Bordeaux 2020 en primeur by appellation: Margaux
It’s not at all surprising that the appellation of Margaux has excelled in 2020. But, despite discordant voices in some quarters of the fine wine press, the extent to which it has excelled came as something of a surprise, says Colin Hay.
Margaux is of course a large appellation and one usually regarded as particularly heterogeneous in quality, even in the most benign and generous of vintages. 2020 was, of course, neither; and so, logically, one might have expected the characteristic unevenness of this complex vintage to be present to an even greater extent here.
But that is not what I experienced. Time and again I found myself tasting wines that exceeded my expectations. That impression was only reinforced when I sought to take into account the already quite considerable variation in the quality of terroirs between even the classed growths of the appellation.
In short, the majority of the leading wines of Margaux in this vintage are better than their terroirs would lead one to expect them to be and, consequently, they compare very favourably with their generally more feted neighbours. In 2020 they excel.
Some of that is the product of a near decade long change in style, with Margaux in my view leading (or at least very much in the vanguard of) the Médocain return to what I have called a ‘new classicism’
That is reinforced by the appellation’s increasingly uniform commitment to respect for the quality of soils, respect for biodiversity and its (closely associated) more rapid and enthusiastic embrace of organic and biodynamic wine-making.
This is also the Médocain appellation in which we see the most clear and direct effects of less use of oak, greater use of amphorae and more neutral vessels for vinification and élévage, small parcel vinification and gentler extraction techniques.
This subtle stylistic change that this has produced is very much reinforced, however, by some of the characteristics of the vintage itself – notably its florality (the archetypal and defining feature for me of Margellais classicism so vividly present in these wines in this vintage), it bright and crisp fresh fruit, its lift and, indeed, its comparatively lower alcohol.
Those effects reach a kind of tipping point in 2020 for a number of wines – notably Durfort Vivens, Ferrière, d’Issan, Kirwan, Marquis d’Alesme, Prieuré-Lichine and du Tertre. These wines are strikingly strong and profoundly redolent of the vintage.
For others – such as Cantenac Brown, Dauzac, Lascombes, Malescot St.-Exupéry and Marquis de Terme – one has the sense that this is still very much a work in progress. But the direction of travel is the same. It is this that I find particularly exciting.
Finally, and in their rather different ways, Margaux, Palmer, Rauzan-Ségla and Brane Cantenac have simply retained as their have slowly perfected their own distinct version of this classicism. Theirs is, in a sense, the classicism that the others now more closely resemble and have sought to emulate.
The closest to attaining that level is Durfort-Vivens – which, over the last five vintages, has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to reclaim, for me at least, its place amongst the top four wines of the appellation. The 2020 is the latest – and the greatest – of five quite simply thrilling wines (that I had the recent pleasure to taste vertically with Gonzague Lurton).
In 2020, then, Margaux is more consistent than it used to be despite both the size and diversity of the appellation and the terroir-reinforcing challenges of the vintage. That is some achievement.
I will let my tasting notes below speak for themselves. They convey, I hope, singularly and collectively, my enthusiasm for this vintage in this appellation.
But I do want to single out du Tertre. For 2020 is the last vintage vinified under the watchful eye of Alexander van Beek who has presided over such an impressive transformation in the last 5-10 years. It is a fitting tribute and testimony to the work he has done and is highly recommended. So are all of the following, and many others beside.
Pick of the appellation: Margaux (98-100)
Truly great: Brane Cantenac (95-97)
Value picks: Ferrière (92-94+)
Marquis d’Alesme (93-95)
Du Tertre (92-94+)
Revelatory: Les Vimières Le Tronquéra (91-93+)
Full tasting notes
Alter Ego de Palmer (Margaux; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 46% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; 13.7% alcohol). Tasted at Chateau Palmer. This is stunning. On the nose this is instantly engaging with bright black cherry, cassis and graphite notes interlaced with freshly crushed floral pepper corns and spices – exotic baie de Timut, baie de Selim, fennel seeds and cinnamon stick. On the palate this is both sinuous and layered – rather like the surface of a cool mountain lake illuminated by the direct light of the moon. Vibrant and refreshing and charged with wild herbs, this has great focus and precision and a lovely sapid, rolling juicy finish.
