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)

Drinking An Iconic South African Red – Unravelling the Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 and the South African Fine Wine Investment Market…

In the week that Wine Cellar South Africa launched (and sold out of) its first fine wine investment fund built around (physical) iconic South African wines from the 2015 vintage, I thought it was fitting to drink a wine that illustrates the true greatness of South Africa’s best red wines. In light of the Wine Cellar VIP 2015 offering, many international commentators less intimately connected to the fine wine market have stated that “few South African wines improve appreciably with extended ageing” and thus the fine wine investment model is built on a sandy foundation.

Firstly, one needs to clarify what extended ageing implies. From a wine trade / merchant point of view, one could reasonably expect the quality of wines included in the VIP 2015 Fund to age and certainly improve incrementally for easily 10+ years… and many on the list for certainly 20 years plus. Secondly, to say that there is no secondary market for aged South African fine wine is blatantly wrong. There is massive demand but merely little to no supply… and the older stock that does make it to market commercially is either small parcels kindly released by the wineries themselves from archive stocks as more of a marketing endeavour or the stock is from provenanced private collections. Either way, it is an insignificant, non commercial quantity unable to influence the market in any meaningful way and adds no liquidity.

I have been involved in the top end of the UK fine wine trade for 20 years now, many of which I have actively been promoting and selling the very best wines from South Africa to international collectors and connoisseurs. Admittedly, you need to sell the best names from the best vintages, but that is certainly no different anywhere else in the fine wine world. Many top South African red (and white) wines clearly age very very well and while you always need to be selective and take professional advise, this fact is now indisputable.

To many, the term or idea of investing in a wonderful agricultural product like wine is sacrilege, a dirty word, a dirty concept. But for time immemorial, the concept of “investing in wine” implied buying double your requirements, with money you did not always readily have, and then selling half the wine several years later when more scarce to finance the drinking of the other half. In essence, this is still the model many fine wine investors (drinkers) that I deal with on a day to day basis follow. Indeed, I cannot name one private client on my books who is tea total and who only invests in wine for the hard cold cash returns. They are all passionate about wine.

One thing is very clear to me however. For South African fine wine to gain a genuinely fluid and dynamic foothold in the fine wine investment market globally, there has to be a strong and confident “wine investment culture” locally in the home market of the wines in question. The demand for older vintages needs to begin at home and then ripple out to international markets. For far too long it has been international buyers piling into the Nederburg Auction wines, the Cape Wine Makers Guild Wines or the odd rare fine wine older vintage auction offering. This Wine Cellar VIP 2015 Fund marks the turning of a corner, where locals put their money where their mouths are and invest in iconic wines from possibly a once in a generation quality vintage. With over 12,000 bottles included in this fund, we should over the coming years, see stocks of these perfectly cellared older vintages released onto the market for local and international consumption at a premium that is commensurate to the quality and rarity of the given wine. Supply and demand will decide that premium.

For what it’s worth, I bought this wonderful Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 from the winery in March 2018 and drank it recently at a South African themed fine wine lunch in London. Poured sighted, there wasn’t a taster on the table of seven that did not sit in awe of its youthful elegance. A true testament to the ageability and longevity of classical Cabernet Sauvignon produced by one of South Africa’s top estates. The message now disseminating out of the South African fine wine scene is not whether the country is able to produce age worthy wines of super premium quality, but whether the industry as a whole has the skills and knowhow to market these wines globally in a proper confident manner, for the correct premium price tag and importantly, to the correct target market segments? Time for everyone to up their game in the South African fine wine trade.

Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, W.O. Stellenbosch

A beautiful mahogany colour, the nose is initially tight and cedary, spicy and quite restrained, but 20 minutes of air in a decanter after the cork is pulled allows this grand old wine to open its shoulders. Wonderfully mellow but still vibrantly youthful, beguilingly complex, fragrant and intriguing. The palate is loaded with lovely sweet raisined cranberries, violets, sweet tobacco, black tea and an earthy red currant sappy depth. Texturally this is so fine, initially quite piquant and spicy but also beautifully elegant. Incredible to think this wine is 42 years olds and still going strong. A bold, powerful and elegantly regal red showing the real potential of South Africa’s greatest terroirs and the true premium standing of great Cabernet Sauvignon. What a treat!

