Dispatches from Bordeaux – Vintage 2015: Part II

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It’s Tuesday morning and today we are heading to the right bank for a tasting at the offices of JP Moueix in Libourne.  This is always a thrilling tasting with all of the iconic properties in the Moueix family stable.

Highlights of the morning’s tasting:

2015 Clos St Martin
This has a very exotic, flamboyant nose of kirsch, ripe and candied.  Despite the ripeness of the nose, the palate is all business, nicely firm and well-structured, nicely polished.  The quality of this microscopic terroir really shines in the top vintages and this is one of those years.  Less than 500 cases produced, a great buy if you can find it.

2015 Chateau Plince
A nice blend of red fruit and earthy, mocha notes on the streamlined nose.  This has more depth and density than usual, lots of dark fruit tones and a hint of walnut on the palate.  An excellent vintage for Plince.

2015 Chateau Hosanna
The nose is a bit shy at first but with a little time in the glass there’s some beautiful complexity here, a mélange of dark fruits mixed with a spicy, savory olive note.  Nice weight with a rock solid midpalate and lots of substance.  Sexy and polished with a big round core of fruit.  This is going to be a benchmark vintage for Hosanna, reminiscent of the 2005, but I think this may be even better, this property is really hitting its stride.

2015 Chateau La Fleur Petrus
Luxurious and nicely complex with a very pretty Merlot driven nose, plums, spice and perfume.  Elegant and medium bodied on the palate with a nice long finish.  This is clearly highly pedigreed, understated with lots in reserve.  An exemplary top-flight Pomerol.

2015 Chateau Trotanoy
Gorgeous nose.  Masculine and very complex with sandalwood, turned earth, plum compote and dried herbs.  I usually say perfume to describe a complex feminine/floral character, but this is decidedly masculine, cologne?  Dense, rich and powerful on the palate, this is an absolute knockout, one of the top wines of the vintage and one of the best ever from here.

2015 Chateau Belair-Monange
A rich, ripe and dense nose of coffee, earth, plums and cigarbox.  This is a muscular Saint Emilion, showing the heat and concentration of the vintage but there’s a towering structure supporting it all.  The finish goes on and on.  It’s very impressive what they’ve been able to accomplish here over the last five years and this is clearly the greatest Belair-Monange to date.  Powerful and assertive.

Christian Moueix joins us after the tasting to offer some insight into the vintage.  Surprisingly he tells us that looking at the lab numbers the 2015s have one of the highest tannin levels in history, higher than 2005 and 2010 in many cases.  You’d never guess that from tasting the wines which have been very plush, ripe and effortless.  These barrel samples remind me more of a riper vintage like 2009, where you almost feel like you can drink them already.  I’ll have to track down the secret to this paradox.

Leaving JP Moueix, we head to the inimitable Chateau Cheval Blanc for a tasting and lunch.  Situated on the border between Saint Emilion and Pomerol, this historic property is actually closer to the plateau of Pomerol than the town of Saint Emilion.  Standing on the roof garden of Cheval Blanc’s new chai, you get a beautiful panoramic view of their illustrious neighbors: Petrus, Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, L’Evangile and La Conseillante.

Shockingly, there is only one wine to taste in 2015.  The quality of the fruit in this vintage was of such excellent uniform quality that the chateau made the decision to produce no second wine.

2015 Chateau Cheval Blanc
A powerful, deeply pitched, polished nose.  Fresh coffee, dark chocolate, ripe blueberries.  The essence of perfectly ripe Cabernet Franc is really on display here.  Velvet textured, medium plus volume, supple with good concentration and intense flavors.  Lots of tannin on the end, this will age very well.  This has more stuffing than the excellent 2014, riper and denser.  Substantial but understated.  Muscular and intellectual.  A brilliant Cheval, this will be stunning after it fills out during elevage and will rank alongside ’05, ’09 and ’10 as a modern classic for this estate.

Over lunch we have the pleasure of sampling some back vintages:

2006 Chateau Cheval Blanc
Coffee, olives and licorice on the nose.  Savory, pure, harmonious, toasty flavors of dark fruit and café crème.  Nice medium plus volume and seamless texture.  This is drinking beautifully right now.

2000 Chateau Cheval Blanc
Deep and dark with notes of olives and licorice.  This is still youthful but beginning to drink quite well.  Rich, polished and opulent.  Perfectly judged acidity that keeps this fresh amidst all the density.  Amazing and will only get better over the next several decades.

After lunch we head the short distance over to Pomerol for a tasting at one of my favorite properties in all of Bordeaux: Vieux Chateau Certan.  Our old friend Alexandre Thienpont is waiting for us to sample the 2015.

