This claret, purchased some time ago by Richard, is part of a small quantity loosely termed an investment. Not financial, you understand, but more gustatory. So we had to try it, just to see how it’s getting on. And the answer? Very well.
Chateau Sociando-Mallet is a Haut-Medoc property owned by Jean Gautreau and this was his 2009 vintage. 09 and 10 were good years for Bordeaux wines; hot summers with some rain at the right time to swell the grapes. Stephen Brook (The Complete Bordeaux) labels 09 as a “very great vintage”. He describes Soc-Mal’s 09 as “superb” with “imposing tannins but excellent length”.
The wine had a deep red core with a very slight brick rim which heralded some maturity but still plenty of life. There was the unmistakeable black fruit nose, not too plummy, with that lovely cedar wood aroma. The palate was dry and definitely long but still rich. It was starting to lose its plumpness but there was still plenty of power with a slight tarry quality. We detected slight herbaceous, underripe, notes rather than tannins but this gave it a structure in the mouth. The wine is just – and I mean just – into its drinking window. It can only improve from now on. Classic claret.
The blend is 55 – 40 – 5 of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc and its ABV 13.5%.
[Richard: I bought six from Tesco (£32 a bottle) in 2012 when they suddenly got hold of lots of claret. I bought it because John and I got some en primeur in the eighties when it had a reputation – still maintained – for being of classed growth quality. This is the second bottle tried and a marked improvement on the first, having softened considerably, although it had been decanted for three hours. A very nice drink throughout the evening. I should mention that Geoff got the country, region, sub-region and vintage from the appearance and smell alone.]
Last Sunday, Richard and I were invited to taste a fourth growth claret from St Julien in the Medoc. The host, a good friend of mine, wanted to serve it at a wedding and was anxious to know its condition as well as the decanting period. A demanding job for a Sunday afternoon – but someone’s got to do it!
2003 was a ‘year of extremes’ according to Stephen Brooke in The Complete Bordeaux. He specifically mentions hail and excessive heat which challenged the growers and the resultant wines seem forward need drinking earlier than would normally be the case. That’s what the expert says. Would this be the case for the wedding wine?
Yes, was the answer. A brown rimmed, medium intensity red, the wine took some time to open up and even then stayed rather reticent. There was no doubting the quality and sophistication of the wine in its smoothness but this wine reflected its vintage – certainly not one of fruit. It reminded me of very mature cherry or even unripe fig whilst my two fellow tasters proclaimed blackberry. The fruit was difficult to identify because of its shyness. It was long and dry on the finish. It was lovely to have the opportunity to taste a well known Bordeaux wine. Thanks.
For the record, the blend was CS 66%, Merlot 26%, Petit Verdot 5% with C Franc at 3%. Its ABV was 13%
[Richard: I have a memory – nothing more – of buying some Ch. Talbot en primeur in the late 1970. Then, as now, a reliable middle of the road claret with some class. Consequently I enjoyed tasting this wine, especially once it had opened out and typical claret aromas became evident. Definitely needs decanting and then, being rich and savoury it will be a perfect match for roast beef, which I think was the wedding meal.]
This claret, from St Julien in the Medoc, has certainly earned plaudits in wine reviews. It is the second wine of Ch. Leoville Las Cases, often heralded as the finest St Julien wine. So you can imagine the prices, even for a wine from off “the subs’ bench”. It is a blend dominated by Cab Sav (70%) and Merlot (20%) with some Cab Franc and Petit Verdot to make up the brew. It’s ABV is 13.5%.
It had an intense ruby colour – with some viscosity – and had lost the purple bloom of youth but was nowhere near the tell-tale brick colours of ageing. The nose was layered-loveliness – coconut, smoky, black fruit, vanilla, sweet plums (I’m beginning to sound like a real taster) – which changed at each sniff. The palate was all of these but with some licquorice thrown in. The tannins gave some real structure to the long, dry finish. This was some classy wine.
Richard had decanted it but even well-aired it had plenty of power and was obvious that this wine would last for years to come. A great wine from a great vintage.
[Richard: this was a present, some years ago, sourced from Laithwaites, where it is now sold out. Opinion on Cellartracker was that it was ready to drink, which it was but I could have kept it for a while yet. Anyway a lovely wine which showed how good claret can be. Geoff is too modest to say but he correctly identified the grapes, the country, the region and even the sub-region, which does indeed make him a real taster.]
Another week, another claret. This time it was a 2011 from Chevalier de Lascombes, the second wine of Chateau Lascombes, a Bordeaux second growth in the 1855 classification. The Chateau blend is roughly 50/50 cabernet sauvignon and merlot whereas the Chevalier has more merlot, though I couldn’t discover how much. Certainly there weren’t any typical CS characteristics. Dark red, brown rim, sweet fruit nose, lots of tannin still, plenty of black fruit as well with a slight tarry note. Because of all the fruit I at first thought it was New World. A nice drink but one without much subtlety, even when decanted.
