Acte de Chateau Lafleur by Guinaudeau Vignerons – Tasting 2009 to 2016…

Acte de Chateau Lafleur is a unique wine… “an idea that had been simmering for a few years now in a back corner of our wine-grower’s head. We finally took action in 2009 with the first vintage of this new cru. With Acte we hope to fulfil the dream of creating a new Grand Vin of the right bank. Acte started as a blank sheet, a passionate and ambitious project where everything had to be created from scratch.” – Omri Ram

 

Terroir is clearly the foundation with this new wine and Lafleur embarked on a search for the “ideal” terroir for Acte, taking as reference the best parcels of their Grand Village, and only after preforming profound soil studies, they started acquiring new parcels which corresponded with their rigorous criteria, situated on the poor and shallow soils of the Fronsac region. These new parcels consist of a Saint-Emilion-like clay-limestone terroir, which they compliment with a small proportion of Molasse du Fronsadais soils.

 

The vineyards were planted with equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, favouring above all the Bouchet clone originating from their own massale selection at Lafleur. Clearly, Acte is not a 2nd wine of anything that has come before it or indeed a prestige cuvee. It’s a creation of a new vineyard and a new Cru by the Guinaudeau family who have owned Chateau Lafleur since 1872, with the current family members taking over the reins fully in 1985.

The Guinaudeau family wanted to create a new mythical Cru that in 50 or 80 years time could be another Lafleur. Great terroirs in Fronsac lie on clay-limestone soils. In 2006 they started looking for great parcels with the first vintage released in 2009.

In Fronsac, prime slopes looked good but were too heavy in clay. But they managed to find 10 parcels of shallow clay over limestone on a plateau in the centre of Fronsac. They managed to buy some of these suitable sites that showed great potential.

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2009

60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc

Precise, pure fragrant perfumes nose. Violets, loganberry and pink blossoms with a kiss of vanilla spice, graphite and pink musk. Palate is equally cool and suave, sleek and beautifully balanced with chalky black berry fruits, blueberry hints and a long, opulent, harmonious finish. Seamless and perfectly proportioned and drinking well already.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2010

56% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Franc

Finer, slightly higher tone aromatics with black and blueberry fruit notes, black cherry and a violet and cherry cola complexity. Palate is broad, expansive, silky soft with very finely polished tannins, gentle generous chalky mineral black fruits and a tight core of fruit intensity and concentration. A really impressive show stopper.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2011

56% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Franc

Sweet nutty black fruit notes with a really noticeable liquid chalk mineral note with leafy black fruits and sappy oak spice nicely integrated. Palate is genteel and soft, elegant and medium light weight with creamy dry chalky mineral tannins framing pure black cherry and saline cassis fruit. Very light on its feet with real finesse and balance without any muscle.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2012

51% Merlot, 49% Cabernet Franc

More exotic and wild bramble berry fruit aromatics with spice and sap, charcoal and burnt wood embers. There is an underlying darkness and saline liquorice note with a light fluffy texture, creamy powder-fine tannins and a light bodied finish. No great concentration or depth on this vintage but the flavour are pure, delicate, vibrantly juicy and finely assembled making for a very attractive “restaurant-style” Claret.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2013

70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc

A challenging vintage in the region where Cabernet Franc struggled to ripen. This nose reveals a much more traditional “premium Bordeaux” nose with creamy black fruits, buttered brown toast and mocha oak spice complexity. Palate shows an incredibly fine, pinpoint textural precision and balance, plenty of finesse, delicate black currant and sappy black berry fruits and a focused, sleek delicately long finish. Certainly a triumph for the vintage! Still youthful, ageing gracefully but simultaneously utterly delicious.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2014

50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc

An enticing, complex spicy black bramble berry fruit nose laced with sap and resinous, leafy berry fruit notes with a high note of graphite and limestone minerality. Palate is suave and elegant, still quite youthful and tightly wound with opulence and generosity interwoven with chalky tannins, acid freshness and classical black fruited restraint. A fine effort for the vintage that shows the complexity of 100% massale selection vines after clonal material has been removed.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2015

