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Bordeaux 2010 In Bottle: Pessac-Léognan

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

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Not for the first time does Pessac-Léognan stake a claim to making the most consistent and attractive wines in a single Bordeaux vintage. No mean feat when you’re producing dry white and dry red. Bordeaux 2010 is clearly a vintage of superlatives at the top level, but across the board here in Pessac-Léognan there are excellent wines. You can’t escape the vintage character – why would you want to – so there’s plenty of extract, density and tannin in the reds but there’s also wonderfully bright, refreshing acidity. That too makes the whites even better for me than in 2009, with a bit more freshness and zip, though 2011 probably trumps both [for whites].

The picks. Well the UCGB line up does not include Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, both which during primeurs week looked like having made remarkable wines [at fifteen degrees or thereabouts] – red and white.  In the meantime, if we’re talking reds we’ll have to ‘make do with’ excellent efforts from Chateau Haut-Bailly, Chateau Pape Clément and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. These don’t quite have the flamboyance of their 2009 wines,  but they have power. They are also working at the level of the first growths in every respect – in terms of vineyard management, winemaking and the resultant wines. It’s all about great terroir of course, and that of the Graves region [in the broadest sense] is, by and large, Bordeaux’s oldest cultivated vineyard area.

Given the volume of the extract and material in the wines here in 2010, plus the acid, there is far more structure and grip evident, which makes them feel a shade less flattering at this stage than 2009. But this is a long-run game. Give them 10 years these wines should have come into their own, Pessac-Léognan also being a bit more precocious than the other left bank heavyweights. The 2010 vintage, as it ages, may very well overtake the 2009 vintage’s claim to being the best Bordeaux vintage in forty years, though the pendulum is bound to swing back and forth. Think Borg v McEnroe, or Senna v Prost, a clash of the Titans sort of thing. It’s not hype – I’m not selling this stuff, I’m buying it! 2010 & 2009 are genuinely two great vintages to get really excited about.

Back to 2010 Pessac-Léognan. Just beneath Haut-Bailly, Pape Clément and Smith Haut Lafitte in quality but which should gain further stature in bottle, I’d put Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau de Fieuzal, Chateau Latour-Martillac, Chateau Malartic-Lagravière and Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion. These are all excellent wines, exhibiting that extra bite and density over their 2009 counterparts. Just a fraction behind these, and whose reds represent great values in the price context [2010 being the most expensive Bordeaux vintage in history] are Chateau La Louvière, Chateau Bouscaut and, especially with regard to value, Chateau Pique-Caillou. This property makes very tasty reds [and whites] and it has really excelled in 2010. The only disappointment amongst the wines was Chateau Olivier. Neither its red or white sat that comfortably with the competition. Chateau Carbonnieux’s red looks a good effort and is worth considering.

What of the whites? 2010 in Pessac-Léognan looks strong, open, to a degree, but with wonderful race and acidity at the finest level. There are many different styles to the linear, mineral Domaine de Chevalier which has simply astonishing length, to the fuller, more exotic, almost too-much-of-a-good thing Chateau Pape-Clément. Both these efforts, at very different ends of the style spectrum, are fabulous. Chateau de Fieuzal looks really impressive and is somewhere between the two. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is truly superb and may well be the best of the lot. It will be a hard fought battle amongst these whites down the track.

But there’s a host of other white wines which are fantastic, many at a considerable discount to the above. Chateau Bouscaut is one of these, reliable and enjoyable year in, year out,. Their 2010 white is full of waxy, grapefruit characters and real zip and life. It looks as if it will take a bit of age too. Chateau La Louvière is a modern, spicy sweet/sour rendition, and very attractive already. The very lean and tight Chateau Carbonnieux will appeal to some. I know it’s renowned but it never quite does it for me early on. Nevertheless it does have intensity in its characteristically elegant guise. Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion looked delicious with floral highlights and real intensity too on the palate, a much more enticing prospect for me than Carbonnieux.

Overall then Pessac-Léognan is living up to the promise that it showed nearly two years ago during the primeurs period in April 2011. Once again, these are wines to stock up on if you haven’t already. It’s easy to get caught up in the Médoc feeding frenzy when it comes to the likes of top Pauillac and St Julien – I know I always do – but the best reds here are comparable with the best reds from these appellations, albeit it in a very different style. This is as much as a note to self as anything, but next time you consider forking out a hefty sum for a sought-after super second Pauillac in 2010, don’t forget you could probably pick up two [or even three cases] of equally attractive wine from Pessac-Léognan in this vintage. And, as for the dry whites, well they are the definitive word in what Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc can achieve at the medium to full-bodied end of the spectrum. Full stop.

