Tag Archives: bordeaux

Big and Beefy

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.]

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Cabernet or Cabernet?

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 .]

 

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(Not a) merry Christmas.

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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.

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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.]

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Who needs en primeur?

 

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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’.]

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The Indian giver

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The American term ‘Indian giver’ describes someone who presents a gift and asks for its return. I bought Richard this wine a few years back and, last Sunday, he presented it for us both to taste; it had been decanted 30 minutes, I tasted it blind. The wine was an ’06 La Reserve Leoville Barton, the ‘baby brother’ of a well-known St Julien 2nd growth Chateau Leoville Barton and, therefore, has some pedigree.

Intense red in colour, it had a very slightly brown rim. The aromas were dominated by vanilla and dark fruits, particularly damsons and plums rather than blackcurrant. There was an appealing freshness and slight spice to the nose but it was difficult to pick as Cabernet Sauvignon. Information about the blend is difficult to find. The palate was pleasantly tannic – expected of a claret – but without any particular characteristics. ‘Too young?’ is what I noted but I don’t think it will develop and change greatly. I would describe it as pleasant, but no more.

[Richard: Not familiar with the phrase but it is a good one. I think this was a birthday present from Geoff in 2012 but I could be wrong on both counts. From MWW? Anyway when John and I bought claret en primeur in the early eighties we shared a case of Leoville Barton – the 1982 as I recall – why was terrific. So I was interested to try this wine. As Geoff says, it didn’t have much in the way of classic claret indicators, like the cigar box nose. A decent drink but, ultimately, one lacking excitement.]

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Chateau de la Grave Grains Fins 2015 Bassereau

Cote de Bourg, situated on the Gironde’s right bank, is well known for its red wines which dominate the AC’s production. There are, however, 25 hectares (out of 4000 +) devoted to white wine production and this wine is one of the results. It is a blend of Semillon (70%) and Colombard and has an ABV of 13.5%. It’s available from the Wine Society at a bargain £9.75.

The Semillon grape, widely grown all over the world, then just as widely uprooted, earned a reputation for basic, characterless white wines of high acidity and minimal flavour. It is notable in two areas – Bordeaux (particularly for sweet whites) and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Colombard is a grape favoured by brandy producers but now finding devotee growers and makers of still wines where it raises acidity levels and adds peach flavours.

Intrigued yet?

The colours were a medium intense lemon yellow with a very slight green tint. It was particularly clear and bright. The nose was a blend of citrus and yellow peach but with a fascinating, and unusual, smell of ginger spices.

This was not a wine shy of flavour. Peach dominated, broad, dry and long, it is a wine with bags of character. To be critical, it could be said to be lacking in refinement but – and this is only a theory (don’t groan, Richard) – I think it needs to be given time. The Semillon famously develops after 8 -10 years therefore the dominant flavour at present is from the Colombard. It’s good now but it’s also one to put down, I think.

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“Nectar? No ta.”

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Sunday and the usual blind tasting rules applied, R. decanting 30 mins before pouring an inch into two glasses. Look, discuss, smell, discuss, taste, more discussion. “Well?” Richard inquired. “Old world.” Correct. “Is it Italy?”. No. “Southern French?” No. “Has to be Bordeaux, then.” Correct. Then we trailed off into Left/Right Bank source.

The wine? Chateau de la Grave Nectar 2010 14% ABV (90% Merlot, 10% CS)

Now my defence.

This was probably the most unlikely candidate for a claret that I’ve ever tried. Intensely black/red with a slight brick rim; very viscous, violet-perfumed with spicy black cherry notes, it yelled out hot climate from the glass. (2010 was a hot year; now being called a classic by some, controversial by others). The palate was a bruiser. Heavyweight, long, very concentrated, the tannins well-integrated but into the red fruit sweetness that dominated. Not a twig of cedar, a shaving of pencil or smudge of graphite could be detected. Great with a big stew, barbecue or cassoulet.

Absolutely nothing wrong with the wine but certainly not typical of the region. And, unfortunately, not for me. It might be more subtle given a few years but Merlot is not known for its ageing.

[Richard: every six months TWS send out a Fine Wine list which includes a page of ‘small wonders’ – the unnecessarily cute name denoting fine wines under £20. The above was only £12.50 which is low-end for fine wine although the heavy bottle and pretentious name/label seem to be an attempt to position the wine a bit higher up the scale. As did the taste – too sweet and international in style, with no sense of place. Given the way TWS promoted it I expected more than was delivered. Fine if you like Merlot, although you could probably better spend your money on something from Chile.]

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We also tasted the above – not blind as Geoff had to do a detailed note on it for WSET. A claret we both know well, although it’s only been blogged once. In terms of typicity this was the complete opposite of the Nectar. Unmistakably claret, even though the nose was more red fruit rather than black (it’s 50-50 cs/merlot). Complex, interesting, structured with ageing potential. All the things the Nectar wasn’t and at around the same price. No contest.

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