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Tasting Chateau La Conseillante

To mark La Conseillante’s 150th vintage under the uninterrupted ownership and guardianship of the Nicolas family, db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay was invited to a rare and truly wonderful vertical at the Chateau with La Conseillante’s estate manager, Marielle Cazaux. This is his verdict. 

(All the wines were tasted, from the bottle, at the property on the 3 November 2021 other than La Conseillante 2020, which was tasted en primeur).

La Conseillante (87% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of around 39 hl/ha; pH 3.64; 14% alcohol). Tasted en primeur with Marielle Cazaux at the Chateau. Wow – what a brilliant expression of top plateau Pomerol terroir. Cedar. Blueberries and black cherries. So dark, so rich and intense on the nose – a super-charged La Conseillante. The cedar seems to wrap itself in the parfumier’s essence of violet – there is no way any natural plant could produce a floral note so pure and concentrated and yet at the same time this feels entirely natural. There is cassis and raspberry coulis too, with a trace of saffron. On the palate, this is dense and compact, layered and luminous – and yet richer and with greater density than used to be the case here. That works fabulously in this vintage, giving the wine both a plunge-pool depth and profundity yet at the same time it also retains that wondrously diaphanous and luminous quality. A lovely cool minty authoritative finish. Honestly, I can’t recall a better La Conseillante. I loved the 2019; I think I love this even more. Chapeau! 97-99.

La Conseillante 2019 (84% Merlot; 16% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 34 hl/ha; pH 3.67; 14.5% alcohol). This was bottled in mid-June. An utterly gorgeous and sumptuous nose of sloes and damsons and, with more air, violets and a hint of lavender. Brambles too and miscellaneous very dark berry fruit. Fresh and lifted, bright and sinuous, this shows impressive depth and concentration and conveys the vintage supremely well. Exudes its status as a grand vin. One senses very much the Cabernet Franc too – with that cool, dark, mysterious cassis and blueberry presence. Lots of potential and just a little closed and strict, even, in this still nascent phase. But, wow, what texture; this is super svelte. It has all the signature of La Conseillante’s great terroir and all of the skill and precision of its recent wine-making too. Fabulous. 97+.

La Conseillante 2018 (83% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). In the context of the vertical this is incredibly spicy and vibrant. It is warm-tinged, sunny in disposition and seductive in a sort of Cos d’Estournel pre-2005 kind of a way! Cinnamon, fennel, all spice; and quite a noticeable iron and slightly saline minerality. Supremely tender and yet densely packed in and through the mid-palate. But this is also impressively fresh and lifted for the vintage. Walnuts and their cracked shells; very pure ripe berry fruit, blueberry purée and lots of freshness. 96.

La Conseillante 2017 (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 34.5 hl/ha; pH 3.65; 13.5% alcohol). A little closed at this stage on the nose, which is actually unusual for 2017s in my experience; but that allows the minerality to come through. Cool; fresh; bright and crunchy – the signature of the vintage, once again. This is, of course, excellent in the context in vintage. But is also comes from a vintage that, in my view, is not appreciated enough. In a decade’s time, its bright, crisp freshness and comparatively low alcohol will mark it out, I suspect, as something we will crave perhaps more than we do now. Cassis and blueberry in abundance – and that gloriously dark and croquant fruit. Not, of course, as dense nor as structured as the vintages either side; but utterly lovely in its way, very attractive and very classical with great finesse and elegance. And there is plenty of density, too, even if you have to look for it a little. Finishes on a note of Ganache of black chocolate and violets – very La Conseillante. I think Marielle really loves this – and I do too. 95.

