Mostly good Graves and Pessac-Leognan in 2012 (update with video)

Tasted “blind” at Chateau Carbonnieux

Beautiful setting for tasting wines

Below you can read a rather spontaneous reaction to my tasting below. To jump to the blind tasting notes: REDS and WHITES

Click here for the wines of Domaine Clarence Dillon, tasted at La Mission Haut Brion.

And here for the wines of Domaine de Chevalier and those tasted at the Cercle de Rive Gauche at Chateau de Rochemorin

10 April 2013

Dear Readers,

Tastings are rather fast and frantic in Bordeaux this week, and I cannot be too fast, because that goes against my principle of … taking time with wine. But people want to know about this vintage. Had a conversation with several people and I would come to the conclusion that 2011 and 2012 are complementary: both are middle to above average vintages, depending on the chateau. Don’t fall into the trap thinking that 2012 is “better” than 2011. This is to my mind a bunch of sales talk that is relayed by many writers – but should not be taken at face value.

Tasters come this way

Case in point is the rather good showing of the wines of Pessac Leognan and Graves. While the reds in 2012 DO seem better overall, the whites are another story. I have a feeling that 2011 may be a better vintage for whites (certainly for Sauternes and Graves). Based on this blind tasting of the whites and reds of Graves and Pessac Leognan at least, I recall the 2011s generally having more focus and purity, while the 2012s have charm to be sure.

Illustrious wines tasted at La Mission Haut Brion: tasting notes coming soon

I had also gone to Haut Brion to taste the wines there. Record amounts of Merlot at both La Mission and Haut Brion. Notes and photos updated HERE… Some count Haut Brion as wine of the vintage material. But I would like to have it stand head to head against Haut Bailly, which – as in 2011 – gives Haut Brion more than a run for its money. The white is another story: certainly among the top wines in 2012…

In any case, here some preliminary notes. Take note that we are talking about barrel samples and that better judgments come two years later from bottle (and, in the end, 10 years later after proper maturity).

Blind tasting … step-by-step (VIDEO)

Whatever the case may be, I have begun to understand fellow taster Mark Golodetz’s logic of not tasting blind at these en primeur campaigns, because the playing field is not necessarily level: it is somehow unfair to compare wines tasted blind to those tasted non blind at the chateaux. So, after tasting the wines blind, I went back and tasted them non blind. I did not revise my opinions very much, but it helped to take more time to understand the “chateau perspective” if you will – to take into account the philosophy of the chateau in question, just as is done when tasting non blind at the chateau.

Ready set taste

Reds (interesting to note that most all these samples were on the inky side of the transparency spectrum)

Flight 1

Chateau Haut Bergey 88-91

1: Freshness on the nose, tannic intensity on the nose. Quite a bit of glycerin. The attack is frank. There is a tannic spine but also ripe fruit. Somewhat short on the finish? A touch modern.

Chateau Haut Bailly: 91-93+

2: Here a bit of tar on the nose, and blackberry and dark plum. The palate is quite fresh and even tonic. Lacks perhaps the concentration of vintages like 2005? But again there is some elegance, which reassures. Tasted again – and what pleases here is an overall smoothness with tonicity and substance. Extra fine.

Chateau de France  89-91+

3: Quite a floral vintage on the nose. Balsamic aspects. Dew. I like the juiciness of this wine. It has sap albeit a modest finish. Quite a (pleasant) surprise. Should not be too expensive…

Chateau Carbonnieux 89-91

4: Not very expressive nose. Needs coaxing. Could it be slightly reduced? The palate seems to have ample tannin but the fruit seems a touch muted. Perhaps need another sample?  Second sample was more expressive and cohesive.

Chateau Picque Caillou: 89-91+

5: Deep and spicy aromatics. The attack is supple, but the mid palate a bit under-stated. I get some tar and tannic foreboding, with a finish that is just slightly warm.

Chateau Olivier: 90-92+

6: A nose that has more salinity, freshness (bravo!) with a mineral purity that intrigues me. The attack is just brisk enough, not bracing, leading to mid palate that is of medium intensity, and a somewhat polite finish. Tasted again, I liked its “digest” aspect. A fine showing from this estate, recommended indeed.

Flight 2 

Chateau de Chantegrive: 88-90

7: Dark berry fruit on the nose. Thick nose. The attack is fairly broad as is the palate – rather impressive display of palate texture, but not particularly fine grained or nuanced. Still the finish lingers, with a tannic spine that gives this wine some gravitas.

