I tasted the Domaine Clarence Dillon wines last Monday at Chateau Haut-Brion without knowing their vital statistics. Nevertheless I did spot some warmth on Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, but it didn’t worry me particularly. If I hadn’t been sitting down I would have fallen over when I was told at the end that it was over 15 degrees. I’m glad I didn’t know that before because, other than the warmth, La Mission looks really good. Nearly everywhere I went during the rest of the week everyone was saying, ‘Oh but what about La Mission? Fifteen degrees – too much surely?’ Well on paper and maybe if you’ve got a bottle to yourself [though I think I could manage one alone] but I had to say that I didn’t notice La Mission was too alcoholic when I tasted it. That’s the problem with statistics, you don’t judge a wine looking at charts. Nor do you judge a feature film by its running time. If it’s engaging enough even two and a half hours flies by. Acidity is the narrative drama of a wine and it’s what is making 2010 such an interesting vintage. It is yielding wines that defy your expectations. You taste La Mission at fifteen degrees and it works.
In fact tasting both La Mission and Haut-Brion was a real marker for just how terrific the vintage is in the rest of Pessac-Léognan, and even in the surrounding Graves. Overall I thought Pessac-Léognan was sensational last week – great whites and reds. More on that later.
Qualitatively I didn’t think there was much between Haut Brion or La Mission, though there are stylistic differences. Haut Brion has the edge and it is slightly plusher and more velvety. The second wines, La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion and Le Clarence de Haut-Brion also show the onward march that the second wines are making at the great Bordeaux estates. These look very good and were delicious. The white wines, available in such pitifully small quantities [not much more than 500 cases respectively] set a benchmark for the depth and grandeur that white wine from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc can reach. In 2010 these wines are terrific.
It was an unusual year for these two estates that sit across the road from each other surrounded by the urban sprawl of Pessac in Bordeaux. It was the driest summer since 1949 and between April and September rainfall was nearly half the sixty year average [225mm v 400mm]. There was a lot of work in the vineyard bunch thinning and this, alongside the vintage characteristics has given the lowest yield in a decade. The fruit was both concentrated and dense, with higher potential alcohols, acids and phenolic concentrations than ever before recorded. This presented a challenge in winemaking terms and extraction had to be done very carefully. Once the fruit was harvested, the decision was made to ferment at slightly lower temperatures and have shorter macerations. It also took a whole month of tastings before deciding upon the final blends and in each case the production of the grand vin at both estates is less than 50% of the crop. 2010 is an extraordinary vintage here.
The following wines were tasted at Chateau Haut-Brion on Monday 4th April 2011:
Just as saturated; up to the edge; some purple; very deep and layered nose; wonderful; some smoke too; very intense and sublimated feel; richer and plusher than La Mission, real satiny and velvety note on the palate; some liquorice and tar, real ripeness and very polished indeed. Tannin here, of which there is a lot, is bathed in ripe fruit, lashings of it; at the same time it remains intense. Lovely finish, great length. Feels fresh. Tannic end. [57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, alc 14.6% IPT 80 pH 3] 98-100/100
La Clarence de Haut-Brion
Dark, more purple at the meniscus; more cream here, quite floral too; very ripe nose; layers and quite fat; feels creamy; violets too; good entry, very supple palate, very rich too; feels very focused and ripe. Good density and very attractive. Good grip at the end, fresh and with length. Very good here [52% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, alc 14.4, TPT 73 and pH 3.5] 92-94/100
Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
Saturated and deep; tight to the meniscus; very smoky, savoury note, real polish; cassis; some oak but nicely integrated; some olives, tapenade and menthol notes; minerally; real ripeness but freshness; ripe fruit on the attack, good density, layered and dense but very round, ripe tannin [considerable tannin but very ripe]; real concentration and flavour, a little hotness creeping in at the end. Very complete and refined. Tannins unobtrusive. Excellent length. Quite fantastic. [62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, alc 15%, IPT 80 pH 3] 96-98+/100
La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion
Saturated; up to rim; legs; very concentrated nose; some spice and life; blackcurrants, earthy; floral notes too; quite pretty; very sweet entry, very ripe palate but finesse too; blackcurrants, smoke, density but open and supple. Very enjoyable. [27% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, alc 14.8%, IPT 72, pH 3.53] 91-93+/100
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc
Pale straw/gold; very focused, fresh, some hay and gooseberry, more oak on the nose than La Clarite [Haut Brion Blanc’s second wine]; greengages; some wax – very top end; oaky barrique influence; broad and masculine; full bodied palate, rich and unctuous; remarkable body and depth yet not oily; some waxy notes from the Semillon [81%].Finishes very well. Terrific white wine. [81% Sémillon, 19% Sauvignon Blanc, alc 14.3%] 96-97+/100
Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc
Pale straw; passion fruit and guava, very clean and fresh, some peach and melon; much more fruity elements than La Mission; very attractive nose; real power behind it; lees on the palate, real concentration and depth to the wine, full bodied and powerful. Great length and depth. Fabulous white wine, can’t get much better from something so infant. [56% Sémillon, 54% Sauvignon Blanc, alc 14.4%] 97-98+/100
La Clarité de Haut-Brion [second wine of Haut Brion Blanc]
Pale straw/hints of gold with some green; gooseberry tones; waxy and rich, some wet wool/laolin; very inviting; ripe and full palate with some wax; real concentration here; full of flavour and very round; rolls across the palate; good length. Excellent [83% Sémillon, 17% Sauvignon Blanc] 91-93+/100
Tags: 2010, Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Domaine Clarence Dillon, Graves, La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion, Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, Merlot, Pessac-Léognan, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon