Northern Médoc: Sweet spots confirmed in 2016
A modern era 1986?
Great stuff in Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe 😊
(Bordeaux 2016 from bottle, part 2)
11 November 2018
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
Just as we saw how well Pomerol excelled in 2016, another area of consumer interest, also in terms of quality across all price points, is the northern Médoc. And not only that, but many of the wines as tasted from bottle fulfilled their promise from barrel as you can consult my “sweet spot” barrel tasting notes:
While I liked wines from the southern Médoc, the most interesting Left Bankers came from the north; at least at this very early stage from bottle. And this high quality applies also, if to a lesser extent, to cru bourgeois level wines, as I tasted some at the Grand Cercle.
Furthermore, for upscale wines, many of which I tasted blind as organized by the UGCB during my visit to Bordeaux last month, there is no need to spend tons of cash on first growths to get aristocratic quality.
Indeed, so called Super Seconds and other “over performing” wines not officially recognized as top tier, did very well in 2016, so much so that for example I would score, say, Château Léoville Poyferré just as high, if not higher, than Château Margaux in 2016.
Modern era 1986?
Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton Rothschild may have said it best when comparing the first growth to a “modern era 1986” because there of high tannins and highish acidities: I would think that many 2016s will close down for a period before starting to have a proper drinking window, say, 10 years down the line in your cellar. Now, 10 years is not that much compared to 1986, as some of those are kind of closed still in 2018!
Certainly Léoville Las Cases earns a 100 point score or somewhere close to that. Tasting it from bottle with Jane Anson, we agreed that the 2016 LLC is nothing short of superlative.
From Saint Julien to Saint Estèphe, the northern Médoc features many fine wines and even stars, from humbly priced wines like Château Château Petit Bocq to the mighty Château Montrose, by way of a downright excellent (and slightly more “mid- to high-priced”) Château Calon Ségur.
Unlike in Pomerol, we tasted many of these wines blind (with notable exceptions of Château Pontet Canet, Château Léoville Las Cases, Château Ducru Beaucaillou and the first growths that we were able to taste).It is a pity that such truly great wines do not allow themselves to be compared blind with their neighbors.
Let me just go to a quick “box score” of my overall northern Médoc favorites in terms of “price has no meaning” favorites to “price/quality ratio favorites”, as follows:
Six northern Médocs I really liked, where price has less meaning (we did not taste Château Latour from bottle)
- Château Léoville Las Cases (100)
- Château Mouton Rothschild (100)
- Château Pontet Canet (98+)
- Château Léoville Poyferre (98)
- Château Ducru Beaucaillou (98)
- Château Lynch Bages (97+)
Six northern Médocs with (very) appealing price/quality ratios at varying price points
- Château Grand Puy Lacoste (96+)
- Château Gruaud Larose (96)
- Château Calon Ségur (95+)
- Château Lafon Rochet (93+)
- Château Potensac (92)
- Château Fonbadet (92)
Special mention to Château Croizet Bages for a particularly fine performance from bottle!
Tasting Notes: As usual, if I liked in particular, in bold. If red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too? A kind of wine nirvana. Asterisks* mean a particularly good price/quality ratio.
Visiting Château Léoville Las Cases
Well, let’s just start with one of the best wines of the 2016 vintage, hands down. Of course this estate is part of the Domaines Delon, so we tasted some others, too, among which counts very possibly the best price/quality ratio for the Médoc, so here goes.
