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Bordeaux 2008: At four years

November, 2012

The MW Institute’s Annual Claret Tasting is almost too much of a good thing. Tasting all one hundred and twenty wines from Bordeaux’s finest districts requires steely determination, nifty footwork and a healthy dollop of over-ambition. You’ll also need to keep an eye on your watch as you’ve only a few hours. Then, just as you think you’ve licked it, tasting St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien, Margaux, Haut-Médoc and Pessac-Léognan back-to-back in the grand Vintners Hall, up come the wines of St Emilion and Pomerol, lying in wait in an adjoining room. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down. Fortunately, since last year, you can perk up with some fine Sauternes and Barsac at the very end before hailing a taxi cab and finding somewhere to lie down.

Clearly racing through all these wines in such a short space of time has its limitations. It takes a week to manage a Bordeaux vintage during the primeurs tastings period and even that feels pretty rammed, so horizontals like this are a  real race and provide only a snapshot at best, time for a quick interrogation of the suspect. Still it’s a really valuable event to attend and this year it was the turn of the 2008 vintage to stand up and be counted.

The 2008 growing season was tricky in Bordeaux. In many ways it bears comparison with 2007, but with conditions generally being a bit better. No-one really had high expectations, even when the wines were first shown during the primeurs week in Bordeaux, but then Robert Parker stuck his neck out and gave the vintage comparatively good reviews and sentiment changed. Still with the financial gloom and doom of the period, the hangover of which we are so clearly yet to escape, 2008 Bordeaux was offered at a reasonable enough price and was an attractive buy, especially when compared with the price hikes that followed with the releases of 2009 and 2010 – admittedly for two exceptional vintages.

Chateau Calon-Ségur 2008 showed wonderfully

Overall my feeling having tasted the wines is that 2008 is creeping into its shell. Generally there is much more extract and depth on display than at last years 2007 MW horizontal and it is certainly a better vintage than that, but there’s also a lot of grip and acid too and the vintage felt less impressive than when tasted at the UGCB in October 2010, where the fruit was more evident and the wines had just been bottled. Now that first flush of youth has dipped to the background many wines felt a little more pinched and compact than I remembered, certainly on the Left Bank. Two years ago I thought 2008 had the edge on 2006, but I certainly came away with a more favourable impression of the latter wines at the same age, Left Bank at least. Certainly this vintage is not in the same league as 2009, 2010 or 2005. We knew that of course but I reckon it may even be triumphed by 2011. Time will tell.

The wines of Pessac-Léognan seemed the most harmonious, Pauillac and St Julien were pretty sinewy efforts overall, and St Estèphe was quite closed. The heterogeneous Margaux appellation was the usual mixed bag. On the Right bank St Emilion, despite the bevy of rather thick extracted numbers seemed to fair pretty well in many cases and Pomerol was a real bright spot. On the basis of the wines tasted it’s an agreeable, elegant year for Sauternes and Barsac but there is not the race, depth and botrytis on show as in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Amongst the first growths, it’s difficult to believe that Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 2008 once used to command £16,000 [$25,000] a case. Now it is less than half that. Such were the speculators inflated expectations of the Chinese appetite for Lafite in the ‘lucky year’ with its Nike style ‘swoosh’ Chinese number 8 embossed bottle. In the glass it’s a classic effort, very Pauillac, with elegance and depth but also some pretty chewy tannin. For me it was eclipsed by a very showy Mouton. Chateau Haut-Brion looks very good and Chateau Margaux much better than in 2007. Amongst the leading super seconds Chateau Palmer was good, Chateau Cos d’Estournel very exciting and Chateau Calon-Ségur showed wonderfully. In Pauillac clearly Chateau Duhart-Milon is a success, along with Chateau Lynch-Bages and there is a terrific Chateau Pichon-Longueville. Chateau Pontet-Canet looked good but was subdued and showed better peviously. In Pessac-Léognan no-one really put a foot wrong. Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Malartic-Lagravière, Chateau Pape-Clément and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte look to be great efforts. The surprises? Well Chateau La Tour Carnet, not really a surprise, but I thought this looked very good, with the Magrez ‘make-up’ kept in check. There is lots of bang for your buck here. Likewise Chateau Bouscaut looks good too in Pessac. Detailed tasting notes by appellation follow below.

ST ESTEPHE

I was very impressed with Chateau Calon-Ségur and Chateau Cos d’Estournel in the St Estèphe appellation at the MW 2008 tasting last month. Calon was really fragrant and charming and looks like a good buy. Cos was full and rich and for young St Estèphe, it was pretty open and approachable already. There is a lot of fat fruit in the wine which made it feel generous, almost supple, by comparison with others in the appellation. 

