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Bordeaux Primeurs 2013: Pessac-Léognan Reds

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

DSC01442Pessac-Léognan usually comes up tops in a difficult Bordeaux vintage. Certainly there is no doubt that the best reds here in this appellation are amongst some of the most impressive 2013s. Interestingly too, qualitatively speaking, both Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion [pictured here] appear to have been knocked of their respective perches this year. For me Château Smith Haut Lafitte has surpassed both, while Château Pape Clément and Château Haut-Bailly, also felt fractionally superior. Certainly these three properties together have succeeded admirably in conquering the difficult conditions of the vintage.

The key to success would seem to be a combination of early ripening terroir, great attention to detail and the kind of flexibility available only to those estates with deep pockets. Smith Haut Lafitte, for example, employed 200 pickers and set up two grape reception lines at harvest. This enabled them to delay picking until the very latest possible moment but still not risk losing the crop to rot, which was the major hazard at vintage. Such efforts were mirrored elsewhere at the top estates. Properties without the resources to make these sorts of commitments would have been at a substantial disadvantage as the vintage proceeded.

Smith Haut LaffiteSmith Haut Lafitte: 200 pickers and 2 grape reception areas in 2013

Much as elsewhere, the cold weather during the first half of the growing season disrupted flowering in Pessac-Léognan. This resulted not only in a reduced crop, but it also delayed the vine growing cycle by two weeks or more. It’s clear now that the sunny and hot July saved the vintage from disaster. The vintage could have certainly been better – good, perhaps even exciting [and certainly far easier] – if the weather had been kind in late September and early October. It wasn’t. The humidity was perfect for the rapid onset of botrytis in the vineyards and the grapes, fully ripe or not, had to be harvested, otherwise there would have been no wine at all.

DSC01438Château Pape Clément: plush 2013

So what are the results? I tasted twenty or so of the very top properties at the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux [UGCB]. In many ways they have generally succeeded in the conditions. Several, as I’ve outlined at the top, have produced very impressive wine indeed. I didn’t taste much red at the lesser levels in Pessac-Léognan. Others reported wines that felt thin and marked by acid. It underlines again just how much 2013 was a vintage for those with the best terroir and with the most  money. These things go hand in hand in Bordeaux.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte has certainly made a very enticing and perfumed red in 2013. It has plenty of fruit and has been exceptionally well handled in the cellar with no trace of over-extraction. Château Pape Clément, virtually its equal, has real plushness and purity for the vintage. Château Haut-Bailly has made a very well-defined wine to my palate. Though very differently styled I enjoyed its clarity and concentration. For me all three pip Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion in terms of overall quality and enjoyment in 2013. I’ve posted earlier on these wines, white and red here. By their own high standards, both wines felt a bit compact and lacked the excitement they usually provide. Much better wines were produced at these properties in 2011 and 2012 [especially].

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Domaine de Chevalier makes very reliable and increasingly sophisticated red wine. It also has a reputation for pulling a rabbit out of a hat in the tricky years – both 2007 and 2008 are extremely enjoyable in this respect. The 2013 Domaine de Chevalier will doubtless follow in their footsteps.

Château de Fieuzal and Château Bouscaut have made surprisingly glossy, forward and attractive wines. Yes there’s grip and acidity running through these two but there is also plushness which speaks to great efforts in the vineyard, strict selection and well-judged vinification. Château Malartic-Lagravière is somewhat unctuously styled and ‘international’ in feel but certainly well put together.

Château Olivier is pure and more classical. It has fresh blackcurrant tones and tastes like good Bordeaux should in the circumstances. Château Haut-Bergey is more lifted aromatically. While it has greater saturation, it feels pretty worked on the palate and needs to settle down a bit.

Both Château Carbonnieux and Château Latour-Martillac are good-ish efforts, though in both cases the oak is poking out above the fruit at present. These will integrate but I think there will always be a bit of chew to these wines I reckon. They’ll make up for this by being vigorous and fresh. Château La Louvière is a pretty disjointed effort currently. It feels oaky and extracted and I wonder if they have overdone things in the cellar. Let’s see how it is further down the line.

