Category Archives: France – Bordeaux

2015 Bordeaux: A Vintage to Buy

The wines from Bordeaux are definitely not the darlings of the breed of new-wave sommeliers whose wine lists are heavy with “natural” wines, orange wines, or selections from obscure areas–which all too often turn out to be obscure for good reason.  But, despite their lack of sex appeal, Bordeaux wines remain benchmarks for Cabernet- and Merlot-based reds, as well as Sauvignon- and Semillon-based whites, whether dry or sweet.  And the 2015 vintage reminds us why.

Turning to the other gorilla in the room–price. Everyone “knows” that Bordeaux are painfully pricey and really only for the 1-percenters.  However, while that may be true for the top 30 or so properties (which have become collectors’ items for the very wealthy), there are hundreds of somewhat lesser known–and some rather well-known–properties whose wines are moderately priced or actually affordable.  These are the 2015s to snatch up.

The reputation of a vintage–not just in Bordeaux, but most wine regions–is made by the reds.  In 2015, the reds are outstanding.  That said, both the dry and sweet whites are delicious now, so they should not be overlooked.  My assessment is based on a recent tasting of 70 bottled and ready-for-market wines–not barrel samples–organized by the Union des Grands Crus, an organization that represents 133 of the top properties in Bordeaux.

Let’s start with the reds.

The weather determines the quality and character of a vintage.  Without getting too geeky, the weather during the 2015 growing season was very nearly ideal, warmer and sunnier than usual, but lacking the heat of 2009 (or, heaven help us, 2003, which was just brutally hot, producing some correspondingly hot and heavy wines). The weather in 2015 produced reds that are fleshy, juicy, and amazingly, very fresh, despite the warmth of the growing season.  The wines are not alcoholic, hot, or over ripe.  Dare I say, the reds have a Burgundian sensibility—they are flavorful without being heavy.  Indeed, they are balanced, showing vivacity and energy.

Importantly, the ripeness of the wines did not blur the boundaries of the appellations as sometimes occurs.  St. Estèphe tastes like St. Estèphe and different from its neighbor, Pauillac, which is as it should be. For the most part, the tannins are supple and the wines easy to taste, even at this youthful stage, which may make people think that they will not develop with bottle age the way great Bordeaux does. Although predicting how wines will develop is fraught with difficulty–and sometimes error–the 2015s have marvelous balance, similar to the 1985s, which suggests to me that this “friendly” vintage will evolve very nicely.  As easy as they are to taste now, I’d plan on cellaring them for a decade to allow their complexity to bloom.

The prices I have listed below are averages taken from Wine-Searcher.com.  Prices for some wines are not available (n/a) because they have sold out and have not been re-stocked by retailers yet.  In those cases, I have listed the last global average as calculated by Wine-Searcher.com to give the reader an idea of what to expect.  However, the range of price for any given wine can be enormous, depending on the exchange rate when the merchant purchased their supply and what, if any, they have left over after filling customers’ orders for futures, so it pays to shop around.  Wines in bold represent excellent value in my opinion.

In some vintages, the Left Bank (Médoc) Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines excel, while in others the Merlot and Cabernet Franc-based Right Bank wines from St. Émilion and Pomerol are standouts.  Practically speaking, there were so many excellent wines across the region in 2015 that those kinds of generalizations are not really helpful to the consumer.  My favorite reds, all scored at 95+ points, are scattered among all the major appellations.  These include the explosive and velvety Château Rauzan-Ségla ($104) in Margaux, the mineral-y and long Chateau Pichon-Baron ($149) in Pauillac, and the floral and herbal-tinged Château Canon (n/a, $209) in St. Émilion.  Also outstanding but more affordable are the fleshy, but not flashy, Château Rouget ($50) from Pomerol, and the graceful and layered Domaine de Chevalier ($72) from Pessac-Léognan, which are steals in light of their quality.

Just behind this set, and evaluated in the 92-94 point, range are Château La Lagune ($61), Château Lascombes (n/a, $79), Château Giscours (n/a, $66), Château Brane-Cantenac (n/a, $70), a fabulous pair from the Mouton Rothschild team, Château Clerc-Milon (n/a, $83) and Château d’Armailhac (n/a, $50), Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion (n/a, $35), Château Haut-Bailly (n/a, $121), Château Clos Fourtet (n/a, $107), and Château Phélan-Ségur ($49), another bargain.

One of the benefits of the 2015 vintage is how well lesser known properties did.  These properties, often, but not always, from slightly less well-situated sites, benefit even more from the warm sunny weather that marked the vintage.  In this group, Château Bouscaut (90; n/a, $28) and Château de France (91; $25) from Pessac-Léognan made extraordinary reds in 2015.  From the Left Bank, grab as much of these as you can:  Château Beaumont (90, $20), Château Fourcas-Hosten (90, $20), Château Chasse-Spleen (92, $34), an extraordinary value, Château de Camensac, (91, $38), Château Cantemerle (92, $35), an extraordinary value, and Château Citran (90, $24), an extraordinary value.

Shifting to the dry whites from Graves and Pessac-Léognan, they are certainly charming now, but lack the backbone of the reds (which suggests that judging the vintage by the reds actually makes sense in 2015).  Nathan Guillen, a representative of Château Pape Clément, remarked that the weather favored Sauvignon Blanc over Semillon in 2015, which explains the added punch in many of the dry whites.  I suggest buying the dry whites and drinking them over the next few years–with a few exceptions, as always.  The top wines among the big names to me were Domaine de Chevalier (92, $97) and Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte ($100), whereas Château de France (90, $25) gets my vote as the best value dry white.

The 2015 sweet wines, Sauternes, which are always undervalued, are delightful to drink now. Remember that a little bit goes a long way with these, so half bottles (375 ml) are extremely useful as they will serve 4-6 people easily.  I suggest serving them as desert or with cheese, since their flavors often clash with sweet deserts.  My favorites were Château Coutet (93, $41) because of its extraordinary energy and verve even in a riper year, and Château Guiraud (92, $47).  The biggest surprise–and a spectacular value–was Château Bastor-Lamontagne (90, $25).  But, frankly, I’d be happy drinking any of them from the 2015 vintage–it’s a “can’t miss” (or, “point and shoot”) kind of vintage for Sauternes.

Indeed, it’s a “point and shoot” kind of vintage for the reds and dry whites as well.

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Email me your thoughts about Bordeaux at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 31, 2018

Château Rollan de By, Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2012

($40):  A Merlot-dominant blend, the Château Rollan de By has been classified as a Cru Bourgeois, a group of 200+ properties lumped just below the Cru Classé level, Bordeaux’s top strata.  For me, the wines from these estates, such as Château Rollan de By, offer Bordeaux’s greatest value. Still available at retail, this wine, at 5 years of age, is marvelous to drink now, showing a combination of dark fruit and savory flavors, wrapped in suave tannins. Thankfully lacking a block-busting profile, this mid-weight wine relies on elegance and a “not just fruit” sensation for its allure. 91 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

Château Coutet, Barsac (Bordeaux, France) 2014

($44): Sweet wines, such as this one, need to be judged on their verve and acidity, not just their luxurious richness.  On that count, the 2014 Château Coutet is a winner.  It has plenty of energy to balance its honeyed character so it’s not cloying at all, but rather refreshing.  And long.  I prefer to serve these luscious sweet wines with cheese or by themselves as desert.  Paired with a sweet course often detracts from both the food and the wine.  Half bottles (375 ml) of are especially useful since one will serve four easily.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Château Phélan Ségur, St. Estèphe (Bordeaux, France) 2014

($40): Under Véronique Dausse’s management Château Phélan Ségur has catapulted into the top ranks.  Her team produced a positively gorgeous wine in 2014.  Though refined and polished, it retained the attractive gritty earthiness that makes the wines of St. Estèphe so engaging.  At $40 a bottle, it is one of the best buys of the vintage.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) 2014

($58): Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier, believes that the wines from Pessac-Léognan should be “feminine, not a powerhouse.”  In keeping with his philosophy, Domaine de Chevalier red is never a block-busting powerhouse.  But it’s always a majestic wine.  The 2014, while less concentrated and less dense than others from Pessac-Léognan, is exciting to taste.  It’s a magical combination of fruit and savory notes enveloped in supple tannins.  It has a Burgundian-like character.  Indeed, the phrase I often use to describe red Burgundy, “flavor without weight,” comes to mind.  It’s rare to find a wine of this caliber at this price.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Château Coufran, Haut-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2014

($18): Château Coufran, an oddity on the Left Bank because of its high proportion of Merlot, combines a leafy earthy component with fine tannins in their 2014.  It’s a steal.  And just because Coufran is not a “classified growth” (that is, it was not classified as Grand Cru Classé in 1855) do not dismiss its ability to develop with age.  I recently had a bottle of the 1982 Coufran, which was wonderfully fresh and complex.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2014

($40): A wine from a Chateau listed in famous 1855 Classification of Bordeaux — a so-called Classified Bordeaux — for $40 is a rarity.  Especially when it’s not the Chateau’s “second” wine, but actually their “grand vin.”  Château La Lagune has always been under-rated, delivering more than its price suggested.  Their 2014 is no exception.  Smooth and delectable, it delivers that alluring “not just fruit” character without being flashy.  Suavely textured, it’s easy to taste now.  But fine tannins and its harmony means it will evolve gracefully over the next decade or two.  If you’re just starting a cellar, this is a Bordeaux to buy by the case.  Even if you already have a cellar, I’d find room in it for a few bottles.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2017

Bordeaux’s 2014s: An Excellent, Well-Priced Vintage

The press regarding the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux, written in the spring of 2015 after the “en premieur” tastings (a week long series of tastings of “representative” barrel samples in Bordeaux) was lukewarm.  The vintage was damned with faint praise (e.g., “It’s the best of the lesser vintages,” or “The best since 2010,” which of course isn’t saying much, given the trio of mediocre vintages, 2011, 2012 and 2013).  Hence, I approached the annual Union des Grands Crus (UGC) tasting in New York City last month with a lack of enthusiasm.  At this tasting, 89 major chateaux pour ed 102 of their 2014s, which, unlike the wines sampled during “en primeur,” were finished wines, bottled and ready for sale, not barrel samples.

What a pleasant surprise!  It turns out that 2104 is, in fact, an excellent vintage in Bordeaux across all three categories:  Reds, dry whites and the sweet wines.  It’s rare for all three categories to succeed in the same year, but they did in 2014.  Thankfully, it’s not a “vintage of the century,” which is usually characterized by ripe–sometimes over ripe–wines with lots of oomph.  Rather, it’s a classically proportioned vintage, showing the elegance and finesse of Bordeaux.  Tannins and acidity provide structure without being aggressive, making the wines approachable.  But do not interpret that to mean that the wines will not develop with bottle age.  Their balance indicates they will.  Importantly, the prices are amazingly good.  One of my favorites of the vintage, Château La Lagune, is widely available on retailers’ shelves for about $40 a bottle.

Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier, one of the top properties in Pessac-Léognan, and president of the UGC, described it as a “cool vintage,” characterized by a colder than normal summer.  Superb weather in September made the harvest.  A cooler vintage theoretically favors Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines since that grape remains on the vines later than the earlier ripening Merlot.  To my mind, however, the Right Bank Merlot-predominant wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol were equally successful this year.

Producers to whom I spoke had a difficult time comparing the 2014 with previous vintages. Frédéric Vicaire from Château Coufran, a top-notch Haut-Médoc estate, described 2014 as “a classic Bordeaux vintage.”  He felt it was similar to 2004, while Bernard thought the wines were similar to those from 2008.  Panos Kakaviatos, an acclaimed wine writer and Bordeaux expert, echoed Bernard’s comparison to 2008.  John Anderson, another writer with great experience tasting Bordeaux, felt the wines were similar to those of 2001, another vintage in which all three categories turned out superbly.

Other producers compared the vintage to the highly rated 2000. Véronique Dausse, Managing Director of Château Phélan Ségur, a superb property in Saint-Estèphe, thought for a while, and then with a smiling Gallic shrug, said that she could not compare it to another vintage. She felt it was a vintage with unique character.  I agree.  To me, the wines are not up to the superb quality of the 2000 vintage, but they are definitely better than those produced either in 2004 or 2008, because they are just a touch fleshier, while still exhibiting an alluring herbal character.  Indeed, the 2014s remind me a bit of the 1978s.  The growing season was similar to that year, a cool summer and a vintage saved by September weather.  If the 2014s turn out like the 1978s everyone, consumers and producers alike, will be very pleased.

One thing the vintage is not–and everyone to whom I spoke agreed on this point–is over ripe.  The wines are beautifully proportioned, not flamboyant or boisterous.  Yes, there are some that are over extracted and overdone, but of the 51 reds I tasted, only one showed a high level of alcohol.

Although others have characterized 2014 as a “Cabernet year,” I found exceptional wines in all of the sub-appellations represented at the UGC tasting, making it difficult to say that one area “did better” than others.  Standouts in Saint-Julien, for example, were Léoville Poyferré ($68, 94 points), Léoville Barton ($71, 94) and Langoa Barton ($46, 92), whose fleshy wines were alluring.  Similarly, Jean-Dominique Videau, winemaker at Brainaire-Ducru ($49, 92), and Matthieu Bordes and his team at Château Lagrange ($38, 92), were equally successful balancing fruitiness, structure and herbal notes.

In Pauillac, Château Pichon Baron ($105, 96) produced a wine with amazing concentration and grace that is, at this stage, one of the top wines of the vintage.  Similarly, Château d’Armailhac ($45, 93) had a wonderfully dense and mineral-y quality enrobed in polished tannins.

The biggest surprise came in Saint-Estèphe where the young wines are often difficult to taste because of their tannic structure.  Château Phélan Ségur, which under Dausse’s management has catapulted into the top ranks, produced a positively gorgeous wine in 2014 (94). Though refined and polished, it retained the attractive gritty earthiness that makes the wines of St. Estèphe so engaging. At $35 a bottle, it is one of the best buys of the vintage.  Similarly, Château Lafon-Rochet’s 2014 (93) conveys the earthy gravely quality of the appellation while exhibiting an uncanny elegance.  Another bargain at about $35 a bottle.

There are a bevy of 2014 reds from Pessac-Léognan to recommend.  Olivier Bernard believes that the wines from Pessac-Léognan should be “feminine, not a powerhouse.”  Their inherent ash-like nuances remind me of Burgundy.  Chateau Haut-Bailly’s 2014 ($80, 93) has marvelous concentration without being flamboyant, still conveying the earthiness of the region.  Bernard’s Domaine de Chevalier 2014 ($58, 94), a majestic wine, while less concentrated that Haut-Bailly, conveys just as much.  It’s flavor without weight, a description I often use for Burgundy.  Château Malartic-Lagravière ($46, 92) is another example of the graceful exoticness that the wines of Pessac-Léognan achieved in 2014.  More muscular, but still not over the top, Château Smith Haut Lafitte ($74, 93) continues their streak of winners in 2014.

The commune of Margaux had a wealth of riches in 2014.  Château Brane-Cantenac ($51, 93), with suave tannins and a dark core, reflects the grandeur these wines can achieve.  Similarly, Château Giscours ($48, 93) hit the bull’s eye with density and energy.  Château Rauzan-Ségla, ($63, 94) fractionally less dense than Brane or Giscours, impresses with its glossy elegance and finesse.  As usual, Château d’Angludet (91) delivers far more than its price (~$35) suggests.

