Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 5

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Thursday, April 16th 2015

Today is the last day of the trip and our morning is reserved for a comprehensive tasting at one of Bordeaux’s largest negociant firms. While we always try to make it to as many properties as we can, it’s just not possible to visit them all in person, so this sort of “cattle call” tasting is a necessity to get a full picture of the vintage. Prior to the tasting we’re able to request barrel samples from a list of hundreds of chateaux throughout the region. The day before our tasting the samples arrive fresh in 375ml half bottles, ready for our consideration. I usually try to schedule this at the end of the trip so we are able to form a general opinion of the vintage “on the ground” and then fill in the gaps, as it were.

Over the course of 2 ½ hours the parade of half bottles both confirms and fleshes out our early impressions of the vintage. Some of the top highlights include:

2014 Chateau Gazin
-Charming nose of earth and blueberries, firm and structured on the palate, medium bodied. A nicely balanced expression that should age well.

2014 Chateau Beychevelle
-51% Merlot this year, the nose is pure red fruit with hints of gravel and iron. Nice fruit on the attack, good ripeness and density. Long finish, this is an excellent Beychevelle, clearly their best since the 2010.

2014 Chateau Faugeres
-A very ripe, polished nose of chocolate covered cherries. Very modern on the palate with ripe dark fruit and espresso. Still there is a great sense of weight and density for the pricepoint. Once again this will be a very attractive QPR.

2014 Chateau Le Gay
-A pretty nose of cedar and perfumed berry fruit. Lithe and elegant on the palate. Medium bodied and very nicely balanced. A lighter expression of Le Gay but everything is in good proportion, the volume is just dialed back a bit. This will likely drink well relatively early.

2014 Chateau Larcis Ducasse
-As per usual, very flamboyant on the nose, kirsch, crème de cassis, strawberries. Sweet and ripe on the attack, medium bodied, doesn’t have the density of its big brothers but there’s no denying this is a hugely attractive wine and very well made. It will be interesting to see where the price lands, this could be one of the best QPRs of the vintage.

2014 Chateau Pavie Macquin
-Seductive nose of Mocha, earth and plums that is textbook Pavie Macq. Again ripe, round and sweet on the palate with excellent richness. A very good vintage for them if perhaps lacking the structure of the best vintages.

2014 Chateau Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse
-Somewhat similar nose to the Pavie Macquin, mocha, earth, but more toward the cassis end of the spectrum. More complex and exotic with spice elements. Big and powerful on the palate with mocha, blueberry and animale flavors. This is a top notch terroir that has been firing on all cylinders under the watch of Nicolas Thienpont. Still one of the best values in Bordeaux, this could hold its own blind with Pavie, Angelus, Troplong, etc… and can still be had for a fraction of the price.

2014 Chateau Haut Bailly
-Nice ripe red fruit nose with herbal and mineral notes. Taut on the entry with mineral laced cherry and tobacco flavors. This is medium bodied but well-structured with a nice sense of tension. A precise Haut Bailly that should unfurl nicely in 5-10 years.

2014 Chateau Les Carmes Haut Brion
-50% Cabernet Franc. Deep, spicy, herbal berries and dark chocolate. Hints of violets. Lush and silky on the palate, ends with a drying persistent finish. Not a huge vintage but very elegant. This is one of the most exciting new projects in Bordeaux. Rhone inspired winemaking, stem inclusion, high percentage of Cabernet Franc in Pessac Leognan. What a strange and wonderful wine.

2014 Chateau Doisy Daene
-Very floral with white flowers and stone fruits. Rich, seductive and powerful, a decadent Doisy Daene. This is such a great value every year.

2014 Chateau Doisy Vedrines
-Honey, ginger and apricot jam on the nose. This is rich and sweet but has a nice line of acid running through it. Great quality for the price.

2014 Chateau Coutet
-Complex on the nose, mandarin orange, pineapple, honeysuckle, gingerbread. Strikingly sweet and intense on the palate, this is a monster Barsac. While one might wish for a bit more tension and finesse, the level of concentration and power on display here is impressive and frankly this is better that Rieussec and Suduiraut in this vintage. What a showing from this perennial value!

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Leaving the negociant’s offices we hop in the car and head to Saint Emilion. First stop is the imposing new compound at the newly anointed “Premier Grand Cru Classe A” Chateau Pavie. Gerard Perse has shepherded this estate’s rise from relative obscurity to become one of the jewels of the appellation. As of 2012 it joins Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Angelus as the only “A” designated wines in Saint Emilion. There are two obvious standouts from their stable of wines:

2014 Chateau Monbousquet
-Funky nose with truffles, turned earth and coffee grounds. The palate turns more red fruit driven than usual here with a lovely underpinning of acidity running through. This is polished but well balanced. Shows the high level of winemaking of the Perse stable and should be a top value.

