Bordeaux en primeur 2020: Value picks for the collectorBy Colin Hay
In his final piece on the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign, our Bordeaux correspondent, Colin Hay, explores the potential value to be found for the collector from the vintage.
It might be thought that this is to explore the same question twice. For what is potential value for the collector is surely potential value for the investor too? Well, yes and no. The simple reality is that the investment market for Bordeaux en primeur is rather more narrowly focussed than the collector market.
Not all wines likely to entice the savvy collector anxious to secure value for a given investment will attract the interest of the equally savvy investor. Many investment grade wines are simply out of the reach of the collector and the latter’s tastes are typically more complex and diverse. In short, the collector market is broader in composition and its average price point lower.
And that brings us directly to the difficultly – indeed, the dilemma – for the collector when it comes to the 2020 vintage. For these wines are quite heterogeneous in quality; rather more so than either 2019 or even 2018 in my view. Moreover, that heterogeneity is a more significant factor for the wines that tend typically to interest the collector than it is for those that tend typically to interest the investor.
As Matthew O’Connell of Bordeaux Index recently put it to me: “the 2020 vintage is clearly strong, but it is relatively heterogeneous. Crucially, from an investment perspective, much of the heterogeneity is outside of the core investment wines”. That is quite simply not the case for the more diverse and differentiated collector market. The collector, in other words, has perhaps more need for caution when it comes to picking value in this most complex of vintages. And there is a second factor that is relevant here too.
2020 is a vintage with an uncharacteristic (possibly even unprecedented) dispersion in release price strategies from the chateaux themselves – with, at one end of the spectrum, a handful of properties actually reducing their release prices and, at the other, a very small number of wines released at close to twice the price of their 2019. In combination these factors make it arguably more difficult than ever for the collector, who in general has had no chance to taste the wines themselves, to make an informed choice about what to buy.
The value picks for the investor are – or, at least, were (since many of these wines are no longer available at their initial release price) – clear. Matthew O’Connell identified five in the interview that formed the basis my previous article in this series. They are, listed in alphabetical order: Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Lafite, Margaux and Mouton.
I certainly wouldn’t dissent from any of these – and, given the subsequent performance on the secondary market of each, I would be daft to do so. But I might add also Canon, Les Carmes Haut-Brion and, for those lucky enough to have an allocation, Lafleur. I am tempted to add here too the truly excellent Montrose. But since it has not been widely tasted by the international critics, it might still be seen to represent too much of a risk for the investor.
All of these are, of course, not just investor wines, but collector wines too. Indeed, in the case of Carmes and Lafleur the quantities – more precisely, the allocation the investor is likely to be able to secure – are so small, that they are rather more collector than investor wines.
But it is when we move beyond the small and select list of sure-fire investment grade en primeur purchases that the choices become more interesting – and probably more contentious too. In what follows I list, first by price category, and then by appellation – with my own evaluation and tasting notes – those sixty wines that strike me as offering the greatest quality for their respective release prices.
It would not have been difficult to pick a further forty wines; for although the 2020 en primeur campaign has brought significant release price dispersion, the majority of releases remain well priced. As I have argued before, the generalised ‘Bordeaux bashing’ that accompanied the high release price hikes at the very end of the campaign, though understandable, is somewhat misplaced; rather more targeted ‘chateau bashing’ might have been more appropriate. As the follow list suggests, potential value in the 2020 vintage comes at all price points and from each of the leading appellations.
I have included in my list a handful of 2020s that, although not scheduled for release en primeur, I was able to taste during the en primeur campaign. These are typically either second wines or wines from satellite appellations. I have placed them into the most likely price category based on the release price of their 2019 assuming an average increase in release price of around 15 per cent (in sterling equivalent terms).
Those wines marked with a * represent, in my view, particular value for money and are my twenty value-picks of the vintage; NYR indicates ‘not yet released or price unknown’. The wines are listed alphabetically in each price category. Prices are in bond at the point of first release for a case of 12 bottles in sterling. Full tasting notes follow and are presented alphabetically by appellation.
Cheval Blanc (98-100, £4650 IB)
Lafite Rothschild (98-100, £5880 IB)
Lafleur (98-100, £6320 IB)
Margaux (98-100, £5196 IB
Mouton Rothschild (98-100, £5196 IB)
Between £1000 and £2000
Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse (96-98+, £1080 IB)
*Belair-Monange (98-100, £1450 IB)
Canon (96-98, £1152 IB)
Figeac (96-98, £1872 IB)
*Montrose (98-100; £1540 IB)
*Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (97-99, £1614 IB)
Between £750 and £1000
*Les Carmes Haut Brion (97-99, £948 IB – first tranche)
Rauzan-Ségla (96-98, £798 IB)
Between £500 and £750
*Beauséjour-Becot (94-96, £516 IB)
Beychevelle (94-96, £694 IB)
*Brane Cantenac (95-97, £600 IB)
La Clotte (94-96; £560 IB)
d’Issan (93-95; £506 IB)
Duhart-Milon (94-96, £684 IB)
*Durfort-Vivens (96-98+, £528 IB)
*La Gaffelière (95-97+, £600 IB)
Guillot Clauzel (95-97+, £730 IB)
Les Perrières (94-96, £570 IB)
Rocheyron (94-96, £690 IB)
Between £250 and £500
C de Carmes Haut-Brion (93-95, NYR)
Chauvin (92-94, £289 IB)
Clos La Madeleine (94-96, £480 IB)
De Fieuzal (91-93+, £304 IB)
Du Tertre (92-94+, £328 IB)
Ferrière (92-94+, £332 IB)
Gloria (92-94, £317 IB)
Guadet (93-95, NYR)
*Haut-Bages Libéral (93-95, £311 IB)
Kirwan (93-95, £360 IB)
*Lafon-Rochet (92-94+, £325 IB)
Lagrange (93-95+, £425 IB)
*La Lagune (93-95+, £318 IB)
Langoa Barton (92-94, £350 IB)
*Malartic Lagraviere (93-95, £347 IB)
*Marquis d’Alesme (93-95, £320 IB)
Mazeyres (91-93+, £260 IB)
Phelan-Ségur (93-95, £384 IB)
Pichon Comtesse Réserve (93-95, £398 IB)
*Le Prieuré (94-96, £376 IB)
*Prieuré-Lichine (93-95, £300 IB)
Talbot (93-95, £478 IB)
*La Tour St Christophe (94-96, £276 IB)
Tronquoy Lalande (92-94, NYR)
*Villemaurine (94-96, £354 IB)
Branas Grand-Poujeaux (92-94, £222 IB)
Canon Chaigneau (90-92+, NYR)
Capbern (92-94, £194 IB)
*Grand Village (92-94, £146 IB)
L’Etampe (92-94, £209 IB)
Fleur de Lisse (92-94+, NYR)
*Laroque (95-97, £226 IB)
Les Cruzelles (91-93, £215 IB)
Meyney (92-94, £240 IB)
*Montlandrie (92-94+, £182 IB)
*Picque Caillou (90-92, £167 IB)
Full details and tasting notes by appellation
Haut-Médoc & Moulis
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 bite, bringing this to a nicely focussed slightly chewy but very sappy grape-skin finale. 92-94 (£222 IB).
