A majority of the wines tasted during my December trip in Bordeaux were wines from the 2006 vintage, a vintage that the Bordelais have gone out of their way to defend and promote, and also out of their way to price. 2006 is a bit of a watershed vintage as far as the economics of wine go, as unlike 2005, 2006 is not the ‘vintage of the century’ that seems to come along every five to ten years, but merely an average-to-good vintage which has a few wines that exceed those boundaries. Prices, however, are not that far behind 2005 despite the fact that 2006 has been lukewarmly received by the media and collectors alike, and for this reason, a new line has been drawn in the sand for those that want to drink Bordeaux. If you want to cross that line, all it takes is money.
Fortunately, we did not have to pay to visit some of the Right Bank’s most esteemed properties and taste their newest releases. Although my trip did not begin in the Right Bank, I have decided to continue my chronologically-deficient story of said trip with all my notes from the Right Bank. There is something thrilling and exciting about tasting Right Bank wines, a function of both scarcity and style, and none more thrilling than the wines of Christian Moueix. If there is any consensus about 2006, it is the fact that Mother Nature smiled more on the Right Bank.
Christian and his family are much more than Chateau Petrus, although that is the only wine for which he seems to get credit. His newest acquisition, Chateau Belair in St. Emilion, has him very excited. He pointed out to us that Belair was the first St. Emilion to chateau-bottle back in 1802, and that in the 19th century, it was actually at the top of the St. Emilion hierarchy. Keep an eye on this estate over the next decade.
There were eleven 2006 wines to taste through from the Moueix portfolio; see, I do taste young wines on occasion! We got right to work, beginning with the 2006 Les Songes de Madelaine, which had a lovely nose of cherry fruit and oil, great freshness (of course), and a cut grass impression. The palate was simple but nice (87).
Seeing a rating like 87 points is probably a kiss of death to most collectors, but I would not have a problem drinking this bottle of wine over the course of a nice evening. That is the one disadvantage of the numbers game; sometimes it doesn’t capture the intrinsic, simple pleasure of enjoyment despite the quantifiable, relative difference to the greatest of the great.
Next up was the actual 2006 Magdelaine, a wine that has continued to impress me each of the last three years that I have been tasting in Bordeaux. There was more plum and black fruits to go with that same cherry oil. Its nose was deeper, nuttier and dustier, and its palate had a chalky, spicy finish that somehow wasn’t hot at the same time despite its youth. Very good, indeed (90).
Last of our three St. Emilions was the 2006 Belair, which had a fatter nose and more vanilla to go with cassis and musk. Also fresh (also of course), its palate had a touch missing in the middle, though nice red flavors and a dry finish (89).
The first Pomerol on our agenda was the 2006 La Grave, which had a plummy and aromatic nose, also nutty with a nice, lingering, subtle spice. There were round, rich, plum flavors; also chocolate ones with nice, light grit on its finish (90).
The 2006 Chateau Latour a Pomerol had a more classic nose with great earth and chocolate aromas to go with its core of plum. Its palate was slaty and spiny, a noticeable step up in structure from every previous wine. The palate also had nice fruit to go with its long finish. This had to be the best Latour a Pomerol in years (92).
The 2006 Chateau Certan Marzelle had a figgy, gamy nose with plum behind those qualities. The palate was also gamy, solid with a chalky, dry finish (90).
The first thing I wrote about the 2006 Chateau La Fleur Petrus was ‘breed here.’ Its tannins and alcohol were most noticeable, along with aromas of fireplace, brick and a touch of almost St. Emilion-ish red fruits. Its flavors of mocha were dry and spicy, very long with nice earth, garden and plum flavors (93).
The 2006 Chateau Providence had a more open and gamy nose like the Marzelle, figgy to go with the usual plummy. However, it lacked fruit and mid-palate in the mouth (88).
The 2006 Hosanna had a soft and silky nose, both warm and inviting yet reserved with nice blackcurrant aromas. The palate was solid and taut, and the wine left an overall nice impression (91).
