Welcome Merlot al dente #Bdx15
And other tales from Saint Emilion
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
5 May 2016
OK, the title is a bit misleading. Not everyone picks Merlot earlier in Saint Emilion. The influence of ultra-late picking to please critics, and to get an upgrade (or avoid a downgrade) every 10 years for appellation-sanctioned revisions (often ending up in courts and/or with recriminations) is still strong.
But I tip my metaphorical hat several times to the very best Saint Emilion barrel sample I tried #Bdx15: Château Cheval Blanc.
Part of its success comes from the realization (yes, I have been saying this for years, along with other friends and fellow #winelovers including for example the talented writer Ben Giliberti) that Merlot is picked too often, too late in this storied appellation.
But don’t take it from me. This short video clip during en primeur week captures the quote directly from the source: Cheval Blanc technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet.
Too many estates have won points/plaudits for ever-bigger wines, ever-darker colors, ever-higher extractions, ever-bigger parking lots, ever-larger buildings, ever-bigger promotion campaigns. Well, you get the picture.
Sure, Cheval Blanc is egregiously expensive. And I do not own any. But that does not take anything away from the lovely philosophy, so simply put, by the estate’s technical director.
And there is more good news #Bdx15 in Saint Emilion. As explained in my introduction to this vintage, it seems that more estates are “dialing back” on extractions and colors and ultra ripeness.
While Saint Emilion is not nearly as homogenous in quality #Bdx15 as the much smaller neighbor Pomerol, there is much to love – and across all price points, not just with Cheval Blanc (or Ausone, for that matter).
Wines in bold I particularly liked, when red and bold, even more – and when underlined, too a kind of wine (barrel sample) nirvana.
- 2015 Chapelle d’Ausone – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Quite a bit of power, here, with expressions of dark ripe fruits. The mid palate is juicy, but the finish is marked by tannins that come across as more raw than expected. The barrel aging should tame this. 90-92+
- 2015 Château Ausone*- France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Just behind Cheval Blanc as the best of the Saint Emilions. Well, perhaps just as good? A different style of course, a different amazing terroir where limestone dominates, but 50% Cabernet Franc here. The purity of fruit is amazing. It is clean and crisp and focused throughout and the density is impressive, the palate texture is very layered, enveloping, in a velvety sense but with tannic structure. I praise this estate, too, for having reduced the new oak component to 85%. Compared to, say, 2010 or 2009, the wine this year seems to be more fresh, more elegant. Bravo! 96-98+
- 2015 Château Balestard La Tonnelle – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Deep dark fruit nose, rich palate. Smooth enough. A bit of oakiness (over) present, but overall pretty darn tasty. 89-91+
- 2015 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Tasted just after the Balestard, more “full throttle” and showing somewhat more evident extraction of tannin, and a glossy, modern style. Dark fruit a-plenty, ripe and rich indeed on the mid palate. Tasted again at Ulysses Cazabonne and I did get a touch of drying tannin on the finish. The juicy mid palate reassures. Give it time in barrel and let’s see! 90-92+
- 2015 Château Bellefont-Belcier – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Tasted at Ulysses Cazabonne, this comes across as quite rich and full-bodied, a touch drying on the finish, with a modern style where extraction of tannin is noticed. The alcohol should be high with heady notes on the finish. But guess what? There is enough freshness for balance. 90-92
- 2015 Château Berliquet – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Cooler blue fruit on the nose, tasted just after Beau-Sejour Becot, a brisk attack, with a smooth and more elegant palate. Somewhat austere on the finish but barrel aging should soften this. I think this may be underrated from barrel by some people, and could constitute a savvy choice for people seeking elegance in their Saint Emilions. 91-94
- 2015 Château Canon – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Quite an impressive show combining both elegance and power. The usual cool fruit elegance I expect from this estate, with ripe red and also more ripe dark fruit aspects. The mid palate is opulent and balanced by freshness – leading to a long and lifting finish. Do I detect just a touch of warmth however? Coming from Nicolas Audebert, who has replaced John Kolasa, a slight turn towards extra richness works fine here. The hype is warranted as this is among the best barrel samples from Saint Emilion. 94-96
- 2015 Château Canon-la-Gaffelière – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Make that “I really like it”. Hats off to Stephan von Neipperg for making one of the best wines from barrel I can recall from his estate. Smooth and refined, tonic as well, lots of vivacity with red and dark fruit and a pleasingly layered mid palate that leads to a long fun finish. Quite a success for this estate, nuanced! And with time in barrel, will be quite excellent. I am sorry I missed a visit to this excellent property. I will go next time. 93-95+
