Bordeaux is in a bit of a tough spot at the moment – which isn’t saying much – but it’s far from being an underdog: Eric Asimov discusses this in a New York Times article in May 2010. The region in question once simultaneously exuded both normalcy and the unattainable; a seemingly conventional gateway wine to all other wines, yet having this aura of hubris and higher social status. But now that so many more wines are available, and with a new generation seeking wines that are anything but normal, it seems that less people are raising their hands for the classic French region. But I mean hey: people still whore out special bottles of Bordeaux for likes on Instagram, and a blog post on the mass-produced Mouton Cadet 2012, for some reason, is quite statistically popular.
Personally, Bordeaux is a bit of a weak spot for me, simply because good examples can be pricey, and I often buckle and resort to recommendations of South America any time anyone asks for a Bordeaux at affordable prices. I jumped on the chance to attend an event by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, 2016 being the first visit to Vancouver by this group of wineries. Challenge accepted.
2013, the vintage of focus, was a less-than-ideal year full of rain and rot that resulted in wines with a lighter-footed disposition, though the wines tasted were from high quality producers: if they weren’t orgasmic, they’d at least be, on average, on the higher side of solid. I was sort of excited to see what shitty vintages would reveal in archetypical producers: you find out a lot about a person during their bad days, and I suspect the same might be true with Bordeaux. Wines were found at both ends of dull and exciting, but the bell curve certainly peaks with a medium-bodied and sometimes forgettable style of Bordeaux expressing balance, and a bit of tight attitude in denser examples.
Coincidentally (or not?) there was a British Columbia wine tasting happening literally just a crawl away, but since I experienced that last year, I opted for this one. After some beer, I realized that remnants of the other tasting were found on the street, including a brand new oyster-related shirt that I drunkenly decided to take home. And so we reach a critical dichtonomy in my personality: tasting thousands of dollars of Bordeaux and then taking home a shirt I found on the street.
Obviously, tasting 74 wines in a crowded room is super tough within just a couple of hours: a duo of women asked me for advice on which tables they should visit, because it looked like I knew where I was going. In all honesty, I was trying to weave through the forest-like crowd with Flash-like efficiency and douchey elbow action, especially because of another couple who, at every table, decided it appropriate to elaborately share plans on how they were going to travel to Bordeaux and “maybe we should visit you, do you have a card?” (But maybe I should take a note from them: I hardly talk to the people behind the wines, and a happy accident before the tasting involving a conversation with a certain rockstar MW made me wonder if I should rethink my strategy.)
Anyways, I decided that it would be a disservice to write about the Sauternes I tasted; they were undeniably sumptuous, delicious, and obviously underrated, but my fragmented tasting notes at the end of the string of reds and whites could definitely not do the sweet whites any justice, especially after the refreshing shock of nectar that came after glasses and glasses of tannin. I also skipped Château Lynch-Moussas (Pauillac) and Château Beaumont (Haut-Médoc) simply because their principals were not available at the time; and then Château Clerc Milon because my tasting note was hilariously hieroglyphic.
Fun fact: Château Carbonnieux once labelled their wine “Mineral Water of Carbonnieux” to get around prohibition, though I would have gone with “Carbonnieux-ated Water”. Hold your applause. The 2013 Blanc ($75) had lots of obvious Sauvignon character, but I’ve tasted a vintage or two that’s been a lot less protruding. Guava, and lychee; medium-bodied and fresh with a long and waxy finish. The 2013 ($67) yielded bright cherry-driven fruit. Finessed; lighter and more vapid than I expected and the white certainly trumps this. Fresh-styled, if anything, with a fine sprinkle of tannin. The 2012 had more depth, warmth, structure, and plummy flavours than the previous, and wins.
According to Oz Clarke, the whites of Domaine de Chevalier have often been the star of the domaine (France, even) and outshine their reds: the 2013 Blanc ($160) was indeed textured and waxy, though not as freshly driven as the Carbonnieux, but more of a relaxed pineapple with a gooseberry sort of thing on the finish. The 2013 ($86) was friendly, upfront, and plummy on the nose with a punchier palate. Somehow light yet tongue-coating, sassy and slippery with slightly chalky tannin. The 2009 was much more obviously complex, if that makes sense? Smells much more of earthy undergrowth, and drinking much more currently with nice balance between fruit and earth components.