There were two wines left, the two crown jewels in the Moueix portfolio. First was the 2006 Trotanoy. I don’t understand why this wine has fallen out of favor with some major critics; each of the last three years I have been to Bordeaux, it has been a real standout of the trip for me for 2004, 2005 and 2006. Maybe it is just the Moueixes’ and my secret! The Trotanoy had a great nose with deep, thick fruit, chunky in its black and purple way. There was nice sweetness, some fresh grass, beautiful earth and a touch of thoroughbred saddle sweat. The palate was also impressive and actually made me think 2006 is more impressive than it really is. Like I said, there were a few exceptional wines made in this vintage. There was chewy and fleshy fruit, excellent sweetness, great Pomerol flavors and a very long and very dry finish that lingered a long, long, long time (94).
Last and most was the 2006 Petrus. I don’t get into the hows and whys of wine but rather try to enjoy the heres and nows of it, and when it comes to Petrus, I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but it always just is one of the best wines made year in and year out, and 2006 was no exception. ‘Yum yum’ were the first words that came to mind. Its style and breed stood out like Yao Ming. Its red, black and purple fruits were symphonic in style yet also hummed along in a quiet and unassuming matter. Its nose was very complex with light traces of forest, slate, chocolate, and more plum emerged with time. In the mouth, it was rich, round, spicy, long and hot without crossing the line of decency. Flavors of garden, mocha, slate and cinnamon spice and stick graced this stallion of a wine. Brian remarked that there was ‘enough fruit to fight off the tannins,’ and that was a point that had a double entendre, as the tannins were continually out-muscling the fruit all week in most of the 2006s. Here was one wine that stood above the pack and was clearly wine of the vintage for me (95+).
Christian shared many nuggets of wisdom with us as we discussed the vintage and state of Bordeaux. He dislikes the notion of an ‘old’ style in the context of Old World versus New World in today’s market. ‘It’s not old; it’s traditional,’ he reasoned. ‘It’s all about the quality of fruit. For thirty-seven vintages, I have eaten 1000 berries (grapes) a day for three weeks (to decide when to harvest and what grapes to pick). When we think it is ripe, we pick block by block. We can’t correct nature. People get upset at the winemaker now, but we didn’t need scientists in the old days. The ’61 was made by the gardener!’ He continued about 2006. ‘2006 was better than we thought,’ and he left us with a word about 2007: ‘more pleasant than we expected”¦should be a useful vintage.’ It is always an honor to talk wine with Christian.
Another exciting stop on our trip was Chateau Lafleur. Nestled away in an unassuming ‘chateau’ (if you could even call it that) in the heart of Pomerol, Lafleur is a true ‘garage’ operation without all of the negative connotations the word has come to mean. Lafleur is also a family operation, something after my own heart. Here we got to taste not only the 2006s, but also the 2005s. Schwing.
Nice minerality jumped out of the 2006 Pensees de Lafleur as well as a plum and cherry mélange. There was that sexy raspberry core that Lafleurs often have as well as a touch of chocolate and good minerals. The blend is 59% Merlot and 41% Cabernet Franc and production a mere 500 cases. The palate was nice and round, dry but pleasantly so, and had a nice slaty minerality. Tender, round and with purple fruit flavors, the Pensees really shouldn’t be called a ‘second’ wine (91).
The 2006 Lafleur had a deep, brooding nose with lots of t ‘n a, classic and a bit ’89-ish in its personality. Bipin found it ‘spicy.’ It gave me an ‘iron man’ impression in the nose, which were healthily complemented by purple and black fruits, and someone admired its ‘black pepper.’ The palate was also big and brooding with deep, dark chocolate flavors. There was also a touch of blueberry and a minerally finish. This was serious stuff, but it still had that small hole in the middle, one that marks the entire vintage, less so in the Lafleur but still there. Perhaps it will disappear over time, but that hole is what keeps most 2006s from real greatness, no matter how solid many may still be (94).
Ripeness jumped out of the 2005 Pensees de Lafleur; one could smell the oil and concentration of the 2005 vintage right away. The entire fruit rainbow was there ”“ the blueberry, blackberry, cassis and raspberry. There was great game here, and the palate was rich and round, chocolaty with a touch of beef, excellent balance and an excellent, dry finish. The wine was bordering on excellence (92+).