Finally, not as an afterthought, are notes on three Grave properties that are members of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux who show their reds and whites at the events. Chateau Chantegrive is usually a pretty safe bet for nicely made red Graves and their dry white has a lot of apple and citrus flavours. Chateau Rahoul makes decidedly serious dry white Graves that could easily pass for something more exotic in Pessac-Léognan and the red can be pretty good, though the 2010 feels angular – opt for the white. Chateau Ferrande has made a good fist of both white and red in 2010. The white is zesty and the red has lots of earthy blackcurrant flavour. The earthy-ness can sometimes get the better of Ferrande [it does in 2007, not a problem if you like that sort of thing] but here it seems in check and gives the wine a bit of complexity.

The following wines were tasted at the UGCB event in Covent Garden in November 2012. Plenty to choose from!

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

Chateau Bouscaut

White: Deepish gold; full oak and oyster shell on the nose; limes and grapefruit too; very attractive; almost sweet/sour notes; full palate but still with zest; moreish; oak nicely integrated. Mid-weight overall. Good length. Excellent effort 91+

Red: Glossy black red; creamy blackcurrant tons; some earth; enticing; soft entry, creamy with some wood influence, spices and earthy blackcurrants. Structure and grip come a moment later but plenty of material here. Chewy finish. Good effort. Needs a couple of years. 90+

Chateau Carbonnieux

White: Pale green gold; wax, some honey, wet wool; quite tight; palate similarly so; taut style as ever; wax, wet wool, lean but not without depth. Less obviously weighty than Bouscaut but with intensity. Will put on weight in bottle. 88+

Red: Glossy deep red; earthy blackcurrants, some layers, pure and nicely done; not trying to be more than it is and all the better for it; blackcurrants, earth and ink on the palate; dry tannins but not puckering; right combination here. Earthy, blackcurrants with some style. Chewy finish – the vintage. Good effort. 90

Domaine de Chevalier

White: Palest green/gold; quite neutral at first; pure mineral style; dense palate, lots of concentration; depth and intensity; power here; salty, wet beach pebbles tang. Excellent length and depth. Not a showy wine [cf Pape Clément’s white] but works because of its minerality, depth and length. Stunning. 95

Red: Deep and saturated look; full earthy blackcurrant aromas with some oak; layers of blackcurrant fruit; density and chew here; lots of material and extract and not inconsiderable acid giving a degree of grip. Will need a bit of time but all the elements are here. 93+

Chateau de Fieuzal

White: Pale gold/green; more worked wine than Domaine de Chevalier but like this style also; wax, butterscotch alongside grapefruit and citrus tones; very expressive and loaded with fruit; strong palate with depth, maybe lacks the overall scale of Chevalier but this is altogether a different beast. Good finish. 93+

Red: Deep and saturated look; blackcurrants, fruit pastels; feels deep but also fresh; similar flavours on the palate – blackcurrants come through strongly; lots of fruit and material on the palate; dense with a pretty big frame; structure; less acid and feels plusher than some. Chewy but ripe tannins on the finish. Cracking effort. 92+

Chateau de France

White: Pale straw; fatter, broader and less complex than the previous few Pessac whites but still pretty full; apple and spice tones on the palate with some wet wool and the oak a little more obvious. Should meld with a year or two of bottle age. Feels a good effort overall. 88+

Red: Deep and saturated look; earthy, gravelly blackcurrant aromas; soft-ish; developing and quite attractive; forward palate with earthy blackcurrant tones and nice texture. Some grip and sap at the back which gives it a bit of life too. Works well. Almost ready now. This should be good value. 88+

Chateau Haut-Bailly

Deep and saturated core; nice freshness to the nose; some wet rock, chalk; earthy blackcurrant tones too; lots of density on the palate; oodles of blackcurrant fruit in a typically firm style; dryness here but also plenty o depth, structure and acid. This is a long-term prospect and extremely promising. Don’t touch it for ten years. 94+/100

Chateau La Louvière

White: Palest green/gold; sweet and sour notes on the nose; grapefruit, lees along with spicy oak notes; bold and spicy palate with plenty of fat and depth; lots to savour here – salty tang/wet rock tang. Impressive effort. 91+

Red: Deep and saturated; quite savoury, meaty note alongside the black fruits; very full and attractive; some roe petal too; quite lifted in an enticing way; blackcurrants and earthy tones on the palate too; some spicy notes; full and dense; grip and body. Lots of elements with plenty of grip and fruit. Needs a few years but another excellent effort here in 2010. 91+

Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion

White: Very pale straw; somefloral tones; nice oak handling; pretty; racy palate with real elegance and intensity; feels very fine. Flinty finish. Elegant and intense. 91+

Red: Deep and dense looking; some red fruits, some liquorice and thickness to the nose; red fruits on the palate, ripeness and chew; thick again. Some swan wood notes; intense and long. Grippy and saturated in fruit at the same time. Needs to meld but promising. 90+

Chateau Latour-Martillac

White: Palest green/gold; spicy, bolder more masculine style than Larrivet; grapefruit, spice; attractive; broader palate, some wet dog; full; little loose on the finish. 89+