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion and Château Larrivet Haut-Brion are both similarly styled reds. They have lots of ripe fruit characters and oak present in the aromatics [to varying degrees] but both feel a little extracted on the palate. Les Carmes is currently more balanced than Larrivet. Both appear to be attempting rich, heady, rather worked styles, and I wonder if they’d have been better stepping off the gas a bit. Time will tell.

In good vintages Château de France and Château Pique Caillou are two sources of reliable, well-made red in Pessac-Léognan. Both have produced elegant wines in 2013 if on the delicate side. Still you can’t have it both ways; better to have balance and delicacy than come away with the impression that something’s been pushed out of shape.

The overall question is whether it is worth forking out immediately for any of these wines given other recent vintages that are available at similar prices? In that sense it’s probably worth picking through merchants lists for existing 2007s, 2008s and 2011s in Pessac-Léognan first before considering 2013 en primeur. If recent form is anything to go by, most Bordeaux prices have actually dropped between en primeur and physical delivery so the system, as it currently stands, is not really working out for the consumer.

Nevertheless, I’d be tempted by Smith Haut Lafitte. It’s 2013 is cheaper [at £425/$700 a case of 12] than any other recent vintage, and that’s surely the rule of thumb that you must apply if you are genuinely going to consider purchases en primeur. Pessac-Léognan’s whites are a different proposition. Given the generally small quantities produced and the race and freshness that these wines have in 2013, they are genuinely worth considering now.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and saturated look; colour tight to the rim; very layered and perfumed with lots of fruit; some smoke; black fruits; very nice texture on the palate; rich; blackcurrant and plum tones; very attractive fruits; laden but not leaden; creamy fruit that hasn’t been pushed. Treated perfectly in the cellar. Terrific effort in the vintage context. One of the reds of the vintage and better in my book than Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion in 2013. [60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot]. Drink 2018-2030. 91-93+

Château Pape Clément, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and saturated; deep core; very polished and attractive nose; excellent purity and clarity; excellent definition overall; spicy blackcurrant tones with plums; very cool; fresh creamy palate which is extremely well measured; not too pushed at all. Some grip and texture on the finish. Alongside Haut-Bailly and Smith Haut Lafitte this is one most impressive red wines in the appellation this year [yes better than Haut-Brion]. Will be precocious but has freshness to age. [54.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5.5% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2018-2030. 91-93

Château Haut-Bailly, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep colour; very attractive aromatics; almost seductive; full and genuine depth here; glossy; very pure palate – very nice Cabernet tones; clean and pure; very good purity infact; good concentration for the vintage. One of the red wines of the UGCB tasting. Excellent effort to my mind. [64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc]. 91-93

Château Haut-Brion, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan

Deeper and darker central core; nose a bit closed; plums and minerality; bold and masculine on the palate; little austere and chewy on the finish. Elements there but fraction closed. [50% Merlot, 45.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.5% Cabernet Franc, 13.1% alc, pH3.7, 28hl/ha]. Drink 2020-2030. 90-92

Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Grand Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and glossy looking; earthy purple at edge; very clear looking and polished; black fruits, some cherry, earth; bold entry with material and extract [not pushed]; spicy characters and moderate density; nicely composed. Needs time. Reminds me of a junior ’08 with further freshness. [65% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 13.25% alc, pH 3.58, 28 hl/ha]. Drink 2020-2030. 90-92

Domaine de Chevalier, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and dark looking at the centre; colour tight to rim; ripe fruit aromatically, some wet earth and wet rocks; tightish but there is a good seam of fruit on the nose; sweet attack with good saturation; pretty sappy and chewy on the finish but the wine is well constructed. Inky. Good effort. [80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot]. Drink 2018-2028. 89-91

Château de Fieuzal, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and dark looking; colour tight to the rim; fraction less dense than Domaine de Chevalier though; attractive blackcurrant purity on the nose; nice seam of fruit here; glossy black fruits; sweet and ripe in feel; not overdone on the palate and quite soft in the middle. Almost a feeling of richness. Not a bad effort at all. [75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2018-2025. 88-90

