The 1994 vintage of the Pichon Baron is a mature claret that remains in its drinking window at 26 years of age. The 1994s are considered a more modest vintage for left bank Bordeaux, but the better producers produce better wines, as usual. In my experience, drinking modest Bordeaux vintages from good producers (from long tasting, Pichon Baron is unquestionably in this group) at the right time can be as enjoyable as drinking wine from the great vintages.
The 1994 Baron has tertiary and fully developed aromas of old cedar, earth and soy. On the palate, the tannins are very fine, but still firm and build with time in the glass. The length on the finish is gentle, persistent and long, and the balance exquisite. This is a graceful and mature Baron that is ready to drink. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.5. Price: $100+. Website: https://www.pichonbaron.com/en/. Reviewed: June 2020.
This is a delightful Pauillac from Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande’s second label, the Réserve de la Comtesse. It has an aroma of blackcurrant and refined, unobtrusive cedar. The palate is medium bodied, with subtle length and a refined bearing. Ready to drink now or over the next decade. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.0. Price: $95. Website: http://www.pichon-comtesse.com/. Reviewed: May 2020.
Last weekend, the annual Institute of Masters of Wine Bordeaux tasting in bottle of the 2014 vintage took place in Sydney. I expected this to be a much more popular event than the previous year’s tasting of the 2013s (you can read my reviews of that tasting here) which was a poor vintage. But in fact, I would say there were substantially fewer people at the 2014 tasting. It is hard to imagine that an equivalent event, with say most of the leading estates assembled of Burgundy or Piemonte, would be so quiet.
The good news is that I tasted through nearly all of the wines, and was able to do so at some leisure. My short notes and observations follow. In short, I would describe the 2014s as a classic Bordeaux vintage, with many very good wines. I have put an asterisks next to the best wine of each appellation, on this tasting.
Château Bouscat. Merlot dominant (55%). Iron earth, capsicum aromas. Herbal, oak. Good
Château de Fieuzal. 48% cabernet sauvignon and 45% merlot. Aromas of tomato stalk, red fruits. Firm tannins and acidity on the palate. Good to Very Good
Château Malartic-Lagraviere. 52% cabernet sauvignon and 40% merlot. Deep colour, attractive pencil lead aroma. Saturated fruit, good intensity and structured palate. Very Good
*Château Smith Haut Lafitte. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 6% cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot. This was the highlight of the Pessac-Léognan group. Velvety, blackcurrant aroma, with pencil lead notes. Crisp acidity coupled with long length on the palate. Outstanding
Domaine de Chevalier. 65% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Somewhat muted aroma of pencil lead and blackcurrants. The palate has firm tannins, acid and structure. Good to Very Good
Château Belgrave. 66% cabernet sauvignon and 32% merlot. Aromas of capsicum and cardamum. The palate has very firm acidity and a greenness. Good
Château Cantemerle. 47% cabernet sauvignon and 38% merlot. Capsicum aromas. Palate has firm acidity and presents as very young. Good
*Château Boyd-Cantenac. 70% cabernet sauvignon and 21% merlot. Floral, blackcurrant, pencil lead and quite opulent aromas. Structured tannins and firm palate. Very Good to Outstanding
Château Brane-Cantenac. 77% cabernet sauvignon and 21% merlot. Floral, blackcurrant and brooding aroma. The palate has very high acid and somewhat angular tannins. Good to Very Good
Château d’Issan. 77% cabernet sauvignon and 23% merlot. Earthy, leathery aroma. Firm acidity and gentle balance on the palate. Good to Very Good
Château du Tertre. 58% cabernet sauvignon and 20% cabernet franc (possibly a typo). Pencil lead, refined blackcurrant aromas. High acidity on the palate, almost piquant. Good
Château Giscours. 70% cabernet sauvignon and 20% merlot. Herbal, capsicum aroma. Firm acidity, green palate. Good to Very Good
Château Kirwan. 58% cabernet sauvignon and 36% merlot. Pencil lead, chocolate aroma. The palate is firm, structured with some bitter tannins. Good to Very Good
Château Lascombes. 50% merlot and 45% cabernet sauvignon. Earthy, ripe fruit aromas. Ripe, structured fruit on the palate, with good length. Very Good
