Bordeaux 2020 en primeur by appellation: Pauillac
There is little doubt that Pauillac has produced another great vintage in 2020 – the third in a trio of exceptional vintages. But, as in St Julien, I see it as falling somewhere below the quality of the monumental 2019s, and place it on a par with 2018, says Colin Hay.
As that suggests, and again like St Julien, Pauillac in 2020 is not in my view the most blessed of appellations. That it is more homogeneous than other parts of the Médoc it is not because it was peculiarly advantaged by the distinct and unique characteristics of the vintage, but simply because the quality of its terroirs is more even.
It is no surprise then that the very best wines are still staggeringly engaging. The pick of the appellation for me is Lafite-Rothschild, a wine of breath-taking beauty, great detail and precision, great power and depth, and yet supreme elegance and finesse. At just 12.8% alcohol, it is also a deeply refreshing wine in every sense of the word.
Mouton-Rothschild, too, is sublime. And if I admit to a very marginal preference for the slightly sombre austerity of the former, that is not a judgement as to the relative qualitative merits of these great wines as it is the expression of a purely subjective judgement.
Latour, too, is excellent, but certainly on the occasion I tasted it, more closed, more impenetrable and rather more difficult to assess – one senses very clearly that one is in the presence of greatness but, much more so than with the others, this is a wine not yet ready to disclose many of its secrets.
Perhaps the most interesting wine for me of the entire appellation, however, is Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. This is a wine that, since 2018 above all, comes ever closer to first growth quality. The 2020 is probably the best yet with its shimmering, searing brightness, freshness, levity and yet depth and richness. The 2017, 2018 and 2019 do not quite have the concentration and density of the first growths; this does. And it does so without sacrificing any of the finesse, elegance and clarity that has become its signature.
There are plenty of other wines that I could highlight. The two Rothschild Milons, Mouton’s Clerc and Lafite’s Duhart, are both fabulous; Pichon Baron has made a great wine, a little closer in style to Pichon Comtesse de Lalande than in recent vintages; Pontet Canet is as gloriously luminous and diaphanous as only a biodynamic wine can be; and Le Petit Mouton would be my ‘second wine’ of the vintage. All deserve very serious attention.
But I will single out instead just three. Lynch-Bages, aided greatly by the fabulous new wine-making facility in which it has been made for the first time in this vintage, has gained in detail, precision and focussed concentration and it, too, is now capable of giving the Pauillac first growths a good run for their money.
And Haut-Batailley, too, part of the same stable since 2016 is now charting a parallel course. This was always a reliable and classic, if somewhat under-appreciated, Pauillac; it is rapidly becoming one of the real stars of the appellation – with a lovely refined purity and finesse never previously attained.
Finally, Haut-Bages Liberal is rapidly becoming the second poster child for biodynamic wine-making in the appellation (alongside the incomparable Pontet Canet). Claire Villars-Lurton, its dynamic proprietor, has undoubtedly made the finest ever wine from the estate in my view – and she has managed to do so with the highest yield of the entire appellation. That is a fabulously good news story for us all and a fitting note on which to bring this brief portrait of the appellation to a conclusion.
Pick of the appellation: Lafite Rothschild (98-100)
Mouton Rothschild (98-100)
Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (97-99)
Truly great: Clerc Milon (93-95)
Lynch Bages (95-97)
Le Petit Mouton (94-96)
Pichon Baron (95-97)
Value picks: Haut-Bages Liberal (93-95)
Revelatory: Haut Batailley (94-96)
Full tasting notes
D’Armailhac (Pauillac; 59% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; yields described as ‘less than generous’; pH 3.8; 13.3% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. Bright, fresh and lifted, but the most serious of the portfolio of Mouton wines in 2020 and the least expressively aromatic at this stage. Slightly floral – the small flowers of a blackcurrant bush perhaps – as the floral note seems tightly wound into the fruit itself, here a mix of red and darker berry fruit with black and redcurrant notes the most prominent.
This has quite an evident structure that lifts the wine vertically on the attack and supports it high on the roof of the mouth through the mid-palate before we arrive at a lovely long tapered and elegant finish. The tannins are grainy and they seem to interweave with the acidity and minerality, bringing a sappy juiciness to the finish.
Batailley (Pauillac; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc). This is lovely and not only redolent of the appellation, but redolent in fact of Batailley itself – it’s quite an easy pick. On the nose this has the floral component of the vintage – here, lilacs and peonies – but there is also that smoky, gamey almost slightly feral note that I associate with Batailley and a little signature that comes from the way oak is used her.