50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc

The aromatics immediately suggest a serious glassful loaded with chalky sappy spice, resinous black berry hints and a dusty chalky minerality. A wine finally revealing a real affinity to Lafleur with sweet plump tannins, ballerina like elegance and finesse, fruit sweetness and black berry concentration. Plenty of baby fat but with unquestionably fine integrity with a very fine fresh acid balance. Classy effort.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte de Guinaudeau Vignerons 2016

50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc

A vintage that really has risen like a phoenix to become instantly revered and collectible among most top producers. This wine also shows the piercing fruit concentration, intense fragrance and accompanying complexity. Layers of blackberry confit, cherry kirsch liquor and seamless chalky minerality with a confident suave fruit concentration, precise intensity and a very friendly generous opulence. So pure, so delicious but will improve further with age. Top drawer!

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A very fine selection worth tracking down. Wines represented in the UK by Armit Wines.

The Iconic Magnificence of Chateau Lafleur – Tasting the 2018 Barrel Blend and Older Vintages with Omri Ram…

I’m very fortunate to meet up with some very gifted and highly talented winemakers who oversee the production of some of the great icon wines of the world. As a bit of pre-En Primeur 2018 campaign orientation, I caught up with Omri Ram from Chateau Lafleur in London to contemplate the true potential of the 2018 vintage and also reflect on some older classics over lunch.

Omri Ram presenting a selection of 2018 Barrel Samples in the Justerini & Brooks cellars

My initial Chateau Lafleur 2018 Barrel sample rating came in at a lofty 97-98/100 GSMW for what almost certainly must rate as one of the top wines of the vintage. But more interestingly, after the 2018 sample we got to drink some older vintages over a superb lunch laid on by Chateau Lafleur’s UK agent, Justerini & Brooks.

Pensees de Lafleur 2009, Pomerol, 14.5 Abv.

A very small vintage for Pensees, the nose is superbly fragrant, perfumed, earthy and expressive with layers of black currant, sweet tobacco, lavendar and earthy cassis. The palate is super polished, elegant and an all round uber suave crowd pleaser with a very sophisticated manner. Does not put a foot out of place. Classical, elegant yet open and overt, this is a wine for Bordeaux lovers looking to start tucking into a very smart, earlier drinking icon wine!

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Lafleur 2007, Pomerol (Magnum), 13.5 Abv.

Along with 1999, Omri Ram’s favourite wine to drink. The end of an era where there was more Merlot that Cabernet Franc. An underestimated vintage for sure that in many ways breaks the stigma of the “7s” curse. 67, 77, 87, 97… etc. This wine is now beauty personified. Fragrant ethereal perfume wafts from the glass with intense nuances of cedar spice, caramelised cranberries, plum liquor and black berry depth. Underpinning the whole expression of the wine is dusty, stony minerality with the most incredible elegance, satin soft tannins and sublime harmony. If the Queen was coming for dinner and you knew she loved Claret, this would be the dream ticket to seal the relationship! Benchmark Pomerol.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Lafleur 2000, Pomerol, 13.5 Abv.

This block buster vintage displays a wonderfully expressive nose of gunpowder, struck flint, graphite, piquant black berry and herby grassy spice notes. Quite soft, fleshy and accessible, this wine has density, gravitas, concentration and weight of fruit with a subtle soft rounding acidity with a plush, creamy mineral tannin texture. Still youthful but deliciously opulent and seductive now. Start drinking but no rush at all. An iconic vintage from an iconic winery.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 8: Chateau Montrose La Dame de Montrose 2015 from St Estephe…

Chateau Montrose is synonymous for the finest age worthy reds from St Estephe on the left bank of Bordeaux. But their La Dame de Montrose second wine is also made to the same rigorous standards as their first wine, from grapes grown in the same vineyards. Consistently reliable and reaching maturity sooner, the wine was created in 1986 in tribute to Yvonne Charmolue, who ran Château Montrose single-handedly from 1944 to 1960. Production varies from one year to another but accounts on average for 30% of the total production of the Montrose vineyard. It is matured for 12 months in 30% new oak barrels.

