Friday, April 29, 2016

Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur - Left Bank Wrap

At Smith Haut Lafitte with
Ludovic Fradin, Director,
and Fabien Teitgen, Winemaker
I quickly learned the amount of driving it takes to get around Bordeaux, and especially the Left Bank.  My black Peugeot sedan, so sleek and shiny from the rental lot, was thoroughly mud streaked by the end of 1.5 weeks! (Yes, I was fortuitously upgraded; Peugeot is a fine car.) Despite rushing around and apologizing for being late, every château visit was absolutely and deliciously worth it! 2015 is showing well for many wines, each in their own unique way.

I'm excited to share with you a selection of wines that are excellently made and that particularly stand out to me, to wrap up my Left Bank tour. (For more Left Bank wines, please see previous reports Day 1More Left Bank, and First Growths.)

Standout Wines

Palmer (Margaux): Deeply concentrated with strikingly delicate fragrance of raspberry, black cherries, black currant, and vanilla. It is still very tight and closed, with a little tomato leaf green quality that will integrate as the wine matures. In a hot vintage where many of the wines are already showing very expansive fruit, Palmer stands out in that it is more a 'crouching tiger, hidden dragon'. While it is dense with bold tannins, its structure and freshness is unmistakable. Its fruit and full bloom will come with time, and it will be worth the wait.

Branaire-Ducru 2015
Branaire-Ducru (St-Julien): Incredibly fresh and smooth with fine tannins, and an elegant bouquet of plums, cherries, blackberries, cassis, and vanilla. The château's signature style of poise and smoothness is clearly evident. It is drinking beautifully now, and it will evolve and last.

Grand Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac): A bumper crop of cherries and plums is waiting to emerge to full shine in the coming years ... all the potential is there! Already fragrant with red fruit and baking spices, there is a striking mineral frisson that makes this a very memorable wine.

Montrose (St-Estèphe): Bright raspberry, cherries, vanilla, cedar and plenty of acidity to keep this wine fresh. The beautiful initial to mid-palate swells with fruit, and continues to open with cherries and a bit of white pepper on the finish. What a delight to feel all these waves of fruit layers!

Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan): This wine showed even more beautifully on subsequent tasting. Wood spices give a tantalizing kick to fragrant red and black fruits. Taut acidity balances the ripe tannins; these will mellow to round out the wine and lend it freshness for years to come. The 2015 has the Pape Clément signature elegant frame and complexity in the nose and palate. Most memorably, after the tannins crest in the mid-palate, the perfume of red and black berries lingers on.
Beautiful room at Château Pape Clément. 

Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan): High toned dense black fruits (brambles, cherries), vanilla. Very fresh, fine integrated tannins resolve smoothly in an incredibly satisfying way. Still a bit chewy yet extremely elegant, this is an aromatic, lifted wine that has much to present in the coming years. Its full beauty of fruit and body will continue to reveal itself.

Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan): This is showing even better on repeated tasting: Ripe and sunny with bright red cherries, plums, a bit of toast on the end. Very fine tannins. This is a stately wine: not a fruit bomb, not a plush wine, but very focused, linear, and incredibly fragrant.

Haut Bailly (Pessac-Léognan): Dark bramble, cassis, mineral and spices. Very structured and smooth with fine tannins. It has the Haut Bailly signature silkiness and the bright fruit of the vintage, without any hint of jam. The château has achieved an incredible balance with their 2015 vintage.

Excellent Wines

Les Carmes Haut-Brion 2015
Beychevelle (St-Julien): Beautifully balanced, a dark and elegant wine. Dense yet sweetly lifted with cassis, blackcurrants, and vanilla. It has strong and integrated tannins, with a delightfully smooth quality that lends this wine great poise.

Pichon Baron (Pauillac): Very subtle and demure, yet redolent of raspberries, cherries, blackberry, and cassis. There is a lovely light, toasty quality to the finish. Fine tannins and a smooth texture make for a very refined wine.

Magrez Fombrauge (St-Emilion): This is Right Bank, but it was part of the Château Pape Clément tasting and in the venerable Bernard Magrez portfolio. This is a bold wine, dense and muscular with concentrated ripe dark red fruits. It may be big, but it's not brooding; rather, it has a very warm feeling to it. It will last decades and pair deliciously with red meats and duck!