Chateau Pape Clement: 89-91+

8: Pronounced nose of dark fruit, with a tonic freshness combined with weight. Not over extracted, but there is just a bit of warmth on the finish. The mid palate is of moderate scale, but not full bodied. Some drying, but not too worrisome here. When I saw what this was, I was somewhat surprised. Not as body built as in previous vintages – and that is a good thing.

Chateau Les Carmes Haut Brion: 90-92

9: Cedar nose. Subtle expression of currant and cherry. Attack is frank, mid palate is supple and the finish is smooth and of moderate length, leaving an overall saline expression. Fine.

Chateau Rahoul 88-90

10: Tar on first nose. Fruit basket aspect upon swirling. The attack is supple. There is a smooth quality – just enough juiciness to the mid palate – that appeals. Alas the finish is drying enough to detract.

Chateau Latour Martillac 88-91?

11: Less evidently discernable nose. The palate is understated. Could this just be a case of reduction? Need to taste another sample. Second sample showed some balsamic, herbal qualities. The tannin comes to the fore. Needs time to settle in barrel. Not really saying much and I know that this estate makes fine reds.

Chateau Larrivet Haut Brion 88-90?

12: Rich nose. Appealing. Pot-pourri. Supple attack, with a smooth mid palate, but a certain tannic stiffness seems to detract – a bit of drying. Not sure.

Flight 3

Chateau Bouscaut 88-90?

13: Tar aromas. Raw meat. Attack is tannic, with some toughness – slightly raw. A serious aspect, but I wonder just a bit about the extraction that is noticeable at this stage.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere 89-91

14: Rather rich nose. The palate has focus albeit showing more structure than fruit. An adequate finish, and time in barrel should round out slightly prickly edges.

Domaine de Chevalier 90-92+

15: Morning dew, flowery aromatics. Good sap on the mid palate and some raw tannin for the moment which time in barrel will likely resolve. Tasted at the chateau and also encountered some noticeable tannin but there is fine depth here, too. Potential for upswing once in bottle.

Chateau La Louviere 89-90+

16: Less expressive nose. The palate smooth in comparison to, say, number 13. Displays structure yet fluidity. Does not taste extracted. But is not particularly über exciting either.

Chateau de Fieuzal 88-90+

17: Seductive nose, albeit oak derived vanilla and nutmeg especially. Reminds me of Eggnog. Primal modern hedonism? The palate is supple enough but is fruit masked just a bit? Not egregiously oak derived; this wine would please modern palates particularly.

Chateau Ferrande 89-91

18: Cool blueberry nose here. Crushed tobacco. Vague oak derived aspects. Palate brisk enough, not vivacious, fine tonicity. Smooth enough. Moderate finish. Here we have a fine price/quality ratio. This estate has been getting better and better in recent years.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 90-92

19: Somewhat closed nose here. Coaxing brings out chocolate powder notes, preceding a supple palate – smooth – yet there is a tannic spine, with a medium finish

Bustling tasting room: 36 wines to evaluate before lunch

Whites (many of these wines had cloudy aspects, clearly barrel samples)

Flight 1

Chateau Ferrande 88-90+

1: Sweetish fruit on the nose. Adequately brisk on the attack, follows through to a refreshing palate and moderate finish. Moderate intensity. Saline. OK.

Chateau de Chantegrive 89-90+

2: Palate displays moderate salinity and freshness. Some tropical fruit understated.

Chateau de France 88-90

3: Light lime notes, understated nose. Moderately rich palate, acidity is just enough. Modest finish. OK

Chateau Rahoul 89-91

4: Sulfur reduction on the nose. Some grapefruit. Palate shows more vibrancy than let on by the nose. Saline. Bit of creaminess on the finish.

Domaine de Chevalier 91-93+

5: Kiwi fruit on the nose. Citrus. Laser focus throughout. ‘Coiled up’ but lots going on. Reminds me of the 2008. I guessed correctly – but that is more often not the case. Had tasted at the chateau two days before, so it was easy to recognize. Serious stuff. People who may grade this lower should understand that the barrel aging will give it a bit more corpulence and that what is most appealing is that serious focus, again similar to 2008 and to 2002.

Chateau Olivier 88-90

6: Closed nose. Palate has energy yet I feel like the wine is a bit reduced.

Flight 2 (again these are pretty opaque wines)

Chateau de Fieuzal 90-92

7: Exuberant nose. Tropical fruit. Mango. Pineapple. Attack is supple and Juicy Fruit like. Juicy. Thirst quenching aspect. Pleasing finish with freshness. Nice job.