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. 93-95+ (£318 IB).
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! 95-97 (£600IB).
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. A wine that is all about purity. A beautiful subtle soft and gentle Cabernet nose with a very pure and sharply focussed, but at the same time, 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. 96-98+ (£528 IB).
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. 92-94+ (£332 IB).
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’Issan. 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. 93-95 (£506IB).
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. 93-95 (£360 IB).
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. 98-100 (£5196 IB).
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. 93-95 (£320 IB).
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. 93-95 (£300 IB).
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 black/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. 96-98 (£798 IB).
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 and 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. 92-94+ (£328 IB).
Duhart-Milon (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. 94-96 (£684 IB).
Haut-Bages Libéral (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 we find the 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 a wine that is already very approachable but that will actually need 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. 93-95 (£311 IB).
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. 98-100 (£5880 IB).
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. 98-100 (£5196 IB).
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 beautiful 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 herbyness 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)! 97-99 (£1614 IB).
Pichon Comtesse Réserve (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 a vital part of the flush and sumptuous character of this most 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. 93-95 (£398 IB).
Capbern (St Estèphe; 69% Cabernet Sauvignon; 29% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Franc;1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; aging for 18 months in oak barrels, 60% of which are new; pH 3.85; 14.1% alcohol). Dark in hue though translucent at the core and relatively light in extract. This is one of those wines that, although tasted relatively early for me in the en primeur cycle, I’d already heard whispers about. Perhaps they influenced me, but I honestly don’t think so. This is a great wine – with the most pure and sumptuous Cabernet cassis nose, a touch of (Médocain) blueberries and loads and loads of equally Médocain cedar and, above all, graphite. Soft and supple on the palate, with an impressive amplitude and a lovely gentle but supportive tannic structure; and at ‘just’ 14.1% alcohol it’s so much more balanced than the 2019 (15.1%). This is bound to represent fantastic value. It doesn’t have the depth or concentration, of course, of Calon-Ségur. But its cut from the same cloth. 92-94 (£194 IB).
Lafon-Rochet (St Estèphe; from a vineyard of 40 hectares on deep gravel and gravel over clay; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; pH 3.68; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and later from a fresher sample supplied by the Château. This has a very pure cassis fruit on the nose and, indeed, the palate and somehow feels cool and northern – perhaps it’s the little hint of sea-spray, iodine and samphire on the nose. As ever, this is just a touch austere (the shocking yellow of the Château itself is not really reflected in the personality of the wine other than in the archetypal brightness of the vintage), an impression reinforced for me by the dense and compact mid-palate that is charged with dark cassis and berry fruit, wild herbs, moss, damp earth and heather – with a little hint of walnut and lavender too on the (much better) second sample. Whilst the first sample was a touch firm, thick and chewy and not perhaps quite as bright as some, the second is a revelation texturally – lithe, acrobatic, bright, vibrant and energetic with the herbal and fruit elements dancing, intermingling and interacting on the palate in a most exciting way. This is very fine and a very authentic and articulate expression of both the vintage and its terroir. 92-94+ (£325 IB).
Meyney (St Estèphe; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 13% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 35% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). This is now so reliably excellent and, indeed, reliably such a ringer for a (perhaps more rapidly evolving) Montrose (which is, of course, just across the stream that divides the properties). Beautifully expressive of its prime St Estèphe terroir adjoining the river, this is archetypal Meyney – a touch of tobacco leaf and, indeed, the café it was smoked in (in the days when one could!), a hint of game and charcuterie, some warm baking spices (notably cinnamon), cedar and a touch of graphite, roasted coffee beans and a dark plum and berry fruit. On the palate this is very classical again. Rich, full, with lovely grip from the tannins and a pronounced ferrous-saline almost briny minerality. My only very slight gripe – and it’s not the only St Estèphe where I have the same very minor quibble – is that it is a little less expressive of the vintage (with all its lift and zingy bright freshness) than is of its appellation and terroir. But there’s no mistaking, this is another great wine from Meyney of classed growth quality. 92-94 (£240 IB).
Montrose (St Estèphe; 71% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; pH 3.86; IPT 80; 13.4% alcohol; just 40% of the production made into the grand vin). Tasted at the Chateau, this has a pronounced radiance to the bright purple rim and is intensely limpid and viscous in the glass, capturing beautifully the late morning sunshine (so tasted in optimal conditions). An utterly profound and beautiful wine. I would never have guessed that Montrose could produce something of such shimmering elegance and finesse this young. Montrose 2020 has an opulent and bright brilliance on the nose, with radiant black cherry, the parfumier’s intense absolu of violet and essence of rose petal, and then fresh, plump wild blueberries, brambles and mulberries, with hints of wild herbs. This is remarkably open aromatically and searingly beautiful – so expressive of the singularity of this extraordinary vintage. On the palate, this is incredible. Subtle, cool, elegant, it opens and as it does so unfurls so gently and so languidly, releasing in the process little cedary ripples as it builds graciously in amplitude. This is joyously bright and dynamic with an intensely pixelated and crystalline mid-palate that simply shimmers. But at the same time, and in a very Montrose-way, it is austere and authoritative, dense, compact and concentrated (the IPT of the 2019 is 72), with incredible layering and staggering detail. A simply extraordinary wine that challenges the senses and that has the most savoury, salivating and sappy of finishes. A study in harmony, this is of clear 1st growth quality. I didn’t think Montrose could bring a tear to my eye, certainly not en primeur; this does. 98-100 (£1540 IB).
Phelan-Ségur (St Estephe; from a vineyard of 70 hectares on the famous graves argileuses of St Estèphe, overlooking the river; 54% Cabernet Sauvignon; 42% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of around 42 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 55% of which are new; pH 3.7; IPT 88; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom and then at the Château itself with Veronique Dausse with complementary notes (in both senses of the term). The first vintage to contain the Petit Verdot first planted in 2013 and a whole degree less alcohol than the 2018 and 2019. This is an exciting wine and, for me, the culmination of a decade of incremental but cumulatively significant steps at Phélan-Ségur, taking it to a level that it has never previously attained. This is wonderfully bright and vibrant with a searing cassis and redcurrant nose, hedgerow flowers, violets, a twist or two of pepper (quite possibly the influence of the Petit Verdot) and, with a little more air an engaging almost slightly iodine sea-spray note and suggestions of graphite. Bright and sprightly on the palate, with a lovely grip from the velvety tannins and a chewy but very clean finish of grape-skins and walnuts. Really excellent and completely harmonious. 93-95 (£384 IB).