Chateau Montrose was completely the opposite of Cos. This is a brooding, backward 2008, and very dumb currently. It felt caught off guard, seemingly woken from a deep slumber and it was more than a little resentful.  It could do with three hours in a decanter or better still a decade in the cellar. Chateau Lafon-Rochet was dense and compact, with plenty of fruit and structure, but with plenty of acid too. Chateau Cos Labory has shown better. It was more developed than Lafon-Rochet on the nose but felt hard on the palate. I would have liked to have seen Chateau Ormes de Pez, de Pez and Phélan Ségur too but these were not on display. The 2008 Ormes de Pez looked very strong when I last tasted it two years ago at the UGCB and I picked up a case a few weeks later.

Chateau Calon-Ségur 2008

Mid depth; dark at core; not black; rose petal, cassis, blackcurrant, leafy notes; very complex and enticing; palate mid weight, nicely balanced with acid and sufficient flesh. Nice polish to the palate. Works very well indeed. 92+

Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2008

Mid depth; dark core; substantial slightly worked feel to the nose; some resin, spice, plums, meaty note; palate open and the most full here in St Estèphe; generous and supple. Lots of extract and chew here. Nice length and grip. Very good. 93+

Chateau Cos Labory 2008

Goodish depth; quite fine nose, elegant, some development, little lift; blackcurrant and cassis on the palate; pretty firm and grippy. Bit hard on the finish. Has shown better. 86

Chateau Lafon-Rochet 2008

Mid depth; deeper at core than Cos Labory; more layers to the nose; quite pure with mineral tones; compact; texture to the palate but still pretty firm, and chewy with plenty of acid present. 87+

Chateau Montrose 2008

Dark and brooding; deep colour; closed and dumb on the nose; quite bold palate with blackcurrant notes; lots of chew and tannin [ripe enough]; nice length here but very backward and shut down. Be interesting to see how this develops. Calon-Ségur and Cos d’Estournel are more flattering now. 90+

PAUILLAC

Though the vintage felt pretty closed generally, there are some good to very good wines in Pauillac in 2008. Outside of Lafite and Mouton, who have both produced strong, classical efforts, I thought that Chateau Pichon-Longueville was almost their equal. This estate has had a tremendous run in recent vintages and never seems to put a foot wrong. It was pick of the bunch in Pauillac in 2007, a really tricky vintage, and has made thrilling wines in 2009 and in 2010 [more on this latter vintage shortly]. Of course it has risen considerably in price in recent vinatges but, given what’s in the glass, it’s certainly worth it. Chateau Lynch-Bages also looks very good in 2008 and Chateau Duhart Milon, once the darling of the speculators, has produced impressive wine. Chateau Pontet-Canet was much more closed than I expected and Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande felt a bit sullen. Amongst the values I though Chateau Batailley looked a good, strong Pauillac, Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste is very nicely done as is stable mate Chateau Haut-Batailley. Chateau Clerc-Milon and Chateau d’Armailhac have produced fresh, grippy wines, but I wasn’t over excited by them on the day.

Chateau Batailley 2008

Mid depth; nice development on the nose; Cabernet with some tobacco; some earth and lift; nice entry, some meat, savour and depth; some nice rose petal and blackcurrant tones on palate. Chew and grip at the end. Depth. Good effort. 90+

Chateau Clerc Milon 2008

Dense, more serious looking than d’Armailhac. Colour tight to edge. Quite high toned Cabernet; fresh; some earth; purity here; quite grippy palate with some chew. Pretty chewy finish. 88+

Chateau Croizet-Bages 2008

Lacks bit of depth; red at edge; quite narrow and hollow. Little corked feel. NR

Chateau d’Armailhac 2008

Mid depth; little neutral at first, some sweetness, whiff of cider apple; grip on palate with some blackcurrant and plum tones and touch of black cherry; lacks richness on the palate; some chew at the end. Feels a little compact on this showing. 87

Chateau Duhart-Milon 2008

Quite deep; cool blackcurrant aromas with cassis and pencil shavings, some leaf and undergrowth; excellent; lots of purity on the palate; blackcurrant, spice; nice chew too; very focused, pure and elegant. 92+

Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2008

Mid depth; earth looking; some development and melding here; some spice and earth, minerality; earthy blackcurrant with leaf, quite Pauillac; nice tension on the palate between the chew and the sap of the wine. Moreish. Good length and good effort. 90+

Chateau Haut-Bages Libéral 2008

Deep; bright and still a little purple at edge; slightly reductive; blackcurrants on the palate; sturdy; with lots of grip and acid. Grippy finish. 87

Chateau Haut-Batailley 2008

Mid depth; some reddening; quite elegant; some blackcurrant and redcurrant; some spice and undergrowth; palate clean and fresh; elegant and quite fine. 88+