- 2015 Château Cap de Mourlin – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
The attack is brisk enough but I could not get past a bit too much oak derived tannins, suggested by the aromatics. The juicy mid palate reassures, but it gets a bit (oak-derived) drying on the finish however. 87-89
- 2015 Château La Couspaude – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
This is pretty tasty, smooth, maybe lacking a bit of punch. Not bad though, as it is more rounded with smooth tannins. Then, tasted at Ulysses Cazabonne, I am rather surprised by the elegance coming through here, as I was expecting more oak staves. Really nicely done, and – as has been reported – a slight change in style for the better. Ok, slightly drying on the finish, but not too much! Bravo! 89-92
- 2015 Château Chauvin – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
In the spirit of Corbin, this has elegance and freshness as well as Merlot driven richness. Not much more to say other than the fact that lovers of freshness and richness in their Saint Emilion should seriously consider buying this. Bravo! 90-92+
- 2015 Château Cheval Blanc* – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
The best of all the Saint Emilions. The word “spherical” comes to mind. One merchant asked me about that word. In this sense, the sphere symbolizes completeness, unity, equality, and acceptance – well all things good, which is what you get in this barrel sample. Floral, ripe fruit, a fresh meadow? All there. The palate is at once airy and elegant yet weighty and substantial. The 14.35% alcohol is very well integrated. Methinks it will be a legendary wine one day. I cannot afford it of course, but a pleasure to taste it. And made from Al Dente Merlots. Yes, the technical director explained the virtues of picking Merlot earlier to retain higher acidity. Sounds good to me. Oh, did I mention the very long finish? 96-99
- 2015 Château Corbin St. Émilion Grand Cru – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
What a difference. Much lighter touch and like water, compared to Magrez-Fombrauge, tasted just before. It took a few minutes to get my palate back, and then I just fell for the subtle notes of chocolate, damson, and all quite nuanced in its richness, with a fresh tonic lift on the finish: Bravo! I can understand why Decanter gave it a “best ever from barrel” rating. On the other hand, I still adore 2014 at Corbin. Whatever. Buy this. You will be happy! 91-93+
- 2015 Clos Fourtet – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Top of the pops Saint Emilion. Very cohesive. Rich and mint fresh, but then quite intense on the finish, bordering on warm, but overall a kind of high-wire act. While the 2009 for example was a bit over-powering for me from barrel, this manages to have more 2005 like structure and vivacity to balanced the opulence. A wonderful performance. 92-95
- 2015 Château Dassault – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
This has fine dark fruit, and a brisk feel on the palate. Medium bodied, although a touch of oak derived tannic dryness on the finish detracts, just a touch. 88-91
- 2015 Château La Dominique – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
I am not sure about the sample here. At once very savory, but then very tight and overly drying on the finish. A meaty mid palate, and somewhat hot. Note reserved until I taste again from bottle.
- 2015 Château Figeac – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
One of the best Saint Emilions. This barrel sample shows the success of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2015, which makes up 43% of the blend here. Real juiciness compared to most Moueix wines, tasted earlier the same day. Excellent in that they maintained freshness and elegance in spite of the heat, as co-owner Blandine de Brier Manoncourt, said. The 80mm of rain in August, in two showers at the start and middle of the month, helped very much. Temperatures were just cool enough: although days were hot, the evenings were cool, explained director Frederic Faye. Unlike other estates where Merlot alcohol levels drove blends to nearly 15% alcohol, Figeac, with majority Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, clocked in at 14%. Furthermore, the 15mm of rain from 12-13 September hardly made any difference. There is a clean ripe fruit aspect to the barrel sample, blending red and dark fruits. Sure, a touch of “Michel Rolland” gloss, but I like the overall expression. The finish does not have any over extracted notions. “We harvested on the freshness, to avoid sunny effect,” said Faye. The second wine was quite charming, too. Excellent. 92-95
- 2015 Château Fombrauge – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Massive and invasive. This is quite extracted and not entirely pleasing. Yes, there is substance, but it knocks the wind out of your palate. Heady finish, with alcohol felt.
