Cult Wines: Five exciting producers from BordeauxBy Oliver Staub, Cult Wines CIO
Cult Wines weighs in on some of the most exciting wines to watch out for during the Bordeaux 2020 EP.
The diversity of different wines and producers is one of best things about Bordeaux. With the en-primeur (EP) campaign in full swing, many are calling 2020 the region’s third straight excellent vintage. Unsurprisingly, this means some fantastic benchmark wines from top name first growths. But one of the most fun things about EP is finding producers with exciting backstories that are leading to great wines at attractive prices. Here, we discuss five Bordeaux châteaux that are producing wines of ever-higher quality following recent changes or innovations. To us, these form some of the most intriguing ‘on-the-rise’ names to look out for when buying Bordeaux.
Château Berliquet – Newfound luxury
Until recently, Château Berliquet wines were enjoyable but far from a luxury. Then along came fashion brand Chanel, buying Berliquet in 2017 and making a series of investments to maximise the potential of this small property. Results were almost immediate as Berliquet wines now hold their own against their more well-known – and more expensive – Saint Émilion neighbours.
Chanel brought in esteemed winemaker Nicolas Audebert who had honed his craft at Chanel’s other Châteaux – Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Canon, next door in Saint Émilion. Nicolas and the team recognised that although Berliquet was surrounded by Canon’s vineyards, its 10 hectares offered a unique terroir and opted to keep Berliquet wines separate. As a result, the luxurious Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend from the small Berliquet vineyard has become a standout from one of the most prestigious corners of the fine wine world.
The 2020 wine scored an impressive 94-96 points from Wine Advocate, its highest ever score from the publication. The next two highest-scored vintages are 2018 and 2017 (2019 not scored by WA). Clearly, Berliquet has reached a new level.
Château Carmes Haut Brion – Precision and individuality
Carmes Haut Brion’s magnificent new winery symbolises their dedication to achieving precision. Completed in 2016, the sleek facility rests seamlessly amid the natural surroundings and has helped winemaker Guillaume Pouthier and consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt to dial up the quality in recent vintages. Everything in their approach, from using horses to plough the vineyards to employing gentle winemaking techniques in the winery, aims to get the best of the coveted terroir that sits next to its more famous neighbours Haut Brion and Mission Haut Brion.
We believe the results speak for themselves. Alongside consistent quality, we love Carmes’ wines for their individuality, derived from a significant portion of Cabernet Franc compared to other Pessac-Léognan wines. The estate’s diverse soil types coax out the Cabernet Franc’s rich complex aromas and fresh silky textures that make Carmes Haut Brion one of the most exciting new releases at each EP.
Château Figeac – Eyeing a promotion
While Figeac is already a well-known Saint Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B producer, we are witnessing an exciting period in its long history. The estate, which traces its roots back to the Gallo-Roman period, seems to keep getting better each year and could earn what we believe would be a well-deserved promotion to the topflight Classé A in the upcoming 2022 Saint Émilion reclassification.
Among recent standout vintages are the 2016, which received a perfect 100-point score from critic Neal Martin (Vinous). The 2019 also saw widespread praise with many critics placing it among their top wines of the vintage. 2020 appears to extend the hot streak.
Blessed with excellent, gravelly terroirs, Figeac wines include a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon compared to most right bank producers that rely more on Merlot. Figeac has been known as an innovator since it became the first estate to introduce temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats for fermentation in the 1970s under the leadership of owner and Bordeaux legend Thierry Manoncourt. Figeac recently completed a major expansion and upgrade of its winery and cellar, creating a stunning state-of-the-art facility ready to produce many more iconic wines for years to come.
Château Laroque – Great value from St Émilion
Laroque is on a roll! Since winemaker David Suire took over in 2015, this Saint Émilion estate has delivered inspiring wines at surprisingly accessible price points. Laroque has always benefitted from some of the best limestone terroir on the right bank but a detailed study of the soil at David’s initiative revealed the ideal harvest times and grape varieties for each section, allowing Laroque wines to achieve new levels of complexity and concentration.
Clearly, David’s handiwork is paying dividends. The Wine Advocate’s 94–96-point score for the new 2020 wine marks the second highest score ever for Laroque, right on the heels of 2019’s 95-97 points. However, prices have yet to catch up to this surging quality. If Laroque continues crafting such stunning wines, prices will surely trend higher in the coming years.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte – Staying close to nature.
Devotion to nature and biodiversity has been at the heart of Daniel and Florence Cathiard’s rejuvenation of Smith Haut Lafitte over the past three decades. Smith Haut Lafitte obtained organic certification in 2019 and employ many biodynamic practices which can improve the vineyard’s natural ability to adapt to Bordeaux’s increasing extreme weather and promote long-term sustainability. They are also implementing a ‘circular economy’ model that aims to create a closed loop of resources to minimise waste and the impact on the environment.
Smith Haut Lafitte’s unique ‘bioprecision’ methods also positively impact the end product. “Our wines have more energy, intensity as well as a real sense of place. We do our utmost to ensure our red and whites reflect the full potential of our magnificent terroir every vintage,” says Ludovic Fradin, Smith Haut Lafitte’s commercial director.
The results are winning over the fine wine world. The 2020 vintage looks like one of the best yet with a 98–100-point rating from Wine Advocate, matching the publication’s top score of the year. Here at Cult Wines, we were struck by Smith Haut Lafitte’s exquisite purity and concentration of flavours at our EP tastings this year. And it’s not just their seductive reds we enjoy but also for their energetic, expressive white wines, which are among the most sought-after in Pessac-Léognan.