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan): This is the second label of famous first growth Haut-Brion, originally known as Bahans de Haut-Brion (the name changed in 2007). It's still made from grapes from the same sites as Haut-Brion, and by the same great team. To call it "Haut-Brion Light" doesn't do La Clarence justice: It has its own character. 2015 is rounded and subtle on the nose and bright with red berries on the palate, underscored by earth and mineral. The robust tannins will integrate nicely with time. Very elegant.  

Haut-Brion Lineup, with Le Clarence 2015
Quintus (St. Emilion): Want to enjoy a delicious wine from the makers of Haut-Brion at a great price point? Quintus (and its second label, Dragon de Quintus) is a wonderful opportunity. Very bright and sunny, bursting with stewed cherries and plums, with vibrant vanilla. Full, structured, and fresh, this is drinking perfectly now. 

Le Pape (Pessac-Léognan): From the Haut Bailly team comes a generous, big bodied, ripe and approachable wine to enjoy now! Ripe red cherries and plums with toast and coffee on the finish. The tannins are bold but well integrated, a very giving wine to enjoy with duck, pot roast, or a nice portobello mushroom dish.

That's a wrap for the Left Bank 2015 red wines! Thank you for allowing me to share with you the wines I am excited about. When they are ready for the world, we will look forward to enjoying them together.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur - First Growths

Tasting Haut-Brion
I dove into Bordeaux En Primeur without having read any predictions, nor read any comments or scores throughout in order to maintain a clean slate. My goal is to share with you my own thoughts on all wines I've tasted. Without further ado, here is my take on the First Growths (sans Latour, which does not participate in En Primeur).

Margaux: Dark, concentrated cassis, black cherries with earth and a peppery lift on the finish. Assertive tannins will integrate with time, and are already being balanced by focused acidity and very ripe, fine fruit. There's a hint of vegetal green leaf and tobacco, which will also integrate and evolve. This is a regal, stately wine that is serious yet will be very generous with time. The mid palate is already beautifully expansive, opening with a bumper crop of cherries. An overall freshness and silkiness embodies the signature style of the château.

Haut-Brion: Elegant, concentrated perfume of candied cherry, violet, plum, bramble, with oak toast and slight green hints that will integrate. Very smooth texture with ripe tannins that swell greatly on the mid palate but will harmonize with the generous fruit, given time. Plums, cherries, raspberries, and toasted almonds delight on a very long finish. Beautiful potential.
Margaux 2015 in the cellar

Mouton Rothschild: Dense red and black cherries with vanilla and nutmeg; very fragrant and elegant on the nose. In the mouth, this is a powerful, muscular wine; it has dramatic acidity and ripe, assertive tannins with an earthy finish. Yet, one can feel the care of the winemaking in its balanced composition. It possesses a smooth quality and there is a delicacy of the fruit that lingers after the earthiness subsides. It will be fascinating to see how this evolves over time.

Lafite Rothschild: I shared my thoughts on Lafite earlier, but will include it here again. After tasting many big, unabashedly fruit-driven (and delicious) wines in the area, Lafite Rothschild was a refreshing departure. It is subtly fragrant, redolent of crushed violets. There is a delicacy and restraint that hints to a future blossoming. I found it very balanced and carefully made. It may well bloom with a poise and elegance uniquely its own, in a vintage with burgeoning ripe fruits.

In Summary:
At Mouton Rothschild's tasting room
As with the other wines I've had the pleasure to taste, these First Growths reflect the vintage conditions and embody their signature house styles. The ability to express one's own character while bringing the best aspects of the vintage is one of the most important factors I seek in a wine. It speaks to a judicious care in all aspects of grape growing and winemaking, and a striving to find that certain special quality that makes a wine lasting and unique. These First Growth wines have an incredible legacy, yet their houses have the same challenge that all quality-minded châteaux in Bordeaux have each year: to create wines to their high standards of excellence. The fruits of their labor for 2015 give us much to look forward to.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur - Right Bank

Holding 'the baby' with
Frédéric Faye, winemaker at Figeac!
Like the Left Bank, the 2015 vintage conditions for the Right Bank were wonderfully ideal. After a hot, dry spell, there was just enough rain in July to start veraison (the point at which grapes change color as they ripen) and again in mid-August and September to prevent vines from shutting down. This also allowed for further development of flavors within the grapes. For the predominantly Merlot and Cabernet Franc based wines made on the Right Bank, the results were bursting with ripe red fruit!