Angludet (Margaux; 46% Cabernet Sauvignon; 42% Merlot; 12% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels [70% new] and amphorae for 12 months; a final yield of 26 hl/ha; pH 3.8; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. This is rather closed on the nose for now. Cassis and cedar with a little suggestion of wild purple flowers. On the palate we have a compact, soft and caressing opening, but I find the mid-palate a little lacking in focus and definition despite the seeming freshness of the fruit. Quite firm, but promising; I’d like to re-taste this as the sample is not the freshest.
D’Arsac (Margaux; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; IPT 81; pH 3.7; 13.3% alcohol). This is very good, as it has tended to be in recent years; very expressive of its appellation and terroir, this is delicate and floral, light and aerial on the nose with ripe deep dark berry fruit and spring flowers. The attack is soft and voluptuous and the tannins stay gentle across the palate gaining just a little in texture and granularity towards the pure and nicely focussed finish. Stylish, elegant and excellent value.
Aurore de Dauzac (Margaux; from the hilltop fine gravel and sand terroir of the estate; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 14% alcohol). A little darker in the glass than Labastide and rather more serious and sombre on the nose – with a lovely cedary note accompanying the slightly darker-shaded predominantly plum and damson fruit, with a hint of walnut shell too and some almost garrigue-y wild herby notes. Like Labastide this is ultra-soft and gentle on the entry; the tannins, though, are a little more present on the mid-palate giving this a little more delineation but at the expense of a slight dryness on the finish. But, overall, this is easy and accessible and a good introduction to the grand vin.
Baron de Brane (Margaux; the second wine of Brane Cantenac; 58% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Sauvignon; 6% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; pH 3.71; 14.2% alcohol). A big step up in quality from the already impressive and rather lovely Margaux de Brane. The tannins are super-soft on the attack but have a nice little grip and bite to them that both stretches out and adds interest to the mid-palate whilst giving this very decent length. There’s plenty of stuffing too and the nose is archetypally Brane. In the last few vintages this has been, for me, the pick of the second wines – alongside Ségla – and this may well be the best they’ve made so far.
Blason d’Issan (Margaux; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 57% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 35% of which are new; pH 3.77; IPT 68; 13.5% alcohol). In the end this represents a staggering 55% of the total production after an ultra-strict selection of the first wine – with really just grapes from le Clos d’Issan itself making it into the grand vin. This is superb and another Margaux second label that really sings of its appellation.
On the nose this is quite creamy and soft, with a lovely very deep and gentle fruits of the forest and sous bois character and a wild herb and heather note too that I really like. There’s a lot of graphite-tinged minerality as well. On the attack this is plump and impressively ample, with incredibly soft tannins for a second wine. We don’t have to go back that far to find a time when the first wine itself was not at this level. Highly recommended.
Brio de Cantenac Brown (Margaux; 29% Cabernet Sauvignon; 62% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 25% of which are new; this represents 49% of the total production after a very strict selection). The second wine (of three) from chosen parcels that vary with the vintage and that are vinified differently from those for the grand vin itself. Rich and spicy, nutty and plummy, with fresh red and darker berry fruit notes too – notably wild strawberries. The impressive Merlot brings a lot of depth and weight to the mid palate, perhaps at the expense of the svelteness of some other wines of the appellation, but this remains bright, fresh and juicy on the finish. Very impressive indeed.
Boyd Cantenac (Margaux; 71% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18% Merlot; 8% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 13% alcohol). Tasted just after Pouget, this is more balanced, more representative of the appellation and altogether more harmonious. Like its stablemate, there is a lovely classically Médocain graphite and cedar signature to the nose but here with more floral elements and a more prominent, if still slightly baked plummy stone fruit. On the palate, this is more open-textured and also quite sweet-tinged. The tannins are soft and fine-grained and they bring definition and a little layering rather than puncturing the flow of the fruit. This feels much more balanced, though it lacks the energy and vivacity of some of its neighbours. A little firm and foursquare.
Brane Cantenac (Margaux; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Carmanere; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; aging in a combination of new oak and amphorae for 18 months; pH 3.71; 13.7% alcohol). Another lovely wine from Henri Lurton and his talented team at Brane Cantenac. Extremely limpid, like moonlight on a silvery lake, very dark hued, accentuating the effect, but translucent at the core and seemingly very gently extracted. The nose is instantly ‘Brane’, for me always the most aromatic and the most distinctive aromatically of the great Margaux estates.
