Day two in Bordeaux’s Left Bank and our attention turned to the classic communes of St Julien, Margaux and Pauillac. Pessac-Leognan had already provided a delicious range of wines, where the very best examples displayed delicious candied notions of redcurrant, with vibrant freshness and well integrated tannins. La Mission Haut-Brion and Haut-Brion itself led the way as the star wines of the campaign so far, for both red and dry whites.
Our first appointment of the day was at St Julien Super Second estate, Leoville-Las-Cases. The Delon stable always conjures up some stunning offerings that often set the bar for the entire vintage. We started with the excellent Chateau Potensac, which was fresh, steely and full of vigour; no doubt a bargain buy to boot. Moving on to Clos du Marquis, often considered the second wine of Leoville-Las-Cases, it is in fact produced from a unique vineyard plot very much in the mould of Les Forts de Latour. With a generous nature and deep fruit intensity allied to a distinct hint of tobacco and fresh black berry fruit, it was hugely impressive and a real star of the commune. Leoville-Las-Cases itself was an absolute joy. Reminiscent of Chateau Latour when tasted En Primeur, the sheer density and cool fruit steeliness was simply sublime. Such breadth and taught vigour, pure latent tension and so assured. A thoroughly sensual wine with a beguiling, intellectual quality. The day had started extremely well, hinting at great things to come….
Next up was the stunning Ducru-Beaucaillou. Once again, simply arriving at the Chateau leaves a lump in your throat… We started by tasting the 2017 Fourcas-Borie, the Listrac estate from Bruno Borie which Mr.Wheeler customers will know very well. I am pleased to report that this vintage has proved another winning one for the Chateau; reflecting dark cherry, cinnamon tinged fruit flavours and a luscious, opulent mouthfeel. A great start indeed! Moving on to the main Borie releases, another personal favourite of mine was on fine form with Chateau Lalande-Borie, a St Julien Cru Bourgeois estate originally created from a segment of the burgeoning Chateau Lagrange vineyard. It delivered more of the tell tail Borie intensity, with richness, and purity, representing a masterpiece of modern wine making whilst losing nothing of it’s St Julien terroir, even with a healthy dose of 66% Merlot in the blend.
The stage was set for Ducru-Beaucaillou itself. And what a wine it was! Where Leoville-Las-Cases was all about tension, understated power and precision, Ducru pitched deeper, more seductive fruit with tightly wound freshness and a perfectly ripe tannin structure. Sensual and focused, it presented itself as a more polished and expressive version of Leoville-Las-Cases. The combination of exuberance and mineral grip was something else. The two stars of St Julian really could not be any different if they tried, yet clicked together like a jigsaw puzzle in the framework of the commune. Both wines were a masterclass of terroir and winemaking, yet at polar opposites in the glass.
Moving swiftly on to superstar First Growth Chateau Margaux we were met by Thibault Pontallier, son of the much-missed Paul Pontallier who helped to sculpt the Chateau into the driving force it has been for the past 30 years. We started by tasting 2017 Pavillon Rouge, a wine which Thibault explained has been on a qualitative mission for the past 20 years. Super selection in the cellars and the introduction of two additional cuvees within the Margaux stable has raised both Pavillon Rouge and Margaux itself to higher and higher levels year on year. Testament again to the hard work of the late Paul Pontallier. In the glass the Pavillon Rouge was beautifully perfumed and open. Deeply elegant with notions of redcurrant and strawberry liquorice. So easy to taste, it hid nothing from the taster with a silky weightlessness and gushing pure fruit character.
Moving on to Chateau Margaux itself we were treated to the most aromatically complex wine of my visit. Deeply introverted and floral with vibrant lift on the palate, it built to a rich core of blackcurrant and cassis liqueur flavours with forceful structure. So much more progressive in the glass than the instantly gratifying Pavillon Rouge, it sang of understated precision and poise. Stunning! We finished with the critically acclaimed 2017 Pavillon Blanc which bowelled the tasting party over with its taught yet concentrated Sauvignon Blanc intensity on the nose. Such opulence and depth on the nose was met by white floral notes and an exotic, sweet orange inflected palate which went on and on. This was one of, if not the greatest dry white wine of the visit. Having said our goodbyes at Chateau Margaux we side shuffled a few hundred yards to Chateau Palmer. Having anchored itself at the very top of Margaux pecking order in recent years, we were treated to two cuvees; Alter Ego de Palmer, which sang of generous and luxurious red fruits, candied violet and purple petal notes. It was an intoxicating start and built us up for the Grand Vin beautifully. Immediately on pouring, the Palmer was redolent of briary beef stock and blueberry aromatics. The palate was again luxurious and tactile yet had refreshing cool fruit at its core. Delightfully reserved and showing first class restraint this was a classic, “grown up” Palmer reflecting its undoubted pedigree.
