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.
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+
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.
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.
The Tokara farm was bought by GT Ferreira in 1995 without a single vine on the property, initially with view to being a “gentleman’s residence.” But with such illustrious neighbours as Thelema and Rustenberg, it was always written in the stars that this prime property would be planted and established as a great wine producing estate in its own right. The Tokara winery has also had the exceptionally good fortune to have the same steady hand of Miles Mossop overseeing the wine production for the past 18 years, a factor that has almost certainly helped hasten the dawning of this new super premium wine Tokara Telos. Miles has since announced that 2018 will be his last vintage at Tokara as he leaves to pursue new winemaking projects. We all wish him the best.
I like to think that I have been a close long term observer of the ongoing progress at the Tokara winery, watching over almost two decades as the wines became finer and more accomplished with every subsequent vintage release. However, the Director’s Reserve white blend was undoubtedly the first wine to make international and local critics sit up and genuinely take serious notice of the potential of this winery. But for many years the reds somehow seemed to lag behind the fame of the whites until more recently, when some very smart red wines started to be bottled under the Director’s Reserve red blend label.
Owner of Tokara, GT Ferreira, the successful South African financier who calls Tokara home
The Tokara Telos red blend maiden release can therefore be regarded as the coming of age moment for winery, its vines, and in many ways, the conclusion of a long held vision. Indeed Telos, for those not schooled in classical Greek, is a noun used to describe “the end term of a goal-directed process; especially, the Aristotelian final cause.” So is this the end? No, not at all… it is merely the end of the beginning!
The 2015 vintage saw the driest growing conditions and subsequently the earliest harvest at Tokara in many years. The main Cabernet Sauvignon portion of the wine was harvested on the 5th of March 2015 at 26 degrees balling, the Merlot on the 3rd of February at 24.6 degrees balling and the Malbec on the 24th of February at 24.4 degrees balling. It was one of the smallest crops on record and on average had harvest dates that were two weeks earlier than previous years. At harvest, grapes were placed in a cold room overnight and sorted twice on a Pellene Mechanical sorter and subsequent individual berry sorting on a vibrating table. After a four day cold maceration in tank, with 30% whole berry and 70% crushed berries, natural fermentation was allowed to proceed with wild yeasts.
As has become all the rage with new premium releases in South Africa, the Tokara Telos 2015 was presented ‘sighted’ within an impressive flight of what can only be called ultra-premium Bordeaux reds all rated 100 points by Robert Parker on release. Hell, if you are going to go down the whole comparative benchmarking route, why not do it properly and present your wine alongside the best there is!? Needless to say, this approach needs more than a little confidence and self-belief to be effective. According to the owners, the Telos launch was held in London before South Africa as a nod of acknowledgment to a market that has been one of Tokara’s most supportive and receptive over the past years. A subsequent launch is planned for Johannesburg and then again at the winery in Cape Town.
Tokara Telos 2015, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.
A 17 year old single vineyard block making up a 1,000 bottle blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec and 3% Merlot, aged for 22 months in 63% new oak with medium toast and ‘house toast’. 2.1 g/l RS, 6.2 TA, 3.52pH. This young 2015 red blend displays an impressively perfumed nose with subtle potpourri and dried pink flower fragrance, violets and hints of lavender. Dusty graphite and gravelly minerality is tightly interwoven with attractive black berry, dusty bramble berry nuances and subtle fleshly cut hedgerow spice. The palate is sleek, lithe and particularly suave and fine boned with a very polished, sultry, light touch elegance and textural focus. There is already impressive complexity but also a modicum of classical restraint that seems to overtly shy away from elevated ripeness, oakiness or glossy sweet fruit characters. This is a rare South African expression that boasts a vibrant natural acidity and very ripe, fine grained powdery mineral tannins that cushion a beautifully natural sense of balance, harmony and finesse, all elements coming together seamlessly and effortlessly at such an early stage in the wines evolution. A really polished, faultless, old world leaning expression that is undoubtedly a new and impressive tour de force on the South African fine wine scene. Drink this wine from 2020+ onwards and cellar comfortably for over 20+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other Bordeaux Wines Tasted Alongside the Telos 2015:
Chateau Montrose 2010, Saint Estephe, 14 Abv.
An expectedly dense, dark, broody expression, that is quite reserved and closed. But it slowly offers up dark earthy black berry, bramble berry, and sweet graphite and cedar spice notes. An attractive sweet tobacco depth and spicy cassis opulence meanders to a finish with steely precision, incredible focus, monolithic structure and pristine depth. Very young but a profound wine nonetheless. One for the cellar!