Finally, there is a delicious new season walnut element that combines so well with the plump rich cherry and dark berry fruit. This is slightly cool on the entry and that serves to prepare the palate well for a lovely gracious unfurling of the bright yet elegant cherry fruit in and through the mid-palate before the fine grained by nicely textural tannins seem to grip hold of the fruit and draw it back to the mineral spine of the wine to produce an impressive tapered juicy finish. In short, this has a lovely mouthfeel and an impressive structure. Very fine indeed, this is a wine that is now reliably excellent.
Bellevue-Cardon (Pauillac; from a deep gravel and clay terroir; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; a final yield of 25 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). This is the first time I have tasted this and I am impressed. It comes from the same team as La Haye and Clauzet in St Estephe and is made with the same skill and passion. This is dark-fruited, elegant and serious, slightly austere and sombre as, arguably, great Pauillac should be.
We have dark rich berry fruit, heather and gorse, an (appropriate) undertone of a rich, peaty earthiness and the hint of cedar and graphite that will surely emerge with time, rendering this even more classical. The entry is soft and gentle, the mid-palate density impressive with the fruit clinging quite tightly to the tannic frame and this has very decent length. It will need time to soften (the tannins at this stage are firm though never drying), but this has good potential.
Carruades de Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 42% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; around 13% alcohol). Tasted with Eric Kohler at Chateau Lafite Rothschild. This is pure, lifted and creamy with an engaging nose of blood orange, brambles and blackberries. Texturally, too, this is very interesting and quite complex.
The attack is immediately svelte and limpid with a nice open texture despite the fine-grained tannins and the compact and concentrated mid-palate; and there is plenty of lift from both the salinity and the acidity working together. As a consequence, this finishes very much at the top of the mouth. The Merlot contributes a lot to the density of the mid-palate. A strong Carruades in this vintage – better in my view than it has been in recent vintages.
Clerc-Milon (Pauillac; 53% Cabernet Sauvignon; 37% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; pH 3.82; 13.3% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. This exudes cool, calm tranquillity. Pure and fresh, supple, soft and more seductive than it has ever been. The attack is very gentle and soft and the wine builds gradually with little waves of juiciness as the tannins seem to engage, mapping out the contours of the densely packed and layered mid-palate before we reach a kind of plateau after which the wine slowly gathers itself for a long, tapered and very elegant finale.
This is characterised by the signature saline minerality of Clerc which, apparently, comes from the more calcaire-rich terroirs close to the estuary itself (bringing to the wine something almost reminiscent of Canon in St Emilion!). The wine-making here seems to have attained a new level; the quality of the tannin-management is exceptional and that brings an exciting structural complexity to this that guarantees, I think, a wonderful future for this wine.
Croizet-Bages (Pauillac; 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 34% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 41 hl/ha; 13.7% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. There’s a lot of cedar and an interesting slightly ferrous-saline minerality to this, accompanying the cassis fruit. The attack is soft, fresh and pure with a nice sense of energy, but this is just a little thin in the mid-palate and slightly monochromatic.
Duhart-Milion (Pauillac; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; a final yield of 36hl/ha;
13.1% alcohol; this represents 65% of the total production). Tasted with Eric Kohler at Chateau Lafite Rothschild. A really impressive Duhart-Milon certainly at the level of the 2019. On the nose this is both very open and expressive and at the same time very pure and precise with plump and crunchy red cherries, blackcurrants and brambles, a touch of cedar and hazelnut, with a pleasing graphite and stony minerality.
On the palate this fruit is a shade lighter, with crisp, fresh redcurrants and cranberries joining the cassis and bramble notes from the nose. This has impressive depth and concentration, a nice compact structure and a long, sapid and rather tender tapering finish. This is very elegant and accomplished with a cool slightly austere authority to it which I really like.
Echo de Lynch-Bages (Pauillac; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; aging in oak barrels of one year for 12 months; pH 3.78; IPT 80; 13% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau with Jean-Charles Cazes. Smoky on the nose, with a lovely dark berry fruit – brambles, mulberries and cassis, with cracked peppercorns and a touch of mint leaf. On the palate this is savoury, sapid and saline, with good length and depth and a very nicely focussed, pure and refreshing finish. This is exquisitely well-judged.