The 2005 Lafleur had a bright, regal nose, its red fruits jumping out at first, supported by cloves, cedar, hay and straw nuances. Cassis and purple fruitsquickly joined the party. Cinnamon and cedar did as well, and that raspberry essence slowly emerged in its long, scintillating nose, and its t ‘n a came out from underneath the fruit to remind one that this was serious stuff. Hints of garden also crept in. Its palate was pure, clean and stylish, surprisingly elegant and polished on its long finish. While a touch shut down (we were told it was bottled only six months ago), the ’05 was still serious like a queen (96+).
The most enlightening part about the visit was what the Guinaudeaus showed us they were doing to help fight any future counterfeiting of their wine. Beginning with the 2005, there will be a Braille-coded, hologram-ish neck tag that goes over the top of the capsule, extending down to the neck of the glass. Each ‘proof tag’ has its own serial number, or rather three sets of biometric codes, so each bottle has its own unique code. The tag opens and peels in the middle and is made with a very strong adhesive, and it is by far and away the best anti-counterfeiting measure that I have ever seen. Basically, you cannot open the bottle without breaking the seal, and these seals are unique and impossible to replicate, as all you have to do is go online to verify that the tag’s serial number and pattern of the braille match up ”“ www.prooftag.com I highly recommend that every producer of fine and rare wine adopt this methodology immediately, as it would bring uniformity and make future counterfeiting extremely difficult. A standing ovation must be given to the Guinaudeau family and Chateau Lafleur for addressing this issue and trying to prevent future fraud.
A quick stop at Cheval Blanc had us tasting with another second-generation winemaker, Oliver Berruet, whose father Jean-Claude Berruet used to make the wine at Petrus. The 2006 Petit Cheval was very fresh with nice red cherry fruit and a touch of wintergreen. Tasty and pretty, there were pretty red fruit flavors and good sweetness, nice dryness, and a pleasant, round, lush and chalky finish. This is a great ‘quaffer’ for the next decade or so (91).
The 2006 Cheval Blanc was reserved and subdued by comparison, hinting at many things. Faint traces of blackberry, cola, winter, mint, chocolate, caramel, earth, beef and hoisin were all present, but all just hints. Someone remarked, ‘if I was tasting blind, I would guess Pomerol.’ Plummy and chocolaty on the palate, its dry, slaty finish was elegant yet sturdy, not hot at all for such a young wine (92+).
We were also able to stop at Chateau L’Angelus, James Bond’s newest favorite wine, where we met with the lovely Coralie de Bouard, who is helping carry on her family’s tradition at L’Angelus. The 2006 L’Angelus had that rich and beefy Angelus style in the nose wit hits big, heady black fruits, vanilla and cedar, but its fruit was first and foremost. The palate was thick and dry, meaty and rich with long, beefy flavors and plenty of black fruits. The 2006 was toeing the line of modernity, as Angelus is prone to do. Cola flavors persisted on its finish that was a shred overly dry (92).
The 2004 L’Angelus had more black olives in its nose, showing a black fruit and nutty side as well. Compared to the ’06, the nose was cleaner and showed more signs of structure, and the palate was also a touch hot, possessing fine tannins and good acidity. The mid-palate was less continuous than the ’06, however, and earthy, wheat flavors were present (91).
The 2005 L’Angelus delivered a nice knockout punch. Just bottled, it was incredibly shut down in its nose, almost odorless! There was faint peanut and faint fruit there. The palate was far from shut down, though, providing a thick, mouthful of tannins that woke me up immediately. It also had flavors of black fruits, beef, vanilla, cedar, minerals and ceramics. Coralie said that her grandfather told her that 2005 is ‘a vintage I have never seen,’ while her father Hubert told her that 2005 ‘saw everything come together at once. Everything was there like a dream’ (95).