Château Pouget. 58% cabernet sauvignon and 31% merlot. Floral and quite aromatic. Firm acidity, good length. Good to Very Good
Château Rauzan-Gassies. 70% cabernet sauvignon and 26% merlot. Restrained, neutral aroma. Structured, classic palate with good length. Very Good
Château Rauzan-Ségla. 56% cabernet sauvignon and 42% merlot. Glossy, oak aroma. Intense palate. Very Good
**Château Angélus. 50% merlot and 50% cabernet franc. This was the wine of the tasting. A seamless expression of blackcurrant and cedar. On the palate, lovely balance and phenomenal length. Outstanding
*Château Cheval Blanc. 55% merlot and 45% cabernet franc. Another outstanding wine, not surprisingly. More tobacco and red fruited aroma. Lovely balance and long length. Outstanding
Château Balestard La Tonnelle. 70% merlot and 25% cabernet franc. Tomato, red fruit aromas. Pleasant red fruit on the palate. Good
Château Bellevue. 100% merlot. Plums and soy aroma. Medium-firm tannins and plummy palate. Good to Very Good
Château Cap de Mourlin. 65% merlot and 25% cabernet franc. Red fruit and cedar aroma. Very firm tannins and red fruits on the palate. Very Good
Château Corbin. 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Redcurrant, plum and spice aroma. Medium-firm tannins and red fruited palate. Good to Very Good
Château Grand Corbin. 70% merlot and 25% cabernet franc. Restrained aroma of earth and attractive red fruits. Firm acidity and good length on the palate. Very Good
Château La Tour Figeac. 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc. Earthy, blackcurrant generous aroma. Soy, red fruit, medium-long length and medium-firm tannins. Very Good
Château Laroze. 66% merlot and 29% cabernet franc. Pencil lead, red fruit aroma. Plush palate with great length. Very Good
*Château Troplong Mondot. 91% merlot and 7% cabernet sauvignon. Spiced blackberry aroma. The palate has saturated fruit, full flavour, great intensity and structure, cedar and long length. Outstanding
Château Trottevieille. 58% cabernet franc and 40% merlot. Aroma of smoke and leaf. Firm structure, leafy, good length. Good to Very Good
*Château Clinet. 90% merlot and 9% cabernet sauvignon. Aroma of soy, plum. Deep colour. Medium-firm tannins and structured palate. Very Good to Outstanding
*Château Gazin. 95% merlot and 5% cabernet franc. Velvety aroma, tomato and red fruits too. Firm tannins, structured and good length. Very Good to Outstanding
*Château Nenin. 68% merlot and 32% cabernet franc. Plums, restrained yet rich aroma. The palate has pencil lead characters and is both opulent and regal, with good length on the finish. Very Good to Outstanding
Château Petit-Village. 72% merlot and 16% cabernet franc. Blackberry and spice aroma. Capsicum, structure and good length on the palate. Good to Very Good
Château Calon Ségur. 66% cabernet sauvignon and 13% cabernet franc. Ripe, blackcurrant, restrained aroma. High acid, structured palate with medium length. Good to Very Good
*Château Cos d’Estournel. 65% cabernet sauvignon and 33% merlot. Ripe, delicious aroma of blackcurrants and blackberry. Full tannins. Outstanding
*Château Montrose. 61% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Ripe, cedar and blackcurrant aroma. Structured palate, full tannins and long length. Built to last. Outstanding
Château Beychevelle. 51% merlot and 39% cabernet sauvignon. Lovely aroma, pencil lead, blackcurrant, classic. Firm tannins, good balance and good length on the palate. Very Good to Outstanding
Château Lagrange. 76% cabernet sauvignon and 18% merlot. Capsicum and black fruit aroma. High acid, capsicum character but classic. Good
Château Langoa Barton. 54% cabernet sauvignon and 34% merlot. Muted aroma and palate. Seemed out of condition. Not rated
Château Leoville Barton. 83% cabernet sauvignon and 15% merlot. Pencil lead, gorgeous blackcurrant aroma. Firm tannins, good length. Very Good
*Château Léoville Marquis de Las Cases. 79% cabernet sauvignon and 11% cabernet franc. Blackcurrant, classic aroma. Palate has ripe, saturated fruit and great length and balance. Outstanding
Château Leoville Poyferre. 60% cabernet sauvignon and 35% merlot. Capsicum, blackcurrant, austere aroma. Palate with firm, structured tannins. Very Good
Château Talbot. 62% cabernet sauvignon and 32% merlot. Blackcurrant and gloss aroma. Firm tannins, somewhat acidic but classic. Good to Very Good
Château Batailley. 82% cabernet sauvignon and 15% merlot. Earthy aroma, brettanomyces? Capsicum, blackcurrant and acidity on the palate. Good for now
