2012 Bordeaux: Tasting at the Union des Grand Crus, San Francisco 1/30/2015

Were they really better than expected?

One of the most interesting things about the tasting yesterday afternoon, was the comments of tasters impressions of the vintage before attending the event. I’m not sure where everyone got the idea that the 2012s were not going to be good. I think it was very clear from most reviewers that the vintage was a success, although I suppose with vintages like 2000, 2005, 2009, and 2010 all in recent memory, expectations get a bit skewed. What is wrong with an infield double? They can’t always be home runs.

On the contrary, I was expecting to taste very good wines, and for the most part, I was not disappointed. I only had an hour and a half, so I focused on the Chateaux that Atherton typically purchases. That scrapped tasting most of the wines from the Haut Medoc.
I finished tasting the 30-40 wines in about an hour. The big hold up being trying to get to the spit bucket! That gave me a chance to revisit my top wines and talk to a few folks.

Overall I didn’t notice quite as much oak as I’ve come to expect from Bordeaux in recent years, which often smell more of barrel than of fruit. Fruit dominated in this tasting, and perhaps this is a result of winemakers using a lower percentage of new barrique in order to keep the wines balanced in a less concentrated vintage. I would say they were more successful in this than often in the so-called top years.

Tasting wines, that are this young, from a moderately concentrated vintage is interesting. Certain regions like Margaux were ready to roll, with less concentration, their textures were uniformly silk in 2012, and their fine tannins really let them shine, right out of the gate. They should age effortlessly for 20+ years, furnishing perfectly balanced and elegant wines. Standouts were: Malescot St-Exupery, Lascombes, Kirwan, Giscours, and Prieure Lichine. I would buy these all in a heartbeat. Just absolutely lovely, and as a whole very underscored by the critics. I’m assuming a highly scored wine has to carry enough weight to assuage the critics, critics. Unfortunately, weight is prized among consumers.

Pomerol was the precise opposite of Margaux. A number of attendees mentioned the Pomerols as being their favorites. They must be tasters who are more attuned to the weight of heavier, more tannic, California reds. These wines comparatively, carried significant weight, and some sported the accompanying tannins. Right now they were showing a bit rough, but a handful of years should smooth them out. For my taste, I felt them slightly out of balance, and I suspect will likely go in and out of open and closed periods throughout their lifespan. Examples of wine in this vein were Clinet and la Conseillante and to a lesser extent Gazin and Le Bon Pasteur. Don’t get me wrong, they will be very good wines, but they need a few years (as Clinet often does). Beauregard, (which George the owner of Atherton Wine Imports often buys) was one of the most personality-filled wines of the tasting, and a terrific success in that regard.

The wines of Pomerol’s plateau-mate, those of St.-Emilion, I felt were better balanced and more complete. They probably will drink better, on a more consistent basis, over their lifespan, although the Pomerols will most likely outlast them. I felt the Saint Emilion’s which had much of the weight of the Pomerols, had softer and riper tannins. I felt these were the more successful wines, if perhaps more modern than the more traditional Pomerols in terms of style. Clos Fourtet and Couspaude, as always, were excellent, and Beausejour Becot was very good as well. Troplong Mondot was quite exotic, with a broader, softer palate than the Pomerols on the table next to them. Count Stephan von Neipperg, with his usual dashing attire, was pouring his Canon La Gaffeliere, and it was ripe, dark and thoroughly modern, it was a very good wine.

Probably the top region for me overall was Pessac-Leognan. This region supplied 3 of my four favorite wines. Haut Bailly was the superb here, with their hallmark of modern, round, black fruit, soft and quite rich, with just the right structure to reign it all in. It was in no way overdone.
Smith Haut Lafitte, can do no wrong these days. Less modern than the Haut Bailly, this was seamless and silky smooth. Fabulous winemaking here. Worth every penny. Pape Clement in some ways even better, as it had more character. The most traditional in its outlay of fruit, it too maintained silky smooth tannins. This is a fantastic wine.

The Pape Clement Blanc was the broadest, richest, ripest, and certainly the most tropical white in the tasting. It was significantly different from all the others made in a slightly oxidative, leesy style, that really made it stand out from the others, which were more fresh and direct. It was a wow wine.