It takes a little while to come together, but when it does this could not be any other wine. It is more floral I think that any other left-bank wine I have thus far tasted, with rose petals, peonies and patchouli enrobing the dark berry and cherry fruit, but also with oodles of Brane graphite and cedar and a lovely fresh cracked peppercorn note too. If I could bottle the aroma I’d carry a jar of it around with me! Soft, sleek, supple, sinuous and sensuous on the palate, with the most gloriously svelte tannins, this is a very refined and elegant wine that ripples as it rolls over the palate. Very complete, supremely harmonious and utterly compelling, this is on a par with the 2016 for me. Golden Brane!
Cantenac Brown (Margaux; 67% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; a final yield of 36 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels for 18 months, 60% of which are new; just 51% of the production selected for the grand vin; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and then from the chateau itself. This is quite open and aromatic, with a lovely prominent cassis fruit, with brambles and blackberries, black cherries too and a hint of dark chocolate, though fewer floral elements than many of its peers.
On the palate this is pure and bright and crisp, with soft and compact tannins, an impressive density to the mid-palate which is nicely delineated and detailed. More precise and focussed than in recent vintages, the mid-palate has a lovely crystalline quality, though it perhaps lacks just a little Margaux typicity. I particularly love the almost pulsating finish which comes from the tension between the grip of the tannins and the freshness of the fruit. The gentle maceration through infusion plays a big part in the textural complexity and finesse of this impressive wine.
Chevalier de Lascombes (Margaux; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% Merlot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau itself. A genuine second wine. Cedar, graphite and blackcurrant on the nose, with a slight spicy undertone. Light, bright, crisp and focussed on the palate with an impressively sapid juicy finish. Aged in barriques of one previous use and larger foudres, this is pure and precise though with nothing like the density or concentration of the grand vin.
Dauzac (Margaux; from a vineyard of 42 hectares on a deep gravel terroir; certified organic; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, two thirds of which are new; 28% Merlot; 45 hl/ha; 14% alcohol). Very dark hued, extremely viscous and limpid in the glass, just about translucent at the core and with a very ill-formed magenta/lilac rim. This is quite closed at first on the nose, with just a hint of cedar and cassis that slowly builds with aeration and patience. This is nicely composed, firm and with a lovely very dark fruit profile – fruits of the forest, cassis and black cherry.
Cool with a little mint leaf on the attack, quite plump and ample with very ripe fruit (but just on the right side of the maturity fence for me), with the richness of the cherry notes nicely countered by the freshness that comes from the blackcurrant. Tense, lithe and lively, with a bright, clean pure fruitiness. This doesn’t have the mid-palate delineation or layering of some of the very best wines of the appellation, but it’s an impressive continuation of the upward trajectory now well-established at Dauzac.
Desmirail (Margaux; 50% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 13% alcohol). Tasted twice, at the UGC in Paris and then from a sample provided from the property with similar notes. Whilst I like the fresh bright cassis and blackcurrant on the nose, with a hint of sous bois, damp earth and even a suggestion of chanterelles, I find this very open-textured and lacking in focus on the mid-palate. It’s soft and gentle, but the tannins don’t really frame the fruit and the structure and evolution is difficult to discern; this lacks precision and detail and fades quite quickly on the creamy and monochromatic finish.
Deyrem-Valentin (Margaux; cru bourgeois supérieur). This has a pretty nose of wild herbs and dark autumnal berry fruits. There’s a nice freshness too on the lifted finish, but the mid-palate I find loses definition and focus with the fruit seeming just a little blitzed and blended. It’s a little too soft and creamy for me.
Durfort-Vivens (Margaux; from a vineyard of 62 hectares on deep gravel; 88% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Merlot; certified organic and biodynamic; aging in amphorae (30%) and new oak barrels (70%) for 18 months; certified organic and biodynamic; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; 13.65% alcohol). Tasted first from a sample sent by the property and then as part of a mini-vertical with Gonzague Lurton at the Chateau. This is glorious, opulent, bright incredibly lifted, fresh and floral, and archetypally Margaux. A nose so beautiful you want to keep it forever. It needs a little time to come to life as it gently inhales, but when it does we have a quite brilliant expression of the parfumier’s floral armoury on display – violets, essence of rose petal, saffron, absolu of iris, even a hint of passion flower.
This is a beautifully natural wine and the product of a very gentle vinification; it immediately feels composed, relaxed and confident in itself. It is all about purity. A beautiful subtle soft and gentle Cabernet nose with a very pure and sharply focussed, but at the same delicate, bright cassis and raspberry fruit, becoming fuller and more creamy with aeration, with lovely graphite and walnut and hazelnuts notes too.
