Tasting Chateau La Croizille Saint Emilion Grand Cru, the New Kid on the Cote…

I first visited the impressively modern Château La Croizille winery in St Emilion at En-primeur time in 2015. Prior to that, I’d only ever cast a curious eye over its large, orange, modern-art tasting room that protrudes from the limestone cote, across the way from Chateau Tetre Roteboeuf. I had never tasted the wines and had never seen them in the UK market, the Claret capital of Europe.

The reason for this relative obscurity perhaps lies in the fact that La Croizille is a St Emilion Grand Cru estate that originally was acquired by the Belgian De Schepper – De Mour family in 1996 and is 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.

This winery is a rising Saint Emilion star which you’ll read a lot more about in years to come. Already, the winery’s more recent vintages have garnered several 90 plus point scores from international critics including James Suckling and Decanter Magazine. Buying a few cases of the opulent 2015 or intense 2016 could be a very smart choice.

Tasting Note: Chateau La Croizille Saint Emilion Grand Cru 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)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 2: Pastourelle de Clerc Milon 2009, Pauillac, 13.5 Abv.

As the Burgundy En-primeur campaign starts to fizzle out after a fantastically successful vintage for merchants and retailers, attention starts once more to turn to the grand region of Bordeaux.

Continuing my new series of tastings reviewing a selection of Bordeaux second wines, today I’m looking at a relatively unknown entity… the second wine of Chateau Clerc Milon, which forms part of the Domaines Baron Rothschild portfolio.

Nature was particularly kind in 2009, providing conditions that favoured an optimal growing cycle which helped the grapes of Bordeaux to reach full maturity. The very fine weather and high level of hydric stress, alleviated by a few well timed showers, enabled the grapes to ripen slowly to full maturity.

Temperatures in August 2009 were 1.4 °C higher than the average. This ideal weather continued into September as cool nights alternated with hot days, encouraging the concentration of aromas and flavours and the accumulation of anthocyanins in a perfectly ripe crop. 2009 will undoubtedly go down as a vintage to match the finest in history.

Tasting Note: 2009 is the first vintage of Pastourelle de Clerc Milon, whose label shows the classic dancers of Château Clerc Milon. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon: 50%, Merlot: 36%, Cabernet Franc: 11%, Petit Verdot: 2% and Carmenère: 1%, the wine has a dense, deep colour with a crimson hue. The aromatics are refined, perfumed, and expressive with black fruits, cassis, kirsch cherry and dusty graphite nuances. There’s an attractive bruleed note showing espresso and mocha coffee bean complexity. The palate is sleek, medium to light weight and overtly polished. There’s an attractive sweet spot on the front of the palate and a pronounced red liquorice, black current and milk chocolate opulence underpinned by soft silky tannins and supple, soft toned acids. There is balance and a real feel of harmony, but the overall package does lack the overt fleshy depth so many other 2009 second wines possess. Eminently drinkable, this attractive Pauillac finishes with lovely bitter chocolate and vanilla wood spice length. Start drinking now and over the next 3 to 6 years.

Second Wine Rating: Attractive, light weight, mid-week Claret with polish. Buy if priced modestly.

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

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2010 – Tasting Another of the Illustrious Bordeaux “Super Seconds”…

I recently had a fantastic opportunity to taste a mixed vertical of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande with Nicolas Glumineau. Such finesse, elegance and balance, in youth and with age. But of course Pichon Lalande’s neighbour, Pichon Baron, makes some awesome wines as well. 

If Pichon Lalande is finesse and femininity personified, then the Cabernet Sauvignon based wines of Pichon-Longueville Baron are characteristically more muscular, tannic and full-bodied in general. Owned by the insurance giant AXA since 1987, and managed since 2000 by Christian Seely, this 73 hectare Pauillac estate lying on deep gravel soils consists of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc plantings.

I was very pleased to get the opportunity to taste and re-evaluate the impressive Pichon Baron 2010 recently, which is undoubtedly a great year for both of the Pichons. Only time will tell, but the suave, concentrated, fleshy elegance of the 2009 vintage may well serve the elegant style of Pichon Lalande better while the block buster 2010 vintage with its pure, ripe, dense fruit expressions, coupled with serious weight, power and structure will almost certainly compliment the masculine style of Pichon Baron better. Either way, it’s always thrilling to retaste epic vintages like 2009 and 2010.

