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Bordeaux 2011 - Day Four: Thursday 5th April - 15th April 2012
By Tom Gearing (Director) - Cult Wines Ltd -

With three quarters of our Bordeaux trip complete, we gave ourselves a well-deserved lie-in before our first tasting of the day at Mouton. Miserable weather greeted us once again as the skies remained overcast and grey with the threat of rain. The last leg of our week consisted of us completing the major left bank Chateaux, rounding off with a select number of right bank properties before heading home to reflect, review and prepare for the anticipated early releases.

Mouton, Pontet Canet & Lunch:

We arrived at Mouton early and were happy to find ourselves with a short wait before boarding the infamous Mouton buggies which help tasters make the short trip of all but 250 yards from the ‘waiting area’ to the tasting room. Noticeably quieter than previous years, and somewhat in keeping with the rest of the week where visitors were down on 2010 and 2009, we had plenty of time and space to appreciate the Mouton Estate wines. Petit Mouton was showing well and continued the better than expected performance of the ‘second’ wines in 2011. The Mouton showed its superior status, and it was well received by all of our team. Underpinned with freshness, it displayed clean fruit, nice structure and smooth tannins. Clerc Milon also impressed, but the d’Armailhac split the team in somewhat of a ‘marmite’ fashion, with some strong nods countered by a couple of thumbs down for this smokey offering. Overall we left Mouton heading to nearby neighbours Pontet Canet suitably impressed with their efforts in this mixed vintage.

In the last few years no-one could argue against Pontet being one of the most improved and consistent estates in the Medoc, producing a string of stellar vintages since 2000, with an average Parker rating of 94.05 (2000-2010). Having recently acquired one wonders whether the implementation of unique practices in the region have been the main contributing factors to the recent success of this lauded Chateau..? Whatever the reasons, the Tesseron/Comme partnership continues to flourish, and the 2011 offering appears to be another EP winner that will surely be near the top of most wishlists this campaign. Melanie Tesseron (niece of Alfred Tesseron) showed us the ’11, which was expressive and aromatic – a rarity during an EP week which showed many closed wines on the Left Bank – with the palate offering pure sweet fruit and freshness from balanced acidity (higher merlot content than usual – 35%, with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot). A very approachable young Pontet, which was only just trumped by the gorgeous 2003 that was being offered at lunch! As usual, the Pontet lunch was one of the food highlights of the week, with fish terrine starter, navarin of spring lamb main and the usual ‘Buffet de Fromages’, which has to be one of the most impressive spreads in all of Bordeaux!

No doubt the aesthetically pleasing sorting/tasting room and equally impressive lunch offering contribute heavily to the experience, but Pontet is just one of those tastings you always find yourself walking away from with a smile of contentment.

The Two Pichons:

Refuelled on cheese, we made our way to Pichon Baron, which surely has to rank as the most beautiful Chateau in the Medoc. Visitors are greeted by the vast Chateau building, which appears more akin to a Disney movie than a Second Growth producer. The recently finished Chai and cellars provided a lovely setting for the tasting, where the Ch. Pibran was showing well, smooth and approachable, a wine that’s improved recently under the tenure of AXA Millesimes – surprisingly different in terroir to our last tasting, neighbouring vineyard Pontet Canet, likely down to the higher Merlot content. More impressive was the Petit Village, which was dark and elegant (a Cult Wines favourite during the 2010 tastings). Les Tourelles was perhaps a touch light and very different to the Baron in style, which was somewhat of a trend amongst second wines this year!? The Baron was lovely, with lots of fruit and soft tannin, more finesse than the other AXA wines on show. Production will be down for 2011, with yields of 32 hl/ha, from the usual average of 39. It got even better, though, when we were presented with Suduiraut and their dry white offering ‘S’. Only 500 cases are produced of ‘S’, an almost tropical delight, showing great structure for a young wine comprised of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon. Layers of pineapple, honeymelon and a hint of turkish delight are present in the ’11, which spends 8 months in barrel, rather long for a Bordeaux dry white. The bad news is the production – less than 500 cases, grab it while you can! Suduiraut was another excellent sweet option, with a lot of fruit and sugar and subtle spices. A success for AXA Millesimes in a difficult vintage it would seem…

Next a stroll across the road to Pichon Lalande, abutted to the Latour vineyards, for a tasting of the Rouzaud’s Bordeaux estate wines; Bernadotte, De Pez, Haut-Beausejour, Reserve de la Comtesse and Pichon Lalande.

