Graves in red and white #Bdx17
Some very fine reds, some even finer whites
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
18 May 2018
For your mid May weekend reading, my notes on barrel samples – red and white – of Bordeaux’s famous Graves region. They are Left Bank, but to the south of the Médoc.
In the Pessac area, it was generally warmer – and generally better for 2017, as grapes ripened more easily in the somewhat sunless (albeit generally dry) summer. And – at the precocious terroirs of Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion – the Merlots were mostly harvested before the September rains fell: quite an advantage, as you will read.
A few wines here count among the best of 2017. A few others, such as Château de Fieuzal, were absent due to frost.
Any wine fan should sympathize with the owners, and hope that 2018 will be great, especially for them. Many producers had to avoid selecting grapes from frost-struck vines. So quality varied as expected… I am sorry to have missed Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, which apparently counts among the best of the reds, according to many people who tasted it.
Generally speaking, I was more impressed by the whites, which were very good to excellent.
Most all wines reviewed here come from the northern Graves appellation of Pessac-Léognan.
Without further ado, wines in bold, I liked in particular. Those red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too, a kind of barrel tasting nirvana. Please recall that these are barrel samples. Final notes can come with more confidence once the wines are in bottle and sold as final products…
Château Ferrande (Graves) – Freshness on the nose. Medium bodied and somewhat light in expression, but subtle charm that appeals. 88-90
Château Bouscaut – Depth lets this stands out positively among its peers, with dark juicy plum and blackberry on the nose. The palate is rich, yet has freshness and brightness, leading to a lifting finish. Some oak notes, but overall quite fine! 91-93
Château Carbonnieux – A bit weak on the nose. Shows brighter fruit on the palate, and indeed, it has a pleasing palate. There is just ripe plum fruit, and freshness, that would go well with grilled steak. The fruit is there. The attack is bright enough. It just lacks the depth of a wine like Bouscaut, for example. 89-91
Domaine de Chevalier – Subtle notes of pristine red and black fruit aromas border on perfume. Lovely expression of ripe and fresh fruit on the palate lead to a cool and fine finish. Tasted as part of a vertical and it must be said that the 2016 is perhaps the best red ever done by the château. Still, an excellent 2017. 92-94+
Château de France – After Domaine de Chevalier, this comes across a bit candied in expression of fruit. There is freshness and sap, but overall the expression of tannin is too steely. Finish is somewhat tight. 87-89
Château Haut Bailly – Some 30% of the potential harvest was lost for both the second wine, La Parde, and Haut Bailly due to frost. Indeed, any areas below 44 meters of elevation were lost in this vintage, so elevation mattered here. Softer tannin extraction continues with no pigeagesor delestages, explains director Gabriel Vialard. Aging in 50% new oak, this wine counts among the very best reds of the vintage, as it comes across ripe and opulent, floral and fresh. The touch of 4% Petit Verdot in the blend lends subtle spice and the 60% Cabernet Sauvignon brings backbone and cool fruit. Just over 30% Merlot lends fat to the wine, so there is a low acidity aspect à la 2012but floral lift as in 2014. “We wanted a soft expression for the vintage,” explained Vialard. Although the estate could have lived without the 100mm of rain that fell in September (the éclatof Merlot was lost a bit because of the rains), the wine is quite successful. The second wine – La Parde Haut Bailly – includes some Merlots that could have been in the first wine (65% total with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon). The nose is already quite precise with a fresh red fruit palate. 93-95
Château Haut Brion– Perfumed aromatics of ripe red and black berries, juicy plum and graphite grab your attention. The palate starts out a bit austere on the attack but it gets lots better. This blend of 53% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc clocks in at about 14.25% alcohol. The mid palate reveals excellent grip and a more precise nature than La Mission, and just a slightly longer finish. It is however not as opulent as La Mission. The pH is a bit lower here, at 3.73. An engaging wine, with a finish marked by tonic freshness and lift. Bravo! The second wine, Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, is not as impressive to me as the second wine of La Mission, as it seems just a touch more monolithic in aspect, but it has a fine and full body, with plenty of ripe fruit, just not as charming. The grand vincounts among the top ten of the vintage. 94-96+
Château Larrivet Haut Brion – This wine plays it “close to the vest” as it seems modest in the attack, but pleasing, too, with ripe fruit and some lift. It just lacks pizzazz… 88-90
Château Latour Martillac– Earlier picking, brighter fruit? In this case, it seems that Latour-Martillac has a successful wine in its 2017 red. There is crunchy red fruit freshness, with concentration on the mid palate. Packs some punch, certainly when compared to the Larrivet, tasted just before. Nice job! 90-92+
Château La Louviere – A bit tight overall, a bit steely, but not without warmth and juice. Not as appealing as the Latour Martillac, for example, tasted just before. Give it time in barrel however, as there is substance to the palate and potential for a higher score. 88-90
Château Malartic-Lagraviere – The aromatics please with wet stone aspects. This has lip-smacking appeal. The attack comes smooth with red and ripe fruit, and mid palate sap. Fine freshness throughout! Iodine yet also just a bit tight on the finish? Give it time in barrel – and the benefit of any doubt. Bravo! 92-94+
Château La Mission Haut Brion– Just 51% of the harvest made the cut for this blend of 56% Merlot, nearly 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc. Interestingly this estate has been planted at a higher density of vines per hectare than Château Haut Brion, which could explain why it tastes more “intense” sometimes. But in 2017, you also get a lovely freshness that blends both cool blue with dark fruit. The words that come to mind are grace and refinement, as well as opulence! The pH is somewhat high at 3.86, but the alcohol is not as high as it has been here in vintages like 2009 and 2010, so you have 14.1% A really lovely wine in the making especially because the aromatics are so opulent, yet cool. Very close to the quality of Haut Brion, but I give the edge to the latter … 94-96.