Château Potensac* – Lovely nose, with juicy fruit, red and black. There is more than your usual elegance from this estate, as the winemaking has gotten more fine tuned. Blending 44% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine clocks in at 13.8% alcohol, with an IPT of 75 and a pH of 3.48. Bottled in April, it is a bit closed now, but that is normal. What is foremost important is the suave nature that you get from this humble AOC Médoc. I would recommend purchasing magnum formats to serve at upscale garden parties or any parties, over the next 5-15 years. Magnums require more bottle aging, so crack it open in, say, 2023 for an early drinking window and pour away. The magnum price lies between $50 and $60 and will reward you more than that! 92
Clos du Marquis – This estate is getting better and better, and – mind you – it is not the second wine of Léoville Las Cases (anymore). Blending 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc, this wine was made from grapes of vines that average 35 years old (youngest are 18). The name of Clos du Marquis, created in 1902, was inspired by the Petit Clos adjacent to the Château de Léoville, residence of the Marquis de Las Cases. The Clos du Marquis is produced from top terroirs of the Saint-Julien Appellation that were not part of the old Domaine de Léoville cadastre. These terroirs are located slightly to the west and are surrounded by many of today’s Super Seconds, including Léoville Poyferré, Léoville Barton and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. The 2016 Clos du Marquis offers a fine expression of the Saint Julien character, with pure cassis and pencil lead aromatics. The palate exhibits fine tonicity on a long and lifting finish. One of the best Clos du Marquis I recall enjoying. And there is structure and potential complexity with aging potential. The alcohol is just over 13.5% with 3.87 grams per liter of acidity and a rather high IPT of 78. 93+
The Clos du Marquis has improved since the estate made selections more refined, with the recent second wine of Clos du Marquis, dubbed, La Petite Marquise, which offers succulent fruit on the palate, with a cool blueberry aspect. Fine for restaurants, this smooth blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon and 48% Merlot. 90
Château Léoville Las Cases – As you can see in the above video, this is a case of a Super Second acting as a first. This wine was bottled in September. It is a superlative wine with such refined tannins, and opulence on the mid palate never obvious, but gorgeously textured: the true incarnation in liquid of elegance. And it is not even complete yet, but rather approachable at this early stage. What makes it 100 points I suppose is the sheer length and and precise focus. Yes, you get pencil lead and fresh fruit, with a rather high tannic index of 82 IPT. The 13.6% alcohol is balanced by a fine 3.66 pH. That is to say, that the balance between acidity and richness is near perfect here. Blends 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc. Great wine. 100
Special mention indeed for the Petit Lion, the veritable second LLC made from “younger” vines between 20-25 years old. You get a similar profile here to the grand vin, rather sumptuous and juicy: it is really delicious! Smooth and robust, with an almost roasted aspect. Of course, less opulence, precision and length as compared to the LLC. This wine blends 34% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 59% Cabernet Sauvignon. 92+
11 Pauillacs tasted blind at Château Grand Puy Ducasse (no order of preference because – hey! – they were assessed blind 😊)
Please note that not a single bottle below is graded – from bottle – below 90 points. This is more than just a solid showing. Bravo to Pauillac! Stars of the show? Lynch Bages, the two Pichons and Grand Puy Lacoste plus a surprisingly fine showing from Croizet Bages!
Wine number one: High toned nose, with light oak aromas (60% new oak of medium toast) mingling with vivid bright red and some black currant fruit. Although a bit closed in, one could sense fine “breed” on the nose! The attack on the palate is akin to the vivacious 2008, again more high toned, but after sitting in glass for 30 minutes, the ripe fruit envelopes the taste and one gets Pauillac power, but in a smooth delivery leading to a long finish. One could say that the blend resembles other “6s” with quite a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, clocking in at 75% although under director Nicolas Glumineau, the Cabernet component is slowly being increased over time. The pH is fine at 3.76 and alcohol clocks in at 13.32% with a slightly generous yield (good!) at 40 hectoliters per hectare. Jane Anson and French wine critic Yohan Castaing both agreed about that long finish, as we tasted ogether. Certainly fulfilling its promise from barrel, but just not as exuberant at this early stage from bottle, this turned out to be Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande! A classic case of the need to wait at least five to seven years for the wine to just begin an early drinking window. 97