- 2015 Château Franc-Mayne – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Faulty sample. NR (flawed)
- 2015 Château La Gaffelière – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
A bit of a let down for this caliber of an estate. Tasted twice with consistent notes. Smooth enough, with adequate juice/sap on the mid palate with ripe plum flavors, but overlaid by vanilla oak-derived tones lending a certain monolithic aspect overall, leading to a slightly drying finish. Well, ho-hum. 88-90
- 2015 Château Grand Corbin-Despagne – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
A bit more modernity here, folks, tasted just after Corbin, with tannins that are a tad hard, and with a “feel the extracted” aspect. But not bad. It has juiciness on the mid palate and ripe fruit, with a clean and medium finish. 89-91
- 2015 Château Grand Mayne – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Here is a case where I was a bit more impressed by the eclat of the 2014 vintage, which had higher acidity. Still, this is very good. Quite cool blue fruit, fresh and rather bright, too. There is a headiness to this, marked a touch by oak-derived spice, but not overdone, well integrated, and time in bottle should tame the tannin and give this a promising future for your cellaring. 90-92
- 2015 Château Magrez Fombrauge – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion
This has loads of espresso roasted beans and oak. I need to get some water. If you like the oak driven power style, this is for you.
- 2015 Château Monbousquet – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Extracted aspect here, not so pleasing, ground coffee beans. Not my style.
- 2015 Château Pavie Decesse – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
OK, my initial review was a bit hard. Looking back at my notes, a second sample was better, but it was still overly marked by drying tannins on the finish. And yes, quite an oak driven profile that is not really my style of wine. Score high if you like that style.
- 2015 Château Pavie Macquin – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Sure, you get some oak derived tannin on the nose, but very fine and ripe fruit on the attack, medium bodied freshness albeit a touch of extraction on the finish that detracts from an otherwise fine performance. The trend of “dialing back” since last year is ongoing. Nice job! 90-92+
- 2015 Château Poesia – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
This is rather poetic! Lovely perfumed nose, floral and ripe fruit. The palate is somewhat tougher, but there is structure and substance and tannins do not dry on the finish… Let’s see from bottle! 91-93
- 2015 Château de Pressac – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
A more modern style, quite “full-on” and tannins a touch drying on the finish. OK, it has a rich style and is quite big, but where is the elegance of, say, Corbin or Chauvin? Score higher if you like the style. 89-91
- 2015 Château Quinault L’Enclos – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Floral and fruit driven aromatics. Richness on the mid palate, but relying more on elegance than on power (even though it clocks in at 14% alcohol with middling acidity). Here a clear case where I prefer 2014 and its 12.5% alcohol. 89-91+
- 2015 Château Quintus – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
This was really good stuff. Opulent yet fresh, loads of ripe red and black fruit, substantial mid palate leading to a long finish. But I almost like the higher freshness impression left to me by the second wine. Still, this is amazing because of the whopping 15.2% alcohol. 90-93
- 2015 Château Quintus Le Dragon de Quintus – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Well, well, well. Here is a case where I prefer the second wine to the first. Call me nuts. But I was tasting with a bunch of merchants and private wine buyers who also were very impressed with the freshness from this wine: refined and ripe red fruit, full body but nuanced and a finish with lift. We were veritably stunned to hear that this has … 15.2% alcohol. What kind of hat trick was this? Great stuff. 91-93
- 2015 Château Sansonnet – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Like Fombrauge, this barrel sample was encased in a thick, not environmentally friendly, bottle. Unlike Fombrauge, more nuanced and fresh – with quite dark and rich expressions of Merlot without being drying. A serious wine with density and structure. Quite a fine sample here. 91-93
- 2015 Château Simard – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion
I really liked the soft and even silky expression of tannin from this wine, as it came across fresh as well as ripe, the 13.5% alcohol just a perfect balance with the medium acidity for freshness. The best Simard from barrel I recall. 89-91+
- 2015 Château Soutard – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Delicious ripe fruit expressions, balanced and a rich yet rather nuanced barrel sample. Clean fruit, medium to full body, fine finish, with freshness. Bravo! 90-92
- 2015 Château La Tour Figeac – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
This is OK, fresh enough, medium bodied, and likely to become a good drink, but a bit warm, like other highish alcohol Merlots this vintage. 87-90
- 2015 Château Trotte Vieille – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Very refined, cool Cabernet Franc-driven ripe red fruit expressions, yet with plenty of body and tannin, even if high in alcohol, which is better managed than many other Saint Emilions. Tasted again at Batailley and it was gorgeous. A top performer in Saint Emilion this year. 91-93+
- 2015 Château Valandraud – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
The original garagiste, the bad boy, has made a rather cohesive and balanced wine in 2015, with pure dark fruit on the nose, a rich mid palate and a long finish that may not be the brightest or the most nuanced but, hell, it is darn tasty. 91-93
- 2015 Château Villemaurine – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
Quite serious and rich, with body, an “armored” tannic aspect, but the tannins are ripe. Nice job indeed, perhaps the best I have had from this estate en primeur. 91-93