Tasting Note: Beautifully bold and confident, this is a big dense, power packed expression. Brimming with dark fruits, licorice, black plums, black cherry, creme de cassis and subtle earthy forest fruits, there is still a fairly overt bruleed oak note with nuances of brown toast, espresso and sweet wet tobacco. Acids are fresh and linear, giving extra frame to the dense, ripe, powerful creamy tannins. Layer upon layer of unctuous black current and cassis roll off the tongue with a generous salt and pepper seasoning of spicy cedary oak and graphite lead pencil notes. This is a monumental wine from this Chateau that will undoubtedly continue to improve in bottle for 30 to 40 years.

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

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 1: Les Clos des Carmes Haut Brion 2012, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux, 13.5 Abv.

In the first part of a new series of posts evaluating Bordeaux second wines, I kick off with a little Graves red from Chateau Haut Brion’s near neighbour, Chateau Carmes Haut Brion. Due to recent changes in appellation laws, regarding the use of protected terms, in this case “Clos”, newer vintages of this wine will be known as Les C des Carmes Haut Brion. 

Tasting Note: The 2012 Le Clos des Carmes Haut Brion is beautifully rich, fragrant and expressive with plenty of potpourri, violets, coffee, mocha and buttered brown toast notes, integrating with lush, rich, creme de cassis, sweet black plum and tart red cherry. 

The palate is fleshy, open knit and very approachable, largely because of a 81% dollop of Merlot, with powerful backing vocals from 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. Such a wonderful complexity of black cherry, mocha, vanilla pod spice and new tannery leather. There are fresh acids but they are finely rounded and well woven into the harmonious texture of this wine. While a real joy to drink even in its youth, there would be no harm cellaring this gem for 8 to 12+ years. 

Second Wine Rating: Buy with confidence. 

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

Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux Masterclass ~ 1985 to 2012 with Winemaker Nicolas Glumineau…

Another wonderful masterclass today tasting over four decades of Chateau Pichon Lalande, a Chateau that has only had four owners since its establishment in 1850. The estate consists of 89 hectares of vines with an average age of 35 years old, planted at a density of 9000 vines per hectare with a mix of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, Cabernet Franc 7% and Petit Verdot 3%. 

The Chateau is currently experimenting with organic and biodynamic viticulture and with detailed top soil and sub-soil mapping, which they hope will help increase the Grand Vin quality even further.

Flight 1 – Reserve de la Comtesse (First vintage produced in 1973)

Reserve de la Comtesse 2012 – 90+/100

64cs, 35m, 5cf

Piercing sweet rich nose shows black berry, espresso, buttered brown toast, bruleed oak spice with vanilla pod spice. Soft textured palate with plenty of spice, pithy black currant, black cherry and soft accessible acids. Plush, gentle, suave tannins carry to an elegant lacy finish. 

Reserve de la Comtesse 2011 – 91/100

43cs, 49m, 8pv

Big concentrated dry vintage to follow the block buster 2010s, but not without its difficulties. Plenty of dusty, leafy cassis fruit with pronounced coffee bean spice. Dark, deep core with black chocolate, violets and wood spice. Dense, masculine palate, power with elegance, tannin frame and dry extract concentration with fine, fresh integrated acids on the finish. Still young and worth cellaring further.

Reserve de la Comtesse 2009 – 92+/100

53cs, 38m, 9cf

Soft sweet, perfumed seductive nose of violets, black berry confit, kirsch liquor, and earthy, savoury foresty red currant fruits. Palate is soft, suave, fleshy, and accessible, ready now and showing a lot of charm and finesse for the price. Sweet ripe tannins and an elegant finish. Lovely Pauillac expression.

Flight 2 – The Grand Vin Selection

Chateau Pichon Longueville 2012 – 93+/100

59cs, 28m, 8cf, 5pv

Similar to the 2012 Comtesse, but chock full of bruleed black berry, espresso, mocha spice and plump caramelised plums. Suave, broad, and oh so elegant and fine. Almost like draping silk over your tongue. Accessible, seductive and seamlessly balanced finish. Beautiful lighter style vintage.

Chateau Pichon Longueville 2009 – 98/100
75cs, 20m, 5pv

Sweet black berry, kirsch liquor, seductive fragrance and violet perfume. Oak is definitely receding revealing the most opulent, tantalising fruit purity, crisp acids and plenty of elegance. Sweet cassis, buttered brown toast, chalky, powdery marshmallow tannins. Massive full mouthfeel, reaching every corner of your palate. So impressive, so alluring, a real block buster. Leaves you weak at the knees. An icon vintage for sure.