Wine number two: This has also high tones, with the vintage’s acidity, but I got a sense of even darker fruit. With time, it showed much elegance, too. Indeed, the blend turns out to include – like the Pichon Comtesse – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, but aging in more new oak at 75%. The estate likens the vintage to 2009 and even has a subtitle in its literature “If 6 was 9” (Hendrix fans?). Well, there is a (slightly more) welcoming aspect to this wine, on the attack, as compared to the Comtesse, although the length is not any more impressive. But I just loved the mid palate to what turns out to be none other than a super Château Lynch Bages in 2016 from bottle. For me, this was the wine of the blind tasting – and certainly fulfilled the promise from barrel. 97+
Wine number three: Some oak-derived notes. Just on the verge of being “ripe enough”. The palate is however quite juicy and appealing. This has a rather simple, if appealing, medium finish, with juicy mid palate sap and a fine tannic edge as well. A very solid Pauillac blending 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot, after having aged in 40% new oak barrels. Château Haut Bages Liberal 92
Wine number four: Crushed tobacco aspects. Fine breed here, albeit just a bit simple as compared to the first two wines especially. I like the finesse, and a “chipper” kind of freshness. Nice job overall from Château Lynch Moussas 92
Wine number five: We are returning to a more serious wine here, which at first made me think of Château Lynch Bages, although it lacked the sensual aspects from the Bages. Tasting it after about 30 minutes in glass, true depth and power become more evident, and I was thinking of Pichon Baron. Indeed this wine displayed excellent density and poise. But this blend including 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, having aged in 80% new oak will not be ready before at least another 10 years, and was none other than Château Pichon Baron. 95+
Wine number six: I like the aromatics here as “very Bordeaux” with pencil lead, tar, a bit of earth and ripe fruit. This is softer on the palate than the preceding wine. Indeed, it even comes across “light” by comparison. Tasted again at the château, the oak was more in evidence. It had been aging in 55% new oak. I like the quite ample palate here, with more power as compared to the Lynch Moussas, also tasted at the estate (and later in this blind tasting). Fulfills the positive experience from barrel, this blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot having aged in 60% new oak. The crop was a generous 50 hectoliters per hectare. Château Batailley 93
Wine number seven: This is a touch austere and not so immediately appealing initially, but it gets fuller with time in glass. Excellent ripe fruit coming forward, through to a medium plus finish. Overall an impression of a rather “closed in” wine, but that is hardly surprising. Note is on the conservative side for this wine. Château Haut Batailley 92
Wine number eight: The first bottle was faulty, with an overly austere and acidic, with a palate as hard as nails. We agreed “something was up” with this bottle, which turned out to be the bottle of the host château for this tasting: Château Grand Puy Ducasse. Credit to director Anne Le Naour for confirming it as problematic and bringing out a second bottle, which was normal. The second bottle was supple and agreeable, indeed, with smooth tannin. A mid-range Pauillac I would say, that tastes refined with notes of lead pencil and ripe dark fruit, albeit lacking the depth of wines 5 and 1 for example. Solid Pauillac. Château Grand Puy Ducasse 92
Wine number nine: Lovely tobacco notes. This has gouleyant appeal: that is French for drinkable! And a certain amount of Pauillac power: I like the density on the palate. Fine tonicity on the finish, too, albeit not that long. What a pleasant surprise! This is none other than, drumroll please: Château Croizet Bages 93 (most surprising showing!)
Wine number ten: Another wine that required a second bottle. Could it have been brett? It was, as the French say: “flou” (unfocused). The second bottle was not only cleaner, but also deeper and interesting. Fine ripe fruit expressions and a certain depth, although the palate came across as perhaps“trying too hard” to impress, as the tannic extraction was a tad too noticeable. Interesting in that it clocks in at “just” 13.3% alcohol with a pH of 3.61. The blend is 45% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, plus 4% Petit Verdot and the rest Cabernet Franc. Give it time in bottle, but it may lack the “breed” of better wines in this tasting no matter how long you cellar.Château Pedesclaux 91