Our last stop in the Right Bank was with Alexander Thienpont, the man behind Vieux Chateau Certan and Le Pin. We lunched at The Right Bank’s finest restaurant, Plaisance, which was one of the best meals that I had in 2007. Alexander brought the 2004 and 2005 VCCs and Le Pins, but we started with a 2001 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune, as it is always fun to experience other wines with the Bordelais, especially someone as into wine as Alexander. While mild-mannered and soft-spoken, there was a quiet intensity about Alexander, and I could truly feel his passion and knowledge. The Clos Ste. Hune jumped out of the glass with great peach and petrol aromatics, along with citrus and a kiss of wood. It was very fresh, and the palate had good body and balance, round with nice mineral and citrus flavors. Smooth and satiny, there were also kisses of petrol on its finish (93).
The 2004 Vieux Chateau Certan was a bit of a revelation. Its nose was pure bred with gorgeous fruit and spice, along with cinnamon, cedar, great red fruits along with purple and black and a touch of vanilla and oak. It was very dense for 2004. The palate was round and rich, and as Alexander saw my pleasure unfold, he cooed how he was very proud of his 2004 after being ‘ashamed’ by his 2003, a vintage where he spent the whole year in the vineyard yet could still not overcome the intense heat. The 2004 had nice grit to its finish, which was polished, soft, tender and stylish with medium length. Alexander called 2004 ‘the academic year,’ after the 2003 which had ‘too much hydric stress.’ He went on about 2005 that it was ‘slightly too dry a vintage,’ and he was the only one I have ever heard admit that there might be a flaw in 2005, and that is the typeof person he is: honest, forthright and candid. The 2004 was excellent stuff, and it continued to put on weight and add concentration along with more cedar, leather and brick aromas (94).
I didn’t find any flaws in the 2005 Vieux Chateau Certan, I must confess. It was perfumed, subtle and shy at first, with light purple fruit, nut and earth aromas. Bottled in May of 2007 and about two-thirds Merlot, the ’05 was rich and concentrated, but Alexander found the ’04 ‘thicker and more complex,’ and I saw that in the nose of the 2004 over time, but not the palate. The ’05 was chewy and fleshy, and its dryness did, indeed, stand out, per Alexander’s previous comment. I liked its grip, however, and its acidity really stood out, along with its delicious ceramic and mineral flavors (95+).
Next up was the 2004 Le Pin, ‘a glass of passion fruit,’ as Alexander called it. It definitely had that exotic edge, possessing lots of fruit, almost kaleidoscopic but heavily on the purple side. There were lots of t ‘n a and minerals in the nose, but the palate was soft, smooth and shut down. It got more aromatic as aromas of vitamins, game and cinnamon developed, and someone called this 100% Merlot cuvee ‘Burgundian’ (92).
The 2005 Le Pin had a deep, deep rabbit hole of a nose full of black, purple, vanilla and earth aromas. It was a touch dirty with a baked pie and confectioners edge. Salt water, gingerbread and deep cassis flavors marked its palate. It was extremely lush but lacking definition and a bit softer and more tender than I’d expected. I must confess that I finished both glasses of VCC before my Le Pin, for what it’s worth. Even Alexander confessed that the art of blending gave the VCC more complexity and made it more interesting to him as well. Approximately 450 cases are made each year of Le Pin (93).
Alexander shared many comments at the end of the meal,including ‘2006 is not so far from 2000.’ When asked if 2005 was the best vintage ever, he said, ‘I am a winemaker not a wine merchant,’ but went on to say that it might be for the Left Bank, but not for the Right, and that he prefers 1998. Margaux is his favorite 2005 Left Bank wine. ‘2007 is better than 2002 and close to 1999,’ he continued about Bordeaux’s newest vintage. When asked what he does at VCC and Le Pin, he playfully remarked, ‘nothing,’ alluding to his non-interventionist approach. ‘The better wines are less interfered with. The pendulum has swung a litte bit too far to the technical side. We must come back to the vineyard.’ Speaking of the vineyard and VCC, he noted how ‘in 1956, two-thirds of the vineyard was destroyed by frost,’ and that it took ‘twenty-five years to get back.’ From 1995 on, he is very pleased with the quality of VCC. It looks to be the best value in Pomerol today accordingly. It was an honor and pleasure to dine with such an inspirational and forthright man.
So those were my notes from the Right Bank this past December. Who says I only taste old wines?
In Vino Veritas,