Domaine de Chevalier was excellent for both white and red. Both were clean and fresh, with a traditional elegance. I loved, as usual, the overachiever, the de Fieuzal rouge, which is also traditionally made, but has a lot of character in terms of aromatics, something that I repeatedly note from this chateau’s red. Their white was once again, very good, with ripe, tropical fruit and excellent freshness and acidity to hold it all together.
We don’t sell it, but Chateau de France is making excellent white and red – although not cheap, the quality is undeniable. Malartic-Lagraviere blanc was very good as expected, but it didn’t necessarily stand out from the crowd of excellent whites. Just a solid choice.

For me, Pauillac and St Julien were not as consistent, although there were some standout wines, including my favorite wine of the night Pichon Lalande Comtesse. This was a sexy, silky sumptuous wine. It is elegant with not a tannin or acid out-of-place. Complex and delicious now, it will age effortlessly for decades. It is a spitting image of  it’s1989, which is still simply gorgeous wine, now at 25 years old. Why Pichon Lalande has somewhat fallen out of favor with critics? I can only guess that it’s not big enough or black enough, and its fruit is too red-fruit oriented with its raspberries and sandalwood, all which is matched to its exotic spices.

Lynch Bages was just as Lynch Bages has been described for the past 100 years: authoritative and somewhat masculine, with traditional structure.Most notably it had that distinct nose and mouth of the oft-described; pencil shavings.
Pichon Baron was big, powerful and impressive, but not completely harmonious, with its black fruit and tannins not syncing up yet. It will happen and be excellent.

The following wines felt were good to very good, but chunky, with somewhat unresolved tannins. Clerc Milon was good but needed time, d’Armailhac was a bit rough. In the same could be said for Langoa Barton. Leoville Barton was very good and held a nice balance between modern and traditional styles, but it too was unresolved. Beychevelle was rough, nothing like the silky, sublime elegance of the 2010 when that vintage was released. Branaire-Ducru seemed good but didn’t stand out of the crowd. I was hoping for more from Gruaud Larose – my favorite chateau for the 2008 Union des Grand Cru tasting that year – in another underdog vintage. But it didn’t have the same lovely aromatics I remember from the past. Lagrange was very nice – I can recommend that for having some elegance and good depth, but it really didn’t stand out. A good value none-the-less.
Of this grouping, Talbot was very good to excellent with a bit more personality and refined qualities.

Of the outlier regions, Camensac was excellent. A terrific wine with good aromatics and some nice raspberry fruit and touch of sandalwood. Chasse Spleen was classic, more dark fruited and structured, en point for that Medoc chateau. Cantemerle was slightly disappointing. Good wine, but not as good as these other two.

I think this is a terrific Bordeaux vintage, and the prices make them so much more attractive than they have been in the past. For those reasons, I think it should be a good retail vintage, and down the road, an excellent restaurant vintage.

Those were my impressions. What were yours?

2011 Chateau Beauregard Ducasse, Graves Blanc

A Superb Value in White Graves

beauregard ducasseI’ve been a big fan of Beauregard Ducasse for the nine and ten vintages, and while this is not as ripe as the 2010 and lacks that vintage’s sweeter concentration nectarine and tropical components, it is still a lovely wine. The cooler 2011 vintage has plenty of the same flavors and complexity, if just a bit dryer, and not nearly as textural and viscous.  The estate, which is located about 20 miles south-east of the city of Bordeaux in the farthest south edge of the appellation in Mazeres. It is interesting to note that several websites indicate it is in Northern Graves. Not so.  Still, this is one of the best values going.