I attended the two Union des Grands Crus (UGC) tastings on the Right Bank (St-Émilion and Pomerol) and also visited quite a few châteaux. It’s so important to see where it all happens!

St-Émilion and Pomerol UGC Tastings:
The St-Émilion UGC tasting event presented many wines that were reminiscent of raspberry and blackberry jams - I felt I was tasting Bonne Maman jams in wine form! While I wished that a number of wines possessed the body and acidity to balance out the heavier fruit, there were two at the tasting that particularly stood out: Pavie Macqin, and Troplong Mondot. See the “Standout Wines” section below for more on these.

Pomerol is a small but mighty appellation on the Right Bank. Only a few châteaux participated in the UGC tasting but they showed very consistently, even more so than at the St-Emilion tasting. Excellent wines included La Cabane, Beauregard, Clinet, and La Croix de Gay.

The UGC events are great for tasting many wines in one location; with the amount of driving required to get around in the region, that is not to be taken for granted. That said, there’s nothing like actually being at each châteaux to experience the character of the estate, to meet the people behind the philosophy of the wine, and to taste the wines with more focus.

I was initially worried that differences in experience between the large events and more individualized visits at the châteaux would influence my assessment of the wines, but I realized quickly this wasn’t an issue. Wines speak for themselves. 

Standout Wines:

Tasting at Château L'Evangile
  • L’Evangile (Pomerol): Round and dense in the mouth yet very precise, this very drinkable wine offers shockingly delightful concentration of cherries, plums, boysenberry with slightly earthy undertones. Fine, elegant tannins complement the sweetly rounded and very fresh character. It has the weight and acidity to last, if you can keep it that long without drinking it! I always remember a wine at a tasting when I realize I don’t want to spit it out.
  • La Violette (Pomerol): This is one of the most beautifully balanced and elegant wines I’ve tasted during the 2015 primeurs. Delicately perfumed with high notes of cherries, kirsch, and cassis, it has a wonderfully smooth texture. It finishes sunnily with the fragrance of cherries and toasted nuts.
  • Angelus (Saint-Émilion): Fresh with cherries, plums, and vanilla but emerging meaty, savory undertones with mineral brightness and a darker touch of tea leaves. The tannins rise mid-palate, leaving no doubt that this is not only an elegant wine, but a powerful one. Its beguiling attractiveness is sealed by the satisfyingly smooth, long finish of ripe cherries and vanilla. 
  • Vieux Chateau Certan (Pomerol): Fresh, beautiful bouquet of red plums, cherries, vanilla and nutmeg. Round and supple with fine, integrated tannins. This is a very classic wine, and the fruit will continue to emerge and shine as it matures. The lingering flavors of light cherry pie are a true delight.
  • Figeac (Saint-Émilion): Powerful and focused, with a serious but approachable style. Deeply colored with concentrated blackberry, black currant, black plum and cherry with a hint of tomato leaf. Plump and round but incredibly fresh with unmistakable structure. Tannins are very ripe and well integrated. The lovely touch of tea leaves from the Cabernet Franc will continue to meld with the black fruits with years in the bottle. 
  • Pavie (Saint-Émilion): A bit brooding at the moment, but the intensity of the blackberry, boysenberry, tea leaves and savoriness will evolve into an even more powerfully concentrated and vibrant wine. The initial palate is delightfully bright and fruity, turning into a warm, toasty cocoa towards the end. There is a feeling of slight dampness, and then the fragrance of berries lifts for a long finish. This wine will continue to grow!
  • Pavie Decesse (Saint-Émilion): A serious wine as well, very dense and concentrated ripe red plums, cherry, vanilla, and kirsch with a mineral, peppery lift resolving into creamy red fruits. Incredibly smooth, silky, and focused. Very drinkable already, and it will last!
  • Pavie Macquin (Saint-Émilion): Subtle, warm red cherries, plums and vanilla; fresh and expansive. Tart cranberry juxtaposed with an underlying creaminess on the finish point to enduring structure and evolution to come. 
  • Troplong Mondot (Saint-Émilion): Dark, dense with coffee, cola, cassis and bramble. Serious and concentrated, incredibly smooth. It is quietly powerful and confident. It will endure, and it will be even more arresting as it matures.  
  • Ausone (Saint-Émilion): This is a truly elegant wine, and extremely poised. It doesn’t show itself all at once, but gradually yet surely. With a beautiful bouquet of ripe red fruits, savory undertones and a mineral frisson, it is sweetly lifted, smooth, and wonderfully fresh. 

