Sociando Mallet

Vinexpo minus 2 days and I find myself spending Friday late morning, 17 June, at Sociando Mallet.

This estate is smart and delicious. Smart because the price for 2010 actually dropped a bit from 2009. Delicious because the wine is very well made. The terroir includes a fine gravely hilltop north of St Estephe, comparable to some classified growths. Either it was not well known or not established in time for the 1855 Classification. It makes a mockery of that classification, I quote Robert Parker. Well, to some extent, yes.

So what a pleasure it was to visit Sociando Mallet, my third visit, after having annulled my rendez-vous at Ducru Beaucaillou. I am staying in Sauternes the next few days and was tired this morning – after a superb evening at Chateau Soutard in St Emilion – and did not want to get up at the crack of dawn, so I cancelled it. As much as I adore Ducru Beaucaillou, the estate – like too many others in Bordeaux – is becoming an UberExpensive Wine for Label Drinkers. So it was with pleasure that I went to an estate that maintains sanity in pricing. Owner Jean Gautreau, who played at the French Open as an 18-year-old in  … 1945, had much history to tell. He began working in wine shortly afterwards and knows Bordeaux very well. His parents were in the insurance business, but he ended up being a negociant, from the 1950s until 2000. He purchased Sociando Mallet in 1969. So he knows how Bordeaux business works.

As for current en primeur pricing, he had some great lines: “We need people to buy our wines. If we kill these people, we cannot sell the wines,” he said. Rather succinct. His message as a former negociant to current negociants? All they need to do is not buy any more wine,” he said.  Some are not, as you can read HERE. He also said that what matters to the Bordeaux chateaux are their neighbors’ prices, not what their end clients expect to pay. They set their prices according to what the others do… “This makes me happy [when the classed growths increase their prices], as I can sell more wine,” Gautreau said.

Interesting also to hear from Vincent Faure, technical director, that workers in Bordeaux are not happy to see their wages stay the same while the chateaux raise prices on their wines… “There is unrest in the vineyards,” he said. Does this sound like Lenin’s specter quote?Also on hand was Pascale Roby, marketing contact, who was very helpful. And charming. Thanks to her, I obtained a recent book on the domain!

Pascale, Jean et Vincent

Tasting notes

Demoiselle 2010. Second wine. Good palate feel. Nice, red aspect. Palate is a bit choppy, somewhat short, marked by acidity. Merlot-Cab 50-50. Nicely balanced. 30% barrique neuves. A bit less pumping over on the Demoiselle. 11 months. Touch of green?Hmmm. 87-88+

Less Sociando in 2010. We did not bleed the vats this year, Vincent said, because “it was so nice, we just used all the juice”… Also more Cabernet in 2010, Merlots not as good.

Early harvest expected in 2011: Maybe end of August at Sociando Mallet, at least very beginning of September.

Demoiselle 2009 in bottle since March. A warmer nose. Here the palate is also broader. Very pretty. A bit more black fruit, I like this second wine a lot, too! Excellent for second wine! 90

Sociando Mallet 2010. 60 Cab and 35 Merlot and 5% Franc. A bit more Cab Sauv than usual. Nuanced nose. Cedar like, with hints of tobacco. Tonicity but also somewhat austere. 89-91

Sociando Mallet 2009. Last week put in bottle. 2 May for the half bottles. Nice nose here, warmer. Again, black fruit. Dark plum. Cassis. Glad I bought this… will buy more. 92+

Sociando Mallet 2005. Truffle milk chocolate. Richesse and yet nice juice. Tonicity but not as austere as the 2010. Slight animal? There are some loose bretts here, Vincent joked. “Quelques bretts qui trainent,” he said. I was a bit underwhelmed this time, following the supreme experience I had last September... 90+

Back to talk about the 2010 en primeur campaign: “A period of decadence”, Gautreau said. “A game of speculation… No more notions of value. Morality is gone… it is all about money.” He used to always buy first growths, but since two years, no more: “It has become indecent,” he said.

Earlier notes on Sociando Mallet, from 6 September 2010:

This was only the second time I have been to Sociando Mallet. The last time was at least four years ago and I did not realise that one could just drive along the river, pass Château Montrose, and voilà, arrive at Sociando Mallet.

The terroir is truly excellent, surrounded by and close to the river, on a high gravely mound over clay. And it was great to meet owner Jean Gautreau again and taste a mini vertical of his wines, which are comparable to classed growths and generally cost far less, although lately Sociando has also got up in price. And yet, it was one of the few I purchased en primeur in 2009. At 83, Gautreau is full of energy and verve.