2011 Beauregard Ducasse, Graves Blanc        

On the nose, this shows slate and lime, along with that nice ripe nectarine that is fragrant and inviting. The mouth is long and compex with plenty of vibrancy, green apple and green papaya acidity that makes your mouth salivate. There is a bracing quality to this wine, that your palate adjust too fairly quickly, but showing some grip of tannins which release quickly leaving a slight minerality and suggestions of salinity. An excellent wine, and terriffic value.  87 points.  at $11.99 I’d buy this again.  This was fantastic with chicken breast with olive tapenade, and would be equally delicious with Vietnamese food, Dungeness Crab, Mussels, Halibut, you name it.  A superb value and worth buying.  $14     A score would confuse the issue.map-vignoble-de-bordeaux-graves (1)

2009 Charmes de Kirwan, Margaux

Wine_Cellar_at_Chateau_Kirwan_This week we were sent a sample of Chateau Kirwan’s second wine, Charmes de Kirwan by the négociant firm of Schroeder & Schyler. Schroeder & Schyler has owned the property since 1904 when they picked up the 3rd Growth Kirwan at auction for only £25,000!  Before you dismiss this as a second wine, (Charmes is produced primarily from younger vines and lots that didn’t make the grand vin) they’re doing some really nice work at Kirwan, and it has really paid off in terms of quality for the Charmes.

Kirwan, sits on the gravelly “summit”, if you will, of the Cantenac plateau.  We’re not talking about a whole lot of elevation here, but this rise of Pyrenean gravel that was deposited here 2 million years ago by the nearby Gironde River,  creates excellent drainage for the vineyards.  The chateaux of Cantenac and Boyd-Cantenac are Kirwan’s nearest neighbors, and the superb Chateau d’Issan just down the road.  In this large appellation, Kirwan is very well situated. The vineyards are planted to 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot.

2009 Charmes de Kirwan, Margaux  $40-$45

On day one,  this was showing some very pretty, delicate, floral notes that gave this wine a special quality.  It drank well immediately upon pulling the cork with soft tannins, medium weight, beautiful, and lovely Cassis fruit, with some dried herbs on the finish. Very classic and pure, it had a warm elegance to it, with no hard edges,  With Charmes de Kirwan, most of its intensity and weight is up is front; the wine lightens up on the finish with notable gracefulness. One might complain of a lack of acidity, and certainly a little more crispness would give the wine verve and intensity, not to mention a classic backbone, but at the same time the wine is refreshingly not at all heavy and is absolutely seamless.

On day two, the pretty floral nose is now gone, replaced by minerals, loam and a touch of pencil shavings.  The fruit is dryer, the tannins are very fine but a slightly drying with wood. However, the wine is so well-balanced and it has a good amount of complexity. It has filled out a bit with a fuller profile, gaining a bit of weight.

The bottom line.  The Charmes de Kirwan is a lovely wine with some complexity, but it does lack some intellectual stuffing. For a nice dinner this would be hard to fault, and would outshine most much more collectible young wines in this role. It was stunning with simply grilled lamb last night. For this aspect, I’d rate the 2009 Charmes 92+ points.  However, as an aperitif, while the Charmes is very good, this isn’t quite vivacious enough, or intellectual enough, to hold my attention for too long. In this capacity, I’d give it 88 points.imgres

2010 Bordeaux Delivers Everything Promised

A glass of Cabernet Franc from Barboursville V...
Photo by Amy C Evans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I had a chance to quickly taste through a flight of ridiculously impressive 2010 Bordeaux. Just being fresh off the boat from Europe, they preformed remarkably well, doubly so since we had opened the flight only minutes before. I had virtually forgotten my enthusiasm for the vintage – I hadn’t tasted much since George Derbalian of Atherton Wine Imports brought 15 barrel samples by the store. That was almost two years ago. I remember now how was wowed I was then. I am wowed again now.

Vintages like 2010, despite the immense prices of the top wines, allow the more modest wine buyer remarkable value for excellent, age-able wines.  As the old French saying goes: Drink small wines in big years and big wines in small years.  If you haven’t  2009 and 2010 Bordeaux in your cellar already, now is the time. They will reward you for many years down the road.