This goes up to 11! This final wine proved to be among the best of this tasting, exuding a firm “Pauillac expression”, straight from the textbooks. What impressive tannic grip and power! Letting it sit in the glass, you get suave elegance, as well. Dominated with nearly 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine has aged in 75% new oak so well integrated. Firms up on the finish so it really should rest in your cellar for at least 10 years, and then you would be able to start enjoying it. OK, prices have been inching upwards, but under $90 for this is still a nice deal… Bravo! Château Grand Puy Lacoste*. 96+
At Château Mouton Rothschild
Château d’Armaillac – This is a lovely wine, with freshness, displaying both floral and graphite aromatics that are very seductive! There is a veritable tension to the palate that makes it exciting and better than it was from barrel. But also a primary nature, as if it is (still) a barrel sample. I like the acidity. Rather high acidity, with over 13 degrees natural alcohol. Bravo! 94
Château Clerc Milon – I loved this from barrel – the score range as high as 96 – but it has closed down pretty hard from bottle. This has certain austerity and the pH is a bit lower than that of the d’Armaillac. There is a fresh tobacco leaf aspect, but the palate is tight and closed. The modern expression of 1986 seems quite apt for this wine. Coming back to the wine after about 20 minutes in glass, it shows much polish and elegance on the nose. Conservative score for now. Given its fabulous from barrel performance, it will likely outpace the d’Armaillac within 10 years of cellaring. 93 (but likely much higher in years to come)
Petit Mouton – This second wine of the grand Château Mouton Rothschild exudes really seductive chocolate cookie notes and yet the palate is high toned, somewhat like the 2008 vintage. The palate is a bit tart on the finish however, so I was not counting this among my favorite second wines from bottle (that honor would certainly go to Alter Ego Palmer, coming soon). 90
Château Mouton Rothschild – Of the three first growths we tried, including Lafite Rothschild and Margaux, I like this one the most, just edging out the Lafite. With 15% Merlot and 83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, you get distinct – yet “fat” – notes of pencil lead. A serious Pauillac! The acidity level is higher than average, at 3.9 grams per liter, “like a 1986, but more modern”, Dhalluin reiterated. “But we work better now to obtain optimal ripeness.” Indeed, and by any measure, the Mouton 1986 is a superb wine. One famous critic rated it 100 😉 … So you get here Pauillac power, sure, and it may not be an overly seductive or opulent style, but more “athletic”. I love the cool blueberry fruit aspect on the long finish. Dhalliun goes so far as to say that the 2016 is “the best vintage that I have made here”. Well, I am inclined to score this very close to 100. Why not 100?
Aile d’Argent – This white is smooth and saline, blending 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 46% Semillon and 2% Muscadelle. “We are going to plant more of the Muscadelle”, Dhalluin remarked, “which is very nice and lends more aromatic complexity”. The wine has freshness and density, even if the color is a tad evolved looking. The acidity of the vintage is no doubt an advantage. 92
At Lafite Rothschild
Château Lafite Rothschild – Tasted at the estate, this blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot is indeed lovely, and rather foreboding and strong. It is – like some other wines tasted in the northern Médoc – veritably closed down, but the promise from barrel (my range went from 96 to 99 points) is indeed there. The palate shows such refined tannins and the length is impressive. But as most consumers consider pricing, would it be worth paying so much cash for it, when you have a comparatively superlative wine like Léoville Las Cases at about one-third, if not half the price? 97+ (but score should go up with proper aging in cellar)
Carruades de Lafite – I admire the nuanced palate from this blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and the rest Petit Verdot. You get ripe fruit and a certain wet stone minerality from the wine. It is supple and nuanced on the palate, too. But be ready to pay about $200 for a second wine. 93
Château Duhart Milon* – This blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot has more “seriousness” when compared to the Carruades. Dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, is has also a longer finish. There is much ripe fruit and an elegance to the wine. Most important? It costs less than half the price of the Carruades. From barrel, the clean and pure expression of red berry fruit, very polished in its fine grained tannin, was confirmed in bottle. Bravo! 94
Honorable mention for the second wine Moulin de Duhart, made mostly with Merlot at 79% of the blend. Darn agreeable, if not that complex. If the price is right, why not? 90
Tasting five classified Saint Estèphes blind at Château Montrose proved yet another highlight of the northern Médoc. A marvelous showing from all, proving the point – as I had written last year – that Saint Estèphe took some “revenge” in 2016 after the more challenging 2015 vintage.