Excellent Wines:

Spring at Château Cheval Blanc
  • Cheval Blanc (Saint-Émilion): A rich nose of toasted coconut, onion blossoms, licorice, and cola promises even more on the palate in roundness and flavors as the wine matures. Give this one some time; it will blossom! 
  • Carillon d’Angelus (Saint-Émilion): Smooth and flirtatious, a real debutante! Ripe red cherries and licorice, very fresh. 
  • Esprit de Pavie (Saint-Émilion): This is “only” a Bordeaux AC wine, from Pavie, but it is delicious and beautifully lifted with lavender, violets, cherries, verbena, and honeysuckle. It is meant to be earlier drinking but will keep 3-5 years. The honeyed finish is a real treat!
  • Lussau (Saint-Émilion): Fragrant, bursting with ripe plums, with coffee on the finish. Very smooth and approachable.
  • Monbousquet (Saint-Émilion): Smoky on the nose with sweet black cherries on the initial palate giving way to some big tannins. It is not shy but not overly muscular. Wait several years and see how this one evolves; it has wonderful potential.
  • Bellevue Mondotte (Saint-Émilion): Soft and velvety with ripe plums, violets, cherries, but focused with a clear structure. Great balance and drinking well already.
  • Haut-Simard (Saint-Émilion): Delicate luxardo cherries with a slight earthy funkiness made for a striking, yet creamily integrated contrast. 

There is still more to come! Join me next time for First Growths, and more exciting wines from Pessac-Léognan.

Postscript: I stopped by the venerable Château Pétrus to take a photo, for posterity!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bordeaux En Primeur 2015 Vintage - More Left Bank!

Tasting at Château Lafite Rothschild
The 2015 vintage for Bordeaux is a very exciting one! After tasting at more châteaux on the Left Bank and participating in the Union des Grands Crus event for Pessac-Léognan, I would characterize the vintage for the Left Bank as follows: Ripe and fruit-driven, with structure and weight to last.

These are very approachable wines! If you like Napa Cabernets, 2015 will be a wonderful vintage to venture out and try Bordeaux. These wines are soft and generous, with unmistakable backbone and muscle.

With very few exceptions, Bordeaux 2015 wines are are eminently drinkable even now. In comparison to 2012, another fruit-driven vintage, the 2015 wines have much more heft to them. Many of the wines I tasted can lay down for years and evolve in the bottle for more character and complexity.

Pessac-Léognan on the Left Bank is an important appellation for Bordeaux, and the wines at the Union des Grands Crus tastings were very promising. Harvest is usually earlier for this appellation since the climate is milder and 2015 was no exception, starting at the end of August. It was very hot and dry until mid-September with unusually heavy rain, but by then most of Pessac's Cabernet Sauvignon had been collected. With lighter frames than wines from Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, or Pauillac, these beauties from Pessac-Léognan will delight. The 2015 wines may take some more time to open up and present their fragrant aromas on the palate, and I look forward very much to tasting them in the years to come.