Very open-textured, this feels translucent and sinuous on the palate, with a wonderful light, aerial and diaphanous mouthfeel that is actually unlike any other wine of the appellation. The layers are nicely defined by the almost crumbly tannins and the bright acidity, yet this is a really dynamic wine in the mid-palate and it’s as if the layers weave in and out of one another creating little ripples in the mouth as they do so. Fascinating, unique and truly exceptional in this vintage. A new reference point for the property.
Ferrière (Margaux; from a vineyard of 24 hectares on deep gravel over limestone; 68% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; certified organic and biodynamic; aging in amphorae (20%) and oak barrels, 40% new, 40% of one year for 18 months; a final yield of 23 hl/ha; 13.36% alcohol). Tasted immediately after La Gurgue with Claire Villars-Lurton at the Château, this is ultra-bright and marked by its searing acidity, both on the nose and the palate. 7 hectares of very old vine Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
The fruit is a little darker in tone and actually a little softer and creamier on the nose – plump brambles, black raspberries and mulberries just plucked cleanly from their hulls, with a little hint of eucalyptus oil, rosemary and sous bois, with even a touch of chanterelles. With more air, we get bracken and gorse. Impressively compact and concentrated. On the palate, this is very lively and bright with a sparky, zesty sense of energy and fine-grained but always textural and texturing tannins, bringing interest and definition to the long mid-palate and finale. Very fresh and a vintage in which the organic and biodynamic wine-making really helps the mid-palate sing.
Giscours (Margaux; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 44% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol). Glossy, limpid, quite viscous, very much on the blue/purple rather than garnet/crimson end of the spectrum. The nose takes a little time to come together, but when it does it has a lovely quite delicate and subtle hedgerow floral element, pure cassis, blueberries and raspberries, walnuts and a suggestion of cedar.
There’s a moment when you notice the oak, but that passes quite quickly. On the palate this is bright and luminous, with extremely soft yet still textural tannins that support the fruit really well and seem to defy gravity – in that the fruit seems light and airy and yet there is clearly considerable density and concentration. This is, in fact, rich and full with that distinctive saline minerality of Giscours, but the power is beautifully disguised. Very long on the finish and the most focussed and precise Giscours I can recall. Graceful and classical, yet also extremely fresh and bright.
La Gurgue (Margaux; certified organic and biodynamic; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; 23% Petit Verdot; aging in amphorae (40%) and oak barrels for 12 months; with a final yield of just 15 hl/ha; 13.07% alcohol). Light in extract, dark in hue. This has a bright and lifted aerial nose of pure crisp but plump and ripe black and redcurrant fruit, with a little blackcurrant leaf and a note of gorse and heather; with more air it rounds out a little more, becoming impressively creamy; a lovely natural slight sweetness; ripe and plump, slightly peppery. Crisp on the entry with a bright structuring vein of acidity to which the fruit clings quite tightly. This is pure and precise with a sinuous mouthfeel. A nice energetic and sappy expression of the vintage.
Les Hauts du Tertre (Margaux; the second wine of du Tertre; 31% Merlot; 26% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Cabernet Franc; 21% Petit Verdot; pH 3.77; 13.1% alcohol). Just under half of the total production after a very strict selection for the grand vin. Creamy, quite opulent and even flamboyant on the nose with archetypal Margaux florality – even if in a slightly confit and confected way. The fruit is quite sweet, but I like the graphite and earthy minerality that helps returns us to the soil. Soft on the attack and sinuous in the mid-palate, but I actually find the tannins a little dry (though never drying) and this is so soft as to become almost soupy. Fine, but perhaps just a little over done.
D’Issan (Margaux; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 39% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 1% Malbec; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; pH 3.71; IPT 73; 13.3% alcohol). Just 45% of the total production after an incredibly strict selection. The Merlot is all from the famous Clos d’Issaan. But, for the first time, the blend includes Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec from parcels recently purchased between Issan itself and Chateau Margaux. Tasted twice, both from samples sent from the property – the first of which was not the best advert for the courier service between the Médoc and Paris. Intensely Margellais.
Fresh, pure, bright on the nose (and significantly brighter still from the fresher sample) and expressing aromatically both the more herbal and floral sides of the appellation – candied violets, Palma violet and the parfumier’s essence of violent, lavender and wild herbs, moss, damp earth and sous bois, even chanterelles accompany the red and much darker and more briary berry fruit – raspberries and cherries on the one hand, brambles, mulberries and black berries on the other.