Tronquoy Lalande (St Estèphe; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 42% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot; pH 3.74; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at Chateau Montrose. Limpid with a dark lilac rim. Classic pure and lifted notes of cassis and graphite on the nose, with a lovely floral element that is rare this far north in the Médoc and a touch of mint leaf and a twist of the pepper mill from the Petit Verdot. On the palate is rolling, sappy and juicy with an impressive sense of forward momentum and drive right from the attack. The fruit seems to darken a shade as the fine-grain tannins engage releasing a juicy wave of fresh black cherries and wild blackberries. Fine, elegant and with a long and tapered finish, I love the slight sense of austerity and the archetypally St Estèphe saline minerality on the finale. 92-94 (NYR).
Beychevelle (St Julien; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 47 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new, for 18 months; pH 3.81; IPT 78; 13.4% alcohol). Tasted first at the UGC tasting in Paris and then from a sample sent from the property. This is extremely floral, very elegant and instantly recognisable as Beychevelle on the nose. It is pure and lifted, with a signature nutty element – walnuts and hazelnuts alongside the brambles, black berries, mulberries and a hint of cherry. There is also a rather enticing gentle suggestion of the cedar that will come through with more age; and a hint of black tea leaf. On the palate this is plump and juicy on the attack, but also compact, with more density and concentration that it used to have – but without any loss in its signature svelteness and refined elegance. The tannins and the resulting mouthfeel are sublime – it’s as if they bundle up the energy of the bright, crisp, fresh fruit delivering it in a succession of juicy waves on the long, stylish and slowly tapering finish. I love the hint of grape and cherry skin right at the end. Every bit as good as the 2016. 94-96 (£694 IB).
Gloria (St Julien; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 11% Petit Verdot; 4% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels for 14 months; a final yield of 34 hl/ha; 13.3% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. This is pure, fresh and nicely focussed. It opens beautifully on the palate with a lovely plum, bramble and blackberry, raspberry and loganberry fruit, with that classic touch of cedar too. Rather than fanning out broadly, this is compact and the structural frame holds the wine quite tightly to the spine. This is chewy on the mid-palate with a nice limpid and sinuous texture and it’s very expressive its terroir and appellation. This is nicely judged. 92-94 (£317 IB).
Lagrange (St Julien; from a vineyard of 118 hectares on two Guntzian gravel slopes; historically low yields of 26.5 hl/ha and only 38% of the total production made it into the grand vin; 74% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; pH 3.58; IPT 77; 13.5% alcohol). Purple/black at the core, but nicely translucent; glossy and quite viscous with blue/purple highlights on swirling and a violet rim. This has a beautifully archetypal St Julien nose – delicate yet expressive, refined and elegant yet full and engaging, bright and energetic. Mulberries, damsons, notes of frangipane and toasted brioche, peonies, a loamy-earthiness and wild thyme and dark cocoa powder all intermingle seamlessly on the nose and, indeed, the palate. This has a most exquisite mouthfeel from the filigree tannins – quite the best in my memory from this property. The mid-palate is beautifully layered and holding this all together is a wonderful combination of juicy, sappy freshness and a cedar-coated graphite minerality. Lovely stuff and the best I have ever tasted from Lagrange; the ultra-strict selection has really paid off. 93-95+ (£425 IB).
Langoa Barton (St Julien; 53.5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; 8.5% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 34.5 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris from a very cold sample, then from a fresher sample sent from the property and finally with Lilian Barton Sartorius at Mauvesin Barton – with consistent results given the difference in the quality of the samples. A really beautiful and very classically St Julien nose. Walnuts and walnut shell notes accompany the creamy, red and darker, rich and very fresh and lifted berry and stone fruit, with a ripple of graphite minerality and a loamy, mossy earthiness underpinning all of this. On the palate, the attack is intensely soft and gentle, the tannins exceptionally fine-grained, giving this a very sinuous and fluid mid-palate which is beautifully framed by the sappy, juicy fresh fruit. Very pure and precise, without ever being linear; and fantastically refreshing on the elegant walnut and cassis finish. Just lovely. 92-94 (£350 IB).
Talbot (St Julien; 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels for 15 months, 60% of which are new; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 13.3% alcohol). A brilliant vintage for Talbot, as it is for the appellation of St Julien more generally. This has a glorious, and impressively evolved, classically St Julien nose – with plenty of what one would usually regard as secondary notes already evident. There is cedar and graphite, smoked black tea leaves (Russian Caravan tea), almond, hazelnut and walnut, and a loamy-earthy note of the soil. On the palate, this is plump, pulpy and fleshy, with great depth and concentration, the fruit nicely intermingling with a touch of saline minerality and the more spicy cinnamon and nutmeg notes. This is long and full, with a lovely sappy finish. It maybe doesn’t have either the sinuous lithe flow over the palate of something like Beychevelle or the layered complexity of Las Cases and Ducru, but it’s a beautiful expression of the appellation and its terroir in this exciting vintage. As good as any recent vintage that I can recall. 93-95 (£478 IB).
C de Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 39% Merlot; 1% Petit Verdot; 20% whole bunch fermentation; aged in oak barrels and larger vessels, 26% of the barrels being new; like the grand vin, made with 100% infusion and so no pumping over or batonnage; pH 3.64; 13.8% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Guillaume Pouthier. A fabulous wine in its own right that deserves to be better known and that remains a bit of an unknown secret. Although it is named like a second wine, it is really much more of a second label, though it does contain young vine massale clones from Carmes itself. Around 50% of the grapes are from a part of the former Le Thil Comte Clary vineyard next to Smith Haut Lafitte and Haut Bailly. Extraordinarily bright and fresh and lifted on the nose – with fresh super-ripe plump plums, blueberries and brambles, a lovely note of walnuts. Incredible texturally, so soft and gentle and yet at the same time so dense and concentrated with an amazingly dynamic sense of energy sustained by the characteristic saline minerality. Very long and pure and likely to prove incredible value as ever. 93-95 (NYR).