Apparently the whites of Château de Fieuzal are known for being rich and immediately accessible yet age-worthy, and indeed the 2013 Blanc ($92) was scented with green pineapple and honey, the palate also revealing a nervy citrus-charged current underneath. The 2012 Blanc ($91) had much lower acid, more easily showing lush pineapple, red apple, and honeycomb. Fuller than the 2013 and longer; just a year difference but there was a lot more oxidation here. A little less impressed with the reds than I was with the whites: the 2013 ($63) was mostly black cherry cough syrup, with even just a touch of sickliness on the nose. Moderate structure isn’t enough to provide the freshness that lacks. Y’know when it’s just one of those days when you need a belt? The 2012 was still packed with fruit, but there was a bit more finesse and earth to keep the plummy black cherry character in check. Told the principal that I preferred this one to the 2013 and he hesitated: he said this one was drinking more currently than the 2013 which he said needed more time to age. All in all, most impressed with the 2012 Blanc: wouldn’t re-Fieuzal a glass of it. LOL I’ll let myself out
I’d want to meet the person who named Château de France? Like there’s gotta be a bitchy story about how someone claimed their Château in the name of the country. A little ironic that it’s the only château from Pessac-Léognan in this lineup that is not a Cru Classé de Graves. Pretty average stuff. The 2013 Blanc had a decent amount of gooseberry action, and can easily be a moderate intersection between modern Loire and Marlborough. Nervy and lacks a bit of depth, but strength was in its firmness and (probably) its longevity. The 2011 Blanc was weirdly more closed on the nose, but the palate was more open with more intense pineapple and vanilla. Brett, maybe, on the 2013? Nice amount of earthy grit on the nose. Pretty solid, with girthed chalky tannins. The 2011 was more ethereal and loose. More power and concentration. Pretty much just lightly supreme to the 2013 in every way.
The Château Latour-Martillac 2013 Blanc was moderately fragrant with lychee and pineapple on the nose, but closed citrus on the palate. Most certainly too young and not as immediately gratifying as the other whites. The 2013 was a step lighter than medium-bodied, but the whole thing just seemed so simultaneously vague-fruited and rough; and light with some red berry character. The 2005 was much more interesting and fragrant with some dried plum and mushroom, but the palate still felt shy in the slightest. Delicious amount of tertiary character showing through. Organic, which is cool.
The 2013 Blanc ($109) of Château Malartic-Lagravière seemed like the tightest white so far, donning over-elegance with lots of underripe pineapple, perhaps promising more life in the future. Too young? And isn’t Malartic a Pokemon? The 2013 ($75) was mainly made of black cherry with a nice amount of warmth. Quite hard and tannic, but the fruit still showed through. In comparison, the 2011 was more concentrated and also had much more of an earthy disposition, though the palate still was a touch tight and hard. Slightly fuller than the average red Pessac-Léognan, which makes sense considering that I am now reading about the growth of its style into “New World richness”.
Apparently the wines of Château Olivier were thin and shitty pre-1990s, before an injection of new oak and a serious dedication to quality from 2002 onwards due to a new manager. The 2013 Blanc ($69) was mostly composed of green apple and citrus; and then something pleasantly ripe and unripe at the same time. There’s something about this I don’t like, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s trying too hard to be two things at once? Slight lack of integration or tension? The 2013 ($57.50) felt intrinsically Pessac-Léognan with an average basic plummy profile, medium body, and accessible structure.
I was surprised (or maybe I shouldn’t be) to find out that only 11 hectares of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte‘s land are planted with white grapes, their whites certainly spearheading any sort of surge of Bordeaux blanc (re)popularity in the future. The favourite of the whites tasted, the 2013 Blanc ($195.50) had a notable and wonderful intoxicating ripe leafy stink. Creamy guava with a nice amount of tension. Not too immediately gaudy on the scale like some other examples, which was different and delightful. The 2013 ($137) had a leafy char on the nose along with some saccharine black cherry on the palate. Lush and enjoyable, if not spilling over into hedonistic territory with chalky tannins to balance. The 2010 ($184) in comparison had more vanilla under some peppery plum on the palate. The evolution and difference seemed to be in the texture rather than the flavours at this point. Still a tad closed. Dumb phase?