Château Croizet-Bages. 61% cabernet sauvignon and 37% merlot. Blackcurrant and capsicum aroma. Firm tannins and classic palate. Good to Very Good
Château Lynch Bages. 69% cabernet sauvignon and 26% merlot. Deep colour, blackcurrant aroma. Saturated fruit and great length on the palate. Very Good to Outstanding
Château Lynch-Moussas. 79% cabernet sauvignon and 21% merlot. Blackcurrant, earth and smoke aroma. Medium tannins and pleasant finish. Good
Château Pichon Baron. 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% merlot. Blackcurrant and refined fruit aroma. Great length, balance, plushness and firm tannins. A favourite, but slightly shaded by a couple of Pauillac wines this year. Very Good nonetheless
*Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. 65% cabernet sauvignon and 22% merlot. Blackcurrant, refined aroma, pencil lead aroma. Long length and lovely balance on the palate. Outstanding
*Château Pontet-Canet. 65% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Blackcurrant, refined earthy aroma. Great length, structure, blackcurrant and tannins on the palate. Outstanding
Château Doisy Daëne. 85% sémillon and 14.5% sauvignon blanc. Spice, marmalade aroma. Not particularly viscous. Fresh. Good to Very Good
Château Suduiraut. 95% sémillon and 5% sauvignon blanc. Vanilla, marmalade aroma. Long length, full body but grace and balance on the palate. Very Good
*Château d’Yquem. Last, but not least. 80% sémillon and 20% sauvignon blanc. Marmalade, spice, complex aroma. Viscous, full length, full body and ultra unctuous palate. Outstanding
Now returning to across the seas. I’ve always felt that the 2001 left bank Bordeaux vintage was underrated, and this wine from Réserve de la Comtesse (the second wine of Comtesse de Lalande) I am happy to lead as evidence in point. In its prime drinking window, it is a master class in outstanding Pauillac, with cigar box and an at times ethereal impression of blackcurrants. Stunning drinking. Rating: Outstanding. Abv: Not recorded. Price: $100+.
Held in Sydney by the Institute of Masters of Wine on the weekend, this was a first close local look at the 2013 vintage of Bordeaux. The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was, of course, rather dire. It saw a dismal spring, an early summer and catastrophic flowering. The vintage culminated with tropical weather at the end of September, with heavy rain and high day and night time temperatures combining to produce an outbreak of rot. Phrases along the lines of “the worst vintage in recent memory” abound in the media.
In short, then, expectations were low. I can’t recall an Australian en primeur campaign at all. It did not surprise then to see lower numbers at this tasting. However, it did provide an opportunity to look quite carefully and methodically at what is a very large bracket of wines. And my takeaways were rather surprising. There are a number of good wines made in this vintage, the best being medium bodied with resolute tannins and quite long length. Perhaps a few may even be affordable on these shores. Some felt that the Saint-Juliens showed best. My view was a little different. I felt that in fact the better producers produced the better wines in most cases. Short notes follow.
Pessac-Léognan Château de Fieuzal. 13% abv. 65% CS, 30% M, 5% CF. Not a really deep colour. Cassis and leaf aromas. Firm, dusty tannins, fresh acidity and medium-full bodied. G-VG Château Smith Haut Lafitte. 13.5% abv. 55% CS, 35% M, 10% CF. Always a favourite. 2013 has tomato bush and stemmy/leafy, herbal character. High tannins and medium-full body on the palate with good length and some cassis. VG Haut-Médoc Château Belgrave. 12.5% abv. 70% CS, 30% M. Earth, ferric aroma, cassis. A bit Coonawarra like. Palate with medium bodied, cassis, slightly hollowed out and mid range tannins. G Margaux Château Boyd-Cantenac. 13% abv. 66% CS, 29% M, 2% CF, 3% PV. Medium intensity of colour. Lots of chunky oak on the nose, fruit hidden. Medium-full body, medium-firm tannin and mid range length. Palate much better. VG Château Brane-Cantenac. 13.5% abv. 84% CS, 14% M, 2% CF. Medium intensity of colour. Stemmy, oak and blackcurrant nose. High acid and firm dusty tannins. Ferric and earthy. G-VG Château Cantenac-Brown. Not shown. Apparently pre-assessed as cork tainted, bretty or both so didn’t taste. NR Château d’Issan. 13% abv. 60% CS, 40% M. Lovely oak, lovely ripe blackcurrant fruit and plenty of wood smoke. Dry medium-full tannins, medium-long length and medium body. G-VG Château Lascombes. 12.5% abv. 55% CS, 40% M, 5% PV. Lots of refined Frenck oak. Mid range tannins that are quite grippy and dusty. Great length. VG