Les Carmes Haut Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 40% Cabernet Franc; 34% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 60% whole bunch fermentation; aging in oak barrels and larger formats, 80% of which are new and with 9% aging in amphorae; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; pH 3.6; 13.6% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Guillaume Pouthier. This is quite sublime, probably the best ever vintage of this wine and definitely a candidate for the wine of the appellation and one of the wines of the vintage. It is incredible to think that is an en primeur sample, so unbelievably soft and lustrous are the tannins. Cool on the entry and producing a strange kind of discombobulation as one struggles to come to terms with quite how soft this is. Just when one starts to come back to one’s sense, a firehose of pure, bright, fresh and deeply concentrated fruit seems to explode in the mouth and then, just as one is starting to come to terms with that, one begins to sense the fine-grained quite chalky tannins that bring a pixilated level of detail to the mid-palate and that seem to hold the fruit in perpetual free-fall in the mouth. Needless to say, the finish goes on for minutes (quite literally). Amazingly structured, fantastically layered (milles feuilles) and with so much precision and detail to say nothing of the wonderful ferrous-saline minerality that is the signature of this extraordinary terroir. An incredible wine and a revelation. 97-99 (£948 IB – first tranche price).
De Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels; % alcohol not disclosed). A pretty wine from de Fieuzal in 2020. On the nose we have finely grated dark chocolate, cinnamon stick, plums, damsons, raspberries, red liquorice and a little hint of cedar. On the palate this is cool on the entry, with a hint of menthol, soft and svelte tannins, an impressive unfurling of the bright fruit leading to an ample and rich mid-palate with decent layering and depth and a nicely gathered fresh chewy grape-skin finish. There’s a good balance and harmony to this and it retains more freshness, focus and lift than many of its peers. 91-93+ (£304 IB).
Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan; from 62 hectares on a Guntzian gravel and clay over limestone terroir; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 48% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 26 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 65% of which are new; 14.2% alcohol). Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the appellation in quite a challenging vintage. This seems to have locked in the freshness that others sometimes lack. On the nose we have a deep rich dark ripe plump and crunchy berry and stone fruit, with fresh cassis the most notable element, along with currant leaves and graphite and a lovely loamy-earthy element. On the palate this is rich and ample, with tannins of velvet and that lovely diaphanous and sinuous feel that so many of the wines of the appellation lack. This glides gracefully over the palate in a way that disguises its actually quite considerable density and concentration; the fine-grain tannins bring detail and focus and this is one of the more precise and pure expressions of the vintage that will surely age gracefully. The oak is more moderate that in recent vintages, but this does not lack for personality. Very impressive. 93-95 (£347 IB).
Picque Caillou (Pessac-Léognan; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 10% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. In the context of the vintage and the appellation, this is very impressive. It is notably brighter than many of its peers, with more lift and energy and freshness; it also has the mid-palate concentration that one sometimes craves a little more of (though the excellent 2019 is also quite a rich wine). The tannins are gentle and this has a lovely bright, fresh lift on the finish, though as with all but a handful of wines in the appellation it lacks a little definition in the mid-palate. 90-92 (£167 IB).
Bourgneuf (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 9 hectares on an iron-rich gravel and clay terroir neighbouring Trotanoy; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 35% of which are new; 15% alcohol). Incredibly dark-hued yet translucent at the core and extremely viscous, with a more radiant lilac/magenta rim. Another sumptuous nose, here with a little more toast from the oak accompanying the graphite, cedar, black cherries and blueberries, with a hint of fine dark cocoa powder and candied violets. Big, plump and super-soft on the palate, this is extremely seductive and impressively layered and complex. I love the sappy juiciness of the fruit even on the mid-palate and the sense of dynamism and energy that it brings to the wine. This is big, bold and incredibly concentrated, yet it is also light, bright and fresh. Needless to say, that produces great tension. Classic Pomerol. 93-95 (£450 IB).
Clos du Clocher (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 5.8 hectares on an excellent plateau terroir with parcels close to the church of Pomerol and next to Trotanoy; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; aging for 18 months in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; pH 3.6; IPT 95-100; 14.5% alcohol). Dark and intensely viscous, with blue, indigo and magenta highlights on swirling, the light bouncing off its surface like moonlight off a mountain lake. A sumptuous Pomerol nose – intensely floral and charged with violets, but also a plump rich black cherry and wild blueberry fruit, with graphite and black pen ink too and a little earthy-loamy undertone. Glossy, rich and plump on the entry, the filigree soft tannins seem to hold the ripe fruit in suspension, defying logic – and gravity – in so doing. A sumptuous, opulent and yet at the same time quite a refined and elegant wine. A great success in this great vintage for the plateau of Pomerol. 93-95 (£420 IB).
Guillot Clauzel (Pomerol; the property has existed since 1991, this is the third vintage with Guillaume Thienpont, of Vieux Chateau Certan, as wine-maker and general manager; a 2.4-hectare vineyard on a south-facing slope on the southern limit of the plateau of Pomerol, next to Trotanoy, Enclos Tourmaline and Le Pin on a classic Pomerol gravel-clay terroir; the old-vine Merlot was planted in the 1960s and the early 1980s; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc). Tasted at Vieux Chateau Certan with Alexandre and Guillaume Thienpont, just after Le Pin. There aren’t many wines in this vintage that could hold their own again Le Pin and VCC; this is one of them – though it is very different from both. This wine would be even more of a revelation, had I not recently tasted the 2018. That prepared me, up to a point, for this sheer brilliance of Guillot-Clauzel in 2020; but this is still some achievement nonetheless. Limpid, glossy with blue-purple highlights at the core, this is wondrously pure, clear and precise on the nose, with bright and focussed, almost chiselled, graphite and blueberries, a touch of cinnamon, a hint of cedar and a little red cherry, before the black and redcurrant notes fully arrive, bringing with them a vibrant, herby, leafy freshness. On the palate, this is tender, taut and tactile, with a cool, slightly austere, dark berry fruit (cassis and blueberries) and a simply breath-takingly glistening and shimmering mid-palate. I love, too, the fresh early spring floral notes on both the nose and the palate. In this, the third of three great vintages, the Thienponts have fashioned three great Pomerols. 95-97+ (£730 IB).
Lafleur (Pomerol; 46% Bouchet; 54% Merlot). As ever, the most architectural and structured wine not just of the appellation but of Bordeaux itself – and perhaps the most complex too in this vintage. On the nose we have sloes, damsons and blueberries, graphite and walnut shell, black tea leaf and black cherry, an earthy/smoky note from the Merlot, an almost feral element and then the wonderful floral notes from the Bouchet – violets, lilies and irises. The attack is simply divine and lifts one almost into a different dimension, such is the complexity of the unfurling of the wine across the palate. We have the sublime concentrated presence of cedar and graphite, a fabulous cornucopia of floral elements – iris, lilac, peony, violet, rose petal and a touch of saffron. But it is the weightlessness of the mid-palate that I find most incredible – this is floaty, almost velouté and souffléd in texture, despite having massive depth and profundity. Diaphanous, radiant, profoundly lithe and energetic and, quite simply, brilliant, this has staggering potential. 98-100 (£6320 IB).