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 2008

Deep looking; blackcurrant aromas with lead pencil; leaf and undergrowth note  palate nicely taut with elegance; nice texture here like Duhart; very focused and rather classic; blackcurrants, some leaf and graphite tones again; structured palate with quite chewy though ripe tannin on the end. 96/100

Chateau Lynch-Bages 2008

Mid depth; pretty saturated look; strong, ripe nose; spice, blackcurrant and menthol; pretty layered effort; cassis and blackcurrant on the palate; still pretty fresh but also pretty saturated in flavour with layers of fruit. Chewy finish with grip. Very good effort. Maximizes the vintage whilst remaining true to it. 93+

Chateau Lynch-Moussas 2008

Mid depth; looser at edge than some; leafy, open blackcurrant style; pretty forward; some spice; attractive; quite forward palate nice acid in a lighter style. 87+

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2008

Mid depth; seductive and forward nose; sexy, smoky and spicy; blackcurrant fruit on the palate with spicy notes, chewy and dense with great length. Attention grabbing effort. [Later: Earthy blackcurrant but very sexy nose; quite opulent; some resin and ink; more supple and easier than earlier but still pretty structured wine with grip] 96+/100

Chateau Pédesclaux 2008

Mid depth; chalky note; some mineral; little resin and ink; blackcurrants and earth on palate; palate lacks richness and feels a little meagre. 84

Chateau Pichon-Longueville 2008

Deep saturated look with legs and depth; savoury edge, starting to get complex; seductive; oak intermingled with blackcurrant fruit; satiny palate, very nicely done; blackcurrants here and spices; very complete palate; tannins there and plenty of extract but great balance. Lots of depth, chew and length here. Up with the first growths. 94+

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2008

Classically lighter and more Burgundian in feel than Pichon-Longueville; lacks apparent depth; feels a bit loose actually; and palate lacks definition. Acidity here gives freshness but without matching extract makes palate feel touch hard. Subdued and shut down if I’m being generous, a disappointing showing nevertheless. 88?/100

Chateau Pontet-Canet 2008

Mid depth; mealy note; some lift; chocolate tones; palate has some polish; little subdued; grip and acid so has brightness on palate; little disappointing showing though. Second tasting: inky note, some blackcurrant, meal and intensity; chewy and dense palate. Tannic and chewy – definitely long term. 91+

ST JULIEN

Once again the overall feeling here in St Julien is of wines that have shut down, drawn into themselves and left their raw elements exposed. This is probably as you’d expect in a fairly cool, ‘classical’ Bordeaux vintage like 2008. There is sufficient depth of fruit in most of the wines for them to develop well in the medium term and you do feel that they need that time, now that they are caught out in No-Man’s Land, with all their hard edges poking out.

The usual trio of Léovilles look goodish – Poyferré probably has the edge over Barton and Las Cases, itself brooding and backward and a little difficult to fathom at present. Chateau Beychevelle was a surprise – I’d expected this to be all sullen and resentful but it looked good, though with dryish tannins. Chateau St Pierre was fresh with the stuffing to last. Chateau Lagrange, usually a safe bet, is once again. It felt clean and complete. I wasn’t convinced by Chateau Gruaud Larose or Chateau Talbot in 2008. The crowd-pleasing Chateau Gloria was missing from the line up sadly.

Chateau Beychevelle

Mid depth; some red fruit, savour; opens up quite well – blackcurrant seam – some stalky cool harvest Cabernet tones; earthy, blackcurrant cassis on the palate; little dryness here to the tannins but there is fruit. 88

Chateau Branaire-Ducru

Mid depth; some wet stone, chalk qualities; earthy blackcurrants again; little angular on the palate, or at least not currently that expressive; does open in the glass and there is purity to the fruit. 87-88

Chateau Gruaud Larose

Mid red; quite light at core; feral and earthy as usual, very savoury with some blackcurrant; quite developed palate with tobacco and savoury tones and a touch of animal meal, spices and grip. The earthy tones – terroir or winemaking? 87

Chateau Lagrange

Mid depth; some leafy blackcurrant fruit with spices; sweet and ripe palate; quite dry on the finish but pretty good effort. Clean fruit and complete. 89+

Chateau Langoa-Barton

Mid depth; blackcurrant pruity; quite fresh; palate quite compact and firm in acid; chewy and tight. 88+

Chateau Léoville-Barton

Deep looking in the glass; some lift and minerality but feels pretty closed; palate dense, more yielding than the aromatics; promising blackcurrant fruit, structure and some acid. Nice palate with depth and structure. 90+

Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases

Deep; some chalky minerality; some red fruits; little dumb; minerals, spices and chewy tannins; quite dry on the finish. Feels a bit austere and compact at present. 88+

Chateau Léoville-Poyferré

Pretty deep and saturated looking; earth, blackcurrants; quite polished with a bit of lift; pure palate, quite strong fruit; not that seductive, more ballsy; little awkwardness at present; chewy and dense but hardness here. Disjointed phase but lots of potential. 90+

Chateau Saint-Pierre

Pretty deep and serious looking; depth, cassis, blackcurrants – pretty serious. Some seductive qualities and pretty deep and layered nose; nice blackcurrant cassis; deep; feels quite fresh with a pretty dry finish. Plenty of guts here though to make it work. 90+

Chateau Talbot

Quite dark at core; some strawberry notes but otherwise feels a bit neutral; some cream; quite grippy palate and feels a little hollow. Lacks depth of fruit and chew. Not austere, just hollow. 85

MARGAUX

As you’d expect given the diversity of terroir in the Margaux appellation in 2008 things are more heterogeneous than in St Estèphe, Pauillac or St Julien. Once again the wines were a subdued bunch and only a handful sang on the day at the MW Institute 2008 tasting. Quite a few felt over-extracted relative to their fruit – this was surely not the vintage to be turbocharging – and neither does it play to the commune’s strengths, the beauty and elegance that mark the finest wines.

Chateau Margaux leads the appellation as you’d expect. It has produced a layered and intense wine, though I thought it trailed its first growth peers. Next up is probably Chateau Palmer although this has sunk into itself somewhat. That said there is obvious structure and depth here. Chateau Lascombes, which does push out the boat in winemaking terms, has made a very attractive wine in 2008. It’s a ‘worked’ style but it does actually work in the glass. Chateau Rauzan-Ségla has fashioned something typically structured and tight knit but with plenty of layers and depth. It shows what many others in the appellation are missing. The rest? Well there’s a lot of classed growths in the Margaux commune as you know but many look disappointing in 2008 in my view, a series of hollow, somewhat hard edged wines. It might be a phase they are going through but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac

Mid depth; some red at edge; some chalk, blackcurrant notes and earth; chewy blackcurrants, spices some dryness and acid – structured. Some flesh here but nevertheless feels a tad hollow. May come round as there may be just enough ingredients here. 87

Chateau Dauzac

Deepish, quite dense looking; some earth, spice and mealy qualities; slightly reductive whiff; palate feels a bit hollow and overplayed. Hard edge to the tannins and palate. 84

Chateau Desmirail

Mid depth; translucent at core; some iron, tea notes and elegance with herbal spicy tones; not that bad in leafy elegant way; mealy note on the palate., some spice and chew. Angular on the finish. Spicy fruit can’t hide a hollow edge here. 85

Chateau Durfort-Vivens

Mid depth; open nose, leafy notes  spice and undergrowth; feels mature; works to a degree in a spicy, leafy, herbal style; elegant palate, some chew, lots of acid. This may work out. 87

Chateau Ferrière

Mid depth, some density; some resin and ink, some red fruit and chocolate; herbal tones on the palate, very spicy; grippy with pretty dry tannin at the end. Whiff of under-ripeness? 84

Chateau Giscours

Mid depth; some reddening at edge; chalky, spice and leaf; feels cool vintage; high toned and boney style; pine, spices and herbal tones on the palate. Elegant with plenty of grip. 86

Chateau d’Issan

Mid depth, some reddening; very earthy initially, some blackcurrant, some green pepper, capsicum notes; blackcurrant and leaf on the palate; quite old fashioned in feel but not without depth of fruit. Structured and sturdy but enough fruit such that it should meld and last. 87

Chateau Kirwan

Deep and saturated; some earthy, peaty notes with some meal/cereal tones; chewy, dense palate which feels a little overworked and tired. Lacks vibrancy. Chewy, woody and extracted. What will emerge? 86?

Chateau Lascombes

Mid depth; some reddening at edge; earthy maturing nose; quite solid; blackcurrant notes, some cassis; pretty good; lots of depth to the palate; nice chew and density; a worked style but the material warrants it. Purity of fruit comes across despite the cellar antics. Much better than 2006 and 2007 here. Stood out nicely in the line-up. 90+

Chateau Marquis de Terme

Pretty deep looking; glossy; lifted strawberry and red fruits; unctuous style, very reduced; feels overworked to me; red fruits and resin is what I get. Chewy but feels overdone on the finish. 86

Chateau Margaux

Mid depth; some subtle layers and depth with leaf and tobacco notes; some smoked meat; nice intensity on the palate; some spice and grip too. [Second tasting much earthier, quite sexy nose; nice marriage of oak and fruit; better than ’07 here; leaf and spice; elegant palate with some grip – acid]. 93+