Standout Wines:
At Château Pontet-Canet
  • Pontet-Canet (Pauillac): Pontet-Canet delivers yet again! Ripe bing cherries, blackcurrants, cassis, hints of green notes (bell pepper), vanilla and nutmeg, an undertone of tobacco juice. Very silky on the palate: The initial to mid-palate is delightfully lifted with cherries and perfumed violets; the finish is toasted with oak spices. It's silky without being plush. Elegant yet giving. I was really happy about this one! 
  • Ducru-Beaucaillou (Saint-Julien): Deep, ripe black cherries and boysenberries, vanilla, and cedar smoke. The chewy and slightly grippy tannins will integrate beautifully with the perfumed fruit with years, but it is already drinking smoothly with a velvety texture.   
  • Léoville Barton: (Saint-Julien): This showed beautifully on second tasting - very smooth and juicy sweet, chock full of cherries and vanilla that last through the finish. 
  • Lynch-Bages: (Pauillac): Even better on second tasting as well. Black cherries and currants, coffee and cola with violets and a bit of leather beneath. This one has unabashedly bigger tannins that will continue to integrate with the concentrated fruit over time, but it's already soft and silky, with a steel backbone. 
Excellent Wines:
  • Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan): Enticing nose full of ripe red plums and cherries with vanilla and an earthy undertone. It is extremely elegant, as one would expect Pape Clément to be. Full promise on the fruit has yet to show on the palate, and I can't wait to see how it evolves. 
  • Latour-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan): Very balanced; bold with ripe red plums and cherries and vanilla. It's generous but not dense, and has the acidity to last. 
  • Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan): Beautiful nose with high notes of plums and black cherries, vanilla, a light cedar toast. Palate is more earthy with really chewy tannins - its excellent structure will show well in the coming years.
  • Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan): Juicy yet linear, with raspberries, red currants with vanilla and a hint of the vegetal. Big, grippy tannins will integrate with the fruit very nicely. Demure but emerging with intent. 
  • Le Petit Caillou (Pauillac): This is the entry level wine of Ducru-Beaucaillou. This "Little Pebbles" ("Caillou" means "pebbles") knocked my socks off, and it's ~$15 a bottle. It's expansive, rich and generous, full-bodied and well structured. If it had even more acidity, it could last quite awhile. This is superb for its price point. Buy a couple of 6-packs for your next dinner party, or keep them for yourself! 
Trio of tastings at Château Lafite Rothschild
Lafite Rothschild: This deserves a section for itself. Lafite is often very closed in youth, so historically it hasn't tended to "show well" during En primeur. The 2015 sample I tasted at Château Lafite Rothschild, in an airy room overlooking the beautiful grounds, was truly drinkable. Imagine! A First Growth Bordeaux, drinkable, this young! It is fine-boned but sinewy, demure and elegant. Very composed and serene. The tannins are slightly chewy, and the wine is not tight but rather a bit coy. It definitely is more floral than fruit-driven right now, with beautiful crushed violets. I look forward very much to seeing how this 2015 Lafite will show in the coming years as the fruit evolves.

Note: Almost everyone I spoke with has indicated disappointment with Lafite Rothschild. Perhaps the high expectations for the 2015 vintage combined with the stratospheric expectations for a First Growth wine are converging. Nonetheless, I found it extremely well made and a lovely contrast to many of the (excellent) much bigger wines I'd been tasting.

Next Up: Right Bank, and Sauternes & Barsac!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bordeaux En Primeur 2015 Vintage - Day 1

Tasting at Châteaux Lascombes!
Greetings from Bordeaux! After tasting ~100 wines and driving all over the Left Bank châteaux and vineyards on a blessedly sunny day, I'd like to share with you my first day of the Bordeaux En Primeur 2015 vintage preview. These are wines not yet released, so it is incredibly exciting to not only taste them to assess quality and potential, but also to visit these historic and beautiful châteaux.

Updates: Please find my more frequent updates on Twitter @SusanRLin (also @BelmontWine). I'll post my blog reports as often as I can, if I'm not completely exhausted!

About Offerings from Belmont Wine Exchange: (Obligatory note, as I am here on behalf of Belmont Wine Exchange to scope out the best!) Because these wines aren't yet released, I won't know exactly what wines and quantities we at Belmont Wine will be able to offer our customers, but that's also why I'm here - to visit the great people at the châteaux and to collaborate with our trusted negotiants to work on hopefully obtaining some allocations for these wonderful wines. The release campaign will likely run through June, and we'll have a much better idea of what we'll be able to procure for the 2015 vintage in the coming weeks.