Chateau Pichon Longueville 2003 -93/100
65cs, 31m, 4pv 

Rich, savoury, ripe, opulent nose with forest fruits, confit, stewed fruits and hints of Christmas cake. Some game meat notes developing, tannery leather, sweet tobacco and plush, sweet earthy red currant confit length. Soft opulent fleshy wine with mellow acids, slightly chalky tannins that are slightly drying on the finish. Holding up well but perhaps time to start drinking if you have in your cellar. 

Great tasting today with one of Bordeaux’s best, Nicolas Glumineau

Chateau Pichon Longueville 1996 – 97/100

75cs, 15m, 5cf, 5pv

Sweet classical nose that screams Cabernet Sauvignon expression. Violets, cedar, sandalwood spice, talc, sweet tobacco box, and mint / Eucalyptus leaf. Almost exotic in style. Palate is modern, almost new world, with hints of cinnamon spice, pithy cassis, spicy cherry skins, mineral tannins and hints of graphite. Youthful, dense and powerful. Such a beauty. Still masculine, foursquare but showing more generosity year by year. One to buy!

Chateau Pichon Longueville 1995 – 95/100

45cs, 40m, 15cf

Evolved nose of sweet herbs, earthy savoury leathery garrigue and tobacco. Cigar box, sandalwood, pencil spice, graphite and savoury red berry fruit. Big rich Cabernet cassis concentration, marshmallow powdery tannins, starting to resolve nicely, with fine balance and classical elegant cedary depth. 

Chateau Pichon Longueville 1985 – 96/100 

Beautiful lifted nose of cedar, stalk spice, dusty gravel and cassis leaf with just a hint of capsicum spice. Peppery and complex, this wine speaks of a different era in Bordeaux production. Palate treads lightly, showing plenty of mint leaf, cedar, black berry spice, grilled herbs, graphite minerality, and drying gravelly tannins. Still holding its shape beautifully, this is yet another 1985 that has turned out to have surprisingly impressive longevity with a classical framework. Just the right amount of chalk/stalk/capsicum savoury melange. Lovely food wine.

2017 and the Onward Rise of Bordeaux Second Wines… An Introduction

We all like premium wines. But occasionally, we all have to trade down to more affordable, drinkable options, like perhaps a second wine? The rise in popularity of premium Bordeaux second wines in the international fine wine marketplace is not necessarily a trend that began in 2016 but it is certainly one which solidified further and gained a massive amount of extra momentum.

This trend was confirmed by year end trading figures on the Liv-ex Fine Wine Exchange, with a massive increase in purchasing of a wide spectrum of second labels, primarily from premium or super premium Chateaux names.

The fine wine crash of 2011 not only brought a stark dose of reality back to an over heated, over priced, over ambitious Bordeaux market, but also massive, sustained loses for buyers of En-primeur from 2010, 11, 12, 13, and 14… with only a glimmer of respite emerging with the 2015 releases and the post-Brexit, post-pound depreciation fine wine gold rush that commenced in Mid-2016. 

So this second wine popularity trend perhaps has its true origins in the price rises of 2009-10… two exceptional, though expensive, vintages where the quality of many top Chateaux second wines were as good if not better than the first wines from previous lesser vintages like 2006, 07, or even 08. 

Producing and selling through €150-300 Euro per bottle first wines with potential production volumes of 5,000 to 10,000 cases (not bottles), was never going to be easy in a world approaching its 9th year of austerity economics. Cleverly, Chateaux realised if they reduced production of the first wines down to 2,000 or 3,000 cases, and upped the production and quality of second wines at lower, more accessible prices, they could successfully maintain the super premium prices and perceived scarcity value of their first wines.

So which Chateaux second wines offer the consumer good value for money? Over the coming weeks and months in the lead up to En-primeur 2016 in April, I’ll be tasting an ongoing series of second wines to see if I can strike vinous gold. I hope you will join me on this fine wine safari!

The Anwilka and Chateau Angelus Blind Tasting Challenge ~ A New Era of Quality in South African Red Wines Confirmed Yet Again…

I recall the pronouncement from Robert Parker Jr. well… “This is the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa.” He was of course referring to his tasting of the first vintage of the Anwilka red blend 2005. I always knew which vintage was specifically mentioned, but I somehow struggled to find this quote again when a year later, I wanted to reference it to introduce a release offer of Anwilka 2005. 

This statement made a surprise come back today being boldly quoted in the introductory tasting brochure for the blind tasting arranged in London by Klein Constantia’s Managing Director Hans Astrom and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal of Chateau Angelus fame. 