Chateau Palmer

Deep and attractive looking; some chalk and minerality, some blackcurrant lift; chocolate and mocha notes; depth to the palate; feels a bit chunky and chewy with tannin at the end. Chewy wine. Little shut down compared with it’s showing a couple of years back – needs ten years. 90+

Chateau Prieuré-Lichine

Mid depth, some saturation; redcurrant fruits and lift; some wet stone; some chew on the palate, spices. Grip at the end. 86

Chateau Rauzan-Gassies

Mid depth; quite open palate, lacks a bit of depth; some development; earthy palate, some plummy fruit and spice and chew. Not that bad as this estate goes. 87

Chateau Rauzan-Ségla

Mid depth; some red at edge; red fruits, some spice, leaf – blackcurrant and pastel notes; spices; blackcurrants on the palate, layers and purity here; core of fruit in here [shows how hollow many of these are in this commune]; structured yes but has the guts. 90+

Chateau du Tertre

Mid depth; some red at edge; some chalk, some stalks; not over engaging; spice and some life on the palate; freshness with elegance and firmish tannins. 87

HAUT-MEDOC

Four 2008 Cru Classé from the Haut-Médoc felt less fleshy, firmer and with greater grip and acid than I remember two years back at the UGCB. Once again these wines seem  in retreat. Chateau La Tour Carnet was the best and worked really nicely, not overdone at all. Chateau de Camensac and Chateau Cantemerle were pretty structured and grippy and both at the ugly duckling stage at present. Chateau Belgrave was a reasonably effort, if a little loose, and lacked a bit of depth. I’d have liked to have seen Chateau La Lagune but it wasn’t presented. 2009 and 2010 look better bets in the Haut-Médoc than 2008 for my palate. The price differential isn’t great but the wines are much better in those vintages.

Chateau Belgrave

Mid depth; cream, earth and development; blackcurrant notes; some depth here; chalkiness; plum and spice; nice grip on the palate; maybe lacks a bit of depth ultimately and a little loose on the finish. 86

Chateau de Camensac

Mid depth; more intensity to the nose [focus] mealy note alongside earth, blackcurrant and spice; leaf; more structured palate with greater acid bite; finishes drier than Belgrave and more austere in feel at the end. 87

Chateau Cantemerle

Mid depth; stone fruits, boiled sweet note; quite clean and pure if simple; blackcurrant tones open up with aeration; lots of grip on the palate; acids quite strong at present; fruit is here and certainly freshness. Ugly duckling stage here. 87-88

Chateau La Tour Carnet

Mid depth; typically lush, ripe nose from LTC; full of blackcurrant fruit, plum and spice; like Belgrave with the volume turned up; nice mouthful with lots of attractiuve fruit and material. Attractive wine. 90+

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

This was without question the most exciting commune for reds at the 2008 MW Institute tasting. The same was also true in 2007. The wines are structured but have depth and complexity and overall feel pretty attractive and tasty. With one exception, unlike the other Left Bank appellations, there wasn’t the sense here that the wines were in retreat. Rather the wines seem to be developing well in this vintage. So if you were looking for an appellation to stock up with then do look at 2008 in Pessac-Léognan. The prices are still reasonable, the wines look good, some are drinking nicely already, and they have the structure and depth to take a bit of age.

Chateau Haut-Brion showed extremely well as did an opulent Chateau Pape Clément alongside Chateau Malartic-Lagravière in a similar style. Domaine de Chevalier was full and enticing, Chateau Haut-Bailly  was deep and full of potential and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte had bags of fruit and style. Chateau de Fieuzal and Chateau Bouscaut also looked good. Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion was the only wine that was a little dumb and tricky to assess. It has plenty of extract and guts but the tannin felt dry. If past performance is any guide clearly La Mission will be fine and is just at an awkward stage. Chateau Olivier was the only marginal under-performer. It lacked flesh and finished a little short.

