Bordeaux in barrel 2014: Solidly Margaux
Faves? Some excellent price/quality ratios, particularly from Château Labégorce. An excellent Château Prieuré-Lichine. Predictably very good Palmer, and a fine Château Margaux (and a superlative white that counts among the very best whites of the vintage)
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles
24 May 2015
Margaux may prove to be the weakest of the major Médoc appellations. That was reflected for some critics in a blind tasting of very good estates – as compared to a blind tasting of wines from the northern Médoc. While I enjoyed tasting through Margaux wines blind at the lovely Château Rauzan Gassies during en primeur week, several tasters in my group agreed that higher highs (and longer finishes) were noticed in the blind tasting for northern Médoc wines from Pauillac, Saint Julien and Saint Estèphe. As I later heard from Frédéric Nony of Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, more rain fell in Margaux than in the north. Could that partly explain things?
Still, I rather liked many of the Margaux wines. They may not have elicited as excited tasting notes as the best of the northern Médocs, but some were just lovely, including estates that are not always top notch from barrel. And therein lies a yet another positive from 2014 for all you Bordeaux geeks: excellent price/quality ratios, starting with Labégorce, but also from the likes of Angludet or Prieuré Lichine or Desmirail. And Lascombes came across as less oaky than usual in 2014… In fact, I did not recognize it, so bravo to Lascombes.
Wines in bold I liked particularly, when red and bold even more and when underlined, too, wine nirvana.
Château Palmer: Always a reliable estate for high quality and 2014 is no exception. The château brochure for the vintage explained: “Early in the summer, the sun had played an endless game of hide and seek, but when the 2014 harvest ended on October 14, it was under the same glorious sun that we had enjoyed all throughout September.” Like Paul Pontallier at Château Margaux, director Thomas Duroux said that 2014 is not as good as 2005, 2009 or 2010 but not far behind either. There is refinement in this vintage, with high tannin and high acidity too. I had an overall impression of richness on the mid palate with structure leading to a smooth, long finish and – yes – it was not as exciting to taste in the aforementioned previous vintages. Inevitably compared with Margaux, I feel that Palmer may be superior in 2014, with what comes across as a smoother tannic grain, but let’s wait from bottle.
The barrel sample measures 13.5% alcohol with a moderate 3.6 pH. 2014 is also novel for the estate in that only half the sulfur was added as is usual in the winemaking process, Duroux remarked: 40 mg this year, only after malolactic fermentation, whereas before it has been 80. Was there an aspect of greater freshness due to halving the dose? I certainly liked the clarity of the expression from the barrel sample, but for me Palmer always has focus from barrel.”Less chance of a headache,” Duroux quipped. 91-94
Alter Ego of Palmer: A solid performance from the usually charming “second wine” from Palmer. It has red fruit and comes across as bright and savory. Medium body and an almost cranberry made from a blend of 51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Petit Verdot. 88-91
Château Margaux: Paul Pontallier remarked that he never dined outside in August in 2014, as temperatures were not warm enough. Thankfully, September came. While tasting the barrel sample with assorted trade reps and fellow wine writers, we ended up speaking of the fine 1996 vintage and Pontallier agreed that there is a similarity. I loved the wintergreen like freshness on the nose and brambly red fruit. The palate exuded both power and density, with evident structure on the mid palate. The finish seemed just a touch austere, echoing a bit the experience I had earlier on the same day at Pontet Canet. It is easy to misjudge a first growth from barrel. I recall grading Lafite 2008 somewhat lower than I should have (and, en primeur I bought Latour and Mouton but not Lafite). When I tasted Lafite 2008 again one year later, it proved to be a better showing. So I think that Margaux shows much potential for aging but it may not be the most charming example from this storied estate. Among the first growths, when tasted from barrel within the space of three days, it seemed perhaps the weakest. But it still is in the premier league. And the pleasure to chat again this year in Greek with owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos was particularly fun, as she introduced us to her beetle dog aptly named… Souvlaki! About 90% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. 13.2% alcohol. 90-93+