The Haut Medoc offering – Bernadotte – was a spicy wine with bergamot and aniseed on the nose, spiced fruit on the palate with considerable tannin. Haut Beausejour was a little more approachable with a sweet cassis nose, quite angular on the palate but with a chewy finish. Ch. De Pez had a closed nose and started with quite strong, nearly harsh tannins that dominated, but soon softened to reveal some rounded fruit and a rather long finish.

Reserve was made up of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Merlot and 8% Petit Verdot and offered sweet fruit and mocha on the nose. Currants and black cherry on the palate with well-integrated tannins and a medium finish. The Lalande comprised 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot and showed a lot of red fruit on the nose with a hint of cardamom, plum and fig on the palate, with a slightly bitter edge. This clearly needs some time to calm down, but the potential is there.

All in all, the Baron tasting seemed to garner more superlatives than Lalande – the sweet and dry white options certainly providing the highlight of the Pichons.


Saint Estephe: Cos d’Estournel & Montrose:

One of Cult Wines’ favourites, Cos d’Estournel, was up next on the hitlist. This extraordinary Chateau has been as equally impressive on the eye as it has on the palate for the last couple of years, but the 2011’s on show this year received mixed reviews. Our Director Philip, was – as ever – bowled over by the Goulee, which must be given credit as Cos’ ‘low capital’ option. However, the style is not for everyone and the group were similarly split with the Pagodes and Grand Vin on this occasion.

This year, Pagodes utilised 2% Petit Verdot in combination with 65% Cab Sauv and 33% Merlot to provide a rather unique deep purple colour, an expressive nose of forest fruits and liquorice. This led into an approachable palate with some lighter notes, but the alcohol had a little too much presence, onto an unmemorable finish. With an assemblage not dissimilar to the 2009, Cos was marginally more impressive than its siblings. 65% Cab Sauv, 30% Merlot and 5% Cab Franc resulted in a revealing, aromatic nose, more floral than others on show with an appealing spice. Nice fruit, classic in structure, with espresso, damson black fruits and big tannins – muscular yet reasonably approachable. The spice comes late and dominates a long finish.

Cos Blanc was a welcome finish to the tasting, with a lovely, crisp and fruity nose. Palate had a striking amount of sour fruit, lots of apple and pear balanced out with acidity that gives the mid palate a crisp freshness. Finish a little short, but a memorable dry white – shame it’s rare as hen’s teeth. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, was the Tokaj Hetszolo being shown by Raphael Reybier. Cos acquired the Hungarian estate in 2009 and the wines on show were the Furmint 2010 and Aszu 2001, both of which had us shaking our heads with pleasure – it’s worth noting that the Aszu ’01 currently merits an averge cellar tracker score of 93.9! For the Furmint ’10 to stand up so well towards the end of a week where we’d tasted some of the finest young Bordeaux dry whites produced in recent times, it is certainly a commendable effort worthy of a spot in any Eurocave.

A short trip down the road is Montrose, which has seen great success under the tenure of Martin and Olivier Bouygues and stewardship of Jean-Bernard Delmas, whose previous appointment was winemaker for Haut Brion. It turns out that ’11 will be Delmas’ last vintage, having taken the decision to retire. His 5 previous vintages have all been well-received and generally stood above the overall standard for their relative vintages. On show were Tronquoy Lalande and second wine Tronquoy de Sainte Anne, Dame de Montrose and Montrose. Both Tronquoy and the Sainte Anne failed to make an impression, with the Grand Vin quite harsh and astringent with chewy tannins and a medium finish. The Saint Anne was more open and approachable, with sweeter fruit showing on the nose and palate. Dame de Montrose revealed a subtle smokiness on the nose, overriding subtle blackcurrant and dark fruit notes. The appearance and nose are deceiving, as the palate comprises sweet fruit, cherry can soft tannin leading to a medium finish. A style that again divided the team. Montrose ’11 is a deep ruby, dark to the rim. The nose started closed, but opened up slightly after a little more time in glass to show a lot of spice, less smokey than the Dame, with cinnamon and a touch of graphite. Noticeably better delineation than the Dame, with blackcurrant and forest fruits integrated with some strong tannin that coats the mouth and remains for some time, long finish.