Chateau Pape Clement 89-91+

8: Mint. White pear. Supple attack. Mid palate is among the most flavorful. Smooth throughout. Modest finish, but warmth detracts.

Chateau Bouscaut 88-90

9: Matchbox reduction. Palate is smooth. Bright notes. White apricot. Moderate intensity. Some warming. Modest finish.

Chateau Haut Bergey 89-92

10: Subtle nose, somewhat reduced. Nuanced spiciness. Juicy and thirst quenching. White pepper. Smooth finish. Fine.

Chateau La Louviere 89-91

11: Nectarine and orange. Subtle. Lemon zest on the palate. Modest overall in its expression, and a fine price/quality ratio.

Chateau Larrivet Haut Brion 90-92+

12: Floral aspects. Dew like. Lime. Palate has zest and energy. Salinity. Fine texture. Lingering fresh finish. Lovely.

Flight 3

Chateau Latour Martillac 89-91

13: Freshness on the nose here. Citron. The palate is smooth and svelte. A moderate finish.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere 89-91+

14: Pear, grapefruit, stone. Brisk enough attack. Some dew like notes on the smooth if moderately intense palate. A bit of thickness on the modest finish detracts just a tad.

Chateau Carbonnieux 90-92

15: Spicy nose. Mint after swirling. Palate is juicy, pleasing. Sap. Substance. A more full-bodied aspect without heaviness. Finish is somewhat moderate. Fine.

Chateau Picque Caillou 89-91

16: Sweet fruit nose like a cocktail. A smooth delivery on attack, mid palate is moderately flavorful, with an understated if fine finish.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte: 90-93

17: White pepper, orange rind. Clementine palate, smooth even rich, presence is moderate, lingering finish. Very refined overall. Lovely sample!

Visit at Chateau La Mission Haut Brion on same day: the wines of Domaine Clarence Dillon

Magestic Mission Haut Brion

What I noticed was a very high amount of Merlot… and high alcohol. Not that is was that noticeable mind you, but enough to bring a certain ho-hum factor to what would be expected from such a (very) pricey first growth. Well, you can figure it out for yourselves, because some are saying that Chateau Haut Brion is one of the wines of the vintage. In my opinion both Lafite and Mouton are better. Certainly Palmer is better.

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion (89-91): Lovely freshness on the nose (56% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15.5% Cabernet Franc), but a bit tight and slightly drying tannin. A rather successful second wine if not for the slight drying aspect.

Le Clarence de Haut Brion (90-92): A richer nose (41% Merlot along with 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) with more grip and a lovely crushed tobacco aspect. I almost liked this the most among all four reds… for its freshness and finesse. Call me crazy.

Chateau La Mission Haut Brion (90-92+): Crushed tobacco nose, seems softer than usual, and it may be the 62% Merlot (but I recall more ‘ferocious’ tannins in previous vintages with high amounts of Merlot). Some warmth, but I would have never guessed that this blend amounts to just under 15% alcohol. I was not mightily impressed by the sample, but it was certainly of high quality.

Chateau Haut Brion (91-93+): With 65.5% Merlot, the highest ever Merlot in the blend at Chateau Haut Brion. It exudes overall more purity than La Mission, with suave richness on the mid palate along with greater depth. But honestly, for the price, I would not be 100% sure that this in a blind tasting would be that much better than Pape Clement this year. And perhaps Haut Bailly would be more interesting.

Whites – My overall feeling was of being more impressed with the whites.

La Clarté de Haut Brion (90-92): Fine sap, rich and juicy nose followed through on the mid palate, lemon meringue aspect, balanced by good acidity. This is an excellent second wine. 58% Semillon and 42% Sauvignon

Château La Mission Haut Brion (92-94): At 84% Semillon and the rest Sauvignon, this exudes spicy clove, citrus and white fruit aromas already, a rich and savory attack, broad full body on the finely textured palate. Is there just perhaps a touch of warmth that makes it less inspiring than in, say, 2010? Picky here. Would need to compare once in bottle, but, overall, a lovely expression of white Graves!

Château Haut Brion (93-95): More herbal and floral aspects, but just as rich on the palate with perhaps a bit more of zip (45% Semillon and 55% Sauvignon Blanc). There is much underlying depth. Hard to choose which one is ‘better’, they are both quite marvelous in their own ways, but I tip my hat to Haut Brion! This is one of the “wow” wines of 2012…

Tasting and lunch at Domaine de Chevalier, on Monday 8 April. Owner Olivier Bernard always puts together superb lunches, including older vintages and great food. But before I devoured the delicious oysters, along with some great wines, including a smooth and streamlined Domaine de Chevalier 2002 white and a very fine Domaine de Chevalier 1982 red, here some notes from his wines…

This was the first tasting of 2012 after the disappointing tasting at Cercle de Rive Droite, which compelled me to post negatively on Wine Berserkers, posing the rhetorical question about 2012: Why bother? 