The Haut-Médoc appellation provides bargains in 2014.  Château La Lagune ($40, 93), smooth and delectable, delivers that alluring “not just fruit” character without being flashy.  With remarkable length and elegance, the often under-appreciated Château Cantemerle (92) is a steal at ~$30.  So is Château de Camensac ($25, 92) because of its herbal quality and polished tannins.  Château Coufran ($18, 90), an oddity on the Left Bank because of its high proportion of Merlot, confirms to me that plenty of properties did well with grape.  It combines a leafy earthy component with fine tannins.  It’s a steal.  And just because Coufran is not a “classified growth” (that is, it was not classified as Grand Cru Classé in 1855) do not dismiss its ability to develop with age.  I recently had a bottle of the 1982 Coufran, which I purchased upon release for about $5 (the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $11.50 today).  The wine was wonderfully fresh and complex.

Four examples from Saint-Emilion demonstrate that the Right Bank also succeeded in 2014:  The fleshy and seductive Château Beau-Séjour Bécot ($51, 92), the refined and elegant Château Canon ($74, 93), the gorgeously mineral-y Château Canon-La-Gaffelière ($64, 95) and stylishly balanced seemingly endless Château La Gaffelière ($55, 94).

The toasty and exotic Château Bon Pasteur ($70, 92) and the structured fleshinss of Château Gazin ($59, 94) confirm that wines from Merlot-dominant Pomerol turned out well in 2014.

Bernard emphasizes that the cool vintage explains why the dry whites excelled across the board.  My notes were repetitive with praise–you can practically point and shoot depending on the style you prefer and your wallet. Château Bouscaut ($35, 90) is crisp and refreshing.  Château de Chantegrive ($15, 90) manages a touch of creaminess atop its crispness.  An outstanding buy!  Château Olivier ($35, 93) managed to combine spice, pungency and creaminess.  Both Château Louvière ($28, 91) and Château de Fieuzal ($44, 92) marry creaminess with an attractive bite whereas Château Pape Clément ($135, 93) and Château Smith Haut Lafitte ($95, 94) deliver more power and richness without losing vibrancy.  Domaine de Chevalier ($93, 96), an “OMG” kind of wine, combines everything perfectly as usual.

Aline Baly, whose family owns Château Coutet in Barsac, says it took a lot of patience–and hand wringing–in 2014 because the botrytis necessary to shrivel the grapes and make outstanding sweet wine, hit sporadically.  With a broad grin, she beams, “The anxiety was worth it. It’s a great vintage.”  I concur.  Again, point and shoot.  But don’t miss the energetic Château Coutet ($44, 95), the lush and lively Château Doisy-Daëne ($41, 92) the ripe and nutty Château La Tour Blanche ($39, 92), the apricot-tinged and lively Château Suduiraut ($64, 94) and the luxuriously rich Château Guiraud ($45, 93).  The prices listed are for full (750 ml) bottles, but remember, a half-bottle (375 ml) of these sweet wines easily serves four.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Bordeaux in general and the 2014s in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

February 1, 2017

Château Lassègue, St. Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux, France) “Les Cadrans de Lassègue” 2012

($29, Jackson Family Wines): This, the second wine of Château Lassègue, a property in the Jackson Family portfolio, is a marvelous buy.  More polished than many second wines, it conveys a savory, almost funky — in a nice way — complement to its bright fruity flavors.  The distinction with the first wine is in its ever so slightly coarser texture.  That said the tannins are still fine, which makes easy to recommend for current drinking with robust meat, such as lamb chops.  This is classy Bordeaux at a bargain price.

91 Michael Apstein Aug 30, 2016

Château Climens, Barsac (Sauternes, Bordeaux, France) 2002

($74): As the table of guests sipped this sweet wine with a cheese course they fell silent.  Animated conversation drew to a halt — all that was heard was “ah” or “wow, this is good!”  Sweet wines in general, and Sauternes in particular, are an under-appreciated category.  The 2002 Climens, one of the stars of Barsac, an appellation that is included in the broader Sauternes appellation, has developed gorgeous layered flavors of honey and dried fruits.  It expands in the glass. Its racy invigorating acidity, not its sweetness, is what makes it such a joy to drink — your palate never tires of it.  Perfectly balanced, neither cloying nor syrupy, it’s a treat with cheese or as dessert.  A half-bottle will serve 4 to 6 people easily.
96 Michael Apstein Jul 12, 2016

2013 Bordeaux: Like Wagner’s Music, It’s Not as Bad as It Sounds

In November 2013, Alan Sichel, chairman of Bordeaux’s guild of wine merchants, told Bloomberg Business, “No one will be excited by the 2013 vintage [in Bordeaux].” That comment turned out to be high praise compared to how others in the trade described the vintage–“a catastrophe”–at the time. With that background, it was with trepidation that I approached the annual Union des Grands Crus tasting in New York, an event at which about 100 of the major Bordeaux properties present finished and bottled wines to the press and trade.

To my surprise, the 2013 vintage in Bordeaux is not a catastrophe. Far from it. But a great year for reds? No. Continue reading 2013 Bordeaux: Like Wagner’s Music, It’s Not as Bad as It Sounds

Château Durfort-Vivens, Margaux (Bordeaux, France) “Vivens” 2009

($38): I highly recommend the second wines of the top estates in Bordeaux, especially as the prices of the grand vins make them unattainable for most of us.  Vivens from Château Durfort-Vivens is an especially attractive one. Château Durfort-Vivens, classified as a 2nd growth in the Médoc classification of 1855, is regaining its former stature under the guidance of Gonzague Lurton, part of the family whose name implies excellence in Bordeaux.  The 2009 Vivens delivers the ripeness of that vintage without being overdone or flamboyant.  Enrobed in the plush tannins that are the signature of Margaux, it is “forward” and easy to enjoy now, yet has adequate structure so it doesn’t come across as a “fruit bomb.”  It finishes with a hint of earthiness that adds complexity.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 2, 2016

Château Lagrange, Bordeaux Blanc (France) “Les Arums de Lagrange” 2013

($34): There’s magic in this wine.  Fresh and precise, it conveys citrus notes and engaging bit of spice.  It maintains plenty of richness, which is buttressed by freshness and vivacity.  The pungency of Sauvignon Blanc is more apparent here since the proportion of that variety has been increased at the expense of Sémillon and Sauvignon Gris.  Since only 240 bottles came to the US market, it will be hard to find, but worth the effort.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 15, 2015

Château Lagrange, Bordeaux Blanc (France) “Les Arums de Lagrange” 2014

($35): The 2014 vintage was the first that came entirely from Lagrange’s new plantings.  Compared to the 2013, the 2014 is slightly more intense without losing any elegance or precision.  It conveys a marvelous combination of floral notes, grapefruit rind-like punch and even a hint of white pepper.  There’s less varietal Sauvignon Blanc character and more minerality speaking.  It dances on the palate, combing richness and freshness.  It sings!
94 Michael Apstein Dec 15, 2015

Château Magdelaine, St. Emilion (Bordeaux, France) 2010

($102): Château Magdelaine, one of only two properties in St. Emilion owned by the Pomerol-focused Moueix family, has always been one of my favorites from that appellation.  The 2010 is particularly appealing with a glorious and impeccably balanced mixture of floral, fruity and mineral components wrapped in fine firm tannins.  This young wine needs time — a decade or more — but you will be happy it’s in your cellar.  Of note, in September of 2012, Edouard Moueix, who manages the property, announced they were incorporating the property into the other Moueix-owned St. Emilion and its neighbor, Château Belair-Monange, and keeping the latter’s name, so the 2011 vintage is Magdelaine’s last.
95 Michael Apstein Dec 1, 2015

Château Phélan-Ségur, St. Estèphe (Bordeaux, France) 2008

($54): The wines from the 2008 vintage in Bordeaux are overlooked because they were firm upon release and were followed by the opulent and immediately appealing 2009s and then the refined and stylish 2010s.  But, as is always the case, talented producers, such as Château Phélan-Ségur, make excellent wines even in less revered years.  And this is one very good, easy-to-recommend 2008.  With refined dusty tannins and a gorgeous texture, it still conveys the earthy character of St. Estèphe.  It would be perfect with a grilled steak tonight, but given its balance and structure, there’s plenty of room for development, so there’s no rush.  And given the prices of the classified Bordeaux and even the top Napa Valley Cabernets, this 2008 is a bargain.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Château Bourbon La Chapelle, Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2012

($17): This, the second wine of Château Castera, a property classified as one of the Cru Bourgeois of Médoc, shows the value of Bordeaux.  The current owners acquired Château Castera in1986 from famed Bordeaux merchant and property owner, Alexis Lichine.  The last 30 years have seen enormous renovations in the winery and the vineyards that explain the current high level of quality, even of their second wine.  Located north of St. Estèphe near the Atlantic Ocean, the wine is harmonious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot, which conveys an earthy character buttressed by a pleasantly firm structure.  Though easy to drink now, it is not an “aperitif” wine, but rather a good choice for lamb chops or steak.  A great buy!
87 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Château de Taillan, Haut-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2011

($21): This property, classified as a Cru Bourgeois, a category that accounts for less than 5 percent of all the properties in Bordeaux, reinforces the idea that Bordeaux is, indeed, the place for value-packed red wines.  Less weighty and fruit-focused than California Merlot, this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc has a beguiling combination of fruitiness and earthiness supported by firm, but not aggressive, structure and uplifting acidity.  It’s easy to recommend for drinking this fall with beef. Another bargain whose quality vastly exceeds its price.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Château Tour de Pez, St. Estèphe (Bordeaux, France) 2012

($23): This is the kind of wine that made Bordeaux famously popular in the past and could be the kind to revive people’s interest in Bordeaux.  Unusually charming for a young wine from St. Estèphe, it leads with herbal aromas followed by plenty of intensity without pandering to over ripeness.  Indeed, the non-fruit flavors — minerality or earthiness — explain its appeal.  Despite its power, it is refined.  The tannins are unusually polished for a St. Estèphe, making the wine ideal for current drinking with a steak hot off the grill.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2015

Château Haut-Bacalan, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) 2012

($40): This wine shows that Bordeaux need not be super expensive nor put in the cellar for a decade or two before pulling the cork.  Its slightly burnt ash character identifies it as a wine from Pessac-Léognan, the prestigious subregion of Graves.  Like fine Bordeaux, it’s not just about fruitiness, though it has plenty of that.  Firm, but polished tannins add structure and make it a better choice for grilled meat this summer than for sipping as an aperitif.   But there’s no rush to drink it because its balance and harmony suggests it will age gracefully and develop more nuances over the next five to ten years.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2015

Château de Sours, Bordeaux (France) 2010

($20, Old Bridge Cellars): Although the producer is always the most important information on the label, sometimes the importer’s name makes me sit up and take notice.  For example, if Jeanne Marie de Champs’ name were on the back label, I would buy the wine.  Similarly, when you see Old Bridge Cellars on a bottle, it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy it. Château de Sours, located not far from St. Emilion and Pomerol, but sporting a simple Bordeaux appellation, delivers more than its pedigree suggests.  This Merlot-based blend leads with slightly earthy aromatics that you’d expect from that grape and follows with a lovely combination of red fruit-like flavors and herbal savory notes.  Mild tannins allow you to enjoy this refined wine now with broiled lamb chops.
89 Michael Apstein Oct 14, 2014

Château Lassègue, St. Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux, France) “Lassègue” 2005

($150, Sovereign Wine Imports): The 2005 vintage was exceptional in Bordeaux, and, indeed, throughout France.  The weather was perfect throughout the growing season.  The right amount of sun and the right amount of rain at the right time brought the grapes to perfect maturity.  Harvest occurred under sunny dry conditions so the grapes came to the winery in ideal condition. Château Lassègue, recently acquired by California’s Jess Jackson group, decided to hold back this wine, their top of the line bottling, until they felt it was ready, which explains why it’s their current release.  Very aromatic — the aromas fill the room when you pull the cork — it shows the beauty of Bordeaux.  The superb balanced combination of ripe fruit flavors offset by herbaceous earthy notes delights the palate.  A lovely subtle bitterness in the mouth-watering finish cries for food.  Glossy, but firm tannins, allow you to drink it now with simply grilled lamb chops — a simple preparation allows the complexity and glory of this wine to shine.  As enjoyable as it is now, it still has plenty of evolution to go, so there’s no rush.  Save some space in your cellar for this graceful wine.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 9, 2014

Château Faizeau, Montagne-Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux, France) “Sélection Vieilles Vignes” 2010

($25): Montagne-Saint-Emilion, a “satellite” appellation of Saint-Emilion, lies adjacent to the north of that revered appellation.  The wines from this satellite are never as grand or complex, but then again they’re never as pricey.  Indeed, good values, such as Chateau Faizeau, are everywhere in Montagne-Saint Emilion, especially in a great year, such as 2010.  With this wine, mild savory notes marry fresh fruity ones.  It’s a good marriage, especially since fine, almost silky, tannins allow you to enjoy it tonight.
90 Michael Apstein May 13, 2014

Château Lestage Simon, Haut-Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2010

($20, Advantage International):  A Cru Bourgeois, which is a classification level just under the Cru Classé, Château Lestage Simon is an excellent example of what Bordeaux does very well.  It balances plenty lush fruit flavors (a predominance of Merlot speaking) with hints of savory notes and a lovely austerity.  Open it a few hours before you plan to drink it with a succulent steak or leave it in the cellar for a couple of years to allow the tannins to mellow. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2014

Chateau Greysac, Medoc (Bordeaux, France) 2009

($20):  Château Greysac, a consistently value-packed wine, is one of the most widely available Bordeaux in the U.S. marketplace. The 2009 is particularly successful because the fleshy ripe fruitiness and power of the vintage marries nicely with the savory, slightly bitter notes characteristic of wine from the Médoc. In short, it’s a terrific choice tonight for steak frites.  But don’t think this wine is a flash in the pan.  Greysac from great vintages, like 2009, develops gorgeously—I’ve just had a 1982 Greysac, (another great vintage) from my cellar and it’s a winner. 89 Michael Apstein Dec 10, 2013

La Bastide Dauzac, Margaux (Bordeaux, France) 2010

($39): When consumers consider Bordeaux, they rightly remember the names of the chateaux more than the names of the people behind them.  Well, the name André Lurton is worth remembering because the Lurton family has a spectacular track record of producing excellent wines from a variety of properties all over Bordeaux.  André Lurton’s daughter manages Château Dauzac, a classified Médoc from the commune of Margaux.  La Bastide Dauzac, the property’s second wine, is a great success in 2010 with a wonderful balance of herbal flavors and fresh red-fruit notes from the roughly 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend.  Moderate tannins give welcome support without being intrusive.  Enjoy it now with a steak while young and vibrant, or cellar it for a decade and savor the added complexity it will develop. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 10, 2013

Clos Floridene, Graves (Bordeaux, France) 2011

($33):  White wine from Bordeaux is undervalued and overlooked. Don’t make that mistake with this charming example. It has a near magical combination of a pleasantly grassy pungency beautifully balanced by a lanolin-like creaminess. Truly mouth filling, it’s long and graceful as well.  An energetic vibrancy keeps you coming back for another sip.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 10, 2013