La Conseillante 2016 (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 39.5 hl/ha; pH 3.65; 14% alcohol). A sublime and astonishingly impressive wine – quite simply, wow! As it so often is, this is to 2010 what 2009 is to 2015. There is a profound presence of minerality on the nose, an impression accentuated by the still slightly closed character of this wine – which is dark, intense, serious and a tad austere. It seems almost taut with potential and remains almost teasingly illusive. In a way, that makes it all the more captivating. On the palate, the fruit is bright, vibrant and crunchy – raspberries, blueberries, brambles, a hint of damson. I love, too, the herbal element and the very dark purple florality – with a suggestion of pollen and saffron too. Violet notes, walnut shell too, wild mint and a garrigue-like note. Like the 2010, though more inaccessible at this early stage, the potential is jaw-dropping. Texturally, this is super-svelte, dense and compact; yet lithe and charged with energy. A great wine, even it remains for now a little tight and strict. But there is also a wonderful purity and precision that takes this, for me, just a notch above the 2010. Very long and gently tapering on the tender and tense finish. Remarkable. 99.

La Conseillante 2015 (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 39.5 hl/ha; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). I find myself humming the Beatles – ‘here comes the sun’! The warmth of the vintage radiates from the glass. Bright red berry and red cherry fruit and red fruit stone notes too. Almonds and frangipane. Wild strawberries, raspberries. This is lithe, bright, lifted and vertical. It’s also very pure and precise – rather more so than earlier vintages. This is the first vintage under Marielle Cazaux’s guardianship and it already feels very accomplished, harmonious and complete. There is a lovely natural sense of poise, great structure and complexity and I really like the expression of the vintage here. For the vintage this is very aerial, with the actually quite considerable density at first deceptive. A wine that really fans out in the mouth, building almost imperceptibly through the mid-palate. Pure, lifted and exceptionally fresh for the vintage, with a lovely menthol note right on the vanishing point. 97.

La Conseillante 2014 (78% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; pH 3.57; 13.5% alcohol). The last vintage of Jean-Michel Laporte. The is actually a little more Médocain on the nose. Floral and almost a little Margellais in personality with white spring flowers alongside the more classically Pomerol black cherry stone fruit. Beautiful if rather different from the rest of the flight. Fresh, as ever, soft and seductive, as ever, with that lovely minerality on the palate that kicks in with the tannins as they start to grip. This is lithe and tender, a little austere, but lovely nonetheless. The tannins are not quite as refined as in more recent vintages, especially on the finish. But this is limpid, eloquent and the slightly atypical florality is very engaging. Fresh and bright on the finish, but not a lengthy as most of the line-up. 94.

La Conseillante 2012 (89% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 38.5 hl/ha; pH 3/69; 14% alcohol). This has always been one of my favourite vintages of La Conseillante – and it remains, for me, one of the least appreciated great Pomerol vintages more generally. The only vintage for which Jean-Claude Berrouet was the consultant oenologist and it’s interesting that there is so little Cabernet Franc in the final blend – but a little goes a long way here. Ethereal and utterly beautiful on the nose. Soft, delicate, elegant and subtle. Intensely floral, but unlike the 2014, in a much more archetypally Pomerol way – violets and little hedgerow spring flowers, freshly cut. This has an exquisite balance and harmony, even if it might be said to lack some of the density of ostensibly greater vintages. I can live happily with that; though I’d drink this sooner. Very attractive and the very essence of plateau Pomerol for me. Soft and seductive, with those little truffle notes, blueberries and raspberries; tender and lithe, nicely compact and juicy on the finish. It doesn’t have the density of the 2010 but it’s a wine that shows perfect maturity with a younger fruit profile – and I really like that. Dark chocolate – and violets. In fact, violet-scented ganache. What’s not to like? The wine I’d drink now. 96.

La Conseillante 2011 (82% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; an impressive final yield of 42 hl/ha; pH 3.62; 13.5% alcohol). A vintage that has remained very tight and closed for a long time but which is now starting to express itself. But still very much a 2011, with that distinct almost animal quality of the vintage. Wild, almost feral; but spicy too – cinnamon, nutmeg, liquorice and aniseed. A little like the 2006, this is a wine that has softened and opened only quite recently. Saline, ferrous, with notes of charcuterie, game and lamb fat. Red berry fruit, red cherries, almonds too. The will always be a slightly brutal expression of Pomerol, but there is a lovely herbal freshness on the finish. Never the most elegant of vintages, but fascinating, distinctive and complex. 93.