Having been thoroughly treated in the Margaux commune, we moved briskly on to Pauillac. With a plethora of great Chateaux in the commune, Pauillac was sure to figure highly in 2017. Having already tasted and enjoyed Lynch-Bages, Grand Puy Lacoste and Pichon Longueville, our first stop was the indomitable Chateau Pichon-Lalande. Here we were treated to one of the most sublime wines of the entire visit. Having thoroughly enjoyed Reserve de La Comtesse for its free flowing, red cherry and fruit cake flavours, Pichon-Lalande itself was a masterclass in refinement and understated concentration. A wine which was simply singing from the moment it was poured, Pichon-Lalande had the entire room utterly captivated. So assured, so modern and encapsulating the very best traits of vintage 2017, this is one of the wines to buy. Period! I actually said in my tasting notes that it was “just like Chateau Margaux but with a stranglehold”! Next up was the biodynamically influenced Chateau Pontet-Canet. Meeting Alfred Tesseron is always a complete delight; such a charismatic and gentle man who still says hello to everyone upon their arrival at the Chateau. The Grand Vin was delicately scented with a touch of cinnamon spice on the nose. A sleek and pristine palate followed with exceptional tannin and acid balance. A powerful and bold expression of black and blue fruits filled the mid-palate, leading to a velvety rich, multifaceted finish. Another great showing in 2017! Before moving on to our final appointments of the day in St Estephe we had a small matter of two Rothschild properties to assess before we closed the door on Pauillac.
Moving on to a brace of First Growths. First up was Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and the obligatory golf buggy ride! The range was impressive with D’Armaillhac kicking off proceedings with a solid performance, followed by Clerc-Milon offering tell tale Mouton exuberance and intensity. Lots of cassis and mineral notes filled the glass and on the palate the wine was as luxurious as predicted. Petit Mouton was more structured and introverted with firm tannins and impeccable balance in the glass. Mouton-Rothschild itself offered all of the brooding, forceful, tightly wound tension with classic Mouton notions of coco oak and cashmere like fruit. Forceful and unique it offered a total contradiction in the glass to Haut-Brion tasted the previous day. Both stunning, yet as with Leoville-Las-Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou; completely different in every way. A side step later and we were on the St Estephe border, at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Here we started with the excellent Duhart-Milon. Opulent, concentrated and mouth filling, it immediately reminded me of Clerc-Milon tasted no more than an hour previously. Carruades, the darling of the Asian market was also on good form; offering more structure than usual with a delicate, scented yet broad shouldered intensity. This is certainly a cuvee that has improved dramatically over the past 10 years. Our last First Growth of the day couldn’t have been more notable.
Lafite-Rothschild is a wine which is famously difficult to assess so early in its evolution. The fruit was pure, fine and with an amalgam of red and black fruit pastel at its core showed more concentration than I have experienced before. Deep in the wine’s core there was a thrilling mineral precision; a powerhouse of understated drive, with ambition and assurance. Not easy to understand on initial tasting, it was only when reflecting later on in the day when the penny finally dropped. This was a sensational effort that nearly passed me by. I am so glad that it didn’t! As I looked out the window in Lafite’s tasting room I could see our next appointment a few hundred yards away…
The last visits of a very long day; the longest of this visit to Bordeaux, were spent in St Estephe. Chateau Cos d’Estournel is a stone throw from Lafite-Rothschild and has been on a tremendous qualitative drive for almost 20 years. We tasted the excellent Goulee with all of its upfront cruchy fruit and fine mineral lift and followed this with the sumptuous Pagodes de Cos with its confidence, dark fruit concentration and powerful finish. Finally the blockbuster Grand Vin spoke of sweetly spiced red and black berry fruit with utter assurance and complete confidence. A genuine star, it reflected more crunch and vigour than many wines we tasted but had a core of structured mineral acids and was already showing great complexity. Truly one of the most memorable wines of 2017. As we left Cod d’Estournel we took the short drive to Chateau Montrose, another firm Mr.Wheeler favorite and were treated to another range of stunning wines. Dame de Montrose was arguably the finest second wine tasted outside of the First Growths with surprising elegance and lifted, pretty pink and purple petals on the nose. The palate too was focused and pure and was already showing great concentration. Chateau Montrose itself was an absolute masterclass in prevision wine making, reflecting awesome ageing potential and utter assurance. The only dilution noticed in St Estephe was caused by a thunderstorm hitting the tasting party on our way back to our hire car from Montrose’s tasting room!
Last but not least we were treated to the wonderful wines of Calon Segur. A Chateau which has been pushing the envelope for quality over the past 5 or 6 vintages, indeed, it will soon have facilities to match the wine’s upward trajectory, such is the investment there. Chateau Capburn was delicious and worth every penny of the small price tag it will almost certainly command, the second wine Marquis de Calon was taught and focused with a tensile, feminine quality. Finally, the grand Vin delivered energetic mouth filling fruit puree flavours of red and black cherry. Exceptional texture and drive with a harmonious, Top 5 of the campaign finish. This was special wine indeed from a Chateau on great form.
At the end of day two we had been treated to some of the very best that Bordeaux has to offer. Qulaity across the region was clearly not homogenous, however, great wines certainly did exist on every corner. Cabernet Sauvignon led wines which sang of their terroir and as with Pessac the previous day, offered great freshness and high quality tannins. Day three would concentrate on St Emilion and Pomerol. Just how did Merlot fair in 2017? Find out soon…..