While you often encounter the La Dame with a few more years of age (the 2005 is currently very popular among independent merchants), it was lovely to revisit this 2015 at the J.P.Moueix negociant tasting in London, from a vintage which I almost certainly have not tasted since En-primeur at the Chateau in 2016. Tasting alongside the famous Steven Spurrier, he too was full of praise for this attractive wine.

“A modern left bank vintage full of charm.” Steven Spurrier

In 2015, four months of drought including a hot June and July produced tiny, intense grapes with thick skins that resulted in plenty of tannins. Rain came at exactly the right time to revive vines stressed by temperature and dryness. Then, cooler than normal weather in September and October allowed vignerons to pick most vineyards when the grapes were perfectly ripe. A really superb expression that is both accessible to drink now but has the stuffing for at least 10 to 15+ years of additional cellaring.

Chateau Montrose La Dame de Montrose 2015, St Estephe, Bordeaux, 13 Abv.

Out the traps with speed. This super second wine shows wonderful aromatic complexity to dazzle and tease the drinker with fine perfumed violet and cedar spice notes, tilled earth, cured meats, black bramble berries and the faintest hints of eucalyptus menthol lift. The palate is super generous and fresh with a noticeably piercing intensity, saline cassis purity, bright crystalline acidity and a fine long classical finish with linearity and sufficient structural frame. The sweet pockets of black berry fruit on the mid palate are super delicious and really make this wine stand out from its neighbours. As ever, what not to love about Chateau Montrose, whether it’s their iconic first wine or this super attractive second wine. Buy now while it’s still affordable. Drink now to 2030+

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 7: La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion 2014, Pessac-Leognan…

In 1682, the Lazarist Fathers, a community founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, received the La Mission Haut Brion estate as a legacy from Madame Olive de Lestonnac and over the centuries has been owned by a number of illustrious families, the last being the current owners Domaine Clarence Dillon who purchased the property in 1983. For most of this time, La Mission Haut Brion  has been producing exceptional red and white wines from their highly prized Pessac-Leognan terroir.

 

Graves is the large red and white wine region located to the southeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Garonne River. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the red wines from the area, while the whites are mixtures of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The most important area within the Graves is the village of Pessac-Leognan. Most of the great chateaux, including Haut Brion, a premier cru and the only wine outside of the Medoc to be included in the 1855 Classification, are located in this small appellation. Graves derives its name from the rocky, stony terrain of the region and many people believe that the stony soil radiates the day’s heat at night and thus makes the grapes ripen earlier than some of the other regions in Bordeaux.

This is the first time I have revisited this wine since I tasted it En-primeur at the chateau in 2015. More importantly for me, it was one of the few wines from the 2014 vintage that I purchased a case of for myself at the time. So there was of course an added interest to crack a bottle and assess the contents. With critical scores ranging from 88/100 to 94/100 for this specific wine, I really had no idea what to expect.

La Chapelle de La Mission-Haut-Brion 2014, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, 14 Abv.