Château Graville-Lacoste, Graves (Bordeaux, France) 2012

($18, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants): Though I reviewed this wine earlier this year, I just tasted it again and realized I should repeat my earlier recommendation because it’s an especially good choice for the Thanksgiving table.  It’s a perfectly harmonized amalgam of lanolin-like texture (from Semillon, which comprises a majority of the blend), with the brightness and freshness of Sauvignon Blanc.  A weightier wine than many white Bordeaux, it is still an excellent aperitif style wine as well as a fine option for the table.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2013

Léo de la Gaffelière, Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux, France) 2011

($19, Luneau USA / Nicolas Wines): Château La Gaffelière is one of the leading properties in Saint-Emilion, making sensational wine year in and year out.  As the competition at the top end of Bordeaux continues, the top properties make ever increasing severe selections to maintain the quality — and price — of the top wine.  Wine that doesn’t make the grade goes into the Château’s second label.  Well, as the prices of the second labels increase, the Château feel increasing pressure to maintain their quality by creating a third wine, Léo de la Gaffelière, in the case of Château La Gaffelière.  But the third string of a great team can still play a strong game.  This third wine is definitely worth your attention. Red fruit flavors mix with herbal notes and dance across the palate. The tannins that support the plushness are especially fine for a third wine and make it easy to enjoy now.
89 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2013

Château de Cruzeau, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) 2010

($27, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits): This wine exemplifies why Bordeaux remains a benchmark for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wine.  It’s not just about the fruit, of which there’s plenty.  But the real excitement comes from the non-fruit flavors of earth, herbs and ash, plus the slight bitterness in the long and fine finish.  The moderate tannins are polished and fine, which, along with extraordinary freshness, makes the wine engaging now.  Drink it now or over the next year before it “closes up” or plan on cellaring it for a decade.  This refined wine is perfect for a holiday feast that includes a rib roast.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2013

Château Lamothe de Haux, Bordeaux (France) 2012

($12, Bayfield Importing): White wines from Bordeaux, such as this one, are underappreciated and hence, offer great value.  The 2012 Château Lamothe de Haux, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (40%), Semillon (40%) and Muscadelle, delivers a lovely grassy bite — Sauvignon Blanc speaking — atop a creamy texture, thanks to the Semillon.  The Muscadelle delivers enchanting fruity aromas.  Its freshness makes it work as a stand-alone aperitif while its substantial body makes it a good choice with turkey this Thanksgiving.  As a dividend, it has a surprising long finish considering the price.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2013

Château Nicot, Bordeaux (France) 2009

($10, Wine Brokers International): It is ironic that, at the same time Bordeaux is criticized for becoming a luxury commodity, it is producing terrific bargain wines like this one. Attractive herbal elements harmonize with plenty of dark fruit flavors. A subtle, fleeting bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal. Plush tannins make it perfect for current consumption. Buy it by the case–or two. Ten bucks! 89 Michael Apstein Dec 18, 2012

Château Recougne, Bordeaux Supérieur (Bordeaux, France) 2009

($16, Vintus):  As always, this “simple” Bordeaux is satisfying and a great value.  The herbal nuances that accompany the mixture of fruit flavors are what make it so appealing.  It has the length and grace you’d expect from a more expensive bottling.  Delightful now, I’d have no reservation about holding it for at least a decade because I’ve had 30 and yes, 40 year-old bottles of this wine that are stunningly good. 89 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Château Tour D’Auron, Bordeaux Supérieur (Bordeaux, France) 2009

($16, Vintus Imports):  Château Tour D’Auron is a château controlled by the well-regarded and talented Milhade family, who produces a bevy of fine wines from all their properties.  This “little” wine exemplifies why Bordeaux is so popular.  Supple and polished, it has the concentration of the 2009 vintage.  Subtle savory nuances complement the red and black fruit notes in this harmonious wine and make it more than just a fruit bomb.  It’s perfect for drinking now.
88 Michael Apstein Apr 24, 2012

Château Penin, Bordeaux Supérieur (Bordeaux, France) 2009

($15, Wine Brokers International):  The 2009 vintage in Bordeaux produced ripe, fleshy red wines.  Even at the lower appellation levels, such as Bordeaux Supérieur, the tannins are ripe and supple, not green, which makes these wines particularly attractive.  The 2009 Château Penin is classic Bordeaux with a satisfying combination of ripe red fruit flavors and earthy nuances.  Supple tannins and bright acidity add structure and balance the wine’s lushness. 87 Michael Apstein Feb 7, 2012

Château Lestrille, Bordeaux Supérieur (Bordeaux, France) 2009

($13, Wine Brokers International):  Here’s another bargain priced Bordeaux that shows how the lower appellations benefited from the ripeness of the 2009 vintage.  Black fruit flavor predominate in this weightier wine.  Subtle tarry elements and even a mildly chewy texture add to its appeal.  As expected from the vintage, the tannins are ripe, not astringent. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 7, 2012

2009 Bordeaux: Voluptuous Wines

They’re here!  The much-praised 2009 Bordeaux, the region’s priciest vintage, has arrived.  Representatives from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) were in New York this past week as part of their nationwide tour to give the trade the first comprehensive look at this much-heralded vintage.  Unlike a barrel tasting where tasters swirl and sip unfinished wines, the UGC tastings give representatives of the press and trade their first major chance to sample a broad array of finished, bottled wines, which will be appearing on retailers’ shelves shortly.

The UGC is an association of 132 grands crus estates located throughout all of the major Bordeaux appellations:  Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux, Moulis, Listrac, Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes, Barsac, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.  Importantly, the principals–owners, technical directors, or winemakers–pour the wines and are available for in-depth questions and discussions.

The tasting was beautifully organized by Balzac Communications and held in spacious surroundings–a necessity considering the number of wines and the crowd of attendees–at the Marriott Marquis.

Rave Early Reviews

The 2009 vintage in Bordeaux has received rave reviews based on initial barrel tastings conducted two years ago.  Calling it the vintage of the century has little meaning since that term is used in Bordeaux at least twice a decade.  But producers and critics have been effusive with their praise and the market responded with frenzied buying of “futures” despite stratospheric prices.

Longtime Bordeaux merchant David Milligan told me that he had initially not purchased these wines as futures for himself because of his age and a cellar full of older Bordeaux vintages, but after tasting them again, he decided that, despite the increased price, they were so outstanding that he was diving in–and hoping to live long enough to enjoy them.

Indeed, although the wines are available at the wholesale and retail level, the vast majority of them have been sold out and are no longer available at the producer level.  “It shows the long term view that the Bordelais have of the market,” noted Paul Wagner, President of Balzac Communications.  “These producers have no wine to sell, yet they are here at considerable expense to promote them and their region.”

A Lack of Consistency

Did the wines live up to the hype and expectations?  Yes and no.  And it depends very much on the style of wine you prefer.  The 2009s are perfect for those who favor voluptuous ripe powerful red wines.  In contrast, word on the street is that those who favor more classically proportioned vigorous reds should embrace the 2010s, which producers and critics are also trumpeting, based on barrel samples.

John Kolasa, managing director for both Château Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Château Canon in St. Emilion, remarked that 2009 was an “American” vintage, while the 2010s were a “British” vintage, meaning that the ‘09s would be for earlier drinking, while the more classic ‘10s would be for cellaring for the children.

There’s no question that there were some spectacular wines and there were more successes than failure in 2009.  But some wines were overblown and over-the-top.  There was a lack of consistency, unlike 2005 when you could literally close your eyes and point to select a terrific wine.

The character of the wines is always determined by the weather during the growing season, which in 2009 was perfect.  Sun and warmth with just enough rain at times allowed the grapes to ripen perfectly.  Ideal weather during the harvest meant the grapes were in superb condition, without rot or disease, when they arrived at the press.  Those ideal harvest conditions may explain why some of the wines are overblown.  Growers could wait, and wait, and wait to harvest because of glorious weather without the threat of rain.  Indeed, some grapes came in over-ripe, resulting in big, overblown wines with high levels of alcohol.  And wines high in alcohol extract more oak while they age in barrel than do lower alcohol wines, according to Kolasa.  Producers who exercised restraint, perhaps picked a little earlier, and were prudent with barrel-aging in 2009 made superb wines.  Those who didn’t were left with over ripe, alcoholic and overly oaky wines.

Lush and Fleshy Reds

The reds are ripe, lush and fleshy wines with very supple tannins and low-ish acidity.  Many are powerful but quite forward and approachable now although, like the 1982s, which were also easy to drink soon after release, I suspect the well-balanced 2009s will also develop nicely.  The ripeness and fleshiness of the vintage blurred and, in some instances, obscured the lines dividing appellations.  The wines from St. Estèphe, for example, did not have their usual earthy, slightly grainy tannins that distinguish them from the rest of Bordeaux.  Many of the wines from Pessac-Léognan lacked the distinct and engaging burnt ash quality I associate with that appellation.  On the other hand, the communes of Margaux, St. Julien and Pauillac seemed to be particularly successful in 2009, with the best wines reflecting their origins.  On the Right Bank, many of the ones from Pomerol and St. Emilion were boisterous, but still with glossy tannins.

Under-Appreciated Sweet Wines

The sweet wines from Barsac and Sauternes are under-appreciated.  These wines keep extremely well for at least a week–and often longer–after they’ve been opened, which means you can easily enjoy just a glass with cheese or after and recork the bottle for later.  The 2009s showed very well, with richness tinged with apricot skin flavors.  Coutet ($75), with its cutting and vibrant acidity led the pack with Lafaurie-Peyraguey ($54) and Suduiraut ($93) not far behind.

 Pricey Stuff, but Value Exists

While the top names from 2009s are priced in the stratosphere–Lafite is selling for about $2,000 a bottle–there are fabulous buys at the lower ends of the prestige ladder.  Less revered appellations benefited enormously from the ripeness, eliminating under ripe grapes and green tannins.  And who really cares if the appellation lines of Bordeaux Supérieur are blurred?  Look for traditional over achieves from Moulis or Listrac or wines from the more humble Haut-Médoc and Médoc appellations for good value.

I’ve listed my favorites below, divided into three groups, based on the UCG tasting, a tasting of finished wines, not barrel samples, at VinExpo in Bordeaux in June 2011, or at other venues.  The wines are listed alphabetically within each group because they are very close in quality.  Indeed, the difference between my top and second tier is also small.  The third group represents particularly good values, wines $25 or less, although there are a few outstanding values in the other groups as well.  I would be happy to have any of these wines in my cellar.

95+ Point Red Wines

Branaire Ducru ($71), Brane Cantenac ($73), Domaine de Chevalier ($79), Conseillante ($237), Figeac ($269), Léoville Barton ($104), Pichon-Longueville [a.k.a. Pichon Baron] ($145), Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande [a.k.a. Pichon Lalande] ($207).

90-95 Point Red Wines

d’Armailhac ($54), Angludet ($35), Batailley ($44), Belgrave ($35), Canon-la-Gaffelière ($96), Cantemerle ($38), Clerc Milon ($65), Clos Fourtet ($111), Dauzac ($58), Durfort-Vivens ($40), Gazin ($93), Gloria ($46), Gruaud Larose ($84), d’Issan ($66), Lagrange ($63), La Lagune ($68), Langoa Barton ($70), Rausan-Gassies ($55), Rausan-Ségla ($106), Smith Haut Lafitte ($114),

Excellent Value Red Wines ($25 or less)

Citran ($22), Coufran ($24), Greysac ($25), La Tour de By ($25).

The Angludet, Batailley, Belgrave and Dufort-Vivens also represent outstanding value, albeit a higher price point.

February 7, 2012

Château Recougne, Bordeaux Superieur (Bordeaux, France) 2006

($15, Ex Cellars Wine Agency):  This is the kind of Bordeaux that everyone loves to find because it delivers more than either the price or the appellation suggests.  Château Recougne, one of the key properties of the talented Milhade family, is located near Pomerol on the right bank of Bordeaux’s Gironde River.  Similar to most right bank properties, Merlot is predominant, comprising 75% of the blend, with Cabernet Franc (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for the remainder. The 2006 Recougne had a hard act to follow, coming after the excellent 2005 and performs beautifully.  Not just fruity, it delivers a gracious combination of leafy, earthy notes and ripe red fruit flavors surrounded by fine tannins.  Château Recougne, despite its lowly appellation, is a wine that develops beautifully with bottle age.  Over the last decade, I’ve had many bottles of the 1952, which continues to show complexity, suaveness and brightness.  So you can buy this one by the case and not worry that its many charms will fade. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2010

Christian Moueix, Bordeaux (France) Merlot “Encore” 2005

($15, Kobrand): If the Moueix family, who owns or controls many properties in Pomerol–including Chateau Pétrus–where Merlot is king, can’t produce an exhilarating Merlot, then no one can.  The name, Encore, is apt because after one taste you want more of this serious Merlot.  With succulent–but not sweet or overripe fruit–and balanced fine tannins, it shows the brilliance of the producer and the vintage.  It’s easy to recommend for current drinking. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 5, 2010

Economic squeeze hitting Bordeaux wines

“This could be the crash of the century instead of the vintage of the century,” quipped Coco Conroy of Château Brane-Cantenac, a second-growth property in Margaux, as she jokingly referred to Bordeaux’s 2008 vintage.

Like other blue chips, Bordeaux, the bluest of blue chips in the world’s wine market, is not immune to this economic downturn. The Bordeaux market is currently in chaos. Buyers are reluctant to step up to the plate. Prices are falling sharply. It is possible that Bordeaux’s long-established, and intricate, system of selling wines faces fundamental change.

Bordeaux has seen crisis before in the early 1970s and early 1990s. The major difference now is that Bordeaux represents a much smaller portion of the overall wine market. And back then, importers had to buy Bordeaux for their portfolios; without it, they were not credible.

Now Bordeaux represents a much smaller portion of the overall wine market. Despite its shrinking share, Bordeaux prices have risen – at least until now – like a rocket, making it much more capital-intensive than any other types of wine.

Hence it is far less important and far more risky for an importer to handle Bordeaux than it was even 15 years ago. And this year, with fewer buyers for expensive wines, many importers are shying away.

Historically, Bordeaux sales are predictable. The wines are sold en primeur, a system unique to Bordeaux, in which the wines are sold in advance – as “futures” – two years before they are bottled and shipped to retailers. (Unlike buying pork belly futures, the consumer typically wants to take delivery of the wine.) Buyers and critics troop to the region the first week of April every year to attend organized tastings of the new vintage and to assess the wines.

Once the reviews of critic Robert Parker come out, usually in May or June, individual chateaux set their prices. Prices generally move in the same direction – usually up compared with previous years – but by varying degrees depending on the reviews.

But this year, to jump-start the market, some set prices even before Parker weighed in. Most have dropped substantially. Chateau Angelus, a top St. Emilion and the first to announce prices, cut its price almost in half, to 2004 levels. Even the sought-after first growths – Chateau Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild – who always easily sell their wine and who usually announce their prices last, have already posted dramatic decreases compared to prior years. Latour’s initial price of 110 euros was less than half the 2007 price.

Impact on 2007 prices

The price drops sent a tsunami through the retail market. Many 2008s are selling for less than the 2007s, an inferior vintage by all accounts. Retailers around the country are slashing prices – and taking losses – on unsold 2007s and even 2006s. MacArthur Beverages in Washington, D.C., just slashed the prices on its stocks of 2006s by 50 percent. Mark Wessels, MacArthur’s Bordeaux buyer, expects something similar for the 2007s. “Who’s going to buy the 2007 l’Angelus for $199 when the 2008, a better wine, is selling for $99?” he asks.