Les Forts de Latour (Pauillac; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26.5% Merlot; 3.5% Petit Verdot; IPT 79; 44% of the total production; with 5.1% of press wine). Tasted at the Chateau. Rather closed and tight on the nose. This is rich, plump and quite ample on the attack. Black cherries, blueberry, hints of graphite and sandalwood but not yet the cedar that will come with age, and a nice twist of pepper. Limpid and quite seductive on the palate, with is lithe and dynamic, more sinuous than linear but with good precision and an impressive sense of layering in and through the mid-palate. There is a lovely fresh wave of juicy fresh fruit towards the long and tapering finish.
Grand-Puy Ducasse (Pauillac; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; alcohol level not disclosed). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. A strong showing from Grand-Puy Ducasse. This is quite sturdy and foursquare in personality, coming across just a little stern and severe. But it is pure and fresh with a crisp cassis fruit and a pronounced ferrous minerality to accompany the touch of baking spice. The tannins, though soft on the entry and quite fine-grained are a little harsh on the finish and this loses a little definition through the mid-palate. But I like the juicy freshness here and the more floral and cedary elements that actually seem to be become more prominent as the tannins grip towards the finish. Perhaps not the most accessible at this stage; but I think this will turn out well.
Grand-Puy Lacoste (Pauillac; 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; alcohol level not disclosed). A lovely and very seductive Grand-Puy Lacoste. On the nose this is creamy, classically Pauillac with a lovely vein of graphite minerality and a pure, lifted, slightly spicy baked plum, bramble and mulberry fruit. On the palate, this is soft and almost delicate on the entry, with a calm disposition, a lovely sense of harmony and composure and a gentle warm natural slight sweetness to the plump plum and fleshy berry fruit. The tannins bring a granular focus to the slightly chewy, long and tapered finish. Excellent.
Les Griffons de Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 50% Merlot; 42% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 25% of the total production). A couple of shades darker in hue and degree of extraction, more limpid in the glass, but still translucent at the core. This is more open and expressive than Les Tourelles and also more bright, fruity and lifted. Blueberries, brambles and red cherries with a hint of almond. The tannins are very svelte and less prominent that in Les Tourelles and this has a more open-grained and slightly more voluptuous and more tactile texture. Charming, easy and very accessible.
Haut-Bages Liberal (Pauillac; from a vineyard of 30 hectares on deep gravel and clay and limestone gravel; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; certified organic and biodynamic; aging in amphorae (20%) and oak barrels, 40% new, 40% of one year for 16 months; a final yield of 44 hl/ha; 13.7% alcohol). Light and bright in extraction, limpid and glossy in the glass, this is at first quite reductive on the nose. When that clears with a signature bright fresh pear-drop and red berry fruit nose – fresh raspberries and unsweetened raspberry coulis, red currants and cranberries, with almonds and frangipane (but without the sweetness).
Fresh, focussed and extremely precise, this is defined and structured as much by its searing acidity as by the crumbly, flaky chewy tannins. There’s lots of detail here, lots of energy too with the tannins almost pixilating the palate helping to sustain the focus and the interest. A very long and chewy finish, this is wine that is already very approachable but that actually needs a good decade in the cellar to show of its best. Glorious texture that comes in part from the lovely fine-grained slightly chalky (calcaire) tannins. A very dynamic Pauillac that is an impressive advert for the clarity that comes (or can come) with organic and biodynamic wine-making.
Haut Batailley (Pauillac; 62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; pH 3.85; IPT 81; 13.6% alcohol). Tasted first from a sample provided by the chateau and then at Lynch Bages. What a super wine this is – and now, after a few years, so close in style and, indeed, quality to Lynch Bages itself. This is the best vintage under the new ownership and, I think, the best wine I have ever tasted from Haut-Batailley.
On the nose this already has a lovely creamy silky purity and the quite delicious combination, that defines the palate too, of really dark soft ripe plump berry and briary fruit with a gentle and entirely natural warmth and sweetness. The tannins, as one can tell from the nose, are just incredibly soft and that gives this a lovely sinuous and luminous quality despite the impressive depth and concentration of the mid-palate. And then we have all that brilliant fresh bright juicy fruit washing over the palate in a fabulously refreshing way at the finish. Just gorgeous and so wonderfully balanced. Pure, precise and impressively lengthy.
Haut Batailley Verso (Pauillac; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 60% Merlot; aging in oak barrels of one year for 8 months; pH 3.81; IPT 80; 13.7% alcohol). Tasted at Lynch Bages. Pure and fresh, yet creamy and quite substantial (just look at the IPT!), this is very impressive in its fruit-forward, floral and very refreshing style. An excellent introduction to the grand vin showing plenty of good choices.