Pavillon Rouge: The estate made much of the fact that 2014 was the first vintage to try out new vinification equipment in their cellar built by Norman Foster. Selections were more stringent than ever, with more wine going into the recently established third wine, the Margaux de Château Margaux, so that could explain the evident focus of the Pavillon Rouge barrel sample, which showed brambly red fruit and a quite delectable expression. Some tasters preferred it to the first wine, in terms of more immediate pleasure. The finish for me was not quite as long as in other vintages however, marked by somewhat tart red fruit, but, yes indeed, a very good second wine. 13.5% alcohol. 89-91+
Pavillon Blanc: Wow, Margaux produced an outstanding white in 2014, which director Paul Pontalier said is his best ever. It is hard to disagree, as the 100% Sauvignon Blanc manages to combine verve, richness and depth. The combination of a warm September (harvest from 15-19 September) following a cool August allowed for both fine maturity and preservation of acidity. The famous French wine critic Michel Bettane told me that it is one of the very best examples of Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux and I agree. Just 35% of crop from the estate’s white wine vineyards were used to make the Pavillon Blanc, so careful selection and fine ripeness truly balanced the high acidity in this vintage. Bravo! 93-95
UGCB blind tasting at Rauzan Gassies – 31 March 2015
Château Lascombes: Attractive ripeness on the nose. The attack is even, not quite brisk but engaging. Pleasant sap and energy on the medium plus mid palate. An element of steeliness, the sample was taut, but not astringent or overly tight. High tannin, fine tannic grain in need of smoothing out with barrel age. Medium plus acidity. Medium alcohol. Medium plus finish. Well, well, well. For an estate that annoys me with too much oak derivation, this was a positive showing as the word oak hardly crossed my mind. 90-92+
Château Giscours: More pronounced glycerin than the preceding wine. Riper aspects. Attractive nose, ripe, with some well-integrated oak tannin. The mid palate is full bodied, but steely as compared to preceding wine, more so, with a sense of just slight oak vanilla acting as a buffer. High tannin, high acid, medium plus alcohol. There is sap that gives the wine juiciness although the medium plus finish is just a bit more austere than the preceding wine. On the whole, I like this very much as there is “a lot going on.” Furthermore, the price is absolutely right! Buy some. 90-92+
Château Rauzan-Segla: Red fruit nose, quite soft and even subtle. The tannin is somewhat taut here, more so than with the two preceding wines, steely indeed. Medium bodied, high tannin, medium alcohol, medium intensity of flavor. There is an herbal component. Medium finish. This estate needs time to come together so my score is on the conservative side. 89-91+
Château d’Angludet: Here we have more floral aromatics. White flower. High tannin, slightly sweet ripe tannin in fact. The palate is full bodied with a reassuringly high acidity that lends freshness. With barrel aging this will soften up a bit and turn into something special, dare I say? Lots of energy bound up. Long finish, medium plus alcohol. 90-92
Château Ferrière: Plum aspects, is there more Merlot here? Almost stewed fruit on the nose. The palate is more Cabernet, with a touch of red paprika. Lighter than the preceding wine. Medium intensity of flavor, medium plus to high tannins, high acidity. Medium bodied. Playing it somewhat safe? The finish is smooth enough but ends slightly taut, with a medium finish. 88-90
Château Monbrison: Here we have some rose plant/floral aromatics. Jardin vert. The palate is medium plus, tannin medium high, with a smooth texture that comes off steely and metallic on the medium finish. Although like many this year, it has sap, there is just a bit of austerity on the finish that detracts. 88-90+