This opulent second wine of Chateau La Mission Haut Brion is a blend of 45% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and incorporates 8% of press wine. Impressively deep and dark in colour suggesting this wine has concentration and adequate extraction to add a bit of extra second wine muscle. With now 5 years of age from vintage, the aromatics are still seductively scent laden with lifted notes of fresh violets, cherry blossom, crushed blackberries, blueberries, Christmas cinnamon stick and freshly sawn cedar suggesting a fine degree of fruit ripeness without being outlandish, with all hints of crushed leaves and sappy spice notes dissipating as the black forest fruits envelope the nose with a complex brambly fragrance. The palate is also wonderfully generous and sweet fruited with a medium bodied weighting, fine sleek polished tannins and a most comforting melange of black currant, bramble berries, black cherry and salty black licorice. There is a satisfying hint of sweet tobacco, subtle layers of freshly tilled earth in true Graves style but also a pronounced mineral classism enhanced by vibrant fresh acids. A very pretty, distinguished second wine expression that is showing fine drinkability already but no doubt will be even more complex and exponentially more enjoyable with another 5 to 8+ years of additional bottle ageing. I really liked this wine in barrel and I love it more so now.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Old Vine Bordeaux at Its Very Best – Tasting the Ancient Vine Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name. In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

While one of the great wines of the neighbourhood is certainly the Chateau Tour Baladoz, they also produce miniscule amounts (1,000 bottles) of a special cuvee called Le Centenaire St. Emilion Grand Cru from vines over 100 years old on average. But the great rarity is the cepage with this incredible wine being made up of a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 3% Saint Macaire and 2% Bouchales, the later two varieties being incredibly rare ancient Bordeaux varieties. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak barriques.

Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010, St Emilion Grand Cru

A wine of such rarity and corresponding cost (circa £325 per bottle) always commands respect before the cork is even drawn. Coming from probably the greatest modern red wine vintage in Bordeaux’s history, certainly since 1982 though many argue since 1959 and 1961, this wine automatically had a lot of expectation thrust upon it. Already 8 years old, it has a bright ruby garnet rim and a slightly opaque earthy red black plum coloured core. Tasted from Bordeaux Riedel glasses, the nose was initially reticent as many youthful 2010 reds still are, but in true right bank style, was quicker to reveal its charms than perhaps some left bank Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blends. The aromatics are very precise showing beautiful cherry blossom, parma violets, red cherry sherbet and subtle exotic earthy notes of mechanic’s diesel rag. Super complex, noticeably different but thoroughly spell binding. The palate is cool, ultra sleek and beautifully polished but like the nose, has an exotic twist of Caribbean red berry fruits, red cherry, purple rock candy, tart cassis and a Fanta grape twist. Texturally, it’s as fine as it gets with classical old vine power and concentration twinned with dense satin soft tannins and Bordeaux first growth balance. But this wine represents a whole that is clearly much greater than the sum of its parts and a lot of this must surely be attributed to the noteworthy ancient, and now almost extinct, Bordeaux varieties in the blend. A privilege to taste a rarity like this. Drinking now to 2045+

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 6: Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru…

The latest edition to the Wine Safari Bordeaux second wine series features a wine from one of my favourite Saint Emilion Grand Cru estates, Château Figeac owned by the Manoncourt family. Only the third vintage of this new second wine produced, Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac was created starting with the 2012 vintage.

Figeac is the largest estate in Saint-Émilion with 40 hectares (99 acres) of vineyards. Due to its soil, which is dominated by gravel, the estate is planted with grape varieties more reminiscent of the left bank, including 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and only 30% Merlot. Most other Saint-Émilion wines are dominated by Merlot, and Figeac therefore bears a certain resemblance to the wines of the Medoc and Graves despite being situated on Bordeaux’s right bank.

From 1945 to 2011, the estate produced a second wine called La Grange Neuve de Figeac and since 2006 a ‘special wine’ named Petit-Figeac. From the 2012 vintage, Petit-Figeac became the single official second wine of Chateau Figeac.

Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 13 Abv.