Château Malartic-Lagravière, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and saturated looking; colour tight to the rim; very saturated aromatically; lifted notes; plums; strawberries and red fruits; quite unctuously styled; chew on the palate and clearly plenty of material but not overdone; earthy note on the end. Chewy finish. Works overall in a reasonably full almost unctuous [if slightly international] style. [56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2018-2028. 88-90+

Château Bouscaut, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and saturated looking; dark purple edge; quite full; enticing blackcurrant notes; full, fleshy and creamy palate nicely done. Attractive and full overall. [55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot] Drink 2018-2025. 88-90

Château Olivier, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deep colour; tight to edge; purple; fresh stalky blackcurrant aromas; clean; lighter and less worked than say Malartic; nice sweet entry to the fruit; easy; not overdone; good elegant style if straightforward. Feels like Bordeaux. Good effort. [58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot]. Drink 2018-2025. 87-89+  

Château Haut-Bergey, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and saturated look; legs; lifted aromatics and glossy black fruit tones; sweetness; nice black fruits on the palate; creamy in the middle; little extracted on the finish but this should settle well. Good effort. [60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot] Drink 2018-2025. 86-88+

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Deep arterial colour, tight to the rim; meaty; quite a seam of smoky, cassis fruit; glossy quality and hint of earth and spice; quite a lot of extract in the middle but it seems in balance. Needs to settle a bit. [60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot]. 86-88

Château Carbonnieux, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Deepish core; some depth aromatically; blackcurrant tones; nice purity; slightly more angular on the palate and marked by oak which pokes through a bit at present; still there is good fruit here and needs to meld a little; less oomph and succulence than Bouscaut [tasted immediately before]. [60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2018-2023. 86-88

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Deeper and slightly tighter to the rim than La Chapelle; deeper and more meaty aromatically; salty tang; chewy palate quite austere with acidity present. Quite sappy overall but not drying on the end. [57% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc 12.95% alc, pH 3.62].Drink 2018-2026. 86-88

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Deep at core, earthy purple at edge; some oak toast and jam notes; quite lifted; very toasty and sweet with ripe red fruits and jam notes; lifted and spicy; quite chewy and extracted on the finish. Hopefully will settle, but a rather lifted, extracted style it seems. Grand vin represents just 43% of the crop. [56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2018-2023. 86-88

Château Latour-Martillac, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Very deep looking; colour tight to the rim; purple edge; quite pretty aromatically with some oak influence but lots of fruit here; earth note [not unattractive]; palate bit of a jumble with lots of fruit but the oak poking out. Chewy on the end. Needs to settle. [60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot]. Drink 2018-2025. 86-88

Clos Marsellete, Pessac-Léognan Deep and saturated colour; reddish at edge; v dark centre; earthy note, quite full, little earthy streak; soft and easy entry on the palate; earthy with spicy notes. Chew on the finish. [55% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 50% new oak]. Drink 2018-2024. 85-87

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Deep; redder purple at edge; ripe, some attractive fruit and spice; some bubblegum notes; spicy; entry fresh and a little rasping – needs to settle; sappy and a little dry on the very end palate. [52% Merlot, 35.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5% Cabernet Franc, 13.05% alc, pH 3.58] Drink 2018-2024. 85-87

Château de France, Pessac-Léognan

Deep and dark at the core; purple edge; stalky Cabernet fruit; some earth and leafy notes; flesh in the middle with a leafy/earthy note; like the texture though. Earthy style. [55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot]. Drink 2018-2023. 85-87

Château La Louvière, Pessac-Léognan

Deepish core in glass with vibrant purple at edge; lots of oak perfume on the nose; some black fruits; fruit is here but rather chewy and extracted at present; there is a lot of Cabernet texture. Should settle but pretty chewy currently. [70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot]. Drink 2018-2025. 85-87

Château Picque-Caillou, Pessac-Léognan

Deepish; earthy red at edge; fresh and stalky; little herbal note; soft and easy on the palate; spicy and light. Has some bounce to it. [62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot]. Drink 2018-2023. 84-86

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