Bravo to La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion, which exudes fine depth as well as brambly red fruit. This was easy to drink, blending nearly 50% Merlot, just under 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc. It clocks in at 13.85% alcohol. The drawback was less than optimal density, because of the lack of enough summer sunshine. September rainfall affected more the quality of the Cabernet Franc than it did the other two major grapes: the Merlots had been picked largely before the rains and the Cabernet Sauvignons afterwards. 92-94
Château Olivier– This has a flavorful aspect and a juicy mid palate. Not as long perhaps as Malartic. But the savory, ripe juiciness is welcome. It is just a tad short! 90-92+
Château Le Pape– No frost damage here, this wine clocks in at 13% alcohol. The 80% Merlot brings about very pleasing richness and even some warmth on the finish. Although this wine lacks the precision of the Haut Bailly wines, a darn good performance in the vintage! Aging in 30% new oak. 90-92
Château Pape Clément– Very deep ripe fruit on the nose. Black cherry. There is some new oak that unfortunately perturbs the overall palate! Otherwise, it is darn good. Some tasters liked it more, but chalk it down to subjectivity: If the estate were to reduce the new oak componenteven more, this could be gang-busters good. It does dry a bit on the finish… 91-93
Château Picque Caillou–Similar spice on the nose, and, after Pape Clement, a breath of fresh air! OK, it lacks the depth of some of the other reds, here, like Malartic. But what the heck! This is engaging on the front end. And has lip-smacking juice on the mid palate. A dark horse? Seek it out if only because the price should be very attractive (hence the red and bold for this one) 91-93
Château Smith Haut Lafitte – Dark color. This is rather sumptuous and fresh at the same time. Lovely nose. Loss of about 15% due to the frost, but mostly second wine plots. “We are happy about that,” said director Fabien Teitgen. “If you remove the frost issue, it was an early vintage, but also not so hot.” Indeed, lovely freshness to this SHL. Given the challenge of rain in the vineyard, the estate hired160 pickers in 2017 as opposed to 100 in 2016. The overall profile is tonic enough, with elegance, combining both red and dark fruits as well as some herbal notes. I do not see the same diaphanous elegancethat you get with Haut Bailly, which was deceptively soft – a bit like Issan in Margaux – but I like the power here. Florence Cathiard says that her 2017 is not quite at the level of 2015 or 2016, but better than 2014. In any case, a success here! Tasted at the UGCB and quite smooth and pleasurable. And indeed, a “less extracted approach” as one fellow writer remarked, “for this estate.” I liked some iodine freshness. This has potential. 92-94+
Now, 2017 is no 2014. While 2014 is driven by acidity and freshness, 2017 relies more on structure, as acidities are lower. However, picking time was essential. As some observers note, it was important to pick relativelyearly to retain freshness – and not to have waited too far into early September. Of course harvest times varied according to terroirs. All in all, 2017 is a very good vintage for dry whites.