Chateau Bouscaut

Mid depth; polished look; mineral tones, some resin and cassis, later with chocolate; red fruits on the palate; quite dense and inky; ripe flavours and purity here but good structure beneath. Good wine. 90

Domaine de Chevalier

Deep and arterial looking; saturated; layers and depth to the nose; nice seam of blackcurrant fruit and toasty oak; very full and enticing; ripe full palate too; this is really looking good; lots of flavour and bite. Structured and with grip but plenty of flesh on the bones. This looks very good indeed. 92+

Chateau de Fieuzal

Quite saturated in colour; plump, earthy style on the nose; lots of fruit; pretty deep with mocha notes; pretty ripe palate with lots of red fruits lots of depth, grip and structure. Very good effort. 90

Chateau Haut-Bailly

Deep at centre; earthy blackcurrants; some leaf, spices and chocolate; attractive with some complexity; spicy blackcurrant tones on the palate – captures the vintage nicely; good acid, in fact grippier and more obviously structured than Malartic-Lagraviere and Pape Clément. More traditional styled and longer term. 92+

Chateau Haut-Brion

Mid depth; some gravel, earth, oak and leaf; nice rose petal component; layered and very attractive nose; very complete and attractive palate; some earth, blackcurrant and tobacco, spices and herbs too with espresso tones on finish. Quite elegant. Complete and very well mannered overall. 95+ 

Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion

Mid depth; very closed and dumb on the nose. some chalk, minerality, cream and oak resin. Chewy palate, lots of extract and material. Spicy notes. Tannin dry at this stage. Very closed, firm and grippy, though clearly substantial  Difficult to read this now. Has tasted better. Ugly duckling stage here. 91+

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière

Deep and saturated look; inky with lots of red fruits; high octane in the mould of Magrez at Pape Clément; very polished palate with lots of extract and grip; textured and good; big and extracted with chewy tannins but plenty of fruit here and excellent length. 93+

Chateau Olivier

Mid depth; bright; spicy red fruits alongside some bell pepper, capsicum notes; initially bright fruit on the palate with some leafy development but lacks a bit of flesh and finishes short. 86

Chateau Pape-Clément

Very dense and saturated in colour; as sexy on the nose as Mouton in it’s way; very layered and very showy; this wine is fabulous and irresistible; inky layers on the palate with sweet oak; ripe, earthy notes too; lots and lots of layers here. This is really well done. Lots of extract and length. One of the wines of the vintage surely? 94+

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Deep, saturated colour; very intense looking; lots of red fruits on the nose, chalk and chocolate; depth; palate saturated and chewy; red fruits, dark chocolate, espresso notes on the finish; acid is hidden but covered in rich fruit. Impressive. 92+

ST EMILION

I think St Emilion has made a good fist of 2008. There’s plenty to enjoy in a lot of the wines if you can get past the winemaking in some cases – unless you’ve a fondness for treacle and liquorice. The best here are full and generally have plenty of fruit and no shortage of ripe tannin. There are quite a few who seem to like to make their wines super-ripe and super-reduced – wines of staggering concentration without regard for drink-ability – though the modesty of the vintage has largely kept things in check.

My favourites, as usual, are those with a fair dollop of Cabernet Franc in the blends. In this respect Chateau Figeac, Chateau Trottevielle and Chateau Canon look very good. Also impressive were Clos Fourtet and Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot.  The latter is always full and seductive and 2008 is no exception here. Chateau Cheval Blanc is the Cabernet Franc wine par excellence but for me it does’t quite succeed alongside the other Bordeaux first growths in 2008. It’s a very good wine in the St Emilion context but it is not as off the charts as I’ve see in other 2008 reviews.  Chateau La Dominque had more minerality than usual and  should work out well. I thought Chateau Canon-La-Gaffelière was overdone for me, though it will appeal to some. At the other end of the scale Chateau Haut Corbin also looked good in the line up.

I still don’t know what to make of Chateau Pavie. It was recently promoted along with Chateau Angélus [not on tasting] to the exalted ranks of the Premiers Grands Crus Classé group A, so it’s obviously has its followers, Robert Parker especially. Off the back of that it has also been one of the fastest climbers on the Liv-Ex fine wine index in recent months. Yet pretty much every time it comes up in a tasting I struggle to understand it. Yes the 2008 has remarkable density, concentration and extract but it has ferocious levels of tannin. I guess I’ve not had any mature Pavie under the Gérard Perse reign so I’ve no experience of how the wine plays out. I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who has. I sometimes have problems with Chateau Pavie Macquin and their 2008 is also overworked and extracted to me.

Chateau Balestard La Tonelle

Deep and saturated look; strawberry fruit, very ripe unctuous notes; some prunes and darker fruits; quite solid and full; chewy, dense palate. Inky and dense if you like that sort of thing. 87

Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot

Saturated colour; dense at core; nicer nose; sweet fruit, but meaty fruit with more complexity; lots of depth; ripe palate, lots of meat and fruit characters and supple tannins. Depth. Very good. 92

Chateau Berliquet

Dense and saturated colour; lifted unctuous style; strawberry and red fruits; feels likely to be quite thick; figgy, prune-y palate; loads of fruit and oak tannins; bit plodding and over-extracted. 86

Chateau Cadet Piola

Mid depth; some strawberry, some wet stones; quite extracted; some thick qualities; dryness to the palate; has some chew and grip but lacks flesh on the bones. Pushed too far. 85