Soft and plump on the attack, with an engaging and very natural sweetness that comes from the fruit rather than residual sugar, with nice grippy and then rolling, juicy tannins that build towards a lovely crescendo. This will be very good. I can tell that already from the first sample; but it is massively confirmed by the beautiful shimmering finish on the second.
Kirwan (Margaux; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; 14% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC tasting in Paris and with Sophie Schyler at the chateau. Quite simply the best Kirwan I have ever tasted. Rather like Lascombes, tasted just before, this is super-pure and rather lovely in all its fresh intensity.
Kirwan in 2020 has a beautiful florality – violets, wisteria and touch of lavender – with hints of hazelnut shell and, with a little air, cedar and graphite. On the nose, the fruit is dark, pure and fresh – cassis, blackberry and brambles. On the palate, this is zippy and zingy. The tannins have been beautifully managed and they bring a lot of structure to the mid-palate and the finish, which is rolling and rippling and juicy and fresh. A very pure, focused and precise expression of cassis, with a little hint of mint leaf and walnut and graphite notes too. Compact, cool, elegant, slightly austere and terribly impressive.
Labastide Dauzac (Margaux; from the more clay-rich gravel terroir of the Dauzac vineyard; 60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% alcohol). Floral on the nose – dried rose petals, patchouli and pot pourri accompanying the ripe and plump cherry and plum fruit. Impressively supple on the entry and very soft and easy. Whilst this has a lot less density and definition in the mid-palate than the grand vin and is perhaps even a little hollow, the mouthfeel is sumptuous and this will make many friends.
Lascombes (Margaux; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels for 18 months; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted first at the UGC tasting in Paris, then from a sample sent from the chateau and finally at the chateau itself over a 10-day period with similar notes. Another really excellent Margaux from a property that has been on sparkling form now for a number of vintages.
This is supremely pure and fresh, very expressive on the nose and quite grand and opulent, but more lithe and elegant than ever, with a bold and crunchy cassis and bramble fruit, seemingly rather less oak influence than in previous vintages and the signature violet and wisteria florality of Lascombes. On the palate this is dense and compact, with impressive mid-palate concentration, considerable layering and lovely detail reinforced by the fine-grained tannins. I love the graphite and saline minerality and also the sappy, juicy fruit that rolls in and across the mid-palate in rippling-pulsing waves reinforcing the freshness and brightness of the crisp, pure fruit. We finish with a little hint of walnut shell and a touch of fleur de sel. Really excellent.
Labégorce (Margaux; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14% alcohol). 2020 is exactly the kind of vintage in which you expect Labégorce to be excellent and it doesn’t disappoint. Easily of classed growth quality, even in an appellation in which the quality of the classed growths themselves seems to be on a rapid ascent.
A lovely, aerial, fresh, elegant, delicate yet intense and vertical nose of dark chocolate, violets and concentrated blueberry and bramble compote, with heathery and peaty undertones. Soft and plump, like the fruit, on the attack, this is sumptuous yet all in perfect balance and harmony and it glides seamlessly across the palate. Yet there is deceptive power and concentration here. A good candidate to catch people out in the Southwold tasting in a decade’s time. Very possibly the best vintage of this I’ve yet tasted.
Malescot-St.-Exupéry (Margaux; 49% Merlot; 44% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; 13.5% aslcohol). Glossy, viscous, dark hued and yet still just about translucent at its bright and glistening core. Quite big, burly and expressive on the nose, with a sumptuous and characteristically bold and opulent very dark berry fruit with that signature saline and slightly ferrous minerality. But it also has more heathery and floral notes than perhaps recent vintages.
This is still a big Margaux (stylistically closer to, say, Lascombes than Durfort-Vivens or Ferrière), but it is now more authentic to the appellation than it used to be. Super-svelte on the attack but immediately big, broad-framed and ample – and with impressive mid-palate density – this is a wine that tastes like it’s glass-staining! Nice chewy tannins and I like also the floral hint of confit violets on the grape-skin and cherry-skin finish. Not a wine that disguises its power, nor perhaps as fresh as some (I find the fruit just a little too ripe for that) but a super wine nonetheless.