Unique about Château Canon La Gaffelière for the Merlot-dominated right bank Bordeaux is its almost half-and-half split of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in its wines. The 2013 gave flavours of earth, lots of vanilla, and dried plum. Rather medium-bodied and elegant with good concentration. Quite friendly; one of the easy slutty ones.
I found Château La Couspaude rather dependable but ordinary. Some reviews boast the power in recent vintages, so perhaps the soft and medium body of the 2012 was a reflection of the year rather than style – though the ripe black fruit and fresh amounts of green pepper were enjoyable. The 2013 was not as stereotypically Bordeaux. It had more texture, but was not as exciting as the 2012.
Having tasted the wines, I’m not surprised to learn that Michel Rolland consults with Château Dominique, which apparently is quite near Cheval Blanc, Figeac, L’Évangile, and La Conseillante. What’s a bit surprising to me is that only 70% of the grapes see new barrels (and for 18 months), which is less than some of the previous wines, though the 2013 gave off tons of sweet vanilla oak charm on the palate, prefaced by oaky restraint on the nose. Wonderfully ripe fruit. The 2010 was obviously much more open, but a louder iteration of the obvious vanilla, oak, and coconut, which was at least wrapped up by a fair amount of tannin.
I don’t know much about Château Villemaurine except that it’s a comparatively small property of 7 hectares with a cool label. Though not super idiosyncratic, the wines seemed to set themselves apart with redcurrant-focussed fruit. The 2013 was medium-bodied and finessed, while the 2011 was more timid in expression but also a little more full and textured.
The obvious red fruit among the plums in Château Beauregard‘s 2013, which even reaches strawberry, can probably be attributed to the higher proportion of Cabernet Franc in their blends. I thought it was an anomaly, or because I finally reached the Pomerols. A bit hole-y on the palate, in that there’s a fair amount of body and tannin but not enough stuffing.
Lots of plum and obvious new oak in the 2013 version of Le Bon Pasteur, showing Michel Rolland’s fingerprints all over. Medium-bodied and hedonistic, despite the fact that there seems to be not enough fruit to match the tannin at this stage; evidently needs to loosen for some years. But like, should you ever need expensive Bordeaux to get over a break up…
The 2013 of Château Clinet used to have Michel Rolland on board, but you wouldn’t guess this from the balance of lightness and opulence compared to the succulent Le Bon Pasteur. Plummy, with a fair amount of structure balanced with the body and tannin. The 2011 is more impressively balanced and concentrated, with more fruit and stickiness showing through – more akin to their general style according to Oz Clarke, and what I had thought was more of a Rolland influence, but it turns out Rolland no longer works with Clinet.
Apparently Château Gazin has become much more mainstream since the middle of the 1990s. The wine sees 18 months in barrel, around half of which is new, attributing to the 2013‘s ($114) vanilla-kissed plums, along with its medium body, tautness, and tightness. Pomerol was apparently one of the regions that seemed to most escape the lower qualities of the less-than-average 2006 vintage in Bordeaux: indeed, Château Gazin’s version is much more meaty and concentrated than its 2013, with some BBQ amongst the lasting structure and black fruits.
The wines of Château La Pointe seemed a little lighter and moderately structured in comparison to the rest of the Pomerols, with a friendly accessibility found in the light plummy fruit of the 2013. The 2011 was a bit more earthy and pungent, and driven by black cherry fruit. The château recently started to undergo a major renovation in 2008 in order to reach a fuller potential; along with a nod from Oz Clarke and help from co-owner of Château Angelus Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, I hope to keep my eye on this one. (I mean I can’t afford it so I’m just saying that for fun.)