Chateau Canon

Mid depth; deepish core; steely, some spicy, blackcurrant notes; quite sturdy feel; feels fresh. Chewy palate with lots of grip and extract. Firm in acid and in tannin. Classical. 90

Chateau Canon-La-Gaffelière

Deep and saturated; black at centre; very ripe and late picked in feel; saturated with black fruits and molasses; unctuous and fat; palate very thick indeed; lots of extracted tannin feels a bit OTT. 89

Chateau Cap de Mourlin

Deep at centre; brighter more lifted strawberry fruit; bit one dimensional; some leaf and herbal tones; mid depth; some fruit; not too thick here; some tannin and chew. Dry at end. Little simple. 86

Chateau Cheval Blanc

Mid depth; some lift on the nose; chalk, minerality; chewy spicy palate; good depth and fruit – all nicely done but lacks the apparent flair of the other first growths for me. 92+

Chateau Corbin

Deep and saturated look; thick and slightly stewed note; undoubtedly lots of fruit here; ripe; saturated palate. Thick and chewy. OK just not me. 87.

Chateau Dassault

Deep and pretty saturated; very lifted red fruit nose; some VA; quite overworked style; chewy and over-extracted palate. 86

Chateau Figeac

Mid depth; rose petal tones, blackcurrant and savoury tones; far more measured and composed [I’m a Figeac fan] blackcurrant, some plums and spice; more delineated style. Nice linear palate with good extract and balance. Very pure. Terrific length. 93+

Clos Fombrauge

Deep and dense; some thick ripe notes; sweet oak; lots of liquorice and fig; slightly overcooked palate; grip and acid here too. Chew and bite. Fresher than expected. Probably will develop OK. 88

Clos Fourtet

Deep and saturated; seductive nose, rich and deep; wonderfully plummy; freshness and purity here; nice palate, plummy and spicy fruit; ripe yet fresh. Very good and clean. Grip and extract but very nice purity of fruit. Not at all tired or overworked [as some]. 92+

Chateau Grand Corbin

Mid depth; red fruits; lifted nose; strawberry fruit; quiite super ripe in feel but also simple; chewy palate, thick, ripe, some figgy notes. Tannin and dry on the finish. 87

Chateau Grand Mayne

Thick and opaque colour; raisin and strawberry nose; feels very late picked; lacks life; thick and rich on the palate but almost Amarone like. Chewy finish. Not me. 86

Chateau Haut Corbin

Deep and saturated; attractive combination of fruit, sweet oak and earthy characters; feels more terroir driven than some; this works. Chewy, dense palate but with earthy appealing edge that feels good. 90

Chateau La Couspaude

Deep and saturated look; ripe strawberry tones; quite clean; some figgy notes; thick and rich; not that bad though a little one dimensional. 87

Chateau La Dominique

Deep and dark; some bottle stink; wet stones, some earth and rust, feral quality; chalk too; quite elegant palate with acid and grip. Lots of grip and chew. Goodish effort 89+

Chateau Larmande

Deep and saturated; chocolate and earth tones; earthy notes on the palate; not that bad; some chew. 88

Clos L’Oratoire

Deep and thick in the glass; earthy lifted nose; little bottle stink; red fruits beneath; very ripe; feels thick and rich; ripe big palate; lots of fruit and chew. Some wood. Very bold. Works. 90

Chateau Pavie

Arterial in colour, saturated; very thick and intense; some earth, resin and dark chocolate and black fruits; clearly laden with fruit and material but how will it play? Satin quality at first to the fruit but then comes the power; really dense and extracted; chewy; very chewy. The most extracted wine here. 14.5% even in 2008. A whopper. Not me. 88?/100

Chateau Pavie Macquin

Saturated; heavy in colour; very unctous; amarone like; red fruits; very saturated and lifted; almost over-ripe notes; thick and extracted. Plodding and feels tired on the palate [or maybe I am from all the extract here..]. 88?

Chateau Petit Faurie de Soutard

Deep and dense; little easier on the senses; some red fruits and oak; not reduced; easy open St Emilion. Chewy but the fruit and style is appealing. 88+

Chateau Soutard

Deep and saturated; some oak resin; very big ripe and thick appealing? Not me. Heady, broad palate, overwhelming fruit. Lots of extract. Drinkable? 87?

Chateau Trottevielle

Mid depth; nice lift; clean and pure Cab Franc; poor man’s Figeac. Very polished and thank God some delicacy at last. Mid weight, sense of terroir and balance. 92+

POMEROL

You can always rely on Pomerol to provide something lush. It’s a tough call arriving at these wines last as I did at the MW tasting, particularly after some hefty numbers in St Emilion, but the fact is that Pomerol’s wines felt more nimble on their feet than those of their immediate Right Bank neighbour. There was also freshness and delicacy here. Along with the reds of Pessac-Léognan, many of these Pomerols are attractive already, and should provide satisfying drinking in the medium term.