Margaux (Margaux; 89% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.67; IPT 80 – which is higher than the 2019; 13.5% alcohol; this represents around 36% of the total production; a final yield of 36 hl/ha). Tasted at the Chateau with Philippe Bascaules. A study in harmony. This has a wondrous blue/purple core that almost seems to suck all light towards it. On the nose, this feels utterly composed and natural, with blueberries, brambles, cherry stone, a hint of redcurrant (with all its freshness), spring flowers, a touch of iris and violet and wild herbs, heather and gorse and a little touch of sous bois.
As I tasted this it was almost as if the songs of the birds outside were emanating from the glass, so completely natural is the aura of this wine. On the palate this is cool, with a rolling and rippling entry leading to the most diaphanous and sinuous of mid-palates – though this is intensely pure, precise and focussed, it is not at all linear. Tense, bright, fresh and utterly brilliant, this has all the density, depth and concentration of a truly great vintage, but with an utterly singular and unique sense of vibrancy and energy. It glides and dances with a shimmering, crystalline and pixilated mid-palate – and it is also profoundly expressive of both the appellation and its terroir. Undoubtedly one the wines of the vintage.
Margaux de Brane (Margaux; the third label of Brane Cantenac; 64% Merlot; 36% Cabernet Sauvignon; pH 3.77; 14.2% alcohol). This is nicely done. It not only tastes of Margaux, which isn’t always the case for ‘third’ wines or labels, but it also tastes just a little of Brane – I imagine, tasted blind, that quite a lot of people would pick this as Baron de Brane. Light, bright, with very soft tannins and highly accessible. I’d gladly drink this now.
Marquis d’Alesme (Margaux; 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot;2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; pH 3.65; 14% alcohol). A property on a seriously steep upward trajectory. This is beautiful and beautifully redolent of its appellation, with the most intense and glorious Margaux nose of crushed wild flowers and crushed rose petals, walnut shells, graphite and rich deep dark ripe brambles and mulberries.
On the palate there is a lovely freshness and sense of lift and forward momentum. It’s actually less dense and compact than Labégorce (tasted just before and from the same stable), but its more dynamic and energetic, bright and fresh – and so extraordinarily refreshing, aided considerable by the cool stony-graphite minerality which gives this a depth and profundity that I love. I am a really big admirer of the progress that has been made here; this is their best yet.
Marquis de Terme (Margaux; from a vineyard of 39.5 hectares on a deep gravel terroir; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; 13% alcohol). Quite dark in the glass in both hue and extract – purple/magenta/garnet at the core with a shimmering violet/pink rim. Creamy, earthy, soft and archetypally Margaux on the nose, this has a composed sumptuous deep richness that I really like – brambles and assorted dark berry fruits.
Not so much floral as herbal and heathery, but very much of the appellation. Cool and rich on the entry with a lovely pick-up and a brightness in the transition to the mid-palate that is quite enervating. This has great focus and precision and a lovely sense of forward momentum across the palate. Long and chiselled, the tannins are crumbly at first and then turn chewier on the slow, long and sumptuous finish. Excellent – the latest in a series of ever more impressive wines from this up-and-coming property.
Moutte Blanc Margaux (Margaux; from a tiny vineyard of 0.5 hectares in Macau close to the river; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 42 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; IPT 65; pH 3.46; 14% alcohol). Bright, luminous and radiant with a very open and expressive aromatic profile – a cornucopia of fresh ripe red and darker berry fruit and bunches of early spring flower – daffodils and lily of the valley. Soft and yet quite broadly-framed and open textured on the palate, but with plenty of fruit to cover the structure, this Is pure, focussed, bright and intensely fruity. Quite joyous. I’d drink this young, as it has so much life and energy, but it has the potential to age very gracefully too.
Palmer (Margaux; 48% Cabernet Sauvignon; 48% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; pH 3.77; IPT 78; 14.1% alcohol; this represents 55% of the total production and includes 13% press wine). Tasted at Chateau Palmer. A fabulous deep dark plunge pool purple with blue highlights and an almost luminescent rim. On the nose we have graphite shading to cedar as the wine slowly opens, crunchy black and red cherries, plump brambles and walnut oil with spring flowers and wild thyme. This is so pure with plunge pool depth and profundity.
The attack is sumptuous and multi-dimensional, yet at the same time the tannins are so soft that they have an almost anaesthetising effect contributing to the very slow unfurling of the wine across the palate. Palmer 2020 is intensely juicy, with the slight grip of the tannins serving to inject little ripples and wavelets of pure fresh concentrated juicy fruit onto the palate, disguising as they do so the considerable depth and density of the mid-palate. Exceptional bright and energetic and both archetypally Palmer in all its wild natural brilliance and archetypally 2020. A staggering and exciting wine that shows just what biodynamic vineyard management allied to very skilled wine-making can achieve.