I like that Château Chasse-Spleen has been managed by women for the past thirty years; the estate has also historically commanded high prices – and quality to match – despite the fact that it belongs to a less famed appellation. In this current succession of Bordeaux, the 2013 a nice combo breaker with affable red and black raspberry fruits. Velvety and very accessible with nice tension, though it lacks a complete core: some fact-finding shows that this has been a stylistic evolution over the past few years, where vintages pre-2010 have shown more dark and opulent fruit. The 2011 holds a little more dried fruit on the nose, but there’s an echo of 2013‘s accessibility and softness.
According to Oz Clarke, one of Château Maucaillou‘s strengths has been its reliability and balance between fruit and oak, which is exactly what I noted in the sumptuous and focussed 2013. A little more obvious green pepper in the 2010, and thus I found it a little more stereotypically Bordeaux, complete with a glossy palate and fantastic concentration. Oz goes on to say that more recent vintages have been weightier and perhaps more seemingly ambitious, though he also opines that the past formula wasn’t broken to begin with.
Crus de Haut-Médoc
God: Bordeaux really does get Game of Thrones-y, especially having read that two people from the famed Bordeaux châteaux of Gruaud-Larose and Chasse-Spleen have come together to own the fifth growth Château de Camensac in 2005. The wines are rather soft, exoteric, and discreet, the 2013 showing plummy raspberry fruit through a medium body, and the 2011 showing much more game, meat, and almost pepperoni through its rougher texture. “Camensac” means something like “on the water’s way”. I can’t wait to convolutedly whip that out in conversation.
The move to reduced oak treatment really shows in the 2013 vintage of Château Citran, where the main burst of cassis shows a clarity of herbs and green pepper amongst a chalky tannic structure. Maybe a wine to pair with colds and flus?
Château Coufran is often called the “Pomerol of the Médoc” since it’s made almost completely of Merlot; I then wonder if the 2013 is seeming just a touch green as a result of the vintage since I noted flavours of sweaty green peppers in its firm blend: though it looks like I might’ve written “poppers”. The 2006 had much more leather, meat, and red fruit, though still a bit rough around the edges.
Château La Lagune has always been an easier one of the Grands Crus Classés to remember, almost as memorable as the 2013‘s wonderful perfumed aromatics. Lots of personality here: ash, ripe plum, and a great show on the palate despite its youth. I’m reading that this overt and gratifying swathe of flavourful softness has been their style, although I’ve also read that the third growth is moving towards firmer styles with less oak.
I don’t know much about the 38 hectares of Château de Lamarque, except for the fact the estate possesses a beautiful castle, and that it’s one of the more reliable châteaux of the Haut-Médoc. The powdery 2013 was ashy, with flavours of cassis and plum; the 2011 was a little more open-knit and leathery. Solid and tame, I guess, if not just a little unexciting.
Crus de Médoc
Château La Tour de By was literally named for a tower that served a lighthouse for the hamlet of By. I’ve read that their style embodies freshness and balance with a depth of fruit that shines through judicious amounts of oak, though the 2013 mostly revealed earth, soil, dried banana peels, and some dark fruits. The 2011 had an interesting juxtaposition between the solidity of the tannins and the soft glimpse of mushroom, and for some reason, teriyaki sauce.
Crus de Margaux
Being one of the oldest estates in the Médoc, as well as being one of Oz Clarke’s sentimental favourites, Château Angludet‘s 2013 had notable and immediate floral scents against the background of plummy earth and meaty char. Good value is a theme for this estate, apparently.
Years ago I read somewhere that Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry wasn’t great value, and indeed I’m learning now about how the wines of this third growth became watery in the 1980s. Both examples I tasted were both charming and supple, the 2013 being lighter, cassis-driven, and aromatic, while the 2009 was much more brooding, peppery, and concentrated, though still intrinsically lithe.
Wines of fourth growth Château Marquis de Terme have apparently been quite tannic and needing time in the best years, being rather prosaic until the improvements of the 2000s. Their style tends to be on the chunkier side for the silky charm of Margaux, and as expected, the 2013 feels just a bit tight with its strength, though the character that shows through is quite lush, with some charred plums and a hint of dried black fruit.