2015 Vieux Chateau Certan
A ripe, deep, dark fruit nose.  Blackcurrant pastille.  Polished with hints of mint.  Dense and well defined on the supple palate.  Very serious and deep.  Wow, this is beautifully ripe and full of stuffing but without any sense of heaviness.  Lots of tannins, but they’re of the ripe and silky variety.  Very long on the finish.  An extraordinary, benchmark VCC that is a hypothetical mix of the 2009 and 2010.  This will once again be one of the top 5 wines of the vintage and, while not inexpensive, it remains a great value given the top-tier quality.

Alexandre says that this vintage reminded him of vintages like 1983, 1988 and 1996 where old vines were the star of the vintage.  According to him, 2015 had the rare quality of having both the Merlot and Cabernet Franc exhibit top quality, not favoring one or the other.  July was too hot, but this was mitigated by the August storms which revived the vines.  The autumn’s “Indian summer” allowed a long, relaxed harvest with optimal ripeness.  The 2015 has the highest alcohol percentage ever at VCC and very high tannin.  But both of those elements are deceptively hidden by the ripeness of the fruit.

Alexandre is a bit of a historian, with a great memory of old vintages, so it was interesting to hear him struggle to find a good comparison for the vintage.  “2009 was like 1945, ’10 was like 1950…but 2015 is unique” he says.

Heading back across the Gironde, we finish the day with an appointment at Chateau Haut Brion which early reports suggest is excellent this year.  Heading into their third story tasting room, I prepare for what are always some of the finest reds (and whites) of the trip.  Highlights of the tasting:

2015 Le Dragon de Quintus
A ripe, attractive nose leads into very pretty berry fruit flavors that display nice ripeness without great weight.  A very well made second wine in a great vintage.

2015 Chateau Quintus
Pretty, sweet red fruit and mocha on the nose with good precision.  Elegant with satin texture, nice ripeness and formidable structure.  This is the first great vintage since Haut Brion took over this property and we are really starting to see what this property is be capable of.  A strong showing for Quintus.

2015 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
Deeply pitched, black fruits, slightly closed today but with some time in the glass you get hints of soft vanilla and tobacco.  Lovely texture with cashmere tannins.  Supple and polished with big (but ripe) tannins.  A very impressive La Mission, reminiscent of the 2005.

2015 Chateau Haut Brion
Ripe blackcurrant pastille, smoky earth, mocha, and cigarbox.  This is a big, forward Haut Brion.  Grand scaled, supple and velvety on the palate.  The frame is massive but everything is in perfect proportion.  Near perfect, this is similar to the 2005 but with softer, riper tannins.  Incredible.

2015 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion Blanc
Coconut, lime, white flowers, white mineral, gravel and smoke on the highly complex nose.  This has great energy on the mineral driven and leaves your palate very fresh.  Excellent.

2015 Chateau Haut Brion
An understated nose with vanilla, coconut and kiwi.  Big and sweet on the palate which builds and builds to a massive intense searing finish that fills your mouth and stays on the palate for over a minute.  A great vintage for one of the world’s greatest white wines.  Stunning.

Dispatches from Bordeaux: 2015 Vintage – Part I

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by Geoff Pattison, Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer

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There’s something distinctly different about the feeling in Bordeaux during the good vintages.  There’s a sense of anticipation as you step off the plane.  Coming into the city everything feels a bit more vibrant. There’s a spring in the step of the people you meet.  Even when it rains, people are smiling.  Having read the early weather reports I already had a sense that the wines would be special.  There were whispers from negociants and vignerons in the months after harvest.  These insiders are usually in the business of having to “sell” a vintage so when they stop spouting superlatives and say “just wait til you taste the wines,” you know they’ve got the goods.

It’s Monday morning and once again Wally’s President Christian Navarro and I are here to taste another new vintage.  It’s a special year for both of us as this is my tenth year tasting en primeur and for Christian his 25th.  And what a year it looks to be.  The early reports have been extremely promising.  Beginning in April, a warm, even spring allowed perfect flowering across the region.  As the summer arrived, June and July were extremely hot and dry which accelerated ripening and stressed the vines.  By August, many vignerons were starting to worry that they would face drought conditions, but then, at just the right time, the rain came and provided just what the vines needed to be refreshed.  At this point things were looking very good and all that was needed was a dry harvest to make the vintage.  In Margaux, Pessac-Leognan and the right bank appellations of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, they got exactly that.  A long, even September and October that allowed a relaxed harvest under ideal conditions.  In the Northern Medoc, the rain came at just the wrong time, mid to late September.  Pauillac and Saint Julien were hit with it in spots and the well drained terroirs fared much better than others.  Saint Estephe got the worst of it, double the rainfall of Pauillac, leading to inevitable dilution at harvest and making it the lone rough spot in this otherwise excellent vintage.

Our schedule this year begins in Margaux which from the early reports appears to be one of the most gifted appellations in 2015.  In a twist of fate, the September rains which ensnared the northern Medoc completely missed the southern appellations.  It seems this year has the makings of a modern day 1983, where similar weather patterns produced benchmark Margauxs that in most instances outpace the vaunted 1982s.