Clyde Beffa Jr., who buys Bordeaux for K & L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, anticipates taking a loss on his 2007s, but customers have responded to the lower-priced 2008s. He points to Chateau Leoville-Barton, a well-regarded St. Julien, for $44: “It’s hard to find good California Cabernet at that price.”

So there’s strength for some wines. Parker, whose reviews came out in late April, praised the vintage in general and Lafite in particular, causing its price to double. But up until the publication of Parker’s assessments, buyers were showing far less interest in the 2008s.

This year, Bordeaux’s en-primeur week was missing some habitually large purchasers – including Wessels and Beffa. Attendance was down overall by about 10 percent.

The weak demand and falling prices prompted some producers to consider abandoning the whole system, at least temporarily. Typically, the en primeur system shifted power toward producers; they have been reluctant to give it up because it provides owners with early sales and an ability to test the market by releasing only part of their stock. Lafite’s preliminary Parker score of 98-100, for instance, allowed them to dramatically raise prices for their remaining stocks of 2008s. But that has been the exception.

“The 2008 en primeur campaign isn’t going to work,” according to John Kolasa, director of Chateau Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Chateau Canon, a leading property in St. Emilion. He thinks the prudent thing to do is to “recognize the horrible economic situation and hold wines for a couple of years.”

Some holding back

Patrick Maroteaux, president of Château Branaire-Ducru, a top property in St. Julien, is considering a similar tack. “People are clamoring for me to reduce my price by 50 percent,” he says, “which would mean that I would be charging less for my 2008, a much better wine, than for the 2007. And there’s no guarantee that it will sell even at that price.”

A few properties, including the prestigious Chateau Pichon-Longueville (Baron), adopted this strategy in the early 1990s during a similar economic turndown. But many estates simply need the cash. Others aren’t willing to abandon tradition. Jean-René Matignon, technical director at Pichon-Longueville (Baron), expects management to sell at least a portion of the 2008 vintage en primeur.

Large-scale buyers are just as hesitant to place orders in an uncertain economy-especially at prices they may not be able to pass onto their customers-for fear of being stuck with wines they cannot sell. Volatile currency exchange rates – the dollar has fluctuated against the euro by 20 percent in the last six months – only make things worse. Yet those who fail to buy the 2008s could face retaliation from producers, who could punish them by refusing to sell them their allocation in the future.

Given its hidebound ways, it is improbable that the en primeur system even survived this long, especially given Bordeaux’s shrinking dominance of the world of wine. It served an important function when most chateaux were short of cash and wines needed prolonged aging. But now there is less barrel aging and the wines are consumed sooner. With so many other regions producing similar wines, it’s surprising that the Bordelais – but no one else – still persuade buyers to pony up two years in advance.

More reluctance

So this year’s turbulence may change the game. Fred Ek, a principal of Ex Cellars Wine Agencies, an importer based in Cambridge, Mass., and Solvang (Santa Barbara County), says importers in general are leery of putting money up front now.

“Just look at the last two years,” Ek says. “The economy is unstable. The currency risks are substantial. It doesn’t make sense to take a greater risk to capture a smaller portion of the overall wine market.”

Although it’s hard to envision Bordeaux’s long-established system disappearing entirely, the economy is accelerating the trend of some of its players abandoning it.

Bordeaux price plunge

Some initial release prices for Bordeaux chateaux in 2008 show marked drops from previous years. Prices are in euros per bottle. Currency rates have created further instability: The euro was about 1.29 for the 2004s; 1.55 for the 2007s and about 1.32 for the 2008s.


Source: Decanter, Chateau Palmer

This article appeared on page J – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday May 10, 2009

An American in St. Emilion

Could it be that an American, Stephen Adams, will bridge–and bring together–the two faces of Bordeaux’s major Right Bank appellations?

St. Emilion and Pomerol have long been known for producing some of Bordeaux’s most sought-after wines, such as Château Cheval Blanc, Château Ausone and Château Pétrus. Recently, it has also been known as home to a new wave of ‘garage wines’ such as Valandraud. These highly extracted, highly concentrated, small production bottlings have been criticized by some French detractors as ‘New World’ interlopers in Bordeaux. There are formidable advocates on both sides of the debate sparked by wines of this type. Christian Moueix, whose family owns Château Pétrus, also owns the classically fashioned Château Magdelaine in St. Emilion and is clearly not an advocate of ‘garagiste’ wines. Among those taking the ‘more is better’ approach is Gerard Parse of the not-so-garage-like property, Château Pavie.

Stephen Adams

Enter Stephen Adams, a low profile but very wealthy American businessman who was bitten by the wine bug relatively late in life on a honeymoon trip to Bordeaux in 1999. Unlike most wealthy Americans who opt for Napa or Sonoma when they want to ‘get into wine,’ Adams chose Bordeaux and started collecting properties there. As with many ‘collectors,’ Adams started low, with Château Lagarosse, a property in the down-market appellation of premier Côtes de Bordeaux, but rapidly started buying in the more upscale St. Emilion and Pomerol appellations.

Adams now owns 6 properties on the right bank (Château Roylland, Château de Candale and Château Fonplégade in St. Emilion, Château L’Enclos in Pomerol, and Château Bel-Air in neighboring Lalande de Pomerol in addition to Château Lagarosse), and is now looking for sites in the Médoc. His flagship, Château Fonplégade, is perfectly situated in the heart of St. Emilion, on the south-facing slope adjacent to Château Arrosée and just down the road from Perse’s Château Pavie. Neighboring Château Canon and Ausone attest to Fonplégade’s ideal location.

A Change in Style

Adams’ early wines, the 2004s, are a poster child for the ‘new wave’ Bordeaux–big and boisterous–very oaky and extracted. But the more recent wines are rich and lush, with beautiful balance and reflect their individual appellations. The change could be due to the usual ‘learning curve,’ a conscious effort to change the style, or as Marjolain de Coninck, who, as Adams’ general manager, oversees all of his properties, believes, ‘Better vineyard management, which has resulted in a higher quality of fruit.’ Whatever the reason, they have turned down the volume with their 2005s–and especially their 2006s–so you can hear the music. Their 2006s are superb across the board–even better than the 2005s in my opinion, although de Coninck prefers their 2005s–with a wonderful glossiness and exquisite harmony.

De Coninck is pleased with the change in direction and believes their wines from the 2007 vintage, a difficult one because of variable weather, will be even better than their excellent 2006s because they are still seeing beneficial effects from changes they’ve made in the vineyard. She says ‘Adams has given us enough money to spend time in the vineyards so we can find the balance in the wine.’

De Coninck notes their vineyards are not organic, nor do they practice biodynamic farming. ‘We use common sense and employ treatments when necessary.’ It’s a maritime–read, wet-area, and the soil and vines need to be treated periodically to prevent mildew and odium. She notes, rather pragmatically, that you need to accept it and not be tied blindly to a particular philosophic approach.

Lower Yields and Better Selection

They prune and use other techniques to reduce yields–previous owners were more interested in quantity over quality. Olivier Nouet, Adams’ CEO, stressed the importance of reducing yields, ‘The first thing we did at Fonplégade after we purchased it in 2004 was to reduce production by a third, from about 45 hectoliters per hectare (hl/ha) to about 30 hl/ha.’ The other major decision that increased quality was to reduce the amount of wine destined for the grand vin and put more into a second label, Fleur de Fonplégade, which now accounts for anywhere from 40 to 50% of the production. They are repeating that refrain–lower yields, better selection–at their other properties.

Château Fonplégade

Château Fonplégade, classified as a St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé, has 18 ha (about 45 acres) of vineyards planted primarily (91%) with Merlot and a little (7%) Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon rounds out the blend. Marine Dubard, the winemaker at Château L’Enclos, points out that Cabernet Sauvignon planted in a vineyard in St. Emilion is a good sign because–although it doesn’t comprise much of the blend–it’s a marker for a warmer area, which means better ripening of the other varieties. The vines at Fonplégade vary in age from 15 to 30 years. The older ones’ roots go deep through St. Emilion’s prized soil, shallow clay overlying limestone.

The newly renovated winery sparkles and is the ideal setting for the modern vinification methods Adams is embracing. They replaced the cement fermentation tanks with wooden ones in time for the 2004 harvest, their first vintage. Gleaming stainless steel tanks stand like small missile silos surrounded by pale wood and granite. Since the wine is aged in 100% new oak for about two years, they spared no expense on the barrel room, which is humidified and air-conditioned. The Château itself, with French and American flags flying high, dates from 1852 and has been lovingly restored by Adams. It is grand in style, more in the Médoc tradition than the modest properties sprinkled on the Right Bank. It should be on every traveler’s itinerary for St. Emilion.

Château L’Enclos

Pomerol, a miniscule town with only about 15% the vineyard area of neighboring St. Emilion, is dominated by its church with its high, prominent solitary steeple projecting over the flat landscape. It’s known now for its wines, but formerly was such an important stop on the way to Santiago di Compostella that the Knights of Malta protected it, which explains why the symbol of the town is the Maltese Cross.

Château L’Enclos, with its 9 ha of vines (Merlot 85%, Cabernet Franc 12% and Malbec), is actually sizeable for Pomerol, where the average property has only half as large. Traditionally European customers have purchased almost all its wines–even before they’re bottled–but hopefully now under the Adams umbrella we will see more of these gems on our shores.

Adams purchased L’Enclos in 2007 and is already embarking on the program that worked well at Fonplégade. They plan to renovate the winery so they have more space for smaller tanks to allow ‘more precision in blending parcel by parcel, ‘ according to winemaker Marine Dubard. The first purchase Dubard made was a small stainless tank so she could ferment Cabernet Franc separately instead of cofermenting it with the other varieties as had been done previously. They plan to replace the Malbec because it was a poor clone that was planted in the 1970s. They eventually will select wine from the lesser parcels and younger vines for a second label.

The Future

Adams’ overall strategy for his other properties is the same: modernize, select and make a wine that reflects the locale. At Château de Candale, located in a satellite commune of St. Emilion, half the wine goes into a second label. At the less well-situated properties, Château de Bel-Air and Château Roylland, their aim is to make a wine that’s good value for the money.

With Château Fonplégade, Adams has revitalized and modernized the wine without eviscerating and obliterating its character. He has taken advantage of the property’s exquisite exposure and terroir to make concentrated wines, but has resisted the temptation of making wines that are ‘over the top.’ He’s repeating this successful formula at his other properties. Other ‘new wave’ producers on the Right Bank should take notice.

January 13, 2009

Château Thieuley, Bordeaux (France) 2005

($12, Ex-Cellars Wine Agency): A gorgeous blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, it shows the combination of grace and ripeness that is the hallmark of the 2005 vintage. Unusually complex for a wine of this price, it has nuances of earth and other non-fruit flavors to complement the fruit flavors. Supported by firm — but not astringent — tannins means it goes better with a steak or other red meat rather than as a before dinner ‘glass of Merlot.’  It’s an example of why Bordeaux still has a great reputation for producing excellent wines at a fair price, especially in the 2005 vintage. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 8, 2008

Château Recougne, Bordeaux Superiéur (Bordeaux, France) 2005

($15, Ex Cellars Wine Agency): This is one of many wines that demonstrates the tremendous value to be found in the 2005 red Bordeaux.  It delivers more enjoyment that its modest appellation, Bordeaux Superiéur, suggests.  Meaty nuances combine with ripe fruit flavors in this silky wine.  Enjoyable now, the mild tannins provide structure without intruding and suggest the wine will develop nicely over the next several years.  This would be a choice if you were starting a cellar. 90 Michael Apstein Oct 23, 2007

A tale of two Bordeaux: Aside from the top chateaus, the region’s producers struggle to be relevant

Perusing the selection at a Cannes wine shop, I noticed a group of Japanese businessmen. Among the shop’s selection of upscale wines — such as Cristal and grand cru Burgundies — one gentleman selected two bottles of 1995 Cheval Blanc, one of Bordeaux’s greatest wines (for just over $600 a bottle). The customer, visibly upset, explained to the clerk through his translator that he was unhappy — not with the condition of the bottles — but with the condition of the tissue paper wrapping them, which was torn.

So which was more important, the wine or the presentation?

While Bordeaux’s best wines still carry a certain cachet, their influence is far less profound than it was 30 years ago. Though other winegrowing regions have emerged to knock Bordeaux from its perch as the world’s leading wine region, its considerable economic impact, especially for the top 100 or so wines, remains.

Although the region’s top names are still able to command stratospheric prices, many of their fellow vintners have been left in the dust.

In part, its current problems stem from a notion among new American wine drinkers that all Bordeaux are grand wines that need decades to mature and are mostly consumed by the moneyed class. U.S. wine retailers who have long found Bordeaux a profitable staple are suddenly trying to figure out how to dispel its stuffy reputation.

Just a year ago, it seemed like Bordeaux couldn’t be hotter. New records were set as chateaus unveiled their prices for the superb 2005 vintage, hoping to capitalize on what the Bordelais love to call a “vintage of the century.” The 2005 Chateau Petrus topped $2,000 a bottle, with other superstars not far behind. But a year later, faced with a 2006 vintage that received a lukewarm reception from critics, wineries still insisted on asking for top dollar. Recent futures prices, in which customers order wine two years before it is delivered, for the 2006 vintage — more than $1,000 a bottle for Chateau Petrus — reinforced an image that Bordeaux is inflexible and self-satisfied. Many Bordeaux loyalists steered clear of the 2006 vintage’s high prices. And most new wine drinkers simply shrugged, bypassing Bordeaux for Italy, Spain or the New World.

Peter M. F. Sichel, who has been a prominent figure in the Bordeaux trade for the last 40 years, believes that money has distorted the market. An increasingly wealthy upper class from around the world is pouring money into the market for top names and virtually ignoring smaller properties.

“There are really two Bordeaux now,” Sichel says. “One hundred or so chateaus (less than 5 percent of all properties) are doing exceptionally well, and everyone else is struggling.”

Bordeaux wines have been revered for centuries. When consumers were learning about wine in the 1970s and 1980s, Bordeaux was the natural place to start. The wines were available — most properties made upwards of 10,000 cases a year — and largely affordable. Novice wine tasters could compare for themselves — without taking out a second mortgage — the differences between properties and learn to distinguish one commune’s wines from another.

Historically, the 1855 Classification in the Medoc served as a road map to quality. But because this and other classifications were made well over a century ago, they often did not reflect the quality of those wines today. Robert M. Parker Jr. introduced the 100-point scoring scale in the mid-1970s and his ratings rapidly replaced the dependence on these classifications. Parker’s early assessments fueled a frenzy in the futures market — not only in the United States, but in growing markets like Russia and Asia.

“Thirty years ago the only market for Bordeaux was Western Europe and the United States,” says Kees Van Leeuwen, the enologist and viticulturist at Chateau Cheval Blanc, the esteemed St. Emilion property. “Now rich people are everywhere.”

And they’re competing for less of the best wines. Cheval Blanc, for instance, produced 150,000 bottles in 1982 (at about $50 a bottle, initially), but only 100,000 in 2005 (not yet released, but currently priced at about $1,000 a bottle) and 45,000 in 2006. And many of these wines are being sought not as a prized bottle to drink but as just another trophy, like a Ferrari or a Patek Philippe watch.

Ralph Sands, a Bordeaux specialist at K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, has seen a different kind of money pouring into Bordeaux purchases: “Venture capitalists and other investors, not my usual buyer, appeared to buy the (highly acclaimed) 2005 vintage. Some people view these wines as blue chip investments, despite the price.”