(Wine Safari Score: 98-99/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2009, Saint Estephe 13.5 Abv.
Sweet leafy cedary red currant fruit notes elucidating a delicious ripe cassis opulence with boxwood hints and a soft, sappy, black fruited core. This wine screams Cabernet Sauvignon and fans it’s aromatic tail with lead pencil, graphite and violet complexity. Still showing a relatively chunky palate with plenty of textural flesh, fine vibrant freshness and an impressively sweet bramble berry and tannery leather length.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2009, Saint Julien, 14 Abv.
Dark, deep, spicy, black currant and earthy cassis depth with an incredibly complex nose of graphite, dusty gravel and liquid minerality. A plump, opulent sweet pocket of overt fruit and piquant tannins coat the palate that shows a sweet, glycerol, cinnamon tinged earthy red currant depth. A very smart effort with an incredibly seamless balance. Classy.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Pavie 2009, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe,14.5 Abv.
A more opulent, generous nose with overt, ripe notes of molasses tinged black plum, earthy black berry confit and caramelised plums. The only wine in the flight with obvious sur maturite palate sweetness but almost pleasantly so, showing a more bold and riper side of right Bank Bordeaux. A wine with many merits and a delicious drinkability. Perhaps a little overblown for your classical connoisseur Claret drinker?
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Cheval Blanc 2005, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe (A), 14 Abv.
Already 13 years old, the 2005 is starting to show subtle tertiary aromatic hints of sous bois, earthy red currants, bruised red plums, black tea and sweet tannery leather. There is no lack of classism, graphite and gravelly liquid minerality either. A super Bordeaux example with depth, elegance and fine length.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Latour 1996, Pauillac, 12.5 Abv.
A 22 years old expressive, classical Pauillac Claret that reveals sweet roasted herbs, briary, red currant and piquant sweet pipe tobacco spice. Lovely maturity, dusty grainy tannins and fine tertiary complexity. The 1996 is a classic power packed Latour ageing gracefully and showing plenty of pedigree.
Excellent tasting today with Omri Ram from Chateau Lafleur. A lot of intrigue surrounds the 2017 vintage in general and Omri feels they have a slightly different storyline to their neighbours. For Chateau Lafleur, 2017 was a good continuation of 2016 in a dry mode and rising temperatures. A hot beginning and an early start to the season normally leads to a great finish. But vine growth starting early exposes the vines to a frost risk, which has not struck in a serious way in Bordeaux since 1991. In that year, Lafleur made only 8 barrels compared to a long term average of 40 to 50 barrels and the trauma is sorely remembered.
In 2014 they bought anti-frost bucket candles, deploying 1500 of them in the vineyards in 2017 the day before the frost struck. With forecasts of frost, the candles were lit which acted to stabilised the temperatures to around 0.82 degrees C while neighbours vineyards dropped to -3 or -4 degrees C, resulting in severe losses to young green shoots.
Vintage comparisons… according to Omri Ram…
2015 = like a super 2009
2016 = like a super 2010
2017 = also more like a 2016-styled wine
Chateau Lafleur Cellar Master Omri Ram
Chateau Grand Village Rouge 2017, Bordeaux Superieur
97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc in the 2017 blend with a very pure clay-limestone expression. Big, plump, opulent nose brimming with black fruits and limestone linearity. The palate is beautifully taut, crisp and pure, showing beautiful freshness, clarity of fruit and wonderful harmonious length. A real triumph for the vintage.
100% Merlot picked on the 21st of September and 2017 is the first and possibly last vintage to be made from pure Merlot. Normally the blend includes up to 50% Cabernet Franc. Almost like a mini-Lafleur in essence, only 1,200 bottles were produced. Full and expressive on the nose, there are wonderful black plum notes, buttered brown toast, blackberry confit with just a dusting of mocha and cocoa powder. Super elegant palate, very pinpoint and precise, excellent purity, harmony and subtlety with a soft, feminine, sultry length.
(Wine Safari Score: 90-92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Les Pensees de Chateau Lafleur 2017
Smallest parcel in Lafleur at 0.69 hectares. Not made as a second wine to Lafleur, more as a defined expression from the same clay dominated parcel. Using 52% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics are more vibrant, crunchy and fresh revealing hints of cassis reduction, graphite and a saline, kirsch note. The palate boasts sweet violet tinged black berry, cherry confit with fine core depth and a plush, long length. An accessible, classy expression.