But after tasting at Domaine de Chevalier, I found reason to bother…

See my notes for barrel samples from the other Bordeaux appellations in 2012:

Back to the main 2012 from barrel page

Graves and Pessac Leognan / Sauternes and Barsac / Margaux-Moulis-Listrac / Pauillac / Saint Julien / Saint Estephe / Saint Emilion / Pomerol / Haut Medoc

Take for example the white Domaine de Chevalier, which has a marvelous 2008 like quality. Great stuff. And the reds are quite suave. Intelligent winemaking here with lots of challenges capably met.

Let’s start with Château Lepault Martillac, an ancient estate whose management has been entrusted since 2009 to Domaine de Chevalier. Olivier Bernard is making some very fine wines here, in both red and white, and I must say that I was impressed with both in 2012.

The red Château Lepault Martillac (89-91) has fresh red fruit, with a rather polite aspect – no over extraction here – and it wears its  65% Merlot well. Even better – and this wine will retail for merely 13 euros – is the white Château Lespault Martillac (90-92). It is made from just one hectare of vines and in 2012, the sample exuded green melon, fresh and refined, with a pleasingly cool aspect, finishing with tangy lime. Made from 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon, it is spending about 15 months in 70 per cent new oak barrels. Delicious!

I also tasted a fine red Domaine de la Solitude (88-90), which is quite friendly, even soft, with a fine sense of balance:  65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and  5% Cabernet Franc. Solid Graves! The white Domaine de la Solitude was merely OK. Not nearly as focused as the white Lespault Martillac, which, to me, is clearly superior.

The red Domaine de Chevalier (see notes and scores above, from blind tasting) is made from 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. The nose has nice focus, with a dark fruit flavor profile, marked by freshness. The tannins are up front, but suave. There is some firmness on the finish. Picking between 9 and 12 October. The skins were hard, remarked manager Rémi Edange. About same 40 hectoliters per hectare, similar volume to 2011 – meaning lower than average volumes. What is fascinating is that, while at Clarence Dillon, Merlot was deemed “more successful” than their Cabernets, Edange was very clear: “Merlot was not easier,” he said. As for the white Domaine de Chevalier, I found such fine exotic citrus aspects including kiwi and lime and, as already expressed, lots of energy reminding me of the 2008. It was very focused, like a laser beam. Edange agreed with the 2008 comparison…

A series of red Bordeaux wines made in Sauternes: Clos des Lunes. Another recent venture for Olivier Bernard and his family, three wines from this vineyard: about 5,000 bottles of Clos des Lunes “Lune d’Or”, which is aged in barrels on the lees for up to 15 months with lees stirring; some 80,000 bottles of Lune d’Argent, aged on the lees for up to 7 months in 25% barrels and 65,000 bottles of Lune Blanche, aged up to 7 months in thermoregulated vats. I must say that, overall, I like Lune d’Argent the most, especially because of its richness and salinity. And can you beat the price? 6.50 euros a bottle is a steal for the quality. While the Lune Blanche is decent enough, with yellow peach aspects and adequate freshness, the Lune d’Argent is very fine. Certainly the Lune d’Or has the most potential

At lunch, tasters were treated to some exceptional older vintages including lovely 2002 and 1992 white Domaine de Chevaliers. And the red Domaine de Chevalier 2002 proved fresh and meaty coming from a double magnum.

Even if it came from a mighty impressive … 15-liter bottle, the Domaine de Chevalier 1992 displayed a noticeably evolved color.  It had a soft attack, perhaps lacking some concentration, but proving a good match for the Blanquette de Veau…Rather amazingly (or maybe not so amazingly?), the Domaine de Chevalier 1982, coming from a normal 75 cl bottle, tasted more youthful with tobacco leaf and a fine freshness and opulence. Compared to the 1992, the 1982 (again, from a much smaller bottle format, which ages more rapidly), came across as riper and even more tannic. Nose has more complexity than 1992. And I like the palate presence… Wow!




One Response to “Mostly good Graves and Pessac-Leognan in 2012 (update with video)” (Leave a Comment)

  1. […] Graves and Pessac Leognan / Sauternes and Barsac / Margaux-Moulis-Listrac / Pauillac / Saint Julien / Saint Estephe / Saint Emilion / Pomerol / Haut Medoc […]

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