Château Desmirail: Wow, this may be the best Desmirail I have ever tried from barrel. Slightly darker robe than the preceding wine and then dark fruit with cassis and black plum on the attractively ripe nose. There is ripeness and grip in this medium/medium plus bodied wine, high tannin, medium plus acidity and medium plus alcohol. Rich mid palate, juicy, with a rather opulent and medium plus long finish. Time in barrel may make this quite special indeed and it ain’t expensive. Nice job! 90-92+
Château Rauzan Gassies: Here another fine showing from an estate that does not always impress en primeur. Ripe wild strawberry nose. This has a rather sumptuous feel on its medium plus bodied palate. High tannin and acidity, with dry extract to give it body and opulence. Ripe yet cool Cabernet fruit. With time in barrel, this should turn out special. 90-92
Château Prieuré-Lichine: An excellent barrel sample. Very ripe aromatics but not overripe (this seems not a problem in general with 2014) of blackberry and cassis. Even a hint of pencil lead. I like this Cabernet driven aroma followed through on the palate with a rich, even sumptuous mid palate. Smooth tannic grain. High tannin, high acidity, medium plus alcohol, long finish. Bravo! 91-93+
Château Brane Cantenac: Somewhat more candied aromatics here, red fruit candy. Polished palate, again with red fruit of strawberry and a touch of cranberry. High acidity, medium plus tannin, medium plus alcohol. Medium bodied impression, perhaps because the acidity makes itself more felt in this wine. Medium finish. 89-92
Château Du Tertre: Strawberry freshness, ripe – just ripe enough in fact on the nose. But reassuringly brisk – and vivacious even – on the palate. Medium bodied, red fruit freshness. High tannin, high acidity, medium plus alcohol and medium plus finish. Time in barrel will soften this. Nice job and another bargain wine en primeur. 90-92
Château Kirwan: Here a bit more steeliness. And yet there is a ripe quality to the red fruit. Although a tad more rustic as compared to many others here. Still, the barrel aging will soften the high tannins. Medium plus finish. 89-91
Château Cantenac Brown: Sweet aromatics of ripe red and black fruit. The mid palate is medium bodied richness. High tannin, high acidity, medium plus alcohol, with a medium plus finish marked by steeliness. 89-91
Château Siran: High toned red candied fruit aromas. High acidity and tannin on the palate. This is one of the most steely and taut of the estates tasted today. Certainly barrel aging will soften it but could the matière premier be not quite as promising as some of the others? Time will tell. 88-90
Château Marquis de Terme: Among the few darker colored wines here. Licorice and oak derived extraction but not too much. Quite a sumptuous palate as the high tannin and high acidity are softened by – hey, why not in this vintage? – a touch of oak derived vanilla? There is enough “stuffing” for it to face the oak and I think this wine may be a fine compromise of a so-called modern style with a more classical vintage. Full bodied, long finish and another estate that is up and coming… and not pricey! 90-92
Château Malescot St Exupery: Dark ripe fruit aromatics, plum. There is a Merlot aspect to this wine showing some high alcohol – a kind of “modern feel” – but, yet again, balanced by high acidity and medium plus to high tannin. Quite savory in fact, with a touch of oak derived spice. Is it just a touch austere on the medium plus finish? Perhaps, but I think that oak aging will smoothen this very well. 89-91+
Château Dauzac: Here we have a wine where I feel that high alcohol Merlot may have extracted too much oak tannin – a rare example in this flight. The finish is marked by extraction and not altogether pleasant. OK, there is substance on the mid palate but I feel that they put the too much pedal to the medal. 87-89
Château Labégorce: Floral aromatics. Violet and white flower. Wow! Touch of exotic spice as well. Juniper? The palate is smooth and rather enveloping – and seductive. Polished tannin grain. High tannin, high acidity, medium plus alcohol. Full bodied yet textured. Rounded feel on mid palate leads to long finish. I asked fellow tasters like the talented Belgian-based Hugo Van Landeghem and he said it was among the top three barrel samples from this blind tasting. Bravissimo! I’m going to buy a case of this as it is not expensive and “dances with the big boys” 91-93+