Paveil de Luze (Margaux; cru bourgeois; 85% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 40% of which are of one use only). A pretty and archetypal Margaux nose, with lovely notes of fresh wild herbs, moor-side heather and spring flowers with cherry, bramble and blueberry fruit. Plush and with a lovely mouthfeel, this is not massive but very fine and sinuous – just as a Margaux wine should be. Fresh, bright and a super expression of the vintage and of its terroir.
Pavillon Rouge de Margaux (Margaux; 75% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; a final yield of 36 hl/ha; pH 3.67; 13.6% alcohol; this represents just over 30% of the total production). This is wonderfully bright and fresh and natural on the nose, with spring flowers, wild herbs and a lovely aerial pure blackberry and bramble fruit with hints of pepper, candlewax, nutmeg and graphite.
The attack is voluptuous, with beautifully svelte tannins that gently support the fruit, allowing it to glide, dance and shimmer on the mid-palate; the effect is to give this a brilliantly light and diaphanous feel in the mouth despite the considerable density and depth. Very elegant, very stylish and so utterly balanced and harmonious, this feels profoundly classical and very natural too. I love the touch of hazelnut and sesame seed oil on the finish.
Pouget (Margaux; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 41% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 13% alcohol). A rather classic Médocain nose of rich graphite, cedar and a baked plum, bramble and blackberry fruit, with notes of dried autumn leaves and bracken. On the palate, this is perhaps a little dry, the extraction pushed perhaps a half step too far, but the fruit is rich and sweetly spiced. The trouble is that that tannins grip quite aggressively, disrupting the flow of the fruit across the palate. A little baked and sweet too and not in complete balance. Not the most harmonious of wines, nor the most archetypally Margaux in personality.
Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux; from 78 hectares of the vineyard, all on Guntzian gravel; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; with a final yield of 32 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14% alcohol). This is another classed growth Margaux on a steep upward ascent now. And this is a lovely wine that is, once again, beautifully expressive of its appellation and its terroir.
Pure, bright, lifted, with beautiful freshness and clear vein of acidity on the nose – pure violets, cassis, blackberries and redcurrant leaf, cedar and pencil lead, black pen ink and walnut shells, with a loamy-earthy undertone. On the palate this is vibrant yet soft, very much defined by its bright and fresh cassis and blackberry fruit. Super-pure, precise and nicely focussed with no excess fat and with the fine-grained tannins pushing through the silky fruit to bring clarity and further detail. Really lovely. One of the many very fine wines to choose between from Margaux in this vintage.
Clos des Quatres Vents (Margaux; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Another super wine at this level that is very expressive of its appellation – with dark briary and berry fruit, a spring-like floral signature and a lovely graphite and cedary minerality, with just a twist of pepper and a waft of tobacco smoke. Soft and yet ample and full on the palate, with impressive density and a lovely luminosity. A delightful wine with exquisite balance and very fine tannins that will age gracefully. Highly recommended.
Rauzan-Gassies (Margaux; 73% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels for 12-14 months; 13.7% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. A wine that has improved greatly in quality in recent vintages. On the nose this is dominated by the Cabernet cassis, with a nice supporting role given to the dark berry components – blueberries and blackberries; there are also notes of walnut, graphite, thyme, freshly turned soil and, slightly strangely, parmesan rind. The tannins are svelte on the entry and this has a nice sapid juiciness in the mid-palate and on the finish. For me it still lacks a little delineation, but this is one of the best wines made here for a while.
Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux; the grand vin is a selection from the 70 hectares that are currently in the production drawing significantly from the deep clay-gravel soils of the famous Terrace 4; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aging in French oak barrels, 60% of which are new, for 18 months; pH 3.74; 13.5% alcohol). Having spilled so many superlatives onto the page for the second wine, one has a slight anxiety turning to the grand vin.
But that doesn’t endure for long. This is, quite simply, spectacular. Deep garnet/purple at the translucent core and extremely viscous, this shimmers in the light and seems to draw all light towards it. The nose takes a little time to compose itself, but when it does it is the very epitome of Margaux typicity. This is intensely floral, with a great diversity of floral notes – roses, rose petals, small wild flowers and larger flowers like irises and even gladioli. It is gentle, subtly complex and yet it gives the strong impression that it is only showing, as yet, a part of its heart and soul.