Sociando: 55% Cabernet, 45% Merlot and 7-8% cabernet France.

Blind tasting of the second wine, Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009)

Wine 1. Very nice. Straight and fresh. An equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There is a cranberry freshness that is, as the French say croquant. It turned out to be the 2009. Really very nice. At about 13.2% alcohol, very well integrated.

Wine 2. Here we have a thicker nose, with a licorice aspect also on the palate which exudes more corpulence. This turned out to be the 2006, which, as we shall see, matched the body of the 2005 but not its elegance.

Wine 3. Here we feel more alcohol. It is the least pleasurable wine but that does not mean it is not good. Indeed tasted afterwards, when the wines were revealed, it was fine. An yet. This wine has lower alcohol levels than the others but feels more alcoholic. Only 12.5-12.7%, said Jean Gautreau. One detects the alcohol more because the wine itself is a bit thinner. Turned out to be the 2008.

Wine 4. Here we have a more subtle wine, the most subtle of them all. With a complex nose and palate, whose richness is matched by elegance and nuance. Very nice, 2005. WOTF

Sociando Mallet blind tasting (2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009)

Wine 1. Very substantial wine, orange zest. Graphite. Chocolate noir au nez. Just a bit of heat on the finish? Does not detract. Could this be the 2003? It was indeed the 2003! I am glad I have a full case of this wine. 93

Wine 2. Here we have a more discrete nose, with a fresher fruit aspect. Red fruit. Very straight. Clean. But somewhat muted. Could be the effect of just being bottled. 2008. 91+

Wine 3. More complex here, Vincent said. I got more black fruit and milk rather than dark chocolate. Very nice on the palate. Tannic edge on the finish. Very nice. 2005. Very rounded overall. 94 WOTF?

Wine 4. Fruity, juicy nose. Chocolate again, good, frank. Nice tannic edge. 2006. Lovely, if just a bit more austere than the 2005. 92+

Wine 5. Very dark purple. Rich and suave. 2009. Very cassis. Pure. Not a monster. Interestingly, Vincent likes his 2005 more. For me, rather a tossup, because the 2009 has fine freshness and I would love to see how it does in 2015. 94 WOTF?

After this blind tasting of Sociando Mallet, whose prices are hardly offensive, I can safely and with confidence say that one could rather buy Sociando Mallet blind. Year in, year out, it performs very well.

Side note on Bordeaux pricing

Jean Gautreau is certain that ‘this bubble’ will explode. ‘Every year, I buy a case of each first growth,’ he said. ‘But this year I did not. Not because I am scared of losing money, but there are things that we must not do in life. If this pencil (pointing to a pencil) is worth 20 eurocents. And we want to sell it for 50 euros, I will not buy it,’ he said. ‘Petrus and Le Pin at least are small production. But 2 million bottles of first growths (altogether)? And if the stocks are investing in wine, this is a period of decadence. I started in 1948,’ he said. ‘Born just 10 kilometrres from here, I know Bordeaux. Wine is what you see in the vineyard. The people who work. Not the people who go to Paris who are the richest. They have nothing to do with wine, these people.’

His philosophy: ‘I want to make the best possible wine and that the maximum people can buy it.’

Sounds good to me.

Since 1995 the estate has been making ‘Jean Gautreau’ wines, only on sale at the property and for the same price as Sociando Mallet. Only about 15 cases of these wines are made each year. An experimental wine. More Cabernet Sauvignon, with selected barrels from the very best lots picked for the blend in Sociando Mallet. In other words, the same as Sociando Mallet, but with less lots blended in, with an accent on the Cabernet Sauvignon lots. Also malolactic fermentation in new oak barrels. Overall, I like these wines, but – interestingly – I got the general impression that Sociando Mallet is the fresher and more pleasing wine. But because he sells both for the price, I say bravo for not trying to build some sort of super cuvee for three times the price.

Again, blind, same vintages (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009)

Wine A. Really rich and fleshy yet I was surprised it was the 2008, very fine. Indeed, of all the wines so far, this was the best 2008!

Wine B. This wine showed greater nuance while being just as rich. The 2005. WOTF

Wine C. Here we have more licorice aspects and a bit more austerity on the palate which is nonetheless pleasingly tobacco like. 2006

Wine D This wine is good but a bit tight. Seems to be showing off structure at the expense of sap – here I find a clear preference for the Sociando Mallet. 2009.

3 Responses to “Sociando Mallet” (Leave a Comment)

  1. […] For some other notes on Sociando Mallet, based on my visits there, HERE. […]

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