The picks? For those in a sexy, decadent and seductive mould Chateau Clinet, Chateau La Conseillante, Chateau La Croix de Gay, Chateau La Fleur de Gay and Chateau Petit-Village are in this category. If you want something more meaty and firmer then Chateau Gazin and Chateau Nenin have succeeded in this regard. For vibrancy, value and immediate drinking then look out for Chateau Beauregard. Sadly the JP Moueix wines were missing from the line-up. I’d imagine these to be in the vivid and vibrant category.

Chateau Beauregard

Deep, opaque at centre; earthy mature claret feel [thank God]; leafy easy palate with some vibrancy and appeal. Nice chew and decent extract and fruit. No blockbuster but good. 88

Chateau Clinet

Deep and saturated; red fruits and sexy oak, mocha and appealing  decadence here but without veering towards the plodding, often overdone St Emilion style; glossy palate, very sublimated feel but still managed to feel fleet of foot. 93+

Chateau Gazin

Deep and dense; full, spicy, meaty with savoury edge; this feels attractive; good palate, some tautness but depth and chew; again more vibrancy here than in St Emilion equivalents. 91+

Chateau La Conseillante

Deep and saturated look; some leaf and lift; earth too; intensity and depth to the nose; minty note; rich and velvety on the palate; blackcurrants with sweetness and tannin at the end. Lots of depth. Delicacy here. 93+

Chateau La Croix de Gay

Deep colour; denser at core; very toasty oak; sublimated fruit; plump and spicy like Christmas cake; thick palate with lots of saturation. Unctuous and saturated but not tiring. 91

Chateau La Fleur de Gay

Deep and saturated; almost the same; lush, oak and reduced/sublimated feel to the nose; very flattering to taste; cherry, chocolate and very ripe fruit; grip and tannin at the back. 91

Chateau Nenin

Deep looking; firmer nose; less showy and exotic [something of a relief]; more purity of fruit [the Delon guys]; firm palate, grippy with chew and extract. 89+

Chateau Petit-Village

Deep and saturated; sexy and sweet nose; lush and ripe; similarly lush and ripe on the palate. Good effort. 91+

Clos René

Deep and saturated; earthy note; richness; some undergrowth on the palate alongside the fruit. Good-ish 88+

SAUTERNES & BARSAC

In 2008 Sauternes and Barsac were not generally seen as having had a great year. It’s the first chance I’ve had to taste this vintage and the nine wines shown at the MW Institute tasting were better than expected overall. They had sweetness and fruit but perhaps did lack zip [acid] and that creamy botrytis stamp of the great years. That said I really enjoyed Chateau Climens, Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey and Chateau Rieussec. Chateau Suiduiraut looked very good indeed. Chateau d’Yquem was difficult to evaluate on the basis of the small sample size given but it had great length. Still I was a lot more excited tasting the 2010 vintage in Sauternes and Barsac at the UGCB a week later.

Chateau Climens

Elegant gold; guava, melon and peach on the nose; honey too; nicely balanced palate, elegant; not thick or full of sugar but clean and fresh. 90+

Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey

Mid gold; some lift; little melon and peach; mid-weight palate; not heavy. 88+

Chateau d’Yquem

Pale gold; honeysuckle and melon, very mid weight palate; delicacy, excellent length [v small sample]. Looks to be very good. 92+

Chateau Guiraud

Deeper gold; some butterscotch notes; firmer and stronger and also sweeter style than Climens say. Typically more evolved as is the style here. 89+

Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey

Mid gold; some resin, some grassy characters; some lanolin too; more sweetness here; candy on the palate. 88+

Chateau La Tour Blanche

Mid gold; little wet wool and semillon notes; quite thick on the palate with honey and apple notes and some wet wool again. 87

Chateau de Myrat

Deep gold; some VA lift and vanilla; solid; palate feels sweet and lacks acid. 85

Chateau Nairac

Mid gold; semillon and lanolin waxy notes; quite full bodied palate; mid weight. Goodish. 87

Chateau Rieussec

Bright gold; fine elegant nose with peach and white flower tones, wax beneath; has depth; quite rich palate; weight and works well. Lacks a bit of zip but very good effort. 91+

Chateau Suduiraut

Elegant mid gold; some butterscotch and cream; this feels right! Some toasty brioche notes; quite rich and ripe yet manages elegance and finesse. Feels one of the best here. 92+

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