Bordeaux – Good, Better, Best
Surveying multiple levels of Bordeaux wine in a single sitting really helps to bring some context to what’s out there in the market in Australia, in terms of Bordeaux wines. Almost anyone vaguely familiar with wines will be able to say something about expensive fine wines, about ageing them, or about the ‘crazy-priced’ Bordeaux wines. Not all Bordeaux wines are insanely priced (though many are out of the range, or interest, of the standard Australian wine buyer), and not all are worth ageing for very long at all. Increasingly, we’re also seeing benchmark tastings in Australia, particularly with Cabernet from Margaret River against Cabernet from Bordeaux and Napa Valley. What I found in my Bordeaux tasting is that vintage has quite a big impact on Bordeaux wines. Sure, there’s a lot of media coverage on Bordeaux, and they make it very clear when there’s a stellar vintage or an awful vintage. It’s always best to taste for yourself. The fuller bodied wines of Bordeaux can also be quite different in cooler or slightly wetter years, which may also appeal to lovers of more medium-bodied reds.
The brackets were broken into a bargain bracket of three wines, a blind bracket of three wines, and a classified growth bracket of four wines. To finish, were treated to two Sauternes wines. My thanks to Cool Wine in Hobart for putting on this magnificent tasting event, and here's to more in the future. There's a map here so you can track the appellations talked about below.
Map of Bordeaux appellations - thanks to Winefolly for making this great map
#1 – Bargain Bordeaux Bracket
Chapoutier ‘Mathilde’ 2014, RRP around $28
Large amount of Merlot in this. Open nose of raspberry, strawberry, some blackberry. Red flowers, and some slight chocolate milk notes. Medium-bodied with also a medium acid profile – not too slick but not too blunt on the edges. Fruit-wise, there’s a good mix of red and black fruit, with a smidgeon of grainy tannin. A broad representation of Bordeaux as a region, but not really typical in any way.
Chateau Mazeris 2012, RRP about $32
Hails from Canon Fronsac – many centuries ago considered one of the premier regions of Bordeaux before tastes changed and the 1855 Classification came along. A very purple colour in the glass. Has the most overt nose of the bracket, smells of oak, cherry, milk chocolate, earthy-stemmy notes. A clear ping of Snickers bar. Medium to full body on this wine, plush with mouthfilling texture. A smooth richness to this wine. It settles well on the back palate with a lingering note of round tannin. After being in the glass for some time, the initial complexity toned down. The years 2011-2014 difficult in Bordeaux, but this one is a bargain if you’re after a Bordeaux profile from a good producer.
Chateau Cissac 2011, RRP around $55
Medoc Cru Bourgeois, goes back to 1769. Located at the very top of the Haut-Medoc appellation, the proximity to the water acts as a settling microclimate, bringing consistency to temperature swings. Majority Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder Merlot and Petit Verdot. 2011 a difficult, wet year in Bordeaux. This is the most rustic wine of the bracket, less complexity than the Mazeris but with more appellation character. Reddish, washed colour in the glass, has had its intensity whacked by the vintage. Aromas of black fruits, briar, with a low oak influence (it seems integrated now). In the mouth, it has a smooth tang. There’s no heat or enrichment on the finish, and is ready to be consumed now. There’s a good acid presence and the wine is medium-bodied. This is more typical Medoc but has suffered from the vintage. I like its unabashed attitude – it is what it is.
Chateau Loudenne, Canon Fronsac, Bordeaux
#2 – Blind Bordeaux Bracket
This bracket was tasted simultaneously, without knowing what they were. We were told they were same or similar vintages, but that was it. There’s always a potential for a red herring in these things. I took complete notes on the wines, and attempted a guess on the regions prior to their unveiling (so all notes were taken blind).
Blind wine #1
Fiery red rim with a purply-black core. A nose of mushrooms, undergrowth, earth, funk. It smelly wooly, slick, and a little bit like lanolin. There’s a minty note in the back there somewhere. Drinking it, it’s fantastic. Sensational complexity, a small bit of warmth but nothing to be worried about. Plush tannin, and a long and lasting finish. My guess: 2005 vintage, Cabernet dominant, from St Estephe.
Afternote: Chateau Loudenne 2010, RRP around $50 (Medoc Cru Bourgeois). This wine is an equal mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It hails from Medoc, so my guess of St Estephe was geographically not far off, but the wines have a point of difference. A great effort for a cru bourgeois from a top vintage, and although I thought it was five years older, I think this demonstrates the quality of the wine given the high quality of the 2005 vintage.
Blind wine #2
Solid purple colour, with a purple rim. Crystal clear black fruits, granite, graphite on the nose. Cut stone (that powdery rock smell), and some definite pencil shavings. Smells very new world. Could this be a red herring? In the mouth, there’s a brief bit of chocolate milk flavour, but it’s swamped by black and red fruits, marble, cut rock, rock dust. As you’d expect from all the mentions of dust, it has cool, dusty tannins. My guess: 2009 or 2010 vintage – super, super high quality. Margaux, Cabernet dominant with some Merlot.
