aeration). This is a wine that builds in the glass as exposure to the air breathes life into it. Plush, plump and ultra-soft on the attack but with an impressive forward momentum on the palate, with the fruit kept quite tightly bound to the mineral and tannic spine – and impressive concentration too. The tannins are slightly firm and chewy (the IPT is 85) and this will need a few years in bottle, but it shows great promise.

Listrac-en-Médoc and Moulis-en-Médoc

Branas Grand-Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc; 60% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new, for 14-16 months; pH 3.6; 14.5% alcohol). This comes, of course, from 17 hectares of the Grand Poujeaux plateau (approximately 20% of the appellation itself) – a geological continuation of the strip of ancient Günzian gravel that also provides many of the greatest terroirs of Margaux and Pauillac. I have been a big admirer of this wine and the spectacular progression here in recent vintages.

The 2020 maintains that forward momentum. Rich and slightly spicy on the nose with an opulent aromatic personality – baked plums, plump cherries and damsons with cloves and sweet spices and, with more air, a lovely cedary element that helps to bring out the black cherry fruit, with just a hint of lavender and grated dark chocolate. A sumptuous entry with extremely silky tannins and, again, an impressive amplitude. Shimmering and bright at first this dances on the palate before the tannins start to grip and bight, bringing this to a nicely focussed slightly chewy but very sappy grape-skin finale.

Chasse-Spleen (Moulis-en-Médoc; 49% Cabernet Sauvignon; 42% Merlot; 6.5% Petit Verdot; 2.5% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 37.5 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels for 16-18 months; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. This has classic crisp cassis on the nose, but I find it a little monochromatic and monotonic on the palate where it seems to lose lift and focus. This is fresh, certainly, but the autumnal fruits of the forest and blackcurrant feels a little blitzed and blended. It would be good to re-taste this.

Clarke (Listrac-en-Médoc; 70% Cabernet sauvignon; 30% Merlot; aged in oak barrels, two thirds of which are new). Big, glossy, bold and rich, with considerable viscosity and beautiful shimmering garnet and purple highlights in the sun. Fruits of the forest, baked plums, tobacco leaf and walnut oil on the nose, but the oak is not yet fully incorporated and stands a little apart from the rest. On the palate this is very chewy, the tannins quite assertive, brash and dry, becoming drying on the finish. This feels to me a little overdone; it seems to lack the energy and dynamism of many other wines of the vintage. Time will tell.

Dutruch Grand Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc; 64% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, a third of which are new; IPT 88; pH 3.66; 13.5% alcohol). It is interesting to taste this alongside Mauvesin Barton – the latter is a whole degree of alcohol and over 20 IPT lower. This is full, rich, ripe and very different on the nose – the oak more noticeable, the fruit riper, less crunchy, less fresh and more baked – plums and damsons, with sweet baking spices and horse hair. On the palate the tannins are bigger and more prominent and just a little severe and dry on the finish. This is a good wine, but for me it seems to miss a little the bright freshness and luminosity of the vintage.

Mauvesin Barton (Moulis-en-Médoc; 59% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; IPT 66; pH 3.62; 12.65% alcohol). Clean, fresh, lifted, bright and pure with a crunchy cranberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit almost more reminiscent, in its bright crunchiness, of the 2017 vintage. On the palate this is vibrant, sappy and with a pointy acidity that I rather like but that some might see as slightly green-tinged. I’d rather see it as reinforcing the vibrant freshness and purity of this wine.

Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc; from a vineyard of 70 hectares on Guntzian gravel; 54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 34 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted twice – the second a fresher and livelier sample. A little more Cabernet in the blend this year, less alcohol and actually a slightly higher pH (3.89 as opposed to the 3.80 of the 2019).

Black/purple at the quite opaque core. Expressive and aromatic as it often is en primeur – with fresh mint leaf, black tea leaves, lavender, cracked black peppercorns and black pen ink accompanying the dark cassis and blackberry fruit. There is a suggestion of leather, wood smoke, roasted coffee and wild forest mushrooms too. Creamy yet bright, light and lively, with plenty of lift, this perhaps lacks a little mid-palate density and is very much at the top of the palate. Pure and refined but without quite the intensity or layering of the mid-palate that I found with the 2019.

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