But as Bordeaux’s top names became luxury icons, most other producers were left out of the limelight. These small producers, especially from less prestigious areas such as Entre Deux Mers, Cotes de Bourg or Cotes du Blaye, made wines that were never highly sought after. With so many other choices for affordable wine from around the world, they have fallen further out of favor with the changing market.

Four of the 5 Cotes — an affiliation of five lesser known areas of Bordeaux — consolidated under one AOC (official wine appellation), Cotes de Bordeaux, starting with the 2007 vintage. These and other less prestigious areas, such as Entre Deux Mers, or those labeled simply Bordeaux Superieur or Bordeaux, produce wines that are ready to drink much sooner and that are far more affordable than the wines from the grander AOCs.

Some wine retailers have seized an opportunity with these lesser-known wines. Michael Traverso, of Traverso’s Gourmet Foods and Liquor in Santa Rosa, said that his typical Bordeaux buyer is someone who’s “fed up with high-alcohol California wine. They started with local wines but have become disenchanted by over-the-top California wines and are now looking for something different.”

Over the last 10 years, Traverso’s space for high-end Bordeaux has remained constant while the “bargain Bordeaux” section expanded. At MacArthur Beverages, a premium wine shop in Washington, D.C., with a vast selection of Bordeaux, general manager and wine buyer Mark Wessels has a display of $10-$20 Bordeaux bottles from lesser areas in the front of the store to sate growing customer demand.

Wine drinkers have manifested an enormous change in taste over the last 20 years, as food, and wine, have become more about impact than subtlety. For a wine to be “heard” in this environment it must be flamboyant and boisterous — everything that traditional Bordeaux is not.

One way some lesser Bordeaux producers fought to put themselves on the map was by making New World-like wines with more extraction, higher alcohol and extended oak barrel aging. Primarily found on the Right Bank of the Gironde River that divides the region both geographically and viticulturally, these so-called garagiste wines — named because they are made at small, garage-like, production facilities — received praise from Parker, but criticism from others. Some top garagistes like Le Pin became as highly traded as the first growths.

But many still face controversy as to whether they’re overreaching. Pioneering winemakers like Jean-Luc Thunevin, whose Valandraud was one of the first garagiste hits, have had harsh words for newcomers, and traditional producers — especially the top Left Bank properties — refuse to emulate the garagiste approach, and criticize their Right Bank garagiste neighbors for distorting the style of the region.

Christian Moueix, who oversees his family’s 10 properties in St. Emilion and Pomerol, including Chateau Petrus, the maker of Bordeaux’s most expensive wine, believes that the infatuation with garagiste wines is fading as consumers discover that many did not develop with age.

Marcel Ducasse, who just retired after 23 years at managing director of Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien, was proud that he consistently made “understated” wines.

Paul Pontallier, the managing director of Chateau Margaux, opted not to include the ripe — 15 percent alcohol — Merlot in the blend of the 2005 because “it would unbalance Margaux’s elegant style.” Ironically, it was two prominent Bordelais winemakers, the late Emile Peynaud and Michael Rolland, who encouraged fleshier wines that have defined the modern style of wine for the rest of the world.

Despite their push toward plusher wines, much of the U.S. interest in Bordeaux comes because of its original strength: wines that aren’t defined by the in-your-face fruit flavors and supple tannins that consumers seem to love in wines from California, Australia and other New World locales.

The typical high-end Bordeaux still offers the region’s hallmark: the complexity of non-fruit flavors — leather, cedar, coffee and so on — that comes from years of aging in the cellar.

Few people have the patience — or the money — to wait. (If you cellar a wine that costs $200 a bottle for 10 years, it’s worth about $400 adjusted solely for what the economists call “opportunity costs,” what you could have made from a 7 percent annual return had you invested that money elsewhere.)

It’s no surprise, then, that many retailers have found a market in older wines for customers who want to trade out the taste of New World “fruit bombs” for the taste of aged Bordeaux — without the wait. “Small lots of mature Bordeaux from the great vintages of the 1980s, such as ’82, ’86, ’89, sell out in a day,” says MacArthur’s Wessels.

Bordeaux is trying to adapt, too, but has yet to find the right formula. Sichel finds it odd that the largest fine-wine producing area in the world “has never been able to brand itself” — except for Mouton Cadet, owned by Mouton-Rothschild, which remains one of the top 10 imported wines in the United States. Most other attempts have failed.

There are other problems. The complexity of the French appellation system, which recognizes 57 different AOCs within Bordeaux but won’t allow grape varieties on the label, remains an impediment. Bordeaux proprietors and winemakers are so fixated on terroir — the concept that where the grapes grow, not the variety of grape, is key to the wine’s character — that they often stumble when asked about the blend. (The proportion of a chateau’s vineyard devoted to each grape type is easily found, but how much the winemaker uses varies year to year). Bob Harkey, owner of Harkey’s Fine Wines, a well-regarded small wine shop in Millis, Mass., a suburb of Boston, thinks the Bordelais “ignored a whole generation of wine drinkers by not adopting varietal labeling.” His customers are “shocked” when he tells them Bordeaux is a blend primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

As for that riper style, many major Bordeaux producers have also looked beyond France, making New World-style wines with the traditional Bordeaux varieties. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, one of the first to invest in California with Opus One, was followed by Christian Moueix with Dominus. Mouton’s presence is also notable in Chile with Almaviva and Escudo Rojo. Chateau Lafite Rothschild has Los Vascos in Chile, Caro in Argentina and Rupert & Rothschild in South Africa. Chateau Cheval Blanc has a joint project, Cheval des Andes, in Argentina.

Bordeaux still matters, but in a very different way from 30 years ago. Even though the top wines are seen more as an investment vehicle than something to be enjoyed at the dinner table, Bordeaux still produces large quantities of affordable wines. The Bordelais just need to figure out how to introduce them to American consumers who have different tastes from their parents and who now have more choices for the wineglass.

This article appeared on page F – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, July 27, 2007

2006 Red Bordeaux Reviews

The Red Wines:

L’Angelus (St. Emilion) 2006: Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, who, along with his cousin, Jean-Bernard Grenié, runs L’Angelus, told me that a gentle extraction was critical in 2006. They performed most of the extraction early, during fermentation, when the alcohol (which is a solvent) was low to minimize extracting bitter tannins. It worked. A blend of two-thirds Merlot and one-third Cabernet Franc, the aromas and flavors are very expressive. Dense, succulent black fruit predominates in this fleshy wine and extends into the long finish. It’s powerful, but not over-the-top, and importantly, well balanced. The tannins are firm, yet ripe without a trace of bitterness, making this, like most of the upper end wines from this vintage, a candidate for at least a decade of bottle age. 94

d’Armailhac (Pauillac) 2006 ($37): All of the wines produced by the team at Château Mouton-Rothschild excelled in 2006. D’Armailhac is no exception. It has a great nose, plush minerality and fine tannins. Persistent flavors of black cherry and penetrating acidity combine to keep it fresh. In short, it’s a lovely, balanced wine. 91

Ausone (St. Emilion) 2006: Balanced and long, the 2006 Ausone is a marvelous wine. From the first whiff, its splendor is apparent. Mouth filling black fruit and gamey nuances provide excitement. Firm but polished tannins do not intrude on the long finish. This is another excellent wine from 2006 that will need at least a decade to open. 95

Batailley (Pauillac) 2006: A wonderful combination of floral elements and earthy minerality equals a great success for this property in 2006, and this wine has turned out similar to Batailley’s very fine 2005. It has power and depth, but it is the wine’s suaveness sets it apart from many of the other wines in 2006. 93

Beaumont (Haut-Médoc) 2006: Surprisingly supple for this vintage, Beaumont’s offering is lush–almost forward–but certainly has sufficient structure to keep it interesting. A little one-dimensional at this stage, I suspect it will open up nicely by the time it hits our shores. 86

Belgrave (Haut-Médoc) 2006: This underrated classified growth made an exceptionally well-balanced wine in 2006. Fine tannins lend structure without astringency to this ripe and plumy wine. Its elegance, especially in the finish, is remarkable. Since this property flies under most everyone’s radar, it should be well priced and consumers would do well to search for it. 92

Beychevelle (St. Julien) 2006: Beychevelle was a great success in 2006 and surpassed their 2005 with an alluring combination of fragrant berries and sweet fine tannins. Marvelously balanced, it’s a long classy wine. 93

Branaire Ducru (St. Julien) 2006: Patrick Maroteaux and his team at Branaire have done a marvelous job over the last several years. The wines typically remain under-priced for what they deliver. Only two-thirds of the production went into the grand vin, which helps explain its stature and elegance. With a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and the remainder divided between Petit Verdot (4%) and Cabernet Franc (2%), the 2006 has a haunting, roasted, smoky quality atop the black fruit flavors and firm, but not green, tannins. 92

Brane-Cantenac (Margaux) 2006: Ripe tannins and quintessential Margaux plushness combine with concentrated and exotic fruit and earth flavors to produce this balanced wine. 90

Canon (St. Emilion) 2006: Located high on the plateau near the center of the village, Canon holds an ideal exposure, and the staff used it to great effect in 2006. Their limestone base permitted excellent drainage. They harvested the earlier ripening Merlot, which covers 75% of their vineyards, at perfect ripeness–some came in at over a potential alcohol of 14%–before the rains. Run by John Kolasa, who also oversees Rausan-Ségla in Margaux, Canon has been making very successful wines lately. The beautifully balanced 2006, not a powerhouse, is best described as succulent and silky. Kolasa has perhaps brought some of Margaux’s silkiness to St. Emilion. 94

Carbonnieux (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Ripe black fruit flavors and a smoky component follow a very expressive–and typical–nose of ash. The tannins are fine and balance the fruit nicely. Lush black fruit and smoke persists into the long finish. 92

Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2006 ($49): A pretty nose and an attractive earthiness peek out from underneath substantial tannins. Alluring black cherry notes in the finish add complexity. 89

Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac) 2006: Lafite was one of the few properties that made an excellent second wine in 2006. Many of the second wines in 2006 were the repositories for the batches with unripe tannins. This one was not. With a lovely floral nose, fleshy texture and fine tannins, it has unusual complexity for a second wine. 90

Cheval Blanc (St. Emilion) 2006: The theme of the 2006 vintage–those who could afford to make a severe selection make great wine–is evident in the Cheval Blanc. Almost 30% of the production was sold off in bulk, not fit for inclusion in either the grand vin or the second label, Le Petit Cheval. A blend of almost 50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the Cheval Blanc has a luxurious mouth filling ripeness coupled with finesse. A classically structured wine, the tannins lend support without bitterness, but this no early maturing Cheval Blanc. 93

Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Always one of my favorites, Domaine de Chevalier put together a well structured, but balanced, wine that will need a decade of aging. Aromatics identify it as Pessac-Léognan and the exotic nature continues onto the palate where it mingles with deep black fruit. Captivating minerality persists throughout its lengthy finish. The tannins are not bashful, but the gorgeous nose and exceptional length convinces me that it will reward those who have patience. 94

Citran (Haut-Médoc) 2006: Lovely cassis fruit, apparent in the nose, carries through onto the palate and into the finish. Nuances of minerals add complexity. The tannins are fine, making for a well-balanced wine. 88

Clerc-Milon (Pauillac) 2006: Another terrific wine made by the team at Mouton, Clerc-Milon has a lush minerality atop cassis-like fruit, all balanced by fine tannins and an uplifting freshness. It’s an exciting wine. 93

Clinet (Pomerol) 2006: Full of meaty, exotic flavors, Clinet was an unqualified success in 2006. An alluring ‘wild’ character combined with sweet, polished tannins adds to its appeal. 92

Clos les Lunelles, (Côtes de Castillon) 2006: Although not as woody or extracted as I had predicted, the oak overwhelms the lovely nose and densely packed black fruit character of this wine. The tannins, while intense, are not bitter. 86

Clos du Marquis (St. Julien): 2006: Often thought of as a second wine of Léoville-Las-Cases, Clos du Marquis is actually a separate vineyard across the road. Some wine from Léoville-Las-Cases’ main vineyards goes into Clos du Marquis–a little Cabernet Franc in 2006, for example–but basically the wine under this label comes from this separate vineyard. The 2006, smooth and supple, has succulent fruit and a subtle chocolate quality. With its clean tannins, it will be ready to drink sooner than many 2006s, but will last for one to two decades. 90

Cos d’Estournel (St. Estèphe) 2006: When Cabernet Sauvignon gets ripe in St. Estèphe, that commune can produce some magnificent wines, such as this one. Despite extraordinary suppleness–especially for a wine from St. Estèphe–there’s no shortage of power, ripeness and complexity. A roasted, earthy quality identifies its origin and gives it its punch, but it’s the length and grace of this wine that makes it outstanding. 96

La Croix (Pomerol) 2006: The blend of 60% Merlot with the remainder split evenly between the two Cabernets, La Croix has a distinctly meaty element, as well as lush black fruit that conveys power. The fine tannins add class. 92

Dauzac (Margaux) 2006: This is a great wine from this under-rated property. A lovely nose of toasty oak and concentrated fruit give way to firm–but not green–tannins and terrific texture. As it sits in the glass, it expands and its considerable complexity reveals itself in the finish. 91

Ducru Beaucaillou (St. Julien) 2006: Bruno Borie told me they used only the grapes from the best sites for this wine–and it shows. A deep, toasty nose accurately predicts the fabulous roasted flavors that follow. The dense fruit is mixed with spice and supported by a healthy dose of firm tannins. This is another powerful style of St. Julien that will need a decade at least to open. 92

Dufort-Vivens (Margaux) 2006: A little oaky at this stage, crushed red fruit flavors emerge and persist in the finish to ultimately create a balanced wine. Ripe tannins accentuate the plushness associated with the wines of Margaux. 88

Duhart-Milon (Pauillac) 2006: Since it is under the same winemaking team as Château Lafite Rothschild, it is not surprising that Duhart-Milon produced an excellent wine in 2006. Lovely ripeness offsets fine tannins. Classic minerality of Pauillac comes through and is amplified by fresh acidity. 91

Domaine de l’Eglise (Pomerol) 2006: More forward than many, the expressive nose and lively black cherry-like flavors and acidity are very appealing. Rich ripeness is nicely balanced by fine tannins. 91

Ferrand (Graves) 2006: Exotic, toasty nuances mixed with fresh, black cherry-like flavor is buttressed by firm tannins. Like so many wines from this vintage, this will need time to soften. But unlike many, it’s balanced now, so it should reward patience. 88

Feytit Clinet (Pomerol) 2006: Jérémy Chasseuil and his team made a terrific wine in 2006 from a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Meaty, ripe flavors stop just short of being ‘over-the-top’ and are balanced by suave tannins. A smoky component adds pleasure in the considerable finish. 93

Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: A shy nose misleads, as the wine is packed with flavor, spice, and an engaging creaminess characteristic of Fieuzal. The tannins are firm, but not bitter, and are appropriate for the fruit. 90

Gomerie (St. Emilion) 2006: The Bécot family made some stylishly elegant wines in 2006, including one from their recently acquired Joanin Bécot in the Côtes de Castillon. The 2006 Gomerie, however, will appeal to those who prefer sheer power at the expense of elegance. Dense and flamboyant with lots of oak showing at this stage, this is not my style of wine, but will not lack for partisans. 85