Mazeyres (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 23.8 hectares on gravel-clay and sand terroirs; 72% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; gaining in a combination of oak barrels and foudres, concrete and amphorae; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol; farmed organically and biodynamically). Fresh, very bright and direct on the nose with ripe pulpy red cherry and early season plum stone fruit, a touch of almonds and frangipane, a little hint of walnut shell too and some pencil lead. With a little more air this becomes a little wilder, with fresh mountain herbs as well as a hint of acacia and a lovely subtle violet note. Plush and plump on the entry with a nice sense of pick-up and forward progression on the palate, the fruit is vivid, bright and ripe and there is plenty of it to cover the structure. It maybe lacks a little complexity but it more than makes up for that with its lovely focus and precision, the quite luminous mid-palate and the juicy fresh lift just before the long and tender finish. This is accessible, unpretentious and brimming with energy. 91-93+ (£260 IB).
Beauséjour-Bécot (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 17 hectares on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir just behind Chateau Canon; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; average age of the vines is 45 years; final yield of 42 hl/ha; the wine is aged for 16 months in a combination of new oak barrels (65%) and vats, amphorae and larger oak vessels (35%); Thomas Duclos is the consultant here). The latest in a recent series of great wines and possibly the greatest of them all – though the 2019 certainly offers stiff competition; one also has the sense that there is still so much to come with this wine – it’s open, yes, but far from revealing all of its secrets. Very bright, very pure and very bold and direct on the nose with plump, rich, crunchy black cherries and wild blueberries, a hint of walnut oil from the ripe pips, a slight suggestion of freshly baked gingerbread or Christmas cake and a note of cinnamon. On the palate this is, again, rich and ample, but the extraordinarily fine-grained tannins rein in the fruit, bringing it back and then stretching it out along the spine whilst revealing their grippy-grainy-chalky character. This is very much a wine from a calcaire terroir and I love that. It has a fabulously lifted, plump juicy and sapid finish very much at the top of the mouth – and very long too. Very refreshing, like all of the best wines of the appellation in this vintage. 94-96 (£516 IB).
Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse (St Emilion; a fantastically well-situated vineyard of 6.8 hectares on the argilo-calcaire côtes and plateau neighbouring Angélus and Beauséjour Bécot; 81% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; around 14% alcohol). Tasted with Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse at the chateau – indeed, I was apparently the first to taste the final blend. Be careful with tasting notes for this wine (not that there are many of them). For some critics were sent the original version of this wine. If you see a tasting note for an 100% Merlot version of this, it is not the final wine. The back story here is very complex; but the long and the short of it is that this is a simply fabulous wine, made by Nicolas Thienpont and David Suire and assembled by Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse. On the nose we have blood orange, fleur d’oranger, cassis, blueberries, brambles and a lovely graphite-inflected minerality. The palate is rich and opulent, but classical and sublimely sinuous and luminous, very expressive of its top terroir and the appellation an impression reinforced for me by the important role played here by the Cabernet Franc (which actually seems like it represents more than 19%). The grippy and slightly crumbly chalky tannins structure the wine beautifully, shining a focussed and precise light on the pixilated detail of the mid-palate, binding the fruit quite tightly to the spine and stretching the wine out towards its very long tapered finish. This is incredibly pure, precise, bright and fresh and as good a wine from Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse as I can recall. 96-98+ (£1080 IB).
Bélair-Monange (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 23.5 hectares on a combination of terroirs – limestone on the plateau and blue clay on limestone on the slopes; 98% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 15% alcohol). In 2020 there is only 2% of Cabernet Franc in the blend here, despite the vineyard being planted at 10%. Glossy, extremely limpid, impressively translucent at the core and with a profoundly glass-staining indigo-violet rim. Divine. This has such a composed, cool, refined, elegant and subtle nose. Cedar, graphite, brambles, mulberries, blueberries and sloes with a gorgeously fresh, bright acidity. Sumptuously soft and plunge-pool cool on the entry in a way that catches you slightly by surprise. The effect is to prime the senses and to make you concentrate – and that allows you appreciate in a kind of slow motion, highly pixilated, almost frame-by-frame way, the unfurling and unfolding of the fruit over the palate. It’s as if the structuring mineral-acid-tannic backbone of the wine rations and moderates the release of the fruit, crafting and building the wine towards its glorious crescendo which takes the form of a succession of little ripples of juicy freshness right at the top of the palate. The structure – and the sense of structure – is extraordinary. Alongside Trotanoy, one of the wines of the vintage. In 2018 I preferred Trotanoy; in 2019 I preferred Bélair-Monange; in 2020 … it’s a tie! 98-100 (£1450 IB).
Canon (St Emilion; from 24 hectares of the 34-hectare vineyard of Chateau Canon, with the other 10 hectares dedicated to Croix Canon high on the argilo-calcaire plateau just outside St Emilion itself; the vines have a south and south-western exposure; 67% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new for 18 months; pH 3.53; 14.5% alcohol; picked between the 4th and 23rd of September). Garnet/purple at the core with blue/purple highlights and a violet rim. Very open and charged with fresh fruit on the nose – compote blueberries and raspberries, red cherries, a hint of leather, frangipane and toasted almonds. Glossy and quite plump on the attack with fleshy ripe yet fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit stretched out along its long fine-grained chewy chalky tannic spine. This has a lovely sense of levity and seems to dance across the palate despite the considerable density and concentration on the finely delineated mid-palate. Pure, precise, focussed and very well integrated and harmonious. The tannins are so soft that one really has to concentrate to appreciate the role they play in stretching out the fruits over the long, elegant highly-contoured and layered mid palate. This has a beautifully gathered clean finish. The latest in a succession of superb wines from Canon. 96-98 (£1152 IB).
Chauvin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 15 hectares between Cheval Blanc and la Butte de Roi on the Pomerol border and on a terroir of sandy-clay over crasse de fer; 70% Merlot; 28% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in french oak barrels, 60% of which are new; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Much darker in the glass, but clearly the product of a very gentle extraction as this remains translucent in the centre. A lovely glossy limpidity which usually augurs well. This has a darker but no less creamy fruit profile than the second wine – brambles, blackberries and a touch of cassis, with cracked black pepper, dark pen ink and fresh rain on a hot clay path. There is a lovely floral dimension too – irises and iris bulbs. This feels very natural. Very glossy with satin tannins that stay impressively soft even as the fine-grained crumbly tannins start to build across the long, quietly composed and well-structured palate. Very linear and focussed with a nice sense of progression, impressive depth and concentration and with a long chewy, spicy finish. Even better than the already impressive 2018 tasted recently. Sylvie Cazes is doing a great job here. 92-94 (£289 IB).