Château de Chantegrive– Fine note of fresh peach, touch of quince, melon, and the palate is fresh and robust, if a bit short but for the money, this is a lovely Chantegrive. 89-91
Clos Floridene (Graves) – This has lift and appeal. It is not the most shining example of finesse, but I like the energy and lift. For the money, I would still bet on a wine like Château Reynon Blanc – tasted both at Planète Bordeaux and at Joanne – for an even better price/quality ratio (notes on these wines to be published later). OK, some fine pear notes on the nose please! Not bad at all. 88-90
Château Ferrande (Graves) – Lacks the same freshness as the above. It is good but a bit metallic. Somewhat ho hum. 87-89
Château Rahoul (Graves) – Fine grapefruit flavors, grapefruit rind. Fairly simple in its citrus approach. 88-90
Château Bouscaut– Fine and ripe white peach flavors and aspects please the taster – in line with, say, Chantegrive, but with greater intensity of flavor and brighter. A successful white. 91-93
Château Carbonnieux – This has more zing, and seems to have been picked earlier. While I like the zing, I prefer the superior depth of the Bouscaut. 89-91+
La Clarté de Haut-Brion – Here is where a second wine can battle many a first wine, in a vintage of excellent dry whites. It comes across rather rich, this blend of nearly 70% Semillon and the rest Sauvignon Blanc. The 3.2 pH balances the 14% alcohol and you get such pleasing notes of juicy white stone fruit, with wonderful mid palate sap, and an orange rind like freshness on the finish. Bravo! 92-95
Château Cruzeau – Nice lemon meringue aspect on the nose and the palate starts out brisk, but then seems a bit boring on the palate. Note reserved.
Domaine de Chevalier – Deep floral notes immediately appeal. And the palate is one of the more opulent from this estate: both sumptuous and suave. There is finesse as well as breadth. Does it have the precision of the 2014? I am not so convinced, but it makes up for that perhaps in veritable breadth. A Domaine de Chevalier more about breadth than length. Tasted again at the château, and it sings! 93-95+
Château Haut Brion – Comes across more “gently” than La Mission Haut Brion Blanc but has structure, too. It is a more subtle wine, exuding more pronounced floral and herbal tea aspects, such as acacia and chamomile: genuine delicacy with palate substance leading to a long and bright finish. Wonderful! And very expensive. Blends about 56% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest Semillon. 95-97
Château Larrivet Haut Brion– Quite smooth and refined, if a bit steely. It lacks the sinewy warmth of, say, Château Olivier. But it conveys bright stone white fruit and citrus on the attack. 91-93
Château Latour Martillac– 2017 seems to suit this estate well: it has more richness than usual, and it reminds me a bit of their successful 2010. Brightness and ripe fruit combine to a svelte finish. 91-93+
Château La Louvière– Spicy fruit aromatics. This wine is more medium bodied. Smooth. Not as much breadth as Domaine de Chevalier. Has bright fruit, however and it is elegant. 90-92
Château Malartic Lagravière– Fine energy here, focus and bright fruit. This has lift and ripe fruit. Reminds me of the 2015, which was excellent! 92-94
Château La Mission Haut Brion Blanc– Gorgeous. Subtle notes of pear and white peach, very pure yet also mouth filling, a striking balance of both tension and full body: 14% alcohol well integrated. The finish may just be a tad warm for anyone who is “ultra sensitive,” but it exudes undeniable energy. Very highly recommended, albeit… very expensive. The over 75% Semillon is strikingly rich in this vintage, and the nearly one-quarter Sauvignon Blanc lends needed lift. It is really a tough call to determine which is better: this or Haut Brion Blanc. A decision that millionaires can make for us! 94-96+
Château Olivier – Juicy green and yellow melon: so darn appealing on the attack! This also has depth and juiciness on the mid palate, leading to a fresh finish. One of the top mid range whites of 2017: highly recommended. 92-94+
Château Pape Clément – Baked cinnamon apricot nose. The palate is velvet smooth and that is a plus! It is very ripe, but it has some warmth on the finish. While Domaine de Chevalier, for example, exudes admirable breadth, this comes across more thickly. I can see how it would please some palates, however, but it lacks enough lift on the finish for my taste. 91-93
Château Picque Caillou – Nutmeg spice. Fine energy and sparkle, although a tad thin – especially as compared to the Pape Clement, tasted just before. 89-91
Château Rochemorin – Sweet, juicy apricot aspect on the nose. Fine body to this wine, and pleasing notes of fresh cut green melon freshness on the palate. More white than yellow peach echoing through to the medium finish. Overall? Very nice! And a very good deal in terms of price. 90-92
Château Smith Haut Lafitte– Only 40 percent of harvest made it for the white. The palate exudes both sweet herb and nutmeg spice, perhaps from the 50% new oak. The body is lovely, with exotic fruit, quince, pineapple (fresh cut), orange and melon. It is juicy and of course ripe: delectably so. Like others in this 2017, the wine is less linear but more “succulently broad.” Four words: Mouthful of juicy pleasure. 93-95