Grand-Puy-Ducasse (Pauillac) 2006: Expressive black cherry flavors follow a fresh, lovely, almost floral nose. This is a dense wine, with tannins that are a little coarse, but, given the depth of fruit, it should come together well over time. 90

Greysac (Médoc) 2006: Luscious cassis-like fruit emerges from the fine tannins to create a nicely balanced wine. Judging from past vintages, it should be widely available and reasonably priced. 88

Joanin Bécot (Côtes de Castillon) 2006 ($23): The Bécot family purchased this property recently and has upgraded it significantly in a short period of time. The winemaking team must have performed a careful selection and extraction to have fashioned this suave wine. Filled with sweet ripe fruit, it has alluring layers of tobacco and cedar buttressed by fine, pure tannins. Its finesse is particularly evident in the graceful finish. 90

Kirwan (Margaux) 2006 ($44): A lovely deep nose and mouth-filling fruit mixed with dried herbs grab your attention. The long, sweet finish is ever so slightly marred by a touch of greenness in the tannins. Nonetheless, the great aromatics and length suggests this wine will turn out just fine when it’s ready a decade from now. 89

Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac) 2006: One of the best wines of the vintage, the 2006 is a classically proportioned Lafite. Remarkably intense for Lafite, it retains the finesse for which the property is rightly famous. Mouth filling flavors of black fruit mingled with minerals persist and extend into an exceptional finish. The tannins are amazingly unobtrusive. Despite its intensity, it’s not a powerhouse type of wine. Rather, it wows you with elegance. 96

Lafon-Rochet (St. Estèphe) 2006 ($35): A classic example of an excellent wine from St. Estèphe, the 2006 Lafon-Rochet has an alluring earthy component to complement the ripe black fruit. Not as dense as some, it has remarkable balance and freshness in the finish–likely a result of a gentler extraction. 90

Lagrange (St. Julien) 2006: Marcel Ducasse and his team did an admirable job with this vintage, his last before he retires and hands control to Bruno Eynard. Always a model of restraint, Lagrange has firm but unobtrusive tannins that balance flavors of cedar, spice and black cherries. With the hallmark St. Julien elegance, it’s a lovely young wine. Judging from prior pricing decisions, this should be an excellent buy. 92

La Lagune (Haut-Médoc) 2006: This is another property that made a more complete wine in 2006 than 2005. Never a blockbuster, La Lagune has a reputation for making stylish wines. Their style served them well in 2006 and explains how they produced such an excellent wine. The expressive nose, filled with ripe, exotic fruit and herbs, gives way to toasty flavors of grilled meat, all supported by clean fine tannins. The combination of great aromatics and length means this young wine will develop well. 94

Lascombes (Margaux) 2006: Lascombes made an exciting wine in 2006. The silky tannins characteristic of Margaux are an excellent counterpoint to the exotic flavors of plums, herbs and smoke. Great length and freshness adds to its complexity. This property is being resurrected and the price has yet to catch up to its quality. 93

Latour (Pauillac) 2006: The glorious aromas continue as wonderful flavors on the palate. Slightly tarry nuances mixed with minerals, a roasted element, and deep dark fruit is a fabulous combination. Latour is always tannic and tightly wound when young, but the tannins in 2006 lack their usual polish. Nonetheless, the depth and concentration of this wine, along with Latour’s characteristically slow development, suggest that it will turn out just fine. 91

Léoville Barton (St. Julien) 2006 ($69): Brightness and succulence strike the palate and give way to minerality. Firm, clean tannins support without overwhelming. In short, a balanced, well made 2006. 92

Léoville-Las-Cases (St. Julien) 2006: One of the stars of the vintage, the 2006 Léoville-Las-Cases is another wine, along with Mouton, that consumers should buy as a ‘futures’ because its price will escalate as its quality becomes known. Dense and concentrated fruit flavors with alluring toasted and roasted qualities, it nonetheless has clean, fine tannins. The extraction and selection must have been very careful performed, judging from the incredible combination of power and elegance that persist into the finish. 97

Léoville-Poyferré (St. Julien) 2006: A blend of 73% Cabernet, 21% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, the 2006 Léoville-Poyferré has more in common with Pauillac than St. Julien, with tarry minerality joined by substantial black fruit flavors. The great nose, long finish and substantial tannins in this big and powerful wine suggest it will need at least a decade to open. 92

Lusseau (St. Emilion) 2006: Another property in the Perse portfolio, this wine is a ‘modern,’ intense style of wine. The very ripe fruit quality comes across as plush, and is a counterpoint to the big time tannins. This wine could eventually show some elegance once it settles down, but it will be a long wait. 87

Malescot-Saint-Exupéry (Margaux) 2006: Another winning wine from the commune of Margaux, the Malescot-Saint-Exupéry has everything you’d want in an excellent young wine: a great nose, exotic spiced fruit flavors, firm, clean tannins and that Margaux velvetiness. Fresh acidity keeps it balanced and extends the finish. The winemaking staff must have performed a gentle extraction to achieve this kind of wine. 93

Margaux (Margaux) 2006: Pontallier described the 2006 vintage at Margaux as classic, similar to 1996. In addition to a severe selection (only 33% of the crop wound up in the grand vin), he attributes Margaux’s success in 2006 to their great ‘terroir for Cabernet. When the Cabernet is ripe, we have a great vintage and it was perfectly ripe in 2006.’ The 2006 Margaux, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, is an extraordinary wine. Unbelievably smooth and velvety for its size, the ripe, dark fruit conveys power. Although a lovely minerality adds complexity, it is its silkiness that makes it distinctive. It’s a ‘sneaky’ wine because its true stature catches you by surprise in the finish. 96

Marquis-de-Terme (Margaux) 2006: The commune of Margaux produced many luscious wines in 2006, often from less well-known or under rated properties, such as Marquis-de-Terme, which may make them good buys. The fruit flavors in this wine have a wild, exotic edge to them that complements the wine’s freshness. Good length, balance, and supple tannins complete the lovely picture. This is another 2006 that was fractionally better at this stage than their very good 2005. 93

Monbousquet (St. Emilion) 2006: This is another wine that sacrifices elegance for greater intensity. A powerhouse overflowing with flavor, plush, sweet fruit matches its tannic structure. Although a massive wine, it has better balance at this stage than the 2005. Still, this is a wine for the very long haul. 90

Montrose (St. Estèphe) 2006: Great ripeness, depth and polish are the highlights of the 2006 Montrose. A gorgeous array of black fruit, earth and minerals appear in the nose, continue on the palate, and reappear in the finish. Big time tannins give it structure without bitterness or astringency, but mean this wine is not for near-term consumption. 93

Moulin St. George (St. Emilion) 2006 ($42): Owned by the Vauthier family who also owns Château Ausone, Moulin St. George’s vineyard extends from the bottom of the slope where Ausone’s vineyard stops. As the quality of this property’s wine gets more widespread attention, the price will undoubtedly rise. The 2006 has a captivating nose, ripe fruit, and restrained, toasty oak nuances supported by polished tannins. The combination equals another success for the Vauthier family. 91

Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) 2006: Superior to their 2005, the 2006 Mouton is, for me, the wine of the vintage. The winemaking team deemed less than half of their production (4%) fit for the grand vin. The bouquet practically fills the room as it was being poured. A powerhouse of a wine, it still has incredible balance and fine tannins. Exotic nuances peek out from a densely intertwined combination of minerality and black fruit. The finish is incredibly long and exotic nuances. If you can afford it, I would buy this wine on a ‘futures’ basis because as its glory becomes known, the price will escalate. 98

Nenin (Pomerol) 2006: Although many Left Bank winemakers insist Cabernet Sauvignon excelled in 2006 because it was less affected by rains at harvest, Pomerol, with in reliance on Merlot, turned out some lovely wines, such as Nenin. A decidedly gamey and spicy character adds complexity to the ripe fruit quality. There’s not a trace of hardness in the tannins. 92

Palmer (Margaux) 2006: Thomas Duroux, Palmer’s technical director, attributes their success in 2006 to selection. The potential yield was 41 hl/ha, but only 37 hl/ha was harvested and then another 10% was declassified. Of the remaining wine, roughly half went into Palmer and remainder into Alto Ego, their second wine. As a result, the tannins are velvety and unobtrusive, allowing the flavors of herbs, tobacco and minerals to shine. Long and elegant, it will develop beautifully and reward those with patience. 93

Pavie (St. Emilion) 2006: A packed powerhouse from Gérard Perse, the enormous black fruit, spice and smoke actually emerges from the dense tannic structure. Unless your tastes run to young, intense wine, don’t even think about drinking this one for a couple of decades. 88

Pavie Decesse (St. Emilion) 2006: Another massive, ‘modern’ style of wine from St. Emilion, it will appeal to those who like deeply extracted powerful wines. I wonder if it will ever develop nuances and elegance. 85

Le Petit Mouton de Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) 2006: This wine and Carruades de Lafite are the two terrific second wines in 2006. Talk about selection. Only 15 percent of the production went into this wine, while almost three times as much went into a third wine. Not petit at all, Le Petit Mouton has refined tannins and balance. Far more approachable than Mouton, it nevertheless has years to go before it comes into its own. 91

Petit Village (Pomerol) 2006: Petit Village produced a very successful wine in 2006 avoiding the pitfalls of that vintage. Spicy and exotic, it is packed with succulent black fruit flavors mixed with smoky and toasty nuances. Lovely balance and fine tannins–no greenness or bitterness here–makes this a winner. 93

Pibran (Pauillac) 2006: The varietal blend, 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet, is unusual for Pauillac, but Jean-René Matignon who oversees Pibran as Pichon-Baron’s technical director since they are both owned by the AXA insurance group, tells me that the terroir is better suited for Merlot than Cabernet because it is cooler. Plumy Merlot fruit shines through the fine tannins resulting in a softer, more forward Pauillac. 88

Pichon Longueville Baron (Pauillac) 2006: Only 57% of the production went into the 2006 Pichon, which helps explains why it is so good. Juicy, cassis-like fruit atop toasty oak and fine–not astringent–tannins combine to produce an intense, but well-balanced wine. 93

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac) 2006: Another property that produced a better wine in 2006 than 2005, Pichon Lalande has classic Pauillac minerality and cassis-like flavor combined with an alluring smoky–almost gamy–quality. It’s tightly wound now, and the substantial tannins mean this wine will need a decade or two to mature. 92

Poujeaux (Listrac) 2006: Most properties in Listrac did not fare well in 2006, but Poujeaux was a notable exception. It was remarkable for its plushness, a quality normally associated with the wines of Margaux, not Listrac. That said, it’s still plenty tannic and will need at least five years to come together. A mixture of black fruits and dried herbs danced on the palate and persisted into the finish. 90

Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux) 2006 ($40): Never a powerhouse, Prieuré-Lachine emphasizes finesse and balance and has done so with their 2006. Filled with plenty of dense black cherry flavors and hints of earthiness, it’s no lightweight. But it’s the refinement–so apparent in the finish–that stands out. 92

Rahoul (Graves) 2006: A great smoke–ash–nose is followed by flavors of ripe black fruit and earth. Dense and long, the flavors unfold in the glass. The substantial tannins are clearly noticeable, but not overbearing. It’s likely to be a good buy, but as with most of the wines from this vintage, it will need time to soften. 89

Rausan-Ségla (Margaux) 2006: A more muscular Margaux, Rausan-Ségla’s 2006 retains a lovely texture that adds to its considerable appeal. Deep black fruit flavors are buttressed by ripe tannins in this polished wine. 92

Sainte Colombe (Côtes de Castillon) 2006: I am not usually a fan of the wines in the Perse stable because I find them over-extracted and frequently over-oaked, especially from the lesser AOCs. But this one is not. Rather, it has ripe dense fruit, is fresh and balanced, rather than overdone. The tannins are firm, but clean, without a harsh edge. 90

Smith-Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: One of the stars from Pessac in recent years, Smith-Haut-Lafitte continues to produce classy wine even in difficult vintages such as this. A fabulous nose of minerals, earth and ash immediately grabs your attention. Exotic black fruit bursts through the firm–but not green–tannins. The long, toasty finish and the lovely balance bode well for this wine. 92

Talbot (St. Julien) 2006 ($42): Toasty elements, minerality, black fruit and surprising power tame the firm tannins that show in the finish of this wine. An exotic element persists in the almost tarry–and very persistent–finish. Perhaps this doesn’t show the typical St. Julien elegance, but nonetheless it is a very tasty young wine. 92

Tronquoy-Lalande (St. Estèphe) 2006: This plump wine with supple tannins has an almost New World patina to it, but the earthy, dusty component, especially in the nose, identifies its origin. Polished and ripe, a touch more complexity would make it outstanding. 88

June 5, 2007

Bordeaux 2006: Variable, with Superb Peaks

Variable is the best way to describe the 2006 vintage in Bordeaux–except for the dry whites, which are consistently excellent. That’s my assessment after tasting about 250 wines–all barrel samples–in Bordeaux last month. Some properties, such as Château Mouton and Château Lafite Rothschild, made fabulous wines. Some châteaux actually made better wine in 2006 than 2005–Mouton and Cos d’Estournel pop to mind. But the consistency of the 2005 vintage is lacking in 2006. Except for the prices, the consumer had it easy in 2005. All the wines, at all levels, across all appellations and across all price levels, were good. You could close your eyes, point and select a fine wine.

But 2006 is not a ‘point blindly and shoot’ vintage, except for the dry whites. Variability extended across appellations and price categories. Properties with less exalted pedigrees (such as Château Joanin Bécot in Côtes de Castillon, Château de la Dauphine in Fronsac, and Domaine de Courteillac, a Bordeaux Supérieur) succeeded in this tricky vintage and made very good wine. Neighboring estates made over-extracted wines with unpleasantly bitter tannins. Quality was inconsistent even in up-market appellations. Château L’Angelus and Château Canon in St. Emilion and Château Clinet, Château La Croix and Château Feytit-Clinet in Pomerol turned out lush and balanced wines while nearby estates made wines marred by bitter, stemmy tannins.

 

Winemaking Explains the Variability

How winemakers reacted to the weather during the growing season explains the variability of the wines. A hot July allowed for good early ripening, but a cold August slowed it. Rain descended during the second half of September, including harvest, and set the stage for rot. Winemakers who failed to adjust their techniques and monitor the pace of extraction wound up with bitter, green, unripe tannins. Those who performed a careful selection at the sorting table and performed a gentle extraction during fermentation made balanced wines with plenty of fruit and firm–but not bitter or green–tannins that will require aging.

Paul Pontallier, the General Director of Chateau Margaux, told me that gentle extraction was key in 2006. According to him, ‘some winemakers want to extract everything from the grapes. That may have been possible in 2005 (because the weather delivered fruit in perfect condition) but it was not advisable in 2006.’

The best wines from 2006 are packed with succulent fruit buttressed by firm tannins. To me, they were reminiscent of the wines from 1988 or 1986, two years that produced wines that initially had hard edges, but that have developed into beautifully balanced Bordeaux. Patrick Maroteaux, President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (and who, along with his family, owns Château Branaire Ducru), aptly described the vintage as ‘classic,’ referring to the balance between the fruit and the tannins. Consumers will just need patience to enjoy this classic vintage.

 

Selection, Selection, Selection

The top properties made very good to excellent wines in 2006 because they could afford to make the requisite selection. ‘Selection was key in 2006,’ according to Thomas Duroux, General Manager of Château Palmer.