[Geoff: Ch. Lascombe’s history is chequered, to say the least. I won’t bore our reader with the details but there has been much grubbing up and replanting of vines due to the wrong vines being in the wrong soil. As a result the clay-loving Merlot proportion of plantings has increased. This wine’s heft surprised me – it’s not something I associate with claret. It does suggest that there’s some way to go before maturity but the Merlot proportion would mitigate against that (brown rim?). A good wine if you like your wines full on. I think it was from Lidl.]
On smelling this wine my instant reaction was Cabernet Franc. In fact it was a 2010 claret, from the Montagne St-Emilion region (MWW £16, no 22 in their Parcel Series). They claim ‘plums, black cherry and cedar’, but don’t reveal the blend in the product information. The region is mostly Merlot, with 20% CF. Geoff wondered if there was any CF used but any more information is impossible to find. However, given the planting in the region it is certainly possible and I’m sure I could smell it. MWW do claim that it is made by ‘a great chateau’ – not that there are any in Montagne St-Emilion. Not especially mature or complex given the bottle age which made it into a decent but not outstanding drink.
[Geoff: The Montagne St Emilion AC of Bordeaux is dominated by Merlot but the vine second to that is Cab Franc which is better suited than Cab Sav to the clay/limestone soils. Richard did well to spot the raspberry notes typical of this grape. As regards the wine maker, the best known chateau is Beausejour but Majestic aren’t letting on.
There is a lot of the ‘faux secrecy’ in patronising wine blurbs e.g. “Our well connected resourceful buyer has unearthed/been tipped off about some wines, we can’t say where from, but they are made just over the road from a well-known premier cru etc. etc.” In reality, a winemaker has got some excess stock, the sale of which will help their stricken cash flow and have used brokers to find a buyer who has bought at a very advantageous price. The winemaker doesn’t want their name associated with low priced wines therefore the wine is vaguely labelled .]
It is interesting to read professional wine writers’ opinions about wines that we taste. Often we question whether we are tasting the same wine such are the variances in descriptions – even when we allow for the essential subjectivity of the process. We’ll return to this theme later.
The claret we tried just before Christmas was at the opposite end of the argument – we were in complete agreement with the critic Stephen Brook. His tome The Complete Bordeaux writes of the Haut Medoc Chateau Cissac as “much admired but its charms usually escape me”. Brook has tasted every vintage from 1970 to 2003 but he has “a struggle to find much to appreciate”. We can add the 2010 vintage to that list. In a year generally noted for its fruit-forward – even atypically ripe – clarets, we found this wine “lean and mean”.
Our wine had the purple hues and intensity of youth with plum, menthol and spices on the nose which suggested Merlot rather than Cab Sav. (The chateau’s plantings are CS 70%, Merlot 25%, Petit Verdot 5%). But the palate was green, robust, dry and not very attractive or interesting. Given its relative youth, we could be kind and say it needs more time but seven years should have had some softening influence and evidence of developing fruitiness.
Brook adopts a positive ending to his description of the chateau “It does seem that the days when Cissac was routinely lean and mean are long over”. Drink again, Stephen.
[Richard: from a mixed case of 2010 clarets, around £14 (not £10 as I suggested when previously blogged two years ago). Then as now, I found the wine lacking in claret characteristics although there seemed to be more fruit then. I took the bottle home to finish but it made no impression on me. Disappointing because the wine has a good reputation, the comments from Mr Brook notwithstanding and I can recall buying it en primeur in the eighties.
We also tried a 2012 Margaux, above, a Berry Bros own label made by Brane-Cantenac, a bigger name than Cissac. This was much more to our taste, soft, generous and unmistakably claret. Very nice.]
Claret from Bordeaux was the first wine to be offered en primeur and it is still the biggest market for those of us who like to buy wine in advance of shipping or even bottling.
But, for a while now, dissenting voices have been heard. Unless you are after a particular chateau which may sell out early there is now little point in using the en primeur market since, firstly, there is an awful lot of claret around and, secondly, prices of newly released claret are much the same, or even more expensive than, mature wines.
Tonight’s wine – Chateau Coufran 2004 – is a good example. Around £17 from MWW, fully mature with the tannins integrated, classic claret nose – savoury, meaty, some eucalyptus. Big mouth feel, in a rich, not austere style doubtless caused by it being Merlot-dominated. A bargain and I’m sure you wouldn’t enjoy a similar 2014, say, as much.
[Geoff: Given my recent views about old red wine this was a great example of how they can taste. Not expensive and from a seemingly endless supply that Majestic possess, this wine is drinking well right now. Two years time may see it a little tired as the CS proportion is only 15%. As the better wine critics write ‘snap’ or ‘grab’ it now, ‘before it’s all gone’.]