Château Rauzan-Ségla. 13.5% abv. 58% CS, 39% M, 2% PV, 1% CF. Medium colour. Refined blackcurrant. Fine oak. High acid, dusty tannins, really good length. G-VG First Growths Château Angélus. 13.5% abv. 62% M, 38% CF. Is there much point rating this bracket? All are outstanding. Richer than the Cheval Blanc, the Angélus has aromas of red fruits and lightly smokey oak. Full body, firm but not dusty tannins, long length, terrific balance. O
Château Cheval Blanc. 13% abv. 49% M, 3% CS, 48% CF. Refined integrated red fruit nose. High tannins, long length, amazing balance. O
Château d’Yquem. 13.5% abv. 30% SB, 70% S. Botrytis marmalade aromas. The palate is full bodied with glorious refreshing acidity, long length and a viscous body. Outstanding wine. O Saint-Émilion Château Dassault. 13% abv. 75% M, 20% CF, 5% CS. Sweet fruit, lovely French oak, medium intensity colour. Fuller body with medium tannins, medium-full length and medium-high acid. Subtle. VG
Château La Fleur. 13% abv. 92% M, 8% CF. Sweet red fruit, medium intensity of colour, restrained savoury oak. Medium-full body, medium-high tannins and a balanced mid range length and savoury fruit profile. G-VG
Château Pavie-Macquin. 13.5% abv. 85% M, 13% CF, 2% CS. Evident tears, mid range depth of colour. Restrained cedar oak aroma, spice, graphite, smokey oak. Palate is fuller bodied, more viscous, medium tannins, red fruit and long length. VG Château Trotte Vieille. 13% abv. 54% M, 2% CS, 44% CF. I almost never “get” this wine. Wood, stemmy aroma. Medium-full body, medium-high tannin, really a lot of tannins actually, quite good length. G-VG
Château Valandraud. 14% abv. 65% M, 25% CF, 5% CS, 4% M, 1% C. Rich, baked fruit, with cedar/pencil oak and lots of new French oak. Full body, medium-high tannins, medium acidity, long length, wood character evident. VG Pomerol Château La Conseillante. 13% abv. 80% M, 20% CF. Herbal, leaf, clove, tomato bush aroma. Medium-full body, medium tannin and length. Very balanced. VG
Château Petit Village. 13.5% abv. 70% M, 20% CF, 10% CS. Cedar, spicy and red fruits. Palate has medium-high tannin, medium-full body and more structure and long length. VG Saint-Estèphe Château Calon-Ségur. 13% abv. 85% CS, 7% CF, 6% M, 2% PV. Mid range colour. Blackcurrant, high tannins, medium body and good length. VG
Château Cos d’Estournel. 13% abv. 78% CS, 20% M, 2% CF. Cassis, earth, ferric character. Drying high tannins, but great length. VG-O
Château Montrose. 13% abv. 68% CS, 29% M, 3% PV. Cassis, blackcurrant and fruity aroma. Medium/medium-full body, dry high tannins and good length. VG-O Saint-Julien Château Langoa Barton. 13% abv. 65% CS, 30% M, 5% CF. Mid range intensity of colour. Tomato bush aroma. Palate of medium-high tannins, high acid, but balanced. G-VG
Château Leoville Barton. 13% abv. 85% CS, 15% M. Mid range colour. High acid, dusty tannins. Iron filings and leaf. VG
Château Leoville-Las-Cases. 13% abv. 74% CS, 12% M, 14% CF. A wow aroma. Refined oak, blackcurrant. So evocative. Balanced palate, long length, refined, high tannin but fine indeed. VG-O Pauillac Château Batailley. 13% abv. 4% M, 94% CS, 2% PV. Meaty, farm and earth aroma. Medium tannins and length. G
Château Lynch-Bages. 13% abv. 72% CS, 20% M, 6% CF, 2% PV. Tomato bush, steam, leaf and cassis. Medium-full body, high dusty tannins and blackcurrants. VG Château Pichon Baron. 13% abv. 82% CS, 18% M. Iron earth, cassis, blackcurrant, earthy aroma. High dusty tannins, long length. VG-O
Château Pontet-Canet. 13% abv. 30% M, 65% CS, 4% CF and 1% PV. Earth, blackcurrant, really vivid fruit. Fullish bodied, high tannins, tea leaf and red fruit edge gives unusualness. Good length. G-VG Sauternes Château Suduiraut. 13.5% abv. 93% S, 7% SB. Caramel, brown sugar aroma. Full bodied, viscous, medium-long length, fresh acidity. VG
Clos Haut Peyraguey. 13.5% abv. 95% S, 5% SB. Lemon, spice, and seemingly not that much botrytis. Medium-full bodied and mid range length. G
The 2011 vintage in Bordeaux is considerably more modest than its predecessors in 2009 and 2010. This does mean however that it is (moderately) affordable as a consequence. Initially one dimensional, this Batailley benefited quite substantially from aeration. With time in the glass, it provides sound drinking with typical left bank Bordeaux impressions of blackcurrant and cedar. There are some earth and savoury overtones, but more generally, a lack of intensity and energy in its bearing. Rating: Good. Abv: 13%. Price: $80.