Cheval Blanc (St Emilion; a vineyard of 39 hectares comprised of 52 parcels on a fantastic network of interlinked terroirs bordering Pomerol with 71% of the total production being selected for the grand vin; 65% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; the final yield is an impressive 37 hl/ha despite this being the dried summer at Cheval Blanc for 50 years; aged in 100% new French oak barrels; 14.2% alcohol). Utterly profound, utterly sublime and a clear candidate for the wine of the vintage. This is fabulously bright, fresh and floral on the nose – violets and wild herbs, the signature cedar and graphite of Cheval (though not generally en primeur), gorse and heather, sous bois and even a hint of truffles and girolles. Deep, dark, rich and compact yet intensely layered on the palate – once again I have the mental image of sheets of silk billowing in the breeze. This is incredibly tense and poised with so much natural energy and crisp, brilliant fresh fruit and sapidity, yet at the same time that profound and slightly austere elegance and total refinement that I associate with no other wine in the world. Above all, though, this is just incredibly luminous, almost radiant. Singular, unique and utterly compelling, this is wine of great grace and composure that feels completely natural and fabulously harmonious. 98-100 (£4650 IB).
Clos La Madeleine (St Emilion; a vineyard of 2.3 hectares on a clay over limestone terroir within the vineyard of Chateau Bélair-Monange on the south-facing plateau and terraces of St Emilion; in fact, 0.5 hectares is not in current production; 100% Merlot; aged in 40% new oak for 16-18 months; 14,5% alcohol). Acquired by Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in 2017. Aromatically beautiful, with black and red cherry fruit, graphite, a touch of cedar, cloves and hazelnuts, with a lovely sense of fresh summer rain on baked earth. This is very lithe and open-textured, super svelte and sinuous on the shimmering mid-palate and it has a glorious structure and texture. In fact, there are three rather distinct phases to the evolution of the wine in the mouth: an opulent, rich and yet gentle and generous attack, then the grip of the tannins unleashing a lovely crescendo of sapid fresh juiciness leading, finally, to a very long and slowly tapering finish. Something of a hidden gem and spectacular in this vintage. 94-96 (£480 IB).
La Clotte (St Emilion; just 400 metres from Ausone, a vineyard of 4 hectares, only 2.5 of which are in production, on the terraced argilo-calcaire côtes of St Emilion; this a very similar south/south-east exposure to that of Ausone itself; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; the average age of the vines is 57 years; aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months). Tasted at Chateau Ausone. Very ripe Morello cherries and blueberries, with cedar, fresh tobacco leaf, vanilla, saffron, sweet spices and hints of wild spring flowers and fresh thyme. In the mouth this is big and chewy, but it also glides and dances on the palate like a ballerina. There’s a lovely note of Szechuan peppercorns and hoisin too and the oak – which is quite present – brings little sparkles of additional interest right at the end. Excellent. 94-96 (£560 IB).
L’Etampe (St Emilion; a vineyard of 1.5 hectares between Figeac and Montlabert and with vines between 40 and 50 years of ages; 84% Merlot; 16% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels of one previous use; just 5000 bottles; biodynamic wine-making since 2017). Impressive stuff. Jean-Claude &Jean-François Berrouet are the consultants here, which goes some way to explaining the quality. This is the first time I’ve tasted this wine or, indeed, any of the wines in the Vignobles Jade range. Slightly darker in hue and extraction than Fontfleurie, but still nicely translucent and limpid in the glass. This has a lovely pure and lifted blueberry, bramble and raspberry fruit with wild herbs and very natural mossy/loamy undertones. Aerial and luminous on the attack, this is shimmering, very pure and precise with a lovely sense of forward momentum on focus. Very accessible and with the biodynamic wine-making really accentuating the brightness and freshness of the vintage. Highly recommended. 92-94 (£209 IB).
de Ferrand (St Emilion; a comparatively large vineyard of 32 hectares a top the argilo-calcaire plateau at Saint-Hippolyte at an altitude of over 100 metres on a mix of clay, sand and limestone soils; 74% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 1% Cabernet Sauvignon; with a final yield of 44 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). The progression here is constant and this is quite simply the best wine that I have ever tasted from this property. Tasted blind there aren’t actually many wines this could be (though that is, of course, easy to say). But instantly, and from the nose alone, we know this is calcaire-rich high altitude St Emilion – Laroque, perhaps, or de Ferrand itself. The fruit is searingly vertical and fantastically fresh and pure – cassis, red currants, raspberry and even wild strawberries with a lovely crumbly chalkiness (or at least the aromatic profile one associates with that) and a wonderful wild heather moorland note and spring flowers too. On the palate this is impressively rich and plump, but the crumbly, grainy calcaire tannins act like an exoskeleton, stopping the fruit from fanning out and instead driving it forward along the mineral spine of this highly architectural wine. It’s like a gothic limestone cathedral! Yes, patience will be required but the potential here is extraordinary. 93-95 (£212 IB).
Figeac (St Emilion; from a unique and distinctive 54-hectare vineyard of which around 40 hectares are planted on a Guntzian gravel terroir; 37% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 31% Cabernet Sauvignon; this is aging in new French oak barrels for around 16 months; a final yield of 37 hl/ha, though the Cabernet Sauvignon yielded only 30 hl/ha; pH 3.7; 13.9% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau. A sumptuous Figeac which really shines in this vintage despite the climatic challenges that had to be negociated. On the nose, this has rather classical notes of leather and graphite, chocolate and violets, crushed stones, a touch of both cedar and acacia and a hint of clove and vanilla. There is also a suggestion of patchouli, dried rose petals and garrigue herbs – very redolent of the vintage. On the palate, this is bright, dynamic, energetic, lively and engaging with an impressive sapidity and lift despite the no less impressive depth, concentration and sheer density of the compact mid-palate. Each cépage brings something distinct – aromatically, structurally and texturally – and yet what is most impressive about this wine is its seamless integration and the sense of natural harmony that it exudes. An excellent Figeac, very much on a par with the 2019 and 2018. 96-98 (£1872 IB).