La Conseillante 2010 (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 39 hl/ha; pH 3.53; 13.5% alcohol). Deeply impressive if a little strict and austere. Fresh and bright, with vibrant menthol notes. Compact, dense; still very much a vin de garde, packed with the sense of an as yet unrealised and somewhat inaccessible potential! On the palate this is intense and focussed, very dynamic and forward-driven. As such, it is more like the 2016 and even, perhaps the 2019 that the other vintages in the flight. Dense, compact and a little impenetrable in its extended youth – something of a Peter Pan of a wine. The nose is stubbornly closed, revealing little other than that characteristic and definite earthy minerality and a little hint of cedar. Marielle explains that the cooler temperate in the unclimatised chai in 2011 has, in effect, slowed the evolution of this wine relative to the 2009 tasted just before. 98.

La Conseillante 2009 (81% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 39.5 hl/ha; pH 3.75; 14% alcohol). ‘Here comes the sun’ – again! Bright and energetic and so clearly and evidently from a warm vintage. This exudes Pomerol seductiveness and is almost the mirror opposite of the 2010. It is spicier too – cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, even cloves. Glossy, svelte and gorgeously textured – and much less austere, if still with lots more to reveal. This is super seductive on the mid palate, very open and richly puissant, yet entirely harmonious. On the finish there is a delicate trace of iodine and roasted sea shells. Violets, too, right at the end. And also a little suggestion of smoke and subtle truffle notes too. Not unlike the 2005 and very much ready for drinking now. 96.

La Conseillante 2008 (86% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 34 hl/ha; pH 3.43; 13.5% alcohol). Here the oak is more noticeable on the nose. Earthy and loamy, a little bit of rain on a baked clay path. Plums, damsons, blueberries, red berry and stone fruit too – redcurrants and red cherries. This is open-textured and quite light in comparison to the 2006 or 2009. It is, in fact, a little thin in mid-palate but typically lithe and finely-textured. This is refined and elegant, but it will need drinking relatively soon. Fine, but lacking the harmony of better vintages. 92.

La Conseillante 2006 (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 42 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). This is more limpid in the glass than the 2005. Another archetypal expression of plateau Pomerol in all its seductive glory – despite coming from a vintage which, until recently, remained taut and angular, even a little austere and unfriendly. This is now gently, expressive and soft on the nose, though a little more saline and with a more evident trace of iron than the 2005. Broad-textured and inviting with an indulgently glossy mouthfeel. Classic mature Pomerol notes of violets, truffles and girolles accompanying the dark berry fruit. Lovely texturally, tender and rich, and fine-grained with a flowing, sapid finish. Something of a revelation and perhaps not that easy to pick as coming from this slightly forgotten vintage. 96.

La Conseillante 2005 (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; pH 3.82; 13.5% alcohol). Fresh. Floral. Lifted. Black cherries with a sprinkling of freshly plucked blueberries. Great and grand. Simply, a very eloquent expression of grand terroir plateau Pomerol. Truffles, canterelle mushrooms, a cocktail of warm sweet spices and a sapid, saline minerality. This is full, glossy, rich, indulgent and tender. But it is also wonderfully fresh and elegant in its sense of levity on the long, tapering and slender finish. Very much the epitome for me of the appellation in the vintage. Lithe and limpid, tender and succulent. Finishing on a lovely suggestion of violets and a hint of liquorice. 97.

La Conseillante 2001 (79% Merlot; 21% Cabernet Franc; a noticeably impressive final yield of 43 hl/ha; pH 3.80; 13.5% alcohol). Sublime, soft and gentle, yet remarkably youthful and still dense and compact, long, refined and elegant. Menthol and wintergreen on the finish. Very enjoyable. Tasted over lunch and so not noted.

La Conseillante 1981. This is incredibly youthful. Maybe not a great vintage, but certainly a great wine given the vintage. Rich and long yet incredible deft and subtle and delicate, with that lovely sweet, svelte seductive edge of the classic plateau Pomerol. Very stable and impressively long on the finish. Memorable. Tasted over lunch and so not noted.

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