Tasting Bordeaux 2015 from bottle at The Grand Cercle
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
18 January 2018
It was great to catch up late last year with Alain Raynaud, founder of the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux. He associated this large group of over 160 Bordeaux producers back in 2013, uniting wines of the Right and Left Banks.
I was in the middle of tasting through most of these wines at the gorgeous Château de Pressac late last year when Alain dropped by to see how I was doing.
To get a sense of any given vintage, a Grand Cercle tasting is essential, bringing together a diversity of appellations, terroirs and wine professionals. One of my favorite appellations overall at that tasting for the 2015 vintage is Fronsac. Of course Pomerol shined bright, as I reported earlier already in these pages – and the Grand Cercle includes several Pomerol wines.
The Grand Cercle includes many so-called “satellite” appellations of Bordeaux including Côtes de Castillon, Lalande de Pomerol, Fronsac, Canon Fronsac, Bordeaux Superieur, Entre Deux Mers and Côtes de Bordeaux.
Alain and I discussed various aspects of terroir differences, for example, how a wine like Château Bourgneuf (Pomerol) seemed more impressive to me than the Feytit-Clinet.
“Logical,” Alain remarked, “as it is lower along the slope than Bourgneuf” (while Trotanoy, not a member of the Grand Cercle, is higher than both).
I arrived on a cold yet sunny morning of 30 November, to a spacious tasting room at the château, welcomed by the gracious owner, Jean-Francois Quenin, who is vice president of the association. The organizers have long taken note of my preference for more classically styled Bordeaux, and are always very supportive, even if I can be critical with some estates within the Cercle. À chacun son goût.
This proves the point that the Grand Cercle is a truly open grouping that welcomes both praise and criticism, as long as they are constructive.
Not every taster has the same taste, and I was again honored to be invited to assess these wines, this time for the 2015 vintage. Many thanks to Grand Cercle representative Stéphanie Delécrin for organizing the all-day tasting.
It is important to note that the Grand Cercle is not just a club made up of members who join, by simply declaring themselves as such, but who submit their wines to two obligatory evaluation tastings every year. A vintage also is tasted blind by an outside independent jury. Up to now, the Grand European Jury (GJE) has been requested to organize this professional tasting.
In addition to the tasting, I enjoyed lunch and dinner at the château, with several other members of the Grand Cercle. Thank you to them for their time to explain their wines and to Jean-Francois Quenin and his wife for hosting.
Before I get to the other appellations, for which I will post an update to this page, let’s start with Fronsac, shall we?
This is perhaps my favorite “lesser known” satellite appellation of Bordeaux, and the Grand Cercle includes plenty of good ones from which to choose.
In recent years Fronsac has been enjoying justified critical acclaim for its excellent Merlot driven wines made from excellent clay and limestone terroirs.
At 840 hectares, Fronsac is but a 10-minute drive due West from Pomerol. Its dramatically hillier terrain is much different, however. Cooler soils of more sandstone and limestone than clay make some observers wonder whether warmer vintages due to global climate change are benefitting especially this appellation.
Ironically Fronsac once was a more famous region than Saint Emilion. In his study of Right Bank wine producing regions, Professor Henri Enjalbert stressed that until the beginning of the 19th century, Fronsac wines sold for higher prices than those of the “best terroirs” of Saint-Emilion.
Although forgotten for various reasons during the mid 19th and into much of the 20th century, Fronsac today features dynamic, quality minded producers who craft excellent wines that can cost less than $30 a bottle.
Assessing some 2015s from bottle this past December at the Grand Cercle tasting, I found that many Fronsac wines confirmed fine showings from barrel nearly two years ago.
Take Château Dalem, which is rich and opulent, as its south facing vineyards benefit from fine solar exposure. In 2015, the wine is particularly smooth, with juiciness and gravitas. One would not easily guess its 15% alcohol content. Even better is Château Haut-Carles with 14% alcohol, and which conveys fresher floral aromatics, with a hint of iron like earthiness that lends density. This estate, whose primarily south- and east-facing vineyards span some 20 hectares, has been consistent at least over the last five years and the 2015 combines focus, freshness and bright fruit.
The largest estate in Fronsac, Château La Rivière counts among the most beautiful in Bordeaux. Furthermore, its vineyards enjoy excellent solar exposure and grow on impressive slopes for easy drainage. The 2015 features spicy plum and tobacco like aspects, in a smooth and contoured palate that easily beckons further drinking: a dream selection for premium by the glass pours.
Tasting notes: As usual, if in bold, I liked in particular. If red and bold, even more. And if underlined, as well, a kind of wine nirvana.
While we are not talking (yet?) about wines like Vieux Château Certan – truly wine nirvana wines – we are talking about more bang for your buck wines, so among those tasted on that day, I pretty much liked them all, to varying degrees.
Château Les Trois Croix – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
This blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, clocking in at 14.5% alcohol exudes a lovely, fresh limestone driven nose. The palate is rich and zesty even, and the vines grown on the highest hill in Fronsac. Privately owned by the family of Patrick Leon, who had worked at Mouton Rothschild and Almaviva among other estates. Very smooth overall, with a long finish. Great stuff. (93 pts.)
Haut-Carles – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
What a lovely wine! Nose aromatically pleasing. Floral and fruit driven, and veritably floral. With a hint of iron like earthiness that lends a certain gravitas. This has focus freshness and bright fruit. Wow. My favorite of the Fronsacs in 2015 in this tasting. (93 pts.)
Château Dalem – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
The first of the series of Fronsac 2015s tasted and not too shabby, this blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Rich and opulent, and you sense a step up in nuance compared to previous wines tasted, even at 15% alcohol, which shows that not only do we need balance but also terroir. Hillside facing south. Very smooth with sap and gravitas, matiere. Bravo! (92 pts.)
Château de la Rivière – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
One of my absolute favorites so far among the Fronsacs. Lovely nose with tobacco like aspects. Smooth and contoured. There is a pleasing straightforward aspect to this wine that beckons further sipping. (92 pts.)
Château de la Dauphine – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
Same blend as the Dalem but a bit less alcohol, at 14.5%. Rich if just a bit more candied, as compared to the Dalem. Still there is earthy richness on the palate the conveys fine substance to the taster. Nice job as well! (91 pts.)
Château La Vieille Cure – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
This blend of 81% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon clocking in at 14.5% alcohol is quite opulent and spicy. A bit heady however. Lacks the character and nuance of, say, Haut-Carles. Or Dalem. As it dries out ever so slightly (but noticeably) on the finish. (90 pts.)
Château Villars – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
OK, so 15% alcohol but this is smooth and nuanced enough. Fairly straightforward. Has full body and freshness, if just a tad foursquare compared to the top Fronsacs in my book for this tasting. (90 pts.)
Château Fontenil – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac (11/30/2017)
At 14.5% alcohol, it does seem a bit heady, but I would say there is lots of fun in this wine. The attack is full of fruit filled pleasure and it leads to a long finish. Still, it dries out just a bit. (89 pts.)
More notes from the Grand Cercle coming, so stay tuned!