Appellations Tasted and Visited So Far:

  • Preview of All Appellations (Right & Left Bank) - Warehouse tasting
  • Saint-Estèphe 
  • Pauillac
  • Saint-Julien
  • Margaux

Bordeaux 2015: "Two Vintages In One"
This is what Etienne de Nantes from Cos d'Estournel said to me when I visited, as a preamble to our tasting. 2015 is shaping up to be very interesting, as it was not only hot and dry during the the growing season, it was very wet and rainy just when there were fears that the vines might suffer too much stress from the drought. This was a godsend, although the weather fluctuations affected the appellations and vineyards differently. And of course, each wine has been created in its own way that shapes the character of the final wine. This might explain some of the wines that were slightly on the unbalanced side - outsized, muscular behemoths with huge tannins and taut acidity, but strangely thin on the fruit. So far I've found this incongruence in only a few wines from Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien. But when growers and winemakers got it right, the results are spectacular.

Bordeaux 2015 => Ripe Cherries?
Thus far from my tastings, these 2015 Bordeaux wines are largely characterized by all kinds of cherries: Red to black, and very ripe - kirsch, in many cases. Plums, also. This is unusual for Left Bank Bordeaux given most are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant and the classic profile is dark fruits (blackberry, blackcurrant), with some vegetal (bell pepper, tomato leaf) and earthy elements (tobacco). That said, there was one surprise standout for The Classic Bordeaux Left Bank blend - Saint-Pierre from Saint-Julien - more on that below!

Best Appellation So Far: Margaux
So far, the most consistent appellation showing most beautifully is Margaux. There were no "stinkers" in any of the appellations I tasted the first day, but a few wines definitely lacked the fruit concentration to fill out the big, weighty bodies and enormous tannins (my teeth and lips were getting stuck together) to improve over the years.

The outstanding wines showed, already in their youth, a remarkable approachability and yet possessed the structure to improve and gain complexity in years to come. In other words, they are drinking beautifully in youth - expansive, generous, silky, perfumed - yet have the acidity, tannins, and alcohol in balance to allow the wine to last a long time and gain even more character.

Standout Wines: Here's what I'm really excited about! These are drinking beautifully and will last.

  • Cos d'Estournel (Saint-Estèphe): Lightly leathery but elegantly so. Very smooth, with white pepper on the mid-palate and staying on the finish with ripe red cherries. Fine-boned but assertive. 
  • Lascombes (Margaux): Bursting with ripe cherries, kirsch, vanilla with an astonishing depth. There is a freshness and silkiness that makes it attractive now, but it will gain even more poise and smoothness in the future as the massive fruit and body integrate.  
  • Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux): Very soft and fruit-driven on the palate, very expressive with finessed perfume tinged with vanilla. Ripe cherries and kirsch, boysenberry and a long, beautiful finish. Soft but structured, lifted and perfumed. 
  • Léoville Poyferré (Saint-Julien): Plush yet focused, cherries and kirsch with a frisson of something excitingly metallic. Big tannins are still young and grippy but integrate well; there is plenty of fruit to improve and to last. 
  • Saint-Pierre (Saint-Julien): Surprise! The only Cabernet I tasted with fragrant blackcurrants, coffee, and vanilla. Rich, juicy, dense, yet lifted with refreshing green vegetal aromas. White pepper on the finish. 
  • Pichon Lalande (Pauillac): Ripe bing cherries, kirsch, vanilla, nutmeg. Smooth and elegant; regal yet approachable. Silky and soft without being plush. 
  • Angludet (Margaux): Concentrated ripe cherries with vanilla with an undertone of savoriness. Ripe, plush but focused and structured. Very long and smooth finis with cherry and vanilla notes. 

There were many others that were wonderful, believe me. Here are wines that made it on my list for "Excellent":
  • Calon-Ségur
  • Giscours
  • Gruaud Larose
  • Lagrange
  • Léoville-Barton
  • Talbot
  • Grand-Puy Ducasse
  • Grand-Puy-Lacoste
  • Lynch-Bages
Up Next: Union des Grands Crus (UGC) Tastings for Graves & Pessac-Léognan, as well as more Left Bank châteaux. 

Thanks for joining me, and stay tuned for more about the wines of this fascinating vintage!