2014 Chateau Pavie
-A classic Pavie nose, ripe, plush and sexy but fresh. Nice balance on the velvety palate, powerful with no holes. Rock solid midpalate. The overall sense is still medium bodied, this is a dialed back Pavie that shows a bit more sinew and tension than usual. Quite good.

Leaving Pavie we head to Chateau Troplong Mondot where we will taste the first vintage since the passing of the incomparable Christine Valette. There is only one wine to taste:

2014 Chateau Troplong Mondot
-Rich, ripe, powerful nose full of espresso and macerated black cherry. Deep, rich, powerful, suave and round. 85% new oak this year. Very good volume, a beautiful Troplong.

In addition to being one of the great terroirs of Saint Emilion, Troplong Mondot is also home to a charming on-site boutique resort called Les Belles Perdrix which happens to have one of the best restaurants in the Right Bank. We settle in for a delicious 3 course prix-fixe lunch. The cooking is market driven, creative and at a very high level. If you find yourself in Saint Emilion make sure you make a reservation here, it is a must. Our lunch is paired with the excellent 2006 Chateau Troplong Mondot

Leaving lunch it’s a full afternoon of appointments in Pomerol and Saint Emilion. Highlights of the afternoon:

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2014 Chateau Ausone
-60% Cabernet Franc. Framboise, lovely red fruit, ripe tannins and very long. This feels so effortless on the palate but you really sense the power on the end. Sneaky good structure. Excellent acid balance, a very elegant Ausone.

2014 La Fleur de Bouard
-A ripe, deep jammy nose. This is big and round on the palate but fresh with a nice underpinning of acid and good volume. Well done.

2014 Chateau Angelus
-Plush, round floral infused dark chocolate on the nose. Very concentrated chocolate and berry compote on the palate. Excellent freshness and very tannic as this usually is at this stage.

2014 Chateau Cheval Blanc
-55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc. A markedly complex, deep, luxurious herbal nose with considerable fruit and charm. Lovely silky texture, medium bodied with zen-like balance. Elegant, long and aromatic, there’s something Burgundian about the sense of inner perfume here. A tour de force, this is likely one of the top wines of the vintage.

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2014 Chateau Figeac
-Dark chocolate, berry fruit, somewhat herbal. The Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe and lends nice muscle. Good freshness. A masculine, sinewy Figeac reminiscent of the 1995 or the 1988.

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2014 Chateau L’Eglise Clinet
-Dazzling, knockout aromas of boysenberry, kirsch, wild flowers and cherry heering. Just stunning. Rich, ripe, sexy berry fruit on the palate. All of this exoticism is buttressed by a huge structure with good volume and muscle. This is a fabulous, pure L’Eglise Clinet that will likely be rather affordable. Highly recommended.

Dinner tonight is at a local negociant’s home where we enjoy a laid back meal among friends. Our good friend Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer (who will be in LA for our Palmer Vertical Dinner this fall) has come to join us and we start off the evening with the 2011 Vin Blanc de Chateau Palmer, a rare bird indeed. Not commercially released and limited to just 100 cases per year, this is an odd blend of Muscadelle, Loset and Sauvignon Gris. Very fresh and full of white orchard fruit on the nose. The palate is rounded and airy with nice acidity. As dinner unfolds we open spectacular bottles of 2000 Chateau Cheval Blanc and 1998 L’Evangile. Wonderful conversation on Bordeaux, Hollywood and Jazz end the trip on a high note.

Now off to bed. And tomorrow on to Paris for a bit of fun before the flight home. Looking back on the trip this is a truly excellent vintage and given the outlook on prices and the currency exchange rate, this should be a very exciting campaign indeed.

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 4

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 2

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Monday, April 13th

8:15am…Christian and I head out from the center of Bordeaux up the D2 toward the storied chateaux of the Medoc.  This morning we are in Pauillac and Saint Estephe with appointments at some of the most famous estates in the world:  Grand Puy Lacoste, Lynch Bages, Pichon Lalande, Cos d’Estournel, Mouton Rothschild and Pontet Canet.  Highlights of the morning’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste

-A deep, classic Pauillac nose of gravel, fine leather and pure cassis fruit.  Sleek and balanced in the mouth, satin textured with excellent freshness.  Medium bodied.  Lovely.

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2014 Chateau Ormes de Pez

-A round, seductively spicy nose of earthy dark fruit.  Good volume on the palate, this is big with a lot of dry extract.  A great Saint Estephe.  This chateau gets better every year and is really delivering well above its asking price.

2014 Chateau Lynch Bages

-A classy, polished nose of ripe cassis.  Suave on the palate, huge tannic structure as usual.  This is generally one of the more backward wines to taste en Primeur, but it has really nice texture this year with unusually silky tannins.  A classic vintage of Lynch Bages.