The fruit is a mix of blackberries and brambles, black raspberries and mulberries, blueberries and damsons, there is a lovely sense of wild herbs, a stony-earthy minerality and just the subtlest hint of the cedar that will surely arrive after a little more aging. The palate is a revelation – classicism and fireworks! It has both the calm, subtle elegance that one expects of Rauzan-Ségla but also a bright, vibrant, energetic sparky-ness that I, at least, was not anticipating – but which is very characteristic of this exciting vintage. Very complex, very dynamic in the mouth and multi-dimensional. A genuinely exciting wine that it is a joy and privilege to taste.
Ségla (Margaux; from the 70 hectares that are currently in the production; 43% Cabernet Sauvignon; 55% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; aging in French oak barrels, 20% of which are new, for 18 months; 13.5% alcohol). Glossy and limpid in the glass and very open and refined on the nose. This is very much of the appellation and easy to pick from the nose as a fine Margaux – with a delicate soft dark florality – rose petals, violets and peonies, green leaf tea, wild thyme and heather alongside the cedary-graphite minerality and the dark stone and berry fruit.
This is soft and yet rich and quite opulent on the entry and it then builds again, revealing a very fine and impressively concentrated glossy yet layered mid-palate. I can’t recall a better Ségla. The sense of balance is exquisite and it has that wonderful calm tranquillity that I associate only with the very best wines of the appellation.
Siran (Margaux; 47% Merlot; 43% Cabernet Sauvignon; 9% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 35% of which are new; 14% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and from a fresher sample provided from the property with similar notes. On the nose we find cassis, bramble, blackberry, a hint of red cherry and an almond oil note. This is full and soft on the entry with silky tannins and a nice juicy fresh presence across the mid-palate and on the long finish. There is a good sense of evolution over the palate too, but not perhaps as much delineation or detail as the very best wine of the appellation in this vintage; it’s just a little too creamy for me.
La Sirène de Giscours (Margaux; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Cabernet Franc; 10% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 13.5% alcohol). Purple/blue like the grand vin. This is bright and lifted and with a lovely natural sweetness. A pure and focussed raspberry and red cherry fruit, a nice grip from the tannins and long tapered finish. Very fine.
Du Tertre (Margaux; 47% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 21% Cabernet Franc; 8% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 27.8 hl/ha; pH 3.72; 13.4% alcohol). As ever, a fascinating wine given its unusual assemblage, this has a gorgeous and strikingly fresh and lifted note of bright cassis with blackcurrant and redcurrant leaf notes accentuating the lift and acidity and little hints of walnuts and hazelnuts, with a lovely gravelly-stony-graphite minerality.
Very balanced and very harmonious. This is the final vintage under the watchful eye of Alexander van Beek, though if I understand correctly many of the technical team will stay in place. That sounds very sensible to me as they have done a spectacular job here over the last 5-10 vintages. What is clear is that this is a really impressive high note on which to pass on the property to the Helfrich family (founders of Les Grands Chais de France). Bright, energetic and very fine indeed.
La Tour de Mons (Margaux; 57% Merlot; 36% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Petit Verdot; 4% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 29% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). An iconic Médocain nose charged with graphite and cedar over a dark ripe rich and quite opulent berry fruit with a hint of walnut and a little suggestion of lavender and wild thyme. Rich and svelte too on the attack but the palate is actually rather more lithe and sinuous than you expect, with a lovely refreshing fresh bright fruit. I really rather like this, even if the tannins are just a tad dry on the finish.
Les Vimières Le Tronquéra (Margaux; from a tiny part of 0.5 hectares of the Les Vimières vineyard in Lamarque, Eric Boissenot’s home property on a famous Terrasse 4 gravel terroir; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; IPT 78; pH 3.56; 13.7% alcohol). A beautiful and very elegant and composed, archetypally Margaux nose – dare I suggest of classed growth quality – confit violets, peonies, rose petals, a dark rich ripe plump berry and cherry fruit with a lovely sous bois note too.
On the palate this is bright and fresh and yet achingly soft and lithe, charged with tension and energy and very dynamic. There is considerable depth and density yet the wine feels weightless, such is the quality of the tannin-management. Deeply impressive, it would be fascinating to witness seasoned Margaux aficionados trying to guess what this might be in a blind tasting!