Lacoste Borie (Pauillac; the second wine of Grand-Puy Lacoste; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc). Elegant and quite creamy on the nose, with a crisp raspberry and dark berry fruit note, with raspberry leaf and wild herb too. Tender and supple on the entry, with a lovely mouthfeel for a second wine, this rolls and glides over the palate releasing little pulses and ripples of freshness as it does so. There is no great concentration here and, of course, less depth and concentration than the first wine, but that merely reinforces its rather elegant, silky diaphanous quality. A fantastic second wine.
Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac; 92% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; 12.8% alcohol). Tasted with Eric Kohler at the Chateau. Gosh, this is fabulous with so much potential – exhibit A for the proposition that this is not (or not just) a Merlot vintage! It is suave and stylish, yet cool, austere and sublimely graceful – almost slightly monastic and with all the structural precision and amplitude to complete the metaphor.
This has a sombre and very natural beauty that immediately commands interest but in an entirely undemonstrative way – and it is all the more compelling for that. It has the hairs standing up on the back of my neck from the aromatics alone, so profoundly charged are they with beautiful graphite and cedar, cassis and plump freshly plucked deep dark berry and black cherry fruit and wild herbs and blackcurrant leaf. There is also a lovely floral note of violets and wisteria, so redolent of the vintage.
On the palate this is staggeringly soft, round, plump and ample, with a very natural and calm gentle opulence. The finish too is remarkable, with the wine seeming to fan out once again, offering something all the way from the very top of the palate to the profound gravelly depths below. It’s a terrible cliché, but quite literally, “this works for me on so many different levels”! In a way, this has it all: freshness and lift; breadth, power and depth; elegance and finesse; subtlety, disguise and complexity; tension; and, above all, a profoundly natural sense of harmony. I also love the fact that it’s only 12.8% alcohol.
Latour (Pauillac; 97% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Merlot; IPT 83; 13.3% alcohol; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; 32.5% of the total production; with 3.8% press wine). A good rebuttal to the suggestion that this is a ‘Merlot vintage’. Archetypally Latour, with perfectly ripe and intense black berry and black cherry fruit, walnut shell and more autumnal notes of dried leaves and dried flowers and fresh herbs – rose, iris, lily with sage and bay leaf. Relaxed and very natural.
Cinnamon and floral parfum notes emerge with a little more air. This is refined, sinuous, almost diaphanous on the entry with a bright and luminous mid-palate that masks the depth and concentration (which is almost imperceptible). Dense and compact with an impressive vertical range on the palate – with something for the roof of the mouth as well as deeper more minerally-charged and earthy-gravelly undertones. Very much a vin de garde and revealing a lot less of itself than many en primeur samples at this stage, this is rather like a smoking bonfire, giving off floral fumes around the dense core which remains tight and inaccessible for now. A lovely rolling, rippling finish. Quite intellectual, tightly layered and complex, one has the sensation of being in the presence of greatness – but a greatness that will take at least a decade to become accessible.
Lynch Bages (Pauillac; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 31% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 75% of which are new; 13.4% alcohol, despite reaching the same phenolic maturity as the 2019). Tasted at the UGC in Paris, then from a sample supplied by the chateau and finally at the chateau itself with Jean-Charles Cazes. The first vintage made in the entirely new wine-making facility – and isn’t it impressive! This is so very floral on the nose that we could almost be in Margaux.
There is pure crisp crunchy black cherry and cassis, with pencil-shavings and a touch of mint leaf. But what I really love about this wine is its grace and fluidity across the palate. On the attack, it is plush, plump, full, rich, cool and remarkably soft, opening out to an aerial, sinuous, luminous mid-palate before a wonderfully joyous and refreshing, juicy, sapid finish. Yet it is also rich, compact, dense and both so richly layered and so multi-layered – and with incredible length and precision. This was for me probably the best left-bank wine in the UGC tasting in Paris. It has an incredible purity and a wonderfully diaphanous quality. This is now very close in quality to the first growths. Bravo!
Lynch Moussas (Pauillac; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot). Once this settles in the glass it has a very attractive, naturally sweet and floral nose – spring flowers, eucalyptus oil, freshly turned damp rich earth, black cherries and a little cassis (but not much and, crucially, without much of the fresh acidity that cassis typically brings). We could almost be in Margaux. On the palate this is svelte, quite rich and opulent, but sinuous too with a nicely open texture and a slightly luminous quality in the mid-palate. Yet I miss a sense of layering and delineation here – it’s almost as if the layers have melded together into one. Consequently, this lacks just a little mid-palate definition’ though I am being extremely picky here for this is a very fine wine.
Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac; 84% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; pH 3.80; 13.1% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. A simply brilliant Mouton. The nose reveals itself, or those parts of itself that the wines seems to wish to reveal at this stage, in instalments. First spring flowers and a gentle loamy earthiness, then a little hint of beurre noisette and then the fruit starts to arrive, again gradually and in instalments – dark plum cherries, brambles, blackberries, mulberries and sloes, with a little hint of dark chocolate shavings, graphite and cedar (more and more as the wine breathes in the air and softens) and aniseed and grated liquorice root.
By this stage we have something utterly sublime, fantastically complicated and entirely harmonious – but also, crucially, staggering bright, fresh and dynamic. The palate is no less extraordinary. This is a wine of amazing clarity and luminosity. It is creamy, rich, plump and layered but it is also diaphanous and sinuous with the fruits seemingly supported on cushions of ultra-fine grained yet almost pixilated and tactile tannins. The iron fist in the velvet glove is perhaps a tired cliché, but it was never appropriate than here. Sumptuous, opulent, elegant and classical yet so exciting fresh and energetic – and with so much still to reveal of itself.
Pastourelle de Clerc-Milon (Pauillac; 51% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Cabernet Franc; 1% Carmanere; pH 3.77; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. A wine that is typically released from the Mouton stable when it is judged ready to drink, 5-6 years after the vintage. Made from parcels from the Clerc-Milon vineyard identified in a two-step process at harvest and after vinification, including of course the young vines. This is very open and aromatic, with a lovely pure cassis and redcurrant nose and just a touch of cedar and wild thyme, possibly lemon thyme too. With a lovely soft mouthfeel, this is creamy but pure, precise, focussed and vibrant. The tannins are fine-grained, if distinctly granular and textured, and they support the fruit well. This will be excellent on release.
Le Pauillac de Latour (Pauillac; 43% Cabernet Sauvignon; 53% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; IPT 78; 13.2% alcohol; 23.5% of the total production). Very pure and nicely focussed with a nice touch of cedar on the nose and fresh croquant blackberry fruit on the palate. Lithe on the attack, quite supple and with nice grippy tannins and a juicy and refreshing finish.
Pédesclaux (Pauillac; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 34% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; pH 3.88; IPT 68; 13.1% alcohol). A little closed on the nose, this needs some encouragement to reveal itself. When it does, it’s dark and rich and very much defined by its Cabernet fruit – cassis, a little kirsch perhaps, but also horsehair, straw, something of the farmyard (but nothing unpleasant) and then, eventually, more classic Pauillac cedar and leather notes.
The palate is very open-textured and sinuous, which I like a lot, but I find the fruit a little sweet-tinged and I could do with just a little more interest in the mid-palate – it’s very fine and certainly pure and precise but it’s almost a bit monochromatic and one-dimensional and the effect of that for me is that I notice the slightly distracting sweetness more. I am perhaps strangely (overly?) sensitive to this; but it’s certainly an issue I have with this wine and some others in this vintage (as in 2018 as well).
Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc% alcohol; pH 3.78; 13.1). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. Interestingly, the selection for the grand vin and Le Petit Mouton was made as much, Jean-Emmanuel tells me, on the basis of two rather different presentations of the tannins which emerged in the parcels. The effect is that Le Petit Mouton in this vintage contains not only quite a lot more Cabernet Sauvignon than it often does, but also a number of parcels that would usually make their way into Mouton itself.
And this is already utterly glorious. It has incredible tension and poise and seems, like many of the really exceptional wines of this vintage, to defy gravity – with considerable density and concentration on the one hand but an incredible luminous brightness and levity on the others. The texture and structure is incredible and seems to support the wine on a pillow of fine-grained tannins, giving this a wonderful aerial velouté quality. The wine is also incredibly complex – deep purple floral notes (peonies, even violets), cherries and touches of cassis, sloes, brambles and damsons and then the signature graphite and cedar of Mouton, with also a hint of walnut and dark, dark chocolate. Seamless and with such well disguised power.
Pibran (Pauillac; 55% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; aging for 18 months in oak barrels, 50% of which are new). Light extract; translucent core; pink/purple rather than garnet/crimson. Bright, creamy fruity nose – raspberries and loganberries, with a hint of earthiness. Soft and gentle on the elegant attack with impressively fine-textured and tactile tannins – not silk but a cloth with a more distinct and discernible grain. There is a nice balance and harmony to this and the juicy pure raspberry fruit is very lively and engaging. It’s actually more powerful than it seems and has excellent length. I prefer this to the 2019.
Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new, for 18 months; representing 48% of the total production of 73 hectares). A glorious shimmering purple in the glass; impressively translucent and shockingly rose pink at the rim. A wonderful and essentially Pauillac nose – very earthy, with crushed rocks too, loads of graphite and the cedar of the Pichons wrapped around and intermingling with the lovely plump dark berry fruit.
The oak is beautifully disguised and this is a very stylish, subtle and refined expression of Pichon Baron – which has been a little chunkier in recent vintages. Gorgeously indulgent and opulent on the palate, but with a very impressive and slightly tight and dense structure which holds the fruit very close to the graphite and mineral backbone of the wine. Chiselled and very carefully crafted, this is cool, composed, layered. It seems light and aerial but it also has considerable depth, density and substance – but it’s more disguised and I rather like that.
Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc). What grace, elegance and classicism. A wondrous and wonderful wine that is incredibly beautifully and almost completely impossible to describe. Utterly sensuous and appealing to every sense. Aromatically this is sublimely soft and ethereal, incredibly dark and deep, with an utterly gorgeous but so subtle and delicate violet nose alongside the cedar and the graphite and the black cherry, cassis and blackberry fruit. There is also an utterly lovely freshly cracked walnut element and a wild herbiness too.
On the palate this is, as it now seems to have the habit of being, like diving into a cool fresh mountain lake, with an incredible almost cleansing sense of purity – and the vitality that comes with that. And this has the depth and profundity of the mountain lake too. Incredibly beautiful and so dynamic and vibrant too. This is also an extraordinarily powerful wine; and that is interesting, as many people I think have assumed that Pichon Lalande’s grace comes with a certain levity. Well maybe not – or not necessarily. If this gets any bigger during its élevage it’s in danger of splitting the barriques! Unlike any other wine in the vintage (even if I fear I said something very similar last year); and, needless to say, this is one of my wines of the vintage (and I’ve said that before too)!
Pontet Canet (Pauillac; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot; no second wines since 2014; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new, with 35% in concrete amphorae; alcohol in the range 13-13.%). Tasted at the chateau with Justine Tesseron. In 2020 this is an explosive wine with impressively deep, rich and dark berry fruit at its core and a lovely velvetine texture. On the nose we have those classic graphite and cedar notes with pepper, nutmeg and Italian herbs encrusting the plump blackcurrant and bramble fruit.
There is also a delightful spring floral element and an interesting hint of blood orange. The attack is bright and fresh and engaging, leading to a diaphanous and very open-textured, lifted and aerial mid-palate. This has plenty of density and power but it is extremely well disguised and the overall impression is of great energy, radiance and an agile clarity and luminescence. This has great tension too. A very eloquent and harmonious expression of the vintage.
Réserve de Pichon Comtesse (Pauillac; 47% Merlot; 43% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Petit Verdot). Wow. This could so easily be the grand vin itself, until you have a glass of each in your hand. The most sumptuous nose in which I am struck actually by how much of a role the oak plays. We think of Bordeaux as trying, in a way, to wean itself (and, in the process, us) off new oak – but it is vital part of the flush and sumptuous character of this more gloriously Pauillac of Pauillac second labels. The fruit is gorgeously ripe and opulent – cassis and black cherries, fruits of the forest, a hint of wild blueberry and super-ripe brambles – and the presence of the jet black graphite completes the fantastically well-integrated totality of this.
Having not yet gotten to the grand vin whilst I type this I am still asking myself what more I could find there! On the palate this is amazingly plush and deep and completely mouth-filling and I am pinching myself once again – is this really not the grand vin? I guess the tannins are not quite as fine-grained as I could just about imagine that they might be in the first wine and the oak is quite evident and has not yet been fully absorbed, leaving this a little dusted in vanilla and slightly sweet-tinged. But this is a profound wine of incredible depth and concentration that will surely age gracefully for at least a couple of decades. Incredible.
Le Tourelles de Longueville (Pauillac; 64% Merlot; 29% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels for 12 months, 30% of which are new; 27% of the total production). A similarly light extract to Pibran; perhaps a shade more garnet and crimson. This has more serious graphite and gravelly notes and the fruit is rather darker – more fruits of the forest, with a lovely hint of heather too and a suggestion of cedar. A little more opulent on the palate, with a wider and bolder attack, more pronounced tannins and a more obvious structure. I like the nicely gathered slightly grainy finish very much at the top of the palate.