The key was to remove unripe or diseased grapes, a labor-intensive and hence expensive process. In the vineyard, workers spent more time discarding unsuitable bunches. Others scrutinized the grapes as they come into the winery rejecting the unripe or diseased ones before they reach the fermentation vat. Pontallier believes the 2006 Margaux will ultimately be superior to the 1986–one of the top wines from that châteaux in the last two decades–because of the severe selection. ‘If people told me 20 years ago, we would be making the kinds of selections we make today I would have told them they were crazy.’

The final stage of selection occurs after the wines are made when the winemaker determines which barrels are good enough for the grand vin, which go into the second label, and which are sold off in bulk. Marcel Ducasse, the long time Manager Director at Château Lagrange who just retired in April, gave me figures that demonstrated just how important this final selection was in 2006. Lagrange turned out a gorgeous wine in 2006, but to do so, the firm sold nearly 20% of their production in bulk, opting not even to use it in their second wine. By contrast, in 2005, 97% of the estate’s production was good enough for either the first or second label.

 

Prices and Market

The frenzy that surrounded the release of the 2005 vintage is absent with release of the 2006s. While prices for Sauternes and some Cru Bourgeois have been released, look for the prices of the classified wines to start to appear this week. Most brokers and importers with whom I have spoken believe that the prices of the Médoc Cru Classé and prestigious Right Bank wines will not come down enough from the record levels of the 2005 vintage to induce the American consumers to open their wallets.

One broker described the current American market for the 2006s as ‘dead,’ but admitted that could change depending on the prices of major châteaux. Many of the châteaux owners with whom I spoke in April noted that prices will come down, but perhaps not has much as the American buyers would like because the crop was small and the dollar continues to weaken. Still, Jeff Zacharia, the Bordeaux expert at Zachy’s Wines in Scarsdale, NY (www.zachys.com), one of the country’s leaders in selling Bordeaux futures, has already seen interest in the vintage by his customers. He expects prices of the major châteaux to be released before Vin Expo in mid June.

Unless the prices are reasonable, I advise against buying the 2006 Bordeaux as ‘futures’ except for those properties with tiny production or those that made spectacular wine, such as Mouton. Although the volume of wine produced in 2006 is down, so is demand in America and Britain. It is hard to imagine that the emerging markets of China, Russia and Japan will completely fill the void left if the Americans and the British reduce their purchases of the 2006s. Hence, the wines should still be available over the next few years. The lack of consistency of the vintage–it will never have the cachet of a ‘great’ vintage–and its following and always being in the shadow of the acclaimed 2005 vintage should keep the prices from escalating in the future. With the dollar at record lows against the euro, any rebound in its value will likely offset any increase in price of the wines over the next several years.

The 2006s will need a decade or two for the tannins to soften and the flavors to mature. If you are not prepared to wait, revisit the 2001s, a highly under rated vintage overshadowed by the exceptional 2000, or the 2004 vintage–another under rated that turned out many fine wines.

 

The Usual Caveat about Barrel Tastings

Most of the wines offered for tasting in Bordeaux the first week of April were what the winemakers called ‘representative blends’ made expressly for the tastings from wines still in barrel. In some cases, they were the final blend (of varieties), but still a sample from an individual barrel. Even in those cases, we did not taste finished wines. The wines still have roughly another year of aging in barrel before bottling. There can be enormous variation from barrel to barrel even if the varietal blending has been completed. That’s why before bottling, all of the barrels will be tasted again–some may be excluded–and the rest combined in a tank to ensure homogeneity. Tasting barrel samples is like looking at a photograph that is slightly out of focus–the overall picture is there, but the details are not. And as the saying goes, ‘the devil’s in the details.’


Tasting Notes

The notes are less comprehensive than last year and reflect the lack of consistency of the 2006s. I have focused on wines that I recommend people buy or at least taste for themselves when they arrive on our shores in two years. I am happy to respond to individual questions regarding wines I’ve not reviewed here, but may have tasted. E-mail me at mapstein@winereviewonline.com

The prices of only a few of the wines reviewed have been released. For those wines, prices were supplied by Zachy’s (zachys.com) and MacArthur Beverages (bassins.com), two highly regarded retailers in Scarsdale, NY and Washington, DC, respectively. Check with your local retailer for prices and availability in your area.

After a note on the performance of whites in 2006, you’ll find specific notes and scores on whites below, followed by reviews of reds.

 

Dry White Wines: Excellent and Consistent

Overall, the dry whites from Bordeaux were excellent in 2006–in many cases better than the excellent 2005s. They are far more consistent than the reds. It is very nearly a ‘can’t miss’ vintage for the dry whites. They have great minerality supported by acidity and vibrancy. There is a welcome range of styles from the linear Malartic-Lagravière to the richer Smith-Haut-Lafitte. I find both styles appealing, but undoubtedly there will be partisans for each. Despite stylistic differences, the vast majority of wines are readily identifiable as dry Bordeaux–not some Chardonnay wannabe.

 

Earlier Harvest Explains the Quality

Daniel Cathiard, who with his wife, Florence, own Smith-Haut-Lafitte says that one reason the whites were superior to the reds was that two of the primary grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, were harvested in the beginning of September during periods of good weather before the rain and storms started on September 11th. Still, Cathiard emphasized that once again it was selection at the sorting table and the position of the vineyards that determined quality. Those vineyards with the best drainage made the most successful wines, according to him.

Equally important is that making white wine, compared to red wine, involves far less contact between juice and skins, so extraction of hard or bitter tannins–components that marred so many red wines–was not an issue with the whites.

The white wines from Graves and Pessac-Léognan were tasted blind. Pavillon Blanc and Monbousquet were not.

 

The White Wines:

Bouscaut (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Bouscaut delivers a fine combination of minerality, freshness and subtle creaminess. The acidity transports the flavors through the finish. 91

Chantegrieve (Graves) 2006: An expressive, vibrant nose leads to bright grapefruit-like flavors on the palate. A fleshy texture and slight creaminess fills out this solid Graves. It should be a great value. 90

Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: A standout even in this high quality group, Domaine de Chevalier has produced a stunning white wine in 2006. Even though it’s tightly wound, a lemony creaminess combined with minerality comes through, initially on the nose, but then also on the palate and finish. Well focused, this wine should develop well for a decade or more. 94

Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Another one for creamy lush category, Fieuzal also pulls it off because the balancing citric edge carries into the long finish. A mouth-filling richness is very satisfying–not heavy–because of the bright acidity. 91

de France (Graves) 2006: This property has been making lovely wines–both red and white–for the past few years. A mixture of creaminess and minerality–apparent on the nose–carries onto the palate and makes this a weightier wine. It’s polished even at this young stage. 90

Haut-Bergey (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: The characteristic freshness of the vintage supports a mouth filling citric edge. A lovely texture adds to the appeal. 90

Larrivet-Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: A fullness and richness in addition to the citric edginess adds an extra dimension to this wine, which is not often seen on our shores. It’s worth searching for this classy wine. 92

Latour Martillac (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Grapefruit and spice predominate in this long, lovely wine. Subtle creaminess means it falls somewhere between the Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Malartic-Lagraviere style, leaning more toward the latter than the former. 91

Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: The pungency of Sauvignon Blanc sits atop a stony, mineral-like base. This clean, focused wine has a bracing citric edge running through it that keeps it refreshing and bright. 91

Monbousquet (Bordeaux) 2006: A blend of two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Sauvignon Gris, Monbousquet is an opulent wine. A great floral nose precedes slight apricot overtones. It’s so richly textured, it almost comes across as sweet. It would be a good match for foie gras, but if you are looking for a traditional dry white Bordeaux you have come to the wrong place. 85

Olivier (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Château Olivier has fashioned a clean, precise–but not thin–wine in 2006. An ever-so-slight creaminess modulates the otherwise bracing citric edginess. Its length and riveting focus makes it easy to recommend. 90

Pavilion Blanc de Château Margaux (Bordeaux) 2006: This powerhouse of a wine–with an alcohol of just over 15%–resulted from a measly 12 hl/ha yield since half the crop was lost to frost in April. Although made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc, it is unusually rich with a ripe, peachy character and far less of the pungency and acidity usually associated with that grape. An atypical white Bordeaux, consumers will either like it for it richness and power or avoid it for its lack of typicity. Count me in the latter group. 85

Smith-Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: People either love or hate this wine because of its modern, creamy-toasty style. I love it because it’s balanced, not overdone. Made entirely Sauvignon Blanc (Daniel Cathiard says he and Semillon don’t get along) it has a lush, suave texture balanced by a grapefruit-like zing in the finish. They’ve managed to combine brightness of Sauvignon Blanc with richness. It’s a marvelous contrast to the more linear–and equally enjoyable–style made at Château Olivier or Château Malartic-Lagravière. 94

 

The Red Wines:

L’Angelus (St. Emilion) 2006: Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, who, along with his cousin, Jean-Bernard Grenié, runs L’Angelus, told me that a gentle extraction was critical in 2006. They performed most of the extraction early, during fermentation, when the alcohol (which is a solvent) was low to minimize extracting bitter tannins. It worked. A blend of two-thirds Merlot and one-third Cabernet Franc, the aromas and flavors are very expressive. Dense, succulent black fruit predominates in this fleshy wine and extends into the long finish. It’s powerful, but not over-the-top, and importantly, well balanced. The tannins are firm, yet ripe without a trace of bitterness, making this, like most of the upper end wines from this vintage, a candidate for at least a decade of bottle age. 94

d’Armailhac (Pauillac) 2006 ($37): All of the wines produced by the team at Château Mouton-Rothschild excelled in 2006. D’Armailhac is no exception. It has a great nose, plush minerality and fine tannins. Persistent flavors of black cherry and penetrating acidity combine to keep it fresh. In short, it’s a lovely, balanced wine. 91

Ausone (St. Emilion) 2006: Balanced and long, the 2006 Ausone is a marvelous wine. From the first whiff, its splendor is apparent. Mouth filling black fruit and gamey nuances provide excitement. Firm but polished tannins do not intrude on the long finish. This is another excellent wine from 2006 that will need at least a decade to open. 95

Batailley (Pauillac) 2006: A wonderful combination of floral elements and earthy minerality equals a great success for this property in 2006, and this wine has turned out similar to Batailley’s very fine 2005. It has power and depth, but it is the wine’s suaveness sets it apart from many of the other wines in 2006. 93

Beaumont (Haut-Médoc) 2006: Surprisingly supple for this vintage, Beaumont’s offering is lush–almost forward–but certainly has sufficient structure to keep it interesting. A little one-dimensional at this stage, I suspect it will open up nicely by the time it hits our shores. 86

Belgrave (Haut-Médoc) 2006: This underrated classified growth made an exceptionally well-balanced wine in 2006. Fine tannins lend structure without astringency to this ripe and plumy wine. Its elegance, especially in the finish, is remarkable. Since this property flies under most everyone’s radar, it should be well priced and consumers would do well to search for it. 92

Beychevelle (St. Julien) 2006: Beychevelle was a great success in 2006 and surpassed their 2005 with an alluring combination of fragrant berries and sweet fine tannins. Marvelously balanced, it’s a long classy wine. 93

Branaire Ducru (St. Julien) 2006: Patrick Maroteaux and his team at Branaire have done a marvelous job over the last several years. The wines typically remain under-priced for what they deliver. Only two-thirds of the production went into the grand vin, which helps explain its stature and elegance. With a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and the remainder divided between Petit Verdot (4%) and Cabernet Franc (2%), the 2006 has a haunting, roasted, smoky quality atop the black fruit flavors and firm, but not green, tannins. 92

Brane-Cantenac (Margaux) 2006: Ripe tannins and quintessential Margaux plushness combine with concentrated and exotic fruit and earth flavors to produce this balanced wine. 90

Canon (St. Emilion) 2006: Located high on the plateau near the center of the village, Canon holds an ideal exposure, and the staff used it to great effect in 2006. Their limestone base permitted excellent drainage. They harvested the earlier ripening Merlot, which covers 75% of their vineyards, at perfect ripeness–some came in at over a potential alcohol of 14%–before the rains. Run by John Kolasa, who also oversees Rausan-Ségla in Margaux, Canon has been making very successful wines lately. The beautifully balanced 2006, not a powerhouse, is best described as succulent and silky. Kolasa has perhaps brought some of Margaux’s silkiness to St. Emilion. 94

Carbonnieux (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Ripe black fruit flavors and a smoky component follow a very expressive–and typical–nose of ash. The tannins are fine and balance the fruit nicely. Lush black fruit and smoke persists into the long finish. 92

Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2006 ($49): A pretty nose and an attractive earthiness peek out from underneath substantial tannins. Alluring black cherry notes in the finish add complexity. 89

Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac) 2006: Lafite was one of the few properties that made an excellent second wine in 2006. Many of the second wines in 2006 were the repositories for the batches with unripe tannins. This one was not. With a lovely floral nose, fleshy texture and fine tannins, it has unusual complexity for a second wine. 90

Cheval Blanc (St. Emilion) 2006: The theme of the 2006 vintage–those who could afford to make a severe selection make great wine–is evident in the Cheval Blanc. Almost 30% of the production was sold off in bulk, not fit for inclusion in either the grand vin or the second label, Le Petit Cheval. A blend of almost 50/50 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the Cheval Blanc has a luxurious mouth filling ripeness coupled with finesse. A classically structured wine, the tannins lend support without bitterness, but this no early maturing Cheval Blanc. 93

Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: Always one of my favorites, Domaine de Chevalier put together a well structured, but balanced, wine that will need a decade of aging. Aromatics identify it as Pessac-Léognan and the exotic nature continues onto the palate where it mingles with deep black fruit. Captivating minerality persists throughout its lengthy finish. The tannins are not bashful, but the gorgeous nose and exceptional length convinces me that it will reward those who have patience. 94

Citran (Haut-Médoc) 2006: Lovely cassis fruit, apparent in the nose, carries through onto the palate and into the finish. Nuances of minerals add complexity. The tannins are fine, making for a well-balanced wine. 88

Clerc-Milon (Pauillac) 2006: Another terrific wine made by the team at Mouton, Clerc-Milon has a lush minerality atop cassis-like fruit, all balanced by fine tannins and an uplifting freshness. It’s an exciting wine. 93

Clinet (Pomerol) 2006: Full of meaty, exotic flavors, Clinet was an unqualified success in 2006. An alluring ‘wild’ character combined with sweet, polished tannins adds to its appeal. 92

Clos les Lunelles, (Côtes de Castillon) 2006: Although not as woody or extracted as I had predicted, the oak overwhelms the lovely nose and densely packed black fruit character of this wine. The tannins, while intense, are not bitter. 86

Clos du Marquis (St. Julien): 2006: Often thought of as a second wine of Léoville-Las-Cases, Clos du Marquis is actually a separate vineyard across the road. Some wine from Léoville-Las-Cases’ main vineyards goes into Clos du Marquis–a little Cabernet Franc in 2006, for example–but basically the wine under this label comes from this separate vineyard. The 2006, smooth and supple, has succulent fruit and a subtle chocolate quality. With its clean tannins, it will be ready to drink sooner than many 2006s, but will last for one to two decades. 90

Cos d’Estournel (St. Estèphe) 2006: When Cabernet Sauvignon gets ripe in St. Estèphe, that commune can produce some magnificent wines, such as this one. Despite extraordinary suppleness–especially for a wine from St. Estèphe–there’s no shortage of power, ripeness and complexity. A roasted, earthy quality identifies its origin and gives it its punch, but it’s the length and grace of this wine that makes it outstanding. 96