Afternote: Chateau Cantenac-Brown, 3rd growth, Margaux, RRP around $140. The wine is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot with 5% Cabernet Franc. Has come along in recent decades after years of neglect. Owned by AXA millésimes. A big, powerful wine without missing the nuance of Margaux.
Chateau Cantenac-Brown, Margaux appellation, Bordeaux
Blind wine #3
Reddish-purple centre with a red rim. There’s some age here, maybe not 2010 vintage. My guess, 2009 or earlier. A potent nose showing resin, papier machete, most developed of the blind tasting wines. There is a classy, developed fruit presence. Oddly, a minor note of glue (probably echoing the papier machet smell), and some eucalypt. Drinking the wine, there’s fantastic oak spice. It’s an expansive wine. A little heat on the back palate, but it’s fragrant in the mouth with a long finish. Some astringency and lingering tannin makes the wine enticing to hold for the future, perhaps. Different to wine three but equal in quality. My guess: Cabernet dominant from Pauillac, perhaps 2009 vintage or earlier.
Afternote: How wrong I was! 2008 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon, from Campania, Tasmania, RRP around $110. The Domaine A Cabernets are bottle-aged before release to ensure they’re showing their best upon release, something that many could not afford to do, or simply don’t have the margin to do. Peter Althaus is a Cabernet pioneer of Southern Tasmania, and this was a stellar showing. Wow, what a surprise. I’ve also reviewed the 2006 on the site previously.
Domaine A Vineyard, Campania, Southern Tasmania
#3 – Bordeaux classified growth bracket – the big(ger) guns
Chateau Cantemerle 2011, RRP around $80 – 5th growth from Haut Medoc
Still a little closed, but could just be muted from the tough vintage. A nose containing chocolate, fresh lawn dirt, smooth oak, subtle black and red fruits, and some lead pencil. Drinking it, there’s some graininess on the attack. A really lush palate, zingy acids with low tannin. A short but rather pleasing finish here. Altogether a good effort, though someone in the room thought it ‘cuddly’.
Chateau d'Issan, Margaux appellation, Bordeaux
Chateau d’Issan 2010, RRP around $160 – 3rd growth from Margaux
Owned by the same family since 1945, made up of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. An attractive solid purple colour, characteristic of the vintage and tying in with the Cantenac-Brown from the blind tasting. Lifted flowers on the nose, characterful Margaux. Rich dense earth also greets the nose. The wine is sumptuous to drink, with sublime fruit and flavour complexity. Suppleness combined with smooth marble and rich rock in the mid palate and finish. Not heavy in any way. Impossibly good, and I could really go more of these unforgettable 2010s.
95+ points (this will improve)
Bottles of Chateau d'Issan
Chateau Lascombes 2009, RRP around $245 – 2nd growth from Margaux
The property has changed has a few times in the last 60 or so years, and its holdings are dotted around Margaux. It’s not owned by Colony Capital, a US investment company who’ve poured money into improving the quality of the wines. 90% new French oak here, predominantly Merlot (55%), with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. A solid bright purple colour. A smoky nose, with graphite and freshly launched fireworks. Lush, ripe fruit wafts from the glass. Huge density here, hints of barnyard/earthiness. Brings to mind a pairing with a gorgeous casserole. On the palate, black fruit depth –a gaping chasm of black fruit to dive into. Red fruits, with a perfect acid and tannin balance. A sumptuous and piercing wine, memorable in every way.
Chateau Lascombes, Margaux, Bordeaux
Chateau Gruaud Larose 2007, RRP around $150 – 2nd growth St Julien
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, the remainder Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Paler colour with a paler rim that the others in the bracket – the age showing through. Whiffs of some funky barnyard smells (very rustic), melon and melon skin. Rather firm. But the taste of this wine is totally out of step with the nose. It tastes sensational. An awesome peak of red fruit, and a firm but balanced mid-palate. The palate has totally filled out, like a stretched out sunbather. This is in full secondary flavour mode.
#4 – Sauternes
Generally in Australia when end the night with a dessert wine, or ‘sticky.’ Many of the Bordelais themselves drink their Sauternes with things like parma ham, foie gras, paté, or even with a meal. The two Sauternes I tasted at this event are not ones to be consumed as dessert wines. Well, they can be, but of course you’d be missing out on other amazing food pairings, and risking matching an intense wine with a rich dessert – no good!
Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes, Bordeaux
2010 Carmes de Rieussec, RRP around $40 – Sauternes
Second wine of Chateau Rieussec, and owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). A nose of intense passionfruit and passionfruit pulp, and super-dense pomegranate. Some gunsmoke in there too to stir things up. On the palate, it’s a rich, unctuous texture. There’s an amazingly clear smoky bbq pineapple taste, with char-grilled mango and sensational viscosity. Intense, but not sweet. Love it.
2012 Chartreuse de Coutet, RRP around $37 – Sauternes
Second wine of Chateau de Coutet. A nose of super-ripe apricots, and candied apricots. The palate follows through with the candied theme, with candied fruits and mouth-watering viscosity. A neat combination of sweet and sour fruits to round it out. Highly recommended with Rocquefort.
Bordeaux map courtesy of Wine Folly.