Fleur de Lisse (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 8.65 hectares with vines aged between 40 and 50 years on the foot of the lime and limestone slopes of Saint-Etienne de Lisse; 74% Merlot; 26% Cabernet Franc; biodynamic wine-making since 2017; aging in oak foudres, barriques and in amphora; Jean-Claude & Jean-François Berrouet are the consultants here). Another brilliant wine from Vignobles Jade. Limpid, pure, translucent and with an evidently very gentle and careful extraction. Wonderfully expressive of the luminous character of the vintage, this is charged with bright, aerial, fresh dark berry, raspberry and cassis fruit, assorted crushed peppercorns, wild herbs, gorse and heather and a touch of graphite too. I love the touch of red and blackcurrant leaf on the attack that gives this a brilliantly lifted entry, reinforced by the very fine-grained tannins that stretch this out over the top of the palate and the roof of the mouth. Elegant, refined and refreshingly moreish too, this is the first time I have tasted this wine; it won’t be the last if I have anything to do with it. 92-94+ (NYR).
La Gaffelière (St Emilion; a selection of 22 hectares of the 38-hectare vineyard on a combination of plateau, côte and pied de côte argilo-calcaire terroirs, though in fact only 19 are in production; 60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; pH of 3.47; IPT 73; aged for 14-16 months in oak, of which 60% is new; 14.15% alcohol). Tasted immediately after Valandraud this is quite a contrast. It’s not a lot less dark in colour, nor a lot less viscous and it, too, is wonderfully translucent at the core and clearly the product of a very gentle extraction. This has a very focussed, pure and precise nose that is quite distinctive and utterly lovely. Yes, it’s floral, intensely so in fact, but it’s a gentler and milder florality – peonies, perhaps and Damask roses. There’s a distinct note of walnut shells and cedar and a twist or two of black pepper to go with the crunchy red and black cherry fruit. The palate has a shimmering beauty which is very characteristic of the vintage. It seems light and diaphanous because of the freshness and brightness of the fruit and the vivid acidity that it presents. But don’t be mistaken, this is a dense and compact wine, with the power beautifully disguised and delivered in layers rather than in a single punch. The latest in a recent succession of really top wines from La Gaffelière. 95-97+ (£600 IB).
Grand Pontet (St Emilion; from a well-situated vineyard of 19 hectares not far from Beauséjour-Bécot and Clos Fourtet on the approach from the north into St Emilion itself on a thin clay and sand over limestone soil). Beautiful in the glass with a lovely translucent limpidity and very expressive on the nose too. Blueberries, blackberries and black cherries with a very slight hint of kirsch and very fine dark black chocolate. Gloriously soft on the gentle cool entry but what I particularly love about this is the combination of fresh explosive vibrant fruit which seems to want to break the shackles of the calcaire tannic frame and yet a certain sombre austerity and opulence too. This is a wine with great tension and loads of energy, but also a certain classicism and elegance. Altogether lovely and quite the best wine I have tasted from here. 93-95 (£205 IB).
Guadet (St Emilion; from a famous vineyard of 11.25 hectares just 100 metres from the walls of St Emilion itself on an argilo-calcaire terroir that is certified both organic and biodynamic; 55% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of just 10 hl/ha and so only 5000 bottles produced; 14.5% alcohol). Lightly extracted, quite viscous and limpid in the glass with a crimson/garnet core. Intensely aromatic with all the lift and brightness that seems to come from limestone plateau terroirs in this vintage, accentuated I feel by the biodynamic wine-making. This is incredibly vibrant and energetic. On the sumptuous nose, we have a profusion of wild herbs and early spring wild flowers, red and black cherries, brambles, mulberries, sloes and damsons – and a lovely hint of apple and acacia wood. The palate is no less bright and fresh, with a lovely crystalline feel in the mouth supported by the tactile slightly chalky limestone tannins. There is great balance and harmony here and a calm natural authority and beauty. Bravo. The best yet from Guadet; it’s just a shame that there is so little of it. 93-95 (NYR).
Laroque (St Emilion; a superbly situated 61-hectare vineyard on one of the highest parts of the appellation on a combination of red clay over limestone and blue clay over limestone terroirs; aged in oak barrels and larger foudres; 14.5% alcohol). More crimson/purple than garnet/purple at the core with a remarkably radiant shocking pink rim. Heather and hedgerow flowers on the floral nose with all the lift that comes from the calcaire terroir and lovely ripe plump blueberries. Succulent and savoury on the palate with the most remarkably accessible silky soft filigree tannins and then lovely sappy, juicy waves of fresh berry fruit rippling and intermingling with the grains in the calcaire tannins. Another exceptional wine from David Suire at Laroque that is rather different in personality to the also excellent 2018 and 2019. This is a little more opulent and richer on the palate, very much in the style of the vintage and, I think, his best yet. 95-97 (£226 IB).
Le Prieuré (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6.24 hectares between Trotevieille and La Serre on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir; certified organic and in conversion to biodynamic viniculture; 14.3% alcohol). Utterly beautiful in the glass – even in this vintage of very elegant looking en primeur samples this stands out. It is amongst the most limpid and it is certainly more translucent than most, which helps. A very pure, focussed and precise yet gentle nose of exquisite beauty. Another extremely floral St Emilion that reminds me a little of de Millery (Figeac’s little known argilo-calcaire gem), which can’t be that far away in fact. Very fine and elegant on the palate, this is a beautifully delicate wine with the most extraordinarily refined mouthfeel – and exquisitely fine-grained tannins which give a razor sharp pixilation and definition to the mid-palate. This is very long too. Recently acquired by Les Terroirs de Suravenir from Artemis, Le Prieuré is very much a wine to follow. 94-96 (£376 IB).
Rocheyron (St Emilion; a vineyard of 8.45 hectares co-owned by Peter Sisseck and Silvio Denz on the plateau on an Astèria limestone terroir behind Chateau Laroque; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 25 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Quite a bit darker in colour than Péby-Faugères, but no more extracted. An attractive purple-tinged glossy sheen. Pure, quite lifted and aerial, slightly creamy and just a little introspective and reticent on the nose, but very beautiful and composed with it. Briary autumnal fruit, heather and almost a mossy, earthy note, this is elegant, subtle and refined. Silky smooth on the palate, with a calm tranquillity ,this has as exquisite sense of harmony and balance. Another wine with a lovely diaphanous mouthfeel and with an impressively disguised puissance. The crumbly tannins help this build to a very pure and precise, tightly focussed finish. This is very complete, ever so slightly sombre and, for me, it has a calm and subtle beauty. 94-96 (£690 IB).