Truth be told, we were slightly disappointed with the Montrose overall. There’s some promise there and it will no doubt benefit hugely from its elevage in barrel, but there doesn’t quite seem to be the structure there that we’ve seen in recent years. A shame in this difficult swansong vintage for Delmas, who is to be replaced by Herve Berland, formerly general manager of Mouton Rothschild – it would seem the Bouygues brothers have a penchant for First Growth experience.



Pomerol: Clinet, Eglise Clinet & l’evangile:

To finish our week of tasting, we headed back to the right bank. In general, the wines of Pomerol and Saint Emilion had been received well with the best wines being singled out for praise in this vintage. Our first exposure to the right bank on Monday showcased this with Cheval Blanc impressing all of our team.

First up, we headed to Chateau Clinet, recent recipient of 100 pts from Parker for their 2009 vintage. A wine which clearly prides itself on its branding and style we warmly greeted by our host Monique Montepini who offered a vertical tasting of Client: ‘06, ‘07, ‘08, ‘09 and ‘11. This certainly helped us understand the quality of the 2011 vintage in comparison and at the same time allowed us taste the gorgeous 2009 (again)! We also had the opportunity to taste Ronan, an estate wine which is named after Clinet’s owner Ronan Laborde, which like so many Bordeaux estates provides consumers a ‘lower’ cost option. We found it very agreeable and in keeping with the overall style of Clinet. The second wine La Fleur de Clinet, only produced when annual production allows, was forward and expressive. The 2011 Grand Vin for me continued what has been a very progressive last few vintages under the stewardship of Ronan Laborde. Not as fruit heavy, sexy or opulent as the 09. Nor was it classical, structured or elegant as the 2010. The 2011, however would be a wine to buy, drink and enjoy. It showcases the elements for which Clinet is known for whilst making the most of this vintage. It’s sexy, dense with velvety tannins.

Over the road from the impressive boutique wines of Chateau Clinet, we were warmly welcomed by Denis Durantou at L’Eglise Clinet. A fascinating estate, the quality of which is understated by its exterior yet the team was extremely excited for what was to come. We were not left disappointed! L’Eglise Clinet itself was extremely impressive and without a doubt one of our selections for right bank wine of the vintage. However, we were equally captivated by the other estates managed by Durantou dotted across the right bank, including La Chenade and Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol), Saintayme (St Emilion) & Montlandrie (Castillon). The traditional wine-making at L’Eglise Clinet typically excelled in 2011, producing one of the most enjoyable wines of its appellation.

As we approached L’Evangile, it was become quite clear that Pomerol had produced the most consistent wines of the vintage. The undesirable weather conditions of last summer did not seem to have as much effect as across the other side of the river. L’Evangile epitomised the purity and freshness of Pomerol with an expressive nose of sweet fruit. A wine with a big body behind it but with great balance, elegance and finesse.

Although at this stage sweeping statements are more difficult to endorse, we reflected on the tastings in Pomerol with great enthusiasm, questioning whether the St Emilion heavyweights of Ausone & Pavie could live up to the hype...


Saint Emilion: Ausone & Pavie:

First stop on our penultimate tasting of the week was at St Emilion’s most distinguished property, Ausone. As we made our way up through the narrow roads of St Emilion to the top of the hill, we arrived at the estate, less expansive than those of the Left bank, yet emanated a grand aura as we stood before the stone doorway. From start to finish the wines were brilliant, beginning with Château Simard, which Alain Vauthier acquired when his uncle Claude “Coco” Mazière passed away in 2008, to the Grand Vin itself which in our eyes was wine of the vintage, displaying precise ripe fruit and a wonderful balance. A wine that is quite drinkable young but should age for decades…even a major spillage on Thomas’ behalf could not deter from the beauty and elegance of Ausone.

As we navigated our way to our final destination, Ch. Pavie, we drove pass the ongoing renovation of the cellars and production facilities which seemed to be a participating theme throughout this year’s Bordeaux landscape. The property is owned by Gerard Perse who also boasts a small portfolio of wines that were also on show, including Pavie Decesse, Monbousquet, Bellevue-Mondotte, and Clos des Lunelles. The team were not entirely convinced with Ch. Pavie but were particularly impressed by Bellevue Mondotte, definitely a wine to revisit in 10 years’ time.


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