“As the old French saying goes:

Drink small wines in big years and big wines in small years

While the whole line-up was excellent-plus some, the last three wines were simply remarkable, and absolutely lived up to their price points.  The surprise of the tasting was the Puynomand; it is a truly spectacular value.  Big and powerful, if a touch rustic, this has dense concentration for any wine up to the $30-ish price point. This is one that will lay down for 15 to 20 years – or more, depending how old you like your wine.  I’ve scored these using the twenty point system.       ~Dean Alexander

2010 Bordeaux Tasting, May 25,2013

2010 Chateau Poitevin, Medoc
Starting out strong with this Poitevin! This shows off with its ripe, complete fruit, ample concentration and lasting complexity with some toasty tannins. This will age nicely for 5 to 10 years.  15

2010 Chateau Mongravey, Cru Bourgeois, Margaux
Floral nose of Margaux’s terroir is evident as this echos the stereotype of the appellation. Much more elegant than any of the other wines, light to medium weight for the vintage. Fine tannins play along the long finish. 16.5

2010 Chateau La Bienfaisance, Grand Cru, St-Emilion  91 pts WS

Bégédan vineyards in the Haut-Medoc of Bordeaux.
Bégédan vineyards in the Haut-Medoc of Bordeaux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Merlot’s bright red cherry fruit, very pure, with racy acidity pulling the flavors along on the extended finish. This was not showing nearly as dense and powerful as it had two months ago. This was a crowd favorite at the price. 16

2010 Chateau Belgrave, Fifth Growth, Haut-Medoc
Not much showing on the nose, but has good weight and richness on thepalate. Broad plum fruit, oaky tannins firm it all up, allowing it to finish with some elegance. This developed nicely over the course of the tasting. 17

2010 Chateau Puynormand, Vieille Vignes, Montagne-St-Emilion
Impressively deep plum is dark with lots of dusky, animal-like notes. Ripe Merlot is 100% of the cuvee, and show the power than can be achieved with this grape when grown in the right place.  Very powerful for the price, and is framed with substantial tannins, both from the skins and the oak. 17

2010 Chateau Cantemerle, Fifth Growth, Haut-Medoc
Showing a bit closed having just been opened, showing only faint fruit and subtle oak now. But this showing some excellent richness, and quite powerful, with cassis at the core.  Firm tannins pull the flavors through with authority.  This will cellar very well. 17

2010Chateau Beychevelle, Fourth Growth, St-Julien

Until I tasted the Leoville, I didn’t think a wine would be better in this tasting. It is certainly the best Beychevelle I have ever had. They have come a long way since I visited the Chateau in 1996, with its dirty, mouldy cellar and resulting dirty muddy wines.  This 2010 is a perfectly balanced wine with remarkable finesse, sweetly fruited on the nose. Excellent richness.  Solid, mouth-filling, and no sharp edges. It was complete and complex.  I absolutely loved this.  Parker may have underscored this one. 18.5

2010 La Dame de Montrose, St-Estephe
Huge for Bordeaux – It’s hard to believe this is a second wine (of Second Growth Ch. Montrose). Completely opaque – black with purple edges. Powerful nose, showing quite a bit of green-ness – presumably from Cabernet Franc, and plenty
of new French oak. Sweet, and powerful black-fruits here. A massive wine that defines the greatness and power of the vintage.  On some levels it reminds me somewhat of the very best wines coming out of Chile, but with more structure and less gras.  18

2010 Leoville-Poyferre, Second Growth,St-Julien 

This was without a doubt, the wine of the tasting.  It is bigger in structure than the 100 point 2009 vintage, but less suave and refined. That said it is simply a magnificent Bordeaux. A fine nose of minerals and stones, a touch of fresh herbs, vanilla, and shows very little oak,  sweet fruit here again, with excellent ripeness and balance, full mouth-feel, that is long, soft, sultry on the finish, with tannins holding down the long complex finish. 19.5

The line up, with current retail prices and critics scores

2010 Chateau Poitevin, Medoc  90 pts WS  $14.99

2010 Chateau Mongravey, Margaux  91 pts WS  $36.99

2010 Chateau La Bienfaisance, St-Emilion  91 pts WS, $31.99

2010 Chateau Belgrave, Haut-Medoc  91 pts WS  $33.99

2010 La Dame de Montrose, St-Estephe  94 pts RP $55.99

2010 Chateau Puynormand, Vieille Vignes, Montagne-St-Emilion 17.99

2010 Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc  94+ pts RP $44.99

Chateau Beychevelle, St-Julien  94 pts RP $104.99

2010 Leoville-Poyferre,  St-Julien  98+ $159.99