Bordeaux in barrel 2014: Mighty Montrose, classic Cos and perplexing Calon Segur
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
When I was asked to do an educational blog for Total Wine, we agreed to have top ten lists: top ten reds, top ten whites, top ten bargain wines.
One of the very best barrel samples of 2014 is Château Montrose. Fellow wine writers and UK-based merchants beamed with joy after tasting it. Although I did not taste nearly as much Saint Estephe as I would have liked, Montrose set the lofty tone for an appellation that did very well indeed in 2014. Although with one notable question mark …
Wines in bold I liked particularly, when red and bold even more and when underlined, too, wine nirvana.
Château Montrose: Smooth, nuanced and deep. Sustained by vivaciousness coming from high acidity. The barrel sample reminded me of the 2005 en primeur, but with more charm. It conveyed 2009 like ripeness, but with greater freshness. Nuance and power, full bodied, and a long finish. Although some Merlots reached 14.5% natural degrees, welcome rain fell: 20mm of rain from 16-17 September and another bit of rain on 2 October allowed grapes to mature, got the ripening process going with richly colored grape skins. One could say that the rain was “just enough” as less pronounced in Saint Estephe compared to other parts of Bordeaux. For Montrose, a 17-day harvest between mid-September up to 15 October. Pickers took care to visit same parcels of vines up to six times to pick the riper grapes. Only 47% of the harvest went to the first wine (with 37% going to Dame, the second wine). Made of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot with 13.7% alcohol and being aged in 60% new oak. What made Indian Summer special was that temperatures were often in excess of 30 degrees Celsius! If the price is right, I am buying six bottles without hesitation – and you should, too. Wine of the vintage category. 94-96
Dame de Montrose: Aging in 30% new oak, with a bit more Cabernet than usual at 45% (compare for example the 2009 second wine, which had 80% Merlot): a sign of the success of Cabernet Sauvignon. It exudes both bright red fruit and violent aromatics, of medium plus intensity, with a medium finish that is just a touch austere, but I suspect that barrel aging will soften that out to make it a lovely second wine. 89-91
Château Cos d’Estournel: What a serious wine. It may seem counter intuitive but this estate has not seen such a high pH (3.77) since … 2003. And although alcohol was 14.2% for the grand vin, the rather high acidity of the vintage balanced everything nicely. I got an overall feeling of freshness on the palate as well as ripe fruit. The 80% new oak is seamlessly integrated. Most of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon which is marvelous here, at 65%. I asked director Aymeric de Gironde about picking times and he said that some estates were picking 15 days after Cos finished on 11 October. “It was easy to wait too long [for ripeness],” he said. He wanted to avoid getting too high alcohol readings for his Merlot. He did not…Indeed, the Merlot, at 33%, did not leap out at the taster (as it did with Calon Segur, tasted just before). Its aromatics promise future complexity, as does the enveloping, full-bodied and nuanced palate, which is not quite as bright or as exciting as Montrose. 92-95
Les Pagodes de Cos: This has more Merlot and – again – there is no overripe aspect. Indeed, it is a charming wine, fleshy and bright, with a softer expression than the grand vin as would be expected. Ripe tannic edge on the finish lend structure for aging. 89-91
Cos d’Estournel Blanc: Well, well, well! As at Chateau Margaux, here we have another fine white from the Medoc. Not as exciting as Pavillion Blanc, but this blend of 66% Sauvignon Blanc and 34% Semillon is fleshy and even a bit exotic in flavor with notes of passion fruit and kiwi. Lovely crispy acidity lend verve and the long finish has a white flower aspect that makes you seek another sip. The Semillon give brings richness to balance the verve of the Sauvignon Blanc. Bravo! 92-94
Château Calon Segur: With a deep breath, I comment on one of my most cherished wines from the Médoc and sort of wonder… what happened? Vincent Millet is a super talented winemaker. He has been making great Cabernet-driven wines for years. I had organised a vertical for the château in Washington D.C. in January 2014, because of the freshness and elegance coming from this lovely third growth. Sure, the nose is cedar and cassis and rather rich, with a voluminous mid palate. But the nearly 20% Merlot makes itself felt in this vintage. In fact, the tannin is a touch aggressive like it has never been before and seems to noticeably extract tannin from the 100% new oak. I never got that sensation from previous vintages. Not in 2013, 2012 or 2011. And certainly not in the 2009 vintage, which had 90% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 had 82%. Cabernet Sauvignon. But in 2014 – a vintage which favored Cabernet Sauvignon – there is only 66% of it. Vincent explained how he liked the qualities of the Merlot. I was left perplexed more than anything else. Unlike in previous vintages where the new oak came across as seamless, it is felt here. Somewhat strangely we tasted the grand vin before the second wine, as the second wine has a whopping 14.7% alcohol. I thought I was in Saint Emilion. I do hope that director Vincent Millet and excellent managing director Laurant Dufau don’t take this critique too hard. It is honest, as I am great fan of the estate. I just could not get past the aggressive tannin that even slightly dries on the finish, noticeably oak-driven. So I came away with a notion that the new owners of Calon Segur wanted to make a more modern style to please certain influential palates, although Laurent Dufau has since assured me that that is not the case at all. In any case, I would agree with Neal Martin who wrote in his critique that a “more moderate use of new oak would have allowed the terroir to be expressed in what is a terroir-driven vintage”. You can find other critics like Antonio Galloni who just loved the barrel sample. With time in barrel, maybe things will turn out just fine, and I will have misjudged this. 89-91
Le Marquis de Calon Segur: This second wine clocks in at nearly 15% alcohol! And it tastes that way. Although on the attack there is sweetness with pleasing plum and strawberry, it ends heady and warm. Oh sure, I can see already some critics with modern palates loving this style. Not me. It is worthy to note that while Cos d’Estournel seems to have made a stylistic change towards greater classicism with Aymeric de Gironde, Calon Segur seems to be going in the other direction in 2014.
Cru Bourgeois level
Château Capbern: Another mild disappointment from the owners of Calon Segur. Clocking in at 14.2% alcohol with high alcohol Merlots tipping the balance, the wine was pleasingly rich and ripe but lacked the precision and cool linearity of previous vintages – including 2010 and 2009 – that fans know and love. This is just OK, but comes across as more modern and oak driven. 60% new oak. 88-90
Château Tronquoy-Lalande: Savory and robust, with flavors of both red and black fruit, this barrel sample reinforced the idea for tasters of how well Saint Estephe did in 2014. Tannic and ripe Merlot (56% of the blend) with rather heady alcohol (14.3%) lending broad and full body and being in balance. Not quite as good as Ormes de Pez, but another top example from Saint Estephe in the moderate price category. 90-92
Château Le Crock: A typical example of a solid wine from a favored appellation in 2014, and a superior effort to Tronquoy-Lalande for example. The alcohol is not as high (13.8% nonetheless) and the sensation of cooler fruit Cabernet (50% of the blend) lends more tension to the taste. The tannic index is rather high at 83, with a relatively high pH of 3.7 and yet the high acidity balances things nicely. This is not going to be very expensive so highly recommended purchase for drinkers and not investors of fine Bordeaux. 90-92
UGCB tasted blind
Château de Pez: Rawness to the nose that breathes “I’ve got tannin.” Juicy and smooth and savory overall if a touch austere. This is a wine that with barrel age will get better and fuller bodied but as a barrel sample, it is savory. Red fruit, ripe aromatics. Fruity yet high tannin and focused attack. Savory medium bodied mid palate. Juicy totally smooth medium plus finish. 89-91+
Château Ormes de Pez: Quite a more substantial palate, with a sensation of higher tannin and a bit more alcohol than the preceding wine but not over extracted. Let’s just say more “matière” on the mid palate, with medium plus body. The finish is medium plus and broad. High tannin but medium plus acidity – and there is grace and elegance indeed. This is just lovely! Other notable critics like Jane Anson agree with me on this one. 90-93
Château Phélan Segur: Subtle nose of dark fruit. This has sap and juice – and weight – on the mid palate. Although a bit more subdued than others, somewhat brooding, should we be reminded that Saint Estephe can be about gritty power? There is almost a black tea high tannin aspect here. Serious stuff. 90-92
Château Cos Labory: Rich and savory feel. Very red fruit ripe, with high acidity that gives it freshness and balances the high tannin with medium plus to high alcohol. This exudes brightness and lift on the finish. Barrel age should mellow it out. Lovely! 90-93
Château Lafon Rochet: Strawberry and dark plum mix, one senses the Merlot here. The palate is finely textured, broad and enveloping, if a bit closed in and not as expressive or bright as wine Cos Labory, but barrel aging will make this lovely as you have structure substance and sap. 90-92