A blend of 50% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics reveal a real melange of plush ripe black fruits tinged with graphite spice. There are layers of cassis, blueberry, black bramble berries and black plum. As the wine unfurls in the glass, distinct notes of black cherry, mocha, espresso, sweet tobacco and milk chocolate become more pronounced. The palate texture is ultra soft and seductive, super supple with beautifully plush powdery tannins, vibrant cherry pith, hints of cola and liquorice and a subtle saline finish. A thoroughly charming high quality effort that Claret lovers can drink now or cellar for another 5 to 8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Celebrating Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Marriage to Henry Plantagenet with Chateau d’Issan – The Foundation Stone of the English Love Affair with the Bordeaux Region…

On Friday 18th May I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a superb celebratory dinner at the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament. Arranged by the Cruse family from Chateau d’Issan in Margaux, the dinner commemorated the day in 1152 Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor of Aquitaine, which ensured the city and vineyards of Bordeaux and Gascony would become an English possession for the next 300 years.

As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after becoming duchess upon the death of her father, William X, she married King Louis VII of France, son of her guardian, King Louis VI. As Queen of France she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade.

Queen Eleanor in the Palace of Westminster

Soon afterwards, Eleanor sought an annulment of her marriage, but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III. However, after the birth of her second daughter Alix, Louis agreed to an annulment, as fifteen years of marriage had not produced a son. The marriage was annulled on 21 March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate and custody was awarded to Louis, while Eleanor’s lands were restored to her.

Neal Martin from Vinous chatting to Max Lalondrelle from Berry Bros & Rudd in the Grand Hall.

As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to the Duke of Normandy, who became King Henry II of England in 1154. Henry was her third cousin and eleven years younger. The couple married on Whitsun, 18 May 1152, eight weeks after the annulment of Eleanor’s first marriage, in Poitiers Cathedral.

The newest art instalment in the Palace commemorating the suffragette movement.

Over the next thirteen years, she bore eight children: five sons, three of whom became kings; and three daughters. However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting their son Henry’s revolt against him. She was not released until 6 July 1189, when Henry died and their second son, Richard the Lionheart, ascended the throne.

As Queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade; on his return Richard was captured and held prisoner. Eleanor lived well into the reign of her youngest son, John. She outlived all her children except for John and Eleanor.

Wines Tasted With Dinner:

Chateau d’Issan 2008, Margaux

This is classic, delicious, elegant Margaux claret. Complex layers of hoisin sauce, macerated plums, earthy black currant and just a little tease of graphite spice. Gloriously elegant and refined, this is another claret 10 years on that ticks so many drinking boxes. Classy classical Margaux and many guests favourite wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 2003, Margaux (Jeroboam)

Rich, opulent exotic nose of black cherry kirsch liquor, creme de cassis and dried tarragon baking spices. Lovely and expressive, this wine speaks of the vintage and its ample sunshine and ripe fruit. The palate is fleshy and opulent, lush and showy but all quite finely proportioned. The finish show hints of bramble berry, hedge row spice and bruised black plums and soft mouth coating concentration. Drinking well now, it is impossible not to enjoy this sexy wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 1988, Margaux (Imperiale)

Served from an Imperiale, this wine has classic, old school Bordeaux written all over it. But 1988 Bordeaux always illustrates a cool vintage in such an animated manner, a fresh year in the Medoc showing dusty crushed gravel, parma violets, crushed leaves, wet hay, herbaceous garrigue depth and pithy cherry skin spice. Still wonderfully youthful, vibrant and fresh with a fine, complex smokey intricacy and grainy mineral tannins, superb hints of coffee bean and tannery leather. A lovely glass of wine, in a style we will probably never see made again.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 1978, Margaux (Imperiale)

From such a large ex-Chateau format, there was every expectation that this 40 year old wine would be super youthful and indeed it was. The aromatics are delicately tertiary and complex, loaded with sweet tobacco, herbal cedar spice, hedge row, brewed tea and tannery leather nuances. Sleek textured, super polished, pithy and fresh, this is an immaculately vibrant, classically proportioned old school claret. A really wonderful treat to drink a large format 40 year old Chateau-cellared wine of this age.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Several regular 75cl bottles of the 1978 were also served and were equally delicious.

(Picture by Neal Martin, Vinous)

England’s youngest ever prime minister, William Pitt the Younger.

Champagne truffles to end the dinner.