Not that we are patriots, but our man in Saint Emillion, Jonathan Maltus of Le Dome, was undoubtedly the host with the most. The most in terms of charisma, amusing stories and humility, as we discovered over lunch at Château Teyssier. He took us through the range, which included some entry level wines that exhibited outstanding value for money such as the Pezat – a Bordeaux Superieur, which was complex and weighty wine with stunning packaging and retails at a mere £10 per bottle. Le Carre and the Vieux Château Mazerat (VCM), both were elegant and complex, the VCM was perfumed and smokey.
Maltus gave us a unique insight into life as a Château owner living in the Right Bank relayed using some killer analogies. Our favourite was one regarding wine critic subscription paid websites and free blogs. His point was that today there are a multitude of resources available to people wishing to learn about his wine, high-quality free blogs and social media. This discussion led onto the fact that Jancis Robinson repeatedly declines to score his wine, despite Maltus personally communicating with her. Whilst this isn’t problem per-se, because other critics jump at the chance to rate his wine, it raises the point that they can be unjustifiably fickle and get away with it. Plus as a winemaker he would rather have discourse and opposing opinions rather than no comment at all.
Maltus explained that he rather conveniently got badged as a garagistes right around the time when the whole world decided that this movement was ‘cool’, he speculated that it helped that the definition sounds like garage music. Michele Bettane actually coined the term, and it simply referred to the fact that the production levels are so small that they could be made in one’s garage. JCP Maltus has moved on from these early days, with significantly more hectares under his management and with plans afoot for further winery construction (a lot more space than a garage!).
Le Dome has the highest Cabernet Franc content of any wine in Bordeaux, and is the most expensive wine of this variety in the world. Maltus explained that when Cabernet Franc is blended with Merlot it rounds off the blend, providing the full stop of the wine, without it there would be a lack of structure. We chatted about the 2010 that received 100 points from the Wine Advocate, and Maltus explained that Bob (Parker) had joked that it would be downhill from then on! Luckily Maltus isn’t the kind of guy to let the success go to his head or to get stressed by the pressure of trying to equal this perfect score. He spoke of innovative wine making techniques, explaining that one factor has been using oak more judiciously. Other crucial factors included knowing exactly when to harvest, and in this case, that involves Maltus walking the vineyards himself and sampling the grapes, looking for that magical moment when phenolic ripeness occurs. After this he explained that the second critical point is having the ability to taste the juice and control the validity of the wine through creating a regime of wine making operations. Le Dome ’12 will certainly rank alongside the other successes of this vintage, most of which have come from the right bank, but more importantly it showcased the level of consistency found at this estate.
For lunch we enjoyed poached salmon stuffed with Roquefort and mushrooms in a cream sauce to start, followed by veal for main, and strawberry sorbet, accompanied by his Bordeaux white – Clos Nardian, as good as a top northern graves, and the 2007 vintage (a classic vintage *cough) of another Maltus estate, Laforge and Le Dome.
Our second and last visit of the day was Château Haut Brion, the rumours circling about via Twitter were extremely positive, so we were eager to see for ourselves. The tasting room with its French rococo dream interior provided yet another contrasting approach to marketing and image you find across the Bordeaux Châteaux. Opinions varied in terms of the favourite wine, Le Dragon de Quintus was very good for a second wine, with distinctive savoury flavours whilst the grand vin of this newly acquired right bank estate clearly showed they are moving in the right direction with this project.
The Château Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion were everything you would expect, refined, elegant and structured. But in all honesty lacked the je ne sais quoi encountered in a spectacular vintage. The whites here did impress though, with the oily and seductive Haut Brion Blanc stealing the show and offering a last minute claim for wine of the week.
With that, our week of en primeur tasting was over and we headed home to gather our thoughts and quickly reflect ahead of the first releases expected next week.
Please be aware we are in the process of compiling a comprehensive report on our overall thoughts, which will be e mailed out next week and uploaded to our Facebook and Twitter. Similarly if you would like to register your interest for en primeur 2012 please get in touch.