La Tour St Christophe (St Emilion; a wonderfully situated vineyard of 20 hectares atop the argilo-calcaire plateau and on the terraces at St Christophe des Bardes at the very limits of appellation; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; yield of 37 hl/ha; a final pH 3.6; 14.7% alcohol). Interestingly, less opaque at the core than the 2018 tasted recently, but significantly darker in colour – very much towards the blue-indigo-purple end of the spectral range. This has a typically dark autumnal fruit profile, with heather and wild lavender and thyme and rosemary and with loads of graphite – it’s very beautiful but in a very natural way, like a rugged windswept moorland. Big and quite plump on the attack but with the calcaire tannic frame reining in the fruit and projecting it forward along the spine to give great delineation, definition and interest in the almost pixelated mid-palate. The impression of pixilation is accentuated by the texture and granularity of the tannins which become more flaky and crumbly towards the long finish. A vin de garde, most definitely, but with great potential and a worthy successor to the excellent 2018 and 2019. This is likely to remain excellent value. 94-96 (£276 IB).
Villemaurine (St Emilion; on the plateau of St Emilion just outside the town itself on 12 hectares of argilo-calcaire over Astèria (calcified starfish) limestone; aged in oak, 75% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). The last vintage produced before the recent sale of the property to its near-neighbour Sansonnet – and possibly the best yet. Pure, precise and very lifted on the nose. Like many of the best plateau St Emilion in 2020 this is extremely floral – rose petals and rosewater, a hint of patchouli and rich, ripe damson and Morello cherry fruit – a beautiful combination. With rolling, velvety tannins, this is sinuous on the palate. The depth and concentration of fruit is also remarkable, as is the quality of the tannin-management here. This is a property that has been thoroughly transformed over the last decade and this is, for me, the epitome of that dedicated focus and attention to detail. Chapeau! 94-96 (£354 IB).
Satellite right-bank appellations
Canon Chaigneau (Lalande de Pomerol; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Malbec; with an impressive final yield of 55 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). This is bigger and richer on the nose than the cuvée béton – with a lovely half-roasted coffee bean element alongside the wild herbs, cracked black peppercorns, cassis, dark berry and stone fruit. It is deeper and glossier too, more opulent, more dense and compact, but perhaps just a little less sinuous. The fine-grained tannins seem to grip and hold the fruit to the spine, contributing in so doing to this wine’s impressive length and sense of focused precision. Interestingly the oak brings out more the gamey, charcuterie notes, even a slight barbeque element, with tobacco leaf too and it also accentuates the saline-ferrous minerality; a second sample, apparently closer to the final blend, was more complex and more balanced still, bringing a rather pleasing wild thyme note and accentuating the hint of dark roasted coffee beans. The tannins are very soft and gentle and yet have lots of grip and give this a very impressive structure. The cuvée béton is for drinking younger; this needs more time in bottle. It’s exciting to see the rapid progression in the precision of the wine-making and the quality of the tannin management. 90-92+ (NYR).
Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol; from a vineyard of 10.5 hectares on the plateau de Néac and just 1 kilometre from Eglise Clinet on a clay and gravel terroir; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. This is bigger, bolder and more feisty than La Chenade with lots of personality and interest. On the nose it’s very pure and quite direct – blackcurrant, redcurrant and red cherries, wild herbs, more spice than La Chenade, some black pepper and a hint of roasted coffee beans; with air the ferrous salinity of the terroir becomes more prominent, bringing with it a more spicy element. On the palate, this is plump yet lithe and fluid with lovely fine-grained but very tactile tannins that bring precision and focus to the detailed mid-palate and that seem to bind the fruit more closely to the spine than in previous vintages. The high class wine-making is very much in evidence here. I love the chewy grape-skin note on the finish and the plumpness of the fleshy fruit on the attack that is reined back by the tannins in the mid-palate. 91-93 (£215 IB).
Grand Village de Lafleur (Bordeaux Supérieur; 79% Merlot; 21% Bouchet; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are new). Tasted with Omri Ram at Chateau Lafleur. The progression here in recent vintages is startling. Another Guinaudeau wine that sings so eloquently of its terroir – here, argilo-calcaire. On the nose this is pure, lifted and rich, with smoky and nutty elements, a touch of cinnamon spice and fleur d’oranger intermingling seamlessly with the dark plump brambles. The clay gives great amplitude to this on the attack but then the limestone tannins grip and draw the wine back to its spine, before their fine-grains start to create little fresh ripples of sapid juicy fruitiness around the edges. This has great volume and textural interest, but no sensation of weight. Aerial, bright and energetic; yet with consideration depth and concentration. There is also a lovely salinity to the finish – the vinous equivalent of adding a little fleur de sel to accentuate the details of a dish. 92-94 (£146 IB).
Montlandrie (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; from a 12-hectare vineyard on a clay-limestone terroir on the plateau and côtes of the Côtes de Castillon purchased by Denis Durantou in 2009; the vines have an average age of 25 years; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; and, for the first time, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon (planted in 2013); a final yield of 45 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. The progression here is incredible as it really has been over a number of vintages; but it is exciting to see it continue with this fabulous wine in 2020 – coursing with Durantou DNA. This is rich and earthy, wild and very natural on the nose – there are slightly gamey notes, heather and gorse, even peat and damp earth alongside the plump and crunchy fresh berry and stone fruit – blueberries, brambles but also damsons – and white and black pepper, with a little graphite for good measure. The palate is quite ample and a little more broad-shouldered than Les Cruzelles, but with the same compact, dense and impressively concentrated mid-palate. This feels a little less sinuous, as the fruit density is greater, but it’s no less vibrant and energetic and I love the lifted fresh and slightly minty finish, supported by those towering calcaire tannins. Quite superb. 92-94+ (£182 IB).
Les Perrières de Lafleur (Bordeaux Supérieur; 71% Bouchet; 29% Merlot). Tasted with Omri Ram at Chateau Lafleur. On pure limestone, with no clay. This is now the third vintage of this wine under its new name (previously Acte 1 to Acte 9). Made from Lafleur’s massale clone Bouchet and now Merlot too. Fabulous and now reliably excellent. The nose itself divulges the terroir – with that saline lift and aerial fresh energy that can only really come from pure limestone. Crunchy, fresh, crisp blackcurrant, blueberry, blackberry and bramble fruit, with wild herbs, a touch of dark chocolate and whetstone. The tannins are wonderfully fine-grained and, as ever here, very present and very tactile – they seem to break up and ripple the surface of the rich, deep, dark concentrated linear core of this wine, bringing as they do a pixilated detail to the edges of the wine if not yet to the compact, dense core itself. This is a vin de garde that needs at least a decade in bottle before it will even start to reveal its secrets. But the raw ingredients and the respect for terroir that they reveal are just fantastic – as is the potential. Unique and, for me, one of the most compelling and exciting wines of Bordeaux. 94-96 (£570 IB).