2003 is a somewhat maligned Bordeaux vintage in the English wine press for its hot drought conditions and its purported impact on wine style and longevity. However, there are in my own experience still some very good Bordeaux wines to be found in this vintage, often at very fair prices. This is an example. Despite being an auction purchase, this proved to be an exceptionally well stored bottle of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste of Pauillac. The cork, which I unfortunately neglected to photograph, was a picture of youth and health. In the glass, there are delicious and still youthful impressions of blackcurrant. A sturdy backbone and long length on the palate completes the picture, with no hints of dead or cooked fruit. Not as “outstanding” as the Vasse Felix wine just reviewed, but outstanding nonetheless. (Alc: 13.5%, Region: Pauillac, Bordeaux, France, Rating: Outstanding, Drink: now to 2027, Price: $80+, Tasted: October, 2017)
Each of these cabernets are in a style that I enjoy drinking and it was a joy to taste them together. Wantirna Estate’s “Amelia” cabernet sauvignon merlot is a very good release from this tiny but highly regarded estate in the Yarra Valley. The 2012 is classic in expression, with medium bodied notes of blackcurrants and cedar. It will benefit from a few years in bottle, but is quite approachable now. Left bank Bordeaux like, this is a reminder of what Yarra Valley cabernet can be. (Alc: 12.5%, Region: Yarra Valley, Rating: Very Good, Drink: now to 2027, Tasted: Feb, 2017)
Lake’s Folly is a wine, a cabernet from the Hunter Valley, that shouldn’t really even work. Yet it is utterly delicious and Bordeaux like. The 2014 vintage is a blend of 61% cabernet sauvignon, 18% shiraz, 11% merlot and 10% petit verdot. It has more game and leather characters than the Wantirna Estate wine, as well as a little more structure through the palate. But it retains a medium body and cabernet expression that defies climatic generalisations; both wines weigh in at a modest 12.5% and both could be quite honourably mistaken for Bordeaux. Delicious drinking. (Alc: 12.5%, Region: Hunter Valley, Rating: Very Good, Drink: now to 2032, Tasted: Feb, 2017)
The final wine was a look in on the 1996 vintage of Les Tourelles de Longueville. Last tasted in 2013, my notes from then largely still stand (see the link below). An earlier bottle was horribly corked, but this wine continues to present enjoyment as a fully mature left bank wine. (Alc: 13%, Region: Pauillac, Bordeaux, Rating: Good to Very Good, Drink: now, Tasted: Feb, 2017)
I think of Château Haut-Bages Libéral as an affordable and reliable entry level grand cru classé from Pauillac that is a good buy in the strong Bordeaux vintages, and worth a shot in the weaker ones. 2005 is of course an outstanding Bordeaux vintage, but sometimes you just want to open something interesting, even at risk of it being too soon or even a little extravagant because, well, life is too short.
The wine showed particularly well. But it is still a baby. Château Haut-Bages Liberal’s website (link below) is actually pretty good on facts, revealing this to be a blend of 71% cabernet sauvignon and 29% merlot from vines with an average age of 35 years and that saw 16 months in 40% new oak. On this tasting, I would suggest it would benefit from cellaring for a further decade. My tasting note is classic Pauillac. Blackcurrant and cedar aromatics, with a structured palate covering similar ground and towards long length. This is easy to recommend.
A first encounter with Chateau Pontet-Canet proved deliciously exceptional. Blackcurrants, cigar box, very long length and depth, this outstanding ’97 most assuredly cries “Pauillac” and is in its drinking prime. Outstanding