Anwilka is of course a 48 hectare maritime influenced property in the Helderberg region purchased in the 1990s by the previous owners of Klein Constantia along with Hubert de Bouard of Angelus and Bruno Prats, formerly of Cos d’Estournel. The estate was extensively replanted with exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot vines.

Today’s tasting was an exercise in removing preconceptions surrounding premium South African wines and confirming that they can and do stand shoulder to shoulder quality wise with some of the greatest wines in the world. The tasting featured 8 wines, specifically chosen from multiple vintages, from all over the world. 

My tasting notes below were written tasting the wines blind, and with out guidance as to their provenance other than assuming there would be several Anwilka wines and several Angelus wines. The results were intriguing. Here are my 8 wines and their scores:

Wine No.1

What I Said: Old World, Bordeaux 

Actual Wine: Chateau Angelus 2006

Score: 93/100 GS

Blind Note: Dark, rich fruits, perfume, red fruit spice and fine dry classical tannins, peppery restraint, some alcohol heat, finishing with power, grip and good concentration.

Wine No. 2

What I Said: New World, South Africa

Actual Wine: Anwilka 2005 

Score: 88/100 GS

Blind Note: Sweet meaty stewed flavours, spice and warm ripeness, evolved tertiary notes, with 8 to 10 years development, finishing with savoury earthy berry fruit, green bean hints and wet leaves and chocolate.

Wine No. 3

What I Said: Old World, Italy

Actual Wine: Ridge Monte Bello 2011

Score: 93+/100

Blind Note: Rich, opulent lifted nose, with kirsch, cherry blossom, violets, and cassis. Sleek, fresh and vibrant with masses of elegance and finesse. 2012 vintage?

Wine No. 4

What I Said: Old World, French Bordeaux

Actual Wine: Ornellaia 2008, Bolgheri

Score: 93+/100

Blind Note: Ripe, kirsch cherry nose, cherry confit, spice, dusty cedar oak, violets, and creme de cassis. Earthy forest fruits, suave tannins, warm finish but plenty of elegance.

Wine No. 5

What I Said: New World, Australia

Actual Wine: Anwilka 2012

Score: 94/100 GS

Blind Note: Rich, opulent lifted nose of salty cassis, black currants, and dark pastille sweets. Refined and perfumed with Parma violets and hints of boiled Bon Bon sweets. Soft sleek textured wine that’s plush and fleshy. Laced with mocha spice and dark chocolate oranges. Almost Chilean characters to the black saline fruit finish.

Wine No. 6

What I Said: Old World, French Bordeaux

Actual Wine: Chateau Angelus 2012

Score: 93+/100 GS

Blind Note: Dusty spice of cinnamon, and mocha, vanilla pod and hints of medicine chest. Classically proportioned palate with dry mineral tannins, restraint, and grainy black cassis and mulberry confit. Powerful cherry spice laden finish. Young Bordeaux… 2011 or 2014?

Wine No. 7

What I Said: New World, USA

Actual Wine: Anwilka 2013

Score: 95/100 GS

Blind Note: Sweet creme brûlée and cassis, blue berry crumble, cherry and kirsch liqueur, ripe black currant. Very polished texture, super fine tannins, sweet / sour black cherry and cassis density, freshness with ultra fine tannins. Juicy fresh acids and a whole lot of finesse. 

Wine No. 8

What I Said: New World, South Africa

Actual Wine: Cullen Diana Madeline 2014

Score: 94/100

Blind Note: Dark, dense core of black fruits, black currants, liquorice, Xmas cake, and sweet oak spice. Polished tannins, fleshy and opulent, good concentration with balance. Fine effort with ripe core but a classically layered texture and tannins. Classy wine in its youth.

So, there you have my humble scribblings for what they’re worth. As any wine judge or journalist will tell you, tasting blind and noting ones own mistakes can be very humbling, but oh so much fun… and massively enlightening in hindsight. I was of course sitting next to the very great Stephen Spurrier, who has his own endless array of stories about a group of judges’ blind notes, scores and comments from a certain little tasting that took place back in 1976!

With Stephen, Hans and Stephanie after the tasting

I feel if this had been an exam, I would have passed. But more importantly I have to tip my hat to Hans and Stephanie for organising such an enlightening tasting. 20 years ago when regularly tasting reds blind, we would pick out Californian wines by their polished finesse, purity, opulence, balance and precision. We all wished that South African wines could aspire to this greatness. 

Today I fittingly picked a South African wine as not only my top scorer, but also placed it in a quality realm so good it had to be Californian! Oh how times have changed. 

Venue was private members club Home House at 20 Portman Square, London