With vineyards unharmed by the frost, the blend is 47% Merlot and 53% Cabernet Franc. Merlot was picked before the rains on the 8-12th September as the fruit was beautifully ripe. The aromatics are wonderfully precise, pure and focused, with black bramble berry fruits, black cherry and blackberry jam on buttered brown toast. The palate is broad and expansive, filling the mouth, coating it with concentrated black plum, creamy saline cassis, milk chocolate nuances and chalky, gravelly fine tannins. Wonderful front palate weight, a dense core of fruit and a really profound textural harmony and elegance. Still embryonic, this wine has the genetics and the pedigree to be another fantastic Lafleur vintage.
Note: The lovely red wines of Lafleur were blended already at the end of January 2018, allowing almost the full passage of maturation to take place as a “finished wine” in oak. Usually a more common practice of the past Omri says, but nowadays, most chateaux show “cleverly constructed wines” with a notional blend drawn from the best barrels to show trade buyers at En-primeur. So yet another subtle level of authenticity in the portfolio of the Guinaudeau family reds.
La Croizille is a wonderfully situated St Emilion Grand Cru Chateau that was acquired by the Belgian De Schepper – De Mour family in 1996 and whose wines are sold mostly in the Benelux. The 5 hectares of vines belonging to the Château benefit from the same remarkable soils, on the borders of the clay-limestone plateau of Saint-Emilion in the commune of Saint-Laurent des Combes, as Chateaux such as Tetre Roteboeuf and Troplong Mondot.
After 1996, the De Schepper family commenced on a large investment spree, bringing the estate into the modern winemaking era, combining its sought after terroir with high-end technology and traditional know-how to create a wine with great opulence, finesse, modernity and personality under the watchful eye of head winemaker, Jean-Michel Garcion.
This winery is a real rising star in St Emilion which you will almost certainly read a lot more about in years to come.
La Croizille Vertical Tasting 2007 – 2016
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2007, 13 Abv.
The vineyards on the clay-limestone plateau yielded a spectacularly good offering in 2007. Notes of polished mahogany, earth, tannery leather, cherry kirsch liquer and black current rise out of the glass. Wonderful berry concentration, elegance and subtle evolution are hallmarks on this expertly crafted wine. It will be hard not to finish the bottle once you open this beauty. Drink now to 2025+
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2010, 13 Abv.
From this epic vintage, notes of polished mahogany, boot polish, black cherry kirsch liquer and black current confit rise imperiously out of the glass. Wonderful concentration, elegance and freshness are all wrapped together with a most expertly integrated lick of new French oak. This is everything you would want from an iconic vintage and a real testament to winemaker Jean-Michel’s true skills. Drink now to 2035+
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2011, 13 Abv.
The 2011 shows attractive floral perfume aromatics, polished oak, cherry confit, cherry liquer and saline black current leaf intensity. Superb concentration, sleek textured elegance and freshness and a smattering of the most attractive French oak vanilla spice notes. A noble and impressive follow up to the 2010 and a wine that will happily grace the tables of the most discerning connoisseurs. Drink now to 2029+
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2012, 13 Abv.
A dark cherry black opaque colour greets the drinker. Initially, the nose is broody and closed. But a little glass swirling and coaxing starts to elicit some of the more classical elements of the bouquet… black berry, black cherry pith, cassis, dusty limestone minerality, hints of graphite and a gloss of buttered brown toast. The oaking is almost imperceptible, revealing a very restrained and quite classical expression from this “drinking” Bordeaux vintage. The palate has all the sleekness, suppleness and accessibility that you’d expect from a 2012. A soft fine grained texture, polished powdery tannins, chalky grip and spicy, plummy, peppery black cherry and black berry fruit. It’s all packed into a very classical, medium bodied parcel, that delivers pleasure now but also suggest it is structured enough to be holding back a few surprises in reserve for drinkers in 5 to 8 years time.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2014, 13 Abv.
This wine is ripe and rich with beautifully plush classical right bank allure and a soft textured, elegant cassis pastille fruit concentration. A complex wine already in its youth, the layers of mocha, cocoa powder spice and sweet damson plum coat the tongue and thrill the palate. This wine has real depth of fruit, vibrant freshness, and superb length. A class act from some of the best terroir in St Emilion.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2015, 13 Abv.
