And then there were four…

For many years I have participated in tastings of the Bordeaux grouping “Les Cinq” which brought together some fine estates: Chateau Pontet Canet in Pauillac, Chateau Branaire Ducru in St Julien, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac Leognan, Chateau Gazin in Pomerol and Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere in St Emilion. I once organised a tasting for the group on Nantucket Island in May 2004: a horizontal of 2001. But last year, the first of the bunch decided to quit the group. No doubt marking its territory as the most soaring Pauillac, threatening the position of Lynch Bages as the Poor Man’s Mouton… Certainly prices of Pontet Canet have eclipsed those of the other four. But the group is still called Les Cinq because, after all, there are still five wines, if you now interpret that figure adding the white Smith Haut Lafitte…

The latest tasting I attended was in Bordeaux during Vinexpo on 23 June at the top floor of the Banque Populaire du Sud Ouest, with a fabulous view of the city of Bordeaux.  The wineries presented the most recent vintages (2010, 2009, 2008), two of which are still barrel samples. Overall for the reds, I felt that Branaire Ducru came out best in 2009 and 2010, and Smith Haut Lafitte to a lesser extent. Both Gazin and especially Canon La Gaffeliere reflected the high alcohol Merlot complex in both 2009 and 2010. Indeed, I liked 2008 best, clearly for Canon La Gaffeliere.

What made the tasting extra special was the inclusion of older vintages, with some lovely suprises. And some delicious food as this tasting ran into the lunch period. Wines in bold, I particularly liked. In red and bold, even more. When underlined, the most. Read on…

Château Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Léognan

Smith Haut Lafitte 1985 (white): Some bottle variation but although there was slight nut notes even on the better bottle, the wine was crisp and full of verve. Freshness on the palate, and it went very well with the blanquette de veau.

Smith Haut Lafitte 2000 (red): Just slightly disappointing here. I appreciated the richness of the wine, but it lacks complexity and nuance, showing more warm fruit, rather directly expressed.

Smith Haut Lafitte 2010 (blanc): Spicy Christmas like aromas, cake like, good acidity on the palate. I get a sense of fresh fruit but I wonder if it could use a bit more minerality? Fine overall, and I did like it en primeur, too.

Smith Haut Lafitte 2009 (blanc): Nose is somewhat less exuberant, less brisk, and the palate seems somewhat sweeter in expression although the wine is dry.

Smith Haut Lafitte 2008 (blanc): Somewhat darker hue, but more mineral like, stony. Just a hint of fat that prevents it from reaching the class of the Domaine de Chevalier, but overall very fine.

Smith Haut Lafite 2008 (red): Rich yet nuanced, this is a nicely balanced wine. Not as focused as the Haut Bailly enjoyed the day before, but a successful red.

Smith Haut Lafitte 2009 (red): Rich and heady even, far richer than the 2008 with just a bit of warmth.

Smith Haut Lafitte 2010 (red): Here we have the most finesse, much more linear and tonic than the preceding wine. Is it their best red ever? Well, it is very good, but is it really worth all that money en primeur? I wonder. I do not mean to pick on SHL. This goes for Haut Bailly, too, and countless other Bordeaux in 2010.

Château Branaire Ducru St Julien

Branaire Ducru 2008: Here a far prettier nose, more discrete… hard to taste after the Smith Haut Lafitte 2010 (red). I needed to grab a glass of water to go back and then appreciated the finesse and the purity, although one should not even bother to touch this bottle now: tight and tannic on the finish.

Branaire Ducru 2009: Here we have just as much polish but friendlier, more fruit forward, but pure fruit. A very positive impression here. 60% new oak, winemaking director Jean-Dominique Videau said, but very low toasting. “We do not want to impart any new oak flavors, but prefer the oak for its more efficient aging capacity.”

Branaire Ducru 2010: An almost nougat like sweetness on the nose, then a palate that is brisk and tonic on the finish. Very fine. And although prices are going up here, too, a far more modest increase thus constituting a relative bargain if you must purchase 2010 EP.

Branaire Ducru 2000: Still very young but promising – I was very impressed but feel that it is just closed now. Did not have the time to really take careful notes.

Branaire Ducru 1990: The best of all the 1990s tasted. Very fresh and rich at the same time, but Cabernet elegance.

Chateau Gazin Pomerol

Gazin 2008: Very polished, even sumptuous nose. The palate is tight and tannic however, but a promising kind of tannin, I think. It does have 14% alcohol. 50% new oak.

Gazin 2009: In bottle last month. Closed nose. Palate is noticeably richer, at 14.5%. 60% new oak.  

Gazin 2010: More nuanced than 2009 it seems, if still a bit warm. There seems to me more substance to the palate 45% new oak. Judicious use of new oak. This is actually quite successful.

Gazin 1990: A bit of charcoal, older color, a bit tired?

Von Neipperg wines. The colorful Stephan von Neipperg and his wife Sigweis settled at Château Canon La Gaffelière shortly after their wedding in 1982. Since then they have established other properties in Bordeaux including wines from estates tasted below. For some reason, I cannot seem to locate my notes from all the 08s tasted, but I liked the 08s more… they seemed more balanced. Do not recall seeing any 09s.

Château D’Aiguilhe Cotes de Castillon 2010: Not sure about this one, the oak seems to be prominent and I get drying tannins on the finish. Is this another case of over high alcohol in Merlot?

Clos de l’Oratoire Saint Emilion 2010: Somewhat better nose, even sap with the richness on the mid palate, but drying out on the finish.

Canon La Gaffeliere Saint Emilion 2010: More substance than both of the above, but “over intense” to me – and again somewhat drying on the finish. The breed of this estate could result in a far better tasting experience with age, I hope!

La Mondotte Saint Emilion 2010: This one is bigger but also with more sap. Reminded me a bit of the Valandraud, although not as svelte.

Canon La Gaffeliere Saint Emilion 2008: What a refresher here! It seems more balanced and more digest than its 2010 sibling. Reminds me of the absolutely delicious 2001 I had had back in March 2011. Just 13% alcohol.

Canon La Gaffeliere Saint Emilion 1990 from imperial. Lovely nose, balanced if just a tad rustic.

Canon La Gaffeliere Saint Emilion 2000 from magnum: Very elegant and flavorful too. Richness and roundness. Utterly delicious.

 Well, Les Cinq without Pontet Canet is not quite the same grouping but they put together a great tasting event. Perhaps they should find another Pauillac. Grand Puy Lacoste perhaps?

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