2014 Chateau Pichon Lalande

-65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot.  Slightly reductive and muted on the nose.  With some coaxing, some soft plum and cassis fruit with floral notes in the background.  Silky and elegant in the mouth, medium bodied.  This wine was often made in too light a style in the mid to late ‘00s, but they have really come back strong under the direction of new director Nicolas Glumineau.  This has beautiful texture and excellent weight in the mid palate.  A complete and effortlessly beautiful expression of Pichon Lalande, clearly their best since 2010.

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2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild

-81% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is pure class with cassis, subtle spice and vanilla.  The palate is seamless and silky with nice texture and volume in the mouth.  There’s good weight here but still a sense of delicateness with excellent balance.  Claret styled.  Finishes long and complex with spice box notes.

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2014 Chateau Pontet Canet

-Gorgeous, striking, exuberant cassis, blackberry, Darjeeling tea and exotic spice leap from the glass.  Wow, what a knockout nose.  Dense on the palate with intense flavors.  Middleweight but very fruit forward and dynamic in the mouth.  Excellently judged acidity and good length.  As usual this is an exotic style but there is incredible raw material here.  Best since the 100-point 2010.

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It’s early, but we can start to get a sense of the vintage.  The spring of 2014 was extremely promising with warm, dry conditions leading to early flowering and the look of an early harvest.  But then July and August brought unusually cool, overcast, humid weather.  Around the end of August many exasperated vignerons thought this vintage could be even worse than 2013.  Given the coolness of the summer, there seemed very little chance that the grapes would ever achieve full ripeness.  But then, miraculously, the weather turned.  September and October were exceptionally warm and dry.  An “Indian Summer” that allowed the grapes to ripen late into the season and be harvested under absolutely ideal conditions.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the northern Medoc, Saint Estephe, Pauillac and Saint Julien. Cabernet Sauvignon was especially comfortable with the late ripening season and the vineyards on gravel relished in the late season warmth.

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Lunch today is at Chateau Pontet Canet with our good friend Alfred Tesseron who has managed the ascent of this incredible terroir since the 1994 vintage.  Alfred has pulled some amazing bottles from the cellar to share including 2010 Haut Brion Blanc (one hell of an aperitif, majestic and powerful but completely seamless, intensely packed with flavor but impeccably refined.  In a perfect place for youthful drinking, clearly a 100 point wine), 2005 Pontet Canet (muscular, brooding and already showing some secondary character) and 1958 Pontet Canet (a real treat, fully mature but still completely alive and not fading at all, lovely mature Pauillac).  It’s hard to pass up the offer of some Tesseron Cognac as a digestif, but we’ve got a whole afternoon of appointments lined up, so we unfortunately have to head out.

Bidding a fond farewell to Alfred we continue on to Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Las Cases, Branaire Ducru, Malescot St Exupery and Chateau Margaux.  Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

-A sweet, dark, dense nose leads into big, muscular, concentrated dark fruits that are tightly wound for the moment.  This has good grip.  Very well balanced, this benefits from the midweight character of the vintage.  In some bigger vintages you could argue that Ducru can be almost overwhelming with its bombastic style, but this 2014 seems just right, everything in proportion.  A platonic ideal of Ducru Beaucaillou?

2014 Chateau Leoville Las Cases

-The nose on this is full of pencil lead and very red fruit driven, different from LLC’s usual jet black fruit profile.  On the palate this is fairly soft, finessed, already approachable dare I say pleasurable.  The tannins are ripe giving this a lot of charm.  Beautiful midweight balance.  An atypical Las Cases but very well made and should be approachable relatively early.

2014 Chateau Branaire Ducru

-Earthy, spicy red fruit on the primary nose.  65% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sweet and silky on the attack.  Juicy, pretty, nice structure.  This is a very pure Branaire with nice density.  An excellent expression with almost zen-like balance.

2014 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux

-Very pretty white flowers on the nose, demure and understated.  Fresh and clean with lots of acid pumping through on the long finish.  Excellent.

2014 Chateau Margaux

-90% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Gorgeous, understated, elegant nose of mineral driven red fruit.  Pure, silky, complete and seamless on the palate.  Extraordinary balance.  An utterly beautiful, ethereal expression of Margaux.  Pure class, this has to be one of the wines of the vintage.

Dinner tonight is at local hotspot L’Univerre which boasts one of the best wine lists in the city with a focus on Burgundy.  A delicious country French menu is paired with Champagne Roses de Jeanne, 2002 Brenot Batard-Montrachet and 2001 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne Romanee Les Suchots .  A fantastic meal that’s a brief break from a week of Bordeaux.  Off to bed, tomorrow we hit the rest of the Medoc!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 1