La Croix (Pomerol) 2006: The blend of 60% Merlot with the remainder split evenly between the two Cabernets, La Croix has a distinctly meaty element, as well as lush black fruit that conveys power. The fine tannins add class. 92

Dauzac (Margaux) 2006: This is a great wine from this under-rated property. A lovely nose of toasty oak and concentrated fruit give way to firm–but not green–tannins and terrific texture. As it sits in the glass, it expands and its considerable complexity reveals itself in the finish. 91

Ducru Beaucaillou (St. Julien) 2006: Bruno Borie told me they used only the grapes from the best sites for this wine–and it shows. A deep, toasty nose accurately predicts the fabulous roasted flavors that follow. The dense fruit is mixed with spice and supported by a healthy dose of firm tannins. This is another powerful style of St. Julien that will need a decade at least to open. 92

Dufort-Vivens (Margaux) 2006: A little oaky at this stage, crushed red fruit flavors emerge and persist in the finish to ultimately create a balanced wine. Ripe tannins accentuate the plushness associated with the wines of Margaux. 88

Duhart-Milon (Pauillac) 2006: Since it is under the same winemaking team as Château Lafite Rothschild, it is not surprising that Duhart-Milon produced an excellent wine in 2006. Lovely ripeness offsets fine tannins. Classic minerality of Pauillac comes through and is amplified by fresh acidity. 91

Domaine de l’Eglise (Pomerol) 2006: More forward than many, the expressive nose and lively black cherry-like flavors and acidity are very appealing. Rich ripeness is nicely balanced by fine tannins. 91

Ferrand (Graves) 2006: Exotic, toasty nuances mixed with fresh, black cherry-like flavor is buttressed by firm tannins. Like so many wines from this vintage, this will need time to soften. But unlike many, it’s balanced now, so it should reward patience. 88

Feytit Clinet (Pomerol) 2006: Jérémy Chasseuil and his team made a terrific wine in 2006 from a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Meaty, ripe flavors stop just short of being ‘over-the-top’ and are balanced by suave tannins. A smoky component adds pleasure in the considerable finish. 93

Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: A shy nose misleads, as the wine is packed with flavor, spice, and an engaging creaminess characteristic of Fieuzal. The tannins are firm, but not bitter, and are appropriate for the fruit. 90

Gomerie (St. Emilion) 2006: The Bécot family made some stylishly elegant wines in 2006, including one from their recently acquired Joanin Bécot in the Côtes de Castillon. The 2006 Gomerie, however, will appeal to those who prefer sheer power at the expense of elegance. Dense and flamboyant with lots of oak showing at this stage, this is not my style of wine, but will not lack for partisans. 85

Grand-Puy-Ducasse (Pauillac) 2006: Expressive black cherry flavors follow a fresh, lovely, almost floral nose. This is a dense wine, with tannins that are a little coarse, but, given the depth of fruit, it should come together well over time. 90

Greysac (Médoc) 2006: Luscious cassis-like fruit emerges from the fine tannins to create a nicely balanced wine. Judging from past vintages, it should be widely available and reasonably priced. 88

Joanin Bécot (Côtes de Castillon) 2006 ($23): The Bécot family purchased this property recently and has upgraded it significantly in a short period of time. The winemaking team must have performed a careful selection and extraction to have fashioned this suave wine. Filled with sweet ripe fruit, it has alluring layers of tobacco and cedar buttressed by fine, pure tannins. Its finesse is particularly evident in the graceful finish. 90

Kirwan (Margaux) 2006 ($44): A lovely deep nose and mouth-filling fruit mixed with dried herbs grab your attention. The long, sweet finish is ever so slightly marred by a touch of greenness in the tannins. Nonetheless, the great aromatics and length suggests this wine will turn out just fine when it’s ready a decade from now. 89

Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac) 2006: One of the best wines of the vintage, the 2006 is a classically proportioned Lafite. Remarkably intense for Lafite, it retains the finesse for which the property is rightly famous. Mouth filling flavors of black fruit mingled with minerals persist and extend into an exceptional finish. The tannins are amazingly unobtrusive. Despite its intensity, it’s not a powerhouse type of wine. Rather, it wows you with elegance. 96

Lafon-Rochet (St. Estèphe) 2006 ($35): A classic example of an excellent wine from St. Estèphe, the 2006 Lafon-Rochet has an alluring earthy component to complement the ripe black fruit. Not as dense as some, it has remarkable balance and freshness in the finish–likely a result of a gentler extraction. 90

Lagrange (St. Julien) 2006: Marcel Ducasse and his team did an admirable job with this vintage, his last before he retires and hands control to Bruno Eynard. Always a model of restraint, Lagrange has firm but unobtrusive tannins that balance flavors of cedar, spice and black cherries. With the hallmark St. Julien elegance, it’s a lovely young wine. Judging from prior pricing decisions, this should be an excellent buy. 92

La Lagune (Haut-Médoc) 2006: This is another property that made a more complete wine in 2006 than 2005. Never a blockbuster, La Lagune has a reputation for making stylish wines. Their style served them well in 2006 and explains how they produced such an excellent wine. The expressive nose, filled with ripe, exotic fruit and herbs, gives way to toasty flavors of grilled meat, all supported by clean fine tannins. The combination of great aromatics and length means this young wine will develop well. 94

Lascombes (Margaux) 2006: Lascombes made an exciting wine in 2006. The silky tannins characteristic of Margaux are an excellent counterpoint to the exotic flavors of plums, herbs and smoke. Great length and freshness adds to its complexity. This property is being resurrected and the price has yet to catch up to its quality. 93

Latour (Pauillac) 2006: The glorious aromas continue as wonderful flavors on the palate. Slightly tarry nuances mixed with minerals, a roasted element, and deep dark fruit is a fabulous combination. Latour is always tannic and tightly wound when young, but the tannins in 2006 lack their usual polish. Nonetheless, the depth and concentration of this wine, along with Latour’s characteristically slow development, suggest that it will turn out just fine. 91

Léoville Barton (St. Julien) 2006 ($69): Brightness and succulence strike the palate and give way to minerality. Firm, clean tannins support without overwhelming. In short, a balanced, well made 2006. 92

Léoville-Las-Cases (St. Julien) 2006: One of the stars of the vintage, the 2006 Léoville-Las-Cases is another wine, along with Mouton, that consumers should buy as a ‘futures’ because its price will escalate as its quality becomes known. Dense and concentrated fruit flavors with alluring toasted and roasted qualities, it nonetheless has clean, fine tannins. The extraction and selection must have been very careful performed, judging from the incredible combination of power and elegance that persist into the finish. 97

Léoville-Poyferré (St. Julien) 2006: A blend of 73% Cabernet, 21% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, the 2006 Léoville-Poyferré has more in common with Pauillac than St. Julien, with tarry minerality joined by substantial black fruit flavors. The great nose, long finish and substantial tannins in this big and powerful wine suggest it will need at least a decade to open. 92

Lusseau (St. Emilion) 2006: Another property in the Perse portfolio, this wine is a ‘modern,’ intense style of wine. The very ripe fruit quality comes across as plush, and is a counterpoint to the big time tannins. This wine could eventually show some elegance once it settles down, but it will be a long wait. 87

Malescot-Saint-Exupéry (Margaux) 2006: Another winning wine from the commune of Margaux, the Malescot-Saint-Exupéry has everything you’d want in an excellent young wine: a great nose, exotic spiced fruit flavors, firm, clean tannins and that Margaux velvetiness. Fresh acidity keeps it balanced and extends the finish. The winemaking staff must have performed a gentle extraction to achieve this kind of wine. 93

Margaux (Margaux) 2006: Pontallier described the 2006 vintage at Margaux as classic, similar to 1996. In addition to a severe selection (only 33% of the crop wound up in the grand vin), he attributes Margaux’s success in 2006 to their great ‘terroir for Cabernet. When the Cabernet is ripe, we have a great vintage and it was perfectly ripe in 2006.’ The 2006 Margaux, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, is an extraordinary wine. Unbelievably smooth and velvety for its size, the ripe, dark fruit conveys power. Although a lovely minerality adds complexity, it is its silkiness that makes it distinctive. It’s a ‘sneaky’ wine because its true stature catches you by surprise in the finish. 96

Marquis-de-Terme (Margaux) 2006: The commune of Margaux produced many luscious wines in 2006, often from less well-known or under rated properties, such as Marquis-de-Terme, which may make them good buys. The fruit flavors in this wine have a wild, exotic edge to them that complements the wine’s freshness. Good length, balance, and supple tannins complete the lovely picture. This is another 2006 that was fractionally better at this stage than their very good 2005. 93

Monbousquet (St. Emilion) 2006: This is another wine that sacrifices elegance for greater intensity. A powerhouse overflowing with flavor, plush, sweet fruit matches its tannic structure. Although a massive wine, it has better balance at this stage than the 2005. Still, this is a wine for the very long haul. 90

Montrose (St. Estèphe) 2006: Great ripeness, depth and polish are the highlights of the 2006 Montrose. A gorgeous array of black fruit, earth and minerals appear in the nose, continue on the palate, and reappear in the finish. Big time tannins give it structure without bitterness or astringency, but mean this wine is not for near-term consumption. 93

Moulin St. George (St. Emilion) 2006 ($42): Owned by the Vauthier family who also owns Château Ausone, Moulin St. George’s vineyard extends from the bottom of the slope where Ausone’s vineyard stops. As the quality of this property’s wine gets more widespread attention, the price will undoubtedly rise. The 2006 has a captivating nose, ripe fruit, and restrained, toasty oak nuances supported by polished tannins. The combination equals another success for the Vauthier family. 91

Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) 2006: Superior to their 2005, the 2006 Mouton is, for me, the wine of the vintage. The winemaking team deemed less than half of their production (4%) fit for the grand vin. The bouquet practically fills the room as it was being poured. A powerhouse of a wine, it still has incredible balance and fine tannins. Exotic nuances peek out from a densely intertwined combination of minerality and black fruit. The finish is incredibly long and exotic nuances. If you can afford it, I would buy this wine on a ‘futures’ basis because as its glory becomes known, the price will escalate. 98

Nenin (Pomerol) 2006: Although many Left Bank winemakers insist Cabernet Sauvignon excelled in 2006 because it was less affected by rains at harvest, Pomerol, with in reliance on Merlot, turned out some lovely wines, such as Nenin. A decidedly gamey and spicy character adds complexity to the ripe fruit quality. There’s not a trace of hardness in the tannins. 92

Palmer (Margaux) 2006: Thomas Duroux, Palmer’s technical director, attributes their success in 2006 to selection. The potential yield was 41 hl/ha, but only 37 hl/ha was harvested and then another 10% was declassified. Of the remaining wine, roughly half went into Palmer and remainder into Alto Ego, their second wine. As a result, the tannins are velvety and unobtrusive, allowing the flavors of herbs, tobacco and minerals to shine. Long and elegant, it will develop beautifully and reward those with patience. 93

Pavie (St. Emilion) 2006: A packed powerhouse from Gérard Perse, the enormous black fruit, spice and smoke actually emerges from the dense tannic structure. Unless your tastes run to young, intense wine, don’t even think about drinking this one for a couple of decades. 88

Pavie Decesse (St. Emilion) 2006: Another massive, ‘modern’ style of wine from St. Emilion, it will appeal to those who like deeply extracted powerful wines. I wonder if it will ever develop nuances and elegance. 85

Le Petit Mouton de Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) 2006: This wine and Carruades de Lafite are the two terrific second wines in 2006. Talk about selection. Only 15 percent of the production went into this wine, while almost three times as much went into a third wine. Not petit at all, Le Petit Mouton has refined tannins and balance. Far more approachable than Mouton, it nevertheless has years to go before it comes into its own. 91

Petit Village (Pomerol) 2006: Petit Village produced a very successful wine in 2006 avoiding the pitfalls of that vintage. Spicy and exotic, it is packed with succulent black fruit flavors mixed with smoky and toasty nuances. Lovely balance and fine tannins–no greenness or bitterness here–makes this a winner. 93

Pibran (Pauillac) 2006: The varietal blend, 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet, is unusual for Pauillac, but Jean-René Matignon who oversees Pibran as Pichon-Baron’s technical director since they are both owned by the AXA insurance group, tells me that the terroir is better suited for Merlot than Cabernet because it is cooler. Plumy Merlot fruit shines through the fine tannins resulting in a softer, more forward Pauillac. 88

Pichon Longueville Baron (Pauillac) 2006: Only 57% of the production went into the 2006 Pichon, which helps explains why it is so good. Juicy, cassis-like fruit atop toasty oak and fine–not astringent–tannins combine to produce an intense, but well-balanced wine. 93

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac) 2006: Another property that produced a better wine in 2006 than 2005, Pichon Lalande has classic Pauillac minerality and cassis-like flavor combined with an alluring smoky–almost gamy–quality. It’s tightly wound now, and the substantial tannins mean this wine will need a decade or two to mature. 92

Poujeaux (Listrac) 2006: Most properties in Listrac did not fare well in 2006, but Poujeaux was a notable exception. It was remarkable for its plushness, a quality normally associated with the wines of Margaux, not Listrac. That said, it’s still plenty tannic and will need at least five years to come together. A mixture of black fruits and dried herbs danced on the palate and persisted into the finish. 90

Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux) 2006 ($40): Never a powerhouse, Prieuré-Lachine emphasizes finesse and balance and has done so with their 2006. Filled with plenty of dense black cherry flavors and hints of earthiness, it’s no lightweight. But it’s the refinement–so apparent in the finish–that stands out. 92

Rahoul (Graves) 2006: A great smoke–ash–nose is followed by flavors of ripe black fruit and earth. Dense and long, the flavors unfold in the glass. The substantial tannins are clearly noticeable, but not overbearing. It’s likely to be a good buy, but as with most of the wines from this vintage, it will need time to soften. 89

Rausan-Ségla (Margaux) 2006: A more muscular Margaux, Rausan-Ségla’s 2006 retains a lovely texture that adds to its considerable appeal. Deep black fruit flavors are buttressed by ripe tannins in this polished wine. 92

Sainte Colombe (Côtes de Castillon) 2006: I am not usually a fan of the wines in the Perse stable because I find them over-extracted and frequently over-oaked, especially from the lesser AOCs. But this one is not. Rather, it has ripe dense fruit, is fresh and balanced, rather than overdone. The tannins are firm, but clean, without a harsh edge. 90

Smith-Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan) 2006: One of the stars from Pessac in recent years, Smith-Haut-Lafitte continues to produce classy wine even in difficult vintages such as this. A fabulous nose of minerals, earth and ash immediately grabs your attention. Exotic black fruit bursts through the firm–but not green–tannins. The long, toasty finish and the lovely balance bode well for this wine. 92

Talbot (St. Julien) 2006 ($42): Toasty elements, minerality, black fruit and surprising power tame the firm tannins that show in the finish of this wine. An exotic element persists in the almost tarry–and very persistent–finish. Perhaps this doesn’t show the typical St. Julien elegance, but nonetheless it is a very tasty young wine. 92

Tronquoy-Lalande (St. Estèphe) 2006: This plump wine with supple tannins has an almost New World patina to it, but the earthy, dusty component, especially in the nose, identifies its origin. Polished and ripe, a touch more complexity would make it outstanding. 88

June 5, 2007