Crus de Saint-Julien
I’ve always been a fan of Grand Bateau, the waxy entry-level white Bordeaux by fourth growth Château Beychevelle. This is my first exposure to their focal wine, whose quality has been often compared to that of a second growth. I did note that the 2013 was unlike a lot of examples tasted up until this point, with lots of layered and aromatic cassis flavour despite the palate’s lightness and structure. A lot more obvious power, structure, and breadth in the 2009, and a fair amount of leathery evolution.
Château Branaire-Ducru was supposedly a star in the 1960s and 1970s before taking a quality dip in the early 1990s. The fourth growth has since returned to higher quality. I found both examples quite finessed and perhaps anomalies of the full and chocolatey style that I read was typical here: the 2013 is medium-bodied with a quiet expression of chocolate-covered plum. The 2011 seems to be truer, fuller, and more structured, with an undertone of mushroom and oak.
Third growth Château Lagrange has been known for its depth and tannic authority, especially since the 1980s, needing time to showcase its best. Though the wines were good, the two vintages on offer for tasting seemed to lack this inherent style, though some other châteaux kept theirs. Though aromatic with a some ruggedness, for example, the 2013 was quite medium-bodied and soft with lots of black fruit and gummy cassis; the 2011 was more subtle and friendlier still, though with more of a spicy undertone.
I care not to bore myself – in the current moment, at least – to learn about the ownerships and marriages that resulted in all of these following hyphenated châteaux names, though supposedly Château Langoa-Barton, a third growth, is more cheerful, jolly, and full compared to Léoville-Barton, which is essentially a second growth owned by the same family, and virtually the same estate. Chateau Langoa-Barton‘s 2013 was not so aromatic but definitely had a redcurrant presence with lots of finesse, while the 2012 was earthier with herb-scented action. Neither seemed particularly compelling, but Château Léoville-Barton‘s 2013 ($148.50) had plenty of structure with only just a bit of savoury character; one of the wines tonight that seemed particularly closed, and young, with, for now, #nopersonality. Time time time.
Château Léoville-Poyferré showed the chunkiest wines of the area, the 2013 ($137) being quite seemingly extracted and big, with no shortage of chalky tannin, dark chocolate, and mouth-coating black fruits. The 2012 was friendlier; truer, even, but almost a twin with its chunky nature and blackcurrant-driven fruit. Interesting to note that, in the past, this estate was once considered the worst out of the three Léoville second growths (the other two being Léoville Las Cases and Léoville Barton), though it looks like the style is moving towards richness.
Crus de Pauillac
I’ve never had a Château d’Armailhac I’ve ever wanted to gush over, to be honest, and I’m not sure why. Must be a combination of mismatching expectations and average vintages that I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. The fifth growth’s 2013 ($78) clearly needs some loosening, but we’ve finally reached a clear unarguable presence of herbier green pepper, blackcurrant, and blackberry. It’s not super unyielding, but some spicy peppery black fruit shows through the chain mail.
The story goes that the second growth Château Pichon-Longueville was shadowed by other second growths, blooming in quality only when the late 1980s hit due to new ownership and super large investments. Today they’ve most certainly caught up with all the other châteaux in its class, the 2013 providing another indulgent style with lots of new oak at 20 months. Tannin and structure is finer compared to some of the other wines, and there’s a whiff of cologne-like aromatics in front of the black fruit.
Crus de Saint-Estèphe
Oz Clarke says that Château de Pez has been “long regarded as the appellation’s leading non-classified growth”. I believe it, and I’m looking forward to (re)trying wines of this château. The 2013 mainly consisted of some char and cassis-driven fruit, with solid structure giving way to a fair amount of punch. A bit dull from what I remember; maybe this needs time, or maybe it’s just average this time around.
Much more concentrated compared to the previous, Château Phélan Ségur‘s 2013 was fairly young and punchy with its bits of discernible black fruit. The 2010 in comparison had much more of an open-knit personality with some red pepper, oak, and spicy fruit. The former is still very very tight but has lots of potential, just like me when I