At Château Montrose : five Saint Estèphes blind and bravo to both Calon Ségur and Lafon Rochet for their excellent price/quality ratios
The nose is lovely and so is the palate, very engaging. Refined ripe fruit expression and suave, with subtle depth. Could this be the Cos? NO! It is none other than Château Calon Ségur*. This blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and the rest Petit Verdot is lovely and even rather concentrated. The increasing planting density at this estate is maybe beginning to pay off. And aging in 100% new oak is so well integrated. Black, ripe fruit. I gave this wine a strong range from barrel, and it gets the uppermost score from that range from bottle. 95+
More closed in. This has a certain “pleasing austerity” but also depth and precision. Could it be the Calon? Time in glass reveals depth on the palate, but the high tannin and acidity (blend of over 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, about 25% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc) has now closed down in bottle. The pristine and clean elegance and balance is there, but I want to be just a tad conservative for now. I am sure that the score will go up in about five years. Clocks in at about 13% alcohol. Château Cos d’Estournel. 95
Nose is a bit closed. The palate has cool blueberry fruit and depth but somewhat closed, like the above, and I am wondering if it is either Lafon Rochet or Labory? The depth is impressive on the palate and the finish fresh. Just not as impressive as the two previous wines, as the tannins seems a bit more austere. Still, an impressive showing among tough challengers! Château Cos Labory 92
What refined tannin here! There is a very cool breed that comes through along with evident palate depth, although it is quite tight on the finish. Again, we may be tasting these pups too early from bottle. Could it be a second growth? Yes, it was Château Montrose ! Going backwards in this short tasting, the impressive depth is evident, as compared to wine number five. 96 (potential for higher score with more time in bottle)
This has much depth and impresses with both density and length. Tightness on the finish? Sure, but the length is notable! A very impressive showing from Château Lafon Rochet* as there is polish on the long finish, too. 93+
At Château Pontet Canet: all about sea shells and rolling waves
Château Pontet Canet – Well, there was little surprise when I visited this great estate, so famous for its organic direction and its replacing oak barrels with egg shaped concrete amphorae. It was sad news however to hear from owner Alfred Tesseron that the estate lost much of its potential harvest because of the spread of mildew in 2018. But that is another story. How was the 2016 from bottle? Nothing short of being among my top wines of the vintage! The nose is saline smooth. The palate is again smooth and (very) refined with much nuanced depth, subtle opulence and Pauillac power. This has 14.5 alcohol, but such a nice balance as the finish is marked by a tonic, thirst quenching aspect. Think of seashells and rolling waves. Just lovely! For the owners, 2010 and 1961 are references and 2016 is comparable to both. But I find the 2016 more nuanced than the 2010. A tour de force. 98+
Blind tasting at Château Léoville Poyferre of Saint Julien. Bravo to both the Poyferré and Gruaud Larose
We had eight wines to taste blind, in two flights of four, not including Châteaux Léoville Las Cases and Ducru Beaucaillou, which were tasted at the estates, non-blind. Also Château Branaire Ducru was not present for this blind tasting. I basically graded according to “A” meaning that I liked it more and “B” meaning that I liked it less. But all showed well in showings.
Château Ducru Beaucaillou – This blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot at first has a somewhat impenetrable nose. With time in glass, it shows off such gorgeous and vivid floral and cassis aspects. The palate is very robust and dense: a Pauillac like grip to it. To me however, it is neither as refined, nor as precise as Léoville Las Cases. But an excellent Saint Julien to be sure with lovely density and especially impressive length, with lift. Such floral elegance! 98
Some interesting odds and ends that prove that you can find quality and value in the northern Médoc
Château Ducluzeau – This is quite a nice wine, rich and ripe. Merlot roast. There is not the depth nor the elegance of the Saint Juliens we had just tried but the wine is very zesty and robust. 14% alcohol. Loads of Merlot but nicely balanced. €15
Château Haut Bages Montpelou (Pauillac) 2016 – Another lovely wine, quite serious and attractive. 27M 68CS 5CF
Château Beau Site (Saint Estèphe) 2016 – Lactic and yet roasted fruit. Not bad. Nicely integrated oak as well, as Yohan said. 16M 3PV 78CS 3CF But the 2015 is not quite as good, even if it is tasty. There is more of a diluted aspect, compared to the 2016.
As tasted at the Grand Cercle
Château Fonbadet (Pauillac) – OK, the wine costs about $40 retail, but what lovely juice! Blending 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, there is ripe fruit and layered depth. A balanced expression indeed, clocking in at 13% alcohol. Sure, you get some austerity, but in a good sense: in the sense that the tannins are neither astringent nor hard, but just need time to break down. Give it about seven to 10 years in your cellar for an early drinking window. 92
Château Petit Bocq (Saint Estèphe) – Excellent expression of ripe fruit. Made from vines on eight hectares, many coming from clay soils, close to the famous Château Haut Marbuzet. About 70% Merlot, which lends plenty of richness, yet the wine has verve and grip. Aged in 50% new oak. This is very nice and agreeable. 91+
Château Serilhan (Saint Estèphe) – Another fine Saint Estèphe albeit more “make up” and less fruit at first. Could it be the malolactic in barrel? Still, I like the smooth tannins and a certain freshness on the finish from this blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. It was aged for 15 months in 37% new oak, and clocks in at 14% alcohol. 90