The neighbour of Francois Mitjavile’s Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf, La Croizille is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. True to the vintage, this wine has a spectacularly profound quality, and indeed the 2015 La Croizille could be among their greatest ever vintages produced. Certainly on par with the epic 2005, 2009 and 2010, the 2015 has a nose that is seductively perfumed, lifted out of the ordinary by cherry blossoms and an exotic undertone of cherry kirsch liqueur. The caramelized oak notes tease like sprinkles on a chocolate cake! The palate too is dark, dense, powerful and packed full of opulent exotic flavours of Chinese plum sauce, tart cherry confit, sweet cassis and vanilla pod spice. The balance is exceptional, spreading broad and wide across the palate. This is right bank Bordeaux at its seductive, classical best. Plump yet fresh, dense, sweet fruited and gravelly, yet never losing focus. Oh, and the finish goes on and on like a Duracell bunny! Wow. What an impressive wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2016, 13 Abv.
The 2016 Château La Croizille has a dense, opulent profuse blue berry fruited nose, high-toned and showy, with all the mineral limestone complexity of its prestigious neighbours such as Tertre Roteboeuf, Troplong Mondot and Rocheyron. The palate is showing some elegant restraint and class with sweet ripe tannins, surly brambly red and black fruits, and an earthy, foresty, rather masculine, slightly introspective finish. So seductive and noble, this wine speaks of great St Emilion terroir with very intelligent winemaking. Superb effort.
(Wine Safari Score: 93-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW, Tasted En-primeur in April 2017 from Barrel)
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.
The 2005 vintage was known as the year of drought. The water deficit was constant and alarming and by harvest time, the volume of rainfall was less than half the average quantity for the past 30 years. However, the clay rich sub-soils of Montrose played an important role in providing moisture to the vines.
On the other hand, the temperatures in the vineyards saw broad fluctuations alternating between hot days and cool nights, assisting good ripening of the fruit. 2005 impresses with its exceptional power and amazing fruit purity as well as the wine’s extraordinary engaging elegance. Stylistically, La Dame de Montrose remains very classical without any austerity.
Chateau Montrose La Dame de Montrose 2005, St Estephe, Bordeaux, 13 Abv.
Supple and silky the 2005 is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Merlot. It shows very pronounced red fruit aromas with classic notes of red currants, bramble berries, earthy black currants together with hints of chocolate powder, graphite, wet tobacco, vanilla pod and black liquorice. The 2005 is generally regarded as one of the finest second wines Montrose has yet produced and indeed tastes more powerful and profound than many big name Cru Classe Chateau first wines. Full bodied, dense and powerful, there is plenty of meat on the bone here. But the tannins are mineral and supple, balancing the rich dark earthy black berry and black cherry fruits. This is a serious wine in anyone’s book and remains generous and plush with fine definition right to the very last drop in the glass. Drink this now with some decanting, but feel free to age this beauty another 8 to 10+ years.
Interestingly, if you ask most people what they think of Bordeaux Blanc dry whites, anecdotally, the majority will probably tell you they have never bought or drunk one knowingly. Quite surprising really when you think how mainstream Sauvignon Blanc is or even Sauvignon / Semillon blends from other wine regions around the world.
The French realised a long time ago that premium Bordeaux appellations actually have a lot of wine to sell and perhaps it’s not the best idea to confuse the consumer and distract their purchasing power away from red Bordeaux and sweet white Sauternes style wines. Other than a few “lesser” regarded appellations like Entre-Deux-Mers, most sub-regions of Bordeaux produce very little premium dry white other than perhaps Pessac-Leognan and the Graves.
So every moment I get to drink a top dry white Bordeaux, I savour the opportunity and revel in the wines’ utter deliciousness and relative obscurity. Tonight was one such moment. Sadly for enthusiasts, this obscurity does not equal lower prices. The Bordelaise are too savvy for that!
Cos d’Estournel Blanc 2012, AOC Bordeaux, 13.5 Abv.
White Bordeaux can certainly be one of the most delicious white wines produced. This Cos Blanc, made from 77% Sauvignon Blanc and 23% Semillon cropped at 25 hl/ha from the Northern Medoc, shows impressive pedigree with a lifted aromatic nose of white blossom, lemon and lime cordial, vanilla essence, green gauge, waxy yellow apples, tangerine peel, and a subtle earthy root veg note. The aromas melt away into one another and reveal just a modest lick of creamy, buttery oak spice. The palate is full, round and fleshy but also saline and pithy, showing wonderful texture, depth of fruit and crunchy acids. Not necessarily the most complex of wines, but then even this 2012 should be regarded as a baby in nappies still. An opulent style, the wine finishes with lovely yellow grapefruit, a honeyed balance, some dusty crushed gravel minerality and again more pithy, zesty, white pepper and coriander spice on the opulent finish. Drink now to 2025+
Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.
First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)
The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)
Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)
The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)
At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)
Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)
The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)
The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)
So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)
The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)
To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)
At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS)
The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)
To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)
Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.
Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time.