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We begin the morning at Chateau Rauzan Segla, which has to be one of the most beautiful properties in all of Bordeaux.  This year marks the first vintage under Rauzan’s new technical director Nicolas Audebert, who was formerly the winemaker at Cheval des Andes.  As we arrive we’re welcomed into the barrel room to taste several components directly from barrel.  While I’ve done this in many other regions around the world, it’s somewhat unorthodox in Bordeaux where we’re usually presented with a pre-drawn assemblage in a lab or tasting room.  It’s a small tell as to the new direction of the new regime here which is looking to shake things up a bit.

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Barrel tasting notes from Rauzan Segla:

New Oak Barrel #1 – Cooper: Demptos
-A pretty nose with fresh violets, primary red fruit and a good dose of polished vanillary oak.  There’s good concentrated fruit here with power.  Linear and focused.

New Oak Barrel #2 – Cooper: Sylvain
-This barrel is deeper and richer on the nose, bursting with blackcurrants.  There’s more freshness compared to the Demptos barrel and more structure too.  Excellent balance.

New Oak Barrel #3 – Cooper: San Martin
-Toasty, earthy aromas dominate the nose here.  This one is the most touched by oak, but again the balance is beautiful and there’s a great deal of power.

Neutral Barrel #1
-This is the most expressive barrel of the four.  Explosive red and dark berry fruit mixed with a kaleidoscopic array of spices.  Let’s call it spice rack.  Silky with really nice persistence on the finish, freshness melded with power.

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And now on to the full assemblage sample:

2015 Chateau Rauzan Segla
-The nose is tight and focused with blue/purple fruit (blueberries and blackcurrants).  Powerful and structured on the palate.  Linear and medium to full bodied.  Great freshness on the end.  This is a firm and serious Rauzan Segla that is more masculine than usual.  Very reminiscent of the excellent 2005.

Leaving Rauzan Segla we head to Chateau Margaux, the legendary First Growth.  This is a bittersweet vintage at the property as longtime Director Paul Pontallier just recently passed away in March at the age of 59 after a battle with cancer.  Before he passed, Paul was able to see the birth of the 2015 which looks to be very special indeed.

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2015 Chateau Margaux
-A gorgeous perfume of red fruit and milk chocolate, fine polished leather and blackberry leaf.  The texture is pure cashmere on the effortless entry.  This is absolutely seamless with beautiful, generous volume and expert balance.  Ripe and soft with very fine tannins.  Deep flavors, the spicy Cabernet character comes through more on the palate.  This is so integrated that you want to drink it already.  Extraordinarily elegant, an understated freshness carries through on the long finish.  Beautiful and pure.

I’ve been lucky enough to have tried all of the greatest modern vintages of Margaux and I think this may just be their best ever.  Talk about starting the trip off with a bang.  This is going to be very hard to beat, we’re only on our second stop and this is clearly a top candidate for wine of the vintage.

Presenting the wine is Paul’s son Thibault Pontallier.  Thibault remarks that his father described the infant 2015 as a mix of the ripeness of 2009 and the power of 2010 with the elegance of 2005.  In this vintage it seems you really can have it all.

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After leaving Margaux we head to some other top properties in Margaux and Pessac-Leognan.  Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

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2015 Chateau Palmer
-Lots of blackberry leaf and white mineral, this is somewhat closed on the nose today.  But the palate displays a towering frame.  This is extremely muscular and will be long lived.  There’s a strong vein of minerality underpinning the fruit here.  An intellectual Palmer that really shows more Cabernet character than usual.  I’d imagine that this will be compared to the 2010 for years as they’re rather similar in character, a true vin de garde with a 40-50 year lifespan easily.

2015 Chateau Giscours
-70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.  Deep, dark blackcurrant fruit on the nose, almost crème de cassis.  Beautifully ripe and very pure with excellent volume.  All of this gorgeous fruit is wrapped up in a perfectly proportioned frame with soft gossamer tannins…very precise, like a tailored suit.  Wow.  What a stunning Giscours.  This is without a doubt the finest wine I’ve ever tasted from this property.  This should be one of the top values of the vintage.

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2015 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
-Massive but with good precision, this shows notes of lemon, coconut and white mineral.  Fairly exotic without going in too tropical a direction.  There’s a lot of fruit on the palate but it’s nicely balanced.  This is soft, ripe and agreeable, and while it lacks the power of a great vintage, this is very well made and should drink deliciously on release.

2015 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge
-This has a big, broad, polished dark fruit nose that’s just ravishing.  Extremely ripe on the attack, but it’s packed with tannin and acid too.  A very forward, modern style this year but the quality of the terroir comes through clearly.  Somewhat atypical for the vintage, this is almost as big and fruit forward as their 100 point 2009.  To quote Spinal Tap, “this one goes to eleven.”