Red: Deep and saturated; deep at core; earthy, some mocha notes; olives; blackcurrants and sour cherry; spicy blackcurrant fruit with some purity; lots of blackcurrant fruit; earthy tones; grip and structure too. Lots here. Very promising. Again needs time. 92+

Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion

Mid depth; nice layers of fruit on the nose; plush; Cabernet Franc influenced [45% Cab Franc, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon]; similar flavours on the palate; plush and attractive; some chew and acid but overall attractive stuff. Small 11 ha estate made with Burgundian techniques – whole berry ferments and pigeage. These techniques influence the wine. Plush and attractive. 91+ 

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière

White: Pale straw; clean, some leesy notes; feels a bit dumb at present; palate full with breadth and depth; sizable; spicy flavours; good length. A bit in it’s shell but shows promise. Less showy than I’d imagined. [85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon] 90+

Red: Deep and saturated; very ripe nose; almost honeyed note; submimated and reduced; lots of oak too; very extracted and sublimated style; sweetness; presumably very low yields which give a very inky and sublimated feel to the palate also. Grip here too and chewy, dense finish. Promising in a heavy-hitting way. [45% Canebrnet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot] 92+

Chateau Olivier

White: Pale straw; quite neutral at first, some lees, little wet wool; some spice and citrus tones but not overly expressive; quite taut on the palate and lacks a bit of texture and weight versus the rest. May just be a little dumb. Needs to fill out. 86

Red:  Mid depth; some freshness, little chalk and wet rock; blackcurrant, some olive, lots of extract on the palate; little one dimensional though fresh and chewy. Both the red and the white at Olivier disappointing in this otherwise fab year for Pessac-Leognan. 87

Chateau Pape Clément

White: Stronger gold; spicey grapefruit and citrus notes with cashew; much thicker and packed with fruit; bold, big palate with oak quite evident but there is breadth and depth to the fruit which handles it well; some savour and bite too and not at all loose on the palate. Very different counterpoint to Domaine de Chevalier.  [51% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Sémillon, 13% Sauvignon Gris 3% Muscadelle] 95

Red: Deep and arterial; wonderously plump, deep and sexy; very full and expressive; black cherry, plum and black fruits, spice; layer upon layer here; palate simply loaded with fruit; velvety and rich; plums, blackcurrants, spices, take your pick, and considerable structure beneath. Lots of material and guts. Wonderfully enjoyable wine. 96+

Chateau Picque Caillou

White: Pale green/gold; some honey, a little passion fruit and wet wool; quite taut style on the palate and focused on the fruit. Nice palate, clean and fruit driven without being worked too much. I like this. Will fill out too. 88+

Red: Deep and concentrated looking; more leaf and lift; mid-weight, earthy with some blackcurrant; very good effort; lots of blackcurrants; plump with lots of fruit; very easy. Sufficient chew and grip to keep the interest – enjoyable. Great effort from this estate that makes well made wines of typicity at an affordable price. [50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon] 90

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

White: Palest straw/gold with hints of grey; attractive spicy grapefruit, cashew and oyster shell notes; lots of spicy fruit here – the nose is loaded and lifted and really attractive; bold palate; full; dense and very good; lots of fruit and depth with a nice salty edge on the finish that suggests minerality alongside the citrus fruit tones. Very good length indeed. 95

Red: Super dense and saturated looking; thick black fruits, dark cherry and chocolate tones on the nose; lots of density here; rich and cake-like notes; but there is structure and grip beneath and oh so much fruit above. Chewy finish. Lots of material and will work out extremely well with a few more years. 94+

GRAVES

Chateau de Chantegrive

White: Deepish gold; nice aroma, some grapefuit, oyster shell; strog; plate fresh and full; maybe lacks a bit of zip and finishes a fraction short but may fill out further. Pretty good effort overall.  Full style. 87

Red: Mid red; spicy, earthy blackcurrant aromas, similar flavours on the palate; mid weight. Goodish. 87+

Chateau Ferrande

White: Gold; less deep than Chantegrive; ripe round apple tones; some grapefruit and citrus highlights; crisp plate, taut and fresh with nice acid and life. Flinty and zesty wine. 88+

Red: Deepish; earthy, slightly reductive whiff that blew off with aeration revealing blackcurrants, earthy tones with some undergrowth; black fruits beneath; quite firm palate, some development; undergrowth and blackcurrants; chocolate. Fresh grip on the finish keeps things lively. Good effort. 88

Chateau Rahoul

White: Green/gold; quite big and waxy; very attractive and full – lots of Sémillon influence [I like this style]. Some oyster shell notes. Full palate, some bite, quite suave and very good, Taut style with nice length and a fresh finish. This will take age well but is already mouthwatering. Get out the oysters! Great effort from Rahoul! 90+

Red: Mid red; quite soft, Merlot influenced aromas; chocolate and mocha tones; nose turns out to be quite misleading as the palate is quite grippy and fresh with  blackcurrant flavours. Plenty of acid and structure. Lacks a bit of richness. Tenser style, verging towards the angular. 87

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