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

The Most Hotly Anticipated Red Wine Release from the 2015 Vintage – Tasting Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, South Africa’s Very Own First Growth…

The Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape and consistently boasts some of South Africa’s most famous premium wines. A fourth generation family estate, Kanonkop was originally purchased by JW Sauer, a cabinet member in the parliament of the Union of South Africa and the estate has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years, now residing in the capable hands of its current owners Paul & Johann Krige.

The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. The Estate is situated on 125 hectares, of which 100 hectares are planted with vines. A small quantity of these red grapes are selected for the production of around 7,000 cases of 6 of the Estate’s flagship red Bordeaux blend Paul Sauer, produced by one of South Africa’s most intelligent winemakers, Abrie Beeslaar.

A traditional blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, the vines are on average 25 years old grown on decomposed Granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils and usually aged around 24 months in new 225 litre French Nevers oak barrels with medium toast.

Kanonkop Wine Estate Paul Sauer 2015, 14 Abv.

The goal with any vintage of Paul Sauer is to find the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness… allowing a certain amount of tamed accessibility combined with immaculate ageworthy credentials. Indeed, this is the DNA which has allowed a wine like Paul Sauer to become firmly established as one of South Africa’s most respected ‘first growths.’ Given the incredible opulence and concentration of the 2015 vintage, this expression dazzles the senses with the most alluring heady nose of sun dried cherries, black currant pastille sweets, blueberries, plummy hoisin sauce, cedar spice and fragrant violets. There is intensity, an abundance of concentration and impressively integrated wood spice, salted toffee and vanilla pod complexity. The acid-fruit equilibrium is perfectly balanced, wrapped in a velvety cherry kirsch liquor texture and a finely focused blueberry and juniper berry finish. Truly effortless class and so beautifully light on its feet with the most suave, polished tannin symmetry. I cannot think of a better expression of Paul Sauer than this 2015 in the past 25 years of tasting. This is possibly one of the finest South African red wines of my generation. Drink from 2022 to 2055+.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/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.

The End of the Beginning – Tasting the Maiden Release Tokara Telos 2015 in London with Owner G.T.Ferreira…

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.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Steven Spurrier in attendance at 67 Pall Mall

The New Dominus Proprietary Red Unveiled in London at the Annual J.P.Moueix Portfolio Tasting…

One of the added benefits of attending the annual tasting of all the J.P.Moueix Bordeaux En-primeur samples is the opportunity to also get a UK pre-release sneak peek of their finished bottled Californian wines including Othelo, Napanook and their iconic Dominus.

With such strong US home market demand, allocation quantities through Corney & Barrow, the official UK agent for J.P.Moueix and Dominus, have continued to shrink over the past few years as Robert Parker Jr. has dished out 100 point perfect scores to multiple vintages.

Edouard Moueix presenting the family’s Bordeaux and Californian wines in London at private members club Home House.

2015 represents another block buster vintage which also garnered 100 points from Mr Parker, both when tasted in barrel and again in bottle. However, the Dominus proprietary red while always being a big, dense, powerful wine on release also has an incredible propensity to age, evolving into a classical Bordeaux blend expression that often takes your breath away with its sublime mature beauty and balance. The same can certainly not be said for a number of big glossy Napa reds out in the market place.

UK release scheduled for September 2018.

Dominus Proprietary Red 2015, Napa Valley, 14.5 Abv.

A dense dark imposing colour, the 2015 grand vin was bottled in July 2017 and is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The aromatics show a pronounced Cabernet Sauvignon character, packed full of sweet dark earthy cassis fruit, black plum, bramble berry and topped with perfumed notes of lavender, violets, black chocolate and cedar spice. The palate is dense and fleshy, overtly opulent and textural as is to be expected. Very glycerol and broad, there are piquant layers of sweet black currant, brûléed black cherries and spicy graphite tannins that are plush and sweet. A big voluptuous wine that captures your attention and holds it with a certain flashy accessibility not seen in too many young Dominus vintages. But as always, this is the real deal and another seriously fine wine from the Moueix stable that is sure to age very well. Drink from 2020 to 2048+

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting Pomerol Icon Chateau Lafleur 2017 En-primeur with Cellar Master Omri Ram in London …

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.

(Wine Safari Score: 89-92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte 9 2017

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.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Lafleur 2017

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.

(Wine Safari Score: 96-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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.